After eleven rounds, just seven points separate the top nine teams in the Super 14! The Bulls and the Sharks both need to win to keep themselves in the top four and on course for a place in the semi-finals. The Stormers, though, themselves out of contention for a spot in the final four, could do their fellow countrymen a real favour by taking out the Chiefs in the final game …
But I am afraid I do not see it happening that way …
Friday, May 01
Hurricanes v Blues, Wellington 09:35
Now this is one hell of a start to the Super14 weekend! A win for the Blues will put keep them in the hunt, but if the Hurricanes win, they could extend their lead on the log and put further pressure on the chasing pack. The ‘Canes smashed the Brumbies last weekend while the Blues came badly unstuck against the pesky Reds after a power failure in Auckland. Thus a “No brainer” prediction? You wish. This Blues side can beat anyone on their day! I reckon it will be a high scoring, but tight game, with the home side coming right in the end. Hurricanes by 8.
Lions v Crusaders, Coca-Cola Park 15:00
No Richie McCaw for the Crusaders this week, and after an embarrassing loss to the Cheetahs last week, they need to win to remain in the playoff race. The Lions have struggled this season despite playing some good rugby at times. They were dire in their crash to the Force last week in Perth, but will love the fact that they are again at home, even if after a long flight. To have lost Cobus Grobbelaar is fairly brutal, but the centre pairing of Jaque Fourie and Doppies la Grange will be up for the game. It is up front where I think the visitors will do the damage via Isaac Ross and Brad Thorn, though. Crusaders by 5.
Cheetahs v Waratahs, Vodacom Park 17:05
The Cheetahs have two Heinrich Brussow inspired wins from three since returning home and will be keen to keep their good form going against the ‘Tahs. After going down to the Force two weeks ago, the Australians had a bye last week, which saw them drop to seventh place on the log, so they need to win to stay in contention. This could of course play into the Cheetahs’ hands, especially if they can keep their sensational defence from last week against the Crusaders in tact. But I think Brussow will meet his match in Phil Waugh, and the visitors will have just a little too much for the home side. Waratahs by 4.
Saturday, May 02
Reds v Brumbies, Brisbane 11:40
It’s the Ozzie derby! Run for cover, take aunty Mazie to tea, clean the pool, do the local torture trail barefoot … But just do not watch this muck! The Reds pulled off a miracle against the Blues last week, but will be looking to avoid an Ozzie whitewash after losing to both the Waratahs and the Force this year. The Brumbies, meanwhile, still have an outside chance of reaching the semis but will not know what has hit them after last week’s eight-try thrashing by the Hurricanes! I am sure they will do enough to get past the home side, though. Brumbies by 5.
Sharks v Highlanders, The Absa Stadium Durban 15:00
The beginning of the fantastic finale to the Super14 weekend. Three cracker matches that will define the top four on the log! The Sharks are in fourth place after their bye last week and will be determined to put things right after losses to both the Crusaders and Cheetahs. They have Ruan Pienaar back at flyhalf, but reports suggest that his knee is not yet 100% right. Francois Steyn, thankfully is back at centre, but without Adi Jacobs as a partner, and that could be key to the outcome of this game. Probably not as key as how John Smit will do back at tighthead against Jamie Mackintosh, though. I am yet to be convinced about this swapping between hooker and prop lark. But I think the home side will add to the Highlanders woes, who came unstuck against the Stormers last week, and have had to spend a night in business class this week. Sharks by 7.
Bulls v Western Force, Loftus Versfeld 17:05
A match crucial to the semi final ambitions of both teams! The Force are currently in sixth place, and scrambling for that final spot, but a win for the Bulls will virtually end their hopes of making the playoffs. The Force had it easy against the Lions last week, while the Bulls eked one out against the Chiefs, but the Force have had to get from Perth to Pretoria in a week … The last time these sides played at Loftus, the Force won 30-27 … something not easily done at the home of the Bull! Wynand Olivier vs Ryan Cross should be fun to watch, but the damage will be done up front by Victor Matfield and Danie Rossouw. Bulls by 9.
Stormers v Chiefs, Newlands Rugby Stadium 19:10
I can just imagine the Sharks and Bulls players clustered round a TV somewhere, willing the Cape side to victory. Not something you will see every day, I will remind you! But the Stormers really can do both sides a big favour. The Chiefs, now in third on the log, will be looking to bounce back after their defeat against the Bulls last week. The Stormers, on de udder hand, will be desperate to end their fairly diabolical 2009 campaign off on a high note in front of their home fans. Although - Having won only one out of the five away fixtures they will probably just be hoping that a few of those fans actually turn out! Tonderai Chavhanga is back, but Gcobani Bobo is out. Brok Harris was inspirational in his return game last week, but it’s that lock pairing of AJ Venter and Hilton Lobberts that is a concern. Amazingly, Sione Lauaki lives to play another game, and I think the visitors will make any Stormers revival a short one. Chiefs by 7.
It’s a full seven again with all fourteen teams taking to the turf. Luckily we have a game well worth missing on Saturday so we can fire up the biltong, boerewors and beer for the Sharks, Bulls and Stormers finale …
See Tank's report back in his Front Row Grunt blog on Monday