It is a little frustrating that a competition that was as good as Super Rugby Aotearoa became is going to have such a damn and – honestly – unfulfilling ending. This was already going to be the case in some ways as the structure of the tournament means that the Crusaders were crowned champions last week and the luster of their match with the Blues this weekend was dimmed somewhat because the Auckland side could no longer pass them for the title.
That, though, was nothing compared to the news that the clash between the two at Eden Park has had to be canceled because of a Covid-19 resurgence in Auckland. It means we won’t get to see a frustrated Blues side try to defeat the newly minted competition winners to prove a point. Which is sad.
On the plus side, the match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes is to go-ahead. There is nothing really to play for here – though the ‘Canes would take second spot in the table with a win, albeit a hollow second as they would have played one game more than the Blues at the end of the season. Regardless, some rugby is better than no rugby and here is a look ahead to Week 10 of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Highlanders vs. Hurricanes
Saturday, August 15 – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The first thing to note in this game is that the Highlanders home advantage will be less impressive than normal after the pandemic resurgence has forced the game in Dunedin to be played behind closed doors. The game has also been moved up to mid-afternoon and the ‘Canes will fly in and out on the same day to lessen any chance for the disease to be spread.
This obviously makes things more difficult for the visitors as they have to deal with a change to their preparations in a game that was already a dead rubber.
The Highlanders’ co-captains will each have a special reason to win this game as it is a milestone clash for both Ash Dixon and Aaron Smith. Dixon is making his 100th appearance in Super Rugby – a highly impressive total but 50 less than smith who is marking a century and a half of Super Rugby games this weekend. Smith is chasing down Ben Smith who is the Landers all-time leading appearance maker with 153. Their only change sees flanker Tom Florence slide onto the bench ahead of Jesse Parete.
The ‘Canes also have a milestone man on Saturday as Dane Coles will become the franchises all-time leading cap winner as a forward with 119 when he takes the field. This will also be the last game for Ben May at prop as he ends his Super Rugby career with 98 caps for the Hurricanes.
There are some changes in the Hurricanes backline as both Billy Proctor and Jamie Booth will make their first starts of the Aotearoa campaign in the final game. Booth will start at No. 9 as TJ Perenara is unavailable with his wife due to give birth to their first child.
The Hurricanes are slight favorites at 0.78 to win this with BetXChange and the Highlanders are the 1.07 underdogs. This feels like a game that the Highlanders can win – especially as the ‘Canes are without the influential Perenara – and they are worth a gamble if you think they have the legs to go for the full 80 minutes, something that has been their downfall in so many games this campaign.