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Super Rugby: Round 12 (Friday)
Our rugby writer takes a look at Friday’s two Super Rugby derbies between the Highlanders and Crusaders as well as the Rebels and Brumbies.
We start this weekend’s Super Rugby action off with two tantalizing derbies. The first game of the day will pit the defending champions against current New Zealand conference leaders. That fixture is followed by an all Australian affair with the Rebels taking on the Brumbies.
Highlanders v Crusaders | Friday 13 May | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders 11/10 | Draw 28/1 | Crusaders 7/10
Highlanders (-2.5) 9/10 | Crusaders (+2.5) 9/10
What a way to kick off round 12. You’ve got two of the tournament’s frontrunners going head to head in a game that will certainly change the look of the New Zealand Conference.
Both sides are coming into this one off the back of impressive victories, with the Crusaders hammering the Reds 35-5 last Friday and the Highlanders producing a bit of a shock result by downing the Chiefs 13-26 out in Waikato. That set of results saw the Crusaders usurp the Chiefs into top spot on the New Zealand and Australasian Conferences - albeit on points difference - while the Highlanders moved to within five points of the second-placed Chiefs and the table-toppers.
The most intriguing aspect of this game is the two contrasting strengths that the sides possess. The hosts have one of the most potent backlines in Super Rugby while the visitors have a forward pack that the majority of Super Rugby coaches would kill for.
So who will come out on top in this battle between the bulge and the fleet of foot? Well, recent history seems to indicate a Crusaders victory. The men from Canterbury have won five out of the last six contests between the sides. Three of those victories came in Dunedin as well.
In terms of team news for this one, the Crusaders will still be without Fijian sensation Nemani Nadolo who is still serving a suspension for a tip tackle on Brumbies nine, Thomas Cuebelli. The impressive Jone Macilai will continue to deputise for Nadolo on the wing while Andy Ellis comes into the scrumhalf berth in place of Mitchell Drummond. The two other changes to the ‘Saders run on XV sees Owen Franks come into the front row and Luke Romano come into the second row.
On the Highlanders side of things, head coach Jamie Joseph's has no fresh injury concerns and has made just one change to his starting line-up with Joe Wheeler coming into the second row in place of Tom Franklin.
Verdict: Crusaders 7/10
I fancy the Crusaders in this Southern Derby. Their forward pack is stocked with some of the wiliest characters in the game and I can see them milking a few crucial penalties at scrum time as well as in the loose. Get on the 'Saders!
Rebels v Brumbies | Friday 13 May | AAMI Park | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Rebels 31/20 | Draw 30/1 | Brumbies 9/20
Rebels (+5.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (-5.5) 9/10
Friday is derby day! Well, at least it is this week. Our second fixture of the day sees the Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies lock horns at AAMI Park. Both sides will be desperate to claim a victory here with only two points separating them on the Australian Conference. A win for the hosts would catapult them into top spot on the Australian Conference standings whilst a win for the Brumbies would consolidate their position at the top of Conference standings.
Both sides have enjoyed relatively poor campaigns thus far; the Brumbies have only won six out of their 10 fixtures while the Rebels have managed five victories in their nine outings. Nonetheless, both teams are well in with a shout of topping their conference which would lead to an automatic home quarter-final berth.
Three of the hosts’ six victories have come against domestic opposition in Australia. They beat the Force 25-19 in Perth, the Reds 25-23 in Melbourne, and the Waratahs 21-17 in Sydney. They also come into this one off the back of a much-needed bye, so the majority of their walking wounded should be back to full health.
The Brumbies have also won three of their domestic ties this term, turning over the Force in Perth and managing to do the double over the Waratahs. Unlike their opponents, however, the Brumbies were in action last week. They took on the Bulls in a game many pundits were tipping as an upset in the making, Steven Larkham’s men put in a great display though, and ensured all doubters were served a slice of humble pie as they comfortably beat the Bulls by 20 points.
The team news coming out of the camps is that Steven Larkham will field an unchanged starting XV while Rebels head coach, Tony McGahan, is yet to announce his match day squad at the time of writing.
While history certainly does not favour the Rebels – they’ve lost four of the last six clashes between the two sides – I think they are on for a win this weekend. Back the hosts at the incredible price of 31/20!