Paul The Super Rugby Oracle's Semifinal Tips: Just How Important Is Home Advantage?
Rugby Pass stats guru Paul Neazor weighs up this weekend’s round of Super Rugby matches and reveals his tips.
Like the four remaining Super Rugby franchises, our tipping guru Paul is peaking at the right end of the season. He correctly predicted the four quarterfinals last weekend to nudge his season prediction record to 109/139 or 78%. Here’s what he’s tipping for this weekend’s semifinals.
Hurricanes vs Chiefs
I’m a great believer in home field advantage at this stage of the season. I’m also a believer in the team that has topped the table being better than the one that finished sixth, even if it was really closer than that this season. Neither do I like the idea of picking a side after crossing the Indian Ocean twice in a week – nobody has won the title in 20 years after having to make that trip. Then add in that no New Zealand team has yet lost a home semi, and you get the picture. I don’t fancy the Chiefs chances at all this week, despite them being a good side.
True, the Chiefs did beat the Hurricanes in Wellington back in Round 9, but my recollection is that the Hurricanes did everything possible to lose a game there for the taking – including Jason Woodward shelling Beauden Barrett’s last pass with the line open. The Hurricanes created a dozen or more chances against a team that created (and took) just four, and they dominated the Chiefs at the set-piece all night. In recent weeks the Hurricanes have been the hot team in the competition, and it’s very hard to see them going cold on it now. Even if Dane Coles is ruled out, they are in such a good head space that I can see them winning this one by a bit, and getting hosting rights for the second straight year.
Pick: Hurricanes (13 and over)
Lions vs Highlanders
This, I think, is the harder of the two games to pick. But I’ll go back to all the points made above about home field, and factor in that the Highlanders haven’t won at Johannesburg since 2005 despite putting up a good fight every time, and come to the same conclusion as before – it’s better to be playing at home at this time of year. Their Round 3 match might look lop-sided in the Highlanders favour but it wasn’t really – it was decided by a couple of moments of brilliance in a killer third quarter, and some of those tries were beyond the capacity of most teams.
The Lions have learned from that, and in recent weeks they have been, along with the Hurricanes, the most dangerous attacking force in the competition. Apart from the game at Buenos Aires which saw the main players stay home, the Lions have scored at least 37 points in their last six wins (all on the Veldt) and play the sort of game the Highlanders normally inflict on the opposition. The home side is quick, dangerous on attack and capable of suffocating defensive pressure, while being well aware of how best to play at altitude. Of all offshore teams, I think the Highlanders have the best game plan for Ellis Park but, despite my admiration for the Southern men, I can’t see past a Lions win.
Pick: Lions (12 and under)
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