Round 8 of Super Rugby Aotearoa is upon us and the matches this week see the Highlanders hosting the Blues in Dunedin and the Chiefs taking on the Crusaders in Hamilton. This means the Hurricanes have the week off.
Here is a look at the two games in Round 8:
Highlanders vs. Blues
Friday, April 16 – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The Crusaders are running away with the top spot in this competition – and the rights to a home final that goes along with it – but the Highlanders and Blues are in a fight (along with the Chiefs) for the second place in the championship game. The second-placed Blues are in a slightly better position than the Highlanders – they have 14 points from five games – while the hosts here are on 10 points from six contests. In other words, the Highlanders face a must-win here.
The Blues step into this one fresh off of their bye and with some solid confidence following their 27-17 win over the Hurricanes the week before that. It makes sense that following the win there has been little disruption to the starting side, with the one change being at the musical chair’s position of scrum-half, with Jonathan Ruru starting, Sam Nock dropping out of the side completely, and Finlay Christie coming back in via the bench. Captain Tom Robinson remains in the No. 6 shirt with Akira Ioane coming in off of the bench.
The ‘Landers are verging towards an injury crisis. The two new names in the ward this week are Connor Gaden-Bachop (lost for the season with a wrist injury) and lock Pari Pari Parkinson who hasn’t been able to shake off an ankle issue. The injuries mean that Josh Ioane moves to fullback and Michael Collins is one of three new faces in the starting XV. I like the Blues to win this and cover the 5.5 spread at 0.90 with BetXChange as the healthier team.
Chiefs vs. Crusaders
Saturday, April 17 – FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
The Chiefs have thrown the Crusaders a curveball here with Damian McKenzie being switched to the role of pivot just when it looked like the Chiefs had a system that was working. McKenzie has been excelling – as he usually does – in the open spaces of the No. 15 shirt, before finding himself playing in the fly-half position for the last quarter of games where he can use his agility to attack defenses that are tiring. It is a bold move to switch McKenzie after three successive wins and the move also sees a first start of the season for Chase Tiatia at fullback and a return to the bench for Bryn Gatland.
The Crusaders have made wholesale changes with no less than 10 fresh faces in their starting XV. One of those changes includes scrum-half Mitchell Drummond picking up his 100th cap for the team as he has been promoted from the bench. The entire front row of George Bower, Brodie McAlister, and Michael Alaalatoa is new, while Scott Barrett is the only forward to retain his place, albeit with a positional change from lock to blindside flanker. The only change in the backline other than Drummond sees Leicester Fainga’anuku returning to the side ahead of the desperately unfortunate Jack Goodhue. Goodhue was lost for the season – and the rest of the year – with an ACL injury last weekend.
The Crusaders haven’t been the dominating force they usually are over their last two matches. This has prompted this massive shakeup of the team and I like them to find enough to cover at -5.5 with BetXChange.