BLUES v CHIEFS in Auckland, Friday 5.35pm AEST
The Storyline: Both teams are coming off losses, to the Stormers and Crusaders respectively. The Chiefs have a few out with concussion but nothing they can’t cover.
The Stat: The Chiefs are on an 11-match winning streak against the Blues.
Player to watch: Aaron Cruden – Had a blinder last week but couldn’t hit the side of a barn off the tee. Should get plenty of opportunities to run in this game.
The Verdict: The Blues have had to travel back from South Africa which is never an easy task. The Chiefs are the better team but it is always hard playing in Auckland. Chiefs 12 and under
REDS v FORCE in Brisbane, Friday 7.45pm AEST
The Storyline: Both teams need to win this game to have any hope of making the playoffs. The Force had a good victory in Argentina but then went back to Perth and got walloped by the Highlanders. The Reds’ last game was in Melbourne where they beat the Rebels in a close one.
The Stat: The Reds have won only two of their last nine against the Force.
Player to watch: Nick Frisby – Got his gig back at No.9 and needs to find some form ahead of the June Tests, as well as keeping his team in the playoffs hunt.
The Verdict: The Reds seem to be hitting form…I don’t know, but that’s the feeling I get and they are always hard to beat in Brisbane. It’s hard to feel too strongly when they have only won three games all season. It will be hard for the Force to come back from last week’s annihilation handed down by the Highlanders. Reds 13 plus
SUNWOLVES v CHEETAHS in Tokyo, Saturday 3.15pm AEST
Two inferior teams but this should be a high scoring game in Japan. Sunwolves 12 and under
HIGHLANDERS v WARATAHS in Dunedin, Saturday 5.35pm AEST
The Storyline: The Highlanders are finally at home after three weeks overseas. The Waratahs this week said they will make the playoffs by throwing the ball around – only took them 13 weeks to figure that out.
The Stat: The Waratahs hold a 6-4 advantage away against the Highlanders.
Player to watch: Israel Folau – He’s the one who said it – “We need to throw the ball around” – but that might be a bit hard against the best defensive team in the competition. Let’s see if he backs his talk up with some good play.
The Verdict: I think everyone in rugby wants an Aussie side to step up and play well but the gap between New Zealand and Australia in 2017 is vast and it will again show this weekend. The Highlanders will be tired but with captain Ben Smith returning, along with Waisake Naholo and Luke Whitelock, this will be a victory to the southerners. Highlanders 13 plus.
REBELS v CRUSADERS in Melbourne, Saturday 7.45pm AEST
The Storyline: The Crusaders are still undefeated, the Rebels have still only won one game.
The Stat: The Rebels have conceded 205 points in four games against NZ teams in 2017.
Player to watch: Israel Dagg – Back from injury against the worst team in Australia, Dagg has targeted the best game to come back for and should grow in confidence as the game unfolds.
The Verdict: Number 1 vs Number 17 (one point ahead of the Sunwovles) – this one is easy to predict. Crusaders 13 plus
BULLS v HURRICANES in Pretoria, Saturday 11.05pm AEST
Hurricanes will find it tough in Pretoria but will come away with the goods. Hurricanes 12 and under
SHARKS v STORMERS in Durban, Sunday 1.15am AEST
Always a tough battle and generally a low-scoring game. Stormers 12 and under
JAGUARES v BRUMBIES in Buenos Aires, Sunday 7.40am AEST
The unknown of Argentina…I think the travel from AUS-SA-ARG will be too much for the Brumbies. Jaguares 12 and under
LIONS v KINGS in Johannesburg, Sunday 10.30pm AEST
The best SA team versus arguably the worst. Should be a blowout. Lions 13 plus