Pack down with tips for all six matches of the 2020 Super Rugby season’s fourth round, including a monster Kiwi derby and a tough NZ assignment for the Brumbies.
History: Played 47: Crusaders 36 V Highlanders 11
Last meeting: Quarter-final, 2019: Crusaders 38 d Highlanders 14 at AMI Stadium
Final Thoughts: The first southern derby of 2020 sees the Crusaders and Highlanders rated further apart on the Super Rugby spectrum than they have been for many years.
But the Highlanders emerged from the misfortune of the Round 1 bye and a woeful 42-20 home loss to the Sharks to bank a character-laden 23-22 win over the Brumbies in Canberra. Teariki Ben-Nicholas’ stoppage-time try snatched an unlikely win for a Highlanders outfit still coming to terms with a host of high-profile departures.
The 2-1 Crusaders responded to their 25-15 loss the Chiefs in Round 2 with a gritty 25-8 road win over the Blues last Friday night. The class of young All Blacks Richie Mo’unga and Jack Goodhue shone through.
Crusaders captain Scott Barrett has been ruled out, with fullback David Havili to lead the side. Mitch Hunt has retained the No.10 jersey with Josh Ioane at 12, while Kirisi Kuridrani will make his Highlanders debut on the wing.
The Crusaders have won 12 of the last 15 clashes between the archrivals – including the last six straight in Christchurch. The Highlanders are just 4-16 against the Crusaders away, and were swamped 43-17 on their away trip to Canterbury in Round 9 last year and 38-14 in the quarters.
The Highlanders traditionally lift for these occasions, but in 2020 they don’t appear to have the cattle to contain the Crusaders – or cover a line of only 16.5 points in Christchurch.
14:45 (AEDT), Sat 22nd Feb @ Mars Stadium, Ballarat
History: Played 7: Sharks 5 V Rebels 1 (1 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 6, 2019: Sharks 28 d Rebels 14 at Kings Park
Final Thoughts: Contrasting fortunes for these two teams in Round 3.
The Rebels were under the pump after losses to the lowly Sunwolves (36-27) and the Brumbies (39-26). But their first home match of the season garnered a solid, hoodoo-busting 24-10 win over the Waratahs in the wet.
The Sharks raced out of the blocks with wins over of the Bulls (23-15) and Highlanders (42-20) in the opening fortnight. But they couldn’t handle the step up in class when they faced the Hurricanes last weekend, overrun 38-22 after the scores were locked at halftime.
The Rebels have won just one of their seven clashes with the Sharks, but they romped to a 46-14 victory when the Durban outfit last visited Victoria in 2018.
It’s too early to say Melbourne side have turned the corner, but last week’s performance suggests there’s plenty of value in taking them as distinct underdogs at home against South African opposition.
17:05 (AEDT), Sat 22nd Feb @ FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
History: Played 26: Brumbies 14 V Chiefs 11 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 2, 2019: Brumbies 54 d Chiefs 17 at GIO Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Brumbies came back to earth in Round 3 – and their hopes of bouncing back have taken a major hit on top of a daunting road trip to Hamilton.
The Brumbies stumbled at their first non-Australian hurdle last weekend. After derby wins over the Reds (27-24) and Rebels (39-26), their third straight home game resulted in a last-gasp 23-22 loss to the unfancied Highlanders.
To compound matters, the squad has been hit by a mumps outbreak that has thrown the make-up of their side into chaos.
The Chiefs followed up come-from-behind derby wins over the Blues (37-29) and Crusaders (25-15) with a resounding 43-17 away victory over the Sunwolves. Aaron Cruden missed the match but it mattered little as the Chiefs ran in seven tries.
The Brumbies thrashed the Chiefs by 37 points in Canberra early last season. But the Chiefs boast a 7-4 home record against the Brumbies, who haven’t won in Hamilton since 2007 – or anywhere in NZ since 2014.
The Brumbies’ health scare makes taking the Chiefs – 3-0 ATS this season – against a hefty line as the only viable option.
19:15 (AEDT), Sat 22nd Feb @ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
History: Played 5: Reds 4 V Sunwolves 1
Last meeting: Round 12, 2019: Reds 32 d Sunwovles 26 at Suncorp Stadium
Final Thoughts: The 0-3 Reds will regard their home clash with the unpredictable Sunwolves as an absolute must-win.
The Reds have shown some promise in losing their opening three games to the Brumbies (27-24), Lions (27-20) and Jaguares (43-27) – all on the road. Their defence clearly needs some work – conceding 14 tries already – but a tally of nine tries in three losing efforts suggests the youthful Reds’ attack is on the improve.
The Sunwolves stunned the Rebels 36-27 in Fukuoka in Round 1. After cooling their heels with the bye in Round 2, they went down to the in-form Chiefs in Tokyo 43-17 last Saturday.
The Reds are 4-1 against the Sunwolves overall and 3-0 at home. But last season’s two encounters were close-run affairs – the Reds won 34-31 in Tokyo and 32-26 in Brisbane.
The Reds need to get over the top of the Sunwolves at the set-piece. Many teams have been burned in the past by getting into a helter-skelter attacking shootout with the Japanese minnows. The Sunwolves shape as decidedly better value against a big line.
00:05 (AEDT), Sun 23rd Feb @ Newlands, Cape Town
History: Played 5: Stormers 4 V Jaguares 1
Last meeting: Round 12, 2019: Jaguares 30 d Stormers 25 at Estadio Jose Amalfitani
Final Thoughts: The 3-0 Stormers have established themselves as the Jaguares’ biggest threat in the South African Conference.
But after shutouts of the Hurricanes (27-0) and Bulls (13-0), their defensive steel went out the window as they squeaked past the winless Lions 33-30 in Johannesburg last weekend. The Jaguares have bookended a heart-breaking Round 2 loss to the Hurricanes (26-23) with strong wins over the Lions (38-8) and Reds (43-27).
The Jaguares broke their duck against the Stormers with a 25-14 home win in late-2018, but the Stormers prevailed 30-25 in Cape Town last year. All five matches between the sides have been decided by 1-12 margins.
This is the Jaguares’ first road trip of 2020, but after winning five of their last six away in the 2019 regular season they are worth getting behind as outsiders in this one.
02:15 (AEDT), Sun 23rd Feb @ Loftus Versfeld
History: Played 22: Blues 13 V Bulls 7 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 16, 2019: 22-all draw at Eden Park
Final Thoughts: The Bulls had a Round 3 bye to mull over a pair of South African derby losses – 23-15 to the Sharks and 13-0 to the Stormers. Disturbingly, they are yet to score a try in 2020.
The Blues whipped the Waratahs 32-12 in Round 2, while they were far from disgraced in derby losses at home to the Chiefs (39-27) and Crusaders (25-8) either side of that away upset. An inability to beat fellow Kiwi teams is likely to spoil their playoffs chances yet again, but the Blues are better than the vast majority of non-NZ teams.
The Blues are just 2-6-1 against the Bulls in Pretoria. The Bulls managed a 22-all draw in Auckland last season as 9.5-point underdogs.
Getting back to the high veldt for the first time this season against an overseas opponent holds the Bulls in good stead to open their account. But in an extremely tough game to get a decent read on, the Blues have shown enough to deserve their narrow favouritism.