Super Rugby round six preview
March 22, 2013
Friday, March 22
19:35 local, 06:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 14:35 WST
Head to Head: Played 20 Chiefs 13 Highlanders 7
In Hamilton: Played 6 Chiefs 4 Highlanders 2
Last clash: Round two, 2013: Highlanders 27 - 41 Chiefs, at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Preview: There was a lot of pre-season hype and hope about the Highlanders, but after five rounds they are the only winless team in the competition. They've had their chances and showed some glimpses in their 0-3 start, but a litany of errors have hurt them. They pushed the Chiefs for 70 minutes in their season-opener in Dunedin, so they'll believe a turnaround is possible, and they have Ma'a Nonu back in the midfield. But have been hit by the loss of hookers Andrew Hore (rib) and Brayden Mitchell (collarbone). The Chiefs have flown back from South Africa so won't be the freshest, but coach Dave Rennie has rotated his troops well and Aaron Cruden remains the sharpest playmaker in the comp.
Tip: Chiefs by eight points
Saturday, March 23
19:35 local, 06:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 14:35 WST
Head to Head: Played 0 Crusaders 0 Kings 0
Preview: It's been a tumultuous week at the Kings, who are under investigation after fielding too many foreign players in their 35-24 home loss to the Chiefs. The Kings claim that Argentinian players shouldn't be classed as foreign at Super Rugby level because a team from Argentina plays in South Africa's Vodacom Cup competition, so therefore they didn't breach the two-man limit. The competition newcomers have been solid and competitive, but they are making their first visit to New Zealand and the Crusaders regained their mojo in last week's 41-19 win over the Bulls.
Tip: Crusaders by 21 points
18:40 local, 08:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 16:40 WST
Head to Head: Played 17 Reds 10 Bulls 7
In Brisbane: Played 9 Reds 8 Bulls 1
Last clash: Round five, 2012 - Bulls 61 - 8 Reds, at Loftus Versfeld
Preview: Both teams are licking their wounds after having their pride severely dented last week. The Reds produced one of their most disappointing performances at home against Western Force and they have vowed in the aftermath to turn the corner on a scrappy start to the year. They finally have captain James Horwill back from injury for a 40-minute return, while Wallabies backs Digby Ioane and Anthony Faingaa will also start after missing last week die to suspension and injury respectively. Quade Cooper must snap out of his rut if Queensland are to run the Bulls off their feet, as they hope. The Reds will sorely miss Liam Gill (knee) but the Bulls are without stalwart backs Wynard Olivier, Francois Hougaard and Akona Ndungane.
Tip: Reds by seven points
18:40 local, 10:40 GMT, 21:40 EST, 21:10 CST, 18:40 WST
Head to Head: Played 6 Force 4 Cheetahs 2
In Perth: Played 4 Force 2 Cheetahs 2
Last clash: Round 11, 2012: Cheetahs 17 - 13 Force, at Vodacom Park
Preview: This features a battle of the twins as Force fly-half Sias Ebersohn goes up against his brother Robert, who plays inside centre for the Cheetahs. According to their schoolboy coach - Dries van der Walt - Sias is the more highly skilled, while Robert has the brains. The Force are riding high following their drought-breaking win over the Reds in Queensland last week. But the Cheetahs are also in good form with two successive wins on the road, but the loss of fly-half Johan Goosen to a season-ending knee injury is a big blow to the visitors. In contrast, the Force welcome back skipper Matt Hodgson from a hamstring complaint.
Tip: Force by three points
17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 02:05 EST +1d, 01:35 CST +1d, 23:05 WST :
Head to Head: Played 1 Sharks 1 Rebels 0
In Durban: N/A
Last clash: Round four, 2011: Rebels 32 - 34 Sharks, at AAMI Park
Preview: The Sharks were given a whack last week by the Brumbies, and the Rebels will probably be the team that pays the price. Rebels skipper Gareth Delve has overcome a shoulder problem to give some much-needed size and experience against a big Sharks pack. James O'Connor again assumes the playmaker duties with Kurtley Beale still recovering from hand surgery, while they have two new wingers in Wallabies flyer Cooper Vuna and Jason Woodward. Vuna has been their leading try-scorer for the past two seasons, and Woodward impressed before suffering a finger injury that delayed his Super debut. The Sharks have struggled to get across the tryline this season, but Pat Lambie is a classy No. 10 and the Rebels' suspect defence needs to step up.
Tip: Sharks by 10 points
19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 04:10 EST +1d, 03:40 CST +1d, 01:10 WST +1d :
Head to Head: Played 15 Stormers 4 Brumbies 10 drawn 1
In Cape Town: Played 8 Stormers 3 Brumbies 4 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 15, 2011: Brumbies 3 - 16 Stormers, at Canberra Stadium
Preview: The unbeaten Brumbies are fast making a statement that they are the team to beat for this year's title. Jake White's men were at their clinical best against the Sharks, particularly in the first half as they scored four unanswered tries. But the Stormers will be fresh after a bye, and they are looking to build on their victory over the highly rated Chiefs. Their defence will prove more willing than the Sharks', but it will need to be as the Brumbies revel in a non-stop attacking game. The Stormers have their own attacking weapons in Gio Aplon, Gerhard van der Heever and Jean de Villiers, but they must use them better. The battle of the breakdown will be key, with veteran George Smith forming a lethal combination with Ben Mowen and Fotu Auelua last week.
Tip: Brumbies by two points
Sunday, March 24
16:05 local, 05:05 GMT, 16:05 EST, 15:35 CST, 13:05 WST
Head to Head: Played 17 Waratahs 11 Blues 6
In Sydney: Played 8 Waratahs 5 Blues 3
Last clash: Qualifying Finals 2011: Blues 26 - 13 Waratahs, at Eden Park
Preview: Blues coach Sir John Kirwan is expecting a "WWF-type battle" in this one, with the Tahs chastened and desperate after the 1-3 start that has them last in the Australian conference. All Blacks great Kirwan made a bunch of changes and paid a price when his team was monstered by the Bulls pack two weeks ago, but his new-look Blues have otherwise shown an admirable mix of creative dash - much of it sparked by Rene Ranger - and solid graft. Expect more questions about the quality of the Tahs squad if they can't get their touted new ball-in-hand game firing consistently this week.
Tip: Blues by five points
Make your ESPN FootyTips selections for Super Rugby round six
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter