Super Rugby Oracle: All the picks for Round 12
Our Super Rugby stats guru offers his tips for the weekend’s games.
If you placed an accumulator on the Oracle’s picks last week, congratulations – you’re probably reading this from the front seat of your brand new Ferrari. 8 from 8, a perfect week, brings the Oracle’s season record to 67/87, up to 77%. He’s on fire!
Blues vs Cheetahs (Auckland)
The outcome of this game probably depends on which Blues team shows up. If it is the one that played the first half at Sydney, the Cheetahs will really struggle. If it’s the one that came out after the break, the visitors will be in with a shout. While it was a true game of two halves in Sydney, over in Bloemfontein the Cheetahs put together what was just about their best 70 minutes of the season, maybe 74 minutes … but in the last five or six the Highlanders scored and converted three tries to overturn a 17-point deficit. The Blues have to view at this match as a must-win five-pointer; they need it to stay on the pace in the New Zealand conference, which is just about to get a whole lot tougher in the next fortnight.
Brumbies vs Lions (Canberra)
History says the Lions don’t play well Canberra, although it’s a place they haven’t played since before they were booted out of the competition for the Kings to come in several eons ago. Since then the Lions have become the best South African team going, with a good pack, screeds of pace out wide and the ability to get the ball from one to the other and back again, before scoring a bunch of tries. The Brumbies might be the best of the Aussie teams but at 3-6 that doesn’t mean much. Neither their record, nor their style of play, will have the Lions overly worried. The visitors should take this one fairly comfortably.
Crusaders vs Hurricanes (Christchurch)
In the immortal words of Billy Birmingham, this game is harder to pick than a broken nose. Both teams are tearing it up in 2017, with one loss between them and piles of overpowering wins. They are two of the three form teams of the competition, yet one will drop off the pace on Saturday. If it’s the Crusaders, the Lions suddenly get a big boost towards overall top spot and the non-travelling playoff slot, while the Hurricanes probably lose all chance at topping the New Zealand group if they go under. I honestly have no idea how this one will play out, but I think the imagination among the Hurricanes’ backs might just tip the scales in what should be a game for the ages.
Rebels vs Reds (Melbourne)
From the best Super Rugby has to offer to the worst. Both these teams are weak in 2017 – injuries have been an issue for both, and neither has a deep enough squad to cope. The Rebels are suffering more at the moment; they have honest forwards but little punch in the backs and it’s no use having two strong wingers if the rest of the team are ordinary. Of the two sides I think the Reds have a little more get up and go, and more imagination, but I wouldn’t be prepared to back that opinion with hard cash.
Bulls vs Highlanders (Pretoria)
The Bulls got taught a fairly brutal lesson by the Crusaders last week, while the Highlanders delivered one to the Cheetahs after getting themselves into all kinds of trouble for the first 75 minutes. The confidence in both camps, therefore, will be at diametrically opposite ends of the scale and I more or less expect the teams to play like it. I’m picking the Highlanders to get a comfortable win here – more comfortable than at Bloemfontein, because I think they may have taken that one a bit lightly.
Kings vs Sharks (Port Elizabeth)
Despite the fact the Kings are playing entertaining football and moving the ball wide whenever they can, often with telling effect, I’m not sure that’s going to achieve a whole lot against the Sharks. These guys are not pretty but they are brutally efficient, and they’ll be dark about missing a bonus point last week despite winning easily. You also have to remember who the Kings have run up those scores against; they did well against the Australians, but you can’t get over-excited about that. Thus far in their Super rugby career they’re still 0-fer against fellow South African sides, and I don’t expect that to change against a Sharks side that now has a very clear look at the playoffs.
Jaguares vs Force (Buenos Aires)
The Jaguares will be getting the message loud and clear this week after an ordinary showing against the Sunwolves. The South Americans were lucky to emerge with the win – although in the end it only took them 20 minutes of concentrated rugby to get it. The Force won’t present the same challenges, as they don’t spread the ball well, and the Jaguares can play against limited opposition all day long without getting bored. The home side will win this one easily, but it might not be the prettiest watch of the weekend.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now