Rugby Aotearoa - predictions and teams: Round Eight
UPSETTING THE APPLECART: The Chiefs and Highlanders are not just ‘making up the numbers’ at this late stage of the tournament.
While they may be out of the running – the Highlanders have a mathematical outside chance with a lot of ifs-and-buts – but both teams can still have a big say in the final destination of the title.
The Chiefs host the pace-setting Crusaders in Hamilton in Saturday and should they knock them over will open the front door for the Blues and Hurricanes to stroll in.
On Sunday the Highlanders are at home to the Blues and can do a lot of damage to the visitors’ title aspirations.
Apart from the vital competition points, there is also the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy on the line in their encounter in Dunedin. for the first time in 2020.
The Trophy is awarded in memory of Gordon Hunter who coached both the Blues and the Highlanders before dying of cancer in 2002.
Highlanders captain Ash Dixon is adamant his team is not just there to make up the numbers.
However, they are facing a dangerous team that has x-factor right across the park.
“You give them too much space like we did last time [a 24-27 loss in Auckland] and they tore us to shreds,” Dixon said in an interview on allblacks.com.
“It is about taking away their spaces as early as we can and applying pressure.
“I think teams in this competition that can apply pressure throughout the game, come out the back end of that last 20 and it shows with the guys coming off the bench, they can really get into their games. That’s what we’re going to do.”
(Continue below … )
This week’s predictions
Saturday, August 1
Chiefs v Crusaders
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.05; 07.05 GMT)
The Crusaders have won six of their last eight Super Rugby games against the Chiefs, including an 18-13 win when they met in Round Three of Super Rugby Aotearoa – their third-lowest aggregate score of all-time in Super Rugby.
The Chiefs have won seven of their last 10 Super Rugby games at home against the Crusaders, including their last two on the bounce – both in which they had trailed at half-time on the day.
The Chiefs have lost a club-record seven consecutive Super Rugby games heading into this fixture.
However, they have managed to earn a losing bonus point from six of those seven games.
The Crusaders have scored eight tries in the final 20 minutes of their games in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the most of any team in the competition and twice as many as the Chiefs (four).
Lachlan Boshier (Chiefs) has attended (174) and been effective at (142) the most rucks of any player in Super Rugby Aotearoa, as well as being the first player to hit a ruck the most times (87).
@rugby365com: Crusaders by 12 points
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Reuben O’Neill.
Replacements: 16 Samison Taukei’aho, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Quinn Tupaea.
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Sione Havili, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor (captain), 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Billy Harmon, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Fainga’anuku.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Richard Kelly
TMO: Glenn Newman
Sunday, August 2
Highlanders v Blues
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 15.35; 03.35 GMT)
The Blues have won two of their last three Super Rugby games against the Highlanders, including a 27-24 win when they last met in Round Three of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
They will be hunting for back-to-back wins against them for the first time since 2011.
The Highlanders have won their last seven home games on the bounce against the Blues in Super Rugby; although, those victories have come by an average margin of just seven points per game.
The Blues have won only three of their last 35 away games against fellow New Zealand opponents in Super Rugby, losing their last two on the bounce.
The Highlanders have combined for 20+ defenders beaten in each of their last three Super Rugby games, after having done so only once in their eight games prior.
However, they’ve managed to reach 20+ defenders beaten in only one of their last 12 games against the Blues.
Blues’ duo Akira Ioane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi have each made 56 tackles from 58 attempts in Super Rugby Aotearoa for a success rate of 97 percent -higher than any other player to have attempted at least 40 tackles.
@rugby365com: Blues by eight points
Highlanders: 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jeff Thwaites, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Jona Nareki.
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Luteru Tolai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Otere Black, 23 Harry Plummer.
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: James Doleman, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Chris Hart
* Stats provided by Opta Sports