So, Flake has had a few issues, so you are stuck with me for the final Super Rugby Aotearoa preview of the season! With a lot of uncertainty surrounding the games, there is a lot of doubt of whether they will go ahead, but alas. On Saturday, the Highlanders will look to end their season on a high as they host the Hurricanes, while the champions-elect in the Crusaders, travel to Eden Park to clash with the Blues.
HIGHLANDERS vs HURRICANES- Forsyth Barr Stadium
Of the two games, this is more likely to go ahead. With the Dunedin and Wellington region sitting in ‘Level 2,’ this game is set to go ahead- without fans. 15,000 tickets have been sold for the clash, so the Southerners will be keen for a move back to ‘Level 1’ today.
These two sides have met just the once this year, five weeks ago in Wellington. That game was won 17-11 by the Hurricanes, although the Hurricanes were a lot more dominant then the scoreline suggested. The game was marred by something questionable reffing decisions, but ultimately the Canes were too good on that occasion.
Under the roof, the weather is not an issue, so this should be a really exciting affair, as both sides look to throw it around- I think there could be quite a few points in this one.
The Highlanders sit 2-5 but will feel that they could have won at least one more game in Super Rugby Aotearoa, but ultimately a 4th place finish is better than most expected. Since being 31-7 down against the Chiefs, the side has really turned a corner, through a switch of game plan that has seen them hold a lot more of the ball, as they throw the ball around the backline.
On a five-game winning streak, the Hurricanes will undoubtedly fancy themselves to pick up another win, to end a very strong season. Can they do it? TJ Perenara will miss this clash, which will hurt the Hurricanes, while due to a variety of reasons their bench does not look as strong this week. They will need their big players to stand-up
Something a bit different, I am going to give a player to watch for each team and an in-depth prediction.
After coming against the Chiefs, Josh McKay has been superb for the Highlanders. On attack, he was one who sparked it against the Chiefs, while he was very solid on defence against the Blues and the Crusaders. I think he might fancy himself a try or two this week.
With Perenara out, I feel Jamie Booth is poised for a big game. He actually made his Super Rugby bow for the Southerners, as a sprightly 20-year-old, so he has history. Someone who never stops running, with the heart of a lion, I don’t think the Hurricanes will miss Perenara as much as some think they will.
In terms of the game, I think there will be lots of tries and lots of points. It would not be at all a surprise to me if both sides crack 30 points. I think both sides will look to throw it around and we will be treated to some great tries. With Ash Dixon bringing up the ton and Aaron Smith the 150, I see the home side getting it done 36-33.
RESULT- Highlanders by 3
BLUES vs CRUSADERS- Eden Park
With Auckland sitting at ‘Level 3,’ currently, this game will not go ahead. In all likelihood, with the increasing number of COVID cases, this will not change and this game likely won’t proceed. So is there any point of doing a preview? Of course there is!
If the game goes ahead, then we will be robbed of seeing a full Eden Park, as the doors will almost definitely be shut. A sunny afternoon is forecast, so there will no issues with rain. The Blues may well have more hunger for this one, so expect them to turn up and be counted.
When these two sides last met, both were unbeaten, and many fancied the Blues to cause an upset in Christchurch- they did not. They put everything out there, but the Crusaders got it done 26-15. That hurt the Blues dearly, as they then slumped to a loss to the Hurricanes, which means this game is a dead rubber affair.
The Blues bounced back from those two defeats, with wins over the Chiefs and then arguably their performance of the season in Dunedin, with a bonus-point win over the Highlanders. They go into this one, hungry to end their season on a high after a superb showing.
Already crowned champions, the Crusaders might lack some motivation for this weekend, but after the drama with the trophy and a Scott Robertson speech, you would expect their motivation will be as strong as ever. They will want to silence anyone going on about a final, with an assured win in New Zealand’s biggest city.
Who are we looking out for in this game? This is quite tough as neither side has been named for the clash, but I will give it my best shot.
Slightly boring, but Hoskins Sotutu may well return from injury this week. Once the form player in the competition, he has ended up missing nearly half of the Aotearoa season with an injury. He will have a huge point to prove, to show that his form was not just a flash in the pan. Many will also hope for a debut from one Daniel Carter.
Having already won the title, then you could not blame Scott Robertson if he shuffles the pack. With that in mind, then I believe 20-year-old Leicester Fainga’anuku could well take many by storm this weekend. With buckets of potential, an injury to one of the Crusaders wingers next season could see him explode. I expect him to start and score a try this weekend.
This game is unlikely to go ahead, but if it does I think the game could be intriguing. With many of the players not used to playing in front of a decent-sized crowd, then I feel some might take a while to get going in the match. The Crusaders are known for slow starts, and in an empty stadium, away from home, with nothing to play for, I think it could well cost them, as they fall 26-22.
RESULT- Blues by 4
Hopefully, this was informative enough for you! As we head back into the unknown in New Zealand, stay safe, while the same goes for everyone worldwide.
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