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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
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Queensland Reds and the Hurricanes each take to the field at home for the first time this season, and the Wellington side will certainly be glad to see Westpac Stadium after opening with two defeats in South Africa. The Crusaders, meanwhile, host the Stormers after consecutive losses, while the Bulls host the Bulls after each side got on the board last week, But Western Force are still seeking their first victory of the season, against impressive Melbourne Rebels. Here's how it's all shaping up.

Friday, March 7

Hurricanes v Brumbies, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

19:35 local, 06:35 GMT, 17:35 EDT, 17:05 CDT, 14:35 WST

Head to head: Played 19; Hurricanes 8, Brumbies 11

In Wellington: Played 8; Hurricanes 4, Brumbies 4

Last clash: Round 16, 2013 - Brumbies 30 - 23 Hurricnaes, at Canberra Stadium.

Preview: The Hurricanes were unlucky to leave South Africa with two losses after a courageous effort against the Stormers, having made a great improvement to their scrum after their first loss. After missing 21 tackles and conceding 16 turnovers against the Stormers, the Hurricanes must watch their defence if they hope to shut down the attacking threat that is the Brumbies. Still, the Hurricanes will be a tough side to beat at home.

After a disappointing loss to the Reds, the Brumbies turned their game around with an impressive win over the Force in Perth. But they struggled to close out the win, scoring only three points to 14 in the second half, and they missed a four-try bonus-point win having scored three in the first half. The Brumbies were impressive in displaying their attacking prowess in the first half, but they will need to play the full 80 if they plan to win in New Zealand. Both Pat McCabe and David Pocock have both been ruled out leaving the side without two experienced members.

Greg Growden's verdict: Ignore the positives of the Brumbies' win over the Force. They won in the opening minutes, and were a mess for the bulk of the game. And the Force are dreadful. Reality will return at the Cake Tin.

Tips - Greg Growden: Hurricanes by 5. Brittany Mitchell: Brumbies by 5.

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview Super Rugby round four

Queensland Reds v Cheetahs, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

18:40 local, 08:40 GMT, 19:40 EDT, 19:10 CDT, 16:40 WST

Head to head: Played 8; Reds 4, Cheetahs 4

In Brisbane: Played 3; Reds 3, Cheetahs 0

Last clash: Round 14, 2013 - Cheetahs 27 - 13 Reds, at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Preview: The Reds will be happy to return to Brisbane for their first match at Suncorp this season after a disappointing loss last week. They were dominated in attack and defence in Sydney last weekend, struggling to turn possession into points, and they need to return to their impressive form from the Brumbies match in order to defeat the Cheetahs. The Reds will look to Will Genia and Quade Cooper to spread the ball out wide to unleash the pace of Aiden Toua and Chris Feauai-Sautia.

The Cheetahs were welcomed to Australia with a loss to the Rebels in Melbourne, and they need to improve their turnstile defence if they hope to return to South Africa with a win. They missed a massive 42 tackles against the Rebels and they must improve vastly if they hope to shut down Cooper and Genia. Unlikely The Cheetahs also need Willie le Roux and Johan Goosen to spice up their attack in order to take on the Reds.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Waratahs swamped the Reds last week, and it could be a really tough year for their new coach Richard Graham. Home ground advantage should work their way.

Tips - Greg Growden: Reds by 3. Brittany Mitchell: Reds by 6

Saturday, February 8

Crusaders v Stormers, AMI Stadium, Christchurch

19:35 local, 06:35 GMT, 17:35 EDT, 17:05 CDT, 14:35 WST

Head to head: Played 19; Crusaders 14, Stormers 4, Drawn 1

In Christchurch: Played 8; Crusaders 8, Stormers 0

Last clash: Round 7, 2013 - Stormers 14 - 19 Crusaders, at Newlands Stadium, Cape Town

Preview: The Stormers snuck a one-point home win against the Hurricanes last week, and they'll need a stronger performance when they take on the Crusaders in New Zealand. Still, their effort marked a vast improvement on their "embarrassing" form in their first game. The wayward Stormers may find it difficult to find form in Christchurch, and they certainly need to maintain their discipline and remain strong in defence.

The Crusaders have maintained their slow-starting trend, losing their two opening matches of the 2014 season, but a return home may be what the side needs to open their Super Rugby account. They have struggled for the form of previous seasons, with Tyler Bleyendaal in round two and Tom Taylor in round three struggling as the playmaker and hence the backline has been lacklustre. They have also lost the ever-influential Richie McCaw,.

Greg Growden's verdict:What is going on with the Crusaders? They've turned into cardboard cutouts. The rot cannot continue, and the wayward Stormers shouldn't be too much of a threat.

Tips - Greg Growden: Crusaders by 9. Brittany Mitchell: Crusaders by 6.

Western Force v Melbourne Rebels, nib Stadium, Perth

16:40 local, 08:40 GMT, 19:40 EDT, 19:10 CDT, 16:40 WST

Head to head: Played 6; Force 1, Rebels 5

In Perth: Played 3; Force 0, Rebels 3

Last clash: Round 8, 2013 - Force 23 - 30 Rebels, at nib Stadium, Perth

Preview: The Force seem unlikely to turn their season around, and they are already under the pump after vowing to produce eight wins this season. They were sloppy against the Brumbies last week before improving in the second half, missing 13 tackles and conceding 10 penalties, and they can expect to be punished by the Rebels if they fail to improve.

The Rebels have broken several records already this season - winning their first trial match, defeating the Cheetahs for the first time, and posting their highest winning margin - and they are sure to be aiming to break more. They scored five tries last week, when their backs in particular impressed, but they need to reduce their penalties (11) and turnovers (18). Scott Higginbotham will be sure to lead a ferocious side ready to dominate \their second game of the season.

Greg Growden's verdict: I'll repeat it. The Force are dreadful. They are negative, and lack any semblance of a constructive game plan. You really do feel sorry for the likes of Kyle Godwin, Alby Mathewson and Ben McCalman. The Rebels are on a roll, and it should continue in Perth.

Tips - Greg Growden: Rebels by 8. Brittany Mitchell: Rebels by 9.

Bulls v Blues, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 02:05 EDT +1d, 01:35 CDT +1d, 23:05 WST

Head to head: Played 18; Bulls 6, Blues 11, Drawn 1

In Pretoria: Played 7; Bulls 5, Blues 2

Last clash: Round 4, 2013 - Blues 21 - 28 Bulls, at Eden Park, Auckland

Preview: The Blues defeated one of their biggest rivals last week, but they need a similar effort against the Bulls. They need Simon Hickey to impress again and spark the backline with the help of Piri Weepu. Charles Piutau and Frank Halai offer pace and strike in the backline, but the Blues need to watch their turnovers and penalties if they hope to dominate.

The Bulls also celebrated their first win of the season last week, when they continued to improve their defence. But they also conceded 15 turnovers last week, and the Bulls can ill-afford that stat against a team that is dangerous on the counter..

Greg Growden's verdict: The Blues are as usual all over the joint, and the veldt is not the place for inconsistency.

Tips - Greg Growden: Bulls by 6. Brittany Mitchell: Bulls by 5.

Sharks v Lions, Kings Park, Durban

19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 04:10 EDT +1d, 03:40 CDT +1d, 01:10 WST +1d

Head to head: Played 20; Sharks 14, Lions 4, Drawn 2

In Durban: Played 9; Sharks 8, Lions 1

Last clash: Round 15, 2012 - Lions 38 - 28 Sharks, at Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Preview: The Sharks are rested after a week off, and they're sure to be ready to dominate the Lions at home and continue their winning streak. A strong team in attack and defence, the Sharks must check their discipline in order to shut down the Lions' chance of winning a kicking battle through Marnitz Boshoff. But they have a strong backline led by Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn, and they look good here.

The Lions made an impressive start to the season, but the Bulls cut the fairytale short last week. That said, the Lions displayed attacking ability instead of relying on Boshoff's boot. Can they match what seems to be South Africa's strongest franchise for the season? The Lions are strong defensively but they'll need to restrict their turnovers if they hope to lock down the Sharks attack.

Greg Growden's verdict:This should be the game where we really discover if the Lions have anything of real substance, or are enjoying a fluky season start.

Tips - Greg Growden: Sharks by 20. Brittany Mitchell: Sharks by 14.


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Best of all you and a mate could be heading off to Game II of the Bledisloe Cup series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Auckland. The prize includes flight, accommodation, transfers and match tickets. Simply enter your tips WEEKLY to make another entry in the competition.

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