Brumbies vs Higlanders
Highlanders by 8
The Brumbies host the first quarter-final by virtue of finishing first in Australia, concluding a regular season that failed to really get going. They have hardly looked like genuine title contenders for some time, with their only win against New Zealand oposition coming in week one. They do boast a balanced side, with captain Stephen Moore enjoying an inspirational season while the Wallaby axis of Toomua and Lealiifano proving integral to their attacking play.
The Highlanders will however enter this away fixture with some confidence, winning some vital matches in the last half of the regular season against more fancied local sides. They might not field the most dominating pack, but they are effective enough to ensure their All Black laden back-line receives enough quality ball. Fullback Ben Smith and wing Waisake Naholo being the key dangermen for the Otago side.
Home confmorts should provide some boost to the Brumbies, but ultimately the Highlanders’ experience of beating favourites should see them victorious by more than one score.
Sportsbet Odds: Brumbies 1.8 / Highlanders 0.5
Hurricanes vs Sharks
Hurricanes by 12
After their round one demolition at the hands of the Brumbies, few would have predicted the Hurricanes to finish top of the log at the end of the regular season. The Hurricanes are on a six match winning streak, their last loss coming ironically at the hands of the Sharks in Round 11, they will be eager to set the record straight. Fly-half Beauden Barrett will be key to ensure they dominate their home quarter, with the current favourite for the All Black no. 10 jersey in sublime form. The Savea brothers will hope to get front foot ball as often as possible, while the tournament’s form hooker and team captain Dane Coles has grown tremendously this year.
The Sharks find themselves in the playoffs more due to the poor form of their rivals than due to any enterprise of their own. Without star fly-half and captain Patrick Lambie, who is still suffering the consequences of a head injury more than a month ago, their attack looks a bit disjointed. They boast a physical pack and pace out wide, but there is little to link these strengths for a realistic challenge. The Hurricanes should win this encounter comfortably, even if the Sharks make them work for it.
Sportsbed Odds: Hurricanes 0.12 / Sharks 7
Lions vs Crusaders
Lions by 4
The Lions gave up a possible home final and an easier quarter match for a week off, and it will only be clear in three weeks if they made the correct call. They have certainly been one of the few positives coming out of the two African conferences with their brand of attacking rugby catching many off guard. Rumours are captain Warren Whiteley will be back for the playoffs, but despite his absence mercurial flanker Jaco Kriel will be a menace on the floor, while the goal kicking of Elton Jantjies will be crucial for the Lions to turn possession into vital points.
The Crusaders have for their part not struggled as much post McCaw and Carter as most people would have expected. Although they face the daunting trip of playing away at Ellis Park they boast a phenomenal pack lead by All Black captain Kieran Read, but the high intensity of the Lions should put their defense under sufficient pressure. A narrow hard-fought victory is on the cards for the Lions.
Sportsbed Odds: Lions 0.83 / Crusaders 1.15
Stormers vs Chiefs
Chiefs by 9
Having lost their form fly-half for the playoffs in their final league match, the Stormers will have lost key momentum going into this playoff. They have arguably the best pack of the competition, but their backline has struggled to fire against the top sides. Damian de Allende hasn’t been able to replicate his form that saw him win the SA Super Rugby award in 2015, with no consistency to be found in the half-backs.
The Chiefs find themselves further down the log than they would have liked. Losing a few too many games against local sides after dominating the early rounds, the side from Waikato will hope to match the Stormers pack, with Aaron Cruden leading the line of attack. Young fullback Damian McKenzie has been outstanding so far this season, and will look to continue to do so with the boot.
The Chiefs have the match winners, and their superior kicking game is likely to secure them a win in what is likely to be a vibrant encounter.
Sportsbed Odds: Stormers 1.55 / Chiefs 0.6