The following are previews and betting tips for the playoff Qualifiers in the 2013 Super Rugby competition. The lowest seeded winner will face the Chiefs in Hamilton next week while the highest seeded winner will play the Bulls in Pretoria.
Saturday, 20 July
Crusaders v Reds
5:35 PM AEST, AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch
The Crusaders would have been the third rather than the fourth seed if it weren’t for the rule that gives the Brumbies the higher seed for topping their nation’s conference. Once again the Crusaders have finished the season strongly, with eight wins from their last nine. They are undefeated at home this season and start as the firm favourites against the Reds. After crushing the Chiefs two weeks ago they were made to work hard for their win against a Hurricanes side that had nothing to lose. I got the impression the Crusaders had one eye on a bonus point win to put pressure on the Chiefs, which may have worked against them. Richie McCaw returns from his sabbatical and will start from the bench. All Blacks lock Luke Romano has overcome an ankle sprain and returns to the starting line-up. The Crusaders will be hoping that Dan Carter can continue his fine form with the boot.
It was an unconvincing performance, but the Reds managed to beat their rivals the Waratahs 14-12 in Sydney last week after a long international break. The Waratahs certainly helped the Reds’ cause, missing four out of five kicks for goal. The win came at a cost, with Rod Davies ruled out for four months with a knee injury and Mike Harris out this week with a hamstring strain. Centre Anthony Faingaa is also in doubt for this weekend. In better news, captain James Horwill and scrum-half Will Genia return for this clash. The Reds have said they want to win the Super Rugby title this year to send Director of Rugby Ewen McKenzie out on a high after all he has done for their club. Fly-half Quade Cooper will need to put in a more consistent performance after providing a mixed bag last week.
Betting: the Reds have an excellent record against New Zealand teams. They didn’t play the Crusaders this year but they won all four of their fixtures against Kiwi opposition this season. Their recent record against the Crusaders is also strong, having won three of their last four, however the Reds haven’t won in Christchurch since 1999. The last time the Reds faced the Crusaders in Christchurch they fell 15-11 in a game they probably should have done better in. The last three clashes between these two side have been low scoring affairs. I would back the Reds +10.0 at 1.92 (Luxbet). I would also consider taking the under 43.5 points.
Sunday, 21 July
Brumbies v Cheetahs
4:10 PM AEST, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
The international break appears to have disrupted the Brumbies’ rhythm as they put in a poor performance in their 15-21 away loss to the Force last week. Seventeen handling errors were compounded by poor decision making at times. Brumbies coach Jake White is hoping the result will serve as a timely wake-up call going into the playoffs. The Brumbies should be sharper this weekend after having another week of training under their belts. Historically the Brumbies have been strong on the back of a disappointing performance. Since 2011, on the back of a draw or loss, the Brumbies boast a 9-2 record. Only the Crusaders have beaten the Brumbies in Canberra this season however the Kings did manage to pick up a draw. Coach Jake White seems to write up strong game plans against his compatriot teams, although the Cheetahs pass the ball around more than other South African sides. The Brumbies welcome back veteran flanker George Smith to the starting fifteen for this clash. His playoff experience will be invaluable for a Brumbies side that hasn’t played postseason rugby since their title winning season in 2004. The Brumbies also welcome back scrum-half Nic White, who has been out with a collarbone injury since Round 17.
While the Brumbies haven’t tasted playoff rugby since 2004, the Cheetahs are entering the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They played their worst rugby of the season in a 28-3 loss to the Stormers a few weeks ago but enter this fixture on the back of a 34-13 win over the Blues. The early kick-off may work in the Cheetahs’ favour as conditions won’t be quite as cold with the game commencing in daylight. The fact that this game is played on a Sunday also provides the Cheetahs with an additional day to acclimate after making the long trip from South Africa. They should be fresh, though, as they enjoyed a bye last week. The Cheetahs certainly won’t fear playing in Canberra, having gone 3-1 during their overseas tour earlier this season. The Cheetahs are also undefeated against Australian sides this year.
Betting: the Brumbies last hosted the Cheetahs in Canberra last year, when they scraped through with a 24-23 victory. I expect another competitive game this weekend so I would back the Cheetahs +8.5 at 1.91 (bet365).