Testing obstacles for Stormers and Bulls
The Sharks will spend the Easter Weekend watching the rugby on television while banking their four Vodacom Super Rugby log points for the bye, and the Cheetahs shouldn’t be challenged by the Rebels, but it’s set to be a testing Saturday for the Stormers and the Bulls.
The latter have lost two on the trot and after starting their tour so well against the Blues, they’re now under pressure. Winning in Canberra against the Brumbies on Saturday morning will give them a two wins in four starts record for the tour, which would be good enough. Defeat will leave it at one from four, and that would signify failure.
There’s no Flip van der Merwe in the Bulls' pack but they do have an exciting backline lining up this week. Not that it will be that aspect of the game they will be banking on against a Brumbies team that, with Jesse Mogg absent, came second in the kicking game against the Stormers last Saturday.
The Bulls have a good kicking game so much may hinge on whether Mogg is fit for this week.
The Stormers must start as strong favourites against the Crusaders as the visitors will be without Dan Carter and Kieran Read. The concern though for the Stormers should be the changes that have been forced on them during the week in the front row.
WEEKEND PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS( all times CAT, SA, GMT+2)
HIGHLANDERS v REDS (Dunedin, Friday 8.35am)
The Reds might end up feeling that they drew the short straw by having to be the team that travels to Dunedin this weekend. The Highlanders have been well below expectation this season, but there is too much talent in their team for them not to come right, and it felt like they might be starting to do that when they pushed the Chiefs in Hamilton last week. The Reds were fortunate to scrape through against the Bulls last time out and it may be that, like the Sharks, they are disadvantaged at this stage of the year by having to do all their training in humid conditions.
Prediction: Highlanders by 3 to 10.
HURRICANES v SOUTHERN KINGS (Wellington, Saturday 5.35am)
The Kings might be better off if they didn’t defend as well as they do. Does that sound ridiculous? Well, hear me out. Many of the bonus points the Lions picked up during their years of struggle in Super Rugby were attained in the final quarter of matches where the opposition, having won the game already, made changes and took their foot off the accelerator. The Kings put in such a big defensive effort that it must feel to opponents that they are still in a game even when they’re not. The Kings should have learned something about how to defend against teams that play with width last week and they have Andries Strauss back this time, but you would still expect the Hurricanes to win comfortably.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 12+
CHIEFS v BLUES (Hamilton, Saturday 8.35am)
Given that these two teams are near neighbours, with not much more than an hour or two of motorway separating them, it becomes harder to predict a result. In the years where the Blues were the big team in the region, the Chiefs often pulled out something special and made games competitive when they weren’t expected to be. Now that the boot is on the other foot, it could well be the Blues’ turn to pull off a surprise. Not that it would be a complete shock, as the Blues were one of the form teams until they got knocked over by the Bulls a few weeks back. They lost further ground against the Waratahs in the most recent round, so the smart money does have to be on the Chiefs, who have lost just once. But it may not be the gimme many will expect it to be.
Prediction: Chiefs by 5 to 12.
BRUMBIES v VODACOM BULLS (Canberra, Saturday 10.40am)
I still can’t see a Brumbies team (at the time of writing) so there's still no indication whether Jesse Mogg will be lining up for the Brumbies at fullback. If he is, then it could be a tough one for the Bulls, as he has the distance on his field kicks to deal with the Pretoria team’s kicking game, and there is no reason to believe the Brumbies will come second in the forward battle against a pack that has seen a lot of changes made recently. If he’s not there, however, the Bulls do have more than just a small glimmer of hope and I would even make them slight favourites.
Prediction: Brumbies to edge it.
TOYOTA CHEETAHS v MELBOURNE REBELS (Bloemfontein, Saturday 5.05pm)
After doing so well overseas the Cheetahs can’t afford to now undo that good work by slipping up at home against a team that was really woeful in Durban last week. The Cheetahs, with Heinrich Brussow making such a massive statement at the breakdown and their defence so much better than it used to be, should make it a fourth consecutive win.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 8+
DHL STORMERS v CRUSADERS (Cape Town, Saturday 7.10pm)
The Crusaders have become a bit of a hoodoo side for the Stormers and the fact they are missing so many of their first choice players for this game does not necessarily mean that trend should change on Saturday. The Crusaders won at Newlands in a league game in 2011 when they were virtually reduced to second-string status and the Stormers were at full strength. This time, in addition to Richie McCaw, the Crusaders are without Dan Carter and skipper Kieran Read. But the Stormers aren’t exactly at full-strength either, with Bryan Habana, Schalk Burger, Eben Etzebeth, Tiaan Liebenberg and Steven Kitshoff all watching from the sidelines. It is the absence of those last two, to injury and suspension respectively, that should be of concern to Stormers fans given that the scrum and the lineouts were where the Crusaders outplayed them in the past. At home though, and considering the momentum they picked up over the past two weeks, the Stormers should be the favourites.
Prediction: Stormers by 7 to 15.
WARATAHS v WESTERN FORCE (Sydney, Sunday 7.05am)
The Waratahs picked up some much needed momentum when they beat the Blues last Sunday and they should have too much for a Western Force team that shocked the Reds a fortnight back but was back in the doldrums against the Cheetahs.
Prediction: Waratahs by 5 to 12.