Super Rugby preview: qualifying finals
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
July 17, 2014
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the Super Rugby qualifying finals
Saturday, July 19
19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST
Head to Head: Played 20; Brumbies 12, Chiefs 7, Drawn 1
In Canberra: Played 11; Brumbies 8, Chiefs 2, Drawn 1
Last Played: Round 11, 2014 - Brumbies 41-23 Chiefs, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Preview: This is rematch of last year's grand final, but the Brumbies this year have hosting rights and they haven't travelled more than 3000km in the previous two weeks.
The Brumbies hit back hard when they faced Western Force in a must-win match-up after copping a hammering by New South Wales Waratahs in their previous match two weeks earlier. They were at their attacking best with the return of several international stars, punching through the Force's defence to crash over the whitewash seven times despite holding only 47% possession. With Matt Toomua back at fly-half linking up with Nic White at scrum-half the Brumbies have a world-class back line that is almost impossible to stop, especially when they have the support of a home crowd, and they sit equal-second on the try-scoring count for the season behind the Waratahs. They have much in their favour, but they must watch a couple of key areas of the game: they have struggled with their scrums throughout the season - their 76% success rate is the lowest in the competition - and their poor goal-kicking success rate of 63% could easily combine to give the Chiefs a solid footing.
The Chiefs are among the most experienced sides heading into the qualifying finals, as back-to-back defending Super Rugby champions, and they have turned their campaign around after a poor mid-season that saw them drop out of the top six for the four rounds of the competition immediately before the final week. Expect Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam and Aaron Cruden to be crucial for the side. Determined to reach the finals and earn a 'three-peat', the Chiefs dug in and held strong in poor conditions to claim the win over the Blues that earned them a qualifying finals spot. They held only 33% possession at Eden Park, and showed the value of being the best tacklers in the competition; they have a 87% tackle success rate and missed fewer tackles than any other side in the competition. Poor discipline from the Chiefs last week saw them concede a 16 penalties, adding to their already huge tally for the season to become the most penalised side in the competition; should the Brumbies finally locate their kicking boots, they should feel confident of continuing the key stat that the home team has won the past six games between these two sides.
Greg Growden's verdict: Cut-throat finals so often revolve around experience, the nous of those who have been there and done that, and having the right players at the centre of the engine. And here the Chiefs have the edge over the Brumbies. The Brumbies are a good team, but the Chiefs are better - in particular up front. The Chiefs' back-row outshines that of their opponents, and Aaron Cruden, while well matched by Matt Toomua at No 10, should be an influential force. If only the Brumbies had David Pocock or George Smith.
Tips: Greg Grodwen: Chiefs by 4 Brittany Mitchell: Brumbies by 5 Brett McKay: Brumbies by 7.
17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 01:05 EST +1d, 00:35 CST +1d, 23:05 WST
Head to Head: Played 18; Sharks 10, Highlanders 8
In Durban: Played 8; Sharks 5, Highlanders 3
Last Played: Round 11, 2014 - Sharks 18-34 Highlanders, Kings Park, Durban
Preview: The Sharks secured the South African conference title early, having led the competition until round 16, but they were unable to secure a week off and a home final. They have held little possession throughout the season and have struggled to cross the try line, scoring only 29 tries, just one more than the bottom side, but still they have maintained an average of 25 points per game through their successful goal kicking. They are also a strong side at lineout time, with an 87% success rate, and they are sure to use their strength throughout the game. The Highlanders have won the past two matches between the side, but the Sharks, who had previously won six straight, but must enter the home match with confidence following their recent turnaround after two shock defeats.
The Highlanders were first side to defeat the Sharks at home this season, and they have earned their best season result in eight years, but they have stumbled into finals with four losses from their past six games. And they have to find form and turn their game around if they hope to move ahead in the final series hammerings by the Waratahs and the Crusaders in the two weeks leading into the finals. The Highlanders have spent the least time in possession this season, and thus spend the most time tackling, but they sit middle of the table for tackling success rate. A strong side in broken play, the Highlanders are known to create opportunities in counter-attack and have so far caused the lowest opposition tackling success rate in the competition. Discipline has also cost the side significantly throughout the season, and that is something they have to control facing the Sharks.
Greg Growden's verdict: Both teams have been shaky in recent weeks, but here the tyranny of distance will work against the Highlanders. The Sharks are generally impenetrable at Durban, and while playing at sea-level is far easier than at altitude for overseas teams, this is still likely to be one game too far for the highly entertaining Highlanders. If the Highlanders lose, as expected, the season is still a success for them as they produced some of the best football of the competition. The visitors will be sentimental favourites, but such emotions mean nothing at finals time.
Tips: Greg Grodwen: Sharks by 8 Brittany Mitchell: Sharks by 9 Brett McKay: Sharks by 12.
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