HIGHLANDERS v BLUES
The surprise package so far in season 2011, the Highlanders will this weekend again be tested against a fellow New Zealand franchise after last weekend overcoming the Crusaders away from home. The team they assisted in leapfrogging the Christchurch franchise to the top of the NZ Conference Ladder, the Blues, will however pose a challenge for the high-flying Highlanders after proving to be the team to beat so far in 2011 with an electric-start opening half to the year from the Auckland outfit.
With both match day 22’s boasting an array of All Blacks talent across the park, the Carisbrook Stadium meeting is expected to go right down to the wire. The Blues, as reported through the week, will be playing for team mate Kurtis Haiu, who was struck down with a serious illness which has forced the lock to put both his season and career on hold.
Our Tip – The Highlanders have surprised many but they won’t surprise the Blues. Auckland for the (tight) win.
Keep an eye out for the battle at No.9 on Friday night. Mathewson and Cowan are the two form halfbacks in the land of the long white cloud so far in 2011 and with Andy Ellis also an option, the two favourites for the role will no doubt be out to get one over the other.
BULLS v CHIEFS
Two sides who have underperformed so far this season, the Bulls host the Chiefs early Sunday morning (1.05am AEST on Fox Sports 3) in a match-up that will separate the two sides who sit mid-table on 22 and 21 points respectively. Neither side have registered the wins that could have been, a season that has come down to a whole bunch of errors and not a lot of smiles, especially given then hype and hope surrounding both teams prior to season 2011.
The Chiefs return home after their two-week tour of Africa with the Loftus clash their final match in the Republic for the remainder of the year, so will be hoping to finish with maximum points against the former Super Rugby champions. Their opposition were shocked in Perth last weekend, going down to the Western Force in an eighty-minute thriller that ignited the crowd at nib Stadium.
Our Tip - With the Bulls not used to losing and the finals now slowly approaching it’s too hard to go past the home side. Bulls for a bonus point win.
The battle at the back is certain to impress this Saturday night in Pretoria, with international 15’s Zane Kirchner and Mils Muliaina meeting for what is likely to be the first of many this season. The national fullbacks, with the Boks and AB’s respectively, will be out to prove the better of each other in Pretoria.
STORMERS v SHARKS
1 v 2. What more is there to say? This Cape Town clash is sure to be one of the matches of the year with the two highly-rated South African franchises finally coming face-to-face for the first time since their Round 7 meeting in Durban (Sharks 6-16 Stormers). The Stormers took the points from the Shark Tank back then and will no doubt prove inspiration for the Durban side who will travel to Newlands hopeful of regaining the bragging rights for the remainder of the year.
Another match-up this weekend that sees international talent scattered throughout both sides, however the all-African affairs are about a lot more than just a Boks jersey come Test time – these games get personal.
Our Tip – The Stormers won the first and will win the second. The home boys by 10. Again.
We usually look in the midfield for our clash of the match, with halves or centres usually taking up all the room, however this weekend in Cape Town keep an eye out for when Bryan Habana comes face-to-face with fellow Springboks speedster Odwa Ndungane. The two long-term team mates at international level know each other in-and-out and it will be interesting to see who rules the sideline come Saturday.