Super Rugby Quarter-Finals: Crusaders v Highlanders Preview

Crusaders v Highlanders Quarter-Final Preview

We preview Saturday’s Super rugby quarter-final between the Crusaders and Highlanders being played at AMI Stadium.

The Crusaders host the Chiefs in the only all New Zealand Super Rugby quarter-final happening this year. The hosts have enjoyed a marvellous campaign that has seen them only lose one of the fixtures they’ve played thus far. The visitors haven’t been as prolific but you simply cannot write off the chances of a side that contains Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Noholo and Aaron Smith.

Crusaders v Highlanders | Saturday 22 July | AMI Stadium | 09:35

To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 4/10 | Draw 22/1 | Highlanders 19/10
Crusaders (-6.5) 9/10 | Highlanders (+6.5) 9/10

The Crusaders have been nothing short of sensational this term racking up 14 wins from their 15 Conference Stage fixtures, with their only defeat coming last week against the Hurricanes. The loss to their domestic rivals has cost Scott Robertson’s men dearly, however, as it saw them relinquish top spot on the Overall Conference log, which means they won’t have a home final should they win their next two matches.

While I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself, the Crusaders shouldn’t be too disheartened by relinquishing their rights to a home final, as for my money at least, they are the only side who can get one over the Lions in Joburg.

Let’s move away from the speculative and on to the facts. The ‘Saders are in for a real test of their title credentials against the Highlanders. The visitors won the 2015 edition of the tournament, and while they haven’t been as impressive as they were two years ago, they are a quality outfit who can get the better of anyone on any given day.

The ‘Saders will need to box smart here and use that powerful forward pack of their’s to dominate proceedings. They have every chance of accomplishing this, as the Highlanders have one of New Zealand’s weaker tight fives.

This is knock out rugby, so the result could well hinge on kicking accuracy from the tee. The ‘Saders have a rather accurate pivot in the form of Richie Mo’uaga, who is kicking at 75% this year. This game actually represents an ideal opportunity for Mo’unga to force his way into the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship squad as he is lining up against his main rival for the backup ten slot, Lima Sopoaga.

They performed a minor miracle in 2015, where they thrived under their underdog tag and went on to beat the Chiefs, Waratahs and Hurricanes to clinch their first Super Rugby title. Whether they can replicate that achievement this time around is up for debate, as they are taking on a much more experienced outfit who won’t make the same rookie errors that the Highlanders' 2015 knock-out opponents did.

Tony Brown will be rather pleased with his first season at the helm of the Highlanders. The former All Black fly-half has had to deal with a plethora of injury issues but has still seen his side claim a spot in the playoffs. Brown will have been delighted to see some of his big guns overcome their fitness issues with Sopoaga and Ben Smith both fit enough to start for the Otago franchise.

Verdict: Highlanders (+6.5) 9/10
Three of the last four games between the sides have been decided by a margin of less than a converted try. With stats like that staring me in the face, I can’t help but back the Highlanders on the plus 6.5 handicap.

Written by Darry Worthington for

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