And then there were 4 … The Reds and the Cheetahs, in performances that befitted their qualification in the bottom part of the final 6, have now left the competition and the top 4 teams remain to battle for the right to play in the grand final next week.
To be fair: the teams playing this weekend were the best four teams in “regulation” play which can only be a good thing for fans of the game and for domestics rugby in general.
Chiefs v Crusaders
The first of the two semi finals this weekend presents the battle between the teams that many expect will provide the ultimate champion in the competition this year. The Chiefs are the hosts this week and they will have positive memories of playing the Crusaders in finals at home having gotten the better of them in the same fixture this time last year.
The defending champions sit on the worst side of the ledger when it comes to the statistical battle having lost 15 of 22 encounters in Super Rugby. 5 of their 7 wins against the Crusaders have come in the 12 homes games in the past between these two teams.
The last meeting between these combatants was in round 19 in Christchurch when the Crusaders dominates the Chiefs in every aspect of the game to defeat them 43-15. That said, the Chiefs have been in excellent form at how this year having only lost 1 game in Hamilton whereas the Crusaders have struggled away from home having lost 5 of their 8 games.
The Chiefs are coming off a rest from last week having qualified in the second slot. They have made seven changes to their side from their round 20 win against the Blues. In a big loss for the Chiefs Tim Nani-Williams is out with Andrew Horrell the replacement.
The Crusaders are the form team of the competition having only lost once in the last 10 games they have played, that loss being to the Chiefs. They were simply brilliant last week against the Reds and have named the same line up as that that was so dominant last week. Their attack has been nothing short of wonderful since the international break having scored tries seemingly at will in recent weeks.
The defending champions versus the form team in the competition is a pretty good way to get this round started. I have to go with the team with all of the momentum here and tip the Crusaders in what will be a battle royal that will be closer than many think. At stake is the Super Rugby trophy for mine as I suspect the winner of the competition will likely come from this game.
Prediction: Crusaders by 7
Bulls v Brumbies
The second semi final pits the winners of the South African conference, the Bulls, against the Australian conference victors in the Brumbies in Pretoria. There very well could be a home grand final at stake for either team in this fixture given that if the Crusaders, the winner here will be the host next week.
The Brumbies hold the statistical advantage in this game having won 9 of 15 encounters between the two teams. That said, those statistical tables are turned when one considers games played between these two teams in Pretoria. In those games, of which there have been 8, the Bulls have the advantage 5 wins to 3 from the Brumbies.
The Brumbies travel to Pretoria off the back of a close run victory last week against the Cheetahs where they looked desperately short of a run which is understandable given that it was only the team’s second game in seven weeks due to the British and Irish Lions tour break. The Brumbies were one kick away from defeat in a game that went down to the siren but will also have given them an insight into how tough the game will be the week because if there are any two teams alike in South Africa in terms of playing style it is the Bulls and the Cheetahs. The name an unchanged line up for this game.
The Bulls come into this fixture off the back of a break last week and, before that, a loss to the Stormers. Until that loss they were in the midst of a nine match winning streak: all of those games though being at home. They are, frankly, ordinary travellers but that will matter little in this game on their home patch. They have brought back Francois Hougaard and Jan Serfontein into the lineup that faced the Stormers.
The Bulls have been the masters of this competition at taking advantage of wearying teams in the last 20 minutes of games whilst the Brumbies have mixed defensive steel with an enterprising forward pack to grind out victories. This will be a battle of convergent styles that presents as another cracking encounter. I expect the game to be a close one with the Bulls only getting on top in the final quarter of the game when the combination of so few games in the last two months and travel get the better of the Brumbies.
Prediction: Bulls by 8