A top of the table clash and a fierce local derby match are the highlights as Week 4 of the Super 14 rolls into town. There is also a massive log jam in the middle of the table, making every point vital in the race to be the 2008 champion.
Highlanders vs Hurricanes
The Highlanders have had a horror start to their campaign, suffering three close losses but will be boosted by the return from injury of captain Craig Newby. The Hurricanes have been steady improvers in the tournament so far, each outing better than the last. They continue to play their high risk, almost sevens style game, but showed against the Chiefs last week they can make it work. If the Hurricanes can keep the game at their tempo, they will run the Highlanders off their feet and pick up another good win.
Waratahs vs Brumbies
The Brumbies look to have gotten their season back on track after caning the Reds in their best outing of the season, showing skill and flair. The loss of Julian Huxley, who may be forced to retire due to a brain tumour, will be a big blow for the visitors, and it will be up to others like Mark Gerrard to fill the gap. Last weekend the Waratahs scraped past the Highlanders showing little creativity and kicking the ball far too often. Up against a side who like to counter-attack, one would hope they do not repeat this tactic. All signs point to a Brumbies win here as the Waratahs slip further down the ladder.
Bulls vs Lions
How the mighty have fallen, as the defending champion Bulls have just managed just one win from three outings and have spent more time complaining about the new laws than adjusting to them. The new laws are not suited to the Bulls' style of play, especially since their forward pack is not particularly mobile, but they need to adapt and fast or this season will be a write-off. The Lions results have gone as expected: a close win, a mauling and a close loss. As a young team, this is a rebuilding year for the Lions, but they will play out of their skins in this derby match between two neighbouring teams, however the Bulls should be too good in this one.
Chiefs vs Cheetahs
Neither side has had a great deal of luck so far this year, the Cheetahs have suffered two losses by just one point and the Chiefs have little to show some good outings. The loss of inspirational leader Jono Gibbes to a torn hamstring leaves a hole in the Chiefs side that will be difficult to fill, Mils Muliaina promoted to captain in his absence. The Cheetahs have not travelled well in past tournaments, and there is little to suggest this will change in 2008, making the Chiefs favourites in this encounter.
Reds vs Stormers
The Stormers have one of the toughest draws this year, facing three of last year's semi finalists at home, then a four week tour of Australia and New Zealand. Getting away from Cape Town may actually be good for them, and facing the Reds, who barely fired a shot against the Brumbies, means they might be able to get their season back on track. The Reds have trouble in almost every facet of the game, struggling to create chances, contain opponents and dominate up front. The Stomers are better than the bottom of the table, but may struggle with the long travel.
Sharks vs Blues
Another rematch from the 2007 semi finals sees the Blues come to Durban with a maximum 15 points from three games, while the Sharks also boast an unbeaten record. This game will be a yard-stick for both sides and will give the winner a great deal of momentum in this early stage of the season. Nick Evans has been a star for the Blues so far, directing traffic, controlling the tempo of the game and kicking goals. The Sharks have had to grind out some wins, but the return of French star Frederick Michalak has given the team a real boost, and the Michalak-Evans clash will likely decide the game. The Blues are also stronger in the backs and loose forwards, and, if given a chance, should keep their unbeaten record intact.
Force vs Crusaders
The Force have been something of a surprise package this year, easily the pick of the Australian teams, but they face their sternest challenge here in their first home game. After losing narrowly to the Bulls, they ground out tough wins over the Cheetahs and Lions. The Crusaders have also been somewhat surprising, not for their unbeaten record, but for the ease at which they have dispatched their opponents, including a 35 point thrashing of the defending champions Bulls. Their pack has been unstoppable so far, and with Dan Carter to direct the backs, points have flowed freely. Perth has not been a happy hunting ground for the Crusaders, but with both teams flying in from South Africa travel will not be a factor and a Crusader win seems the most likely outcome.