With the lottery that is Super Rugby these predictions have become daunting with each week providing one rather large upset to contend with. I shall attempt to get on the better side of 50% this week although the Force and Rebels will likely have something to say about that!
Friday 26 April
Hurricanes vs Stormers - FMG Stadium, Palmerston North - 09:35
The first game of the weekend could also prove to be the most tightly contested in a weekend where in general the home sides are pretty big favourites. The Canes were blown away by the Blues and not remotely convincing in their win over the Force last week. The Jullian Savea drama has dominated the teams news in the lead up to this match and has resulted in the devastating winger being omitted from the squad. These two represent very contrasting styles, but a key point for me is, with their poor defensive set up, the Canes are very vulnerabal against direct teams. The Storm should look to play in the right areas and use their bruising defence to force the Canes into mistakes when they run from deep...as they always do...
My Call: Stormers by 2
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Matt Proctor, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8. Victor Vito, 7 Karl Low, 6 Brad Shields, 5. Jason Eaton, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2. Motu Matu’u, 1. Ben Franks.
Bench: Ash Dixon, Ben May, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave, Ardie Savea, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi.
Stormers: 15. Joe Pietersen, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Gary van Aswegen, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Michael Rhodes, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Pat Cilliers, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Bench: 16. Scarra Ntubeni, 17. Brok Harris, 18. Rynardt Elstadt, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Nic Groom 21. Louis Schreuder, 22. Damian de Allende
Reds vs Blues - Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - 11:40
The Reds are returning to full strength and it is no coincidence that their push on from also-rans to serious contenders for the trophy came about once their leadership core of James horewill and Will Genia had settled back into the team. I said last week that if they could beat the Brumbies then the 'not as good as they look' tag will be thrown out the window, well a dominating performance and an unlucky draw has had the same effect. They are officially in the title race in a big way! The Blues have had a few off field issues in the lead up to this match but they are a tight unit so this wont effect their focus. They are very unpredictable and can beat any team in the competition with ease on their day. The two key areas where the Blues have been strong this season have been at the break down and the fringes but unfortunately for them I feel the Reds will trump them here this week. Liam Gill and Genia should get the upper hand in their personal duels with Braid and Weepu-but I wouldnt put any money on that! Tight match but as is the theme this week...home side to win.
My Call: Reds by 5
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Bench: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Ed O’Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 22 Dom Shipperley.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Albert Nikoro, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Ronald Raaymakers, 19 Brendon O’Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Francis Saili.
Saturday 27 April
Chiefs vs Sharks - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton - 09:35
Crises Alert!! The Sharks seem to be in free fall! Just two weeks ago they were sitting very comfortably at the top of their conference, still the majority of the publics pick as SA contenders for the trophy. Two losses on the trot and further injuries to key personel sees them setting off on tour in a desperate state. Just two players in the run on team this week would likely make their full strength 15. That in it self should be enough to decise the winner here. The chiefs have been in a serious mid season slump after consecutive losses to Aussi opposition which has seen them too lose their spot at the top of their conference. this has seen Dave Rennie make changes too but for me many have seen their better players return with them boasting their best possible backline combination. It is a real pitty what the current state of affairs at the Sharks has dont to this fixture as it should have been a cracker of a clash and the highlight of the weekend. Such are the ups and downs in Rugby however. The new look Sharks side should show genuine heart but they lack the quality to get a result at the home of the defending champs.
My Call: Chiefs by 6
Chiefs: 15. Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Richard Kahui, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10. Aaron Cruden, 9. August Pulu, 8. Nick Crosswell, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 6. Liam Messam, 5. Brodie Retallick, 4. Craig Clarke (c), 3. Mike Kainga, 2. Mahonri Schwalger, 1. Toby Smith.
Bench: Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, Mike Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Brendon Leonard, Bundee Aki, Charlie Ngatai
Sharks: 15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Francois Steyn, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Piet Lindeque, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Lubabalo Mtembu, 7. Jean Deysel (captain), 6. Derick Minnie, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Wiehahn Herbst
Bench: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Danie Mienie, 18. Franco van der Merwe, 19. Keegan Daniel, 20. Marcell Coetzee, 21. Cobus Reinach, 22. S’bura Sithole
Brumbies vs Force - Canberra Stadium, Canberra - 11:40
The Brumbies were outplayed by the Reds for long periods last week but showed the full effectiveness of their defensive pattern in that time. With the Crusaders coming to visit next week the Brumbies will know the importance of getting the 5 points at home here, so I expect them to loosen up their game compared to the tight approach they took against the Reds and use the speed out wide of Mogg and Speight to really hurt the Force.
My Call: Brumbies 10
Brumbies: 1. Scott Sio, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Ben Alexander, 4. Peter Kimlin, 5. Sam Carter, 6. Ben Mowen, 7. George Smith, 8. Fotu Auelua, 9. Nic White, 10. Matt Toomua, 11. Joseph Tomane, 12. Christian Lealiifano, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Jesse Mogg.
Bench: 16. Siliva Siliva, 17. Ruaidhri Murphy, 18. Leon Power, 19. Colby Faingaa, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Pat McCabe, 22. Robbie Coleman.
Bulls vs Waratahs - Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - 17:05
The Bulls were not just acurate in their exceptional demolition of the Kings last week-their finishing was ruthless. They may have been allowed a lot of space to run at by a Kings defence slower off the mark than Frans Steyn at the moment but that was simply the invitation they were craving. It is hard to judge just how god they were last week as the Kings, to put it simply, played like the team everyone expected to see going into this season. The Waratahs showed with their victory over the Chiefs last week that they do in fact have ability to play-not just provide us with visual sleeping pills for mid day naps. The Bulls know that after their very poor tour they can not afford to drop a point at home and will begin the match accordingly, however the Tahs have the ability to bring opposing teams down to their level so this may not be the run away victory many expect.
My Call: Bulls by 9
Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling
Bench: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Hencus van Wyk, 18 Wilhem Steenkamp, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouchè, 22 Lionel Mapoe
Cheetahs vs Kings - Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - 19:10
The Cheetahs continue to surprise with each match they play and considering their easy run in are now surely favourites for the SA conference. (I'm amazed as I type that!) The Kings were simply blown off the park last week by a Bulls team that thrived from all the prematch banter between the camps. For me the introduction of Luke Watson straight into the starting line up was not just a mistake-it was idiotic especially considering it was very clear he is not 100% fit. The Kings will have learned from the hammering last week and will most certainly be closer to the team they were on tour than the vodacom cup team they performed as in PE last week. The Cheetahs will be looking for a full house here but I think the Kings are going to be back to their most stubborn best.
My Call: Cheetahs by 7
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johan Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk De Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Bench: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Frans Viljoen, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Ryno Benjamin
Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Siyanda Grey, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Michael Killian, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Bench: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Luke Watson, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Siviwe Soyizwapi
Sunday 28 April
Crusaders vs Rebels, AMI Stadium, Christchurch 06:05
Some may have forgotten that the Crusaders actually lost this fixture last year. Believe me-the boys from Christchurch have not. They have already been humiliated once this season against the 'Farce' so won't let that happen again. They got their season back on track last week and they will certainly kick up another gear here.
My Call: Crusaders by 16
So thats another full seven game weekend for you to get your picks wrong on SuperBru and wonder how it is that Rugby karma hates you just that much. Or maybe thats just me? Two Friday games and one way traffic on Sunday actually only leaves us with four matches on Saturday..no excuses for missing a minute then! If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a weekend commitment you don't want to go to! Never has a wiser word been spoken!
The Oval Ball Rules All!