The Super Rugby regular season reaches its last weekend – and there are still finals spots and conference titles up for grabs in what shapes as a frantic Round 19 schedule!
History: Played 32: Hurricanes 16 V Chiefs 14 (2 Draws).
Last meeting: April 12, 2018: Hurricanes 25 d Chiefs 13 at Westpac Stadium.
Final Thoughts: Regardless of the result on Friday, these sides will square off again in week one of the finals. But home-ground advantage is still up for grabs. The fifth-placed Chiefs would need a bonus-point win by 23-plus points to snatch fourth from the Hurricanes, however.
The ’Canes arrested a three-game slide – including a loss to the struggling Brumbies in Round 17 – by thumping the Blues 42-24 in Wellington last week. The Chiefs backed up their punishing win over the Highlanders in Fiji with a 24-19 victory over the Brumbies in Round 18.
The Chiefs have won seven of their last 11 against the Hurricanes and boast an 8-2-6 home record in the rivalry.
But the Hurricanes carved out a comfortable three-tries-to-one, 25-13 win in Round 9 in Wellington. It was the 14th 1-12 margin in the past 18 games between the franchises.
It won’t be enough to book a home final, but the Chiefs shape as a top-value underdog in this North Island derby.
History: Played 2: Reds 1 V Sunwolves 1.
Last meeting: May 19, 2018: Sunwolves 63 d Reds 28 at Mong Kok Stadium.
Final Thoughts: Revenge will be on the Reds’ minds after being humiliated 63-28 by the Sunwolves in Hong Kong in Round 13 – the Japanese minnows’ biggest win and highest score in their Super Rugby history.
Discipline was one of the Reds’ biggest problems that day, with Sunwolves sharpshooter Hayden Parker slotting seven penalty goals in the six-tries-to-four victory.
The Reds lost their next four games after that embarrassment but stunned the Rebels 37-23 last week. The Sunwolves’ watershed run of three wins in five games was soured by a 77-25 obliteration at the hands of the Waratahs in Round 18.
The Sunwolves’ only previous visit to Brisbane resulted in a plucky 35-25 loss to a patchy Reds outfit in 2016. They are yet to win a Super Rugby game away from home and the Reds should get some retribution on Friday night.
History: Played 6: Highlanders 5 V Rebels 1.
Last meeting: March 31, 2017: Highlanders 51 d Rebels 12 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Rebels are fighting for a maiden finals berth while the Highlanders are aiming to hang onto sixth and gain some momentum before the finals after a couple of heavy losses.
The Rebels inexplicably went down 37-23 to the lowly Reds, meaning they either need to beat their big-name hosts or hope the Sharks lose to the Jaguares at home to remain in eighth. The Highlanders have been swamped by the Chiefs and Crusaders by identical 45-22 scorelines in the past fortnight.
The Highlanders are 3-0 at home against the Rebels (5-1 overall) – including a 51-12 drubbing last season, the fourth match between the sides decided by a margin of 22 or more. However, the since-departed Malakai Fekitoa was the chief destroyer that day with two tries.
Despite some poor recent form, the Highlanders should have far too much class and firepower under the roof in Dunedin, where they are 6-0 this season.
History: Played 31: Crusaders 20 V Blues 11.
Last meeting: May 19, 2018: Crusaders 32 d Blues 24 at Eden Park.
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders have already wrapped up top spot on the ladder, while the 4-11 Blues are well out of contention. Tana Umaga’s side now finishes off a wretched campaign with a trip to Christchurch – their second clash with the defending champs in the space of five outings.
To their credit, the Blues had the better of the second half in that Eden Park encounter, eventually going down just 32-24. But after coming out of the international break with a 39-16 over the Reds, they crashed 42-24 to the Hurricanes last weekend.
The Crusaders are on an 11-match winning streak, blowing away the cobwebs of a five-week break with a punishing 45-22 victory over the Highlanders.
The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 12 against the Blues, including the last seven straight. The Blues are just 3-12 away to the Crusaders since 1996. The Blues have also lost a staggering 18 consecutive games against their fellow Kiwi sides.
Even if the Crusaders rest a few stars for what is effectively a dead-rubber, count on them to make it 19.
History: Played 31: Waratahs 17 V Brumbies 14.
Last meeting: March 31, 2018: Waratahs 24 d Brumbies 17 at GIO Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Waratahs have sealed the Australian Conference title while the Brumbies need a bonus-point win over their archrivals and other results to fall their way to sneak into the finals.
The ’Tahs are on a three-match winning streak, pulverising the Sunwolves 77-25 last weekend. But the Brumbies have made a late charge, chalking up their third straight victory by upsetting the Hurricanes in Round 17 before suffering a controversial 24-19 loss to the Chiefs last week.
The Waratahs have won five of their last six against the Brumbies, including a hard-fought 24-17 win in Canberra in Round 7 with a Taqele Naiyaravoro double proving crucial.
Five of the teams’ last seven encounters were decided by 15 points or more, with the Brumbies earning a 28-12 victory when they visited Allianz Stadium last season.
In all likelihood the Brumbies’ finals hopes will still be alive when they take the field on Saturday night and they look a decent bet as the underdogs.
History: Played 26: Bulls 15 V Lions 10 (1 Draw).
Last meeting: March 3, 2018: Lions 49 d Bulls 35 at Loftus Versfeld.
Final Thoughts: The Lions need a win here to guarantee a third straight South African Conference title, having put it in danger with a loss to the Sharks in Round 17 before cooling their heels with the bye last weekend.
The Bulls are out of contention but have shown their intentions of upsetting the finals picture by downing the playoffs-bound Jaguares 43-34 – which ironically was a huge favour to the Lions.
The Lions have won five of their last six against the Bulls, including a seven-tries-to-four away in Round 3 that was made to look more respectable for the hosts by two late consolation tries.
The Lions are 23-8 in Johannesburg since the start of 2015 (5-2 this year); the Bulls are an abysmal 8-22 on the road during the same period (1-6 in 2018).
The loss to the Sharks ended the Lions’ remarkable 21-game winning streak against South African opposition, but the imposing home-ground advantage they possess on the high veldt should see them through – just.
History: Played 5: Sharks 4 V Jaguares 1.
Last meeting: May 25, 2018: Jaguares 29 d Sharks 13 at Jose Amalfitani Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The seventh-placed Jaguares are assured of a maiden finals berth but they would have been in the box-seat for the conference title if not for a 43-34 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria last week, which ended their seven-game winning streak.
Similarly, the Sharks flubbed an opportunity to climb into the top eight when they went down to the Stormers in Round 18. But the Durban outfit can still snatch eighth if the Rebels go down to the Highlanders and they get a win here.
The Jaguares notched their first-ever win over the Sharks in May, powering to a 29-13 success in Buenos Aries with a late surge. It was the first match between the sides decided by more than eight points.
But the Jaguares’ disappointing loss last weekend stretched their losing streak on South African soil to seven games and the Sharks are 5-1-1 at Kings Park in 2018, including the recent scalps of the Highlanders, Chiefs and Lions.
Expect finals-level desperation in Durban for the last Super Rugby regular-season game of 2018, with the Sharks doing just enough at home.