CHIEFS v CRUSADERS in Suva, Friday 5.35pm AEST
The Storyline: Two of the top three teams head to the tropics and the timing couldn’t be worse. Both teams need to show dominance and the distraction of Fiji doesn’t help that. The Crusaders are still undefeated after beating the Hurricanes last week. The Chiefs have slowly going about their work without being overly impressive.
The Stat: The Chiefs have won eight of the last 10 matches between the teams.
Player to watch: George Bridge – The Crusaders winger is a freak. Loves scoring tries, great footwork – a future All Black for sure.
The Verdict: Both teams have impressive forward packs and this will definitely be won in that area. But I think the halves combination of Kerr-Barlow and Cruden will get the Chiefs over the line. Yep, the Crusaders will lose one. Chiefs 12 and under
STORMERS v BLUES in Cape Town, Saturday 3am AEST
The Storyline: Intriguing match-up this one, as it will give us an indicator on how good each team really is. The Stormers were terrible in New Zealand and have lost four straight, while the Blues now have won three in a row.
The Stat: The teams’ last seven encounters were decided by 1-12 margins.
Player to watch: SP Marias – SP has lost a bit of form over the last few weeks but is a tremendous talent and should produce the goods now that his team is back home.
The Verdict: A very tough one to pick but the Blues are traditionally very poor when they head to South Africa. The Stormers will find comfort in being home again and had the bye last week, which should increase their energy levels. Stormers 13 plus
HURRICANES v CHEETAHS in Wellington, Saturday 5.35pm AEST
Cheetahs can score tries but they can’t tackle. Beauden Barrett is starting at fullback – I think he will be there for the All Blacks, with Cruden at 10 as he will kick the goals. Hurricanes 13 plus
FORCE v HIGHLANDERS in Perth, Saturday 7.45pm AEST
The Storyline: The Force had a great win last week in Argentina against the Jags, showing grit and determination. The Highlanders are probably the luckiest team to travel to South Africa in recent memory. They scored three tries in five minutes to bet the Cheetahs, then the Bulls had a try disallowed in the final five minutes last week before Malakai Fekitoa scored a long-range winner with four minutes left.
The Stat: The Force have won six games to the Highlanders’ two.
Player to watch: Malakai Fekitoa – He has gone under the radar a bit, but has clearly been New Zealand’s best No.13 in Super Rugby. He will need to continue that form to get the All Blacks jersey in June.
The Verdict: I’ve got a feeling this will be another tight game for the Highlanders. The Force (like all other Aussie teams) can still make the playoffs and I reckon they will get there. But the superior New Zealand team will come away with the treats here. Highlanders 12 and under
SUNWOLVES v SHARKS in Singapore, Saturday 9.55pm AEST
The Sharks have had an up and down last month but should get back on track against the Sunwolves. Sharks 12 and under
LIONS v BULLS in Johannesburg, Sunday 1.15am AEST
The Lions are the best team in South Africa and are at home. Lions 13 plus
KINGS v BRUMBIES in Port Elizabeth, Sunday 3.30am AEST
The Kings have won more games that the Brumbies… Kings 12 and under
WARATAHS v REBELS in Sydney, Sunday 4.05pm AEST
The Storyline: The Rebels’ only win this season was against the Brumbies. Mathematically they can still make the playoffs, which is a bit sad for all concerned. The Waratahs are coming off a bye and should be well rested. Look for them to make a playoff run starting this week.
The Stat: The Waratahs have a 5-1 home record against the Rebels.
Player to watch: Ned Hanigan – The blindside flanker is being touted as an inclusion for the Wallabies team in June. A big, strong player who carries the ball well.
The Verdict: I keep hoping that the Waratahs will pull it together and have a great game – and there’s no better team to play against to make this happen. The Rebels have shown glimpses of how good they can be this year but not for the full 80 minutes. The ’Tahs should win and win easy on Sunday. Waratahs 13 plus