6 Bold Predictions for Super Rugby Round 11
The Sharks' dominant streak is sure to see them maintain their place atop the Super Rugby standings this weekend, but there are some less assured outcomes in Round 11.
The campaign thus far has been a story of Jake White's side standing tall atop the Super Rugby pile and then the rest of the field attempting to keep up with their pace.
This week may not welcome a change in who leads the competition, but here we'll look at some of those results that aren't so easily predetermined.
1. Brumbies Continue to Halt the Chiefs' Warpath
After triumphing in back-to-back Super Rugby campaigns, the Chiefs were being tipped for a historic three-peat by some heading into 2014.
However, Dave Rennie's side have looked disjointed at times this season, and last weekend's loss to the Crusaders was a perfect example of how a pragmatic and strategic approach can get the better of their sheer brute strength.
This week, the Brumbies will be able to get the same result when they welcome the Waikato outfit to Canberra. They will put their bye week to good use in preparation.
In a battle of first versus second in the overall standings, the Brumbies will be 10 points too good for the Chiefs, whose individual talents—specifically in the back line—won't be enough to keep up.
2. Cheetahs' Winless Streak Comes to an End
Having not won a game since their 15-9 beating of the Bulls in Round 2, the Cheetahs are in a miserable state and sit at the bottom of the standings.
However, only a point is needed for them to climb onto level pegging with fellow South Africans the Stormers, whom they welcome to the Free State Stadium on Saturday.
The one thing Naka Drotske has his side doing well is attacking. The Cheetahs boast the third-most prolific offence in Super Rugby, even if their defence leaks points in greater proportion.
Therefore, the prospect of welcoming the Stormers, by some way the most points-shy side in the competition, promises to lift the Bloemfontein hosts off the bottom and give the team its first victory since February 21.
3. Bulls' Away Heartache Lingers on in Perth
The Bulls might be a force in Pretoria, but when you take the beast out of its abode, the team just cannot deal with the homesickness.
On Saturday, the South African giants travel to Perth, where they'll take on one of the most respected defences in the contest, and their troubles outside Loftus Versfeld will only continue as a result.
In fairness to Frans Ludeke's men, they have managed to take a losing bonus point from each of their away defeats, but this franchise is hardly used to such standards.
They may be able to dominate the Force when it comes to the set piece, but a fourth away defeat in as many weeks awaits the Bulls, and it will again come by a margin of less than seven points.
4. Quade Cooper Takes Reds Past High-Scoring Hurricanes
This weekend's meeting between the Hurricanes and the Reds will depend on the performances of the two fly-halves, with Beauden Barrett and Quade Cooper each attempting to bring the magic for their respective team.
On numerous occasions this season, Cooper has dazzled individually, but it was still not enough for a Reds win, whereas Barrett having a good day at the office has more regularly led to the Hurricanes coming out on top.
This time, however, Cooper will get the better of his opposite man in Wellington, doing just as the Brumbies did in Round 4 and giving the hosts more Australian upset.
The Reds haven't been on the road in some time and haven't won an away fixture since their opening match of the season against the Brumbies, but they can upset the Hurricanes' ship this week, which, if not permitted to get into full stride, is susceptible.
5. Blues Turn Fortunes into Mid-Table Seat
As Dean Ritchie of The Telegraph explains, Benji Marshall's drawn-out torture of rugby union has now been brought to an end after the Blues agreed on a contract termination.
And now begins the Super Rugby side's rebuilding process, as they move past that disappointing project with a win at Eden Park this Friday night.
They will welcome the Waratahs to New Zealand with a frosty reception and extend their home winning streak this season to four matches.
The Waratahs may have Israel Folau among their ranks, and the full-back battle makes for an even more intriguing one now that Marshall is gone for good, but the Australians rely too much on their No. 15's input.
The Blues will pile the points on this weekend in what promises to be a tight affair, with the home side winning by less than 10.
6. Western Force Take Their Top-Three Throne
Our prediction of the Western Force getting the better of the Rebels to assume a top-two placement last weekend didn't quite come off, but the results around them will gift Michael Foley's side a similar honour this time around.
With the second-place Brumbies and third-place Chiefs distracting each other in Canberra and the Waratahs failing to make the most of their trip to Auckland, the Force will be free to soar up into the top three for the first time this season.
Their stern defence will lead them to beat the Bulls in Perth, and three more points as things stand would be enough to see them rise to second.
However, the Brumbies taking points from the Chiefs means a path that high in aspirations will be out of the question this time around, but settling for third spot at this stage of the campaign isn't bad going, either.