The NSW Waratahs haven’t won a game in New Zealand since 2010. They’ll be looking to break their drought against the Chiefs.
Crusaders v Western Force, AMI Stadium, Friday
A win for the Western Force this Friday will see the competition’s surprise packets leapfrog the Crusaders and the Waratahs into second place on the ladder. However, the Crusaders captain Kieran Read returns from injury, slotting straight into a team that has won four of the past five games and wants to take control of the New Zealand conference. Read, reigning IRB player of the year, will no doubt be eager to make a big impact as the season moves into its final rounds. This is a good opportunity to gain home ground advantage for the post-season.
Newsroom’s prediction: Crusaders by 12
Queensland Reds v Highlanders, Suncorp Stadium, Friday
The Queensland Reds have been awful this season. The absence of Wallaby vice-captain Quade Cooper will not help their cause when the in-form Highlanders take them on at Suncorp. The points difference is all that keeps the 2011 Super Rugby Champions above the last-placed Lions, though they have a game up their sleeve. The new Reds coach, Richard Graham, will surely be feeling the heat. The Queensland Rugby Union high-ups mist be wondering about lining up a replacement if the Reds lose again this week.
Newsroom’s prediction: Highlanders by 3
Chiefs v NSW Waratahs, Yarrow Stadium, Saturday
This game will be a chance for the Waratahs to silence the doubters and win their first game in New Zealand since 2010, and stamp their credentials as genuine title challengers. They face the reigning champions the Chiefs, and winning in Waikato is no easy task for any team. The match up of the two fly-halves Bernard Foley and Aaron Cruden will be a deciding factor in the game and could give us a taste of things to come in the upcoming Test Rugby season.
Newsroom’s prediction: Waratahs by 5
Blues v Hurricanes, Eden Park Saturday
This could turn out to be the match of the round as the two attack-focused teams meet at Eden Park. A bonus point win for the Hurricanes would see them move to 41 competition points, and possibly leading the New Zealand conference depending on the Crusaders result on Friday. However the 10th placed Blues will look to end their two match losing streak and put the Hurricanes in doubt of making the finals series. How Jerome Kaino and Maa Nonu play will decide the game; it’s as simple as that.
Newsroom’s prediction: Hurricanes by 10
Brumbies v Rebels, GIO Stadium, Saturday
The Brumbies lie one point outside the top six so a win over the Melbourne Rebels will see them move into a good position to make the finals. The Rebels have been disappointing this season, but a win in Canberra would all but ensure they avoid the wooden spoon in 2014.
Newsroom’s prediction: Brumbies by 20
Lions v Bulls, Ellis Park, Sunday
Both teams play classically South African rugby, so expect a territory-focused encounter. The Lions are in last place but have performed well at home this season, winning three of their five games there. The Bulls have been awful away, losing all six games on the road. But the Bulls will be hungry to make a finals appearance this year and a win against the lowly Lions should not prove impossible. Expect the two fly-halves to rack up the majority of the points in this one.
Newsroom’s prediction: Bulls by 11
Sharks v Stormers, Growthpoint, Sunday
The first-placed Sharks return to the Shark Tank this week after their win at Eden Park last week against the Blues. The Stormers come off their 33-point shut-out of the Cheetahs so this may well be a very entertaining encounter. The Sharks have won six of their past seven encounters at home, suggesting the Stormers will be hard-pressed to score a win.
Newsroom’s prediction: Sharks by 9 – Louis Dillon
Top photo from Jonno Simpson’s Twitter page.