Super Rugby: Round 14 (Friday) Preview

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Our rugby writer runs the rule over Friday's three epic round fourteen Super Rugby matches below.

We’re bidding Super Rugby adieu this week. But fret not rugby fans as it’s just a short months' break and we have the June internationals and the U20 Championship to get us through these lean times.

We do have one more round of tantalizing action left before the southern hemisphere's finest XV’s exponents jet off with their nationals side's. and boy, it looks like a cracker.

Round 14 kicks off with three Friday fixtures, the first of which will see last year’s finalists square off at the Westpac Stadium. Then make the traditional Friday morning trip across the Tasman for a clash between the Australian Conference topping Waratahs and the New Zealand Conference topping Chiefs.

The round closes out with a match between two of the tournament's wooden spoon front runners, the Southern Kings and Jaguares.

Anyway, enough with the pleasantries, let’s get into it like Coenie Oosthuizen at a steakhouse.

Hurricanes v Highlanders | Friday 27 May | Westpac Stadium | 09:35

To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 9/10 | Draw 18/1 | Highlanders 9/10
What a way to start a Friday. You’ve got last year’s finalists squaring off at the scene of last year’s final. And I suspect the Hurricanes will be going all out to ensure they don’t suffer the same disappointing fate they did last year.

There’s a touch of irony to this one as the ‘Canes came into last year’s final priced up as strong favourites - if memory serves, Hollywoodbets had Wellington’s finest priced up at 4/10. It’s a different story this year though, with the Highlanders coming to town priced up at 9/10 just like the Hurricanes.

So the bookmakers reckon it will be a tight game, and I have to say that I fully agree with them. Both teams are coming into this one off the back of byes, so they should have the majority of their players available and while the Highlanders do have a stronger kicking game, the Hurricanes ability to launch attacks from deep should even matters out.

The Hurricanes' stalwarts have served their one-game suspension for breaking the team curfew while on tour in South Africa. That means we're likely to see the brothers Savea, Reg Goodes, Corey Jane, and Victor Vito return to the starting XV.

Highlanders' head coach, Jamie Josephs, will also be able to select from an almost full-strength squad, with the only man whose guaranteed to miss out being Jason Emery. The hard-hitting centre is serving the final week of his ban for a dangerous tackle on Sharks and Springbok fullback Willie le Roux. Emery’s spot in the starting line-up is likely to be taken by Matt Faddes who’s performed admirably since taking over from his banned colleague.

The last five contests between the sides have seen the Highlanders win three and the Hurricanes win two. The 'Canes did the double over their opponents during last year’s round-robin phase but ended up losing the final by seven points. This year’s clash between the two sides saw the Highlanders win by a solitary point in a rather scrappy affair in Dunedin.

The previous eight clashes between the two sides have seen a mixed bag of total points margins with three games crossing the 60 point mark, four games staying below the 36 point marks, and one game finishing on 42 points.

Verdict: Hurricanes 9/10
I tipped the Highlanders in last year’s final and my instincts are telling me to go the opposite way this time around. Back the hosts to edge it at 9/10.

Waratahs v Chiefs | Friday 27 May | Allianz Stadium | 11:45

To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs 14/10 | Draw 20/1 | Chiefs 11/20
Handicap
Waratahs (+4.5)9/10 | Chiefs (-4.5) 9/10
The strength - or rather weakness – of the Australian Conference will once again face a stern test with the overall log-leaders, the Gallagher Chiefs, coming to New South Wales to take on the ‘Tahs.

Despite both sides occupying top spot on their respective local conferences, they’ve enjoyed polar opposite sets of results this term. The Waratahs have only won six out of their 11 fixtures while the Chiefs have won nine of their 11. That makes damning reading for those of a Waratahs persuasion but there’s a slight silver lining to the rather dark cloud in the form of the Waratahs recent head to head record against the men from Waikato.

The last six clashes between the two sides have seen the Tahs win five and the Chiefs win one. The men from New South Wales won the last encounter by 16 points. The game, which was played out in New Plymouth in 2014, saw the Waratahs run in three tries to the Chiefs' two. The Waratahs also won the year prior to that by 25 points to 20 in Sydney.

In terms of team news for this one, Chiefs centre Charlie Ngati will once again miss out due to concussion. Anton Lienert-Brown will continue to deputise for Ngati. Another man who will miss out is Japan captain Michael Leitch. The burly number eight dislocated his thumb against the Rebels last week and will be on the sidelines for at least ten weeks.

On the Waratahs side of things, Rob Horne shifts into the midfield with David Horwitz dropping to the bench, while Matt Carraro and Zac Guilford come in on the wings. There’s also a return to the starting XV for the physical Wycliff Palu who comes in at the tail of the scrum in place of the injured Jed Holloway.

Verdict: Chiefs 11/20
This Australian Conference is as weak as they come and I cannot see the Chiefs having any problems dismantling Sydney’s finest.

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Kings v Jaguares | Friday 27 May | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 19:00

To Win (80 Mins)
Kings 5/1 | Draw 40/1 | Jaguares 1/10
Handicap
Kings (+17.5) 9/10 | Jaguares (-17.5) 9/10
So from replays of finals and table-topping sides squaring off against one another, we finish the day with a clash between two of the tournaments strugglers. A bit anti-climatic, but hey, the last game between these two sides squared off we were treated to a fantastic spectacle which saw a total combined score of 100 points put on the board, so this one could turn out to be quite a cracker.

The Southern Kings come into this one with only a solitary victory under their belts. They suffered their tenth defeat of the season last week going down 53-0 to the Sharks in Durban. That result has left them reeling at the foot of the overall conference - five points adrift off the second to last placed Sunwolves.

The Jaguares are also having a season to forget. They’ve only won two of the eleven fixtures they’ve played in their debut season. The first victory came in round one against the Cheetahs while they secured the second against the Kings back in April, running their opponents riot in a frenetic 73-27 thriller.

Not only will the Kings come into this one with mental scars from that hammering in Buenos Aires, they’ll also be without five of their stalwarts. Flankers Chris Cloete and CJ Velleman are out with long-term injuries, while hooker Martin Ferreira, flyhalf Elgar Watts, and on loan Sharks winger Luzuko Vindlindlu all sustained injuries in last weekend’s defeat and will be unavailable for selection.

The Jaguares also have a few men out, most notably, Leonardo Senatore. The loosie copped a ten-week ban for a bite during the Jags defeat two the Sharks a fortnight ago. Another man who faced disciplinary action after the aforementioned game was hooker Augustin Creevy, who was hit with a one-week ban for a dangerous tackle on Jean Deysel. The Argentine skipper sat out of his side’s 52-24 defeat to the Lions last week but should be back in the starting XV this week.

Verdict: Jaguares (-17.5) 9/10
With a whole host of their big guns on the treatment table, I simply cannot see them keeping the losing margin within the +17.5 mark. Get on the Jags’ to clear the handicap and if you’re a fan of the Live-In-Play stuff, make sure you’ve got some cash in your account as a huge amount of points margins will be cleared during this game.

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