Super Rugby has entered the Finals stage in the new six-team format. The 4th placed Blues host the Waratahs on Friday, while the 3rd placed Crusaders host the 6th placed Sharks on Saturday. Alongside my own opinions I have included the winner predictions of 15 ‘experts’ from Rugby Heaven in Australia and TVNZ in New Zealand.
Below are the Luxbet odds for this weekend’s fixtures (subject to change). Note that you can view and compare the latest odds for Australia’s leading bookmakers using the live rugby odds comparison tool.
Blues vs Waratahs
Eden Park, Auckland
Friday, June 24
5:35 PM AEST
Expert tips: 11 for Blues, 4 for Waratahs
The Blues enter this fixture in relatively poor form. Prior to their 33-16 win over the Highlander last week the Blues lost the previous four games. Despite having a historically strong record in Super Rugby, this is the Blues first finals appearance since 2007 when they lost to the Sharks in the semifinal. Their previous finals appearance saw them win the title in 2003.
After a rough tour of South Africa that saw them lose narrowly to the Sharks and Bulls, the Waratahs have shown strong form, with a 33-7 win over the Highlanders and 41-7 win over the Brumbies. One concern is that Kurtley Beale has moved up from fullback to fill in at first-five with Berrick Barnes (concussion) and Daniel Halangahu (hamstring) both injured. Beale was the starting No 10 in 2008 for the Waratahs, but never looked at his best in that position. Beale backs himself though, and has been in career best form this month. The first-five position isn’t the only one causing headaches for Waratahs coach Chris Hickey. Halfback Luke Burgess broke his hand during training and will be replaced by Josh Holmes. Second-rower Kane Douglas returns from a two week suspension and will start in place of Pat O’Connor who drops back to the bench. In the other changes to the side from last week, hooker John Ulugia starts with Tatafu Polota-Nau sidelined following knee surgery, prop Paddy Ryan comes in for the injured Al Baxter, and Soseni Anesi will start in the reshuffled backline.
The Blues beat the Waratahs at Eden Park 31-17 in mid-April, but that was in the midst of a seven-game winning streak for the Blues, as opposed to the 1-5 record they bring into this fixture. The Blues have been installed as firm favourites, but I’m not convinced that their head to head odds are good value. I’m more inclined to back the Waratahs (+9.0) in a line bet.
Crusaders vs Sharks
Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Saturday, June 25
5:35 PM AEST
Expert tips: 12 for Crusaders, 3 for Sharks
The Crusaders have received a timely boost ahead of this fixture, with Sonny Bill Williams, Sean Maitland and Kahn Fotuali’i back into the squad. Williams dons the number 12 jersey in place of Ryan Crotty, while Maitland starts on the right wing in place of Brent Ward and halfback Fotuali’i replaces Willi Heinz on the bench. In the forwards prop Wyatt Crockett replaces Ben Franks after starting from the bench last week.
The Sharks enter this fixture on a high after their away victory last week against the Bulls in what was a winner-take-all fight for the last wildcard spot. The Sharks are in decent form, having not lost since May 20, and will fancy their chances to cause an upset on Saturday. It will be a tough ask, however. They have been training in Wellington after a gruelling 24 hour journey from Durban. The Sharks will be without lock Steve Sykes after failing to recover from an ankle injury. Winger Odwa Ndungane has recovered a hand injury that has kept him out for the past few weeks. Jacques Botes is also back at the expense of of Marcell Coetzee and is likely to play off the bench. Eugene van Staden, who missed the Bulls game last week, is also back in the group. It is unlikely, however, that coach John Plumtree will change the starting line up from last week.
The Crusaders beat the Sharks 44-28 at Twickenham back in March, but that was on the end of a gruelling road trip for the South African side. The Crusaders have yet to really show that all-conquering form that was evident from weeks 3 to 9, with their season blighted by injury. Given the low odds on a Crusaders victory, backing the Sharks (+13.5) in a line bet is better value.