The penultimate week of the round robin phase of Super Rugby Pacific is upon us and it should be a cracker of a round with loads still to play for.
There’s going to be an almighty scrap for the final playoff berth with only six points separating the eighth-placed Force who take on the 11th-placed Rebels this weekend. The Fijian Drua will be hoping for a Force win as they take on Moana Pasifika in a home fixture they should win.
In the upper echelons of the table, first place may be sewn up but there’s still a battle royale going in for the remaining three home quarter-final berths with the fifth-placed Hurricanes only five points off the second-placed Brumbies.
Friday 26 May
Highlanders 4/10 | Draw 20/1 | Reds 2/1 (09:05)
Highlanders (-6.5) 9/10 | Reds (+6.5) 9/10
We kick things off at Forsyth Barr where the Highlanders will be looking to pile the pressure on the Western Force in the battle for the final play-off spot when they take on a Reds side that could still miss out on the quarter-finals as well as they are only four points above the Highlanders on the standings.
The two sides experienced contrasting results in Round 13 with the Reds going down 26-45 at home to the Blues, while the Highlanders edged out a narrow 20-17 win over the Rebels.
The Reds managed to keep pace with the Blues during the first stanza with the Queensland team trailing by three points headed into half-time. They would be blitzed in the second half however, as the Blues scored almost at will.
One positive for the Reds was that they did manage to penetrate the Blues’ defensive line and cross over for two tries in the final ten minutes of the fixture.
The Highlanders’ clash with the Rebels was a far more subdued one when it came to points but it did produce drama aplenty with an 83rd-minute penalty seeing the Highlanders claim a crucial win.
Verdict: Reds (+6.5) 9/10
I fancy the Reds to give the ‘Landers a real run here and remain within a relatively modest handicap.
Rebels 4/10 | Draw 20/1 | Force 2/1 (11:35)
Rebels (-6.5) 9/10 | Force (+6.5) 9/10
We make a short jaunt across the Tasman for our next fixture which sees the 11th-placed Rebels take on the eighth-placed Force. Should the Force win this one they will be in the pound seat for a place in the play-offs and the Rebels will be out of the running. However, should the Rebels win the battle for the final playoff berth will be blown wide open.
The hosts for Friday’s encounter come into this one off a heartbreaking defeat to the Highlanders. They had worked extremely hard to take a three-point lead into their final quarter of the game but two Highlanders penalties, the second coming three minutes deep into injury time, would see them go on to lose.
The Force fared a lot better in Round 13 as they produced a major surprise beating the Brumbies 34-19 in Perth. They were full value for the win as well as they raced into an early lead and kept the Brumbies at bay in the second half.
Verdict: Rebels 4/10
The Rebels will be desperate to bag the win here and should be able to do so in front of their home faithful.
Saturday 27 May
Fijian Drua 1/6 | Draw 33/1 | Moana Pasifika 4/1 (04:05)
Drua (-14.5) 9/10 | Moana Pasifika (+14.5) 9/10
The Drua will be looking to grab the full five-point haul and put themselves in play-off contention with a week to go when they take on winless Moana Pasifika this Saturday.
The hosts struggled during their fortnight in Australia going down 34-14 to the Force in Round 12 and then 32-18 to the Waratahs this past weekend. They actually had their moments against the ‘Tahs, playing some beautiful rugby in the third quarter and levelling the scores up with just over 20 minutes to go but they ultimately were blown away during the final 10 minutes of the fixture.
Moana Pasifika were put to the sword last weekend going down 7-41 to the Crusaders. Moana just could not deal with the Crusaders’ attack and they will need to sort their defence out if they are to get anything from this clash with what will be a determined Drua outfit.
Verdict: Drua (-14.5) 9/10
These games are usually tight contests but I just get this feeling the Drua will blow defensively frail visitors away at Churchill Park.
Crusaders 1/20 | Draw 45/1 | Waratahs 15/2 (05:35)
Crusaders (-22.5) 9/10 | Waratahs (+22.5) 9/10
We’ve got a rather important one next up with the Crusaders and Waratahs locking horns in a trans-Tasman derby that could have a massive bearing on the play-off make up. Both sides have already booked a spot in the playoffs but the Waratahs still have a slim chance of claiming a home semi-final while the Crusaders will be looking to solidify their second-place position on the standings.
The hosts for this weekend gave a solid account of themselves in Round 13 running Moana Pasifika ragged and registering a 7-41 win. They looked solid with ball in hand with young guns Christian Lio Willie, Macca Springer, Brodie McAlister and Fergus Burke bagging a try apiece while All Black Will Jordan continued his solid run of form since his return a few weeks ago grabbing another try.
The Waratahs also had some standout young guns in their Round 13 victory over the Drua with young Aussie winger Mark Nawaqanitawase grabbing two tries in the 32-18 victory.
Waratahs (+22.5) 9/10
Certainly an interesting contest here with loads of young Wallaby prospects taking on a couple of All Blacks battlers. I reckon it’ll be tight until the 60th minute and that’s when the Crusaders will pull away. That said, such a big handicap is a worry here. Small play on the ‘Tahs to lose within 22.5 points.
Blues 4/10 | Draw 20/1 | Hurricanes 2/1
Blues (-6.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (+6.5) 9/10
Saturday’s penultimate fixture promises to be an absolute belter with the fourth-placed Blues taking on the fifth-placed Hurricanes. Only one point separates the sides on the Super Rugby standings and this game will have a massive bearing on which of these two All Black-laden teams get to host a semi-final.
The Hurricanes’ decision to rest a load of All Blacks for last week’s derby with the Chiefs backfired somewhat with the men from Wellington going down 23-12 to the log leaders. In fairness to their coaching staff, the ‘Canes didn’t let things get out of hand against the Chiefs and looked like they could have snatched a late losing bonus point but smart game management in the rain from the Chefs kept the ‘Canes at arm’s length.
The Blues had a far better time of it in Round 13 as they registered a solid 26-45 bonus point win over the Reds in Queensland. Their backline really fired during the second half of that clash and they will need them to repeat the dose at Eden Park this Saturday.
Verdict: Hurricanes (+6.5) 9/10
I reckon this one will be extremely tight, especially with conditions set to be rather greasy on Saturday. My money is on the hosts winning it by the narrowest of margins.
Brumbies 14/10| Draw 20/1 | Chiefs 6/10
Brumbies (+3.5) 9/10 | Chiefs (-3.5) 9/10
The final game of the weekend pits the third-placed Brumbies up against the log-leading Chiefs. The Chiefs will secure top spot with a week to spare should they win this one while the Brumbies would put themselves back in contention for second place if they can secure an unlikely win.
The two sides experienced contrasting fortunes in Round 13 with the Chiefs bouncing back from a shock home defeat at the hands of the Reds by bagging a solid 23-12 win over a weakened Hurricanes outfit.
The Brumbies suffered the same fate as the Chiefs did in Round 13 as they suffered a shock defeat at the hands of the Force going down 34-19 to the Force in Perth.
Verdict: Chiefs (-3.5) 9/10
I reckon the Chiefs will take this one at a canter. They looked good in the rain last week and a dry deck should see them cross the whitewash even more frequently.