Best Bet 1: Hurricanes to win @ $1.80 – Sportsbet
CRUSADERS ($1.28) VS CHIEFS ($3.75)
The first of the Super Rugby semi-finals will see the Crusaders host the Chiefs in an all-New Zealand classic at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday evening. The Crusaders find themselves in their 16th semi-final having shutout the Highlanders, 17 – 0 last weekend in the ‘Battle of the South Island’. The Chiefs were forced to work a little harder, but still managed to overcome the Stormers 17-11, in an arm-wrestle in Cape Town. The Crusaders and the Chiefs only clashed once this season with the men from Christchurch victorious, 31 – 24, in Suva.
The perennial powerhouses of Super Rugby, the Crusaders, find themselves in yet another do-or-die match-up, however they haven’t added to their seven trophies for nine years (2008 against the Waratahs). Scott Robertson has done an excellent job as coach in his first season in charge with a pack full of experienced All Blacks and a back line that is youthful and exuberant and hungry for more. The Crusaders dominated the battle up front against the Highlanders and they will look to do the same against a weary Chiefs team this weekend. Scott Robertson has named an unchanged lineup for this weekend’s clash. Barring the injury to All Blacks captain Kieran Read earlier on in the season, he has had a dream run in terms of injuries (or lack there of). This has allowed the Crusaders to find their rhythm and play with consistency and it has shown in their results.
The Chiefs have been building nicely this season and have only dropped two matches (Stormers and Crusaders) and drawn one (Blues), en route to a 6th place finish. There is a good blend of youth and experience in the squad, but they will know that their forward pack will be under the spotlight this weekend. They did a good job in their trial run against a bigger Stormers pack in Cape Town, but the Crusaders are more technically astute and have already shown that they have their measure earlier on in the season in Fiji. Similarly to the Hurricanes, the back line is lethal, but as I mentioned last weekend, they are very dependent on getting quality, front-foot ball for the likes of Aaron Cruden, James Lowe and Damien McKenzie. Dave Rennie has named his strongest possible side by making two changes to the team that narrowly defeated the Stormers. The injury-plagued, yet very promising Charlie Ngatai, returns to inside centre after missing last weekend’s match, which shifts New Zealand cult hero, Stephen Donald to the bench. The other change sees Samoan International Tim Nanai-Williams come back into the starting fifteen in place of Solomon Alaimalo on the right wing.
The Chiefs will draw confidence from the fact that they have won the last three matches played in Christchurch (2015, 2015, 2016) and in the last six seasons, the Chiefs have come back from Africa six times for seven wins. In saying that, the Crusaders have never lost a finals fixture at home, which is simply astounding. It has been snowing in Christchurch this week and the players will run out in near freezing conditions, but there is no rain forecasted which will be a welcome relief for rugby fans. It is hard to seperate these teams, but I just can’t side with a team that has had to fly half way around the world to come up against another that has almost had a perfect season. There are mouth-watering matchups across the park including Whitelock vs Retallick, Matt Todd vs Sam Cane and Richie Mo’unga vs Aaron Cruden. I can’t confidently decide on a betting play, but I suggest tuning in for this one as it could be one of the matches of the season.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.28 – Sportsbet
LIONS ($2.05) VS HURRICANES($1.80)
The second semi-final comes to us from Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday night, where the Lions host the reigning champions, the Hurricanes in a 2016 Final rematch. The Lions stole victory from the jaws of defeat, relying on a booming 57 penalty goal by Ruan Combrinck to beat the Sharks, 23 – 21 last weekend. The Hurricanes were also forced to come from behind against the Brumbies in Canberra, eventually prevailing by a comfortable 19-point margin. Incredibly, the Hurricanes have won eight consecutive matches against the Hurricanes and 15/18 matches played since 1998. This includes the last four in Johannesburg which included a 50-17 thrashing during last year’s regular season.
The Lions are yet to face a New Zealand team this year and although that helped cement themselves as the minor premiers, I feel they will be slightly under prepared for the physicality and speed of the game that the Kiwis will adopt. They play a similar style of game to the New Zealanders and deserve to be where they are, but the scheduling favoured them and they may not have finished at the top of the ladder, as they Kiwis are a completely different proposition to the flailing Aussie franchises. It is concerning that over the last couple of weeks, the Lions have played some of their worst rugby of the season and the quarter-final matchup against the Sharks will have the visitors licking their lips. They have seemed disinterested and their handing errors have really cost them continuity and points on the scoreboard. They have been the very definition of complacent after being so dominant from the get-go this season. Looking at the positives, the scrum is strong and Franco Mostert is turning into a very accomplished lock. Captain Jaco Kriel continues to dominate in both defence and attack, but the coach’s son, Ruan Ackermann will need a bigger game, despite playing in an unfamiliar position of number eight. Halfback Ross Cronje has come into his own this season, whilst Elton Jantjies will need to find his kicking boots in Johannesburg after almost costing his team victory against the Sharks.
The Hurricanes have proved that they don’t need a lot of ball to win games and they feast on their opposition’s poor ball security and ill-discipline. They showed against the Brumbies that scoreboard pressure and playing away from home, doesn’t phase them. They have a stable pack of forwards with a versatile back row. Moving lock Vaea Fifita to blindside flanker has been a masterstroke and Ardie Savea and Brad Shields will relish their opportunity against an equally talented back row. Where I think the Hurricanes have the edge is in the back line, where they possess a plethora of game-breakers with the likes of the Barrett brothers, Julian Savea and Nehe Milner Skudder just to name a few. The dangerous centre pairing of Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso have also been reunited. They also have a solid bench that generally does a good job at closing out matches. The Hurricanes will also be celebrating Dane Coles’ 100th Super Rugby match as he regains his place in the starting line-up, which will be an incredible achievement for him after what has been a tumultuous year suffering the effects of concussion.
The Lions come up against a team that are currently wearing the Super Rugby crown, but more importantly a team that really believes in themselves. Both teams have taken their game to a new level this season, but the way in which the Hurricanes bullied the Crusaders and ended their unbeaten run in the final match of the regular season, was highly impressive. This is a must-watch game as both teams will look to throw the ball around in front of what should be a boisterous crowd at one of world rugby’s most iconic venues. The Hurricanes head into this one as the team in better form and when referee Jaco Peyper blows his final whistle, I think they’ll have a little bit too much firepower for the Lions in a high-scoring match.
Predicted result: Hurrricanes to win @ $1.80 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Hurricanes to win @ $1.80 – Sportsbet