Written by @QuintenLetcher for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
The Chiefs top the overall standings following their impressive victory over the Hurricanes last weekend, but they will have to keep the victories coming over the next two weeks if they want to prevent the Bulls from snatching it before the playoffs. The Crusaders forced their way into fifth place with their resounding 28-point victory over the Highlanders, and if they can manage a home win against the Chiefs this week they will climb up to fourth spot, to the horror of the Queensland Reds who only return to action next week for their last game of the regular season. A mere four points separate tenth to sixth place on the log, so prepare for some nail-biting action in Round 19 the sides fight it out for those sought after wild card spots.
Crusaders vs Chiefs| Friday 05 July | AMI Stadium | 09:35
The weekend kicks off with an epic battle in Christchurch that you can be assured will provide the excitement and intensity of a Super Rugby final.
To Win (80mins)
Crusaders (-5.5) 9/10
Chiefs (+5.5) 9/10
A win for the Crusaders will go a long way in securing their spot in the playoffs this year, but judging by the 28-19 loss they suffered to the Chiefs in Hamilton back in Round 15, the Crusaders have quite the task ahead of them. An entirely different front row from the one that ran out against the Highlanders last week sees Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn and Owen Franks named to start against the Chiefs. Luke Romano teams up with Sam Whitelock in the engine room and Kieran Read takes up the number eight jersey this week as Luke Whitelock and Tom Donnelly are dropped to the bench.
Heading into Christchurch to face a desperate Crusaders team is probably the last thing I would want to be doing this weekend, especially after watching them tear apart the Highlanders with such ease last week. What gave the Chiefs a massive edge in Hamilton in their victory over the Crusaders in Round 15 was the brilliant tactical kicking of Aaron Cruden. Having watched him during the second All Black test against France, and again for the Chiefs last week as they finished off the Hurricanes, Cruden has become even more confident in his role at flyhalf, and undoubtedly holds the key to a Chiefs victory this Friday. Ben Tameifuna will start in the front row this weekend, while on the flank Sam Cane has cracked the nod for this must win derby. Tim Nanai-Williams earns his 50th cap for the Chiefs.
VERDICT: Chiefs 17/10
Seems reckless to go against the Crusaders at home, but in a match that will undoubtedly be decided by the battle between two world class flyhalves, I have to back Cruden based on his recent form. The Chiefs by 3.
Hurricanes vs Highlanders | Saturday 06 July | Westpac Stadium | 09:35
Bit of a pointless contest between the 11th and 15th placed sides on table, don’t feel too bad if you miss it. Hell, don’t feel too bad if you miss the highlights.
To Win (80mins)
Hurricanes (-7.5) 9/10
Highlanders (+7.5) 9/10
Their loss to the Chiefs last weekend ensured the Hurricanes will play no role in the playoffs this year. Still, they will in no way want to compromise the Highlanders’ wooden spoon chances this year so I expect they will be looking for an ego boosting win at home. No final team selections announced yet, but with little left to play for they may opt to rest their All Blacks ahead of the Rugby Championships.
The Highlanders will be looking to get through the remaining two rounds as quickly as possible after a nightmare of a season. They, too, are yet to announce their final team selections but with All Black Ma’a Nonu receiving a three week ban after a red card for a tackle on Tom Marshall, and Jarrad Hoeata receiving a one week ban for receiving three yellows in a season, we know we won’t be seeing them running out in the blue jerseys this Saturday.
VERDICT: Hurricanes (-7.5) 9/10
The Hurricanes gave the Chiefs a bigger run for their money last week than the final score may indicate, so I expect they won’t have too much difficulty brushing aside the worst performing team of the season. The ‘Canes by 12.
Cheetahs vs Blues | Saturday 06 July | Free State Stadium | 14:50
With the Cheetahs failing to secure a victory in Cape Town last week they desperately need a home victory in their last game of the regular season to secure a first ever slot in the knockout rounds of the competition.
To Win (80mins)
Cheetahs (-6.5) 9/10
Blues (+6.5) 9/10
The Cheetahs have a bye next week in the last round of matches, but the guaranteed four points they receive won’t mean much unless they can secure the victory at home this Saturday. Coach Naka Drotske has named Springbok Willie le Roux on the wing in place of Sarel Pretorius in the only change to the backline, while in the forwards lock Francois Uys drops out of the match day squad completely. He is replaced by Ligtoring Landman. Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen will have to pass a fitness test on Friday before he is cleared to play, but such is the depth of the Cheetahs in the forward department that if Oosthuizen is ruled out he will be replaced by another Springbok, Trevor Nyakane.
The Blues have really mucked things up for themselves over the past two rounds having lost to the Highlanders and the Sharks. They remain within contention of the wild card spots, currently just two points behind their opposition for this weekend who currently occupy sixth place. But having now lost both Piri Weepu and Chris Noakes to injury, the Blues’ chances of making the knockout rounds seem to be getting slimmer and slimmer by the day.
VERDICT: Cheetahs (-6.5) 9/10
This could very well be the last Cheetahs game of the 2013 Super Rugby season unless they manage to pull out a comprehensive home victory in Free State this Saturday. The Cheetahs by 9.
Kings vs Stormers | Saturday 06 July | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 17:05
The Kings face the very real threat of being replaced by the Lions for next year’s competition, so they need to use their last two games at this level of rugby to prepare for their brutal two match promotion/relegation series later this year.
To Win (80mins)
Kings (+17.5) 9/10
Stormers (-17.5) 9/10
The Kings play their final home game of their first Super Rugby campaign this Saturday, and have decided to stick with the side that were on the receiving end of the 48-18 hiding, courtesy of South African conference leaders the Bulls, in Pretoria last week. Although they have managed to record wins over New Zealand and Australian franchises this year, they have been unable to record a victory over South African opposition. That is very unlikely to change this weekend when they come up against Allister Coetzee’s charges in P.E.
Coming off an unexpected 28-3 victory over the Cheetahs last week the Stormers have managed to keep themselves within contention of this year’s playoffs, despite having had a disastrous season that has seen them plagued with injury from the start. Understandably content with his side’s performance last week, Allister Coetzee has made only one forced change to the run on side for this week’s game against the Kings with Don Armand replacing the injured Siya Kolisi.
VERDICT: Stormers (-17.5) 9/10
Last weekend against the Cheetahs the Stormers showed us exactly why they started out this year’s competition as one of the favourites to take the title. If they can continue with that form this week they will have no problem taking this match by a good 25 points.
Bulls vs Sharks | Saturday 6 July | Loftus Versfeld | 19:15
Round 19 finishes off in the exact same way it kicks off, with a banger of a derby.
To Win (80mins)
Bulls (-6.5) 9/10
Sharks (+6.5) 9/10
The Bulls could really do with a victory over the Sharks this weekend to help secure home ground advantage in the knockout stages of the competition, and even more importantly, help avoid the Sharks taking part in the playoffs. Only three changes to their starting line-up sees the return of the experienced Morne Steyn, who came on off the bench last week to replace Louis Fouche who was taken off with torn knee ligaments. Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht will once again combine in the midfield following Wynand Olivier’s departure to France.
The Sharks head up to Pretoria with the slightest of chances of making the playoffs, but their survival in the competition will depend on the outcome of a game before their own. A Cheetahs victory over the Blues will pretty much signal the end for this inconsistent coastal side that has battled with injuries and behind the scenes drama for most of the season. Not making the playoffs this year might not necessarily be the worst thing for last year’s Currie Cup and Super Rugby losing finalists, who could surely do with a slightly shorter season this time around.
VERDICT: Bulls 4/10
The historical rivalry between these two great South African rugby unions ensures that no matter the outcome of the Cheetahs-Blues match, this game is going to go down to the wire. But the Bulls definitely have more to play for, and the home ground advantage will probably prove too strong for the touring side. I really have no option but to back the Bulls, but I don’t think they’ll take it by much. The Bulls by 3.
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.
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