5.35pm (AEST), Friday, May 12 @ Eden Park, Auckland
Teams: Concussion will keep Sonny Bill Williams out of the Blues’ line-up, but Patrick Tuipolotu is back from injury. For the Cheetahs, Charles Marais replaces Ox Nche at loosehead prop while flanker Niell Jordaan replaces the injured Paul Schoeman.
History: The Blues have won 7 games to the Cheetahs’ 3, but the Cheetahs won the most recent clash 25-24 in Bloemfontein in 2015.
Form: The Blues are sixth in the Australasian Group with a 5-5 record, but have notched back-to-back away wins over the Brumbies and Waratahs in the past fortnight. The Cheetahs are second-last in the South African Group with a 2-8 record, agonisingly going down to the Highlanders at home in Round 11 after leading by 17 with less than five minutes left.
Stats: The Cheetahs have won 3 of their last 5 against the Blues. The Blues boast a 4-0 home record against the Cheetahs. Four of the teams’ past 5 encounters were decided by 10 points or less. The Blues are 11-9 at home since the start of 2015, but they have won their last 10 at home against overseas opposition. The Cheetahs are 4-15 on the road since the start of 2015. Home teams are 52-1-34 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Cheetahs were desperately unlucky against the Highlanders last week, but again it was their leaky defence that let them down – they’ve conceded over 100 points in the past two weeks. Despite their status as NZ’s bottom team, the Blues are starting to come of age and have been gritty over the past fortnight getting two wins in Australia. The Blues are a formidable opponent at home for any visiting side, while the Cheetahs traditionally drop their bundle on the road.
Crow’s Tip: Blues -20.5 @ $1.95
7.45pm (AEST), Friday, May 12 @ Eden Park, Auckland
Teams: The Brumbies welcome back Kyle Godwin and Jordan Smiler from injury, and Ben Alexander, Jarrad Butler and Aiden Toua have been included in the starting line-up. The Lions have made five changes with an all-new front-row in Corne Fourie, Robbie Coetzee and Johannes Jonker, while lock Andries Ferreira and flanker Ruan Ackerman are also back.
History: The Brumbies have won 13 games to the Lions’ 5, with 1 drawn. Their most recent clash was in 2015, with the Brumbies winning 30-20 in Johannesburg.
Form: The Brumbies lead the Australian Conference despite an ordinary 3-6 record, losing their last 3 games before having the bye last week. The Lions have a 10-point lead at the top of the South African Group, beating the Force and Rebels so far on their Australian jaunt.
Stats: The Brumbies have won 8 of their last 10 against the Lions. The Brumbies have a 10-1 record against the Lions at home, but the Lions won the most recent Canberra encounter in 2011. Six of their last 7 meetings have been decided by 1-12 margins. The Brumbies are 13-9 at home since the start of 2015. The Lions are 13-6 on the road since the start of 2015; they have won 6 of their 8 games in Australia and New Zealand during that time. Home teams are 52-1-34 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: It’s a source of embarrassment that the Brumbies sit atop the Aussie Conference with just three wins in nine games, and after a couple of recent losses they need to get their act together if they want to stay there. Forward grunt is their strength – which could be a bit of a culture shock for the Lions after their breezy fortnight in Australia so far – but the Brumbies struggle to score points, an area where the Lions are among Super Rugby’s best. The Lions will receive their biggest test of the tour so far, but they’ll be expecting it and the Brumbies don’t have the form on the board to be trusted here.
Crow’s Tip: Lions -4.5 @ $1.90
5.35pm (AEST), Saturday, May 13 @ AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Teams: Crusaders forward leaders Kieran Read (injured) and Sam Whitelock (suspended) are both out, but Israel Dagg is set to make his long-awaited return. Dane Coles remains sidelined for the Hurricanes, but Ricky Riccitelli is doing an excellent job at hooker in the skipper’s absence.
History: The Crusaders have won 17 games to the Hurricanes’ 10, with 3 drawn. The Hurricanes powered to a 35-10 win in the final round last season.
Form: The Crusaders are unbeaten at the top of the table after 10 outings, downing the Cheetahs and Bulls comfortably on their two-match tour of South Africa. The Hurricanes fourth in the Australasian Group (with one game in hand), boasting an 8-1 record; they trounced the Brumbies and Stormers either side of their Round 10 bye.
Stats: The Hurricanes have won 6 of the last 8 between the Kiwi heavyweights. The Crusaders have an 11-5-1 home record against the Hurricanes, but the ’Canes have won 4 of the last 7 as the away team. The Crusaders are 16-5 at home since the start of 2015, ; the Hurricanes are 15-5 away during that period. Home teams are 52-1-34 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: This shapes as one of the matches of the season so far – the undefeated Crusaders hosting the defending champion Hurricanes. Both are in absolutely menacing attacking form, while also leaking a few more points in recent weeks than they’d like. Expect a far more hard-fought game after dismantling overseas opposition in recent weeks, but this blockbuster won’t be short on entertainment. The travel factor may weigh on the Crusaders towards the end of the match, and the influence of Beauden Barrett may just get the Hurricanes over the line.
Crow’s Tip: Hurricanes 1-12 @ $2.95
7.45pm (AEST), Saturday, May 13 @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
Teams: Karmichael Hunt remains sidelined for the Reds with a knee injury. Front-row trio Toby Smith, James Hanson and Laurie Weeks were recalled by the Rebels last week and should be retained.
History: The Reds have won 8 games to the Rebels’ 4, but the Rebels prevailed 31-28 in Brisbane in the final round last season.
Form: The 1-1-7 Rebels are last in the entire competition, backing up their 44-3 away loss to the Kings with a 47-10 loss at home to the Lions. The Reds are eighth in the Australasian Group with a 2-8 record, losing a close one at home being receiving a belting from the Chiefs in Hamilton in the past fortnight.
Stats: The Rebels have won 3 of the last 4 games between the sides. The Reds boast a 4-2 record against the Rebels in Melbourne. The Rebels are 8-12 at home since the start of 2015; the Reds are 2-16 away during the same period. Home teams are 52-1-34 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: Incredibly, both teams remain in finals contention, such is the dire state of the Australian Conference. Unfortunately, neither side is producing the form required to bridge the gap to the Brumbies and Waratahs. After a gutsy draw against the Sharks, the Rebels have been brutalised by South African opponents, while the Reds were blown away by the Chiefs after blowing a big lead in a key loss to the ’Tahs. The home-ground advantage is about all the Rebels have going for them at present, and the Reds should be able to capitalise with a rare away victory.
Crow’s Tip: Reds 1-12 @ 2.48
11.05pm (AEST), Saturday, May 13 @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Teams: Jacques Potgeiter made a welcome return for the Bulls last week. Ben Smith didn’t make the trip to South Africa with the Highlanders due to an ankle injury, with Matt Faddes playing a key role in the skipper’s absence last week.
History: The Highlanders have won 12 games to the Bulls’ 6, with 1 drawn. They haven’t met since 2014, when the Highlanders won 27-20 at home.
Form: The 3-6 Bulls are sixth in the South African Group, with a 62-24 loss to the Crusaders ending their 2-game winning run. The 7-3 Highlanders are fifth in the Australasian Group and have won 6 straight, including an incredible 45-41 escape against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend.
Stats: Five of the Bulls’ 6 wins over the Highlanders have come in the past 10 encounters, but the Highlanders have won 3 of the last 4. The Bulls are 6-1-4 at home against the Highlanders. The Highlanders’ last 3 wins over the Bulls were all by 7 points or less. The Highlanders are 18-6 on the road since the start of 2015. The Bulls have won 29 and drawn 1 of their last 35 games at Loftus Versfeld, and are 13-5-1 at home since the start of 2015. Home teams are 52-1-34 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Highlanders got out of jail in extraordinary fashion last weekend, and their amazing late comeback against the Cheetahs could be the trigger that sparks a bit of consistency into their campaign. The Bulls had started to rally with a couple of solid wins, but they were obliterated by the Crusaders in Round 11 – the tough defensive unit from Pretoria is no more. The Highlanders are in for a tough fight – particularly with Ben Smith still sidelined – but they just keep finding ways to win, and it’s hard to see them going down to the battling Bulls.
Crow’s Tip: Highlanders by 11-15 @ $4.50
1.15am (AEST), Sunday, May 14 @ Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Teams: No major changes are anticipated for either side at this stage.
History: The Sharks have all 3 clashes between the teams – 58-13 at home and 21-12 away in 2013, and 19-17 at home in Round 4 this season.
Form: The 3-6 Kings are fifth in the South African Group but have won their last 2 games, against the Waratahs away and Rebels at home. The Sharks are third in the South African Group with a 7-1-2 record, beating the Jaguares and Force after their shock draw with the Rebels.
Stats: Since rejoining the competition in 2016, the Kings have lost 8 of their 9 games against their fellow South African teams by 14+ points – including 8 games by 23 points or more. The Kings are 5-15 at home in their Super Rugby history, and 1-3 this season. The Sharks are 9-1-12 on the road since the start of 2015. Home teams are 52-1-34 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Kings come into this game off arguably the two finest wins in their chequered Super Rugby history, and they’ll be looking for their first win over a South African rival since 2013 after almost rolling the Sharks eight weeks ago. The Sharks will be wary after that narrow escape at home, but they’ve shown with an away win in Buenos Aries and a big victory over the Force that they’re a cut above most teams in the Group. It’s a big line though, and the Kings are worth a nudge in Port Elizabeth.
Crow’s Tip: Kings +13.5 @ $1.85
7.40am (AEST), Sunday, May 14 @ Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aries
Teams: Expect Nicolas Sanchez to return to the starting No.10 role for the Jaguares. Wallabies lock Adam Coleman returned to the Force’s pack in Round 11.
History: First meeting.
Form: The 5-5 Jaguares are fourth in the South African Group, following up their loss to the Sharks with a 46-39 win over the Sunwolves. The 2-7 Force are second-last in the Australasian Group, going down 37-12 to the Sharks in Round 11.
Stats: The Jaguares are 7-5 at home in their Super Rugby history, with 4 of their losses coming by margins of 8 points or less; they are 5-1 at home this season. The Force have won just 4 of their last 22 Super Rugby games on the road; they are 0-5 away in 2017. Home teams are 52-1-34 so far this season.
Final Thoughts: The Force will never be found wanting effort-wise, but they are still badly lacking in the attacking firepower department. The Jaguares’ finals hopes are on life support after their crucial loss to the Sharks left them eight points adrift of the wildcard slot, while they made hard work of downing the Sunwolves. If they maintain discipline this weekend, the Jaguares should nevertheless cover the start reasonably comfortably against a travel-weary Force.
Crow’s Tip: Jaguares -13.5 @ $1.90