Last week’s picks were very tough to call, with the Sharks and Crusaders recording wins that most SuperBru players didn’t see coming.
It doesn’t seem to get much easier this week as we reach for the calculators for the final round of regular season matches. With some teams out of contention, will they play for pride, or will they just rollover easily? And will teams fighting for a playoff spot crack under the pressure?
Here’s some advice that may or may not help with your SuperBru picks for Round 18:
Hurricanes v Chiefs
First up is the Hurricanes versus the Chiefs, where a pick for the away side appears the most sensible option at first. But in fact, they have already qualified at the top of the New Zealand conference and may consider taking their foot off the gas. I’m sure they’d still like to finish top of the overall log, but the Hurricanes have more motivation in this one – a victory would see them move into the top 6, and then they’ll face an anxious wait for other results to see if they qualify. Moreover, this fixture has been won by the home side in 10 of the last 12 meetings, with one draw and a Canes win in Waikato the only anomalies, and the Chiefs haven’t won in Wellington since 2001. Hurricanes by 5.
Brumbies v Blues
Then on Saturday, we cross to Canberra to see the Brumbies hosting the hapless Blues. The Aucklanders enjoyed only their third win of the season last weekend at home to the Force, but they have been such a let down for so many SuperBru players this season. They are way out of contention, and will be ready for their dire season to end. Meanwhile, the Brumbies will be keen to maintain momentum and a home victory should be on the cards. Brumbies by 8.
Crusaders v Force
After their impressive win over the Chiefs last weekend, the Crusaders need one more victory to guarantee their place in the playoffs yet again. They’ll be happy to come up against relatively benign opposition in the shape of the Force, who were easily turned over in Auckland last week and are still without key player David Pocock. Teams like the Crusaders tend to build momentum at the right time, and look set for a convincing victory in Christchurch. Crusaders by 23.
Reds v Waratahs
Later on Saturday, we see the only Aussie derby of the round, in which the Reds host the Waratahs. The Tahs have disappointed in their performances this season and have nothing to play for, whilst a win for the defending champions could see them finish in the top 6. The Tahs have a better record in this fixture over the years, but it’s difficult to look past a Reds win this weekend. Reds by 11.
Stormers v Rebels
The Stormers then welcome the Rebels to Newlands and will fancy their chances of topping the log and securing a ‘home’ final. The Melbourne outfit have sprung a few surprises in their first two seasons, and nearly completed an incredible comeback against the Lions last weekend. But the record books say that they lost to the Lions, and that means they don’t stand a chance against the table-toppers. Stormers by 18.
Sharks v Cheetahs
The Sharks are next up in Durban against the Cheetahs in the first of two South African derbies. The home side can guarantee a playoff spot with a bonus-point victory, so you’d expect a high-scoring affair as they look to put width on the ball. The Cheetahs are another team that can cause an upset, but they conceded 34 points at home to the Sharks in Round 14, and a home win is the sensible pick for this match. Sharks by 15.
Bulls v Lions
Finally, the Bulls host the Lions and are level on points with the Sharks, meaning that a bonus-point win would guarantee them a playoff spot and ensure three South African teams finish in the top 6. The Currie Cup champions have been disappointing this year, and apart from a surprise win over the Sharks, haven’t looked like troubling those at the top of the table. The Bulls, meanwhile, have racked up the odd cricket score and could do the same again this weekend as they strive for a four-try win. Bulls by 28.