The following are previews with betting tips for the 2015 Super Rugby Qualifiers.
The conference structure has resulted in a skewed playoff structure this year. The Highlanders have missed out on a qualifying final bye despite having the second most points, with the conference system giving them the 4th seed. Because they topped the South African conference the Stormers have received the third seed and the right to host a qualifying final despite being ranked 7th in competition points.
Saturday, 20 June
Highlanders v Chiefs
View a detailed form guide for Highlanders v Chiefs
The Highlanders finished the regular season strongly, seeing off the Blues 44-7 at Eden Park last week to end their campaign with four wins from five. They don’t boast a single All Black in the forwards, but the Highlanders back line is packed with talent and is lethal from broken play. The Highlanders have received a timely boost, with Nasi Manu, Malakai Fekitoa and Mark Reddish returning this week.
The Chiefs suffered a last round home defeat to the Hurricanes last week, but they can take heart from the fact that the Hurricanes thrashed the Highlanders the week prior. The Chiefs will be without halfback Augustine Pulu after he fractured his arm last week, which is a blow given Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Leon Fukofuka are also injured.
Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders -3.5
Conservative betting: the Highlanders boast a 7-2 home record over the last 12 months while the Chiefs have gone 5-6 on the road. With the home side back to full strength, I would back the Highlanders in the head-to-head at 1.61. (Unibet).
Aggressive betting: the two sides met just three weeks ago, with the Highlanders romping to a 36-9 victory in Invercargill. The thrashing goes against the grain of previous results between the two, however, which have generally been very close. With everything on the line I’m expecting a close game so I would back the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.75 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 21 June
Stormers v Brumbies
View a detailed form guide for Stormers v Brumbies
They may be the 3rd seed, but the Stormers limp into the playoffs with the 7th highest points tally in the competition. They rested 14 players and were comprehensively beaten by the Sharks last week, but at least they will be fresh for this fixture. This is the first Stormers appearance in the playoffs since 2012, when they were 1st seed but were bundled out of the competition at home in the semi-finals. The same thing a happened in 2011 when they were the second seed. In team news, captain Duane Vermeulen remains out with injury while Robert du Preez is suspended.
The Brumbies suffered a painful home defeat to the Crusaders last week. Had they won they would have only had to make the short trip to Dunedin. Instead they’ve had to make the 25-hour journey to Cape Town. The Brumbies were defeated tactically by the Crusaders kicking game last week and will be wincing at the latest IRB clarification of rolling maul rules, which they have used to a great extent this season. The result may be a penalty-laden affair this weekend. David Pocock suffered a knock to the head last week but is on track to return. Matt Toomua is less certain as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Brumbies +5.5
Conservative betting: this is a re-match of the feisty Round 13 clash, which was won 25-24 by the Stormers after the Brumbies shot themselves in the foot. An interesting stat for the Brumbies is that over the last 12 months they have a 4-1 away record as the favourite but are 0-5 as the underdog, suggesting their away form is pretty consistent. The Stormers, meanwhile, are 7-1-2 as the home favourite and are undefeated against Australian teams this season. The timing of the instructions for referees to crack down on rolling mauls isn’t helpful for the Brumbies, neither is the fact that the Stormers will be well rested. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.57 (Marathonbet).
Aggressive betting: the Brumbies were unlucky not to have won at Newlands Stadium a few weeks ago and I expect them to be competitive again. I’m not expecting a blowout so I would back the Stormers 1-12 at 2.71 (Pinnacle Sports).