Cape Town - So, after a truly fascinating final round of regular competition, the Super Rugby season heads into the home straight. This weekend sees a delicious double-header of playoff matches featuring four sides whose momentum is almost irresistible.
Starting off a scintillating Saturday of rugby, the Bulls head to Christchurch for a showdown against Richie McCaw’s Crusaders. Pretoria’s finest have a 37-20 win over a tenacious Lions outfit in their legs from Round 18 but now face an altogether more imposing proposition.
Having endured a dire second half from his charges as they laboured to a 38-24 victory against the Western Force, Todd Blackadder will not stand for more sloppiness from last season’s losing finalists. Expect the hosts to put 80 minutes of intense graft and hard running together - nothing else will be tolerated. Neither Dan Carter nor McCaw will be wrapped in cotton wool at half-time either. Remember the All Black backlash against Ireland in Hamilton last month? Expect something similar.
For the visitors, mercurial Springbok scrumhalf Francois Hougaard will have to get the Bulls pack - Jacques Potgieter and friends - rampaging around the fringes in the early stages. Only then can the pace of Akona Ndungane and Bjorn Basson - the competition’s joint-top try-scorer this term - cause problems. In what will be a tense, tight atmosphere, Morne Steyn must locate his kicking boots too.
With a staggering return of 10 titles between them, neither of these teams lack for big-match pedigree and a compelling classic surely awaits. The Crusaders' desire to defend Christchurch may prove just too much, though. Prediction: Crusaders by 6
Next, over at Brisbane’s iconic Suncorp Stadium, comes another titanic tussle as the Reds, proud defending champions, entertain the Sharks. Do not miss this one!
The week’s unavoidable news - that Quade Cooper misses the match through suspension - has rocked the Queenslanders, even if they have managed the majority of the year without him anyway. Will Genia’s boys are made of stern stuff, though, and are sure to rally around their inspirational skipper. Scott Higginbotham for one, set for a close season move down the East Coast to the Rebels, will be especially hell-bent on creating havoc.
Hungry for their first trophy in this tournament having twice fallen at the final hurdle, the Sharks ride into the fixture on the back of a sensational second-half showing against the Cheetahs.
Whoever plays in the back row - pick a terrible trio out of captain Keegan Daniel, Marcel Coetzee, Ryan Kankowski and Willem Alberts - will be in a destructive mood. Outside of that, Freddie Michalak can tear defences to shreds and has JP Pietersen, the in-form wing in world rugby, to unleash. However, disruptive injuries to Pieter-Steph du Toit, Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn are significant.
Genia has spoken this week about avenging the regular season tussle at Kings Park, which saw the Reds surrender a 17-0 lead to be beaten 27-22. Suncorp will be a hive of energy awaiting the same kind of drama. No neutral will leave disappointed...Prediction: Reds by 2
That is all for this week. Best of luck with all your SuperBru picks and see you on the other side.Click HERE to follow Charlie Morgan on Twitter