It’s the Bulls and Sharks who need to fly the Saffer Super14 flag this weekend with the Stormers taking a breather after a power performance at Newlands to provide them with a perfect tour send off. I have written the Cheetahs and Lions off to bad debts I am afraid. But I see black clouds for the Bulls in Wellington, so think it will be up to the Sharks to do the business in Perth to provide us with a silver lining …
Friday, March 20
Hurricanes v Bulls, Wellington 08:35
An absolute cracker to start with … potentially the game of the weekend! Which also makes it pretty damn tricky to predict a winner. With 18 points from 4 games, the Bulls are on top of the pile, but they will be properly tested this weekend by the likes of So’oialo, Smith and Nonu, who now has a sensational pass as part of his brutal armoury. But in Spies, Du Preez and Steyn, who has to be the most under rated flyhalf in the country, the Bulls have a few superstars of their own. Both sides enjoyed a week off last weekend, which does beg the question as to why the Bulls chose only to arrive in New Zealand on Tuesday this week? Smacks of a side not that mad on touring, so I am going with the home side. Hurricanes by 5.
Saturday, March 21
Highlanders v Cheetahs, Dunedin 06:30
A truly horrible bottom of the log scrap that surely cannot be worth getting up at 06h30 to watch! Nope – enjoy your Friday night celebrations and sleep in a little I think. So far the trip away has rightfully borne no fruit for the Cheetahs and they will be determined to finish with a win – even if only to get a few locals at their first game in Bloem in a few weeks time! But these Dunedin boys have beaten the Crusaders (OK, so they are not half the side they used to be) and pushed what looks to be a pretty solid Chiefs side pretty close. Highlanders by 10.
Chiefs v Blues, Hamilton 08:35
Tough one to call, I must say! The fourth-placed Blues take on their nearest New Zealand neighbours, the Chiefs, in a critical New Zealand derby. Basically it pits exciting attack against stoic defence. According to SAPA, the Blues have scored 18 tries this year, seven more than the Chiefs, but the Chiefs have allowed in eight fewer tries than the Blues. But Mils Muliaina is back to join Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, and Sitiveni Sivivatu to form what is a pretty potent backline. But I am a traditionalist, so reckon the All Black front row together with new superstar, Rene Ranger will do it for the visitors. Blues by 4.
Waratahs v Crusaders, Sydney 10:40
Last year’s final! But with the personnel so vastly changed, it almost seems like a different sport this year. The Waratahs will be looking to make amends for last week's demise against the Brumbies, and are defending a 10-match unbeaten streak at home … While the Crusaders are looking to snap an unprecedented four-match run without a win! They did look much better with Stephen Brett at flyhalf last week, but that second half demise to draw 23-all draw with the Force, must be playing on their minds. Still no Richie McCaw for the visitors, while the home side boast the likes of Wycliff Palu and Phil Waugh in their loose trio. Tahs by 2!
Western Force v Sharks, Perth 12:45
Another bloody tricky call. Why do I do this to myself? I must remember to knock the owner of SuperBru out when I next see him … The Force are turning out in pink as part of a fund-raiser for the Western Australia Breast Cancer Foundation, and if that does not get the Sharks, who suffered a surprise first loss of the season to the Reds last week, going, nothing will. I like the fact that John Smit is back at hooker – not only because he is the best hooker in the country, but also because it brings Jannie du Plessis, who is having a fantastic season, back into the mix at tighthead. And with games being won and lost up front, that should see them done and dusted. BUT!!! The injury to Ruan Pienaar sees Francois Steyn get his first start at flyhalf this season, and that to my mind, is very bad news for the Sharks. The slightly petulant youngster will no doubt try and do a little too much on his own, and thus negate the firepower outside him. But I still think they will have enough in the tank to take this one … Just. Sharks by 4.
Lions v Brumbies, Coca-Cola Park 17:00
The Lions might have been fooling a few people, but confirmed themselves as bottom feeders against the Stormers last weekend. This while the Brumbies did the exact opposite, confirming their class with a win over the high riding Waratahs. Throw in the fact that forwards coach Leon Boshoff has been suspended for verbally abusing players after last weekend's thrashing and you have a side in a world of hurt. The classy Ernst Joubert is back and replaces Willem Alberts at number eight, but it is up front with that power front row, that they are going to have to do the damage if they want a chance of being in this game. But I think not, and with around 1000 people making their way to Doornfontein for the game – if they are lucky – I think we are witnessing the beginning of the end for the Lions. Brumbies by 12.
You simply have to find an excuse to get out the office for a breakfast “meeting” on Friday, and hope and pray that I know nothing about rugby. Earn a few points with the missus on Friday because Saturday looms large and life like. Five games of Super Rugby interspersed with the Newlands test match … I have seen marriages come second to a lot less than that … Good luck!