The following are previews with betting tips for the qualifiers (quarter-finals) of the 2018 Super Rugby season.
The playoff seeds are as follows:
QF1: Crusaders (1) v (8) Sharks
QF2: Hurricanes (4) v (5) Chiefs
QF3: Lions (2) v (7) Jaguares
QF4: Waratahs (3) v (6) Highlanders
Friday, 20 July
Hurricanes v Chiefs
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The Hurricanes fell to a depleted Chiefs outfit 24-28 last week, but still managed to hold onto the 4th overall seed. The first half performance was awful, but they can take positives from being able to dominate the second spell. The only issue is the Chiefs will field a stronger side this week. In team news, Wes Goosen will likely be out due to a concussion. With both sides set to field their strongest available squads, we will finally get to see Beauden Barrett go head-to-head against Damian McKenzie.
The Chiefs needed to win by 23 points to leapfrog the Hurricanes into 4th seed, but after leading 21-0 at halftime, the Chiefs could only win 28-24, which sees them play this fixture in Wellington instead of Hamilton. The location of this fixture is crucial, because the Chiefs have gone 7-1-1 against the Hurricanes in Hamilton, but have only won 3 of their previous 10 in Wellington. In team news, Johnny Fa’auli will miss the rest of the Super Rugby season after he was handed a six-week suspension for a dangerous tackle.
Betting: it was a tale of two halves in their clash last week, with the Chiefs dominating the opening half and the Hurricanes getting the better of the second. It was the third game in a row that the Chiefs led to nil at halftime before their opponents mounted a comeback. Against the Highlanders they led 42-0 at the break before finishing 45-22. Against the Brumbies they led 17-0 at the break before finishing 24-19. The Chiefs enter this clash in better form, having won all three games since the June internationals, while the Hurricanes have only won 1 of their last 5. Prior to that the Hurricanes had won 10 in a row, so their drop in form has been significant. The key advantage to the Hurricanes, however, is their strong home form. Of the 4 defeats in their previous 5 fixtures, all were away from home. The Hurricanes have a 8-0 record at home this season. Of the last 18 games between the two, 15 were won by 1-12 points. You could make a case for either team, so I will back both the Hurricanes 1-12 at 3.00 (Ladbrokes) and the Chiefs 1-12 at 3.75 (bet365).
Saturday, 21 July
Crusaders v Sharks
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The Crusaders romped to a 54-17 victory over the Blues in the final round to finish as the first overall seed on 63 points – a whopping 12 points clear of the second-best Hurricanes on 51 points. The scores were 26-17 halfway through the second half before the Crusaders once again found another gear to blow their opponents away in the final quarter. After starting the season 2-2, the Crusaders have since won 12 straight fixtures. In further bad news for the rest of the competition, the Crusaders went 8-0 at home this season to extend their winning streak in Christchurch to 17 games. They haven’t lost a home fixture against an overseas opponent since Round 1 of 2015 and never in playoffs history have the Crusaders lost a home game. In team news, Kieran Read and Ryan Crotty picked up knocks last week but are expected to start. Joe Moody has been ruled out due to an ongoing knee injury.
The Sharks booked a last-minute ticket to the playoffs with a 20-10 win over the Jaguares in Durban. They were aided by the fact that the Jaguares had nothing to play for and chose to rest key players. The result saw them sneak into the playoffs on the basis of net points scored at the expense of the Rebels. With a 7-1-8 record, the Sharks have blown hot and cold all season. At their best they shredded the Highlanders and Blues and they also claimed the scalp of the Chiefs. At their worst, however, the Sharks have been dreadful, as highlighted by their 14-46 mauling by the Rebels. There is a trend to the contrasting results, however, and that is location. The Sharks have gone 6-1-1 at home this season and 1-7 away from Durban.
Betting: the Sharks have gone 3-1 against New Zealand teams this season, with their sole defeat being a one-point loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington. They didn’t play the Crusaders, however, who have been a cut above the rest of the competition. In contrasting statistics, 8 of the Crusaders’ 10 wins at home over the last 12 months have been by 13+ points, while only 2 of the Sharks’ 7 away defeats were by 13+. In 2014 the Sharks actually defeated the Crusaders 30-25 in Christchurch during the regular season, but in the playoffs the Crusaders are a different beast. They hosted the Sharks two months later that year and beat them 38-6. Since 2010, the Sharks’ other visits to Canterbury have seen them lose 35-6, 44-28 and 36-8. I expect the Sharks will put up a good fight but will come unstuck in the final quarter, like so many teams have done against the Crusaders this season. I would back the Sharks +9.5 at 1.95 (bet365) in the first half handicap and the Crusaders 13+ at 1.44 (Ladbrokes).
Waratahs v Highlanders
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The Waratahs missed the opportunity to become the second overall seed when they fell 31-40 at home to the Brumbies, who by kickoff knew they had nothing but pride to play for. A lot of the damage was done in the opening quarter as the Waratahs quickly fell behind 3-21. It was a poor showing, particularly defensively, but credit must go to the Brumbies for executing a strong game plan – one that the Highlanders will have taken a great interest in. In team news, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper will not return from injury in time for this fixture.
The Highlanders came from behind to defeat the Rebels 43-37 to maintain their perfect 7-0 record in Dunedin this year. They didn’t take the lead until the 66th minute, however, and they benefited from Rebels’ injuries and a yellow card. They weren’t at full strength, but the result doesn’t add confidence to their form after they were thrashed by the Chiefs and Crusaders after the international break. While the Highlanders have been good in Dunedin, away from home this campaign they have been poor, going 3-6 if you count the Fiji fixture. Two of their three away wins were by the thinnest of margins: 3 points against the Reds and 1 point against the Bulls. At the line the Highlanders have gone 1-8 away from home.
Betting: the last time the Waratahs made the playoffs was in 2015 as the 2nd overall seed, but they were ambushed 17-35 at home by the Highlanders in the semi-finals, so they will be looking to make amends here. The Waratahs and Highlanders both finished the season with 44 points, however the Highlanders had the tougher schedule. The two sides played in Sydney in Round 14, which the Waratahs won 41-12. With both sides’ defences looking frail in recent weeks, keep an eye on the over/under market when it is released, because this has the potential to be a high scoring game. Like the Lions v Jaguares fixture below, if this fixture were being played in Dunedin, I would back the Highlanders, but given their poor away form I will side with the home team. I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 2.30 (Palmerbet). Of the Waratahs’ 5 home wins this season, 4 were by 13+ points, while 5 of the Highlanders’ 6 away defeats were by 13+, so for those looking for more risk, I would take the Waratahs 13+ at 7.60 (Palmerbet).
Lions v Jaguares
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The Lions finished the regular season by coming from behind to see off the Bulls 38-12. Much of the win came down to their superior forward pack, which dominated through driving mauls. The most impressive aspect was the Lions kept the Bulls from scoring from the 12th minute onward. They finished the season with a 9-7 record, which is a notable drop-off from their 14-1 record in 2017 under previous head coach Johan Ackermann. Incredibly 9-7 is good enough for the second overall seed due to the conference system and because the Lions accumulated 10 bonus points. Much of the club’s success has come down to its home form, with the Lions going 6-2 at home compared to 3-5 away. In team news, halfback Nic Groom is out for the season with a fractured hand.
After a storming run which saw the Jaguares win seven games in a row, including two in Australia and two in New Zealand, their regular season ended with a whimper, losing 34-43 to the Bulls in Pretoria and 10-20 to the Sharks in Durban. To be fair, however, the Jaguares had nothing to play for against the Sharks and chose to rest some players. At times against the Bulls the Jaguares looked almost unplayable as they shot out to a 19-0 lead before fading, possibly due to the altitude. This season the Jaguares have gone 4-0 against South African opponents at home and 0-4 against them on South African soil. The defeat last week extended the Jaguares’ losing streak in South Africa to 8 games.
Betting: all six meetings between the two have been won by the home team, although the Lions almost always sent a second-string unit to Argentina. If this fixture were being played in Argentina I would side with the Jaguares, but with the game set in Johannesburg, I will side with the Lions, who haven’t lost a home game to a non-Kiwi opponent since 2015. I would back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.34 (Unibet).
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