The following are previews with betting tips for Round 19 of the 2018 Super Rugby season.
With just one round to play, below are the table standings.
|Team||Pos||W||L||D||Points Diff.||Bonus Points||Total|
The Crusaders are guaranteed the first overall seed, while the Waratahs are guaranteed either 2nd or 3rd as the winners of the Australian conference. The Lions will make the playoffs but could slip to as low as 7th if they lose and the Jaguares win. The Hurricanes and Chiefs are pretty much assured to finish as the 4th and 5th seeds, respectively. The Highlanders and Jaguares are guaranteed to make the playoffs, but their seeds are still up in the air. Finally, the 8th seed is still being contested by the Rebels and Sharks, however the Brumbies still have a mathematical chance of stealing the spot. At the other end of the spectrum, the Sunwolves have won the wooden spoon.
Friday, 13 July
Chiefs v Hurricanes
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The Chiefs have the 5th overall seed virtually wrapped up after they survived a late Brumbies fightback to win 24-19 last week. The game was mostly won in the first half, with the Chiefs leading 17-0 at the break. Much like their fixture against the Highlanders the week before, their opponents mounted a come back in the second half but it was too little too late. It was the first time since rounds 7 and 8 that the Chiefs have secured back-to-back wins, with the side going W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W between rounds 8 and 17. In team news, the Chiefs will feature a notably different squad for this clash, partly due to injuries and partly with one eye on the playoffs. Sam Cane and Sean Wainui are out with concussion and shoulder injuries, respectively, while Damian McKenzie is out due to a scheduled rested as part of an agreement with the All Blacks. His brother Marty McKenzie will start at fly-half in his absence. Nathan Harris and Luke Jacobson have been left out of the 23, while Karl Tu’inukuafe and Liam Messam will start from the bench. The Chiefs will bring back two All Blacks from injury, with Anton Lienert-Brown and Brodie Retallick named in the starting XV.
The Hurricanes defeated the Blues 42-24 last week to end a three-game losing streak. Prior to that the Hurricanes had enjoyed a 10-game winning run, so both wins and losses have come in groups this season. Apart from the four tries scored by Ngani Laumape, another pleasing aspect of the performance was the perfect 6-from-6 kicking record by Jordie Barrett. Fly-half Beauden Barrett also had a strong game. The bonus point win was crucial because it gives the 4th placed Hurricanes a five-point lead over the 5th placed Chiefs with one round to play. The Hurricanes have a far superior points differential, so it’s more than likely that the Hurricanes will host the Chiefs next week in the quarter-finals.
Betting: with the Hurricanes all but assured the 4th seed and the Chiefs all but assured the 5th seed, this is a virtual dead-rubber. The Chiefs have gone 6-1-1 in their last 8 home fixtures against the Hurricanes, but the stats are of less value given both sides will likely made squad changes. Given only 1 of the last 8 meetings between the two was won by 13+ points, I would back both the Chiefs 1-12 at 3.60 (Ladbrokes) and the Hurricanes 1-12 at 3.10 (Ladbrokes).
Reds v Sunwolves
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With nothing but pride to play for, the Reds dealt a hammer blow to the Rebels’ playoff aspirations with a 37-23 win in Brisbane. Just one-point separated the two sides midway through the second half, but the Reds managed to avoid conceding points when down a player and then pulled away in the final 10 minutes to deny the visitors a bonus point. The Reds have now gone 4-3 at home and 0-7 away from Suncorp Stadium this season. They won’t need reminding that the last time they faced the Sunwolves they were thrashed 63-28 in Tokyo in Round 13. In team news, George Smith will be unable to participate in what was to be his farewell match after he injured his knee.
The Sunwolves had a game to forget last week as they were thrashed 25-77 by the Waratahs in Sydney. The game was in the balance late in the second half at 18-24, but a red card to Semisi Masirewa turned the game on its head. The Sunwolves also received a yellow card during the second half as they began slipping off tackles at a regular rate. The result brought up memories of previous thrashings where the Sunwolves virtually stopped defending in the second half. Prior to that they had built decent momentum with 3 wins from their previous 5 games. The Sunwolves are slowly heading in the right direction. In their first season in 2016 they picked up one win. They have since secured two wins in 2017 and three wins in 2018. This season the Sunwolves haven’t been terrible offensively, scoring 25 points per game compared to the league average of 27.6. Defence has been their undoing, however, with 40 points conceded per match, which is 8 points more than the second worst record of 32, coincidentally, held by the Reds.
Betting: never in franchise history have the Sunwolves won an away game, while the Reds are much stronger at home than on the road. I would back the Reds in the head-to-head at 1.27 (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 14 July
Highlanders v Rebels
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The Highlanders provided a few moments of individual brilliance but it wasn’t enough as they fell to the Crusaders by a 22-45 scoreline for the second consecutive week. The week prior they had lost to the Chiefs in a ‘home’ game in Fiji. Back at Forsyth Barr Stadium the Highlanders will back themselves to pick up a win and finish the regular season on a winning note. At this venue they have won 12 straight since losing by 3 points to the Crusaders in Round 2 of last season.
The Rebels blew the opportunity to guarantee a spot in the playoffs when they fell 23-37 to the Reds in Brisbane last week. Prop Tetera Faulkner made his comeback from injury but had a shocker as he was dominated by his counterpart in the scrum, leading to both a yellow card and a penalty try. Both sides were locked in a one-point contest with just over 20 minutes to play, but the Reds turned it up a gear in the final quarter to run out 14-point winners. This was on the back of the 26-31 defeat to the Waratahs, so the last two weeks have seen the Rebels go from Australian conference contenders to scrapping for the final playoff spot. In team news, captain Adam Coleman is in doubt after he failed to train with the team on Wednesday, while Will Genia and Dane Haylett-Petty could potentially return.
Betting: the Highlanders crushed the Rebels 51-12 in Dunedin last season, but this Western Force-augmented side are a class above the 2017 squad. The Rebels won their previous trip to New Zealand 20-10 against the Blues, but the Highlanders will prove to be a much sterner test. In Dunedin the Highlanders have gone 6-0 both in the head-to-head and the line this season. All four of the Rebels away defeats have been by 13+ points. I would back the Highlanders -12.5 at 1.94 (BlueBet).
Crusaders v Blues
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The Crusaders are guaranteed the first overall seed after they defeated the Highlanders 45-22 last week in Christchurch. They led 25-17 at the break before pulling away with a dominant 20-5 second half. Fly-half Richie Mo’unga had a fantastic game as he continues to make his case for the All Blacks. In a testament to their squad depth, the starting XV for that clash contained eleven All Blacks, with another three failing to make the matchday 23. Other teams won’t need reminding that the Crusaders have never lost a home playoff game in franchise history. It will be interesting to see how they approach this fixture. The temptation to rest players may be outweighed by the fact that the side has only played one fixture at full strength since the beginning of June because they had a bye in Round 17. In team news, Joe Moody and Ryan Crotty both left the field against the Highlanders due to injury, while Kieran Read made a successful return.
The Blues fell 24-42 to the Hurricanes in Wellington last week to extend their winless run against Kiwi sides to 18 games (17 defeats and one draw). Once again they find themselves at the foot of the New Zealand conference with little more than half the competition points of the 4th placed Highlanders. The most disconcerting aspect, however, is the Blues are ranked second to last in the overall standings with 22 points, compared to 9th last season with 37 points and 11th in 2016 with 39 points. The side has regressed badly this year, but management have kept the faith in coach Tana Umaga, with him confirmed to stay on as manager for next season. As I say every year, the Blues continue to be less than the sum of its parts.
Betting: the Crusaders haven’t lost a home fixture since 2016 and they bring an 11-game winning streak into this clash. Even with little at stake, they should be too strong and too polished for the Blues. While the Crusaders did lose their final regular season fixtures in 2016 and 2017, both defeats were to the playoff-bound Hurricanes. The Crusaders have won their last 8 straight at home against the Blues and will want to maintain any winning streak over a domestic opponent. With nothing but pride for both sides to play for, I will shy away from the line and instead back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.15 (CrownBet).
Waratahs v Brumbies
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The Waratahs secured the Australian conference and the top-3 seed that comes with it after they thrashed the Sunwolves 77-25 in Sydney. The game was actually in the balance late in the first half at 24-18, but a red card to a Sunwolves player turned the game on its head. The Waratahs also strengthened in the second spell as they brought the likes of Israel Folou on from the bench. After hitting a rough patch in the 3rd quarter of the season the Waratahs have won four of their last five, including the last three straight. With 27 points conceded per game, the Waratahs have been average defensively, but offensively they are the most prolific scorers in the competition, with over 35 points scored per game. The Waratahs will be keen to win this clash, not only to maintain momentum, but to guarantee the 2nd overall seed and a home semi-final should they reach that stage. They are 7-0 against Australian conference opposition this season and have stated their desire complete the clean sweep.
The Brumbies mounted a late comeback, but fell just short, losing 19-24 to the Chiefs last week. The Brumbies had ended a 13-game losing streak to New Zealand sides the week before with a win over the Hurricanes, so they came close to winning back-to-back wins over Kiwi opposition. In the end they paid the price for falling behind 17-0 in the first half and for some costly turnovers. Nevertheless, the Brumbies enter this clash in good form. They’ve won three of their last four as the side has improved on its ball retention in recent rounds. The Brumbies do have a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, but they would need a bonus point win and for the Sharks to lose and for the Rebels to lose without picking up a bonus point. The Sharks and Rebels outcomes are both plausible, but the Brumbies will be hard pressed to leave Sydney with 5 points.
Betting: the Brumbies have won four of their last five fixtures against the Waratahs, including their previous two visits to Sydney. Over the last 12 months the Waratahs have picked up in form, however, and have gone 5-2 at home over the last 12 months while the Brumbies have gone 2-6 away from Canberra and 1-5 as the away underdog. Four of the Waratahs’ five home wins have been by 8+ points, while 5 of the Brumbies’ 6 away defeats were by 8+. I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.44 (Sportsbet).
Lions v Bulls
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Prior to their bye last week the Lions couldn’t make their 10-point halftime lead count as they fell 24-31 to the Sharks in Durban. It was their first defeat to a South African franchise since 2015 and it has opened the door for the Jaguares to secure to South African conference title and the top-3 seed that comes with it. One good piece of news from the Sharks match was that captain Warren Whitely made a successful comeback from injury. In team news, Len Massyn has a grade II ankle injury and is not expected to be fit in time for this clash.
The Bulls were one of a number of teams who had only pride to play for, but defeated a team with everything to play for last week. They came from 19-nil down to see of the Jaguares 43-34, which ended a three-game losing streak. Looking back on this season, it’s been defence that has been the Bulls’ Achilles heel. They’ve conceded 31 points per average, which is the 3rd worst record in the competition. In the last five rounds they’ve averaged 33.5 points conceded. This week they have the chance to derail another conference opponent’s season, but I wonder if they will be able to find the same urgency as last week, given they won’t be playing in front of a home crowd at altitude.
Betting: with several Lions players coming to the end of their careers with the franchise, they will be keen to finish the season on a winning note to secure a home playoff quarter-final. The Lions have gone 6-1 as the home favourite over the last 12 months while the Bulls have gone 1-6 away from Pretoria. I would back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.30 (Sportsbet). They have a 13-game winning streak at home against South African opponents.
Sunday, 15 July
Sharks v Jaguares
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The Sharks blew the opportunity to place their destiny in their own hands after they were defeated 27-16 in Cape Town by the Stormers, who themselves had only pride to play for. Most of the damage was done in the first half, with the Stormers leading 21-9 at the break. The Sharks dominated the scrum but paid the price for 14 handling errors and for wasting good opportunities as the side continues to live up to its mercurial reputation. The result means the Sharks must beat the Jaguares and hope that the Rebels lose to the Highlanders if they are to make the playoffs.
The Jaguares too blew a huge opportunity last week. With the Lions sitting out the round, the Jaguares could have taken the lead in the South African conference if they defeated the Bulls, but they blew a 19-0 lead to lose 34-43. The Jaguares raced out to an early lead by playing high-tempo rugby that the Bulls couldn’t keep up with. Perhaps the altitude took its toll as the Jaguares began to tire, with passes going starting to go astray and being dropped. The defeat ended a 7-game winning streak and more importantly, it sees the Jaguares sit 7th in the standings as opposed to 3rd. To add insult to injury, Emiliano Boffelli missed a last second conversion that would have given the Jaguares a losing bonus point.
Betting: by the time this fixture kicks off the Rebels and Lions matches will have concluded, so the Sharks and Jaguares will both know exactly what is required to reach their goals, if those goals remain achievable. In all likelihood, first place in the South African conference will be out of reach for the Jaguares, while the Sharks will still be able to squeak into the playoffs if they can win this clash. The Jaguares have been playing the better rugby of the two teams in the second half of this season, however the Sharks have gone 5-1-1 at home and have never lost in Durban to the Argentinian side. Given 4 of the 5 previous meetings between the two were settled by 1-12 points, I would back both the Sharks 1-12 at 3.10 (Ladbrokes) and the Jaguares 1-12 at 3.75 (Ladbrokes). The two previous meetings between the two in Durban were settled by 4 and 5 points.
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.30 (Sportsbet)