Super Rugby
Super Rugby preview: Round 17
ESPN Staff
June 26, 2014
Bernard Foley will direct the Waratahs against the Brumbies in Sydney © Getty Images
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Friday, June 27

Highlanders v Chiefs, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST

Head to Head: Played 22; Highlanders 7, Chiefs 15

In Dunedin: Played 10; Highlanders 3, Chiefs 7

Last Played: Round 3, 2014 - Chiefs 21-19 Highlanders, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Preview: A must-win match for both sides as the Highlanders fight to maintain second place in the New Zealand conference with the Chiefs pressing for a place in the top six of the competition. So far struggling in the tight contests, the Highlanders will need to claim an early advantage in order to put the Chiefs on the back foot. The Highlanders are a clinical side, notching an average of 26 points per match despite holding the least amount of possession, but they need more of the ball in their remaining matches to keep sides like the Chiefs down.

The Chiefs have suffered several surprise setbacks this season, and they need to turn their game around if they are to move into the top six having gone down significantly to New South Wales Waratahs before the June Test break. They also need to watch their discipline - as they currently concede the most penalties per game - in order to keep the Highlanders on the defensive. Bolstered by the return of Robbie Fruean with Aaron Cruden also returning to form, the Chiefs will be ready for a tough match-up after previously struggling away from home.

Greg Growden's verdict: Aaron Cruden used the All Blacks-England series to rediscover some form, and that could be enough to get the Chiefs back on track after going all wonky just before the representative break.

Tips: Greg Growden: Chiefs by 6 Brittany Mitchell: Chiefs by 5 Brett McKay: Highlanders by 5.

Super Rugby Preview: Greg Growden and Andy Withers bring you the inside word on round 17

Melbourne Rebels v Queensland Reds, AAMI Park, Melbourne

19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST

Head to Head: Played 7; Rebels 1, Reds 6

In Melbourne: Played 3; Rebels 0, Reds 3

Last Played: Round 14, 2014 - Reds 27-30 Rebels, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Preview: Despite sitting on only four wins, the Rebels will be full of confidence as they return to the Super Rugby arena with two key players having debuted recently for the Wallabies. Laurie Weeks and Luke Jones each debuted against France and, alongside Test back-rower and Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham, the pack will look to make an impact around the park as the side looks to follow-up their first win over the Reds earlier this season. Luke Burgess is also likely to make his return so we can also expect the Rebels' backline to be at its best.

The Reds returned to winning form before the June Test break so they will head to Melbourne in a better frame of mind even if the injury-enforced loss of Will Genia from the already depleted backline will put a dent in their confidence. They will be desperate to end their season with a positive run, and to redeem themselves after their loss to the Rebels in Brisbane, but that battered backline could be a hindrance.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Rebels have been on fire in the recruiting department in recent weeks, and this could provide some momentum - especially against the Reds, who are without their two most important players in Quade Cooper and Will Genia. A shock result is imminent.

Tips: Greg Growden: Rebels by 8 Brittany Mitchell: Rebels by 6 Brett McKay: Rebels by 7.

Saturday, June 28

Hurricanes v Crusaders, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST

Head to Head: Played 26; Hurricanes 7, Crusaders 16, Drawn 3

In Wellington: Played 11; Hurricanes 3, Crusaders 6, Drawn 2

Last Played: Round 7, 2014 - Crusaders 26-29 Hurricanes, AMI Stadium, Christchurch

Preview: Making a late move to the top of the New Zealand conference ladder, the Crusaders will be desperate to maintain their position and also full of confidence after the high-scoring win over Western Force before the June break. The Crusaders are the leading Super Rugby points scorers per game this season (29.3) and they have history on their side here, but slow starts have proved hindrance and they must get out of the blocks against the Hurricanes.

Rounding out the top six places, the Hurricanes will be looking to put their season back on track following their loss to the Blues in the final round of matches before the June break. The Hurricanes are the top try scorers in the competition, with Beauden Barrett and Conrad Smith leading an attacking squad, but loose handling and poor defence has cost them. This is a tough match-up, and the Hurricanes need to maintain better control of the ball if they are to remain within the top six.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Crusaders are sniffing a finals spot, and this is the type of game in which their level of talent and experience determines results.

Tips: Greg Growden: Crusaders by 2 Brittany Mitchell: Hurricanes by 6 Brett McKay: Crusaders by 5.

New South Wales Waratahs v Brumbies, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST

Head to Head: Played 23; Waratahs 12, Brumbies 11

In Sydney: Played 12; Waratahs 10, Brumbies 2

Last Played: Round 5, 2014 - Brumbies 28-23 Waratahs, GIO Stadium, Canberra

Preview: The biggest game in the Australian conference, this match could determine which side takes top spot in the conference. The Waratahs sit just two points behind the Sharks, and three points ahead of the Brumbies, after a four-game winning streak, and they will be conscious that victory here puts them in pole position to claim home-field advantage through the finals. The Waratahs are one of the best sides in attack, with strong backline combinations as well as a hard-hitting forward pack, but their defence is key having conceded fewer than 20 points per game.

The Brumbies are plagued by injuries and they head to Sydney without stars Stephen Moore, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane, Sam Carter, Pat McCabe and David Pocock. So they will be happy with the return of Ben Alexander to bolster the much-maligned scrum, which has the lowest success rate of the competition (77%). The Brumbies claimed a solid victory in round five, but they have history against them in Sydney and their significant injury losses ensure they will struggle to earn their first consecutive wins since round 10.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Waratahs' contingent were crucial to the Wallabies' third Test win, and the Brumbies are very vulnerable with Matt Toomua out. The Potgieter-Skelton combination for the Waratahs is lethal.

Tips: Greg Growden: Waratahs by 6 Brittany Mitchell: Waratahs by 10 Brett McKay: Waratahs by 7.

Western Force v Blues, nib Stadium, Perth

19:45 local, 11:45 GMT, 21:45 EST, 21:15 CST, 19:45 WST

Head to Head: Played 7; Force 1, Blues 5, Drawn 1

In Perth: Played 3; Force 0, Blues 2, Drawn 1

Last Played: Round 17, 2012 - Blues 32-9 Force, Eden Park, Auckland

Preview: The Force suffered a disappointing loss to the Crusaders in their final match before the June Test break, but they are bolstered here by the return of several players from injury as well as several players gaining international experience. The Force are unbeaten at home since round four, and they will back their defence to hold the Blues at bay, but their lack of attacking thrust leaves them lacking and may keep the side out of the top six.

The Blues sit at the bottom of the New Zealand conference, but such is their talent that no side can rule them out. They went into the June Test break on a high after hammering the Hurricanes in Auckland, but they have struggled away from home and they need to hit their straps early. Still a Force side known for their almost impenetrable defence may too much for the ill-disciplined visitors.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Force will attempt to bore everyone to death with grim defence and dull tactics, which revolve around endless territorial kicking. For the health of the game, you must hope the Blues puts this tedious team in its rightful place- among the losers.

Tips: Greg Growden: Blues by 3 Brittany Mitchell: Force by 9 Brett McKay: Force by 10.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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