The promise of wall-to-wall blockbusters in the fledgling Super Rugby Aotearoa competition has been fulfilled so far. Round 4 features a fascinating South Island duel and a must-win clash for a pair of North Island adversaries.
History: Played 48: Crusaders 37 V Highlanders 11
Last meeting: February 21, 2020: Crusaders 33 d Highlanders 13 at Orangetheory Stadium
Final Thoughts: The first southern derby of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition sees the plucky Highlanders host the all-conquering Crusaders.
The Highlanders – largely bereft of the big names littered throughout the other four franchises – upset the Chiefs (28-27) and went down narrowly to the on-fire Blues (27-24) either side of the Round 2 bye. Like the unheralded side that went to claim Super Rugby glory in 2015, the Highlanders are punching above their weight. Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Coltman and Jeff Thwaites form an all-new front-row this week. Michael Collins is a key inclusion at fullback.
The Crusaders put their feet up with the Round 1 bye. Since then, the three-time defending Super Rugby champs have thumped the Hurricanes in Wellington (39-25) and outlasted the Chiefs (18-13) in terrible conditions at home. The Crusaders’ forward stocks have been hit with injuries to Scott Barrett and Cullen Grace, but their depth is second to none.
The Crusaders have won 13 of the last 16 clashes between the archrivals, while they boast a 21-7 all-time record in Dunedin. Last season’s clash at Forstyth Barr Stadium was cancelled in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks. The Crusaders cruised to a 33-13 victory over a tackle-shy Highlanders in Christchurch earlier this year.
The Highlanders have shown enough to get behind them with a double-digit start against the $1.25 favourites.
13:35 (AEST), Sun 5th Jul @ FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
History: Played 37: Hurricanes 19 V Chiefs 15 (3 Draws)
Last meeting: March 13, 2020: Hurricanes 27 d Chiefs 24 at FMG Stadium Waikato
Final Thoughts: It’s desperation time on Sunday afternoon as winless rivals the Chiefs and Hurricanes attempt to revive their flagging campaigns.
The Chiefs – so impressive to start the normal Super Rugby season – are 0-3. They were pipped by a point as heavy favourites by the Highlanders in Round 1, lost to the Blues 24-12 at home in Round 3 and battled gamely before going down to the Crusaders on the road last Sunday. Big-name leaders Aaron Cruden, Sam Cane and Damian McKenzie must show the way this weekend.
The Hurricanes had the bye in Round 3 to mull over their losses to the Blues (30-20) and Crusaders (39-25). Jordie Barrett is a huge inclusion this week after missing their first two games.
The Chiefs have a 10-7 home record against the Hurricanes, with three games drawn. But after the teams drew 23-all in Hamilton last season, the ’Canes grabbed a 27-24 upset as $2.80 outsiders in the last round before Super Rugby 2020’s cancellation.
The Chiefs should have the edge in this one but these sides have a habit of producing very tight contests.