Super Rugby crunch round preview
Although there is another week of Super Rugby to come after this round, this is the week where everything will be sorted for the finals.
Every game this round shapes as a hotly contested encounter, at both ends of the table.
At the top of the ladder, finals contenders are squaring off against each other to determine who will be there at the business end of the season. Teams at the bottom of the ladder are also facing off this week, in an attempt to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.
The round starts off with an absolute ripper as the Chiefs host the Crusaders. A bit of gloss has gone off this game as it was shaping as a match to decide the New Zealand conference. Thanks to the Hurricanes, the Chiefs now have that sealed.
With the conference wrapped up, the big question is will the intensity be there for the Chiefs?
A win by the Chiefs will guarantee a top two spot and almost lock top spot down so it is not like they have nothing to play for. A home semi and final would be a huge advantage for the boys in red, yellow and black.
For the Crusaders, a loss could see them drop out the top six, so they too have plenty to play for.
Injuries I feel may haunt the Crusaders again, with Carter likely to miss the match. With home ground advantage to the Chiefs, I am tipping the home side to notch a win in a close encounter by five points.
Reds vs Highlanders is next and this is a must win for both sides. The Highlanders now have to win this game and hope results go their way in other matches to qualify for the top six.
They should throw everything at the Reds in this game. But with home ground advantage and a finals spot on the line, the Reds should lift and get home by six points.
The Sharks and Bulls square off in a rare Friday night game for South Africa. This game is a must win for the Sharks as they look to get their season flowing again after a shock loss to the Lions before the break.
Just five points separate them and the Bulls on the ladder and a big four try win could see them displace the Bulls. The Sharks will be fresh and the Bulls will be on a six day backup, which makes this a tough one to call.
In light of this, I am going to go for the home side, the Sharks, to notch a two point win and keep their season on track.
Saturday kicks off with the Blues vs Force. It’s been a horror year for both sides and the Blues will be looking to salvage something.
The Force has lost Pocock for this game and with the home ground advantage I expect the Blues to notch a decent win here and leapfrog the Force on the ladder. I think the Blues will win by 15 points.
Next up sees the Waratahs vs Brumbies. An extremely rare event will happen this game: the whole state of Queensland will be cheering for a NSW win to allow the Reds to qualify.
With just five points splitting them, the Reds will be hoping for an 8+ point NSW win. Stranger things have happened but I can’t see the Brumbies getting rolled here, unless a whistle happy ref turns it into a kick fest and the Brumbies have to rely on their god awful place kicker.
For me the Brumbies are going along nicely. They are expertly coached and full of confidence. NSW will put up a decent fight but I expect the Brumbies to win this by six points and almost lock the Australian conference.
Cheetahs vs Stormers is a lot harder to tip than people think. The Stormers have been awful in their last four or five games yet they still manage to find a way to win.
Last week the Lions beat them up for a considerable period of the game and just as it was looking like they would go 17-13 late in that contest they turned the ball over and the Stormers took advantage.
After watching the Stormers home fixture against the Cheetahs where they scraped home 16-14, I am tipping the Cheetahs to get the job done on them here.
That day the Cheetahs smashed the Stormers in set pieces, like the Lions, Bulls and Sharks have. Their brick wall defence saved them, as did poor selections from the Cheetahs.
They turned down four kickable penalties in that game to unsuccessfully try for seven pointers. If they chose to kick just one of them they would have rolled the Stormers.
After making a poor start against the Bulls, the Cheetahs finished with a rush. If they take that momentum into their next game they might record the upset of the round. I pick the Cheetahs by three points
Lions vs Rebels are the final game of the round, and with James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale gone, the Lions should notch a victory here. They were brave and unlucky against the Stormers and superb against the Sharks before that. If they play to their recent form they should notch a nice win here. Lions to win by 10 points.
The finals picture will be very clear after this round. This is shaping as the best round of the season and it is one I am really looking forward to.
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