We returned to the expected normal in Super Rugby Pacific last weekend. After a couple of weeks of some of the Australian teams upsetting their rivals across the Tasman, the New Zealand franchises won each and every game (with the exception of the Fijian Drua beating Moana Pasifika. Can the Aussies fight back with just a couple of rounds remaining before the playoffs?
Reds VS Moana Pasifika – Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Reds need this one in the worst way. This was a team challenging in the top half of the log a month ago, but injuries in key positions have seen them lose four on the bounce. Sitting in seventh, they are still comfortably in the finals picture as they are 15-points clear of the ninth-placed Rebels and have already qualified. The problem is they are in zero form and with the finals around the corner that is a real worry.
They went down 53-26 to the Blues at Eden Park last time out, but at least they saw sparks from former NRL star Suliasi Vunivalu. Expect the big Fijian to get the ball as much as possible this weekend as he is a true difference-maker. They also welcome back a pair of Wallabies in Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson in the back row.
Moana Pasifika lost to the Drua last weekend but they will be targeting the suddenly weak shoulders of the Reds defenders. Queensland missed 32 tackles against the Blues, a number that makes it impossible to win. It won’t be enough. Expect the Reds to really kickstart their season here and cover the 17.5 points they are laying with BetXchange.
Brumbies VS Blues – GIO Stadium, Canberra
The Brumbies play host to the second high-powered New Zealand squad in as many weeks in this top-of-the-table clash against the imperious Blues. They lost 37-26 at home to the Crusaders last weekend and would love an upset win here to show that they are competitive with the very best New Zealand has to offer with the finals swiftly drawing near. The return of playmaking first-five Noah Lolesio is huge towards that goal.
A win for the Blues seals first place on the log. They will have to win the match without either Ioane brother, with Reiko and Akira both out injured. This is still a side with talent all over the park. The playmaking trio of Finlay Christie, Bearden Barrett, and the competition’s leading points scorer Stephen Perofeta has been both dynamic and consistent. That trio will be more than enough to push the Blues over the line and cover the 6.5 points in Canberra.
Highlanders VS Waratahs – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The Highlanders are sitting in that final finals spot as they seem to have been doing for the majority of the comp. They are 9.5-point favorites here against the visiting Waratahs, the team sitting in sixth-place, a full 11 points better off than the ‘Landers.
The Highlanders, however, have finally hit some form. Their 61-10 shelling of the Force in Dunedin last weekend was their third win on the bounce and if they keep this up they will be a team that is in peak nick as the finals hit. The ‘Tahs lost by four to the Hurricanes at home last time out in a game they believe they should have won.
I like the Highlanders to continue their momentum here with halfback Folau Fakatava in inspired form. They win and cover.