6 June 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

SUPER RUGBY PREDICTIONS – ROUND 17

For the majority of the teams, including all four South African sides, Super Rugby reaches the do-or-die district this weekend.

Heading into the penultimate round of the regular season, the Jaguares have one hand on the South African Conference trophy on 41 points. The Lions are second on 35, followed by the Bulls (34), Sharks (33) and Stormers (30).

To keep their slim play-off hopes alive, the Sharks will have to upset the red-hot Jaguares in Buenos Aires in the final match of Round 17 on Saturday night. The Bulls are in a similar situation and kick-off the round against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.

On South African soil on Saturday, the Lions host the Hurricanes in what should be a humdinger before the Stormers go in search of maximum log points against the Sunwolves, who are stuck at the bottom of the overall log.

Highlanders v Bulls (Friday - 09:35 SA time)

The courageous draw in Auckland and the rushed return of Handre Pollard make this round-opener trickier to predict than this time last week. It’s a must-win for both teams, with the hosts down in 12th position and visitors seventh on the overall log. The Bulls will throw absolutely everything at the Highlanders and could possibly break their four-year drought in New Zealand, but you get the sense that the taxing tour will take its toll on the Pretoria outfit in this final fixture before they head home.

Prediction: Highlanders by seven. (Suggested BET – Highlanders by 1-12)

Reds v Blues (Friday - 11:45 SA time)

Two teams with only pride to play for could make for an entertaining game. Both sides are seeking their sixth win of the season, with the Reds (14th) losing to the Jaguares and Blues (13th) drawing with the Bulls last weekend. The visitors have managed to put it together slightly better than their hosts and for that reason, I’m backing the Blues.

Prediction: Blues by six. (Suggested BET – Blues -3.5)

Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels (Saturday - 09:35 SA time)

The Crusaders will see last weekend’s shock loss to the Chiefs, after having led 20-0, as a timely wake-up call ahead of the play-offs. It was a fantastic result for the Chiefs, but the exact opposite for the Rebels, who now have to brace for a backlash in Christchurch. The men from Melbourne were wronged by the match officials in their narrow loss to the Waratahs and will have to have luck on their side this time around if they are to come close to springing an upset. The log leaders should win comfortably.

Prediction: Crusaders by 14. (Suggested BET – Crusaders by 13 or more)

Waratahs v Brumbies (Saturday - 11:45 SA time)

A win, or even a draw, will assure the Brumbies of the Australian Conference spoils with a week to spare, while the Waratahs have to prevail in order to stay in the play-off hunt. With such high stakes, it should be one of the better and more intense all-Australian affairs of the season. The Brumbies won the previous chapter in this rivalry 19-13 in Round Five and I see them squeezing out another tight win.

Prediction: Brumbies by three. (Suggested BET – Brumbies by 1-12 points)

Lions v Hurricanes (Saturday - 15:05 SA time)

These teams have put on pulsating try-fests in the past and this has all the makings of another one. It’s do-or-die for the Lions, and they’ll be confident after their stunning win over the Stormers. Both teams are awesome on attack, but this clash will come down to defence and the battle at the breakdown, both facets in which the ‘Canes have the statistical edge.

The Lions’ loose trio, led by Kwagga Smith, are efficient on the floor, but no team have managed more turnovers this year than the Ardie Savea-spearheaded ‘Canes. The hosts have let themselves down on defence this year and rank a lowly 12th (83.4%) with a negative 65 points’ difference – the only team in the top eight with such an upside-down scoring scale. The ‘Canes are fifth in terms of tackle completion rate (85.4%) and boast a points’ difference of 62, second only to the Crusaders (with a whopping 174).

Prediction: Hurricanes by five. (Suggested BET – Hurricanes -4.5)

Stormers v Sunwolves (Saturday - 17:15 SA time)

This is exactly the encounter the Stormers need to recover from their Highveld hiding. With the local conference as tight as it is, complacency won’t be a factor for the Capetonians against the struggling Sunwolves, who are coming off two heavy home defeats. In their last three games, the Singapore side conceded 127 points and scored just 26.

Nothing but a full five points will suffice for the Stormers. With that in mind, they’ll still have to earn the right to go wide and avoid making it harder than it ought. They’ve been stale on attack, but if they stay patient, the gaps will appear and in the end, they will come away with maximum points.

Prediction: Stormers by 15. (Suggested BET – Stormers by 13 or more)

Jaguares v Sharks (Saturday - 21:40 SA time)

By all indications, the loss to the Hurricanes at home has left the Sharks with too much to do to sneak into the play-offs, with away games in Buenos Aires and Cape Town closing out their regular season. Saturday’s showdown, especially, is a daunting task. The Jaguares are always tough to beat in Argentina and are on an unrivalled role atop the South African Conference.

After a terrific tour that saw them win three out of four, including last weekend’s win in Brisbane, they’ll be further fuelled by an expected hero’s welcome in this home-coming clash. Add the fact that the Jaguares handed the Sharks their biggest and most embarrassing loss of the season – a 51-17 drubbing in Durban in Round Nine – and the visitors’ chances are slim at best.

Prediction: Jaguares by 10. (Suggested BET – Jaguares -6.5)

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