The Super Rugby Pacific regular season comes to a close this weekend. The final home quarter-final berth is still not assured for the Chiefs and the Force still in with a chance of pipping the Highlanders to the final knock-out spot.
Friday 27 May
To Win Match
Crusaders 1/16 | Draw 40/1 | Reds 15/2 (09:35)
Crusaders (-20.5) 9/10 | Reds (+20.5) 9/10
This one is rather odd as if the Crusaders win it then the two sides will do battle a week later in the quarter-finals as the Reds would remain seventh on the standings and the Crusaders would still sit second.
With that in mind, and the Reds having a mammoth injury list to contend with, this fixture may well turn into a dead rubber with both sides likely to field significantly weakened teams.
Both these outfits head into this one off the back of wins with the Reds finally breaking their duck against New Zealand Conference sides by bagging a 34-22 win over Moana Pasifika while the Crusaders hammered the other new boys, the Fijian Drua, 61-3.
Both teams are likely to be vastly weakened. The Crusaders have a lot more squad depth which is why I’m backing them to clear the handicap against a Reds side that struggles against New Zealand opposition.
Saturday 28 May
To Win Match (05:00)
Drua 6/1 | Draw 33/1 |Chiefs 1/10
Drua (+17.5) 9/10 | Chiefs (-17.5) 9/10
The Drua will be looking to end their inaugural Super Rugby campaign on a high note when they take on a Chiefs outfit striving for a home semi-final spot. The New Zealand outfit are three points clear of the fifth-placed Hurricanes and a win will guarantee FMG Waikato sees at least one play-off fixture.
The two sides experienced contrasting fortunes this past weekend with the Drua getting a real rugby lesson from the Crusaders in which the Fijians conceded nine tries while only registering a penalty in response.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, ran up a 54-21 win over the Force. While they will be pleased with their attack, the Waikato side will be rather disappointed with the amount of points they conceded against the Force.
I think we will see a solid shift from the Drua who will be desperate to salvage some pride here. As such, my money is on them finishing within a generous plus handicap of 17.5 points.
To Win Match
Moana Pasifika 7/1 | Draw 40/1 |Brumbies 1/14 (09:05)
Moana Pasifika (+19.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (-19.5) 9/10
The Brumbies will be looking to sew-up third spot on the Overall Conference standings when they take on a Moana Pasifika side who will be desperate but are unlikely to avoid the wooden spoon.
The hosts have had a busy old week going down 34-22 to the Reds last Friday and then 28-48 to the Force on Tuesday. They have only managed one win this season and will be desperate to double that tally this weekend.
Their opponents also suffered a loss last weekend with a late Beauden Barret drop goal seeing them go down 19-21 to the Blues. While the defeat would have hurt, the Brumbies will take some solace from the game as they ran the tournament pace setters very close.
I can see the Brumbies taking a slightly weakened side over to Auckland with the quarter-finals less than a fortnight away. While I fully expect the Australian outfit to get the win, I don’t think they will clear a rather big handicap.
To Win Match
Waratahs 6/10 | Draw 20/1 | Blues 27/20 (11:45)
Waratahs (-3.5) 9/10 | Blues (+3.5) 9/10
The Waratahs will face something of an acid test this weekend when what should be a significantly weakened – just take a look at the betting – yet very handy Blues side comes to town.
The visitors already have top spot on the log sewn up so they may well opt to leave the likes of Beauden Barrett at home in a bid to have their big names fit and ready for the quarter-finals.
The ‘Tahs, on the other hand, are likely to field a full-strength side in a bid to avoid facing the Crusaders in the quarter-finals.
The Blues fully demonstrated their championship credentials last weekend as they managed to find a way to beat the Brumbies despite not being at their best. Beuaden Barrett also showed just how crucial he is to the side with the All Black knocking over a late drop to steal a win.
The Waratahs arguably had their best game of the campaign last weekend as they beat a Highlanders side who are on the up and up 20-32.
I reckon this one will be a close old affair with the Blues likely to field a side missing a number of All Blacks. With far more on the line for the ‘Tahs – who will be looking for a more favourable quarter-final oppoenent – back them to grab the win.
To Win Match
Force 11/2 | Draw 33/1 | Hurricanes 1/10 (14:00)
Force (+15.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (-15.5) 9/10
The penultimate game of the weekend should be an absolute cracker with the Force fighting for a play-off spot and the Hurricanes looking to pip the Chiefs to fourth place.
The ‘Canes sit three points off the Chiefs but should the men from Waikato suffer an unlikely loss to the Drua then the ‘Canes would be well in the hunt for a home quarter-final.
The permutation for the Force is very similar with the men from Perth needing the win here and the Rebels to beat the Highlanders the next day.
Last weekend saw the Force go down 54-21 to the Chiefs while the ‘Canes beat the Rebels 45-22. Both teams have leaked points this season and this fixture could well be something of a try fest.
I reckon the Force may well stay within the ‘cap here. The ‘Canes have blown hot and cold this season and have let in plenty of unnecessary tries.
Sunday 29 May
To Win Match
Rebels 22/10 | Draw 22/1 | Highlanders 7/20
Rebels (+7.5) 9/10 | Highlanders (-7/20) 9/10
Should the Hurricanes bag a win over the Force a day prior then this one will turn into a damp squib. However, should the Hurricanes lose then the Highlanders could well be in for a massive fight for a quarter-finals berth.
While the Rebels will miss out on the quarters, they will still be keen to leave a mark on the competition, and what better way to do that than getting a win over a New Zealand side?
Both these teams have been hit and miss this season and both blew cold last weekend with the Highlanders going down 20-32 at home to the Waratahs while the Rebels went down 45-22 to the Hurricanes.
The Highlanders should be just too good for the Rebels here who will want to sign off from the competition on a competitive note. Back the Melbourne side to stay within the 7.5 point handicap here.