6 Bold Predictions for Super Rugby Round 10
Round 9 of the Super Rugby calendar didn't give fans much in terms of shock results, but the tenth week of this season's proceedings promises to shake matters up a bit.
The Western Force are now developing momentum as one of the in-form powerhouses in the competition, and attention now turns to whether or not the Perth outfit can live up to ever-increasing expectations.
They take on the Rebels' challenge in Melbourne this Friday night, while the New Zealand clashes between the Chiefs and Crusaders, and the Hurricanes and Blues will also court some some of the speculation.
Heading into Round 10 of the campaign, we unravel some of those fixtures and attempt to pin down some of the more audacious bets on how things will proceed.
1. Izzy Folau Back with a Bang
Having missed the last three weeks with a throat injury, Israel Folau has been confirmed by the official Super XV website as being a part of the Waratahs squad to face the Bulls.
Having only managed one win in their fullback's absence, the New South Wales side could certainly do with Folau's return to the field, and this season's leading try scorer will take no time in fitting back into the line-up.
Were it not for an Australian Rugby Union doctor controversially pulling Folau out of last week's line-up to face the Western Force, the Wallabies star would have featured, so there's little questioning his fitness at this point.
Refreshed by his enforced break, the superstar attacker is set to take on a side that has conceded 190 points this season—the fifth-worst total in Super Rugby this term.
The South Africans are yet to win a fixture away from home this season and have conceded an average of just over 22 points per game outside of Pretoria, giving the Waratahs' biggest offensive threat reason to be cheerful about his upcoming examination, where he'll get on the scoreboard at least once.
2. Western Force Finish Round 10 Second Overall
This outcome is reliant on a number of factors going in the Western Force's favour, but is a fate that is far from unrealistic.
On Friday, Michael Foley's men travel to Melbourne, where they'll take on the Rebels, who are currently bottom of the Australian conference with the second-worst attack in the overall standings thus far in 2014.
Given that the Force have shown a defensive nuance capable of standing up to even the most daunting of foes, it's safe to say that they should be able to restrain one of the poorest, even in enemy territory.
The Force currently sit in fourth place overall, two points behind the third-place Chiefs and three points behind the second-place Brumbies, who have a bye week in Round 10.
The Crusaders travel to Waikato in decent form, and with the Chiefs showing their share of slip-ups of late—regardless of getting results on the board—the Canterbury visitors have a mental edge that can prove pivotal in key clashes.
We're backing the Crusaders to get a result against the Chiefs, creating an opening for the Western Force, who have a good chance at grabbing a maximum-points victory in Melbourne and therefore bump up into second, however temporary that may be.
3. Home Territory Wins out in South Africa
Perhaps not the boldest of calls, but the fact that we're calling two results with one metaphorical stone boosts the odds slightly.
On Saturday, the Sharks and Stormers will play host to the Cheetahs and Lions, respectively, in what promises to be a South African bash of monumentally physical proportions.
For the Stormers, a Jean De Villiers return makes for promising improvements in both attack and defence. The Cape Town franchise are bottom of the Super Rugby standings and sit three points off the Cheetahs, but will be able to move out of the basement.
That's because the Sharks, gracefully poised at the opposite end of the standings, will maintain pace in front of a home crowd and send the current worst defence in Super Rugby packing from their Durban abode.
4. Hurricanes and Blues Get White Line Fever
New Zealand sides have a habit of throwing up some of the highest-scoring affairs in the Southern Hemisphere, so while South Africa's bastions can show a knack for stingy defending, the Hurricanes and Blues will be happy to run in their sizeable try counts.
Level on 16 points apiece at the bottom of the New Zealand conference, both these teams have good reason to be fired up ahead of Friday's fixture in Wellington.
Despite their lowly status inside local respects, the Blues and the Hurricanes are also tied on points scored at 193—the joint-fourth-highest tally in all of Super Rugby.
A fortnight after the Chiefs drew 43-43 against the Cheetahs, fans can expect another high-scoring affair involving New Zealand influence, where eight tries or more is the expectation.
5. The Honey Badger in the Hunt for More Meat
As previously mentioned, the Rebels are currently one of the most points-shy teams of the 2014 campaign, but their defence hasn't always been up to scratch and has conceded 30 points or more in four of their seven outings.
It's in Melbourne that the Western Force can afford to seek out a boost in the points difference column, with the in-form Nick Cummins, fresh after scoring a hat-trick of tries against the Waratahs, their main man in attack.
Back in March, this weekend's visitors led out a 32-7 victory over the Rebels, and even though home advantage is on the other foot this time around, the end product will be the same.
The Force will undoubtedly stay true to their defensive roots in pursuit of a vital four points, but the Honey Badger will once again be crossing the line as Perth's representatives get the winger in motion.
6. Sharks Poach the Cheetahs in Style
As we've already discussed, a fixture between the Sharks and the Cheetahs doesn't make for a very even matchup, with the current league leaders playing host to basement bin candidates.
Standings aside, the Cheetahs are the only side to have scored more points than the Sharks so far this season, so it's evident that tries will be the main attraction this weekend.
Friday night will see the Sharks run in a bounty of no less than six scores, and irrespective of their visitors' reply, it won't be enough to secure a result, with the overall points sum likely to run past 65.
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