Preview of Super Rugby round 10 matches (all times NZT):
FRIDAY, April 27
Blues v Queensland Reds at Eden Park, Auckland
Head to Head: Played 17 Blues 8 Reds 8 drawn 1
In Auckland: Played 6 Blues 3 Reds 3
Last clash: Semi-final 2011 - Reds 30 bt Blues 13 at Suncorp Stadium
It would have been impossible to predict that last year's semi-final combatants would enter this clash with just one win between them in their last 10 matches combined. While the Reds have struggled badly due to backline injury woes, the Blues have simply under-performed terribly. Under-fire Piri Weepu has lost some weight and gained a chance to silence the knockers at halfback but the Blues will be without Test prop Tony Woodcock (calf). Digby Ioane makes his long-awaited return from suspension at outside centre in a major boost for Queensland. It looms as a battle of the breakdown with the Reds naming both their ball scavengers, Liam Gill and Beau Robinson, and the Blues going the same way with Luke and Daniel Braid.
TAB: Blues $1.45 Reds $2.60
Tip: Reds by 3 points
SATURDAY, April 28
Lions v Brumbies at Ellis Park, Johannesburg 5.10am
Head to Head: Played 17 Lions 5 Brumbies 12
In Johannesburg: Played 7 Lions 4 Brumbies 3
Last clash: Round 13 2011 - Lions 29 bt Brumbies 20 at Canberra Stadium
The injury-plagued Lions will put their fifth lock combination to the test when they take on the Brumbies, who were unlucky not to topple the Bulls in Pretoria. The loss of skipper Ben Mowen and prop Dan Palmer is likely to dent the Brumbies' pack but Jake White's men have proven they can grind out a victory and will do their best to exploit the Lions' set-piece weaknesses. The Lions should be fresh from the bye and fired up to end their long losing streak ahead of a month-long tour abroad. However the Brumbies defence and breakdown efficiency should have the South African battlers covered.
TAB: Lions $2.05 Brumbies $1.70
Tip: Brumbies by 9 points
Chiefs v Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Head to Head: Played 18 Chiefs 7 Hurricanes 10 drawn 1
In Hamilton: Played 8 Chiefs 4 Hurricanes 3 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 17 2011 - Chiefs 18 drew Hurricanes 18 at Waikato Stadium
The Chiefs' roll continued with a gritty five-point win in Durban and they will like their chances of an eighth straight win back at home. With their forward pack doing the tough stuff admirably, Aaron Cruden is expertly pulling the strings and they look a better equipped outfit than the inconsistent Canes. However the visitors will enter the match with a point to prove following their 42-14 thrashing by the Crusaders. The Hurricanes have been boosted by the return of dangerous wing duo Cory Jane and Julian Savea as well as rising No.9 TJ Perenara. Brendon Leonard is fit again will start for the Chiefs at halfback.
TAB: Chiefs $1.42 Hurricanes $2.90
Tip: Chiefs by 7 points
Western Force v Stormers at nib Stadium, Perth
Head to Head: Played 6 Force 2 Stormers 4
In Perth: Played 3 Force 1 Stormers 2
Last clash: Round 6 2011 - Stormers 51 bt Force 16 at Newlands Rugby Stadium
The Force gained four invaluable competition points from their bye week, but the franchise is still in a state of shock following the swift departure of coach Richard Graham. Reds-bound Graham wanted to see out the season in Perth as head coach, but player power forced him out the door last week. Former league star Phil Blake heads the Force's interim five-man coaching panel, and they face a tough task to conjure a victory over a powerful Stormers outfit. The return of Fijian winger Napolioni Nalaga helps but serious injuries to lock Sam Wykes, prop Kieran Longbottom and fullback Cameron Shepherd has left the team light on for talent.
TAB: Force $3.00 Stormers $1.35
Tip: Stormers by 14 points
Sunday, April 29
Cheetahs v Highlanders at Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
Head to Head: Played 7 Cheetahs 1 Highlanders 6
In Bloemfontein: Played 3 Cheetahs 0 Highlanders 3
Last clash: Round 8 2011 - Highlanders 24 bt Cheetahs 21 at Carisbrook Stadium
The Highlanders are sitting pretty with six wins from eight games, but the players aren't popping the champagne corks just yet. In fact, no alcohol will be flowing among the players, who have agreed to go on a one-month alcohol ban in a bid to boost their chances of making the finals for the first time since 2003. The Highlanders sit second in the Kiwi conference but face a tricky test against the free-running Cheetahs, who posted wins in two of their past three games before last week's bye. The home side also have radar-boot Johan Goosen back at No.10.
TAB: Cheetahs $1.87 Highlanders $1.87
Tip: Highlanders by 7 points
NSW Waratahs v Crusaders at Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Head to Head: Played 18 Waratahs 14 Crusaders 4
In Sydney: Played 8 Waratahs 3 Crusaders 4
Last clash: Round 3 2011 - Crusaders 33 bt Waratahs 18 at Trafalgar Park
It must be the halfway mark of the season - the Crusaders are roaring. The seven-time champions were back in their groove against the Hurricanes, whipping up a 32-0 lead in the first half, and they'll like the prospect of an afternoon clash in Sydney. Dan Carter's move to inside centres has payed off, Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford are back hitting gaps, the scrum's demolishing rival packs and Kieran Read is at his peak. And that's not to mention that Richie McCaw will make his return off the bench. The Waratahs have lost key backs Rob Horne and Bernard Foley and will struggle to contain the visitors both out wide and up front.
TAB: Waratahs $3.00 Crusaders $1.35
Tip: Crusaders by 12 points