Super Rugby 2012: 4 Teams Guaranteed to Lose in Round 12
Super Rugby Round 12 features must-win games, potential upsets and what could be some close contests.
Last week, the Hurricanes and Sharks both got themselves back into the playoff discussion with wins.
The Sharks were solid against the travelling Highlanders, while the Hurricanes won pretty comfortably over the Blues, whose downwards spiral is continuing.
The Crusaders and Bulls both solidified their cases for fourth and fifth places by doing what they do best.
Meanwhile, the race to the Australian conference continues to baffle pundits, with Christian Lealiifano of the Brumbies now gone for the season after a compound ankle fracture. Honestly, while I'm no doctor, compound seemed like rather a euphemism.
To make things interesting, while the Reds did lose, they are demonstrating signs of peaking at the right time.
Once again I went four for four in my picks, so I'm now at 35 out of 44 for the season. What are the safe bets for Round 12?
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I'm honestly in two minds here.
On one hand, I feel the Highlanders will be wanting to step up after last week. I also suspect the Hurricanes are overhyped at the moment after beating a pretty hopeless Blues outfit.
That said, the Highlanders have been absolutely hammered by injuries so far this season. At this stage of the season, things like fatigue and team cohesion will be tested more harshly than for teams with stronger depth.
They're coming back from South Africa and will make at least three changes to the team that lost to the Sharks last week. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes will have gained a confidence boost after beating the Blues 35-19 in Wellington last week (their first win in Wellington this season, interestingly enough).
I'm willing to write off the Hurricanes' otherwise poor form as two mere losses against title contenders.
That, and I'm a biased Hurricanes fan.
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This game actually has the makings of an upset.
The Crusaders of late seem to have a knack for botching easy games, usually by resting star players, which is what Todd Blackadder has done this week.
In saying that, the Crusaders last week looked like the Crusaders of the early millennium. In the dying stages of the game, their forward pack really stepped up and took control of the game. Australian fans did complain about the refereeing standards, but the Crusaders were honestly by far the better team in those last minutes.
Richie McCaw will lead his team out for the first time since The Cup Which May Now Be Mentioned (the World Cup, if you missed the reference). If the team still looks a bit sluggish, then Kieran Read, Andy Ellis and Israel Dagg can all come off the bench.
I think they will be too good for this Rebels team.
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Coming off a bye, the Stormers may be a little slow for this one.
However, they have a pretty forgiving team to come back against in the Cheetahs.
For the Cheetahs, Johan Goosen is out for the season, which leaves rather a lot to the (admittedly very capable) Heinrich Brussow.
The Stormers, meanwhile, will see Gio Aplon, Eben Etzebeth and captain Jean de Villiers all return.
These guys have a point to prove with the Bulls keeping the South African conference close, and the home side will be far too good.
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They're two wins out of the top six with six games to play. They need this win.
Their team is beginning to come together at the right time, so the defending champions will be coming out hard.
In their way are the 9-1 Chiefs, who are yet unbeaten on the road. Dave Rennie's team has been fairly charmed on the injury front, and their forward pack is as relentless as ever.
Like the Stormers (who are also title contenders—what a coincidence), they've done just enough to win most of their games this year. They'll head to Brisbane this weekend and simply out-muscle the hosts. If that initially fails, they still have enough X-factor players to score out of nowhere.
Sona Taumalolo is still in the running for the season's top tryscorer—watch for him to make an impact.