Waratahs set to run rings round the Reds at the SCG
Brumbies can make life hard for the Highlanders
Highlanders v Brumbies
Sky Sports Action, 8.35am Saturday
The Highlanders have won their last three meetings with the Brumbies but it is 15 years and 14 encounters since they prevailed by a margin bigger than 13 points so the ACT-outfit with a start of 18 looks a value bet in Dunedin.
The Landers need to pick themselves up after two away defeats at the Hurricanes and Chiefs and two of their three home wins have been by single-figure margins when needing to overcome deficits against the Blues and Crusaders. They also had a sluggish start to their eventual 18-point success over Stormers at the Forsyth-Barr Stadium.
This season is proving a disjointed campaign for the Brumbies with three wins and three defeats but they should arrive on the Kiwi South Island in good heart after a driven second-half performance in their 45-21 home win over the Reds last week. Only one of three reverses has been by a double-figure margin.
1pt 10-11 general
Waratahs v Reds
Sky Sports Action, 10.40am Saturday
The Waratahs look worth a wager to give up nine points to the Reds at the SCG.
The Tahs trounced the Sunwolves 50-27 in Tokyo last week, and barely getting out of second gear, to make it four wins and a draw from six games this season and their last Sydney outing was a 51-27 success over the Rebels, who are also enjoying an excellent campaign. Inbetween, they ground out a decent 24-17 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra.
By contrast, the Reds blasted out of the blocks in the Aussie capital last week but were steamrolled in the second half by the Brumbies in a 45-21 defeat. And they were mauled 45-19 by the Rebels in Melbourne round one.
The Queenslanders enjoyed their two-game tour of Argentina and South Africa, picking up a win in Buenos Aires and a losing bonus in Caoe Town. However, they were the beneficiaries of bizarre wastefulness by Los Jaguares and a length-of-the-field, last-play try shoved them closer to the Stormers than they deserved to be on the evidence of the rest of the Newlands' action.
The Waratahs have won the teams' last seven meetings including the last three in Sydney by at least 20-point margins.
1pt Evs Betway
Sharks v Bulls
Sky Sports Arena, 4.15pm Saturday
So good has the Sharks' attacking play been over the last two weeks that they will surely be in good heart on this return to Durban and this battle with the Bulls despite last-gasp defeat to the Hurricanes. Before their 38-37 loss to the Canes in Napier, the Sharks walloped the Blues 63-40 in Auckland.
However, even though it is looking like another humdrum campaign for the Pretoria outfit, they may not be overwhelmed at Kings Park.
Wet and windy weather is forecast and the Bulls are rested after a bye week. Morale in the away camp should have been lifted by a 33-23 victory over the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld before their break too.
The Bulls have loved their recent rumbles with the KwaZula-Natal franchise too, winning six and drawing one of the last eight, and while they only picked up one point at the Reds from their three-game antipodean tour, they began the campaign with a shock success over the Hurricanes in Pretoria.
The Sharks slammed the Sunwolves 50-22 in the Tank in round four but drew 24-24 with the Waratahs in their first home game of the season.
Sharks to win by a margin of between one and 12 points
1pt 11-5 Coral, Ladbrokes
Hurricanes v Chiefs
Sky Sports Action, 8.35am Friday
The Hurricanes against the Chiefs at the Westcap in Wellington promises to be a wonderful way to kick-off round nine.
The Canes got a last-play try from Ngani Laumape to overhaul the Sharks in Napier last Saturday to make it five wins on the spin and lie in third behind the Lions and Crusaders in the standings.
The Chiefs are tucked in behind their hosts after they edged out the Blues to also record a fifth-straight success.
No scoreline, or type of battle, would surprise given the attacking firepower on show for both sides but particularly the hosts, who won the teams' 2016 semi-final 25-9.
However, the value wager could prove to be the Chiefs with a start of 10.5 points.
The Chiefs won both of last year's meetings and would have proved winners with this start in the previous four regular-season clashes too.
Ace All Black Damian McKenzie does face a fitness test for the Chiefs but bracketed fly-half replacement, brother Marty, is hardly a rookie.
1pt 5-6 Betfair
Sunwolves v Blues
Sky Sports Action, 4.05am Saturday
The Sunwolves' sorry defensive season continued last Saturday when the Waratahs scored 50 without even getting out of second gear and it is hard to see Jamie Joseph and Shota Horie's charges stopping the Blues from racking up a score in Tokyo too.
The Tahs' bullseye was the sixth-straight opposition total over 30 points and the fourth in a row over 40. The Chiefs cruised to a 61-10 success at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium three weeks ago so the bye round clearly didn't help.
However, with defensive consistency also proving to be the Achilles' heel of the Auckland outfit and the winless Sunwolves showing plenty of skills with the ball in hand, back both the Ioane brothers to get on the scoresheet rather than take the away side with a handicap of 17 points.
Awesome All Blacks wing Rieko Ioane, who has four tries for the campaign, should see plenty of ball at inside centre and is no stranger to the demands of a midfield role.
Number eight Akira has six tries for the season with last week's narrow loss at the Chiefs being the only time he has not crossed the whitewash. Support runs off incisive breaks and fierce play in the loose are his trademark but he also loves to get involved in pack drives.
R Ioane & A Ioane to both score tries
1pt 3-1 Sky Bet
Rebels v Los Jaguares
Sky Sports Action, 6.15am Saturday
Los Jaguares won 32-29 in Melbourne last year but the Rebels are a revamped outfit this season and look worth a wager to give up 11 points.
All four of the Rebels' victories have been by 20 points or more and they have had a bye week to examine exactly what went wrong against the Hurricanes in their 50-19 round seven home defeat.
Head coach David Wessels worked wonders in the immediate aftermath of their 51-27 reverse to the Waratahs in Sydney in round five.
The Rebels bounced back with a 46-14 success over the Sharks at AAMI Park.
And even more sensationally, the Sharks responded by beating the Blues 63-40 in Auckland and then pushing the Hurricanes all the way in Napier before succumbing 38-37.
The mood in Los Jaguares' camp must be downbeat after a 40-14 home crushing by the Crusaders and the bright spots of Buenos Aires wins over the Lions and Waratahs are out-weighed by disappointing losses to the Reds and Hurricanes in Argentina too.
The Stormers failed to fully capitalise on Los Jaguares' rustiness in round one at Newlands with a 28-20 success but the Lions ran out convincing 47-27 winners at Ellis Park in round two.
1pt 10-11 general
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