Pack down with Super Rugby tips for all six matches of Round 9, including a pair of NZ derbies and assignments against South African opposition for the Rebels, Brumbies and Reds.
History: Played 45: Crusaders 34 V Highlanders 11
Last meeting: Round 18, 2018: Crusaders 45 d Highlanders 22 at Christchurch Stadium
Final Thoughts: After their Dunedin showdown was called off in the wake of the Christchurch attacks, the South Island heavyweights go toe-to-toe.
The Crusaders are steaming towards another top-of-the-table finish, proving their loss to the Waratahs was a minor blip with big wins over the Hurricanes (32-8) and Brumbies (36-14). Their march to a third straight title appears unstoppable, but this week they will be without injured All Blacks Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and George Bridge for this southern derby.
The Highlanders are nearing crisis point in 12th with just two wins on the board. They haven’t been overly poor, but four straight losses by seven points or less – including a second three-point defeat to the Hurricanes last Friday – have left them in a tough spot. Test stars Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Waisake Naholo and Liam Squire remain sidelined, while Marty Banks has also been added to casualty ward.
The Crusaders have won 10 of the last 13 clashes between the archrivals – including the last four straight in Christchurch. The Highlanders are just 4-14 against the Crusaders away and were swamped 45-22 late last season.
Both sides are missing key men but the Crusaders’ insane depth means they still field an international-strength line-up. The hosts should win comfortably.
19:45 (AEST), Fri 12th Apr @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
History: Played 6: Stormers 5 V Rebels 1
Last meeting: Round 11, 2018: Stormers 34 d Rebels 18 at Newlands
Final Thoughts: The Rebels sit atop the Australian Conference and second overall with a 5-2 record. This is a massive opportunity to consolidate their position. After a tough fortnight in South Africa, the Melbourne outfit have chalked up sizeable wins over the Reds and Sunwolves back on Australian soil.
The 3-4 Stormers’ tour Down Under has so far garnered losses to the Hurricanes, Blues and Reds in increasingly disappointing fashion.
The Stormers have won two of their three matches against the Rebels in Melbourne – including a 57-31 victory in their last visit in 2016. Last year JJ Engelbrecht scored two tries in the Stormers’ 34-18 home win. All six of the teams’ previous encounters produced 43 points or more.
Jack Maddocks is out of the Rebels’ line-up with injury, but the Stormers – who also have some injury woes – have been further weakened by captain Siya Kolisi being rested. Get on the home side here.
17:35 (AEST), Sat 13th Apr @ FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
History: Played 30: Chiefs 19 V Blues 10 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 8, 2018: Chiefs 21 d Blues 19 at FMG Stadium Waikato
Final Thoughts: Both at rock-bottom during the early rounds, the Chiefs and Blues are both in eye-catching form and can take a big step towards the finals with a North Island derby triumph.
The Chiefs are still an unflattering 13th, but have grabbed a draw with the Hurricanes and overseas wins over the Bulls and Jaguares in their last three games before last week’s bye. The Blues have won four straight, including a nail-biting 32-29 victory over the Waratahs in Round 8.
The Chiefs are on a 13-match unbeaten streak against the Blues. All but one of those encounters, however, was decided by a 1-12 margin. Last season the Chiefs edged the Blues 27-21 in Auckland and 21-19 in Hamilton.
Famously bad on the road, the Blues have not beaten a New Zealand rival away since early-2013. That’s enough to get behind the Chiefs in what should be another close-fought encounter.
19:45 (AEST), Sat 13th Apr @ GIO Stadium, Canberra
History: Played 21: Brumbies 13 V Lions 7 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 14, 2018: Lions 42 d Brumbies 24 at Ellis Park
Final Thoughts: The second-last Brumbies are virtually in do-or-die territory already, winning just two of their seven games. They have lost their last two to the Reds and Crusaders by identical 36-14 scorelines.
The Lions have a battle on their hands for the South African Conference title they have had a stranglehold on for three years. They currently sit seventh with a 4-3 record after being spanked by the Sharks last weekend.
The Brumbies have won eight of the last 12 games between the sides, but the Lions grinded out a 13-6 victory in Canberra in 2017 and powered to a 42-24 win in Johannesburg last year. The Brumbies have a 10-2 record against the Lions at home.
Both sides are horribly out of form, which makes this game a tough betting proposition. But the Lions’ superior attacking arsenal gives them a solid edge against a Brumbies side that has lost any semblance of its trademark defensive steel.
23:05 (AEST), Sat 13th Apr @ Kings Park, Durban
History: Played 6: Sharks 5 V Jaguares 1
Last meeting: Round 19, 2018: Sharks 20 d Jaguares 10 at Kings Park
Final Thoughts: The 4-3 Sharks have jumped into the South African Conference lead with a spectacular 42-5 rout of the Lions in Johannesburg in Round 8. But they need to put wins up consistently to be a realistic chance of retaining their current position.
The 3-4 Jaguares will have designs on top spot still, particularly after chalking up a rare win in the Republic against the Bulls last weekend.
The Jaguares notched their first-ever win over the Sharks last May, powering to a 29-13 success in Buenos Aries with a late surge. But the Sharks are unbeaten against the Jags in Durban – including a 20-10 final-round result last season. Five of their six previous meetings were decided by 10 points or less.
The Sharks have won seven of their last nine at Kings Park and the momentum from last week’s victory should carry them to another important intra-conference win.
01:15 (AEST), Sun 14th Apr @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
History: Played 21: Reds 12 V Bulls 9
Last meeting: Round 4, 2018: Reds 20 d Bulls 14 at Suncorp Stadium
Final Thoughts: The 4-3 Bulls sit sixth on the table and are only behind the Sharks on bonus points. But last week’s 22-20 home loss to the Jaguares was a major missed opportunity.
The 3-4 Reds have been up and down, but emphatic wins over the Brumbies (36-14) and Stormers (24-12) – bookending a disappointing loss to the Rebels (32-13) – suggest Brad Thorn has this side moving in the right direction.
The last 12 Bulls-Reds matches have gone the way of the home side, with the Reds boasting just two wins in nine visits to Pretoria. The Bulls prevailed 41-22 at Loftus Versfeld in 2017, but the Reds got up 20-14 in Brisbane last year.
The Reds have won just two of their last 13 on the road and an upset in the Pretoria pressure-cooker would seem beyond them, but the tourists look a decent shout with a big start.