Round 8 of Super Rugby Aotearoa is upon us and the Hurricanes upset of the might Crusaders at their Christchurch fortress last weekend means that it is all to play for over the last three weeks of the season. The ‘Canes and Blues will both now think that they can run down the Crusaders, with the Round 10 clash that sees the Crusaders traveling to Auckland looking like it could be a winner takes all contest. This week both of the title chasers will look to hold serve as the Crusaders visit the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Blues go to Dunedin to face the Highlanders.
Here is a look ahead to Week 8 of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Chiefs vs. Crusaders
Saturday, August 1 – FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
The Crusaders defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes means that the first-ever Super Rugby Aotearoa season will not be the romp in the park that it was looking like for the team that has been the best franchise in Super Rugby for the last decade. They are still top of the ladder with 19 points from their five games, but they are yet to face the second-placed Blues and will need to win every game up until that point to keep both them and the “canes at bay.
The Chiefs – by contrast – have zero wins and five points from their six games in the competition. How they have yet to win is baffling – their -31 point differential shows that they have been losing games by the slimmest of margins – but losing is still losing and Warren Gatland will be under immediate pressure as the head coach should his squad go through the entire season without picking up a win.
The Crusaders have made a couple of changes to their pack as Joe Moody is ruled out because of a family bereavement while starting No. 8 Whetu Douglas has a medial ligament injury. Braydon Ennor is still nursing a toe injury so Fetuli Paea will again deputize and a change at scrum-half sees Mitch Drummond starting and Bryn Hall sliding to the bench.
Aaron Cruden comes back into the starting No. 10 role for the Chiefs over Kaleb Trask and Shaun Stevenson is in on the wing for the injured Solomon Alaimalo. The Chiefs beat the Crusaders in the 2020 Super Rugby season that was suspended due to Covid-19, but this is a team low on confidence that is hard to back. Take the Crusaders -5.5 at 0.95 with BetXChange if you are playing the spread.
Highlanders vs. Blues
Sunday, August 2 -Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The Blues are the best-placed team to run down the Crusaders as they sit just two points behind their Christchurch based rivals on 17 points after six games. A win here would make their game against the Crusaders after the bye week must-see TV. The Highlanders have had a weird season and they sit in fourth place with two wins and three losses from their five games. They are a squad that can give any of the other teams a run for their money, but it feels like they don’t have the staying power for some reason and often fall away late in games.
The Blues haven’t beaten the Highlanders away from home since 2011, a streak that is up to seven games. Beauden Barrett looks set to keep the No. 10 shirt – a position he should have been playing all season even though Otere Black was outstanding at times – in a move that will see him able to attack the line and influence the game from the first receiver position.
The Highlanders will have a spring in their step after their last gasp win against the Chiefs but it is the Blues that need to win this match to prove they are true title contenders. Take the Blues -5 at 0.90 if playing the points with BetXChange.