This Super Rugby season is shaping up as one of the better ones in years. From the champagne footy of the Chiefs's outside backs and the unstoppable beast that is Hurricanes winger Julian Savea to the typical unravelling of the Blues and Waratahs, there's plenty of narrative and action to go around. Round eight is upon us, and VICE Sports looks the match-ups, star performers and gives you a good read on what to expect.
Crusaders vs Jaguares in Christchurch, tonight
Outside Canterbury, no one, really, in the rugby universe likes the Crusaders. Admires and respects them, maybe, but there's just something about cocksure Cantabs that rubs other Kiwis the wrong way.
Tonight we've got a lovable bunch of Argies, with the best team name in the comp. HUG-YOU-WA-REZ, as you pronounce them.
And, I tell you what, they could be in for a famous upset in Christchurch tonight. Sure, the 'Saders have won their last five, but they've hardly been undeniably great in those victories – and will be knackered after a brutal match-up against the Force last week.
The HUG-YOU-WA-REZ, on the other hand, are bringing back four players from B.A who they rested for the initial part of their Kiwi road trip.
Richie McCaw might now officially be one of the greatest living Kiwis by getting the Order of New Zealand yesterday, but his old team are in for a rumble tonight.
PREDICTION: Jaguares by 4.
Rebels vs Hurricanes in Melbourne, tonight
Game of the round alert. After a sloppy beginning to the year, the 'Canes are showing the form—and momentum—that saw them roll into last year's Super Rugby final.
The Rebels, meanwhile, are sneaky good. A win tonight could see them firm up as Aussie favourites for an instant playoff spot.
Expect plenty of running rugby from both sides, and the cannonball runs from Dane Coles up the guts for the 'Canes. Containing in-form All Blacks winger Julian 'The Bus' Savea will be a big job for the Rebs, too.
PREDICTION: Hurricanes by 4.
Cheetahs vs Sunwolves in Bloemfontein, tomorrow
You know you're not going to set the alarm for this. And unless you're lying on the couch hungover on Sunday morning and can't be bothered changing channels, you probably won't even watch the highlights.
There'll be tries, tackles and penalties, but, really, who cares. Unless maybe a GIF about the Sunwolves creepy mascot emerges from the game?
PREDICTION: Sunwolves by 1.
Blues vs Sharks in Auckland, tomorrow
Twenty years ago, the Auckland Blues were arguably the best provincial team in world rugby.
They won the first Super Rugby title against the Brumbies, were coached by future ABs World Cup drought breaker Sir Graham Henry and boasted the likes of rugby immortals Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke in the side.
The slope since then has been slippery and well documented. This won't be the year the Aucklanders reclaim past glories either.
This week, rookie coach Tana Umaga was saying things like "I don't think it's over yet"—words that, in the world of sport, definitely mean it is. Flanker Blake Gibson's broken thumb—he's out for two months—has made it a massive uphill challenge at the breakdown.
Luckily, they're playing the Sharks. Expect the Aucklanders to delay the 'playing for pride' stuff for at least one week.
PREDICTION: Blues by 9.
Waratahs vs Brumbies in Sydney, tomorrow
The Waratahs season hangs on a knife-edge. They've been terrible so far this season, with a spluttering attack and few excuses, unlike the injury-ravaged Reds, for poor form.
She'll be hard work against the Brumbies—red hot favourites to carry the Aussie flag in the Super Rugby playoffs—tomorrow night too.
Wallaby Kurtley Beale's back for the New South Welshmen after an ankle niggle, giving Kiwi coach Daryl Gibson some firepower. But a loss would be their third in a row at home, and would really make shoulders slump.
The Brumbies have had a two-week break since the Chiefs destroyed them on April 2, so will be well rested and hungry to kick-start their early season momentum.
They've only got one win in their last five against the 'Tahs, but history is unlikely to do much for their rivals this weekend.
PREDICTION: Brumbies by 6.
Bulls vs Reds in Pretoria, Sunday
Old Man Time got a promotion this week. Brad Thorn —that hard-nosed former All Black, Bronco and raspy-voiced enforcer—got pulled in as the Reds new assistant coach, after doing some good stuff with their Under-20s team.
Who knows how good he'll be as a coach, but the credentials are all there for the 41-year-old who only gave up on pro rugby last year.
Two hundy games for the Broncos and State of Origin titles in league, and 58 tests—more than the legendary hard man Colin 'Pinetree' Meads—for the All Blacks. Toss in a World Cup title, too.
The Reds are fresh of a thrilling one-point victory over the reigning champion Highlanders last week, but will be made to work on the high veldt against South Africa's best team.
After a poor first two games, the Queenslanders have been unlucky with a draw and two two-point losses along with last week's win.
Keep an eye on Karmichael Hunt. The former NRL star, and AFL flop, is getting his Super Rugby eye in and could be in for a Wallabies call-up for the mid-year tests.
PREDICTION: Reds by 2.
Lions vs Stormers in Johannesburg, Sunday
See Cheetahs vs Sunwolves preview, minus creepy Sunwolves mascot reference.
PREDICTION: Stormers by 10.