2017-02-21 by Phantom
Match 1: Cheetahs vs Lions
The Cheetahs won only four contests last season – beating the Sunwolves (twice), Force and Kings – but, after their unbeaten march to Currie Cup glory, are expected to give a better showing in this year’s Super Rugby competition.
The hosts beat the visitors at home and away during the round robin stages of their title-winning domestic campaign before dishing out a 55-17 hiding in the semi-final. However, the Lions would have been boosted by the return of their Springbok contingent, so are marginally preferred as they should prove a totally different proposition. They were by some distance the best South African outfit in last year’s edition, winning all seven of their local derbies on their way to the final.
Match 2: Scotland vs Wales
Much-improved Scotland outscored France by two tries to one in Round 2 but could only manage a losing bonus point as they went down 22-16 in Paris. Influential skipper Greg Laidlaw was forced off early through injury and will the rest of the tournament, which is a huge blow to the hosts’ chances.
Wales led at half-time against England but, like the Scots, have only a losing bonus point to show for their brave effort in Round 2. The visitors have dominated recent encounters between these sides and can edge this highly charged affair again.
Match 3: Kings vs Jaguares
Hard to assess. Los Jaguares flattered to deceive in their maiden Super Rugby campaign, winning just four times. They put 70-plus points on the board against these opponents in Buenos Aires but were overturned a mere weeks later in Mandela Bay – one of only two victories the Kings managed last season. This could go either way!
Match 4: Ireland v France
Victory is crucial for these sides if they are to keep alive any hopes of being crowned Six Nations champions, as both have a win and a loss to show for their efforts after Round 2. The Irish bagged the first try scoring bonus point of the campaign, when they eased to victory in Rome, and are just two points off table-toppers England, who they host in Round 5.
The visitors are a dangerous outfit and came close to upsetting England at Twickenham, where a try inside the last 10 minutes saw Les Bleus leave with only a losing bonus point. There’s little to choose between these sides, though home ground advantage could prove crucial in determining the outcome.
Match 5: Stormers vs Bulls
What a way to round off the opening week of Super Rugby 2017. Recent encounters between these proud franchises rarely go the way of the visiting team, with home sides winning eight of the last 10 North-South derbies – the Stormers bucked the trend by winning at Loftus in 2012 and 2015. The Stormers shutout the Bulls in a 33-9 romp to kick start their 2016 campaign, extending the visitors’ losing run at Newlands to five consecutive defeats. While better is expected from Handre Pollard and his charges, the hosts will be out to defend an impressive home record over the Bulls and should have the edge