For Super Rugby fantasy players, there are now just three more games for you to secure some vital points in your tipping conference.
For fans of the Hurricanes, Brumbies, Warathas and Highlanders - now it is time for your team to stand up and be counted. Let us guide you through the penultimate weekend of the 2015 Super Rugby season.
As the season has gone on, we have seen the favourites in matches come through unscathed and upsets a rarity. The overall winning margin by the end of the regular season was 12.5 points.
Home advantage has been key for sides this campaign (69 home wins from 122 games this season), but the Brumbies bucked that trend in the playoffs last week.
They won 39-19 against the Stormers in Cape Town, while the Highlanders – who finished fourth in the overall rankings – saw off the Chiefs by 10 points on home soil.
In recent years, it has been tough for teams to win on their travels during the Super Rugby Finals. Last week, the Brumbies emulated their 2013 win against the Bulls with that comfortable win at the Stormers.
In our view, it wasn’t really an ‘upset’ to see the Brumbies win. The South African teams have struggled in this year’s competition and that was highlighted when the Brumbies finished on more overall points than the Stormers. The Stormers had the 7th highest points total throughout the season.
Another point which stands out from these final matches is the air miles clocked up by the Brumbies.
It cannot be underestimated when you look at how much they will have travelled by Saturday. In the last six days they have flown to Canberra, Australia to Cape Town, South Africa and returned home.
This week they have taken the trip to Wellington, New Zealand where they will take on the Hurricanes in this weekend’s semi-final.
Overall they will have covered approximately 29,600 miles. There is no doubt that is could be a factor which the Hurricanes can use to their advantage.
Thanks to the Brumbies’ win over the Stormers, we could well see an all New Zealand final on July 4th, but we are sure the Warathas and the Brumbies will have something to say on that matter.
On paper, it should be an all NZ affair next weekend with both sides finishing with more points after the regular season (Hurricanes 66, Highlanders 53) than their respective Australian opponents on Saturday (Brumbies 47, Warathas (52).
The Hurricanes welcome the Brumbies to the Westpac Stadium with the Warathas hosting the Highlanders in Sydney.
Like in any sport you want your key players to make their mark when it comes to the big occasion and that was exactly what happened last week. The international stars shone brightly.
For the Highlanders Ben and Aaron Smith were magnificent, while the Brumbies looked to their Wallabies for victory over the Stormers with Christian Lealiifano, David Pocock, Stephan Moore and Joe Tomane playing their part immensely.
Interestingly in the knockout stages in the last three Super Rugby seasons there have been at least two really close games, but also at least one really lopsided match. Travel seems to really affect finals’ results, with only one away win in the knockout stages since 2013 – which was of course the Brumbies’ victory last week.
The average winning margins in the knockout stages are similar to the regular season with the 2012 season the highest with the average winning margin of 13.8 points while in 2013 the average winning margin was only 8 points.
After their final day win away at the Chiefs and a week off, regular season table toppers the Hurricanes will be full of confidence and ready to go as they have their eyes firmly set on their first Super Rugby title.
But, having the week off could have a negative impact on the side. They could lose momentum and in the semi-finals of this competition; if they are not switched on from the word go- they could be made to pay.
The Brumbies come into this match on the back of that comfortable win in South Africa, but they did lose talented winger Henry Speight. This is the Brumbies second game away from home in a row and with international stars like David Pocock on top form; they will feel that they can get the right result this weekend.
In terms of on the pitch, it will be interesting to see how the Hurricanes combat the Brumbies driving maul which has been an effective feature of their game this season.
The fact that these are the top two defensive teams in Super 15 (Hurricanes PA= 288, Brumbies PA= 280) may suggest we are in for a cagey encounter, but these two are normally involved in high scoring games.
The Brumbies have got a very good record against the Hurricanes – winning their last four- but this current crop of Hurricanes players have been irresistible at times this season with their tight five being robust throughout this campaign.
The Brumbies have won their last two matches in Wellington and the last four against the Hurricanes overall, but the Brumbies’ travel schedule and the Hurricanes’ impressive 2015 suggest that the home team will break that losing streak.
Players to watch:
Hurricanes: Dane Coles, James Broadhurst, James Marshall (bargain), Ma’a Nonu, Victor Vito, Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder (bargain)
Brumbies: David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Ita Vaea, Stephen Moore.
Scott’s Pick: Hurricanes
As we said previously, the Highlanders have been the second best team in the Super 15 based on overall points and that really does give the people who want an all New Zealand Final real hope that it can happen.
However, they have been handed a very tough test against the Warathas as the Highlanders have only won twice in Sydney.
The Waratahs were sweating over the fitness of Kurtley Beale for this one and he has now been left out of the squad due to a quadriceps injury. Matt Carraro has been named as his replacement.
With Beale missing, it gives the chance for the Highlanders to claim a historic away win and they will be buoyed by their 26-19 win against the Warathas in Dunedin in Round 4.
Both of these teams love to play attacking rugby which really emphasises the point that we are in for some box office entertainment on Saturday. Also, the Highlanders backline is up there with the best this season (third best).
One clash to watch out for will certainly be Israel Folau against Ben Smith – arguably the best full backs in this 2015 season. Another one to keep your eye on will be Wasiake Naholo from the Highlanders who is the top try scorer in the competition this season.
A turning point in this game could be how well the Highlanders forwards can deal with the Warathas. It is safe to say the Highlanders don’t have any big names in their pack, but they have learnt to hold their own against the majority of teams as the season has progressed.
For me, these things show me that the Highlanders will improve of previous recent showings in Sydney where they have been easily beaten, but I will have to go with home advanatge and go with the Warathas.
Players to watch
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Micheal Hooper, Bernard Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper
Highlanders: Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith, Elliot Dixon, Richard Buckman, Lima Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa.
Scott’s pick: Waratahs.
For those playing fantasy rugby game www.testrugby.com, we are also naming players to watch. You can also join the Super Rugby Tips conference at SuperBru.
It is difficult to afford a team if playing salary cap fantasy rugby, so you may have to buy bargains, but there are enough new players in Super Rugby 2015 to give you some options. 2015 seems tough to fill a squad without going over budget.
There will be plenty of emotion, with so many players leaving their current teams at the end of Super Rugby 2015. Because of the Rugby World Cup there will be players going overseas, retiring or changing teams before the 2016 season.