6 Bold Predictions for Super Rugby Round 9
In a week where we saw Mark Hammett call time on his stint as Hurricanes head coach, the Super Rugby season is gearing itself up for a potentially pivotal weekend for two of the conferences.
In Australia, the Waratahs face the in-form Force, while in South Africa, the Lions and Sharks square off in clashes that will help shape the top of those two sections.
In New Zealand, the Crusaders look to make it two wins in a row on their South African travels, while the Chiefs return home in need of a win.
The predictions for Round 9 look like this.
1. Force to Make It a Famous Five
The Western Force are the form horse in Super Rugby.
It’s not often that sentence is ever committed to a page. An unprecedented four wins in a row has made plenty sit up and take notice of what the men from Perth have been doing, but the tough tests keep on coming.
The soothesayers at superxv.com predict an away win, but when has that ever stopped this column going against the grain?
Despite the return of Folau and their far higher proportion of Wallabies, the Sydney men will leave the West coast empty-handed as the Force make it five in a row.
2. Cheetahs to Beat Crusaders
The Crusaders posted the first win by a side having crossed the Indian Ocean this season when they beat the Lions last week.
They did so without the services of skipper Kieran Read, who returns this week. The Cheetahs were hauled back from the brink of victory by the Chiefs, confirming they are as bad at leaking tries as they are good at scoring them.
They will surely play a little more conservatively this week against a more pragmatic Crusaders outfit but know they have the firepower to run tries in against the New Zealanders.
The home side’s attacking endeavour deserves a victory, and they’ll get it in this round.
3. Sopoaga Will Make His All Blacks Case
With Dan Carter out injured, now joined by Aaron Cruden, the lesser lights of the All Black fly-half ranks have a chance to shine in the coming rounds of Super Rugby.
None has been more impressive than Highlanders No. 10 Lima Sopoaga. His goal-kicking has been almost Jonny Wilkinson-esque and he knows how to unleash a back line.
The Highlanders entertain the Bulls this weekend and Sopoaga will have the chance to state his case. Highlanders to win, Sopoaga to impress.
4. Reds' Recovery Put on Hold
The Reds were luckless against the Lions on their travels and profligate against the Force.
They remain at home this weekend for the visit of the Brumbies, who got back on the, er, horse, with a win over the Blues last week.
The Canberra side were distinctly average last time on their travels, however, which will give the Reds cause for hope.
But Laurie Fisher looks to have a number of players clicking into top gear at present, notably Pat McCabe in the centres.
Brumbies to win, hammering another early nail into the Reds' coffin this season.
5. Rebels vs. Chiefs Hardest Game to Call
The Chiefs haven’t won in three rounds of the competition, losing to the Force and battling back to two high-scoring draws in South Africa.
Add to that the eight changes they have made from their fixture in Bloemfontein and it is hard to predict what sort of performance we’ll see from the champions.
Ditto for the Rebels. Impressive in their victory over the Brumbies two weeks ago, their good work was undone in a tight 33-30 defeat to the Highlanders.
Home advantage should see the Chiefs win, but the Rebels will be buoyed by their display last week despite the loss.
This one could go either way.
6. Sharks Sink Teeth into Lions
The league leaders took a week off in Round 8, while the Lions suffered a chastening home defeat to the Crusaders.
Johan Ackerman has stuck largely with the same team in the hope that they can turn it around against the Sharks.
Jake White’s rested players will be eager to pick up where they left off after thumping the Waratahs, and the Lions will hold no fears for them, having already beaten them in Durban last month.
Hard to see anything but a big Sharks win.