This weekend sees Super Rugby hit its midway point, while the FA Cup gets back underway; which means both the oval and round-ball games have some do-or-die encounters to keep an eye on:
Waratahs v Lions (Super Rugby)
The Lions have had a fair bit of bad luck with their captain Warren Whitely, who has picked up a last-minute knee injury after overcoming his first injury he picked up against the Blues earlier in the season. As a result, Hacjivah Dayimani steps into the No. 8 position in a relatively experienced Lions squad. They’ll face some tough challenges in a well-rounded Waratahs pack, who will cause headaches at the breakdown and in open-play, with the likes of Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale roaming around. It’s a difficult one to call, but the Lions have toured well in recent seasons and should continue their positive run on the road.
Predicted result: Lions by 5.
Bulls v Rebels (Super Rugby)
The Bulls have been the most-improved South African side in Super Rugby this year, and are coming off a great win over the Sharks last weekend. They take on an in-form Rebels side, who have made some great acquisitions this season. The Melbourne side aren’t the whipping boys they used to be, but they will likely find the Loftus crowd and constantly-improving Bulls side too much to handle come Saturday.
Predicted result: Bulls by 15.
Sharks v Stormers (Super Rugby)
The Sharks and Stormers looked to be the most properous SA sides at the beginning of the season, but have hit slumps in recent weeks. The two face off in Durban, which is essentially a do-or-die affair to see if these two sides will even look at a play-off contention possibility. While the Sharks have had the most drastic of swings in form, they seem to be the more composed team at this point in time, and should redeem themselves at home this weekend.
Predicted result: Sharks by 6.
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur (FA Cup)
The FA Cup quarterfinals kick off at Wembley this weekend, with the first match being contested between United and Spurs. For both sides this competition is the only opportunity for silverware, so both will be equally motivated to ensure they reach the final. United may lie higher than Spurs in the Premier League table, but they’ve struggled with lethargic performances all season, while Spurs have maintained a slightly more consistent level. United’s defensive solidity will be a big question mark, especially since Harry Kane has shown he’s in prolific scoring form throughout the season. Mourinho tends to excel in knock out competitions, but United will need a more confident performance than they’ve shown in their last two matches.
Predicted Result: Manchester United 1 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur
Sevilla v Barcelona (Copa del Ray)
Barcelona’s possible treble of trophies was nipped in the bud when Roma dumped them out of the Champions League, but their attempt at a Cup and League double is still possible. Sevilla stands in their way, in this Copa Del Rey final, and they’ll make worthy opponents for a fatigued and out of sorts Barcelona side. A few weeks before their loss against Roma the Barcelona regulars like Messi, Pique, Rakitic, and Suarez were visibly lacking in energy, primarily due to Barcelona’s manager Ernesto Valverde failing to rotate his squad often enough. This has resulted in a fatigued set of starting players, and bench-warmers that don’t have sufficient sharpness to cut it in the big matches. Barcelona will still be favorites, but Sevilla has a fast and hard-working set of players that managed to get a 2-2 draw out of Barcelona in the league, so they’ll definitely be confident of doling out another upset against the Catalans.
Predicted Result: Sevilla 1 – 3 Barcelona
Chelsea v Southampton (FA Cup)
The second of the FA Cup fixtures may look like it’s a dead certain victory for Chelsea, but the Blues have only recorded three wins in their last six and haven’t played with much confidence or fluidity this season. Southampton are in fragile form, though, having lost four of their last six, with the most recent being a Premier League loss against none other than Chelsea. They managed to lead for a large portion of that match, and know that Chelsea’s defense will allow them opportunities. They could feel confident of repeating the initial upset that saw them take a 2-0 lead, but they’ll need to avoid capitulating like they did before if they want a shot at a shock final appearance. Conte’s men know this is their only chance at a trophy, so they’re unlikely to squander the chance at appearing in the final themselves.
Predicted Result: Chelsea 2 – 1 Southampton
Racing 92 v Munster (Champions Cup rugby)
After meeting each other twice in the competition (Munster won the first contest 14-7, and Racing won 34-30 in the return leg), these two European giants go head-to-head once more for the Champions Cup semi-final. Munster are an incredibly good side, with some youngsters and older-heads combining to challenge most teams in the tournament, but that said, Racing are an extremely dynamic side, and one which has tons of international talent. Racing, in Paris, should edge out the spirited Irish side.
Predicted result: Racing 92 by 10.