6 Bold Predictions for Super Rugby Round 12
The plates are shifting in the Super Rugby universe, and there could be more seismic movement this weekend.
The Sharks, shocked at home last week, have to leave their homeland and try to turn their fortunes around in a place where only one visiting side has won all season.
The Chiefs have thrown the baby out with the bath water in a bid to arrest their miserable run of one win in six, while in Sydney the Hurricanes will be attempting to blow the Waratahs off course.
There are intriguing plots everywhere you look in Round 12, so here's what to expect.
1. Changed Chiefs Will Tame Lions
It's rare, if not unheard of, for a coach to make 14 changes from his previous starting lineup.
So the fact Chiefs boss Dave Rennie had implemented such a sweeping transformation to the side that will entertain the Lions this week is a clear sign of a coach desperately searching for answers.
One win in six has brought the Waikato side's season to a crossroads. They are still just one point off top spot in the New Zealand conference, but it's their form that is troubling.
With a clear message sent to those players he deems to be under-performing, Rennie is looking for a response this week in a fixture the home side should win easily.
The Lions may be tough to be on home turf, but they lack the cutting edge the champions—when playing well—possess in abundance.
The much-changed Chiefs to win big.
2. Rebels Will Sink Sharks
The Sharks had the worst possible preparation for their first overseas trip this season when they went down to the Highlanders last week.
They arrive in Melbourne looking to maintain their league-leading status against one of the competition's basket cases.
The Rebels have beaten the Waratahs, the Force, the Brumbies and the Cheetahs on home turf but have not won on the road.
The only side to have beaten them in the Victorian capital are the Crusaders, so this will be no easy start to the Sharks road trip. Rebels to win ugly.
3. Canes to Topple Tahs
The new leaders of the New Zealand conference face an immediate stiff test of their title hopes with a visit to the Waratahs, whose early-season promise has sailed into choppy waters in recent weeks.
Defeats on the road to the Blues and the Force bookended a home win over the Bulls.
Michael Cheika's side needs to find consistency in performance to keep the chase on for the Brumbies who lead the Australian ladder.
The Canes took top spot in New Zealand after seeing off the Reds last week and are looking potent in attack. This could be the game of the round. Hurricanes to win.
4. Highlanders Make It a South African Double
After downing the Sharks last week, Jamie Joseph's Highlanders move on to Cape Town to face a Stormers team who got beaten away to the Cheetahs last week.
The men from New Zealand's South Island will surely fancy their chances of making it two from two on their South African trip.
They are being well orchestrated by fly-half Lima Sopoaga and have the form No. 9 in the competition in Aaron Smith. Highlanders to win.
5. Cheetahs Beat Bulls
The Bulls return home bruised and beaten in all four of their tour matches.
Meanwhile the Cheetahs, who have not had a great season by any stretch, may just have enough momentum from last week's win over the Stormers to cash in on a tired Bulls outfit.
The Bulls have the heavy artillery up front, but the boys from Bloemfontein have the ability to strike from anywhere.
They may just be able to give Victor Matfield and Co the runaround after a gruelling schedule on the road. Cheetahs to nick it.
5. Blues vs. Reds
This will be the Blues' second straight win over Australian franchises.
They comfortably put the Waratahs away last week while the Reds were busy being pumped down in Wellington in what is fast becoming a nightmare season for the Queenslanders.
With the Benji Marshall debacle finally behind them and looking more solid by the week, the Blues will have too much for Quade Cooper and his weary colleagues.