It was always shaping up this way, but suddenly this weekend’s Round 14 looks like it will have even bigger impact on the top two than first imagined.
The Chiefs, eight points clear on top, have more than one foot in the door of the minor premiership; even just a bonus point loss this weekend could secure top spot and a finals run all the way though in the ‘Tron, the City of the Future.
But behind them is anyone’s guess.
The Crusaders host the Waratahs in Christchurch, who ensured their finals berth last week but can’t finish higher than fifth, and a win for the red-and-blacks can keep the Brumbies at bay for another week. The Brumbies, on the other hand, need a massive favour from the Waratahs and a BP win over the Chiefs in Canberra to get back into second.
The Blues and Hurricanes face off at Eden Park in a cracking winner-takes-4th contest. But either could sneak into second spot with two wins and some very favourable results above them.
So goodness knows what we’re going to get this weekend. Except probably some pretty disparate selections to follow…
LAST WEEK: Digger 5, Harry 5, Christy 5, Brett 4, Geoff 4; The Crowd 3.
OVERALL: Digger 61, Brett 58, Christy 57, Geoff 55, Harry 51; The Crowd 57.
TIPS: HIGHLANDERS, REBELS, DRUA, CRUSADERS, HURRICANES, CHIEFS
This round starts off with a tricky wee proposition, the big question is what Reds will turn up this week?
They’re certainly capable and the Highlanders certainly have had their own issues this season, but I will stick with the home side for this one as the Reds are perhaps less trustworthy. The following game appears a little more straight forward, at least in my mind. The Rebels have been playing a lot better than their results would indicate and are due a win.
The Drua in Fiji are always a compelling pick especially given the form of their opponents this week in Moana Pasifika so the Drua for me, and while the Crusaders should be too good at home the Waratahs may just give them plenty to think about across the 80 minutes.
A couple of tricky ones here. The Blues should be good enough, especially with their defence against a Hurricanes side that has shown some issues on attack against the stauncher defending teams including the Blues themselves earlier this season, but bugger it; ‘Canes by plenty.
And one would imagine the Chiefs should be good enough in Canberra and the Brumbies recent form has not been that convincing, but I am sure they will be well up for this clash. I will let my bias rule and run with the Kiwi side.
SURE THING: Given the Super Finals are around the corner I am eagerly awaiting Stephen Jones’ next piece criticising the competition and to find out who will make and win this year’s, likely to be ‘insipid’ future final.
TIPS: HIGHLANDERS, REBELS, DRUA, CRUSADERS, BLUES, CHIEFS.
The Reds have been the most volatile team in Super Rugby. They are a bit like their coach’s biceps. The Landers have disappointed. This is the matchup between teams of woe. I have flipped a coin (an old doubloon) and it shows a Jacobite swordsman.
The Rebels and Force will square off in another game of the damned. But the Force surely cannot replicate the win. Rebels by the length of Geoff Parkes. A Drua-Moana “derby of the newbies” should be a spectacle, but a gap has opened and Fiji should rule the Pasifika.
The mighty Waratahs face the hitherto almighty Crusaders. The ‘Tahs have a few more flaws and it is getting cold. Winter = Crusaders.
The match of the round should be the Blues and Hurricanes. A Kiwi North Island derby gets me going! Blues by a step or two.
The Chiefs will beat the Brumbies because the Force beat the Brumbies and the Chiefs are 20 net points better than the Force. Right?
SURE THING: Wooden spoons make better dough.
TIPS: HIGHLANDERS, REBELS, DRUA, CRUSADERS, HURRICANES, BRUMBIES
The stakes are high on Friday night. Finals hopes could be made or lost. All four sides will think they can win and, indeed, they can.
The Highlanders will want to send Aaron Smith out a winner at home. Similarly, the Reds will be desperate to make Brad Thorn’s final season in charge a memorable one. The Highlanders’ pack gives them the edge. It’s why I’m tipping them to sneak home.
The Rebels could easily have won five or six matches but, in fact, have won just three. They’ve played plenty of good rugby but the defeats have added up. The Rebels will have to be near their best, with work-rate essential, to beat the Force. Rebels, just.
Drua have shown they’re formidable at home.
The Crusaders should be far too strong for the Waratahs, but it’s a big evening for a number of players ahead of selection for the Rugby Championship.
The Hurricanes are a quality outfit. They’ll go after the Blues. They show no fear. The match shapes as a cracker.
Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies paid the ultimate price last week by losing against the Force. They’ve got to hit back and make a statement. A top two finish is crucial.
SURE THING: Tensions will continue with workload management once again to be bemoaned.
TIPS: REDS, REBELS, DRUA, CRUSADERS, BLUES, BRUMBIES
This a weird week. Games that feel easy, games that should be easy, but then warrant a second thought and become easy after a change mind, and games that should be hard but suddenly aren’t.
The unconvincing Highlanders only have the prospect of sending Aaron Smith out a winner to spur them on, and the Reds only have the prospect of continuing their rollercoaster existence to keep them going. And somehow, that’s the more logical pick.
The Rebels will be too good for the Force because they have to be, the Drua will be too good for Moana Pasifika because they just are, and the Crusaders will be too good for the Waratahs because… (competition time: the rugby editor will supply a prize for the most creative ending to this sentence).
Blues-Hurricanes could be literally anything. 12-10 or 45-41. One try or twelve tries. Four hundred tackles or 67 missed tackles. A Golden Point draw might even be the best-fitting outcome. I’ll take the home team because it’s quicker to type, and that’s about as scientific as it needs.
And the Brumbies just have to win. They have to. Win this week and they’ll be firmly back in the genuine contenders conversation – but lose, and they’ll be ripe for the picking.
SURE THING: By Monday, we’ll either have genuine progress on an independent commission for Super Rugby or a bin fire and two new competitions for 2024.
TIPS: REDS, REBELS, MOANA PASIFIKA, CRUSADERS, HURRICANES, CHIEFS
Given that the Reds couldn’t win a match in New Zealand for nigh on a decade it seems a bit strange tipping them to do it twice in three weeks. But let’s face it, the Highlanders aren’t really up to much, are they?
Which is one of the reasons why the Rebels were so down after their lost opportunity last weekend. They’ll be much better this week – plus they owe the Force one.
The Drua at home against Moana Pasifika seems like a straightforward tip. But combining the old theory about sides winning the week after they lose the coach and my need for a ‘Hail Mary’ or two, I’m backing Moana Pasifika to deliver the upset.
Now that the Waratahs are in the finals, the Crusaders in Christchurch feels like a game they can afford to lose. Which leaves two huge games to finish the round, with all four teams fully invested.
There seems to be an assumption that the Hurricanes have already got fifth sewn up. I don’t think they believe that, and they’ll be going all-out to beat the Blues, and may just do it. The Brumbies will be going all-out too, but I’m not quite so confident about the Chiefs rolling over for them.
SURE THING: Fresh from spoiling Aaron Smith’s final home appearance, the Reds’ bus, en-route to Dunedin airport, will swing through the main street of Mosgiel, where thousands of locals, La Rochelle-style, will spray ticker-tape and Speights in tribute to local hero, Brad Thorn.
|Round 14||Geoff||Digger||Harry||Brett||Christy||The Crowd|
|HIG v RED||Reds||Highlanders||Highlanders||Reds||Highlanders|
|REB v FOR||Rebels||Rebels||Rebels||Rebels||Rebels|
|DRU v MOA||Moana Pasifika||Drua||Drua||Drua||Drua||Announced|
|CRU v WAR||Crusaders||Crusaders||Crusaders||Crusaders||Crusaders||Friday afternoon|
|BLU v HUR||Hurricanes||Hurricanes||Blues||Blues||Hurricanes|
|BRU v CHI||Chiefs||Chiefs||Chiefs||Brumbies||Brumbies|
Get your tips in now – The Crowd’s tips will be revealed Friday afternoon AEST.