A tense final weekend of the regular Super XV season determined the placings of the top six sides and therefore the post-season schedule. The sides who finished in the top two positions now have byes into the semi-finals in a fortnight’s time, where they will have home ties against the victors from this weekend’s playoff games involving the other four teams.
The results of last weekend meant that the top two sides swapped places. Waikato Chiefs took first place after a win on the road in Auckland, defeating the Blues whilst the Bull surprisingly went down 30-13 away to the Stormers, scoring only one try and conceding three against a side who played a quarter of the game a man short after picking up two yellow cards.
Theoretically, that gives the Chiefs an easier run into the final, as they will play the lowest ranked winner from the playoffs. Such things, though, are relative and all six sides would be worthy winners of the trophy.
Review our picks from last weekend's Super XV Tournament action.
The first of the games, on Saturday, sees the Crusaders host the Queensland Reds in Canterbury. The game will see some famous names returning to their club colors. For the Crusaders, All Black captain Richie McCaw returns after injury, whilst on the other side Reds coach Ewan McKenzie can welcome back Wallabies skipper James Horwill and arguably the best scrum half in world rugby, Will Genia. And then there is the added attraction of the mercurial Quade Cooper returning to the land of his birth. The two sides didn’t meet during the regular season, so there is little to go on in terms of recent contests, but the vastly greater experience of the Crusaders - no side has played more Super Rugby playoff games than them - could be critical here.
That last point explains why the Crusaders are betting odds of 1/4 (Sportingbet) against such a talented Reds side. The Reds themselves are a more attractive price at 4/1 with BetVictor, but they have a tough task ahead of them. A better bet here is the 13/2 that BetVictor are offering on the Reds to be half-time leaders but the Crusaders to eventually win.
That game is followed on Sunday by the ACT Brumbies at home to the second South African side, the Cheetahs. The South Africans are coming off their second bye week, meaning that they have had a week more than their hosts to rest bodies weary after the long Super XV season. The Brumbies, on the other hand, went down to a surprise 21-15 defeat away to the lowest-ranked Australian side, Western Force. It was a game in which they were very much second best, committing error after error in the wet playing conditions (something which you would expect to be more alien to their hosts). Remember, though, that this is the team which were the first to beat the British and Irish Lions and that they did so with greater comfort than the Australian national side did. They are also one of the few sides to beat the Bulls this year and had not played together for three weeks due to their two bye weeks falling consecutively.
The sports betting market seems to content to ignore that shambolic last round performance and makes the Brumbies odds on favorites at 1/3 Indeed, they are so strongly fancied in all markets that finding somewhere to make money isn’t easy. I like the 15/8 that you can get on the first scoring play being a Cheetahs penalty. They have to go on the attack from the outset if they are to stand a chance of winning in Canberra and there’s a very good chance of them putting the first points on the board.
At the moment, the Chiefs are favorites to win overall, best priced at 9/4 with Totesport. The Bulls will get you 13/4 at 888.com, but don’t discount the Crusaders, who are 19/4 with the same sportsbook.