There’s only pride on the line in the last round of an enthralling Super Rugby Aotearoa season – but that shouldn’t prevent another pair of high-quality contests…if they get to go ahead.
History: Played 34: Hurricanes 20 V Highlanders 14
Last meeting: July 12, 2020: Hurricanes 17 d Highlanders 11 at Sky Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Hurricanes can snatch a second-place finish with a final-round win, but the plucky Highlanders will be determined to close out their Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign in style at home.
The Highlanders have been more competitive than their 2-5 record suggests. Despite having easily the least star-studded squad in the fledgling competition, the southerners have been in every contest until the latter stages. They pushed the champion Crusaders all the way last Sunday in a thrilling 32-22 loss.
The 5-2 Hurricanes can only rue a slow start to their Super Rugby Aotearoa foray. The Wellington outfit have won their last five. They inflicted the Crusaders’ only defeat in Round 7 and accounting for the Chiefs 31-18 last weekend. The ’Canes will be missing halfback and co-captain TJ Perenara this week, while impressive winger Kobus van Wyk is suspended.
The Hurricanes found the Highlanders tough to shake in Round 5 but scored three tries to one in a 17-11 home win.
Honours have been split between these sides in Dunedin since 1996, winning eight games apiece. The Hurricanes grabbed a thrilling 31-28 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium last season – the only time in their last eight clashes the away team has prevailed.
Backing another nail-biter holds plenty of value, while the Highlanders are a genuine chance of the upset.
13:35 (AEST), Sun 16th Aug @ Eden Park, Auckland
History: Played 37: Crusaders 26 V Blues 11
Last meeting: July 11, 2020: Crusaders 26 d Blues 15 at Orangetheory Stadium
Final Thoughts: The season-closing clash in Auckland is in serious doubt due to the re-emergence of COVID-19 in New Zealand’s biggest city this week.
Somewhat mercifully, the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions have already been crowned. The Crusaders’ pulsating 32-22 victory over the Highlanders last Sunday confirmed they could not be overhauled. On the ropes for much of the game, the Crusaders’ unmatched ability to turn the tide with long-range tries proved the difference.
The second-placed Blues will be eager to finish off a season of impressive progress. The perennial underachievers have won five of their seven games, beating the Chiefs (21-17) and Highlanders (32-21) before their Round 9 bye.
The Blues ran the Crusaders close in Christchurch in Round 5. Leading 15-9 after tries to Mark Telea and Rieko Ioane, the Aucklanders went down 26-15 as Crusaders duo Mitchell Drummond and Will Jordan scored in the last 20 minutes.
The Crusaders have won 15 of their last 17 against the Blues, including the last 12 straight. But three of the last four were decided by 1-12 margins. The Blues lost few admirers in a gallant 25-8 loss in Round 3 of the 2020 Super Rugby season.
If the match goes ahead, it will almost certainly be at an empty Eden Park. That negates one of the Blues’ advantages. Meanwhile, it’s hard to fathom how the Crusaders could start as underdogs in any case.