It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the SA Rugby hot-seat to give you his calls. We give you Super Rugby and Vodacom Cup.
Reds vs Brumbies
A side from the host nation has won the Super Rugby final in the season of the last three Lions tours (Bulls - 2009, Crusaders - 2005 and Brumbies - 2001). The winner of this match will feel they can continue the trend and there is also the opportunity for players to stake a claim for a Wallaby shirt. The Reds have won 6/8 games by an average score of 22-20. Their 2012 habit of scoring early tries has been replicated, with them claiming the first try of the match in 6/8 games so far. The Queenslanders have led at half-time in 5/8 matches but been outscored the second-half in 5/8 and they have conceded last points in 6/8 games. However, the hosts have won a strong twelve of their last fifteen matches.
Their opponents have also won 6/8 contests this season. They too are very strong starters, leading at the break in 6/8 games, scoring the first points and getting to ten points first in 6/8 and claiming the first try in 7/8 games. Jake White's side have won eight of their last nine Super Rugby away games by a rate of 28-19 and been ahead at half-time in six of them.
Both sides have performed well in conference games with the Reds winning nine of last eleven at home and the Brumbies the last six clashes with rivals and 11/14 overall. The Brumbies have won 15/16 games in this fixture from 1996-2010. More recently, the Reds have won three of the last five and the last four meetings have all seen less than 37 total points. Going back to 2012, the Brumbies have only conceded an average of thirteen points in eleven conference games and just 48 combined in the second-half. In five of the last nine games they've stopped local opposition scoring at all in the second-half. They've outscored the Reds after the break in five of last six meetings and by sixteen in Week One. Based on that superiority, I would take the Brumbies with +2 points after the break and to win by 1-12.
Sharks vs Cheetahs
The Sharks have won 5/7 games this season by an average score of 25-16 and 20 of their last 24 home games by 27-17. They been victorious in nine of the last eleven conference matches by a rate of 26-19 and the last five at home by 27-14. The Cheetahs have been beaten in 3/5 home games by 27-18 and on the last five occasions at all venues by 29-17. The visitors have lost their previous six games to conference rivals by an average of 20-29 and thirteen of the last fifteen by 21-27. This season, the Cheetahs have produced some unusual statistics - scoring first in 7/8 and the first try in 5/8 matches, but only leading at half-time in 3/8 games. They have outscored opponents in 5/8 games in the second-half and are the only Super Rugby team to have done so against the Sharks.
You would expect some form of backlash in the Sharks camp after being pushed around by the Stormers and both Ryan Kankowski and Frans Steyn are out of the XV. With Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen and Willem Alberts injured their depth is certainly being tested.
The Sharks have crossed for thirteen tries so far during 2013 but ten of those came in a single match, against the Rebels, so it isn't too much of a surprise they've only scored the first try in one of their games. The Cheetahs camp have highlighted a lack of intensity against the Bulls last week and attributed it to the small squad and tiredness of playing eight rounds without a bye. They've shown that they can start strongly but I see them running out of gas against a home side with plenty to prove. The Sharks to win by 1-12 appeals.
Kings vs Bulls
The Bulls have won 4/7 games but will still be stinging from late scores on their tour games. In recent seasons they have scored their points evenly through the halves but this year 108/172 points have come after the break and the second-half has been highest scoring in 6/7 games. That suggests they aren't as strong in the first-half and indeed they've only scored first points in 2/7 matches and trailed at half-time in their last four outings.
That is an interesting habit when facing the Kings, who have been behind at the break themselves in 6/7 matches, and been beaten to ten points in 6/7 matches. The newcomers have two wins and a draw from their seven games, by an average of 24-32. If you took the second-half average alone, it would be 12-12 and they have scored the last points in 6/7 games, proving great team spirit and a willingness to fight until the final whistle.
The Bulls have lost seven of their last eight away games and the second-half has been highest scoring in six of those. However they've also won seventeen of their last twenty conference away games and face a team returning from their first Super Rugby tour. I think the Bulls will edge it, but by less than the bookies think so the hosts +11 points is tempting.
Pampas v Free State
The penultimate round sees the fifth-placed Free State XV face the third-placed Pampas, with the game taking place in Stellenbosch.
The Free State can't afford to lose this one if they are to make the play-offs and we can see the visitors sneaking a win by 1-12 points against the 2011 Vodacom Cup champions, backing up last week's narrow victory over the Border Bulldogs.
Griquas v Leopards
Griquas host the Leopards XV at GWK Park in Kimberley on Saturday. The home team, despite struggling this year, should take to the field as favourites, considering that they had won their last seven encounters in the Vodacom Cup against the side from Potchefstroom, dating back to 2002.
Last week, Griquas went down 24-11 in Johannesburg to the fifith-placed Lions while the Leopards won 27-7 at home to the sixth-placed Griffons. Nevertheless, Kimberley is a hard place for any team to visit so we'll back the hosts by 1-12 points.
Brumbies, Sharks and Bulls, Free State XV and Griquas all by 1-12 points.