Preview of Super Rugby Round 11 matches (all times AEST).
FRIDAY, May 4
Hurricanes v Blues at Westpac Stadium, Wellington 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 18 Hurricanes 6 Blues 11 drawn 1
In Wellington: Played 7 Hurricanes 2 Blues 4 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 5 2012 – Hurricanes 26 bt Blues 25 at Eden Park
The Hurricanes’ impressive opening to the season seems a while ago following losses to the Crusaders and Chiefs and it’s a last-ditch time at home now. They’re at least settled after Mark Hammett named an unchanged team. The hapless Blues, on the other hand, have shuffled the chairs and unfortunately for them none of the new faces belong to All Black front-rowers Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock. Young flyhalf Gareth Anscombe is a scapegoat for the 23-11 loss to the Reds with Michael Hobbs taking his place at No.10. Benson Stanley comes into the centres with Rene Ranger moving to wing, while Daniel Braid has been dropped for Chris Lowrey.
Tab Sportsbet: Hurricanes $1.57 Blues $2.30
Tip: Hurricanes by 2 points
Melbourne Rebels v Bulls at AAMI Park, Melbourne 7.40pm
Head to Head: Played 1 Rebels 0 Bulls 1
In Melbourne: N/A
Last clash: Round 13 2011 – Bulls 47 bt Rebels 10 at Loftus Versfeld
Amid a string of changes, Kurtley Beale moves into the No.10 hot seat for the Rebels in what will be an early audition for the Wallabies playmaking role for the June Test series against Wales. Danny Cipriani’s return to England and James O’Connor’s sickening collision with Berrick Barnes has forced the move but Beale has the goods to be the attacking spark to make the most of any quality possession Melbourne’s forwards can gain off the big Bulls pack. The South Africans are in form, just two points off top of the table, fresh following a bye and full of confidence. Flanker Jarrod Saffy is a major loss for the Rebels but a welcome morale-booster is the return of captain Stirling Mortlock for his first appearance of the year off the bench.
Tab Sportsbet: Rebels $5.25 Bulls $1.14
Tip: Bulls by 12 points
SATURDAY, May 5
Chiefs v Lions at Bayer Growers Stadium, Pukekohe 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 16 Chiefs 11 Lions 5
In Pukekohe: Played 1 Chiefs 1 Lions 0
Last clash: Round 10 2011 – Chiefs 34 bt Lions 30 at Ellis Park
Former All Blacks coach and Waikato old boy John Mitchell faces a tough return home with the Lions looking like cannon-fodder for the red-hot Chiefs. The competition pace-setters have won nine straight since their opening round loss to the Highlanders and feeding off defensive pressure that’s been lacking in season’s past. Aaron Cruden has stepped up to be a top-shelf playmaker and pull the right reins for Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui. The Chiefs have rotated pack members in a show of confidence. Smashed by the Brumbies last week, the Lions have also lost Butch James to suspension.
Tab Sportsbet: Chiefs $1.05 Lions $8.50
Tip: Chiefs by 19 points
Brumbies v NSW Waratahs at Canberra Stadium, Canberra 7.40pm
Head to Head: Played 18 Brumbies 11 Waratahs 7
In Canberra: Played 8 Brumbies 6 Waratahs 2
Last clash: Round 18 2011 – Waratahs 41 bt Brumbies 7 at ANZ Stadium
This could be the most telling Australian derby match of the season, with both teams desperate for victory. The Brumbies lead the Aussie Conference by five points over the Waratahs, but things will get a hell of a lot tighter for them on the run home if they drop this one at home in Canberra. For NSW, the consequences of defeat are far more dire. They face the Bulls next week in Sydney before embarking on their South African tour – and if they lose to the Brumbies they will be under enormous pressure to stay in the finals hunt. Adam Ashley-Cooper had his best game of the season for the Waratahs last week against the Crusaders, and he’ll be keen for a big one against his old mates from the ACT. The Waratahs should have enough strike power to win, but if bad habits set in and they clock off at any stage, the dogged Brumbies have proven they’ll be there to pick up the crumbs.
Tab Sportsbet: Brumbies $1.90 Waratahs $1.90
Tip: Waratahs by 5 points
SUNDAY, May 6
Sharks v Highlanders at ABSA Stadium, Durban 1.05am
Head to Head: Played 15 Sharks 9 Highlanders 6
In Durban: Played 7 Sharks 5 Highlanders 2
Last clash: Round 6 2010 – Sharks 30 bt Highlanders 16 at Carisbrook Stadium
The Shark Tank is always a formidable venue but the Highlanders will be incredibly hard to beat following their amazing escape-act against the Cheetahs. Down by 21 points in the second half, the South Islanders some how managed to sneak home 36-33 with a penalty goal on fulltime. The Sharks have been underwhelming this season but should be well rested up after the bye and desperate for a result. They’re set to be boosted by the return of impact forwards Ryan Kankowski and Tendai Mtawarira. The hard-working Highlanders pack will take up the fight without suspended English back-rower James Haskell.
Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.50 Highlanders $2.50 Draw $1.00
Tip: Sharks by 6 points
Cheetahs v Western Force at Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein 3.10am
Head to Head: Played 5 Cheetahs 1 Force 4
In Bloemfontein: Played 2 Cheetahs 1 Force 1
Last clash: Round 13 2010 – Cheetahs 29 bt Force 14 at Vodacom Park
Both battling teams come into this clash following huge weekend disappointments. The Force are coming to terms with Will Genia’s contract backflip while the home side is shaking its head after slipping up against the Highlanders. The wide-running Cheetahs have stood by flyhalf Sias Ebersohn who will start at No.10 despite his last-start shocker. Ebersohn missed a penalty from in front in the dying minutes which allowed the visitors to steal the match. Young gun Johan Goosen’s terrible shoulder injury has allowed the retention of Ebersohn who also missed a string of kicks before his late howler. The Pocock-Brussow breakdown battle will be a key to the result.
Tab Sportsbet: Cheetahs $1.36 Force $3.00
Tip: Cheetahs by 10 points
Crusaders v Queensland Reds at Rugby League Park, Christchurch 2.00pm
Head to Head: Played 18 Crusaders 12 Reds 6
In Christchurch: Played 6 Crusaders 5 Reds 1
Last clash: Final 2011 – Reds 18 bt Crusaders 13 at Suncorp Stadium
The Reds can expect a vicious Christchurch welcome on Sunday as the seven-time champions look to avenge last year’s final defeat. Queensland are at long odds to score a fourth straight win over the Crusaders but not in the eyes of coach Ewen McKenzie, who believes his side has turned the corner with their 23-11 win over the Blues. The return of the Faingaa twins beefs up both their backline and front-row stocks and the only cavalry member left to appear is Quade Cooper. The Reds must cope with the home side’s powerful scrum and also shut down Robbie Fruean in the midfield. All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw is in line for a run-on start after his 20-minute return in the 37-33 win over NSW.
Tab Sportsbet: Crusaders $1.12 Reds $5.75 Draw $1.00
Tip: Crusaders by 8 points