All the teams are in action this week as the third round of Super Rugby kicks into high gear, with the Kiwi sides remaining the benchmark of the competition.
The Melbourne Rebels remain the form side of the Australian conference, putting the Queensland Reds to the sword in their opening fixture.
The action starts this week with the Blues hosting the Chiefs in Auckland, while the round closes in New Zealand with the Hurricanes hosting Jaguares.
The Blues were unlucky to go down to the Highlanders in their opening fixture of the competition 41-34. Auckland have struggled to notch a win against a local rival for more than two years.
Given their red-hot form during the pre-season, the Blues are every chance of breaking their drought this week against the Chiefs. The Chiefs struggled to contain the class of the Crusaders in their opening round clash.
Blues coach Tana Umaga has his side playing an exciting brand of rugby, represent some good value from a betting perspective to break their hoodoo against the Chiefs.
The frustration for long time Qld supporters is that the results don’t look like improving on the field anytime soon. The Reds were put to the sword by the Rebels in the opening fixture, and it could be some time before we see Queensland return to the top of the Australian conference. Things don’t get any easier this week for the Reds with a fixture against the Brumbies.
The Canberra side is still without David Pocock, but were able to do enough to get past the Sunwolves. Former Test player Christian Lealiifano has slotted straight back into a Brumbies side that is loaded with Wallabies players.
With the Reds losing Scott Higginbotham to suspension the Brumbies will be confident of taking the points in Brisbane against a Queensland side struggling for form and confidence.
The Crusaders showed that they will be the team to beat this season with a barnstorming display against the Blues in their opening fixture.
The Crusaders showed a willingness to run the ball from deep within their own half in their opening fixture, with the champs piling on the points against the Chiefs. The Stormers will need to inject some fresh legs into their squad, after a hard-fought loss to the Waratahs in Sydney.
The South African side showed a real lack of urgency in broken play, allowing NSW to steal a win after the siren. With nine All Blacks in their side, the Crusaders will be out to continue the form that won them the title in 2017.
The Crusaders are class above the Stormers and they represent some good value in the marketplace.
The Rebels showed that they will be a force to be reckoned with after playing some champagne rugby against the Reds last week.
Wallaby halfback Will Genia led by example and provided the direction for a Rebels side packed with quality finishers. Former Western Force fullback Dane Haylett-Perry slotted in nicely, picking up two tries in his first appearance for the Rebels.
The Sunwolves off-season recruitment of several Japanese national players will provide the Rebels with a stern test, but Melbourne have the potential to pull off back to back wins.
The Waratahs head on the road without one of their most experienced campaigners, Rob Simmons. The Test lock was injured as the Waratahs won their opening round fixture against the Stormers after the siren. New South Wales face a tough test with the clash against the Sharks followed by a visit to Argentina. The Waratahs did enough to get the points against the Stormers but will need to improve to stand a chance of progressing past the Sharks.
The Waratahs will be hoping to turn over a new leaf after their horror run in 2017, but the Sharks will be too strong at home for a NSW side short on big-match experience. A hostile home crowd will help the Sharks get over the line against the Waratahs side that struggled on the road in 2017.
The Bulls sprung a major upset on the competition by defeating the Hurricanes in Pretoria. Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell won’t be getting carried away as they face another difficult clash with the Lions at home. In the corresponding clash last year, the Lions trounced their neighbours 51-14 and won’t be worried about the form they showed against the Hurricanes.
The Lions have been the benchmark of domestic rugby in South Africa and it’s difficult to see the Bulls causing a major upset. The Lions are a real force at this level and it’s difficult to imagine the Bulls getting the jump on them this early in the competition.
The Lions put on seven tries against Jaguares in without really getting out of second gear and will be out to repeat the dose against the Bulls.
The Hurricanes suffered a serious blow to their 2018 campaign, with a shock loss to the Bulls in South Africa. The Kiwi side was left reeling as the Bulls stole the clash 21-19 and they’ll be looking to make amends as they host Jaguares in Wellington.
Things don’t get any easier for former Wallabies coach Mario Ledesma as his side are on the road for the opening rounds of the competition. Ledesma will be wanting to improve his side’s discipline after an indifferent display against the Lions last week, with two players spending time in the sin bin.
The Hurricanes will be wanting to turn things around quickly by putting the points on the board against a side that has struggled to win on the road.