Pack down with tips for all seven matches of the Super Rugby regular season closing Round 18, with the Waratahs and Rebels striving to sneak into the playoffs.
History: Played 24: Waratahs 15 V Highlanders 9
Last meeting: Quarter-final, 2018: Waratahs 30 d Highlanders 23 at Allianz Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Highlanders are 11th heading into the final round, while the Waratahs are one point and one place further back. But both can still scraped into the playoffs with a bonus point win in the deep south – provided another result or two falls their way.
The Highlanders followed up their two-loss trip to South Africa with a disappointing 24-all result agains the Bulls – their second home draw in five games. The enigmatic Waratahs went down 35-24 to the Brumbies at home last Saturday, the biggest margin in any game they’ve played in 2019.
The Waratahs will also be without Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Sekope Kepu, Bernard Foley and Rob Simmons due to injury and rest requirements.
The Waratahs boast a 6-5 away record against the Highlanders. But the Highlanders have won six of the last 10 clashes overall and prevailed 44-28 when the Waratahs last visited in 2017. The ’Tahs snared a 30-23 finals victory last year after trailing by 17 midway through the second half.
The Highlanders have won seven of their last eight in Invercargill. The Waratahs have won their last two on the road but look little chance with a star-studded batch of absentees. However, the line is a massive one for a match on a cold and wet Invercargill night not conducive to high-scoring.
19:45 (AEST), Fri 14th Jun @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
History: Played 6: Chiefs 5 V Rebels 1
Last meeting: Round 4, 2017: Chiefs 27 d Rebels 14 at AAMI Park
Final Thoughts: Another monster match-up in the context of the finals picture. A win or a draw will be enough for the Rebels to qualify for a maiden playoffs appearance. But the Chiefs will bounce the Rebels out of eighth spot with a victory.
The Rebels have lost three of their last four and were hammered 66-0 away to the Crusaders last week – hardly an ideal lead-in for a do-or-die showdown. The Chiefs have lost just one of their last five and have had a week off since their 40-27 win over the Crusaders in Fiji in Round 16.
The Chiefs will also be boosted by the return of Brodie Retallick. Will Genia and Quade Cooper will start in the halves for the Rebels, but Test duo Adam Coleman and Jack Maddocks are both out.
The Chiefs boast a 5-1 record against the Rebels and have won two of their three matches in Melbourne. They have not met since 2017, when the Chiefs ran out 27-14 winners at AAMI Park. The Rebels have won just two of 17 clashes with New Zealand opposition since the start of 2016.
The Chiefs are extraordinarily good value as only the narrowest of favourites in Melbourne.
08:10 (AEST), Sat 15th Jun @ José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aries
History: Played 2: Jaguares 1 V Sunwolves 1
Last meeting: Round 11, 2017: Jaguares 46 d Sunwolves 39 at Jose Amalfitani Stadium
Final Thoughts: The contrast between the two 2016 Super Rugby entrants is stark. The Jaguares have already clinched the South African Conference title with a game to spare. A clash with the last-placed Sunwolves shapes as a mere training run/victory lap in front of their home fans.
The Argentine outfit have won eight of their last nine, including an authoritative 34-7 home win over the Sharks in Round 17. The Sunwolves are on an eight-match losing streak but overachieved in a 31-18 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town last week.
Both clashes between the expansion franchises have been won by the home team. The Sunwolves snared a 36-28 upset in Tokyo in 2016, while the Jaguares prevailed 46-39 in Buenos Aries the following season.
The Jaguares are always a tough proposition at home and should make short work of a Sunwolves side looking forward to the end of another arduous campaign.
17:35 (AEST), Sat 15th Jun @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
History: Played 31: Hurricanes 16 V Blues 13 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 13, 2019: Hurricanes 22 d Blues 12 at Eden Park
Final Thoughts: Beauden Barrett’s reported 2020 switch to the Blues adds an edge to what is effectively a dead-rubber. The Hurricanes are assured of finishing fourth; the Blues are out of contention in 13th.
The Hurricanes were outstanding during the traditionally tough fortnight in South Africa, beating the Sharks (30-17) and Lions (37-17). The Blues are on a three-match winless streak, losing away to the Crusaders and Reds either side of a home draw against the Bulls.
The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 10 against the Blues, including a hard-fought 22-12 away win last month. Last year’s clash in Wellington finished 42-24 in the Hurricanes’ favour. The Blues boast a 7-1-6 away record against the ’Canes, but they have not won in Wellington since 2013.
But the Hurricanes will be travel-weary and are likely to rest some troops with nothing riding on the result. The Blues look a sound option with the start and good value head-to-head as a big underdog.
19:45 (AEST), Sat 15th Jun @ GIO Stadium, Canberra
History: Played 32: Brumbies 23 V Reds 8 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 6, 2019: Reds 36 d Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Reds claimed a resounding 36-14 win over the Brumbies in Brisbane in March. But the teams’ fortunes have both turned since then.
The 9-6 Brumbies have sewn up the Australian Conference title with five straight wins, including a 35-24 derby triumph over the Waratahs last weekend. The Reds are languishing in second-last, despite edging the Blues 29-28 in Brisbane in Round 17. The result snapped a four-matching losing run.
The Brumbies are 13-3 at home against the Reds since 1996. They powered to a seven-tries-to-two, 45-21 win at GIO Stadium last season.
While there’s not a great deal riding on this for the Brumbies, they will be keen to tune up for the finals by keeping their current momentum going.
23:05 (AEST), Sat 15th Jun @ Newlands, Cape Town
History: Played 30: Sharks 16 V Stormers 14
Last meeting: Round 3, 2019: Stormers 16 d Sharks 11 at Kings Park
Final Thoughts: Another high-stakes encounter with the seventh-placed Stormers hosting the ninth-placed Sharks, who are only one point adrift.
The Stormers need to lift their form a notch or two. After building with a draw against the Crusaders and a win over the Highlanders, they were hammered by the Lions and scored a scratchy 31-18 home win over the lowly Sunwolves.
The Shark have been even more enigmatic, winning only one of their last five. They followed up a statement 27-17 home win over the Lions up with a 30-17 loss to the Hurricanes and a 34-7 belting at the hands of the Jaguares.
The Sharks have won five of the last eight between the sides, but the Stormers pulled off a 16-11 away win in March. The Stormers also prevailed in Cape Town last season, 27-16.
The Sharks are 3-1-3 on the road this season, but the Stormers shapes as the best bet with a handy 5-1-1 home record.
01:15 (AEST), Sun 16th Jun @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
History: Played 28: Bulls 16 V Lions 11 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 3, 2019: Bulls 30 d Lions 12 at Ellis Park
Final Thoughts: Only a string of draws and freakish bonus point outcomes can deny the fifth-placed Bulls a place in the 2019 finals. But despite being only one point and one place back, the Lions are still vulnerable if they lose in Pretoria.
The Bulls are back from a fruitful month Down Under. They beat the Rebels, lost to the Brumbies, and drew with the Blues and Highlanders. The up-and-down Lions followed up an important win over the Stormers (41-22) with an equally emphatic loss to the Hurricanes (37-17).
The Lions have won six of their last eight against the Bulls. But the Bulls powered to a stunning 30-12 upset in Johannesburg in March. The Lions prevailed 49-35 in their visit to Pretoria last season.
The Bulls are a modest 4-3 at Loftus Versfeld in 2019; the Lions are 3-4 on the road. This clash has a down-to-the-wire feel about it, with the Lions – well-versed in the art of sudden-death rugby in recent seasons – looking good value with a generous start against a travel-weary Bulls outfit.