The final round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman throws up plenty of interesting possibilities. The Brumbies’ 12-10 upset of the Hurricanes last weekend was quality but the ledger is still 2-18 in terms of Aussie sides beating Kiwi opponents across the competition. Ouch. Let’s search for some value.
Fri, June 11, Sky Stadium, Wellington 5:05pm (AEST)
There was reason to back the Reds to win this until final team lists arrived. No James O’Connor (neck) again strips direction from the side. Losing dynamic winger Suliasi Vunivalu (hamstring) is another big loss.
The spin-off is Bryce Hegarty at flyhalf and Josh Flook exposed as a winger. The Reds needed all their precision to win this and now it’s gone. The additional factor is the bench. The reserve front-row of Harry Hoopert, Zane Nonggorr and Josh Nasser could well struggle late in the game. Fraser McReight is a quality turbo off the bench.
Equally, the Hurricanes know they are out of contention for the final and have three trumps resting on the bench in Dane Coles, Peter Umaga-Jensen and try-scoring winger Salesi Rayasi. So much depends on the mood of the Hurricanes and whether they think there is anything still to get intense about. Still fancy Hurricanes will cover –13.5 points.
Fri, June 11, GIO Stadium, Canberra 7:45pm (AEST)
This match has a cracking storyline. The 4-0 Highlanders are bidding to make the final against the 4-0 Blues but a win may not be enough because the 4-0 Crusaders could easily leapfrog them on points differential.
That means the Highlanders will be urgently chasing a bonus point as well. Pushing the play plays into the Brumbies’ hands. The Canberra boys will pressure and make life difficult at the breakdown just as they did to beat the Hurricanes. A big Highlanders’ mistake will be converted.
The Brumbies are resting top No.10 Noah Lolesio because of a minor injury. That puts Bayley Kuenzle in charge. He has shown plenty of promise himself and likes a dart to get his team on the front foot. The Brumbies have named a strong side with winger Tom Wright back and top halfback Nic White starting.
All Blacks ace Aaron Smith is the big “in” for the Highlanders at halfback. Taking the Brumbies at $1.90 with 7.5-points start is a conservative option to win. Bolder punters should latch onto the $3.25 for a Brumbies’ win.
Sat, June 12, Leichhardt Oval, Sydney 2:05pm (AEST)
You have to admire the fight of the Rebels. They have gone down to the Highlanders by 15 and the Chiefs by 10 in recent games but were throwing plenty of punches in attack.
This match is a different animal with the Crusaders switched to bonus-point mode to grab a spot in the final. Big guns Richie Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock, Sevu Reece and Ethan Blackadder are back after a rest. The Crusaders have way too much firepower and have relished their trips away from New Zealand in this comp.
Losing Wallaby Matt Toomua to a neck injury takes a lot of the defensive savvy out of the Rebels backline so the score could mount.
This is another great opportunity for young flyhalf Carter Gordon to grow while these are the games that young lock Trevor Hosea and No.8 Isi Naisarani need to impose themselves on to win Test selection.
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Sat, May 12, Eden Park, Auckland 5:05pm (AEST)
The Western Force have fought, won fans and shown their character through 13 games this season. Is this a step too far? Sense it is. One thing that is often underrated is that Kiwi sides just always seem a metre faster on their own soil. Eden Park is such a place when the Blues are on fire. This is the Blues’ shot at making a final and they are up for it with a strong side.
The Force have two experienced men coming back onto the bench with fullback Rob Kearney and backrower Brynard Stander. You have to feel a little worried about the Force defence out wide. We’ll see.
Sat, June 12, Brookvale Oval, Sydney 7:45pm (AEST)
Someone tagged it “Turnstiles Rugby”. That’s pretty close when the NSW Waratahs have conceded 33 tries in four games to Kiwi opponents. That’s giving up 56 points per outing. Unacceptable and unbelievable.
The defensive system is a shambles.
Those stats just overshadow the good bits like Will Harrison throwing a flat Ivan Cleary-style cutout pass to put Jack Maddocks outside his man for a try against the Highlanders.
Losing top player Jake Gordon (leg), Maddocks (hand) and hooker Dave Porecki (calf) to injuries has further disjointed the Waratahs for this final fling in a winless season.
The Waratahs have resurrected 35-year-old Wallabies prop Pek Cowan as a reserve for this one-off game. That’s smart because he can hold up a scrum which others have proven they can’t. The Waratahs’ only chance is if the Chiefs are treating this week in Sydney as an end-of-season holiday with cues in the rack. That’s possible but the Chiefs will still be too good even with All Blacks ace Anton Lienert-Brown resting on the bench.
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