We're seven rounds into the 18-week regular season of Super Rugby, with some crucial fixtures lined up on Saturday.
We're seven rounds into the 18-week regular season of Super Rugby, with some crucial games lined up which could either make or break teams that have fired blanks thus far in the tournament.
The Crusaders are having the weekend off after downing the Sharks in London, but there's still plenty of action to keep you glued to the couch on Super Saturday.
Blues v Cheetahs
The struggling Cheetahs cross the Tasman over to New Zealand where they face another tough assignment against the Blues at Toll Stadium in Whangarei.
The Free Staters are currently bottom of the table with a solitary win from their opening six matches, with their latest defeat coming at the hands of the Reds in Brisbane last week.
The Blues finally managed to rid themselves of their inconsistent tagline last week as they showed tremendous character to overturn a 10-nil deficit to prevail 16-13 against the Chiefs and secure their first back-to-back victories of the season.
Three wins from three against their New Zealand opposition and seven points from their overseas tour to South Africa and Perth has seen the Blues establish a healthy position on the table as they sit second in their conference and fifth overall.
With three home games and a bye in the next month, the Blues are in a commanding position to kick on and consolidate their position among the top teams in the Super Rugby competition.
Their first assignment is the Cheetahs, and with just one win to their name against an impressive Waratahs outfit, Blues coach Pat Lam is expecting nothing less than a torrid challenge against the South Africans.
“There's no easy game in this competition,” Lam said.
“We know that if everyone fronts and does their job our chances of winning will be high. But if we don't, if we have one or two players that drop below their expected performance and if we come up against a motivated Cheetahs team we'll be in serious trouble.
“This game is a potential banana skin and we saw what they did to the Waratahs, they've only won one game but all their losses have been by small margins bar last week's loss to the Reds in Brisbane heat.
“If you look at the type of rugby they're playing, their systems are a lot different from what other South African teams do and they actually like to use the ball which will make for an exciting game so we need to be on our guard defensively and it's important we front with the same attitude and intensity that we have in the last couple of weeks.”
Lam knows first-hand the perils of underestimating the Cheetahs, as it was their shock 36-32 loss to the Bloemfontein based side at Free State Stadium last year that effectively ended the Blues' quest for a semi-finals berth.
“It's fair to say that game still grates on me when we lost last year and we were expected to win but it pretty much ended our season so we certainly owe them one this time around.”
The Blues have won four of their five encounters against the Cheetahs, with the one loss coming from their most recent encounter which is sure to provide plenty of motivation.
Prediction: The hard part isn't predicting a winner, but by how much… Blues by 20 points.
Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 James King, 19 Mat Luamanu, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Benson Stanley.
Cheetahs: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Phillip Burger, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corne Uys, 11 Wilmaure Louw, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Phillip van der Walt, 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp (c), 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Skipper Badenhorst, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Isak van der Westhuizen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Naas Olivier, Barry Geel.
Date: Saturday, March 19
Venue: Okara Park, Whangarei
Kick-off: 17:30 (04:30 GMT)
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Hurricanes v Bulls
The Hurricanes play their Super Rugby match in Napier for the first time in eight years when they host the defending champion Bulls at McLean Park on Saturday.
The hosts will be seeking maximum competition points against the Bulls to reignite their season after back-to-back defeats in recent weeks to the Blues and Rebels.
Sitting fourth in the New Zealand conference on the points table on 12 points, and ninth overall, victory for the Hurricanes over the Bulls would propel them back into the top half of the draw with 10 matches still to play after this.
The Bulls are currently third in the South African standings on 17 points and seventh equal overall, alongside the Highlanders who became the first team to topple them at home at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in 18 matches when they won 35-28 in Round Three.
The Bulls have won three and lost two to date, with four of their five games having been decided by seven points or fewer and their 13-23 defeat to the Stormers at home two weeks ago the widest scoreline of their season so far.
This match against the Hurricanes is the first of three on the trot in New Zealand and Australia.
Since their three from five return in 2007, the Bulls have built a reputation as good tourists. However, three wins are unlikely this time, with the Hurricanes, Crusaders, Reds and Force poised to take advantage of their struggle to hit optimal form.
“The successive losses certainly dented the players' confidence a little and as a result we were not as sharp as we could be,” captain Victor Matfield said.
“We need to improve a lot going forward.”
The Hurricanes will be playing in Napier for the seventh time, where they currently have a four win – two loss record. Their last match there in 2003 was also against the Bulls, with the South Africans winning 46-34.
Prediction: This is a hard one predict. Both sides are due for a big performance, but with Hosea Gear back for the 'Canes – the All Blacks winger may just be the spark needed to get the home side back on track. Hurricanes to win by seven points.
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Jack Lam, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Charlie Ngatai.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter,