Not one away win last week resulted in a pretty miserable weekend for most tipsters. A meager 3 out of 6 for us meant the first really shocking round we’ve had so far this season.
Remember, this weekend is the last of the ‘bye’ rounds, with both the Force and the Bulls on a break.
With that, let’s get to the previews for Week 11…
Saders vs Blues
Both these sides have struggled a bit since their star flyhalves got injured, and this does not bode well for New Zealand rugby on the whole. Even though Evans is back for the Blues, he doesn’t seem to have been able to get his backline away as smoothly as before his concussion. The Blues have subsequently gone backwards at an alarming rate, and another loss here could knock them out of the pack of semi final contenders completely.
It is too early to say that the Crusaders have suffered a slump in form after only one loss, but they will need to bounce back very quickly because their aura of invincibility was trashed somewhat, last week against the Chiefs. They look beatable without Carter, but still contain a team that can tear you to shreds, given half a chance.
It will be interesting to see just how much last week’s loss has affected the Crusaders’ confidence, and that could determine the result in this game. The Blues have been terrible the last few weeks, but like we’ve said before, it just takes one game to get back on track. Just don’t expect it to be this game… Saders to take this at home.
Brumbies vs Lions
The Brumbies have suddenly come good when no one really expected them to. Beating the Blues and Sharks on successive weekends was a real bonus for this young team, and they have a real sniff of a semi final place now. With senior players slowly coming back into the fold, people are starting to sit up and take notice of this side.
The Lions have been able to subdue teams for certain periods of their games, but have just not been able to put in a sustained 80-minute effort. Fitness is normally the problem in these cases. They are still looking for their first overseas win of the season, but are unlikely to find the Brumbies in charitable mood.
Brumbies are on a bit of a roll and should walk this one. They will need to win well to stay in contention, because next week sees them in South Africa for the start of their tour.
Chiefs vs Reds
The Chiefs are looking extremely dangerous, and they are making their customary charge just a bit earlier this year. This side can run any team off the park on their day, and the win over the Crusaders last week was their 4th in a row. They are looking like real contenders.
The Reds really surprised the Force last week, but you could put a large part of that down to some really poor decision-making from their opposition and home-ground advantage. Unfortunately, away from home, they are not the same side.
If the Chiefs are complacent, they could lose this, because no game in this tournament is easy. But if they keep playing the way that they have, we could be in for a real treat here. I’m going to go for the latter, so the Chiefs to take this very comfortably – Bonus point included in the package.
’Tahs vs Sharks
The Waratahs are another team on a roll, having also won their last 4 games. Their defence is just incredible, and last week the Lions could find no way through. Their upcoming trip to South Africa will determine their playoff fate this year.
I predicted a win for the Sharks last week, but I also said that if they lost, they would be in a bit of trouble, because they would fall back into that chasing pack of 6 or 7 teams. Unfortunately for them, they had a shocking second half, and a referee that seemed intent on penalizing them. That is just the way it goes in this tournament, so the Sharks will have to just buckle down and get on with it if they want to stay in the race.
This should be a great game to watch, because both teams are in pretty good form. The Sharks definitely have the ability to win away from home, but their mental toughness is once again being called into question. Muller unfortunately does not seem to be in the same league as Smit in the captaincy stakes. As much as we’d all want a South African win here, I just can’t see them taking the Waratahs in this one. ’Tahs to remain unbeaten at home.
Cheetahs vs Hurricanes
The Cheetahs’ log position does not do justice to the rugby they play. However, the game is about results, and that is all that matters. You hope they they will keep their structures in place for next year, because with better conditioning and a few more experienced players, they could prove a real threat next season.
The Hurricanes are definitely not out of the race for the semi-finals after last week’s loss. They are still playing quality rugby, and their defence is a real tough nut to crack. The fact that the free-scoring Stormers could only score 2 tries against them, is testament to that.
This is going to be another nice-to-watch, free-scoring game, and I feel that the Cheetahs will give the ‘Canes quite a few problems in defence. Whether they have enough to finish the job is debatable, so I’ll go for the ’Canes by a few here. They just have too much quality and experience.
Stormers vs Highlanders
The Stormers have been playing great rugby of late, but they will definitely have been disrupted by injuries to key players this week. This is the point of the season where we will see if they have the strength-in-depth to continue on their merry way.
The Highlanders are not a very good side this season, especially away from home. They were dismantled last week by the Bulls, and will have done well if they leave the Republic with a win this year.
On paper, the Stormers should win this pretty easily. However, they are known to implode against the weaker teams when it is least expected. It is still hard to look at any result other than a Stormers win though. Anything other than a 5-pointer will be looked at as a disappointment, especially with some tough games to follow in the run-in.Tweet