Words by: Elan Solomon & Jeremy Proome
The weekend is upon us, and this one is a biggie. Not only is the Premier League back from the international break, Currie Cup swinging into full force, La Liga heating up, but we get to see two of the fiercest rugby nations go head-to-head.
All Blacks v Springboks
The Springboks once again play their toughest Test of the season as they head to Wellington to take on the undefeated All Blacks in the first encounter of the year between these two sides. The Springboks have endured an unforeseen loss to the Pumas in Mendoza, before going to on to fall short against the Wallabies in Brisbane – if there was any time for a shot at redemption, this is it. That said, the All Blacks love the challenge of playing a physical Bok side, and are in some sublime form at the moment (even compared to their usual standards) and building some great depth, so it’ll be a mountain to climb for Rassie Erasmus’ men. If the game against Australia was anything to go by, the Boks will need to vastly improve their breakdown competitiveness, and moving the ball into space quicker than usual if they’re to stand any chance at scoring some points.
Predicted Result: All Blacks by 10.
Golden Lions v Western Province
The Currie Cup sees two in-form, undefeated sides going head-to-head in Joburg, as the Golden Lions host Western Province for what will be a crucial game in terms of deciding semi-final venues. The Lions have been the better of the two sides this season, but have let in unnecessary tries in the latter parts of games, while Western Province has had their own issues on defence too. It should be an interesting encounter with some quality players emerging from either side, but the home-ground advantage and strong bench should bring victory for the Lions.
Predicted Result: Golden Lions by 5.
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool
Tottenham and Liverpool have both enjoyed positive starts to the season, but their match on Saturday marks the first serious contest for both sides to measure themselves against fellow top-six opposition. A big talking point for Spurs will be the absence of star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, as well as one of their bright young English talents Dele Alli. Liverpool’s football has gone from strength to strength since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival and has only been bolstered this season by some astute signings, and due to Spurs not being able to field their strongest side, it definitely indicates that Liverpool’s strong momentum so far isn’t going to be halted.
Predicted Result: Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 3 Liverpool
Watford v Manchester United
Jose Mourinho’s abilities are well and truly being tested at the moment and he’ll have the unfortunate challenge of having to visit Watford, one of only three teams sitting on a perfect record so far, in need of a desperate victory. United have continued to play the same disjointed football that fans criticised so much last season, and have found it immensely difficult to put any sort of coherent attacking momentum together. Their best player up to this point, Luke Shaw, is also out with injury, while Watford will likely field a full strength side that has had ample rest during the international break. Unfortunately, for an under-fire Mourinho, Manchester United are unlikely to walk away with more than a point after this match.
Predicted Result: Watford 2 – 0 Manchester United
Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid
The departure of Zidane and Ronaldo, two of the most important figures in Real Madrid’s modern history, means that Los Blancos will have to undergo a bit of an adjustment with new manager Julen Lopetegui. Players like Benzema and Bale are stepping out of Ronaldo’s shadow, but Real will likely struggle a little to replace the Portuguese star’s input and goals. Bilbao are a historically tough team and like to rough-up their opponents, so Real will be able to use this baptism of fire to truly gauge where they are as a team with the new manager and set-up. So far they’ve managed to adapt easily enough, but some chinks might appear against more resilient opposition.
Predicted Result: Athletic Bilbao 2 – 2 Real Madrid