The following are previews and betting tips for the 2013 Super Rugby semi-finals. The highest seeded winner will host the final next week. The seeds are 1. Chiefs, 2. Bulls, 3. Brumbies, 4. Crusaders.
Saturday, 27 June
Chiefs v Crusaders
5:35 PM AEST, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
The Chiefs and Crusaders bring excellent form into this fixture, with both sides having lost only once in the second half of the season. Interestingly, since Round 11 the Chiefs’ only loss was to the Crusaders in Christchurch while the Crusaders’ only loss was to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Crusaders enter this fixture as the rightful favourite, having thumped the Chiefs 43-15 three weeks ago. The Cantabrians are in sublime form at the moment after they comfortably saw off the Reds 38-9 last week. They dominated the Queenslanders at the breakdown and were a defensive brick wall when the Reds did manage to put phases together. Richie McCaw made an immediate impact after his sabbatical and the Crusaders are certainly peaking at the right time. They have no new injury concerns and have named an unchanged side for this week.
The Chiefs will still be hurting from their 43-15 loss to the Crusaders in Round 19. In that game the Crusaders dominated the Chiefs in the forwards, particularly at the breakdown and line-out. Coming into this game the Chiefs have understandably targeted improvement in their set-pieces. They are also looking to bring much more physicality to their game. With a 7-1 home record this season, the Chiefs will be relishing the fact that this game is in Hamilton. They are undefeated at home in playoffs rugby and in all of Super Rugby playoff history the home team has a 48-9 record.
Betting: if this game were being played in Christchurch I would be all over the Crusaders, but they haven’t been as effective on the road this season. At home they have averaged 33.4 points scored and 15.4 points conceded, while on the road they have averaged just 22.8 points scored and 22.1 points conceded. In the win/loss tally, the Crusaders boast a 9-0 home record but just a 3-5 away record. Having said all of that, four of the Crusaders five losses came in the first half of the season. They have won two of their last three away games – including a tricky visit to Canberra – and I fancy their chances to make it consecutive wins over the men from Waikato. Because the game is in Hamilton I think the Chiefs will be competitive so I’m not expecting a blowout. I would back the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.70 (Centrebet).
Sunday, 28 June
Bulls v Brumbies
1:05 AM AEST, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
The Bulls will be rueing the timing of the international Tests as injuries to their Springboks players have dented their title chances. Their 30-13 loss to the Stormers in Round 20 cost them the top seed in the competition, which means they will have to rely on the Crusaders beating the Chiefs in Hamilton for a home final to become possible. The Bulls have received a boost leading into this clash, with Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard and Flip van der Merwe returning from injury. Paul Willemse is also available and has been named on the bench. They are still not 100%, however, with Pierre Spies, Louis Fouche, Arno Botha, Lionel Mapoe, Cornel Hess and Handre Pollard still unavailable.
The Brumbies have yet to click into gear offensively since the international break. After losing to the Force they barely managed to hold off the Cheetahs to win 15-13 last week. The Cheetahs scored a late try but Riaan Smit’s conversion attempt after the final hooter hit the bar much to the relief of the Canberra faithful. The Brumbies were outscored two tries to nil in that game but were able to accrue points through the boot of Christian Lealiifano. Veteran flanker George Smith was massive for the Brumbies last week and he will again have to be at his best if the Brumbies are to cause an upset in Pretoria.
Betting: the Brumbies did beat the Bulls 23-20 in Round 7 however that game was played in Canberra. The Bulls are unbeaten at home this year and meetings between the two sides have historically been dominated by the home team. It should be close, as three of the last four meetings between the Bulls and Brumbies have been settled by three points or less, so I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 2.65 (Centrebet).