Super Rugby Oracle: All the picks for Round 14
Our Super Rugby stats guru offers his tips for the weekend’s games.
The Oracle went 6/8 last week as some dodgy reffing scuppered the Blues slim hopes in Cape Town and the wheels fell off the Kings bandwagon. The season record now reads 77/103 for a 75% success rate. Here’s what’s in the crystal ball for Round 14.
Blues vs Chiefs (Auckland)
The Chiefs have had the wood over the Blues for some time now. In fact they have won the last 11 straight, including a comprehensive win at Hamilton earlier in the season. The Chiefs have had their moments, but they’re not quite the same attacking force as the Crusaders or Hurricanes, and they are prone to giving away a few penalties for silly stuff at the breakdown. The Blues will have to combat fatigue after making the long return trip to South Africa in a week, and they are sweating on which of their first-fives will be available. I favour the Chiefs by five to ten points, but one of these days the Blues are going to stop being the snake-bit team of the competition and someone is going to really cop it. The Chiefs, I’m sure, are taking anti-venom right now.
Reds vs Force (Brisbane)
You’ll need a high pain threshold to enjoy this match – neither team has played well for about three years and both are now treading water until the end of the season. The Force have no attacking punch, and the Reds have little respect for the football, so games played by each team stagger and lurch their way along for the 80 minutes unless their opponent can do something constructive. It’s not unknown for an opponent to play down to their level however, and that can get really ugly. I’m picking the Reds here – they do have backs who can make something happen, they just need to concentrate a bit on the basics and forget the showboat stuff. If they do that they should be good enough to win this match by 20 points.
Sunwolves vs Cheetahs (Tokyo)
This is another game featuring two sides all but eliminated from any chance of making the playoffs. The Sunwolves seem to be ringing round players who are on leave from the local club competition and asking who wants a game these days; they have already used 48 players and only two have played as many as ten games, while the Cheetahs will be glad to get away from New Zealand teams for a while. Neither side is a good team but both try to play, so the game could be open if unstructured. I think the Sunwolves may win but put money on that at your own risk.
Highlanders vs Waratahs (Dunedin)
Normally this would be a game to give the Highlanders a week of sleepless nights, because for some reason the Waratahs have always had their number in Dunedin. That particular away-field advantage played out for 100 years or so, but recently the Highlanders have been going about squaring the ledger. It hasn’t always been pretty and most of the games have been close, but they’re getting it done at Sydney as well as Dunedin these days. The home side is in rare form and playing some outstanding footy, while the Waratahs are fumbling and bumbling their way through a season that will probably see a whole bunch of players and staff fired at the end of it. The Highlanders should be way too good in this one. If the Waratahs leave as much ball lying around as they have been, it could get ugly long before the end.
Rebels vs Crusaders (Melbourne)
Too easy – the Crusaders will win by as many as they want to. It’s not implausible that some competition records could be under threat, especially if the weather is fine and the crumbling pitch holds up. There’s no way the Rebels can stand up to the Crusaders, so there’s no point trying to pretend we can find a straw for them to cling onto.
Bulls vs Hurricanes (Pretoria)
While not quite as easy as the Melbourne game that precedes it, the Hurricanes should have no problems despatching the Bulls and running up a score. Probably only unseasonal weather in Pretoria could have any chance of preventing it. The Hurricanes have been devastating, the Bulls were devastated last week and those things on a collision course generally tend to get quite messy. The visitors will win, and by a wide margin.
Sharks vs Stormers (Durban)
After a couple of lop-sided games, this one promises to be tough and hard-fought. While the Stormers have been chancing their arms at times this season, the Sharks have been playing a pragmatic sort of game that involves going up the middle and riding roughshod over anyone and anything that gets in their way. The battle of the loose trios will be the litmus test in this game; whichever one gets on top will do so because the tight five is winning the trench battle, and that means the team will be on the high road. I think I might tip the Sharks here, simply because they’re now well into a system where the don’t try more than they know they can do, and also because I think the Stormers used up a year’s worth of luck last week.
Jaguares vs Brumbies (Buenos Aires)
This could be ugly, or it could be dreary, because both teams will get bogged down into a slugging match up front, mauling and one-off runners all day. The Jaguares do at least have possibilities out wide that the Brumbies don’t; that 40 minutes against the Reds was clearly an aberration and they don’t want to move the ball wider than one pass off the ruck all day. They managed to go through a whole game at Port Elizabeth without making a single linebreak, and that was with over 60% of the ball. I’m picking the Jaguares to win, but it will likely be pretty ugly. For the sake of rugby, I hope the Brumbies fall 20 behind in the first 20 minutes and actually have to play a bit to try and get up.
Lions vs Kings (Johannesburg)
The Kings have played well in the last month or so, but they got it all wrong against the Brumbies – maybe the favourite tag spooked them a bit. Whatever it was, they turned in their worst performance in some time and lost a very winnable match. One thing is for sure – if they go into their shells again this week, the Lions won’t make the same errors of caution the Brumbies did. They are quite happy to ride roughshod over a passive opponent, and a big score normally results. They should be able to batter the Kings however they play, and a big score should be the result.
In brief: Chiefs / Reds / Sunwolves / Highlanders / Hurricanes / Sharks / Jaguares / Lions
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now