Many are describing the task that confronts both the Bulls and Sharks in this weekend's Super Rugby as near on impossible, but Matt Burke finds himself wondering about an upset...
Crusaders vs. Bulls
The Bulls record in Christchurch will hardly be something that Coach Frans Ludeke will be drawing on in his pre-match to instil some confidence in his group.
The Crusaders have been strong at home all year and I expect them to continue that form as they progress in this finals series. Their forward pack is going to be the key here. Packed full of All Black stars and led by the great Richie McCaw, it will take some serious beating come Saturday, and with Zac Guildford on the wing it makes for a formidable outfit that have the ability to score all over the park.
The Bulls make the journey with a strong forward pack themselves and one that can cover the park well also. It's basically a South African internationals pack vs. a New Zealand internationals pack.
An interesting side note to this game are the events in Pretoria in April: remember two Bulls players came out in the post-game and claimed that they had been eye gouged; a claim angrily refuted by Todd Blackadder and Kieran Read.
Expect a fierce contest and one with more than a few fireworks, but I think the Crusaders will be too strong.
Recommended Bet @ Betfair
Take the Crusaders to win by under 10.5 points
Sharks vs. Reds
The Reds go into this one clear-cut favourites, and probably deservedly so. The travel factor, especially late in the season is a big one and if the Sharks are going to come to town and cause an upset, they're going to really need to be on their game early and make the home-town support irrelevant.
The loss of Quade Cooper to me is the biggest factor in this game. While I have no doubt Mike Harris will step in and acquit himself well, in comparison to Cooper he is a very conservative player, a style that will play right into the hands of a big and physical Sharks outfit. They dominate the game upfront and their style of play is complimented by their strength at the back.
The Sharks play a forward-orientated conservative game but they also possess the ability to stretch the defence on the outside and score heavily when needed. JP Pietersen and hooker Bismarck du Plessis will need to step up and deliver for the Sharks if they are going to cause what would be a real upset in the opening week of the finals.
Expect the Sharks to be physical early and tot ry and blow the Reds off the park...and I give them a real chance of doing this, so go with them to win in a tight one
Recommended Bet @ Betfair
Sharks to win in a tight one (2.78)