Round 8 of the Super 14 has the Highlanders and Cheetahs with their best chance of racking up their first wins of the season, while the Sharks look to keep their unbeaten record intact in Wellington. But it is those teams in the middle of the table like the Brumbies and Chiefs who need the points the most if they are to keep in touch with the leaders.
Highlanders vs Lions
The Highlanders are one of two teams still looking to pick up their first win of the season, but despite their poor record they have been competitive, picking up four bonus points for close losses. The Lions leave South Africa for the first time this season, having picked up a win and a draw in the republic. Without blockbusting No. 8 Stephen Setaphano, the Highlanders lose some impact in the loose forwards, but his absence moves captain Craig Newby to what is perhaps his best position. In their last outing the Lions could only manage a draw against the Reds, and showed that as a young team they struggle to handle pressure, making a number of mistakes when the game was on the line. Traditionally poor travellers, the Lions will find themselves under even more pressure in Dunedin, and the Highlanders should rack up their first win of the season.
Brumbies vs Chiefs
After a mediocre first half of the season, the Brumbies get a huge boost this week with the return of captain Stirling Mortlock and utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper. Both players bring a great deal of experience to a team in need of direction. The Chiefs have been hot and cold this season, but come into this game on a two game winning streak, their first of the season. Finally with a fit back line the Chiefs have the physical tools to win this game, but up against the emotional boost the Brumbies will get from the return of Captain Insano, it seems likely the Chiefs' winning streak will come to an end.
Force vs Bulls
After riding high on a couple of fantastic performances, including an upset win over the Blues, the Force came crashing back to earth last weekend when they were outclassed by the Stormers. John Mitchell made it clear that he would be working the Force hard a practice this week, in an effort to avoid a repeat of the performance against the Stormers. The return of Pierre Spies last week morphed the Bulls back into the team who won the championship last year, but given their inconsistency so far this year, they could just as easily go back to the team who were trounced by the Reds. The home side should be too good in this one, but if there is an upset this round, the Bulls will cause it.
Hurricanes vs Sharks
The Sharks have six wins from six games in South Africa, but face their sternest test yet as they go on the road and run into the strong Hurricanes. Apart from their awful display against the Highlanders, the Hurricanes have been steady performers this season, even pushing the unbeaten Crusaders. The styles of both teams lend this game to being an exciting one, the Sharks play a structured but high tempo game, while the Hurricanes like to throw the ball around like a sevens team. If the Sharks can establish their dominance up front, they will make things very difficult for the home team, but if the Hurricanes control the tempo of the game, they will claim the four points.
Waratahs vs Blues
Even though they are third on the table, the Blues are a team under pressure, breaking their two game losing skid with a last minute penalty against the Bulls last weekend. Up against the struggling Waratahs, they will be looking to get their season back on track and cement their place in the top four. Waratahs' management announced that they will not be renewing the contract of coach Ewen McKenzie after the team's poor showing this year, and those sorts of announcements always spell disaster for teams. After being mauled by the Crusaders, the Waratahs scraped home against the winless Cheetahs last weekend, and on those two performances the Blues will be too good for the Sydney-siders.
Cheetahs vs Reds
The round finishes with a game between two teams in the bottom half of the table, with no chance of a semi final spot. The Cheetahs have not won a game this year, despite showing promise but have been unable to put together a full 80 minute performance. The Reds were ordinary in their draw against the Lions, failing to take control of the game when they had the chance. This game should be the first win of the season for the Cheetahs, but at this point both teams are battling to avoid the wooden spoon.