Super Rugby Predictions: Rd 19

It is the final round of the Super Rugby regular season and whilst the “minor premiership” has been decided with the Waratahs having an unassailable lead at the top of the ladder and the Sharks have locked up the top spot in the South African conference, there are still finals slots up for grabs with the race for the New Zealand conference wide open and the Brumbies and Force battling it out for the second spot in the Australian conference.

All of this means that there are 8 teams (I do not believe that the Blues are close enough on 36 points to sneak a wildcard) left who can take up the four remaining available spots in the finals.  Of these teams, the Hurricanes are not in action this weekend and thus can not advance on their 41 points.  Of the others the Crusaders v Highlanders and Brumbies v Force fixtures will have a large bearing on the finals make up.

Before getting into the preview here is the table as it presently stands:

Team

P

W

L

D

PF

PA

PD

Bp

Ttl

Waratahs

15

11

4

0

447

269

178

9

53

Crusaders

15

10

5

0

411

314

97

6

46

Sharks

15

10

5

0

372

283

89

6

46

Highlanders

15

8

7

0

393

408

-15

10

42

Hurricanes

16

8

8

0

439

374

65

9

41

Brumbies

15

9

6

0

365

353

12

4

40

Force

15

9

6

0

318

346

-28

4

40

Chiefs

15

7

6

2

373

370

3

8

40

 

I should say that, without being condescending, I have focused my attention this week on games involving the eight teams vying for the finals. 

Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park

The first match of the round comes from Auckland with the Blues hosting the Chiefs.  For the Blues to make the finals they need to defeat the Chiefs by a 38 points or more and I am prepared immediately to state that they will not do that in this fixture.  Both sides have had a, it must be said, poor year this year with the Chiefs, in particular underperforming.  On the road the Chiefs have only won one game of seven played whilst the Blues are in good form at home having won six of seven games played at Eden Park.  The Blues come into this game significantly under manned with Tony Woodcock and Luke Braid out for this game.

But for the injuries to Woodcock and Braid I would have picked the Blues to win this game, particularly in light of the Chiefs poor away form.  However, with those two players and it all on the line for the Chiefs I think they will win this game but not in a blow out.  I am also predicting that the Chiefs will pick up a bonus point.

Prediction: Chiefs by 9

Brumbies v Force, Canberra Stadium

The second Friday night fixture is, effectively, a qualifying final with Brumbies hosting the Force in Canberra.  This has been the Force’s best season in Super Rugby and they are to be lauded for their efforts.  That said, I am tipping their season to end in Canberra’s chill.  Both sides have won 9 games this year and both sides have garnered 4 bonus points during the year.  The Brumbies gain a large influx of players this week returning from injury with Matt Toomua, Pat McCabe, Tom McVerry, Josh Mann-Rea, Sam Carter and Joe Tomane all returning.  Conversely the Force will be without lock Hugh McMeniman who was outed for his appalling challenge on Ben Lucas last week.

The Brumbies have struggled to close out seasons and it should be noted that they have only won once in the last round of the season since 2005.  It has cost them a finals spot before and will cost them a finals spot again if they fall in this game.  With their returning list of players though I expect them to be too strong for Brumbies in what should be a very close encounter.  A bonus point is unlikely in this game.

Prediction: Brumbies by 6

Bulls v Rebels, Loftus Versfeld

The first of two encounters in South Africa this weekend having no bearing on the finals race sees the Bulls host the Rebels in Pretoria.  The Bulls are undefeated at home and the Rebels have not won a game not in Australia, so to me this is an easy game to tip.  The Bulls should win this game and should win it well leaving the Rebels to hold the wooden spoon for 2014.

Prediction: Bulls by 17

Crusaders v Highlanders, AMI Stadium

The second of two virtual “quarter finals” this weekend comes from Christchurch with the Crusaders hosting their South Island cousins the Highlanders in a “winner takes all” encounter for the top spot in the New Zealand conference.  The Highlanders, much like the Force, have had a great season particular after their annus horribilis last year.  Unfortunately they have not been as good away from home as they been in the friendly confines of Dunedin and they come into this game without fullback Ben Smith.  The Crusaders have kept with the formation from last week with Colin Slade in the 10 jumper and the Dan Carter outside him in the 12.  They welcome back Sam Whitelock for this game.

The Crusaders look to be more classy across the park and whilst they face a Highlanders team that have defied expectations this year I expect them to do enough in this game to get the job done.  It will be scrappy and close but not a game replete with points so I don’t expect any bonus points to come from this game.

Prediction: Crusaders by 7

Reds v Waratahs, Lang Park

When I saw this game in the calendar at the start of the season I thought to myself, “how good will it be to have this game in the last round with both teams in contention?”.  The fact is that the Reds host the Waratahs in this fixture at Lang Park with no hope of making the finals and with the Waratahs already having locked up home field advantage.  I just cannot see the Reds challenging the Waratahs, despite Israel Folau not being on the field for them, and at best I hope that the Reds can stop the rampant Waratahs from putting a score on the Reds at home.

The Reds have been woeful this year and the Waratahs are on fire. The ‘Tahs will this game and will win it with a bonus point.

Prediction: Waratahs by 13

Lions v Cheetahs, Coca-Cola Park

The second of two meaningless fixtures in the South African conference this weekend comes from Johannesburg with the Cheetahs visiting the Lions.  The Cheetahs are yet to win away from home this season whilst the Lions have a strong home record.  That said, the Cheetahs were better than expected last week in besting the Sharks.  This game will hinge on which Cheetahs’ team shows up: if it is last week’s team they will win but evidence of this season suggests it is more likely that they will not.  That being the case I am tipping the Lions to win at home in a close game.

Prediction: Lions by 4

Stormers v Sharks, Newlands

The final match of the round will have a significant bearing on the finals given that, assuming that the Crusaders win against the Highlanders, the Sharks will need to win by some 15 – 20 points OR win with a bonus point to secure a home final in the second week of the finals.  The form lines going into this game could not be more diverse with the Stormers having won their last four games whilst the Sharks have lost their last two games.  That said, the Sharks have welcomed back a bevy of Springboks for this game Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis and Bismark du Plessis coming back into the line up from the bench as well as Francois Steyn replacing Tim Swiel at number 10.

This is likely to be a close encounter and with so much to gain for the Sharks in winning here I expect Jake White to have up “cherry ripe” for this fixture.  I think though that this will be closer encounter than the relative position on the ladder would suggest given how difficult the Stormers have been to best at home all season.  The Sharks will win but will not do enough to earn a rest next week.

Prediction: Sharks by 4

Bye: Hurricanes

So what does all of this mean for the final six? If all of the results run the way I have predicted above the final positions of the “top 8” teams I have focused on above will look like this:

Team

P

W

L

D

PD

Bp

Ttl

Waratahs

16

12

4

0

191

10

58

Crusaders

16

11

5

0

104

6

50

Sharks

16

11

5

0

93

6

50

Chiefs

16

8

6

2

12

9

45

Brumbies

16

10

6

0

18

4

44

Highlanders

16

8

7

0

-22

10

42

Hurricanes

16

8

8

0

65

9

41

Force

16

9

6

0

-34

4

40

 

This would mean that the Waratahs and Crusaders would have the first week off in the finals and the following preliminary finals will be played:

  • Sharks v Highlanders, Kings Park Stadium
  • Chiefs v Brumbies, Waikato Stadium

The Hurricanes and the Force will miss out. 

 

 

About Stephen Humphreys

Steve is sports tragic and is particularly fanatical about rugby and cricket. A proud Reds member, Steve is also a fan of Wallabies as well as the Welsh team (when they are not playing the Wallabies). When not following rugby, cricket and all other sports, Steve is an account director at an accounting firm. Follow Steve on Twitter!

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