Hurricanes vs Highlanders – Friday 5.30pm
The Highlanders are without their captain Jimmy Cowan and will also be missing Jamie Mackintosh due to injuries against the Brumbies last week. The Hurricanes meanwhile played some good rugby in the second half last week and I reckon they’ll be too strong at home for the Highlanders.
Waratahs vs Chiefs – Friday 7.30pm
Not that I’ll ever tip against the Tahs, but this week we’re looking particularly fine. Wycliffe Palu returns to the starting lineup and we’ll be hoping his physical presence will allow us to retain more than 30% possession. It’ll be good to have a number 8 who’s not afraid of rucks, as opposed to Scott Fava who still thinks he’s playing in the Force’s “forwards“. The Chiefs continue their bad run with injuries and have lost captain Mils Mulianina and number 8 Sione Luaki from their clash with the Crusaders. Outside centre Richard Kahui is also in doubt, though rumours are he’s just scared of Rob Horne.
Tip: Mighty Tahs
Force vs Cheetahs – 9.45pm Friday
The chosen one Ben Castle is set to debut for the Force and carry not only the hopes of several hundred Force fans, but also 7 other blokes who can’t scrummage to save their lives. Fortunately he’ll be up against a Cheetahs scrum that got spanked up front last week by the Lions, so we can hope for the Force to gain parity at the set piece and unleash their backline. A combination of travel and being shithouse should hamper the Cheetahs enough to grant the Western Force that rarest of pleasures – a home victory.
I’m looking forward to the loose battle of David Pocock and Juan Smith looms as the matchup to watch this game.
Stormers vs Reds – 4.05am Saturday
To their credit the Queenslanders stood up last week and were in the game until a yellow card let the Bulls get away from them. McLinden has gained promotion and will provide some highlights from full back, while Peter Hynes returns to the wing. The Stormers are a good unit and I fully expect them to open their 2009 Super 14 account on Saturday morning.
Brumbies vs Crusaders – 7.30pm Saturday
The ponies looked good last week and will only improve at home. Mortlock looks dangerous every time he touches the ball and Stephen Moore is one hell of a hooker. The Crusaders are weakened by injury, having lost their captain Richie McCaw, lock Brad Thorn and fullback Leon MacDonald.
Bulls vs Blues – 1.55am Sunday
This is a tough one. I believe the Blues to be a better team, but I wonder how well they travelled and how well they cope with the altitude of Loftus Versfeld. They’ve also had a bad run with injuries, Keven Mealamu is doubtful and may be on the sidelines with Jerome Kaino, Joe Rokococo and Rudi Wulf allowing Josh Blackie to debut at the Auckland franchise. The Bulls have lost their captain Victor Matfield so Bakkies Botha will probably go mad and dive shoulder first into a ruck again.
Tip: Blues in a close one
Sharks vs Lions – 4.05am Sunday
Back in Durban, the Sharks should walk away with this one against Joburg’s bottom feeders.