BLUES v REDS
At Eden Park, Auckland at 5.30pm
Blues: Played 8 - won 1, lost 7. Reds: Played 8 - won 4 lost 4.
Last clash: Semi-final 2011. Reds 30 b Blues 13 in Brisbane.
Haven't things changed since last season for both of these sides. The Blues haven't fired a shot this year and each week seem to find new ways to lose. The Reds have had a horrible run with injuries, but get back winger Digby Ioane and Anthony Fa'ainga. The Blues have suffered another blow with All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock ruled out with a calf strain. Heavily-criticised Piri Weepu returns to half-back and winger Rudi Wulf has recovered from a shoulder injury. The Blues desperately need a win but aren't playing with enough confidence to cause an upset here.
LIONS v BRUMBIES
At Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg, Saturday 3.10am
Lions: Played 7 - won 1, lost 6. Brumbies: Played 8 - won 4, lost 4.
Last clash: Round 13 2011. Lions 29 b Brumbies 20 in Canberra.
The John Mitchell-coached Lions have been competitive in most games, but a horrific injury toll hasn't helped their cause. They are coming off a bye which might help after a disappointing performance against the Cheetahs two weeks ago. The Brumbies were robbed by the worst call in Super Rugby history last week, going down to the Bulls 36-34 in Pretoria. Some of the Brumbies young players like Jesse Mogg, Christian Lealiifano, Sam Carter and Dan Palmer have been a revelation under coach Jake White.
CHIEFS v HURRICANES
At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Saturday 5.30pm
Chiefs: Played 8 - won 7, lost 1. Hurricanes: Played 8, won 4, lost 4.
Last clash: Round 17, 2011. Chiefs 18 drew Hurricanes 18 in Hamilton.
All Blacks winger Cory Jane has been named to make his return from an ankle injury in this crucial games for both sides. The Hurricanes were smashed 42-14 by the Crusaders last week and need to show they are better than that or their finals hopes will be gone. Halfback TJ Perenara and Julian Savea also return to the starting XV. The Chiefs are back from South Africa, and are on a seven-game winning streak, but not everyone is convinced. Victory here will win over a few more doubters.
WESTERN FORCE v STORMERS
At nib Stadium, Perth, Saturday 7.40pm
Force: Played 8 - won 2, lost 6. Stormers: Played 8 - won 7, lost 1.
Last clash: Round 6, 2011. Stormers 51 b Force 16 in Cape Town.
The question everyone is asking here is, "What impact will Richard Graham's sacking have on the Force?" In his place the club has insituted a panel system, not surprisingly including star David Pocock who was this week courted by the Brumbies. Teams in all codes always seem to lift after a coach is sacked, but the Stormers, fresh off a win against the Reds in Brisbane, will be ready for an ambush. The return of lock Andries Bekker will help offset the loss of Duane Vermeulen, Nick Koster and Gio Aplon to injury.
CHEETAHS v HIGHLANDERS
At Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein, Sunday 1.05am
Cheetahs: Played 8 - won 3, lost 5. Highlanders: Played 8 - won 6, lost 2.
Last clash: Round 9, 2011. Hurricanes 50 b Cheetahs 47 in Bloemfontein.
With the Highlanders sitting fifth and having won six of its eight games, it is right in the mix for post-season contention. But the South Islanders faced the same scenario last year and won just two of their final eight games. The team arrived in Johannesburg late on Monday to prepare for the clash, and thankfully several players, including half-back Jimmy Cowan were upgraded to first class for the 14-hour flight. Highlanders coach Jamie Mackintosh has a full list to pick from, and importantly, the Highlanders have never lost to the Cheetahs.
WARATAHS v CRUSADERS
At Allianz Stadium, Sydney, Sunday 4.10pm
Waratahs: Played 8 - won 4, lost 4. Crusaders: Played 8 - won 5, lost 3.
Last clash: Round 3, 2011. Crusaders 33 b Waratahs 18 in Nelson.
A rare Sunday afternoon outing in Sydney. But it's likely to be anything but a walk in the part for the 'Tahs with the Crusaders back firing on most cylinders against the Hurricanes last week. To make matters worse, talisman Richie McCaw is back for his first game of the season for the Crusaders. And unfortunately for the Waratahs, they have lost Rob Horne to a two-match suspension and Bernard Foley and Chris Alcock to injury. If the Tahs try their usual in-close, unadventurous style they will play into the Crusaders' hands.
The Rebels, Bulls and Sharks have the bye.
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