SuperBru Round 17 preview
Cape Town - SuperBru fans, last week went almost according to plan - apart from one major surprise in Christchurch.
The Hurricanes went completely off script against the Crusaders by snatching a one point victory, but it could have been so different if Tyler Bleyendaal’s long-range penalty effort had not fallen desperately short for the home side. Instead it was the 'Canes who picked up the victory thanks to two tries from Conrad Smith and the boot of talented Beauden Barrett. Quite the upset, and one that all but ended the Crusaders chances of clinching top spot in the New Zealand Conference.
Elsewhere, there were no other significant surprises, particularly when it came to South Africa’s top two sides the Stormers (over the Lions) and the Bulls (over the Cheetahs). Tries from Jebb Sinclair and Gerhard van den Heever were enough for the Stormers to wrap up an important win considering their injury list, whilst the Bulls ended up winning by exactly 16 points as predicted in last week’s column, though going from 40-0 up to a final score of 40-24 will have left Frans Ludeke feeling frustrated.
Over in Australia, the Brumbies stayed top of the Australian Conference thanks to their away win over the Force - some fairly poor defence letting the hosts down in Nathan Sharpe’s farewell performance on Australian soil - while the Reds picked up what could prove to be a very important bonus point against the Rebels, Nick Frisby the man touching down for the all-important fourth try.
That left the Highlanders and the Chiefs, with the league leaders continuing their excellent form this season with tries from Tim Nanai-Williams and Robbie Robinson seeing them home in Dunedin against the plucky Highlanders.
So moving on to Round 18, the Chiefs are the only side who have already qualified for the playoffs, leaving six more still in with a chance of making it to the next round.
Here is all the advice you need for your SuperBru picks:
The Hurricanes are the only side not in action this weekend, giving the Crusaders the chance to edge clear from them in second spot of the New Zealand Conference. The only problem is, they face the Chiefs, who with 12 wins out of 14 are high on confidence and also playing at home. Israel Dagg, Kieran Read and Dan Carter are all back for the visitors. Home win.
Prediction: Chiefs by 6
That game is followed on Friday by two sides desperate to secure wildcard spots in the Reds and the Highlanders. Returning to Suncorp should weigh in the Reds favour and they have found their groove again, even if Quade Cooper is not quite firing on all cylinders yet. This will be a huge challenge though against a resurgent Highlanders outfit despite home advantage.
Prediction: Reds by 3
Finally on Friday, the Sharks host the Bulls in a must-win clash for both sides. A win could see the Sharks move back into the Wildcard spots depending on other results, whilst the Bulls are just four points behind the Stormers at the top of the South African Conference. Another close one.
Prediction: Bulls by 5
Saturday starts in Auckland with the Blues still looking for only their third win of the season against the Western Force, who have only won three times themselves and will be without talismanic captain David Pocock. Pat Lam’s side went close in their last outing against the Chiefs, going down 41-34, so this could be their week.
Prediction: Blues by 8
Next up are the Waratahs against the Brumbies in Sydney. It has been a truly miserable season for Michael Foley’s side, with only four wins out of 14 seeing them finish nowhere near the wildcard spots. With only pride to play for, and a look ahead to next season by going for a new halfback combination in debutant Grayson Hart and Bernard Foley, the in-form Brumbies are on a march to secure their playoffs spot and could do so this weekend.
Prediction: Brumbies by 9
Back in South Africa, the Lions then host the Rebels in Johannesburg looking to capitalise on the positive aspects of their match against the Stormers last weekend. The Rebels arrive in town without star duo James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, heavily tipping the odds in the home side’s favour. Is this their week?
Prediction: Lions by 5
Last but not least, the Cheetahs are at home against the Stormers. Coming back from 40-0 down to pick up a try bonus point is no mean feat, but the defence was too poor in the first half. The Stormers might not have racked up as many tries as the Bulls this year but their defence has been resolute. Despite the significant injuries to their back row, they should be able to keep the Cheetahs out.
Prediction: Stormers by 6
That’s all for this week, best of luck with your SuperBru predictions and see you ahead of Round 18.