The second half of the Super Rugby Aotearoa sprint is upon us with the Blues needing a win over the Hurricanes to keep the pressure on the Crusaders who are enjoying a week off. The other game sees the Chiefs looking to put their disaster of a start to the season behind them and regain some pride as they host the Highlanders.
Hurricanes vs. Blues
Saturday, July 18 – Sky Stadium, Wellington
The Blues will be looking for bonus point wins from here on out to chase down the Crusaders after the Christchurch based team won their top of the table clash one week ago. The Blues – with three wins and one defeat – are in second place on the ladder and they are six points behind the Crusaders. The Hurricanes have two wins and two defeats and they can jump over the Blues – they are currently four points behind them – with a win at home here.
Dan Carter was set to make his Blues bow in this one, but he has been pulled from the squad and replaced by Matt Duffie after pulling up with a calf problem in training. Other injuries the Blues are dealing with are all in the pack, with James Parsons, Blake Gibson, and Hoskins Sotutu all missing out. Sotutu in particular is a big blow given his form this season.
The Hurricanes welcome back Dane Coles from a minor calf injury and he will go straight back into the starting lineup for this one. The clash of the Barrett brothers at the fullback position will be fascinating and expect the combative TJ Perenara to play a big role in the outcome of this game.
The Blues won the reverse fixture 30-20 in Round 1 and they will look to bounce back after losing for the first time in eight matches last time out. Injuries are a concern for the Blues, but I like them to win this by less than a try in an entertaining match. Take them at 1.00 at BetXChange or to win by 1-5 (4.00).
Chiefs vs. Highlanders
Sunday, July 19 – FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
The Chiefs will have spent their bye week reassessing and reorganizing after going winless through the first half of the season. Their three bonus points suggest that they aren’t being blown out in games, but their 0-4 record shows they aren’t doing enough to win them either. The Highlanders looked great in spells against both the Blues and the Crusaders before fading late and they are just three points ahead of the Chiefs with one win and three defeats adding up to their six points.
The Chiefs will welcome back Anton Lienert-Brown from a concussion that kept him out of their match against the Hurricanes before the bye. They will be without impressive young lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi who is also suffering from a head injury, but their axis will be strong with the likes of Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, and Damian McKenzie looking to help pull the team out of its winless hole.
The Highlanders will finally get to see what Josh Ioane can do in Super Rugby Aotearoa as the playmaker is back in contention after missing the entire first half of the season. Dillon Hunt is also back in training and couple play a role, but energetic halfback Kayne Hammington will miss the rest of the season with a hand fracture, wing Ngatunfane Punivai is still locked in the concussion protocol, and there is still no sign of Nehe Milner-Skudder playing any time soon.
The Round 1 version of this clash finished in wild fashion with a pair of drop goals in the final minutes resulting in a Highlanders win. The Chiefs are heavy favorites to win here with BetXChange as punters expect them to finally wake up and start playing well in Warren Gatland’s system. This does feel like their week to get a win and to do so by a couple of scores. Take them to win by 5-10 (4.25) or 11-15 (5.50).