Pack down with tips for all seven matches of Super Rugby Round 17, including a vital derby between the Waratahs and Brumbies, and tough Kiwi assignments for the Reds and Rebels.
History: Played 21: Highlanders 14 V Bulls 6 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 11, 2018: Highlanders 29 d Bulls 28 at Loftus Versfeld
Final Thoughts: Sitting in 12th and four points outside the Top 8, the Highlanders need to win both of their remaining games – preferably with bonus points – and hope other result fall their way. A disappointing trip to South Africa, losing to the Lions and Stormers, have put them behind the eight-ball. But Liam Squire makes his first start of the season, while Jackson Hemopo and Tevita Li are back from injury.
The Bulls get skipper Handre Pollard back from a calf injury. The seventh-placed outfit have had a satisfactory tour Down Under so far, beating the Rebels and drawing with the Bulls either side of a loss to the Brumbies.
The Highlanders boast an 8-0 home record against the Bulls. They have also won five of the last six between the teams overall, including a get-out-of-jail 29-28 victory in Pretoria last season.
The hosts should get the win but they are very short here. The Bulls look decent value against a big line.
19:45 (AEST), Fri 7th Jun @ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
History: Played 23: Blues 11 V Reds 10 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 17, 2018: Blues 39 d Blues 16 at Eden Park
Final Thoughts: The second-last Reds’ finals hopes have evaporated on the back of four straight losses to the Rebels, Waratahs, Chiefs and Jaguares – all by margins of 11 or less. Brad Thorn will use the opportunity to give halfback Scott Malolua his first start, while Wallabies lock Izack Rodda returns from a week’s rest.
The Blues remain a mathematical hope of scraping into the playoffs, and they can keep the dream alive with a win here. They have won only one of their last seven and missed a big chance last week in a 22-all draw at home against the Bulls. Rieko Ioane and Patrick Tuipolotu (All Blacks rest) are big outs, but Matt Duffie and Dalton Papalii give the side plenty of experience.
The Reds have only lost three of their last eight against the Blues, but they copped a 39-16 thrashing in Auckland last season. Seven of the teams’ last 10 meetings were decided by 12 points or less – including their last clash in Brisbane, a 25-all draw in 2016.
The Blues’ absentees are a concern but expect the dominance of New Zealand teams over their Australian counterparts to pay dividends once again.
15:15 (AEST), Sat 8th Jun @ Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
History: Played 7: Crusaders 5 V Rebels 2
Last meeting: Round 12, 2018: Crusaders 55 d Rebels 10 at AAMI Park
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders, who have the final-round bye, are all but assured of finishing atop the Super Rugby standings – but a loss here would leave the door ajar for the Hurricanes. Their standards have slipped in recent weeks, drawing away to the Stormers and getting a scratchy home win over the Blues, before losing 40-27 to the Chiefs in Fiji. The latter result was only their second defeat in 29 matches.
The 7-7 Rebels are in sixth spot and are still a chance of snaffling the Australian Conference title – but they require an upset here. The Rebels’ campaign has been teetering for some time, winning just two of their last seven. Last week they went down at home to the Waratahs 20-15.
The Crusaders have scored a whopping 181 points in their last three clashes with the Rebels. The champs routed the Rebels 55-10 in Melbourne last year, while they handed out an 85-26 beatdown in Christchurch in 2016.
The Crusaders have a bit at stake here and are unlikely to have their pants pulled down by the flighty Rebels. But on current form this line looks far too big against a desperate opponent.
19:45 (AEST), Sat 8th Jun @ Bankwest Stadium, Sydney
History: Played 33: Waratahs 18 V Brumbies 15
Last meeting: Round 5, 2019: Brumbies 19 d Waratahs 13 at GIO Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Waratahs and Brumbies are gearing up for arguably the biggest Australian derby of 2019.
The 8-6 Brumbies have a handy five-point lead at the top of the Australian Conference. The 6-8 Waratahs are three points outside the Top 8 and must win their last two games.
Both sides bring decent form into this clash. The Waratahs have chalked up away wins over the Reds and Rebels either side of a narrow home loss to the Jaguares in the past three rounds. The Brumbies have won four straight, easing to a 42-19 victory over the Sunwolves last Saturday.
The Waratahs have won five of their last eight against the Brumbies. But the Brumbies have won the last two – a 40-31 final-round victory in Sydney last season and a dour 19-13 win at home in March this year.
This shapes as a cliff-hanger but the Brumbies have been a more reliable proposition of late and will be hell-bent on clinching the Australian Conference title with a week to spare.
23:05 (AEST), Sat 8th Jun @ Ellis Park, Johannesburg
History: Played 22: Hurricanes 17 V Lions 5
Last meeting: Round 12, 2018: Hurricanes 28 d Lions 19 at Westpac Stadium
Final Thoughts: A fourth straight South African Conference title now looks beyond the fifth-placed Lions. And with just five points separating themselves and the 11th-placed Stormers, the pressure is still on just to reach the finals. Three wins in their last four matches – including a 41-22 beatdown of the Stormers last week – has reignited their campaign somewhat.
The 10-1-3 Hurricanes are still a chance at grabbing top spot (dependent on the Crusaders losing to the Rebels), while they are virtually assured of finishing fourth otherwise. Despite the frequent disruption of resting All Blacks, they have lost just one of their last seven and carved out a solid 30-17 win over the Sharks in Durban last weekend.
The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 10 against the Lions, including a 28-19 victory at home last season and the 2016 Super Rugby final in Wellington. But their last visit to Johannesburg resulted in a 44-29 semi-final loss to the Lions in 2017.
It’s always a tough gig at Ellis Park, but the Hurricanes are eager to take some momentum into the finals and should be too good for a Lions side that is a shadow of their 2016-18 runner-up efforts.
01:15 (AEST), Sun 9th Jun @ Newlands, Cape Town
History: Played 5: Stormers 3 V Sunwolves 1 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 14, 2018: Sunwolves 26 d Stormers 23 at Mong Kok Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Stormers are smarting from a 41-22 loss to the Lions last week, which left them languishing in 11th and three points adrift of the Top 8. It was a disappointing result on the back of a draw with the Crusaders and a win over the Highlanders in their previous fortnight at home.
The bottom-placed Sunwolves’ resistance has evaporated in recent weeks, losing their last three by margins of 23 points or more.
The Sunwolves snared one of the best wins in their history at the Stormers’ expense last season, prevailing 26-23 in Hong Kong via Hayden Parker’s game-ending drop goal. But their last visit to Cape Town garnered a 52-15 loss.
The Japanese outfit’s record in South Africa is unflattering and a heavy loss looms against a desperate Stormers side with a 4-1-1 home record in 2019.
05:40 (AEST), Sun 9th Jun @ José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aries
History: Played 7: Sharks 5 V Jaguares 2
Last meeting: Round 9, 2019: Jaguares 51 d Sharks 17 at Kings Park
Final Thoughts: Six points clear of their rivals, the 9-5 Jaguares have one hand on the South African Conference title. The Argentine outfit have won seven of their last eight and are coming off a spectacularly successful trip Down Under. After a narrow loss to the Highlanders, they beat the Hurricanes, Waratahs and Reds by eight points or more.
The eighth-placed Sharks are fighting for survival, just two points ahead of a sizeable chasing pack. They have won only one of their last four and went down 30-17 at home to the Hurricanes last weekend.
The Jaguares have won two of the last three against the Sharks. They got off the mark in the rivalry with a 29-13 victory in Buenos Aries last season, while they powered to a remarkable 51-17 result in Durban in April.
The Sharks are a decent 3-1-2 on the road this season, but the Jaguares – who have won four of their last five in Buenos Aries – are arguably the form team in the competition at present.