Finals rugby is well and truly underway in Super Rugby Pacific, with the Crusaders dispatching the Reds earlier today in the first quarter-final of the weekend.
In a repeat of last week’s round-robin match, the Reds were competitive for the first hour against the Crusaders, even missing a chance to go into the lead at 15-16 soon after half-time. It wasn’t until the final quarter that the Crusaders turned on the after-burners and pulled away with the match, ending the Red’s season with a comprehensive 37-15 win in front of a healthy Christchurch crowd.
Tomorrow holds three more quarter-finals: Chiefs vs. Waratahs, Blues vs. Highlanders, and Brumbies vs. Hurricanes. Will these matchups be equally one-sided in favor of the home teams, or can we expect an upset or two at the business end of the season?
Here are our picks for each of these quarter-finals.
Chiefs (3) vs. Waratahs (6)
With dry conditions forecast for this late afternoon kick-off, an entertaining game can be expected to start off the day’s rugby.
Both sides are prone to off-loads and expansive play and the Waratahs are heading into this one with nothing to lose. Several of their recent matches have been high-scoring affairs—the April round-robin clash saw the Chiefs come out on top 51-27. In fact, it takes a decent memory to recall the last time the Waratahs were able to pinch a win over the Chiefs (six years ago, a gritty game in 2016).
The Chiefs are on a three-game winning streak, having taken care of the Melbourne Rebels, Western Force, and Fijian Drua most recently. Several of these victories have been far from impressive, however—only stealing the game at the death against the Rebels, and barely keeping a resurgent Drua at bay last week. The Waratahs, on the other hand, are coming into this match on the back of a relatively impressive run against New Zealand teams—almost toppling the first-place Blues last week, beating the Highlanders the week before, and narrowly missing out on a win against the Hurricanes three weeks ago.
As third-place finishers, the Chiefs are solid favorites to post a win in the first of Saturday’s quarter-finals. However, don’t expect this one to be a walkover—there should be plenty of tries and a decent contest before the Chiefs likely close out the match.
Chiefs by 10.
Blues (1) vs. Highlanders (8)
Were it not for the Rebels opting to kick the ball out instead of going for a final try last week, the Highlanders may well not be in this match.
Many believe they don’t deserve to be here—a 4-10 losing record for the season doesn’t exactly scream credibility when it comes to finals footy, particularly not when compared to the Blues record of 13-1.
But, the Highlanders are in the quarter-finals, and anything can happen.
Off the back of Covid-19 and Super Rugby Aotearoa, these sides are very familiar with each other. The Blues have won the last three encounters between the two, including last year’s final, though there hasn’t been much in the matches—the most recent game was a 32-25 win to the Blues in Dunedin. The Blues bring excellent form into the quarter-finals, having won a club-record 13 games in a row; while the Highlanders, who were building well into the end of the season, stringing together wins against the Drua, Reds, and Force, now come into this game off the back of disappointing losses against the Waratahs and Rebels.
The Blues are heavy favorites here to carry on their winning ways, but one would be remiss in writing off a Highlanders side wearing the underdog label.
Blues by 3… Or 30.
Brumbies (4) vs. Hurricanes (5)
Rightly so, this match is anticipated to be the tightest of the weekend.
Both sides are coming off surprising losses last round—the Brumbies to newcomers Moana Pacifika and the Hurricanes to a feisty Western Force side. However, the Brumbies loss was of much more consequence—not only was it to a bottom of the table team, but it also meant forfeiting third place on the ladder, and a much easier quarter-final against the Reds.
Last time they met, the Brumbies comprehensively disposed of the Hurricanes 42-25 in Canberra. They enter this match on a three-game losing streak; however, with the confidence of back-to-back-to-back wins against New Zealand sides a month ago well gone. The Hurricanes will fancy their chances, but it depends on which Hurricanes team shows up—the one that put 67 points on the Fijian Drua or the one that lost to Moana Pacifika?
Expect the Brumbies to try to turn this match into a physical battle up front, with plenty of territory and mauling. If the Hurricanes can resist a kicking duel, they have more than enough x-factor players to overwhelm the Brumbies in open play and out wide, should they remain error-free.
Hurricanes by 8.