The following is a preview with betting tips for the 2012 Super Rugby final. The title will be contested by the 2nd seeded Chiefs, who upset the Crusaders last week, and the 6th seeded Sharks, who upset both the Reds and Stormers to get here. History will be made either way, with neither side having previously won a Super Rugby title. The Chiefs have been runners-up once before while the Sharks have been runners-up on three occasions.
Chiefs vs. Sharks
Saturday, August 4th
5:35 PM AEST
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
The old adage with playoff format competitions is that it’s all about team form in the final stretch. The Chiefs have bucked the trend this year, stuttering and stumbling over the line with losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes to finish off the regular season. They then had a bye for the qualifying finals, which was just what the doctor ordered. The week off provided them time to amend their set pieces, which had been their undoing in previous games. Their scrum came off second best against the Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes, and their lineouts were a real liability prior to the finals.
The Chiefs shot out of the gate against the Crusaders last week with real vigour. They looked fired up and were ferocious at the ruck area. The Chiefs showed good line speed and made the majority of their tackles. The Crusaders struggled to break down the Chiefs defence for most of the game, showing little ability to get over the advantage line. The only blip to the Chiefs’ defence was Cruden’s mistake on the stroke of half-time. He jumped out of the line early at Carter which set up the Crusaders’ only try of the night. The Crusaders had possession late in the game, but went backwards in attack, with the Chiefs holding on to win 20-17. In the end, it was the Chiefs tenacity in defence and ability to break tackles that won them the game. Their lineout wasn’t perfect, although much improved with Craig Clarke back in the squad, while their scrum was dominated by the opposition for the fourth game on the trot. The Chiefs will have to improve their discipline for the final. Their stream of conceded penalties kept the Crusaders in the game.
While the Chiefs stuttered and stumbled over the line to finish the regular season, the Sharks finished the season in fantastic form, winning six of their last seven games. This included comprehensive wins over the Bulls (32-10) and Sharks (34-15) to round off the season. The competition’s seeding format did them no favours, however, installing them as the 6th seed despite having more points than the 3rd seeded Reds. The result was they had to win three away fixtures in Brisbane, then Cape Town, then Hamilton, to win the title.
After upsetting the Reds 30-17 in Brisbane in the qualifiers they made the trip to Cape Town where they upset the Stormers 26-19 in the semis. The Sharks are now the first side in Super Rugby history to win back-to-back play-off games away from home. In the last few games the Sharks forward pack has been immense, dominating the breakdown and set pieces. Playmaker Pat Lambie is still unavailable, however Frenchmen Frederic Michalak is proving to be a more than capable replacement. Centre Paul Jordaan is in doubt, having missed last week’s clash against the Stormers.
Recent head-to-head history:
The Chiefs have won the last three fixtures between the two sides. None of these games were high scoring affairs. View the Chiefs vs. Sharks form guide.
2012-04-21 — Sharks 12-18 Chiefs (Durban)
2011-03-18 — Chiefs 15-9 Sharks (Hamilton)
2010-02-13 — Sharks 18-19 Chiefs (Durban)
This has the potential to be an excellent game for the neutral, with both sides willing to throw the ball around. The Chiefs were the only side to beat the Sharks in Durban this year and I’m sure the Sharks would love to return the favour. Look out for the likes of JP Pietersen for the Sharks and Sonny Bill Williams in his final game for the Chiefs. If the game is close don’t be surprised to see drop goal attempts from Sharks No. 10 Frederic Michalak. The Frenchmen made two successful drop goals against the Stormers last week. For the Chiefs the linkup between Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams will be crucial. Chiefs co-captain Craig Clarke is an injury concern, which will have significant implications for the Chiefs line-out.
If the Chiefs can replicate the same intensity they showed against the Crusaders last week then I back them to win their first Super Rugby title. That is a big if, however, and I expect they will struggle against the Sharks forward pack, particularly at scrum time. I predict it will be close, but give the edge to the Chiefs primarily due to amount of travelling the Sharks have had to do.
Chiefs to win by 1-12.
In the try scorer market keep a look out for the Chiefs’ Tongan prop Sona Taumalolo. He is tied for 3rd as the leading try scorer in the competition with nine tries and would love to end his Chiefs career on a high before heading over to French side Perpignan in 2013. He scored a try last week and is 5.00 odds on to score on Saturday (IASbet, Sportsbet). For the Sharks my pick is JP Pietersen @ 3.75 (IASbet, Sportsbet). He has scored a try in four of the last five games.