The final regular-season round of Super Rugby Pacific’s inaugural season is upon us. The Blues have clinched the top spot and locked in Eden Park as the finals venue to go through, but there are places within the eight that can still change based on the results this weekend. One of those is the final spot in the postseason as the Highlanders still haven’t sealed their position and the Western Force is hanging around hoping for a slip-up.
Waratahs VS Blues – Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
The Blues are sending out by far the most interesting of the team selections in Round 15 of Super Rugby Pacific. Sitting at six points ahead of the Crusaders – the smallest possible cushion to guarantee finishing top of the log – this game doesn’t matter to them in terms of points (though they would love to finish with just one defeat all season).
The result is a youthful starting XV with just Nepo Laulala, Josh Goodhue, and Sam Knock having more than 20 Blues appearances. Watch out for German flanker Anton Segner who was outstanding in their last gasp win over the Brumbies last time out.
The Waratahs are unlikely to be complaining about the Blues’ selection. It would take some upsets elsewhere – notably the Chiefs finding a way to lose to the Drua – but a win could be enough to push them into fourth and a home quarter-final. The line here is the Blues giving 2.5 points and I like the ‘Tahs to win and cover this given the makeup of the Blues side.
Western Force VS Hurricanes – HBF Park, Perth
The Western Force aren’t out of the finals picture but they need to win here in a game where they are giving 14.5 points to the Hurricanes at home. The Force have 19 points – three behind the very disappointing Highlanders – and a win here combined with a Rebels victory over the ‘Landers in Melbourne would see the Perth side head to Auckland for a finals match next weekend.
The ‘Canes look like they have figured out fifth is the best they can hope for. They are three points behind the Chiefs and would need that Drua win to vault their New Zealand rivals. The result is they have made 11 changes for this one – more hope for the Force – assuming that their squad depth will be more than enough for a win on the West Coast. Among the absentees are Jordie Barrett (flu) and Ardie Savea who is named on the bench.
I just can’t see the Force winning this. I can – however – see them fighting enough to cover the 14.5-point spread with BetXchange.
Rebels VS Highlanders – AAMI Park, Melbourne
The Highlanders were poor yet again last week as they went down at the hands of the Waratahs. A similar slip here against a determined Rebels group in Melbourne could see them slip out of the finals spots.
The Highlanders are already in trouble as their options at first-five have been ripped apart through injury and suspension. Sam Gilbert and Mitch Hunt are both missing – Gilbert for five weeks for dropping Michael Hooper on his head – so there is a chance we could see Aaron Smith and Eolau Fakatava (both recognized No. 9s) combining in the halves.
It is ironic that the Force is relying on the Rebels given the history between the two since the Force was axed from Super Rugby in 2017. The Rebels will, however, be looking to finish the season with a big home win, and helping out another Aussie team (even a rival) would be an added bonus. The Highlanders are 6.5-point favorites here and I don’t fancy them to cover that given their lack of options at 10 and their overall performances in Super Rugby 2022.