It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the SARugby.com hot-seat to give you his Super Rugby calls.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments on Twitter - @rpetty80.
Chiefs v Force
Last season's champions currently sit on top of their conference but consistency continues to elude Dave Rennie's side. The opening four games saw an average of 39 points scored, a rate that dropped to 21 in the next four rounds. They've racked up 76 in the most recent two contests, but that increase in scoring has seemingly come at the expense of the defence. The Chiefs conceded an average of nineteen points from rounds one to six but that's jumped to 30 in the last four matches. The Force have lost 6/7 away games so far and there have been complaints from within the team about being "significantly disadvantaged" by the scheduling and unhappiness with a six-day turnaround. The Chiefs have won 5/6 meetings with the Force by an average score of 33-19 and while the visitors once again frustrated the Reds last week, they've only scored an average of thirteen points in their last four games. The hosts have yet another different backline but still look more than capable of getting off to a quick start. They've scored the first try in six of their ten matches and reached ten points before their opponents in eight games. They led early on by 24-0 against the Sharks and 24-7 at the Rebels yet both games ended much closer. However, the Force have only scored one try in the opening quarter and I am not sure they have the firepower to chase down the Chiefs in the same manner recent opponents have. I like the look of Chiefs -14 and it may be worth keeping an eye on the sin-bin market as there have been eleven cards shown in the last ten Force away trips, which is a rather high rate.
Reds v Sharks
The Reds have been racking up plenty of carries in recent weeks and France-bound Digby Ioane is second only to Israel Folau for metres made. However the Queenslanders are only averaging nineteen points a game, with just 42 combined scored in the last three matches. Ewen McKenzie suggested the coaching team would consider all attacking options for this week and highlighted an over-reliance on the 'pick and go' last round. The selection of Chris Feauai-Sautia at centre appears to be the latest attempt to get the side firing again. The hosts have recorded two draws and two single point victories in their last five matches and their eleven games this season have seen an average score of 19-18. They've won 6/9 clashes against this opposition at home by a rate of 27-25 but lost six of the most recent seven meetings at all venues by a rate of 21-31. The Sharks are ninth on the Super Rugby ladder, six points adrift from a wildcard spot and have lost four consecutive games. John Plumtree's side seem to be losing the battle of attrition against injuries with the midfield cupboard looking particularly bare. They do have a few of their powerful forwards returning though and Willem Alberts on the bench is a welcomed sight to their fans. The Reds have scored first try in 4/6 home games and 6/11 matches overall. The Sharks have scored the first try in just one game, the 64-7 hammering of the Rebels and I'll be looking for those trends to continue and also backing a 1-12 point home win at Suncorp Stadium.
Cheetahs v Hurricanes
The Cheetahs have won seven of their last eight matches, which would be impressive enough, but is even more so when you consider they went on a run of just six wins from 42 matches from mid-2007 to 2010 and five victories from 21 games from the end of 2011 to the start of this year. If they are to be judged by the standards expected of realistic play-off contenders, then a failure to pick up a try bonus-point against the Kings has to be seen as a negative, but in mitigation, a case can be made that fatigue after ten consecutive games and an away tour played a big part in that. 'Canes boss Mark Hammett has stated that last week's effort against the Bulls was well below the expected standards and pinpointed the set-piece and inability to retain possession as main weaknesses. He also praised South African defensive systems, a shrewd call given his team has just scored sixteen points against the Stormers and fourteen at the Bulls. In 2012, the Hurricanes averaged 34 points against SA teams so perhaps this is an attempt to deflect attention away from issues in his own team's attack. The tinkering at fly-half certainly cannot have helped. The last two meetings between these sides saw 85 and 97 total match points, while the Hurricanes' last five trips to South Africa averaged 69 points a game. However, a Cheetahs defence that leaked an average of 30 points in 2010, 27 in 2011 and 29 in 2012 has only allowed a rate of 21 a game this season, so there may be fewer scored than expected. Cheetahs head coach Naka Drotske suggested an expansive game is on the cards, but then specifically brought up a perceived weakness in the visitors' maul and scrum so I am avoiding the total points line. I shall instead back the refreshed hosts to cover the -7 handicap here instead.
An anytime scorer treble of Bundee Aki, Chris F-Sautia and Raymond Rhule is 30.0, while a more speculative Robbie Robinson, Keegan Daniel and TJ Perenara multiple pays at 79.0.
An accumulator of the Chiefs -9, Sharks +13, Cheetahs -2, Blues -7, 'Tahs +5, Highlanders -3, Glasgow +15, Ulster -4, Quins +13 and Saints +13 is up at a rather greedy 44.0.
I'm thinking the Cheetahs, Blues and Highlanders by 13+ points and the 'Tahs by 1-12.