Brumbies v Highlanders
As you can see from my Twitter poll it’s clear how people are expecting this game to go. The Highlanders are coming into this game full of confidence with 3 wins since the international break. It couldn’t be more different to the Brumbies who fell to a heavy defeat in Auckland 2 weekends ago and whilst they got the win over the Force it wasn’t a great performance. The Brumbies haven’t beaten a playoff team since the first round against the Canes. That big win and a general feeling that this was a year where they were peaking before losing several senior players had a lot of us thinking they could go far. Since then it hasn’t been great with boardroom battles also not helping. When I saw them against the Blues they really didn’t offer much away from the set piece and that won’t be enough to beat the Landers.
Highlanders by 12
Hurricanes v Sharks
The Canes topped the ladder for the second year running after timing their run to perfection. They only topped the table for 1 round but that was the last one. They did lose to the Sharks earlier this year over in South Africa and the Sharks showed that they can win in New Zealand with a win over the Landers. They are also a team that has timed their run well. After a horrible April/March that saw them win only 1 out of 6 games they have gone on to win 5 of the last 6. No having Lambie will hurt them for all their good results there have also been poor ones so I’m backing the home side who have been more consistent.
Hurricanes by 10
Lions v Crusaders
I think that this is the hardest of all the games to call. The Lions have surprised many and impress all this season, I have to brag and say I did pick them to win their conference. Their lack of finals rugby experience and also the extra fatigue that International rugby will have brought to the players is a concern. Ackerman did rest his starting lineup last weekend much to the derision of many but we don’t get to see the players and know how tired they are. For me the Saders have been equally surprising and impressive this season but have stumbled into the playoffs with 2 losses in their last 3 games. The flip side to that is that they haven’t lost to a non-New Zealand side all season. However I think the late travel across to South Africa as they couldn’t get flights and that drop in form, mean I have to back the home team to make the semifinals.
Lions by 2
Stormers v Chiefs
Robbie Fleck has been moaning that the Stormers haven’t had the opportunity to play the Kiwi sides. Well he’s going to get his opportunity here. I think that the Stormers have been flattered by the schedule with their only win over a playoff team coming against the Brumbies at home. With that in mind and how well the Chiefs have been going I can’t see that they will have too much difficulty as they managed to get flights earlier in the week than the Saders.
Chiefs by 12