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Paul the Super Rugby Oracle’s Round 14 Tips: Highlanders, Again

By Paul Neazor
aaron

Rugby Pass stats guru Paul Neazor weighs up this weekend’s round of Super Rugby matches and reveals his tips.

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Paul was on track for a perfect Round 13 until the last game of the weekend, where the Stormers let him and everyone else down by losing to the Bulls. 6/7 is another strong week, bringing his season tally to 76/100 – an even 76%. Here’s what the last round before the international break holds in store.

Hurricanes vs Highlanders
Once again the best game of the weekend looks likely to be the first one, a replay of the 2015 final. These two sides met back in Week 2 and the resulting game was a classic which was eventually decided by a single point. These matches are invariably close, and we can expect a quality game and lead roles to be taken by a number of strong All Black candidates. As for tipping, I’m going to take the visitors to prevail in a tight, entertaining and high-quality match.
Pick: Highlanders (12 and under)

Waratahs vs Chiefs
The Waratahs have a hold over the Chiefs at Sydney – the Chiefs have only ever won there twice – but that should change this weekend. We got a fair indication of where the teams are at last week: the Waratahs and Rebels are on about a par, and they lost by more or less equivalent margins to the Crusaders and Chiefs, who are also on par with each other. Therefore expect the Chiefs to be as superior to the Waratahs as the Crusaders were, home advantage notwithstanding. It will take a seismic form upheaval to deliver anything other than a comfortable win for the table-topping New Zealanders this week.
Pick: Chiefs (13 and over)

Kings vs Jaguares
Since somebody has to win I’m picking the Jaguares. Just please don’t make me watch it.
Pick: Jaguares (13 and over)

Blues vs Crusaders
This will be an interesting clash that should show just where both teams really stand. The Blues have completed a reasonable tour with two wins over teams they should have beaten and a big loss to one that is better than they are this season. The Crusaders have been cleaning up against South African and Australian opposition but they haven’t faced too many New Zealand sides recently. The last one they did meet was the Highlanders, and we all know what happened then. On paper one would expect the Crusaders to be comfortably better. The visitors’ pack should be the difference with its mob of All Blacks, but funny things happen occasionally (see 2013, 2014 et al). I’m going with the visitors but it might be a lot closer than most expect.
Pick: Crusaders (12 and under)

Brumbies vs Sunwolves
The Brumbies are the better side and they’ll be quite happy to maul the Sunwolves to bits. They don’t offer much on attack but they do offer a solid defence, and they have an open invitation to go back to the top of the Australian conference this weekend. Canberra can be an inhospitable place to visit, and the home side should win this one comfortably.
Pick: Brumbies (13 and over)

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Stormers vs Cheetahs
The Stormers have the wood on the Cheetahs in matches at Cape Town (the Cheetahs haven’t won there since 2006) and that’s not going to change this week. Okay, the Stormers screwed up big time at Pretoria last weekend, when they could have closed out the South Africa 1 conference, and I’m guessing they will vent their frustrations on the Cheetahs. The Stormers will win this one up front and then they’ll probably add a few tries late in the piece.
Pick: Stormers (13 and over)

Bulls vs Lions
Hands up those who thought this would be a battle of conference leaders? I expected the Lions to be on top of their group by now but not the Bulls, who I had written off as average. Their impressive forward strength is normally enough to get them home, but I doubt that will be the case this week. The Lions are innovative, quick, clever and reluctant to give the ball up; no team wins the possession stat more often, none has to make as few tackles and none wins as many games as a direct result of time with the ball in hand. The big thing in the Bulls favour is home field as they haven’t lost at Loftus this year; the big thing in the Lions favour is that they’re the best team in South Africa at the moment. I’m picking the best team in South Africa will win this game and skip well clear in the South Africa 2 race, as well as the overall South African conference.
Pick: Lions (12 and under)

Rebels vs Force
The Rebels started the season in flattering form, only to be brought back to Earth with a thump when they ran into the serious contenders. Any playoff challenge is all but dead now and they’ll finish the season about where they should be, as a lower-mid table team. The Force will also finish about where they should, down near the bottom. They might do better if they put some imagination into their attack and if Dane Haylett-Petty stops booting the ball away – he must have enough kick metres to get from Perth to Mars and back, but few of those kicks do much except give the ball back to the opposition and generally in uncontested fashion. The Rebels will do what they’ve done all season and rely on a decent loose trio to do a lot of the damage, and then the Rebels will win comfortably.
Pick: Rebels (13 and over)

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finn 10 hours ago
Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

I wonder if the problem of some teams not taking it that seriously would be helped by making performance in the champions cup count towards qualification and/or seeding in the following year’s competition. Eg. top four seeds would be winners of the URC, premiership, and top 14, plus best performing team in the previous year’s CC who have not otherwise qualified. Doing that the seedings for this years comp. would have been: Tier one: Saracens - Munster - Toulouse - la Rochelle Tier two: Sale - Stormers - Racing 92 - Leinster Tier three: Leicester - Connacht - Bordeaux - Exeter Tier four: Northampton - Ulster - Lyon - Sharks Tier five: Harlequins - Glasgow - Stade Francais - Edinburgh Tier six: Bath - Bulls - Toulon - Ospreys The competition would probably work better with fewer teams, so I’d probably favour only the first 4 tiers being invited, and then going straight to a quarter final without a round of 16. On the one hand this would possibly incentivise teams to take the champions cup seriously, and on the other it would mean that the latter stages would be more likely to involve teams that have demonstrated a willingness to take the competition seriously. The main differences between my proposed system and the actual draw is that mine would give la Rochelle a fairly easy ride to the quarters, and would either exclude the Bulls entirely or would give then an insurmountably difficult draw. As it happened Exeter got quite an easy pool draw but that was a bit of a fluke. My system would reward Exeter for being one of the teams that demonstrably devote a lot of attention to the CC by guaranteeing them a good draw.

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