The 2016 Super Rugby season has entered the business end of proceedings as the round-robin stage has come to a conclusion and the playoffs begin. For this first time this season, there were 18 teams competing with a team from Argentina and Japan joining the teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In total, there were six teams from South Africa, five from Australia, five from New Zealand, one from Argentina and one from Japan.
The teams were grouped geographically into four conferences and the top team from each conference progressed to the playoff stage. The Brumbies finished on top of the Australian Conference, while the Hurricanes took the top spot of the New Zealand Conference, followed by the Stormers claiming the number one position of the Africa One Conference and the Lions securing the top spot of the Africa Two Conference.
Based on these results, the aforementioned four teams automatically qualified for the playoffs and will play their quarterfinal action at home. Of the remaining four places, three went to the next top three teams from Australia and New Zealand with the final spot being secured by the next top team amongst the teams from South Africa, Argentina and Japan. This format saw the Crusaders, Chiefs, Highlanders and Sharks all progress to the quarterfinal stage. These four teams will play their quarterfinal matches away from home.
The first of the 2016 Super Rugby playoff quarterfinals sees the Brumbies take on the Highlanders on the 22nd of July. Even though the Brumbies won the Australian Conference, they have not been at their best throughout the tournament with the driving maul seemingly the best part of their game to date. The lack of pace in the forwards and a back line who have been lacking in ideas leads one to believe that this team is not ready to play and win a knockout rugby match. The key to victory for the Brumbies will be taking advantage of any penalties they can get by kicking for touch close to the try line and driving the ball over the line.
On the other hand, the Highlanders, who are coming in as the defending champions, have looked in control throughout the regular season with some confident, well controlled kicking. In addition to the kicking of Lima Sopoaga, the forwards have been solid and the backs are always a threat with the ball in hand. In addition to Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa and Matt Faddes provide a three-pronged attack all offering a different approach to the game and giving the Highlanders multiple options in the backline.
The Highlanders appear to be the much stronger team in all areas of the pitch, so back them to make the semi-finals at 1.61 with Bwin and also take the 1.91 -4-point handicap bet on the Highlanders.
The remaining three quarterfinals will all be played on the 23rd of July starting with the Hurricanes who host the Sharks. The Hurricanes had a fantastic result in their last match of the regular season taking apart the Crusaders, which along with the other results gave them home-field advantage in the quarterfinals.
As for the Sharks, they have struggled to cross the try line this season with a try bonus point coming against just one team during the regular season. The Hurricanes on the other hand have had no trouble crossing the try line and this could be where this match is decided. The Sharks recorded their most impressive win of the season against the Hurricanes but playing them away from home in the playoffs is surely going to be too much to ask.
The Hurricanes are 1.18 to win the match with sportsbook Bwin and 1.91 to win with a -12 handicap, that’s how confident the bookies are for a home team win.
【2016 Super Rugby: Crusaders vs. Hurricanes Game Highlights】
The third quarterfinal is between the Lions and the Crusaders with home-field advantage for the Lions in Johannesburg. This is perhaps the toughest match to predict with the Lions looking hugely impressive in the second half of the regular season prior to a final day defeat in Argentina largely attributed to the resting of key players. The Crusaders are coming off of a home defeat to the Hurricanes last week but do not expect the same result this time around as they prepare for the Lions.
The majority of Crusaders’ first team players will be back with the exception of winger Nemani Nadolo. The Crusaders defeated the Lions earlier in the season but it’s the Lions who are the in form team of the two and with their players rested last week, the Lions have the upper hand to advance to the semi-finals according to online bookie Bwin who has priced the Lions at 1.80 to win the match.
The final quarterfinal match will be contested between the Stormers and the Chiefs. The Chiefs were looking good during the early stages of the season but slipped away somewhat in the second half, which ultimately cost them a home match. They now have to travel to South Africa to play a Stormers team that is in great form having won their last four matches including a demolition job on the Kings last week.
However, the Stormers have yet to face a team from New Zealand in Super Rugby 2016 and the Chiefs will test them with a pace they have not really faced so far in the tournament. The loss of Jean-Luc du Plessis will also come as a blow to the Stormers but with home-field advantage and good chemistry, this could be one match which sees an upset. The Stormers are listed at 2.20 to win the match with Bwin.
【2016 Super Rugby: Stormers vs. Kings Game Highlights】
The home teams in the semi-finals are decided by the seedings from the regular season, which means according to our predictions, we will see the Hurricanes host the Highlanders in an all New Zealand semi-final and the Lions hosting the Stormers in an all South African semi-final.
Out of these four teams, the Stormers have to be considered the weakest and this is backed up with Bwin who has on offer 13.00 for them to win Super Rugby 2016. This means the Lions should progress to the final and they will be hoping the Highlanders can come through against Hurricanes as this will give them home-field advantage.
That being said, whomever the Lions play in the final, they will be the outsiders and both the Hurricanes and Highlanders will fancy their chances. As for the Hurricanes and Highlanders head-to-head meeting in round two, the Highlanders registered a closely fought 17-16 home win over the Hurricanes. Can the same result be expected the next time out?
If all goes accordingly to our predictions, it’s looking quite favourable for a final between the Hurricanes and Lions. As for any insights, you only have to look at their previous meeting in South Africa this season to see who is the better team. You can get 3.20 with bookmaker Bwin for the Hurricanes to win Super Rugby 2016 and 6.50 for the Lions to cause an upset.
To sum up, the Hurricanes have to be the pick to win Super Rugby 2016. They are yet to win a Super Rugby title and this could be their year to change that statistic.