Super 15 insider: Expert picks, round 13 previews

By Dylan Cleaver

Ma'a Nonu returns to action tonight to face the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu returns to action tonight to face the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images

Herald rugby writer Dylan Cleaver breaks down the six Super 15 matches taking place over the next three days.

Invercargill, tonight, 7.35
Referee: Vinny Munro

Mike Greenaway (Natal Mercury) - 58/81 72%: Highlanders
Rachel Glucina (Herald on Sunday) 55/81 68%: Highlanders
Andrew Slack (Wallaby legend) 55/81 68%: Highlanders
Dylan Cleaver (NZ Herald) - 55/81 68%: Highlanders
Wynne Gray (NZ Herald) 54/81 66%: Highlanders

THE MATCH: It matters not whether you pronounce it with a silent or hard "h", this is "huge" for the Highlanders. After consecutive reverses they need to repel the lowland Hurricanes otherwise you suspect they will have left themselves too much to do over the remaining weeks.

WATCH OUT FOR: At 54.3 per cent, the Highlanders kicking stats are the worst in the competition. At 65.1 per cent, the Hurricanes are third worst. Games between these two sides tend to be ugly, tight affairs so realistically it might come down to whose kicker is the best - or perhaps whose is the worst - on the night.

TAB Highlanders $1.87 Hurricanes $1.87

Brisbane, tonight, 9.40pm
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan

Mike Greenaway: Reds
Rachel Glucina: Blues
Andrew Slack: Reds
Dylan Cleaver: Reds
Wynne Gray: Reds

THE MATCH: Match of the round, no doubt about it. First travels to meet second. Injuries to key players might have taken a little gloss of the match, but you could say that about most games at this attritional stage of the season. The Crusaders and Stormers might still have something to say about it, but looking at the run-ins, this game could well decide who gets No 1 seed for the playoffs.

WATCH OUT FOR: Waiouru v Tokoroa. Stephen Brett and Quade Cooper have gone a long way to shaking off their flaky reputations. They hold the key tonight.

TAB Reds $1.70 Blues $2.05

Brett has to step up against fiery Reds
Mother of all battles for new dad Lowrey

Hamilton, tomorrow, 7.35pm
Referee: Stuart Dickinson

Mike Greenaway: Stormers
Rachel Glucina: Stormers
Andrew Slack: Chiefs
Dylan Cleaver: Chiefs
Wynne Gray: Stormers

THE MATCH: It may lack the cachet of the preceding match, but this could be every bit as important for the final standings. The Chiefs will tell you they're still in this race but unless they string a month of wins together, they look primed to play a spoiler's role. The Stormers not only lost the most physical match of the season against the Crusaders, but then had a 12-hour flight to contend with.

WATCH OUT FOR: An upset? The Stormers came to Hamilton last year and humbled the home side with a magnificent display of power rugby. If the Chiefs need motivation, Ian Foster should play the tape to show what men against boys looks like.

TAB Chiefs $2.15 Stormers $1.65

Chiefs face big challenge in Stormers

Canberra, tomorrow, 9.40pm
Referee: Nathan Pearce

Mike Greenaway: Brumbies
Rachel Glucina: Brumbies
Andrew Slack: Brumbies
Dylan Cleaver: Brumbies
Wynne Gray: Lions

THE MATCH: John Mitchell has sounded like a frustrated man of late and appears on a collision course with team owners and administrators after his "put your money where your mouth is" ultimatum. After the indignities imposed on his side by the Cheetahs, Mitchell has rushed Butch James into the line-up. Will he improve the Lions? Yes. Will they start winning? Probably not.

WATCH OUT FOR: Some paint-by-numbers previews for a match that has no meaning, no relevance and virtually no use to man.

TAB Brumbies $1.17 Lions $4.50

Pretoria, Sunday, 3.05am
Referee: Chris Pollock

Mike Greenaway: Bulls
Rachel Glucina: Bulls
Andrew Slack: Bulls
Dylan Cleaver: Bulls
Wynne Gray: Bulls

THE MATCH: The Bulls have a couple of tricky trips to the coast to face the Sharks and Stormers, but they don't have to leave the Republic. A late charge for playoff places is on the cards after a win against the Chiefs, the four points from their bye last weekend and a five-pointer here for the taking against a Rebels side sans the wayward Danny Cipriani.

WATCH OUT FOR: A slaughter. After beating the Force in Perth and coming home for a bye in week nine, the Force has imploded. They now boast a points differential of -177. Expect that to push through the -200 barrier.

TAB Bulls $1.04 Rebels $10

Bloemfontein, Sunday, 5.10am
Referee: Bryce Lawrence

Mike Greenaway: Crusaders
Rachel Glucina: Crusaders
Andrew Slack: Crusaders
Dylan Cleaver: Crusaders
Wynne Gray: Crusaders

THE MATCH: So the Crusaders win the big one, putting in one of their gutsier 80 minutes against the high-flying Stormers. The trip up to "Bloem" should be simple by comparison, right? Well, maybe not. The Crusaders resemble their monikered ancestors, returning from Palestine after a particularly bloody battle against Saladin's soldiers. The Cheetahs look more accomplished than at any time in their history. Beware.

WATCH OUT FOR: Tom Marshall at fullback, Ryan Crotty at centre, Willi Heinz at halfback, Luke Romano at lock. It's probably not how Todd Blackadder mapped it out at the start of season, but watch them play out of their skins.

TAB Cheetahs $4 Crusaders $1.22

McCaw, Carter back for Crusaders

Bye: Force, Sharks, Waratahs

- NZ Herald

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