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Paul The Super Rugby Oracle's Round 17 Tips: How The Highlanders Will Top The NZ Conference

By Paul Neazor

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

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9/9. After 15 weeks of near misses Paul finally produced a perfect set of predictions in Round 16 for what is known as an Oracular Spectacular. With just one round remaining his record now stands at 97/126 – rocketing his success percentage up two points to to 77%. Not bad, but this week’s host of tough picking match ups still has the potential to make or break Paul’s season.

Blues vs Waratahs
The first of three matches in New Zealand this weekend is likely to be the least intense, and yet it should still be a ripper of a game. The Waratahs must have watched what happened to the Brumbies last Friday when they wheeled out a boring attacking plan and were unable to change it. The Waratahs attack isn’t much better, although Michael Hooper often gets things going in the right direction. Trouble is, he’s one man and the Blues have a number playing in that sort of form at the moment. I reckon the Blues are going to give the Waratahs the same as they gave the Brumbies, and that means the Brumbies will get a free pass to the playoffs.
Pick: Blues (13 and over)

Reds vs Rebels
Both teams were horrible last week, and both are counting down the hours until the end of the season – a Friday game is a win for both of them. Since I have to make a pick, I’m going to take the Rebels because they at least have some idea of what to do with the football.
Pick: Rebels (12 and under)

Sharks vs Sunwolves
This is an important game for the Sharks, and they couldn’t have asked for a softer opponent. The Sunwolves won’t be able to compete with the Sharks punishing defence, and they’ll leave gaps for the big Sharks midfielders to run through. The Durban crowd should be able to relax and enjoy the win – and book tickets for Johannesburg if they want to follow their favourites in the playoffs.
Pick: Sharks (13 and over)

 
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Crusaders vs Hurricanes
Whoever planned this schedule has, either by good luck or good management, got the last weekend bang on in New Zealand. With nobody sure yet of their final placing, the Crusaders have first chance to stake a claim for top spot. They’ll need to win this one and, possibly, win it well to put pressure on the Chiefs. But despite the colossal win over the Rebels, I’m not convinced they can. The Crusaders have been flawless in dealing to overseas teams this year (4-0 against South African conference teams, 5-0 against Australian sides) but they’ve had real trouble with the New Zealand teams and have only two hard-fought wins over the Blues to show from five games. Therefore, I have to rate them fourth of the New Zealand sides with the Hurricanes above them; they tend to get pushed into an east-west game by local teams despite the large number of big names and it happens every time. The Hurricanes can defend against what they’ll get on Saturday easily enough; they got much the same from the Waratahs last week, and they have game-breakers who will do more damage than their opposites. I’m picking the Hurricanes in this one – it will be close of course – but that doesn’t mean the Chiefs will be handed the conference title on a plate.
Pick: Hurricanes (12 and under)

Highlanders vs Chiefs
Almost immediately after the dust settles in Christchurch we go south for one of the best match-ups of recent times. The last half-dozen or so of these matches have been outstanding quality, and under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium I have no reason to doubt we’ll get another. Given the way both sides have played in recent weeks – taking chances, pushing passes, trying it on – it’s quite likely that the ball will zing up and down the pitch at breakneck speed and chances will come reasonably frequently. Both sides have been a bit careless with their handling recently (the Highlanders are the worse offenders) but both can open defences seemingly at will when they get it together. The atmosphere will be electric, of course, and I image the ‘House Full’ signs will be out long before kickoff. As for a winner … I’m going Highlanders here, simple because they seem to know how to play against the Chiefs. I’m not quite sure what it is, but they tend to save their best games of the season for the Hamilton mob. And that may mean that, against all odds, the Highlanders top the New Zealand conference.
Pick: Highlanders (12 and under)

Brumbies vs Force
The Brumbies will already know what they have to do in this game – match whatever the Waratahs took out of the Eden Park game on Friday. If the Waratahs have lost, the Brumbies will have virtually been handed the conference title as they hold the tie-break (most wins). They will win this one, though, and no matter what happens on Friday the Brumbies, limited though they may be, will win the Australian conference.
Pick: Brumbies (13 and over)

Stormers vs Kings
The Stormers will win by as much as they want to. The Kings can’t wait for Sunday morning.
Pick: Stormers (13 and over)

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Cheetahs vs Bulls
By the time this game kicks off the result will be academic, as the Sharks will have battered the Sunwolves and taken the last playoff spot. So it will be up to individual pride as to how much effort the teams put in; I’d imagine there will be plenty of huff and puff but not a lot of actual scoring because error counts will cripple both teams. The Cheetahs make more as a rule of thumb, so the Bulls should win an irrelevant game.
Pick: Bulls (12 and under)

Jaguares vs Lions
The Lions have to win this match to top the standings and ensure home field through the playoffs. They should do that without any trouble – even if it rains we’re not talking about conditions the Lions haven’t mastered this year and they are the superior team in any phase of the game you care to examine. If you hadn’t realised already, the road to the title will run through Ellis Park this year.
Pick: Lions (13 and over)

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Paul The Super Rugby Oracle's Round 17 Tips: How The Highlanders Will Top The NZ Conference

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