Preview of Super Rugby Round 8 matches (all times AEST).
FRIDAY, April 13
Blues v Sharks at Eden Park, Auckland 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 15 Blues 4 Sharks 11 Drawn 0
Last clash: Round 2 2011 – Sharks 26 bt Blues 12 in Durban
TAB Sportsbet: Blues $1.65 Sharks $2.15
It’s topsy-turvy times at the Blues, with besieged coach Pat Lam coming close to tears this week after detailing the racist attacks that have been directed towards him and his family via social media. The Blues (one win, five losses) have clearly underperformed this season, but that doesn’t excuse the taunts levelled at Lam, who played for both Samoa and New Zealand. Both teams enter this one on the back of disappointing losses, with the Blues succumbing to the Rebels 34-23 and the Sharks surrendering to the Hurricanes 42-18. The Sharks remain within striking distance of a finals spot, and will take some confidence from the fact they’ve won their past seven matches against the Blues.
Tip: Blues by 2
Force v Waratahs at nib Stadium, Perth 9.10pm
Head to Head: Played 8 Force 2 Waratahs 5 Drawn 1
Last clash: Round 4 2012 – Force 21 bt Waratahs 20 in Sydney
TAB Sportsbet: Force $2.25 Waratahs $1.60
NSW fans booed their team off the park back in round four when the Waratahs lost to the Force by a single point. Waratahs players are still stinging from that loss, and will be aiming to dish up a bit of payback when they travel to Perth. Western Force coach Richard Graham has described this match as an eight-point encounter, and it’s easy to see why considering the tight nature of the Australian conference. Both sides are banking on continuity to get them over the line, with the Waratahs naming an unchanged squad and the Force making just one injury-forced change to their starting line-up.
Tip: Force by 3
SATURDAY, April 14
Crusaders v Stormers at AMI Stadium, Christchurch 5.30pm
Head to Head: Played 16 Crusaders 12 Stormers 4 Drawn 0
Last clash: Semi-final 2011 – Crusaders 29 bt Stormers 10 in Cape Town
TAB Sportsbet: Crusaders $1.55 Stormers $2.35
After a slow start to the year, the Crusaders looked closer to their all-powerful selves in last week’s 32-30 loss to the Bulls, but will need to lift another gear when they host the unbeaten Stormers. Still without champion flanker Richie McCaw (foot), the home side made one big change – moving Dan Carter for just his second game at inside centre in seven years. Tom Taylor takes over the five-eighth jersey and also the goalkicking duties, with Carter’s wayward boot letting the Crusaders down last round. This is the second leg of a difficult four-game away trip for the Stormers, who will be desperate to atone for last year’s home semi-final loss to the Crusaders.
Tip: Stormers by 8
Brumbies v Rebels at Canberra Stadium, Canberra 7.40pm
Head to Head: Played 2 Brumbies 1 Rebels 1 Drawn 0.
Last clash: Round 17 2011 – Brumbies 32 bt Rebels 17 in Canberra.
TAB Sportsbet: Brumbies $1.50 Rebels $2.50
Ahead of their fortnight away in South Africa, the Brumbies have opted for a gamble in pushing several key players to the bench, including Wallabies prop Ben Alexander and hard-working outside centre Andrew Smith. But it spells trouble if the Rebels’ star trio – O’Connor, Beale and Cipriani – can put together another dominant performance in just their second match together. The Brumbies are still two points clear at the top of the Australian conference, but come into the match having lost their last two, while the Rebels pulled off a big upset last week against the highly-fancied Blues. Their line-up is unchanged, so recent form suggests the Brumbies are in for an arm-wrestle.
Tip: Brumbies by 1.
SUNDAY, April 15
Cheetahs v Chiefs at Free State Rugby Stadium, Bloemfontein 2.05am
Head to Head: Played 5 Cheetahs 0 Chiefs 3 Drawn 2
Last clash: Round 11 2010 – Cheetahs 25 drew with Chiefs 25 in Hamilton
TAB Sportsbet: Cheetahs $2.10 Chiefs $1.68
The Cheetahs have never won more than five games in a season, but they’re well on track to finally break that mould after notching three wins from their opening seven games. However, the Chiefs’ talent-laden backline is sure to deliver the Cheetahs a heavy dose of reality. Only some resolute defence from the Force restricted the Chiefs to two tries last week. It was still enough for the Chiefs to win the game, and coach Dave Rennie predicts it’s just a matter of time before his charges really puts an opposition team to the sword. Could it be this week?
Tip: Chiefs by 15
Lions v Bulls at Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg 4.10am
Head to Head: Played 15 Lions 5 Bulls 10 Drawn 0
Last clash: Round 6 2011 – Bulls 30 beat Lions 23 in Pretoria
TAB Sportsbet: Lions $4.20 Bulls $1.20
Most clashes between South African sides are won at the breakdown, and while this game is unlikely to be any different, you can almost already chalk up a win for the Bulls, who are coming off a gritty win over the Crusaders. The Lions have been dreadful to date, thanks in no small part due to a crippling injury crisis, and sit dead last on the Super Rugby ladder. Lions coach John Mitchell made six changes to the team that lost to the Cheetahs, including naming experienced prop CJ van der Linde on the bench in a return from his groin injury. But they are simply band-aid solutions and the Lions are likely to be no match for a mighty Bulls pack led by skipper Pierre Spies.
Tip: Bulls by 28