The NSW Waratahs and the ACT Brumbies headline round 17 of the Super Rugby this weekend.
Highlanders v Chiefs, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Friday
This is a must win game for defending champions the Chiefs, who could slip to 10th place if they lose this encounter and miss out on the finals. If the Highlanders win they could move into first place in the New Zealand conference, a great feat for a team who has not played in the finals since 2002. Aaron Cruden is in great form and the Chiefs and All Blacks fly-half will be instrumental for the Waikato based team. Star centre Robbie Freuen has also been named following a remarkable comeback from heart surgery three months ago. All Blacks young gun and Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa will match up against Freuen in what should be a close game.
Newsroom’s prediction: Chiefs by 3
Rebels v Reds, AAMI Park, Friday
Both these two Australian teams are out of finals contention after disappointing seasons in 2014. The Reds are missing the superstar halves pairing of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, with Nick Frisby and Ben Lucas named to take their place. Promising young player Jack Debreczeni has been named to start at fullback by coach Tony McGahan, with Jason Woodward moving to the wing to accommodate Debreczeni. The last time these teams met it was a brutal encounter, with the Rebels winning the match at full-time with a penalty goal after Reds player Ed O’Donoghue was red-carded for eye-gouging. The Reds will be looking for revenge but the Rebels are rightful favourites to win at home.
Newsroom’s prediction: Rebels by 7
Hurricanes v Crusaders, Westpac Stadium, Saturday
This is a must win game for Super Rugby entertainers the Hurricanes, who will drop out of the running for the finals if they lose to the Crusaders this Saturday. The Crusaders, however, have equal motivation of their own, and will likely sow up top spot of the New Zealand conference if they can get maximum points from this match. All Blacks great and superstar fly-half Dan Carter has been named on the bench after his long awaited return from his sabbatical period overseas, and joins a superstar studded bench that also has reigning IRB World Player of the Year Kieran Read, and All Blacks prop Owen Franks.
Newsroom’s prediction: Crusaders by 8
Waratahs v Brumbies, ANZ Stadium, Saturday
This game starts a three game run which the Waratahs must win in order to gain a home finals advantage during the post-season, a crucial aspect in whether or not the perennial under-achievers will break their Super Rugby competition duck. The Waratahs have a full-strength team available to them, with all the returning Wallabies in outstanding form, especially Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Will Skelton and Israel Folau. In contrast, the Brumbies will be without Matt Toomua, Sam Carter, Joe Tomane, Pat McCabe, Stephen Moore, and Josh Mann-Rea.
Newsroom’s prediction: Waratahs by 14
Western Force v Blues, NIB Stadium, Saturday
The Western Force are well-placed for a maiden finals appearance and this game against the Blues is a great chance for the Force to keep their foot on the accelerator. The Blues have not won a game away from home this season, and their Perth trip will not be an easy one. However, All Blacks star Steven Luatua will return to the team. The Force welcome back Alby Mathewson, Hugh McMeniman and Marcel Brache, who are all important cogs to the Force team.
Newsroom’s prediction: Force by 8 – Louis Dillon
Top photo of Super Rugby football from Jonno Simpson’s Twitter page.