View the head-to-head form guide for the round.
Friday 11 May
Blues v Lions
5:35 PM AEST, Eden Park, Auckland
The two sides with the worst records in the competition square off when the 1-9 Blues host the 1-8 Lions. With a playoff spot all but written off, the Blues have only pride to play for, while the Lions arguably have a lot more at stake. The Southern Kings are due to enter the Super Rugby competition in 2013 to represent the Eastern Cape province, but it is not yet clear how they will be accommodated. One possibility is for the South African conference to be expanded to six teams. The other option is to eliminate one of the existing South African sides, so the wooden spoon in the South African conference this year could spell the end of that franchise’s place in Super Rugby.
The Blues again showed some promise in their 35-19 loss to the Hurricanes last week. They started well, showing vigour in attack and defence. The scrum was solid, they showed good patience in attack and Piri Weepu was consistent with the boot. The key aspects that let them down were their inability to secure kick-off ball and their loss of composure when they fell behind. The squad desperately lacks self-belief, but they do have enough individual quality to trouble most teams. The Blues have been hit by injury, however, with Tony Woodcock still out and Chris Lowrey, George Moala and Rene Ranger ruled out after picking up injuries against the Hurricanes.
The Lions put up a good fight against the Chiefs last week. They showed good continuity in attack and strength in the forwards. The Lions showed great willingness to throw the ball around and they turned down kickable penalties in both halves, so the 13 point score line flattered the Chiefs a bit. The Lions are still without the services of Butch James who is suspended.
Tip: Blues to win by 1-12
Betting: this game is difficult to predict given the mercurial nature of the Blues. Given the latest Blues injuries I’m going to back the Lions +11.5 at the line.
Waratahs v Bulls
7:40 PM AEST, Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney
The Waratahs 6-23 loss to the Brumbies last week means their playoff chances are hanging by a thread, especially in light of their tour of South Africa which starts next week. After a solid showing against the Crusaders in round 10 they put in an error-strewn performance against the Brumbies. They repeatedly put together good passages of play only to cough up possession and relieve pressure on their opposition. Their cause wasn’t helped by some soft defence either side of half-time to concede two tries. Some good news is they will welcome back Rob Horne, Chris Alcock and possibly Bernard Foley for this match. In other changes, Sarel Pretorius will start at the expense of Brendan McKibbin, while Daniel Halangahu will start at the expense of Tom Carter.
The Bulls currently top the South African conference but have the Stormers breathing down their neck just one point behind. They weren’t all that impressive last week, with the game very much in the balance until the last ten minutes when they overcame the Rebels 41-35. Morne Steyn put in another excellent performance. He was 100% with the boot and set up an excellent try for JJ Englebrecht. Pierre Spies looks a bit soft on defence. Worryingly for the Waratahs, the Bulls boast the highest average points per game (34.6), which is 5.8 points more than the second highest scoring team. If the Bulls can tighten their defence they will be an excellent chance to take this year’s title.
Tip: Bulls to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Bulls to win (1.90 odds with Centrebet)
Saturday 12 May
Highlanders v Hurricanes
5:35 PM AEST, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The Highlanders make the long trip home after picking up one win from two in South Africa. They currently sit 3rd in the New Zealand conference and, more importantly, they occupy the final playoff spot. They enjoyed plenty of possession last week in their 16-28 loss to the Sharks, but suffered injuries to Doug Tietjens, Elliot Dixon and Siale Piutau. Like last season, the Otago and Southland faithful will fear their side will run out of steam in the latter stages of the season. This fixture will provide a great insight into how well they will fare for the final third of the competition.
The Hurricanes will be pleased to have seen off the Blues after tough losses to the Chiefs and Crusaders. They remain very much in contention for a playoff spot, and could leapfrog the Highlanders this round. They lack a bit of strength in the forward pack, as shown by the Blues dominance at the scrum last week, but the Hurricanes are lethal in the backs. Andre Taylor continues to have an excellent season while Cory Jane and Conrad Smith are a constant menace. Expect them to play a high-tempo game to try and fatigue the travel weary Highlanders.
Tip: Hurricanes to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Hurricanes to win (2.30 odds with Centrebet). Again, keep an eye out on the odds for Tom Taylor to score a try.
Rebels v Crusaders
7:40 PM AEST, AAMI Park, Melbourne
The Rebels, now without James O’Connor and Danny Cipriani, showed good attacking flair last week in their narrow 35-41 loss to the Bulls. They showed plenty of spirit and enthusiasm, and were still very much in the contest in the final ten minutes. Kurtley Beale played well at No. 10. He showed what an explosive player he can be with a first-half line break to set up the Cooper Vuna try. Beale also showed good creativity and finesse, and was solid with the boot. The Crusaders put on an unconvincing performance as they snuck past the Reds 15-11 last week. They were kept tryless in a game that never really got into a rhythm, but they showed better composure than the Reds in the last ten minutes, which was the difference between the two sides. I don’t expect the Crusaders to have consecutive bad games, however, especially with Dan Carter and now Richie McCaw back in the starting squad. They may feel less pressure away from home, so the Rebels should brace themselves for this one. Just be aware that the Crusaders are resting Kieran Read, Israel Dagg and Andy Ellis.
Tip: Crusaders to win by 13+
Betting: back the Crusaders -13.5 at the line
Sunday 13 May
Sharks v Western Force
1:05 AM AEST, Kings Park, Durban
The Sharks enter this fixture full of confidence after seeing off the higher placed Highlanders 28-16 last week. Patrick Lambie scored all of their points, with a converted try and seven penalties from seven attempts. They sit 7th on the overall standings, just 3 points off the final playoff spot. The main issue for them at the moment is scoring points. They are currently ranked 10th in average points scored, which isn’t enough if they want to take the South African conference. The Force will feel unlucky to have lost to the Cheetahs in their 13-17 loss last week. They felt the referee gave them no favours and the Cheetahs seemed to have the rub of the green. With the Force sitting 16 points behind a playoff spot, that loss may have killed off their playoff chances. Kings Park is a tough venue for visitors, so I fancy the Sharks here.
Tip: Sharks to win by 13+
Betting: back the Sharks -11.5 at the line
Stormers v Cheetahs
3:10 AM AEST, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
The Stormers enter this fixture on the back of a bye, and with their remaining fixtures at home, they will back themselves to win the South African conference. If they can get back to full fitness then they’ll back themselves to win this year’s title as well. Against the Force the Cheetahs looked only a shadow of the team they were before Johan Goosen got injured. His replacement Sias Ebersohn isn’t as strong with the boot and the side sorely misses Goosen’s flair on attack. I expect the Cheetahs to fade out of finals contention with the Stormers, Bulls and possibly the Sharks representing South Africa in the playoffs.
Tip: Stormers to win by 13+
Betting: back the Stormers -9.5 at the line
Reds v Chiefs
4:10 PM AEST, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Reds will be disappointed to have lost their composure in their 11-15 loss to the Crusaders last week. They were arguably the stronger side, but some silly errors in the last seven minutes enabled the Canterbury side to pick up six points and the victory. The Reds will have to refocus quickly, with a tough encounter against the Chiefs ahead of them. The Chiefs continue to pick up wins, with their 34-21 victory over the Lions their 9th on the trot. The side has a good balance to it, and who would have thought that a prop (Sona Taumalolo) would be the second top try scorer at this stage of the competition? Despite making squad rotations last week the Chiefs were fluid in attack and they look to be a well-drilled outfit. I think the Chiefs will be tougher opponents than the Crusaders were a week ago, so I’m tipping them to nick this one in a tight contest.
Tip: Chiefs to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Chiefs to win (1.80 with Centrebet)