5.35pm (AEST), Friday, May 5 @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Teams: Ardie Savea switches to No.8 with Blade Thomson out, and Callum Gibbins takes the Hurricanes’ No.7 jumper. TJ Perenara returns to the home side’s starting side. Former Highlanders Shaun Treeby is set to play his first game for the Stormers.
History: The Stormers have won 11 games to the Hurricanes’ 7, but the ’Canes won their most recent clash 25-20 in Wellington in 2015.
Form: The 7-1 Hurricanes sit fourth in the Australasian Group, dismantling the Brumbies 56-21 to rack up their fifth straight win before enjoying the bye in Round 10. The 6-3 Stormers are second in the South African Group, but they have suffered heavyweight defeats to the Crusaders and Highlanders in the past fortnight.
Stats: The Stormers have won 4 of their last 5 against the Hurricanes. The Stormers have won 4 of their 8 away games against the Hurricanes. The teams’ last 3 encounters were decided by 5 points or less. The Hurricanes have won 20 of their 25 home games since the start of 2015. The Stormers are 9-1-9 on the road since the start of 2015. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Stormers shaped as a possible title contender after winning their first six games, but that status has evaporated after going down to the Lions before getting 50-plus put on them by the Crusaders and Highlanders. They’ll be determined to put up more of a fight this weekend, but their hosts are the most damaging attacking team in the competition and are even more capable of putting the cleaners through teams. Another slaughter looms.
Crow’s Tip: Hurricanes -24.5 @ $1.90
3.00am (AEST), Saturday, May 6 @ Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Teams: Locks Carl Wegner and Francois Uys, back-rowers Paul Schoeman and Henco Venter, halfback Tian Meyer and No.10 Fred Zelinga all come into a revamped Cheetahs line-up. Matt Faddes replaces injured Highlanders fullback Ben Smith, Luke Whitelock returns at No.8 and Joe Wheelers start at lock.
History: The Highlanders have won 8 games to the Cheetahs’ 2, including a 45-24 victory in their most recent clash in Bloemfontein in 2015.
Form: The Cheetahs are seventh in the South African Group with a 2-7 record, losing their last 6 games – including a 48-21 defeat at home to the Crusaders last week. The 6-3 Highlanders are fifth in the Australasian Group, with last Friday’s blistering 57-14 home win over the Stormers their fifth straight.
Stats: The Highlanders have won 8 of their last 9 against the Cheetahs. The Highlanders boast a 5-0 record in Bloemfontein. The Highlanders are 17-6 on the road since the start of 2015. The Cheetahs have won only 7 of their last 18 at Free State Stadium. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Highlanders have recovered from a rocky start to 2017 to piece together a nice winning streak, while they have been ruthless against overseas opponents in recent weeks. The Cheetahs can find a try, but their defensive – as it has been for years – is subpar, leaking 36 points a game. Ben Smith is a big out, but the in-form ’Landers have more than enough backline depth to compensate and run out comfortable winners.
Crow’s Tip: Highlanders -14.5 @ $1.90
3.00pm (AEST), Saturday, May 6 @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
Teams: Toby Smith, James Hanson and Laurie Weeks form an all-new – but super-experienced – front-row, while halfback Nic Stirzaker joins the injured list. For the Lions, Lourens Erasmus comes in at lock, Cyle Brink slots in at No.7 and Ross Cronje is at halfback.
History: The Lions have won all 3 of the previous games against the Rebels, most recently a 2016 win at AAMI Park in 2015.
Form: The 1-1-6 Rebels are second-last in the competition and bottom of the Australasian Group, following up their 9-all draw with the Sharks by crashing to a humiliating 47-3 loss to the Kings. The 8-1 Lions sit atop the South Africa Group by 11 points, kicking off their overseas jaunt with a hard-fought win over the Force last week.
Stats: The Lions are 12-6 on the road since the start of 2015; they have won 5 of their 7 games in Australia and New Zealand during that time. The Rebels are 8-11 at home over the past two and a half seasons. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: After their upset of the Brumbies and a brave draw in Durban, the Rebels’ heavy loss to the Kings has to rank as one of the worst performances ever by an Australian team. They’re beset by injuries and struggling to get over the try-line, while last week their defence slipped back to the paper-thin efforts of the opening rounds. The Lions are in good form, they travel well and they have improved their ability to grind out wins. It’s hard to see the home side getting up here – but it is a big line.
Crow’s Tip: Lions 1-12 @ $3.05
5.35pm (AEST), Saturday, May 6 @ Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Teams: Chiefs centre Charlie Ngatai makes his long-awaited return, while Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Michael Leitch are also back. Duncan Paia’aua replaces injured Reds fullback Karmichael Hunt and Campbell Magnay starts in the centres.
History: The teams have played 20 times and won 10 games each. The Chiefs thumped the Reds 50-5 in Round 16 in Brisbane last year.
Form: The 8-1 Chiefs are third in the Australasian Group, but were pushed hard last week in a 27-20 home win over the lowly Sunwolves. The 2-7 Reds are eighth in the Australasian Group, agonisingly going down 29-26 to the Waratahs last weekend.
Stats: The Reds have won 4 of their last 6 against the Chiefs, including their last 2 away. The Chiefs are 5-4 overall at home against the Reds. The Chiefs are 15-4 at home since the start of 2015; the Reds are 2-15 away during the same period. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Chiefs have a point to prove after being bustled by the Sunwolves last week, and with several big names returning, the Reds are set to bear the brunt of their frustrations. The Reds have to be the worst closers in the competition, surrendering a second-half lead yet again to the Waratahs in another game they should have won. Expect the Reds to hang in for 50-60 minutes before falling away.
Crow’s Tip: First Half Margin – Chiefs 8-14 Points @ $3.50
7.45pm (AEST), Saturday, May 6 @ Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Teams: The Waratahs welcome back Tolu Latu from injury, while Jake Gordon replaces Nick Phipps at halfback, and No.8 Jed Holloway and winger Reece Robinson have won recalls. Piers Francis returns from injury in the Blues’ No.10 role.
History: The Blues have won 13 games to the Waratahs’ 8, including a 34-28 home victory in the final round 2016.
Form: The 3-6 Waratahs are seventh in the Australasian Group but second in the Australian Conference, bagging a crucial 29-26 win over the Reds last week to bounce back from their embarrassing loss to the Kings. The 4-5 Blues are sixth in the Australasian Group, grinding out an impressive bonus-point win over the Brumbies in Canberra last Sunday.
Stats: The Blues have won 4 of their last 6 against the Waratahs. The Waratahs have a 7-4 home record against the Blues. The teams’ last 4 four clashes were decided by 1-12 margins. The Blues have won just 4 of their last 19 games on the road, but they are 2-0 in Australia this season. The Waratahs are a modest 11-10 at home since the start of 2015. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Waratahs hit rock-bottom with their Round 9 loss to the Kings and bounced back admirably by running down the Reds – but they’re still miles off the team they were a couple of seasons back. The Blues may be the poor cousin of the NZ franchises, but they’re superior to every Australian team and last week’s gritty three-tries-to-none win over the Brumbies will have provided Tana Umaga’s team with plenty of confidence. Kiwi teams are 15-0 against their Aussie counterparts in 2017 and the Blues should be favoured to extend that unbeaten streak.
Crow’s Tip: Blues 1-12 @ $2.44
11.05pm (AEST), Saturday, May 6 @ Kings Park, Durban
Teams: Wallabies lock Adam Coleman returns to bolster the Force, while Francois van Wyk replaces injured prop Ben Daly on the visitors’ bench. Pat Lambie returns for the Sharks as a reserve.
History: The Sharks are unbeaten in 7 clashes with the Force, including a 15-9 home win in their most recent clash, in Durban in 2015.
Form: The 6-1-2 Sharks are third in the South African Group, recovering from a shock home draw against the Rebels by outlasting the Jaguares away. The 2-6 Force are second-last in the Australasian Group, putting up a gutsy effort in a 24-15 loss to the Lions at home in Round 10.
Stats: Five of the teams’ 7 games have been decided by 1-12 margins. The Sharks are 14-5 at Kings Park since the start of 2015. The Force have won just 4 of their last 21 Super Rugby games on the road. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Sharks’ impressive win in Argentina last week has laid the perfect platform for them to push on to a place in the finals, and was a wonderful bounce-back after being held to a draw by the Rebels. The Force put in for 80 minutes every week and pushed the Lions all the way last weekend, but they struggle to score points and have an ordinary away record. The Perth-based side are tempting with a big start, but the Sharks will view this as a crucial bonus-point opportunity.
Crow’s Tip: Sharks -15.5 @ $1.90
1.15am (AEST), Sunday, May 6 @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Teams: Jacques Potgieter returns for the Bulls after a long layoff, while Jan Serfontein comes back on the bench. Sam Whitelock is out for the Crusaders, which sees Matt Todd captain the side. Jordan Taufua moves to No.8 for the injured Kieran Read, and Pete Samu takes over on the blindside.
History: The Crusaders have won 14 games to the Bulls’ 10, but the Bulls won their most recent encounter – a 31-19 results in Pretoria in 2015.
Form: The 3-5 Bulls are sixth in the South African Group, but they went into last week’s bye on the back of consecutive home wins over the Jaguars and Cheetahs. The Crusaders remain unbeaten after nine outings, and thumped the Cheetahs in the first match of the tour of the Republic.
Stats: The Bulls have won 5 of their last 8 against the Crusaders. The Last 9 games between the teams have been won by the home team. Four of the last 6 games were decided by 13+ margins. The Bulls have a 9-4 overall home record against the Crusaders. The Bulls have won 29 and drawn 1 of their last 34 games at Loftus Versfeld, and are 13-4-1 at home since the start of 2015. The Crusaders are 12-7 on the road since the start of 2015. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Bulls have slowly regrouped in recent weeks after a disastrous start to the season, but this week’s assignment represents a massive step up in class. The Crusaders are in vintage form, and second-tier stars like Bridge, Havili and Taufua have been arguably even more impressive than their plethora of All Blacks. The Bulls have an astonishing home record for a team that hasn’t played in the finals since 2013, but the Crusaders will still be too strong.
Crow’s Tip: Crusaders by 11-15 @ $4.50
7.40am (AEST), Sunday, May 6 @ Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aries
Teams: Santiago Cordero, Santiago González Iglesias, Emiliano Boffelli and Juan Martín Hernández have been rotated into the Jaguares line-up. Sunwolves fullback Jamie-Jerry Taulagi has been suspended for five weeks.
History: The Sunwolves won the only encounter between the 2016 debutants, prevailing 36-28 in Tokyo in Round 9.
Form: The 4-5 Jaguares are fourth in the South African Group, crucially dropping a home game against the Sharks in Round 10. The 1-8 Sunwolves are last in the competition, but they produced one of the finest performances in their short history in going down just 27-20 to the Chiefs last weekend in Hamilton.
Stats: The Sunwolves are 0-12 on the road since joining Super Rugby, losing 5 of those games by 26+ points – though 3 of their 5 away games this year were losses by 13 points or less. The Jaguares are 6-5 at home in their Super Rugby history, with 4 of their losses coming by margins of 8 points or less; they are 4-1 at home this season. Home teams are 47-1-31 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: Last week’s loss to the Sharks was a body-blow to the Jaguares’ finals prospects – they struggle on the road, so they need to make every home game count. The Sunwolves will be buzzing after last week’s overachieving performance, but it has been a long and arduous trip and they may struggle in front of a hostile Argentine crowd. The Jaguares also have last year’s shock loss to atone for, and they’ll relish the chance to let their attacking flair do the talking.
Crow’s Tip: Jaguares by 21-25 @ $6.50