The quarter finals went largely as predicted. Well, no, that’s not true, because there was surprisingly little love for the Brumbies last week, to the point where so much of the commentary would have had you believe their QF was being played in Wellington.
And Queensland certainly gave their best attempt at pulling off what almost certainly would have been the biggest finals boilover in Super Rugby history.
This week, the Australian side is actually the away team though, with the top four winning through and the top two hosting the semifinals on Friday and Saturday nights. And they’ll both be rippers, no doubt.
No quarters were given last week, and no semis will be given this week. And traditionally speaking, the Chiefs and Crusaders look to be in the box seat to win through to the final.
Stranger things have happened, of course, just not very often in Super Rugby and never in Super Rugby Pacific (and yes, I realise how small that sample is; the point stands).
The question is, who’s game to tip against history?
LAST WEEK: Brett 4, Christy 4, Geoff 3, Digger 3, Harry 3; The Crowd 3.
OVERALL: Digger 74, Brett 70, Christy 70, Geoff 64, Harry 63; The Crowd 69.
A bit of a change-up for the semis: the guys will be throwing up winning margins along with each tip, plus the first scoring play in each game, too – but these won’t add to tallies (unless I get them right and can catch Digger).
TIPS: CRUSADERS by 10, BRUMBIES by 7
The Crusaders in Christchurch at final time v the ever-consistent and always dependable Blues; what tough tip this is going to be for m… nah, Crusaders, easily. By 10, maybe more.
But there’s strategy at play here: the Chiefs probably won’t care but I’m sure the Brumbies would much rather play the Blues in Auckland in the Final (if for no other reason than redemption from last year’s semi), and if tipping against the Blues with a decent margin is the way to get them in the Final, then prove me wrong, Smurfs!
Leicester Fainga’anuku doesn’t seem to have trouble finding the line, and the Crusaders don’t have much trouble finding him, so may they both find each other first up.
And it’s the Brumbies time to take that step they’ve been threatening to take for a few years. No point being a top four side if you can’t be a top two side.
They’ve got the game to beat the Chiefs in The ‘Tron, and they’ve got the game to change in-game if necessary, so it’s up to them to prove they’ve learned the lessons of Round 14 and from the scares of last week.
Tom Wright to slice through out wide to get the Brumbies going.
SURE THING: All tries scored will be clear and obvious and without a hit of ambiguity. Online and social media servers will take Sunday off after a relatively traffic-free day.
TIPS: CHIEFS BY 14, CRUSADERS BY 3
Let’s keep it short and sweet. That’s where we’re at now. It’s Digger’s to lose.
Unfortunately, I won’t be bold and go against the grain.
The Crusaders will want to give Richie Mo’unga and Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson the send-off they deserve, so they get my vote.
As for the Brumbies, unless they’re fast out of the blocks, they’ll have no chance. They’ve got to stun the Chiefs.
If they do that, they’re a chance of keeping with them. Otherwise, it’ll be a long night. The cobwebs will be out for the Chiefs.
First scores will be Damien McKenzie and Richie Mo’unga penalties.
SURE THING: First beers will be on the winning Crusaders or Blues coach, with Leon MacDonald to join Scott Robertson’s All Blacks coaching staff in 2024.
TIPS: CRUSADERS by 5, CHIEFS by 10.
With due apologies to Digger and others in the Hurricanes family, I really like how the cards have fallen; two fascinating semi-final match-ups, with all four teams in with a good chance of going to the big dance.
That said, being a tipster is all about getting off the fence and taking a position, even if you can simultaneously make a case for the opposite. That position is to back the one and two seeds in, the Chiefs and the Crusaders.
Nic White is smart enough to not give the Chiefs stray ball to work with, and Jack Debreczeni kicks long enough to allow the Brumbies chasing line to get set and connected. But if there are any chinks, Narawa, Nanai-Seturo, Stevenson and McKenzie are the best finishing quartet in Super Rugby.
First scorer: try to Emoni Narawa.
The Crusaders aren’t going to beat the Blues with 13, like they got away with last week. But if they do manage to get through the match without losing any more men (the way they’re going, a big ask), they’ll just manage to keep their incredible finals winning streak going. The Blues have picked a strong side; expect a fierce contest up front, with nobody leaving anything on the park.
First scorer: penalty to Richie Mo’unga.
SURE THING: With news last week that NZ Rugby Players CEO Rob Nichol was in direct contact with Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan to discuss the potential for the relaxation of cross-country player eligibility rules, expect Stan commentator and RUPA head Justin Harrison, on deck for the Hamilton semi-final, to be found in a dark corner after the match, deep in conversation with NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson.
TIPS: CRUSADERS by 12, CHIEFS by 6
The Crusaders home record in finals matches speaks for itself, such an imposing proposition for any visiting side but also an exciting one, being potentially the first to achieve a victory in finals in Christchurch would be a great accomplishment.
Can this Blues side do it? Certainly they have plenty of firepower and the Crusaders have a few injury concerns, but I am unconvinced that the Blues can produce when put under the pump and I expect the Crusaders will march onto another final relatively comfortably.
A Richie Mo’unga penalty goal will get the scoreboard going.
The Brumbies defence in their quarter final win was quite outstanding and they will certainly need to repeat that same level of intensity against a very dangerous Chiefs side. I have no doubt they can and expect this will be a very close affair.
I do not, however, expect the Chiefs to waste their attacking opportunities as the Hurricanes did last week, nor surrender easy field position to the Brumbies, and should find just enough to win through and host the final.
Damien McKenzie’s boot will start things in this match, too.
SURE THING: Short of a wee bit of discussion around TMOs, which I may or may not be bitter about, I believe it was Brett who pointed out (to me at least) that no yellow cards were dished out last weekend for the quarters. I hope to see more of the same this weekend too, the less the ref is forced to do the better!
TIPS: CRUSADERS BY 8, CHIEFS BY 5
Luke Reimer’s giant, omnipresent, and intermittently invisible hand dealt me a bitter loss, re-establishing my deficit vis-a-vis Laidlaw back to a gap of 7!
But this week, there’ll be no upsets.
Home is sweet in playoff time: Crusaders have never lost at home in finals footy. They do the little things so well. They build maximum pressure early and convert well.
The Blues are the most volatile team in the tournament. I expect this to be a strong battle in the opening twenty, but if it is tight at halftime, the home side will run away with it with their low body positions, scripted set pieces, and ruthless finishing.
An un-volatile Richie Mo’unga penalty for the first score.
The Brumbies are living on a prayer. The Chiefs stuttered, but still have only lost once this year. I expect a full blown and niggly war but the home team will ring the bell, loudly.
Shaun Stevenson starts it with a try.
SURE THING: The Chiefs have one weakness. That’s it. One. Their scrum. They even went and got an Irish discard to prop it up. If the Brumbies win in Hamilton, it’ll likely be based on easy 22 entries and exits built on a scrum which has functioned well under pressure. 10 or more scrums? Brumbies win. 5 or less: Chiefs. 6-9? I’m unsure of that thing.
|Semi Finals||Geoff||Digger||Harry||Brett||Christy||The Crowd|
|CRU (2) v (3) BLU||Crusaders by 5||Crusaders by 12||Crusaders by 8||Crusaders by 10||Crusaders by 3||Crusaders|
|1st scoring play||R. Mo’unga PG||R. Mo’unga PG||R. Mo’unga PG||L. Fainga’anuku TRY||R. Mo’unga PG|
|CHI (1) v (4) BRU||Chiefs by 10||Chiefs by 6||Chiefs by 5||Brumbies by 7||Chiefs by 14||Brumbies|
|1st scoring play||E. Narawa TRY||D. McKenzie PG||S. Stevenson TRY||T. Wright TRY||D. McKenzie PG|
Get your tips in now – The Crowd’s tips will be revealed Friday afternoon AEST.