Cape Town - Round 11 was possibly the most predictable yet, with a
whopping 37 861 people achieving a Grand Slam Point (GSP). Will this weekend follow suit, or will we
return to the unpredictability that has characterised the season thus far?
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FRIDAY, MAY 1
Highlanders v Sharks, Dunedin - 09:35
Last year the Highlanders pulled off one of the shocks of
the season when they trounced the Sharks in Durban, Malakai Fekitoa announcing
himself with a breathtaking solo score from 60 metres out. A win this year
would be significantly less of a shock, given the two sides' form. The
Highlanders were hammered by the Brumbies last weekend but had rested Fekitoa
and the two Smiths, Aaron and Ben. All should return this week, which is bad
news for the Sharks who are badly in need of a win having lost their last three
games. They welcome back Bismarck du Plessis, but not as captain.
If the Highlanders' three All Blacks return, they should
record a comfortable enough victory here.
Prediction: Highlanders by 8
Brumbies v Waratahs, Canberra - 11:40
This is a battle for supremacy at the top of the Australian
conference, and a game that could have significant impact over which side goes
on to win it. The Brumbies halted an alarming slum in form last weekend with a
big win over the Highlanders, while the Waratahs have been in decent form
themselves, with back to back wins in recent weeks - although they almost came
unstuck against the Rebels last round.
The Brumbies look rejuvenated and the Waratahs have not won
in Canberra since 2011. A home win.
Prediction: Brumbies by 5
SATURDAY, MAY 2
Blues v Force, Auckland - 07:30
The two teams with the worst winning records come together
this weekend; there are just two wins between the Blues and Force this season.
It makes this game a difficult one to pick. Both sides have played plenty of
good rugby - most recently the Force bagged a bonus point in Hamilton against
the Chiefs - but have failed to be clinical and come away from games with wins.
The Blues have by far the better record in this fixture, the Force's only win
over their hosts coming way back in 2008 - although it was at Eden Park, so
they know what to do to win here.
Home advantage will be key, and the Blues have too many
quality players to lose this one, surely.
Prediction: Blues by 5
Hurricanes v Crusaders, Wellington - 09:35
The Crusaders returned to winning ways last weekend with a
barnstorming victory over the Blues in Christchurch, but travelling away to
league leaders the Hurricanes is an entirely different prospect. The Canes
bounced back from their first loss of the season to the Waratahs with a bonus
point win over the Reds, but they too know this weekend holds a bigger
challenge. It is the kind of the game the Crusaders need to win if they are to
have any chance of getting back into the title race.
They have won just one of the last five meetings between the
two sides, however, and the hosts have a new-found steel this season that has
placed them amongst the favourites to lift the trophy. Expect them to play like
it this weekend.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 9
Rebels v Chiefs, Melbourne - 11:40
The Rebels have been somewhat of a surprise package this
season, their four wins already equalling their total for the entirety of last
year's competition. They sit just about within touching distance of the
conference top two, although a solid mid table finish is probably an outcome
they would take. They face an uphill battle this weekend, however, against a
Chiefs side who have won their last four on the bounce and are playing some
sensationally good rugby, with the likes of Charlie Ngatai and Tim Nanai-Williams
in lethal form.
The Chiefs are playing like the champions they strive to be
once again, and have never lost to the Rebels. That's not about to change this
Prediction: Chiefs by 10
Cheetahs v Stormers, Bloemfontein - 17:05
The Stormers' win over the Bulls may not have been pretty,
but it showed the kind of grit that has seen them return to the top of the
South African conference. It was also their third win in a row, after their mid
season blip on tour. The Cheetahs contributed to a thrilling encounter at Ellis
Park but, as has been the case too often this season, found themselves on the
wrong side of the scoreboard come the final whistle.
The hosts have won just two of the last 12 installments of
this fixture, although they have won the last couple of games in Bloemfontein.
I'd expect the Stormers to halt that trend this weekend, however.
Prediction: Stormers by
Bulls v Lions, Pretoria - 19:10
The Lions' quite astonishing run of five wins in a row has
rocketed them up the table to the point where they now sit just three points
behind their opponents this weekend. They are on the charge and a win here
would likely see them leapfrog the Bulls into the wildcard spots. The hosts'
loss to the Stormers was a blow to their chances but they will take solace in
the knowledge that their opponents this weekend have not won at Loftus Versfeld
for over a decade.
This looks like the best chance the Lions have had of doing
so for quite some time - but their winning run has to come to an end at some
stage, and a venue at which they have so rotten a record seems as likely a
place as any for it to happen.
Prediction: Bulls by 3
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