Round seven of the Super Rugby season throws up some crucial matches.
Crusaders vs Hurricanes, Friday
A lower table clash sees two Kiwi teams face off. The Crusaders are coming off the bye and will hope to get a win over their national rivals. Both teams last games ended in tense close battles. The Crusaders held on against the Rebels despite giving up most of the possession, but accurate goal kicking kept them in front. The Hurricanes blew the chance to beat the Highlanders in the final minute of their 35-31 loss last week. With 64 percent possession and the majority of stats in their favour, the Hurricanes gave away several penalties in dangerous areas allowing the Highlanders to convert 21 points.
Newsroom’s prediction: Crusaders by 7 points
Rebels vs Brumbies, Friday
Australia’s first match of the round will be played in Melbourne, with the Rebels desperately needing a win over second placed Brumbies. The Rebels have a poor record against the Brumbies losing the past five encounters. They will need to perform much better than last week against the Waratahs where poor defence conceded four tries. Highly favoured Brumbies beat the lowly Stormers last week in Canberra. The Brumbies will need to tighten their defence after 24 missed tackles against the South Africans.
Newsroom’s prediction: Brumbies by 12 points
Blues vs Highlanders, Saturday
These two local new Zealand rivals meet for the second time this season. Both teams are sitting eighth and ninth respectively on the ladder, looking to grab their third win of the season. The Blues had a ten-point win over the Cheetahs last week. Conceding 448 metres and seven clean breaks, a gutsy decision to choose a scrum instead of a penalty goal payed off in the 64th minute, as they took the lead to 14 points. The Highlanders were lucky to come away with the win over the Hurricanes last week, as they nearly blew a 23 point lead, conceding the last three tries of the match. They will need to maintain pressure for the full 80 minutes against the Blues, after giving away 74 percent possession in the second half last week nearly cost them the game.
Newsroom’s prediction: Blues by 7 points
Reds v Stormers, Saturday
Queensland returned from South Africa with two losses, and now face another South African team on home soil. The Reds threw away a 17 point lead over the Lions last week, handing them 66 percent of possession in the second half. Failed lineouts and conceding 16 penalties cost the Reds in Johannesburg. The Stormers had the same kind of story against the Brumbies giving up five line outs. Missed conversions and penalties also cost them nine points.
Newsroom’s prediction: Reds by 7 points
Bulls v Chiefs, Sunday
The Bulls are coming off a win over the first placed Sharks, while the current Super Rugby champs, the Chiefs went down to the Western Force. A second penalty chance near the end gave the Bulls a four point lead, this would be the final margin after a tight match that never reached more than seven points difference. The Bulls clean breaks allowed them to run past a stretched Sharks defence handing them a crucial try. An upset loss to the Force ruined the Chiefs perfect record. The low score left the Chiefs with several penalties and many stats in their favour, but tries win matches and the Chiefs were unable to score any last week.
Newsroom’s prediction: Bulls by 7 points
Sharks v Waratahs, Sunday
Top of the table Sharks host the fifth placed Waratahs at Kings Park, Durban. Injuries to both teams bring a number of changes to the lineups, with Fred Zeilinga replacing star fly half Patrick Lambie, who is out for the season with a torn bicep. New South Wales will be without code hopping sensation Israel Folau. The fullback has scored eight tries this season and will miss the match with a throat injury. Jonno Lance will make his debut as Folau’s replacement since switching from the Reds in the offseason. The Tahs comfortably accounted for the Rebels last week beating the Victorian side by 24 points, but still have work to do in controlling possession after losing three line outs. The Sharks conceded 18 turnovers and lost seven rucks against the Bulls, which they will have worked on in preparation for the Waratahs.
Newsroom’s prediction: Waratahs by 3 points – Lyndon Hall
Top photo from Jonno Simpson’s Twitter page