Super Rugby 2015: Round 17 Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

This weekend sees sides enter the penultimate set of fixtures for all bar the Lions and Sharks, who still have byes to see out. The Natalians are off this weekend whilst the Lions have a bye the following. Last weekend saw the two big New Zealand derbies going the way of the home sides. The Crusaders’ win over the Hurricanes sees them hanging onto to their playoff hopes like a man on life support whilst the Highlanders’ victory over the Chiefs saw them all but confirm their playoff participation. The Lions also did their playoff chances no harm with a victory over the Waratahs last time out but will need a result at Newlands in order to put them in amongst the top six heading into their bye. Round 16 also saw the return of the much-hyped Genia and Cooper combination for the Reds. The duo put in an inspired performance which saw the Queensland side beat the Force and move away from the lower echelons of the log. Round 17 throws up a few massive clashes particularly the South African derby between the Stormers and Lions as well as the round opener between the Hurricanes and Highlanders.

Hurricanes vs Highlanders | Friday 05 June | Mclean Park | 09:35

To Win (80mins)
Hurricanes 1/4
Draw 25/1
Highlanders 33/10

Hurricanes (-8.5) 8/10
Highlanders (+8.5) 19/20 

The Hurricanes went down 35-18 to the ‘Saders last weekend whilst their opponents for this encounter produced a near flawless performance against the Chiefs. The Highlanders’ 36-9 win in a wet and misty Otago has seen them move into fourth spot on the combined log. In terms of team news, talismanic pivot Beauden Barrett makes his return to the ‘Canes starting line up along with Victor Vito. The Highlanders have made six changes mainly due to what must be an extremely annoying enforced rest period for their New Zealand internationals. Elliot Dixon and Gareth Evans come into the loose trio whilst Fumiaki Tanaka, Jason Emery and Marty Banks come in for rested for Ben Smith and his fellow All Blacks.

VERDICT: Highlanders (+8.5) 19/20
Although I can see the Hurricanes winning I don’t think it’ll be by a considerable margin especially given that the ‘Canes are without their usual goal kicker.

Force vs Brumbies | Friday 05 June | NIB Stadium | 13:00

To Win (80mins)
Force 33/10
Draw 25/1
Brumbies 1/4

Force (+9.5) 9/10
Brumbies (-9.5) 9/10

The sixth-placed Brumbies come up against the last-placed Force in Friday’s final fixture. The Force are likely to be picking up the wooden spoon after this one with the Brumbies sure to be up for the encounter. Stephen Larkham’s side are coming off a narrow win against the Bulls which effectively knocked the Pretoria based franchise out of the running for the playoffs.  A bonus-point win for the Brumbies may see them move to second on the combined log for the night. The Brumbies have brought in Blake Enever to replace injured centre Sam Carter whilst the Force are yet to announce their side at the time of writing.

VERDICT: Brumbies (-9.5) 9/10
I can’t see anything other than a massive win for Nic White and Co; I think the margin will be cleared before the first twenty minutes is up.

Rebels vs Bulls | Saturday 06 June | AAMI PARK | 7:30

To Win (80mins)
Rebels 19/20
Draw 20/1
Bulls 19/20

Both teams have seen their playoff aspirations capitulate over the last four rounds. The Rebels’ nightmare tour of South Africa continued as they went down 25-21 in Durban. The Bulls are also having a hard time on the road with their penultimate game on tour ending in another loss, this time at the hands of the Brumbies. Both coaches have been forced into making changes, with Frans Ludeke bringing Jesse Kriel and Travis Ismaiel into the back three whilst Victor Matfield and Lappies Labuschagne come into the tight five, and Jacques Du Plessis comes into loose trio. The Rebels have brought in tight head prop Paul Alo-Emile to replace the suspended Laurie Weeks whilst Cam Crawford and Tamati Ellison return to the backline.

VERDICT: Bulls 19/20
Although the Rebels are back at home they are still coming off of a gruelling tour as well as a long haul flight. I can see the Bulls taking full advantage of this.

Blues vs Crusaders | Saturday 06 June | Eden Park | 09:35

To Win (80mins)
Blues 37/10
Draw 25/1
Crusaders 2/9

Blues (+9.5) 19/20
Crusaders (-9.5) 8/10

The Blues had the weekend off in Round 16 and with the Reds beating the Western Force last time the Blues now find themselves in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon with the Force. The Crusaders inflicted defeat upon the Hurricanes last weekend and have left themselves with a mathematical chance of getting into the playoffs. The men from Canterbury have made a few changes to their starting line-up with the engine room getting a bit of a re-haul. Wyatt Crockett comes into front row and Dominic Bird starts at lock. The Blues have been forced through injury into fielding a young side with the inexperienced trio of lock Will Lloyd, flank Joe Edwards and full back Matt Vaega coming into the starting fifteen.

VERDICT: Crusaders (-8.5) 8/10
With the ‘Saders needing a bonus-point win to keep their slim hopes of play-offs rugby alive they will be running the ball from everywhere and with the Blues lacking experienced heads I can see Richie McCaw’s troops running in their fair share of tries.

Reds vs Chiefs | Saturday 06 June | Suncorp Stadium | 11:40

To Win (80mins)
Reds 15/10
Draw 20/1
Chiefs 6/10

Reds (+3.5)  9/10
Chiefs (-3.5)  9/10

Round 16 saw contrasting fortunes for these two; both teams went away and were given underdog status however the Reds upset the odds whilst the ref upset the Chiefs. Decisions have not gone the way of the men from Waikato this year and a poor decision by the referee not to award a try on the stroke of halftime ensured this trend would continue against the Highlanders. Last weekend’s results saw the Reds  move away from the dreaded wooden spoon mini log whilst the Chiefs now sit in fifth on the combined log. On to team news and Liam Messam has returned sooner than expected and returns to the starting line-up alongside line out king Brodie Retallick. The Reds have kept a similar look to their starting fifteen and will be banking on the reunited Cooper/Genia combo to fire if they have any hope in this one.

VERDICT: Chiefs (-3.5) 9/10
The Chiefs have lacked a strong ball carrier that’s willing to make the hard yards in recent weeks. With both Messam and Retallick back in the side they have two men who can do this job. I can’t see the Reds stopping the men from Waikato from clearing the margin and all but ensuring themselves playoffs rugby.

Cheetahs vs Waratahs | Saturday 06 June | Free State Stadium | 15:00

To Win (80mins)
Cheetahs 33/10
Draw 25/1
Waratahs 1/4

Cheetahs (+9.5) 9/10
Waratahs (-9.5) 9/10

The Waratahs went down 27-22 to the Lions in a thrilling game at Ellis Park last Saturday. Despite their loss to the Lions the New South Wales based franchise still occupies top spot on the Australian conference ahead of the Brumbies. Their opponents for the weekend are having a torrid time of it this year; their 42-12 loss to the Stormers in Naka Drotske’s final game in charge must be hurting everyone involved in the Cheetahs set up. Both teams have only made a few changes for this one; the Tahs have brought in Matt Carraro for the suspended Rob Horne whilst Sharks bound Jacques Potgieter comes in on the flank. The Cheetahs have brought both Sarel Pretorius and Cornal Hendricks in their starting fifteen.

VERDICT: Waratahs 9/10 (-9.5)
The Cheetahs have essentially been cannon fodder in recent weeks and I can’t see anything changing this weekend. The ‘Tahs should walk this one.

Stormers vs Lions | Saturday 06 June | DHL Newlands | 17:05

To Win (80mins)
Stormers 1/3
Draw 25/1
Lions 5/2

Stormers (-7.5) 9/10
Lions (+7.5) 9/10

The Lions’ victory over the Waratahs last weekend in what could prove to have been their penultimate Super Rugby game of 2015 saw them move to within two points of the sixth-placed Brumbies. They head to the home of the South African conference toppers with the odds firmly stacked against them. The hosts for this weekend’s encounter ensured the beer-swilling crowd were not the only ones to get hammered at Newlands 125th birthday after they thrashed the Cheetahs. There is a lot at stake in this one with the Stormers needing a win to ensure second-place on the overall conference and a home semi-final whilst the Lions need a win to ensure they have a sniff at making the playoffs. It may come down to a battle between South Africa’s two in-form tens at Newlands this Saturday.

VERDICT: Lions 5/2
The Lions desperately need a win in this one to keep their season alive. I’m going out on a limb here and backing the Highveld franchise to pull off one of the upsets of the season in Province territory.

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