Pack down with tips for all four Super Rugby quarter-finals, including Australian flagbearers the Brumbies’ showdown with the Sharks in Canberra.
History: Played 46: Crusaders 35 V Highlanders 11
Last meeting: Round 9, 2019: Crusaders 43 d Highlanders 17 at Christchurch Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Highlanders scraped into the last finals spot after a rollicking 49-12 win over the Waratahs and other results falling their way in the final round. Their Invercargill victory was their first since Round 14 (and only their sixth of the season) – and now they confront Super Rugby’s biggest challenge.
The Crusaders finished five points clear of the field with only two losses and a plus-240 points differential. They shook off three subpar weeks – including a loss to the Chiefs in Fiji – with a 66-0 rout of the Rebels, before enjoying the Round 18 bye.
The Crusaders have won 11 of the last 14 clashes between the archrivals – including the last five straight in Christchurch. The Highlanders are just 4-15 against the Crusaders away and were swamped 43-17 on their away trip to Canterbury in Round 9. The teams have played in four finals matches, with the Crusaders winning all four – most recently in the 2017 quarter-finals.
Highlanders legend Ben Smith is set to make a stunning return from injury in a huge boost. There’s no doubt the Crusaders’ momentum is not what it was mid-season. But the quality and depth at their disposal is light years ahead of the rest – not to mention their 28-match unbeaten streak in Christchurch.
08:05 (AEST), Sat 22nd Jun @ José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aries
History: Played 3: Chiefs 2 V Jaguares 1
Last meeting: Round 7, 2019: Chiefs 30 d Jaguares 27 at José Amalfitani Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Jaguares qualified for a historic Super Rugby finals berth last season, making a quick quarter-final exit in Johannesburg. But they enter the 2019 playoffs in a much stronger position. The Argentine outfit topped the South African Confrence by 10 points with an 11-5 record, will have home-ground advantage for the quarters (and semis if they qualify) and hit the finals on a five-match winning streak.
The 7-2-7 Chiefs snuck into seventh via a remarkable late rally, winning their last three games – including a Fiji upset of the Crusaders and a final-round pummelling of the Rebels. Given their ultra-slow start and horrendous injury toll, it’s a major achievement for the team.
All three previous clashes have been won by the away team and decided by four points or less. The Chiefs will be aiming to draw upon their 30-27 upset in Buenos Aries in late-March.
The Jaguares are always tough to beat at home. But the Chiefs’ big-match experience – headlined by All Blacks stars Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Anton Leinert-Brown, Nathan Harris and Brad Weber – put them in an excellent position to roll the relative finals novices.
17:35 (AEST), Sat 22nd Jun @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
History: Played 20: Hurricanes 11 V Bulls 9
Last meeting: Round 2, 2018: Bulls 21 d Hurricanes 19 at Loftus Versfeld
Final Thoughts: The Hurricanes cruised into fourth spot with a 12-1-3 record, winning their last three games against the Sharks, Lions and Blues. The latter was after trailing by 19 at halftime with a depleted line-up. Beauden and Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape and TJ Perenara will be back on deck for the finals.
The Bulls landed fifth with an 8-2-6 record. They backed up a highly successful Down Under tour (a win over the Rebels and draws with the Blues and Highlanders) with a 48-27 smashing of the desperate Lions at home.
The Hurricanes have a modest 5-4 home record against the Bulls, who have won two of their last three in Wellington. But the last encounter in the New Zealand capital was in 2014, when the ’Canes prevailed 25-20. The Bulls shaded the Kiwi heavyweights in Pretoria early last season.
But the Bulls’ heavy travel load – returning to NZ a fortnight after they left – is set to catch up with them. The Hurricanes have far too much world-class, game-breaking talent to be troubled at home.
20:05 (AEST), Sat 22nd Jun @ GIO Stadium, Canberra
History: Played 22: Brumbies 12 V Sharks 10
Last meeting: Round 5, 2019: Brumbies 24 d Sharks 17 at GIO Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Brumbies’ revival is one of the most remarkable, under-the-radar stories of the 2019 Super Rugby season. After winning just four of their first 10 games, they pieced together a six-match winning streak to ultimately top the Australian Conference in a canter. And they’ve done it all without spiritual leader David Pocock.
The Sharks finished sixth despite losing more games than they won, producing a dramatic 12-9 win over the Stormers in Cape Town last week to sneak in. They had won only one of their previous five games.
The Brumbies boast an imposing 10-3 home record against the Sharks. But the last seven clashes between the sides at GIO Stadium were decided by seven points or less. The Sharks won 27-22 in Canberra in 2017, before the Brumbies turned the tables with a 24-17 victory last year.
The Brumbies aren’t the flashiest team in the competition, but the Sharks really struggle to cross the stripe. The Durban outfit are ranked 13th for tries scored with 40; the Brumbies surprisingly managed the second-most with 65. Only a significant form reversal from both sides will prevent Australia being represented in the semis – a stage the Brumbies are vying to reach for the first time since 2015.