Round 8 of Super Rugby headlines a busy weekend of action across the globe, with the play-off races heating up in Europe.
The all-South African derby on Saturday between the Stormers and the Lions sticks out as the pick of the bunch, while Saracens travel to Northampton and La Rochelle will hope to continue their run at the top in France away at Lyon.
Let’s see who will come out on top.
Reds v Kings
Preview: Despite losing six games out of seven so far, amazingly the Reds’ are not yet out of the play-off mix due to them being only 10 points off the pace-setting Brumbies in Australia.
Prediction: On paper it has to be a home victory especially with their returning players in some key positions. Reds to win by 20 points.
Blues v Hurricanes
Preview: The Blues have won just one of their last nine home games against fellow New Zealand teams, though each of their last four such fixtures have been decided by no more than the value of an unconverted try.
Prediction: This should be a thrilling encounter between two entertaining sides but the champions have too much class and will take the spoils, albeit by a narrow margin. Hurricanes by five.
Rebels v Brumbies
Preview: The Rebels appear safe off the field, in large part due to their financial backing, but back on the field this has been a miserable campaign thus far.
Prediction: Keep up their intensity from last week and the Brumbies will have no issues in Melbourne. Brumbies by 12.
Cheetahs v Chiefs
Preview: After their five-match winning streak was broken in the 36-24 defeat to Stormers at Newlands last weekend, Dave Rennie’s men will be highly motivated to put things right.
Prediction: The Chiefs will be determined to end their South African tour on a high note after the humbling at Newlands last weekend. Things could get messy for the Cheetahs. Chiefs by 30.
Stormers v Lions
Preview: Both sides are known for playing an exciting brand of rugby, so this should be an entertaining tussle.
Prediction: Expect fireworks as two of the tournament’s most attacking teams take each other on. It will be tight affair but the Stormers will win by four points!
Bulls v Jaguares
Preview: Quite simply the Bulls have to win if they have any hope of catching up with the Stormers in Africa 1, who are yards clear, but the return of Handré Pollard is a certain plus.
Prediction: This feels like a fixture that Jaguares would have lost last year, but in 2017? The Argentine franchise have made enough strides to knock off the Bulls and put themselves in the play-off picture. Jaguares by five.
Northampton Saints v Saracens
A play-off spot is guaranteed for the champions but they still have work to do if they want a home semi-final with Exeter and Wasps showing no signs of slowing down in the top two slots. Saracens are six points back – that costly away defeat to Gloucester springs to mind – but have looked in brilliant form over the last two weeks, putting 40 points plus on Glasgow Warriors and Harlequins. When the run-in approaches, they tend to get hot. Knowing what to get from Northampton remains as tricky as ever this season but there were plenty of positives from that heartbreaking away defeat to Wasps, while Louis Picamoles was supreme before that against Leicester. Even at home though, that won’t be enough. Saracens by eight.
Other Premiership predictions:
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs: Exeter by 6
Gloucester v Sale Sharks: Gloucester by 3
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons: Leicester by 8
Worcester Warriors v Bath: Bath by 5
Bristol v Wasps: Wasps by 20
Munster v Ulster
Second versus fifth in the PRO12 finds Ulster facing a tough trip to Thomond Park, and against a Munster side in excellent form. It hasn’t been this good for the men in red for some time, having not lost a match in any competition since mid-December, hence why many of their contingent are expected to be named in the British and Irish Lions squad on Wednesday. Leinster’s trip to Connacht offers Munster potentially a route to the top of the table if they can win on Saturday, although with the Champions Cup semi-final to come the following week, being distracted would be understandable. Munster by six.
Other PRO12 predictions:
Glasgow Warriors v Zebre: Glasgow by 25
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys: Ospreys by 3
Newport Gwent Dragons v Scarlets: Scarlets by 8
Treviso v Edinburgh: Edinburgh by 3
Connacht v Leinster: Leinster by 5
Lyon v La Rochelle
With no blockbuster fixture in France this weekend, let’s have a look at the current league leaders who are on a phenomenal run in all competitions. This season’s version of Leicester City, La Rochelle haven’t lost in the Top 14 since November 19, which is astonishing for a club who admittedly recruited plenty of experience in Victor Vito and Brock James, but whose progress has come thanks to their French contingent of Kévin Gourdon, Uini Atonio and newcomers Gabriel Lacroix and Steeve Barry. Lyon are no slouches, boasting a tough pack and right in the hunt for play-off positions. But this would be some upset. La Rochelle by 7.
Other Top 14 predictions:
Toulon v Castres: Toulon by 8
Brive v Bordeaux-Bègles: UBB by 5
Grenoble v Clermont: Clermont by 6
Stade Français v Pau: Pau by 6
Montpellier v Bayonne: Montpellier by 9
Toulouse v Racing 92: Toulouse by 3