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Super Rugby preview: Round 19
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
July 11, 2014
Super Rugby Preview: Round 19

Friday, July 11

Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park, Auckland

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

Head to Head: Played 22; Blues 10, Chiefs 12

In Auckland: Played 11; Blues 5, Chiefs 6

Last Played: Round 13, 2014 - Chiefs 32-20 Blues, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Preview: The Blues produced a six-try hammering of Western Force in Perth two weeks ago, but the Crusaders were different opponents last week. The Blues did look like winning for much of the game in Christchurch, dominating possession and territory, but they couldn't land a killer blow after delivering a sucker-punch intercept try, and they face an all-but impossible task to secure a finals berth. The Blues now have to record a bonus-point win by more than 38 points; they have a strong record at home this season, but that's a tough ask even before considering their poor discipline and the loss of two star forwards.

The Chiefs face a do-or-die contest after hitting several mid-season hurdles; sitting eight on the ladder, they simply have to defeat the Blues in Auckland. But this won't be an easy game to win. The Blues have lost only one game at home this season, against a high-flying Sharks side, and the Chiefs must produce the dominating game they let loose against the Hurricanes last week in order to secure a finals spot. They have history on their side, but star players Aaron Cruden, Brodie Retallick and Liam Messam must stand up if they are to take full advantage of the absence of Tony Woodcock and Luke Braid from the Blues' line-up.

Greg Growden's verdict: I haven't given up on the Chiefs just yet. With Tony Woodcock and Luke Braid out for the Blues, here's the chance for the Chiefs to sneak into the finals. And if they do make it, my tip is that they will create havoc during the finals series because they do know something about winning at this time of the year.

Tips: Greg Growden: Chiefs by 6 Brittany Mitchell: Chiefs by 7 Brett McKay: Chiefs by 5.

Brumbies v Force, GIO Stadium, Canberra

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

Head to Head: Played 12; Brumbies 7, Force 4, Drawn 1

In Canberra: Played 5; Brumbies 3, Force 2

Last Played: Round 3, 2014 - Force 27-14 Brumbies, nib Stadium, Perth

Preview: The Brumbies return to action clinging onto sixth place after sitting out the previous round with a bye, and they will be confident against the seventh-placed Force with the return of Wallabies Matt Toomua, Pat McCabe, Joe Tomane and Sam Carter. The Brumbies have the lowest tackling (85%) and scrum (76%) success rate in the competition, but they equally have impressive scoring stats early in each half. Home ground could also be key.

The most successful Force side in their nine-year history head to Canberra fighting to claim the franchise's first finals berth, but the loss of flanker Hugh McMeniman to suspension could be key given that absence of big-game experience. They treasure the ball and have conceded the fewest turnovers this season (averaging 13.1 per game), but have often struggled to convert possession into points - especially early in each half.

Greg Growden's verdict: Congratulations on the Force for being so tenacious, so determined and so focused to be finals candidates. But the Brumbies are the better finishers, and that on top of home-ground advantage, should see the hosts, rather than the Force, continuing past this week.

Tips: Greg Growden: Brumbies by 12 BrittanyMitchell: Brumbies by 9 Brett McKay: Brumbies by 12.

Bulls v Rebels, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria

19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 03:10 EST +1d, 02:40 CST +1d, 01:10 WST +1d

Head to Head: Played 2; Bulls 2, Rebels 0

In Pretoria: Played 1; Bulls 1, Rebels 0

Last Played: Round 11, 2012 - Rebels 35-41 Bulls, AMI Park, Melbourne

Preview: The Bulls were poor against the Stormers last week, going down 16-0 in Cape Town to see their slim finals hopes die, but they will be confident of dominating their final match of the season back at Loftus. Expect them to focus once again on their dominant lineout to secure possession and launch attacks against opponents down on form and missing their captain and star player.

The Rebels travelled from Johannesburg sitting at the bottom of the table, and knowing captain Scott Higginbotham would miss their final game of the campaign due to suspension. They fought back to lead the Lions after a poor start last week, but poor discipline and seven missed tackles cost them their first win in South Africa.

Greg Growden's verdict: After so much promise, the Rebels have fallen away badly, relying heavily on Scott Higginbotham and Colby Fainga'a to keep them upright. Now Higginbotham will miss the last game due to suspension, and with it goes any hope of the Rebels being competitive. This match could be horrid viewing for Rebels fans.

Tips: Greg Growden: Bulls by 25 Brittany Mitchell: Bulls by 15 Brett McKay: Bulls by 15.

Saturday, July 12

Crusaders v Highlanders, AMI Stadium, Christchurch

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

Scrum5: Who will play Super Rugby finals?
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Head to Head: Played 25; Crusaders 17, Highlanders 17

In Christchurch: Played 13; Crusaders 10, Highlanders 3

Last Played: Round 15, 2014 - Highlanders 30-32 Crusaders, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Preview: These teams are each fighting for top spot in the New Zealand conference, but the Crusaders need only a bonus point given their superior points diffrerential after holding the Blues pointless in the second half last week to secure their finals place. The Crusaders can easily dominate a side, and they have scored more points per game (29.3) than any other team, but their slow starts could prove costly against a Highlanders side that can quickly turn possession into points.

The Highlanders were dominated by a high-flying Waratahs side last week, but still they are only four points behind the Crusaders and a bonus-point win with their hosts failing to secure a bonus point will see them claim top spot in the New Zealand conference and a home final. That's the good news. Ben Smith has been in hospital this week due to a leg infection, and their attack is weaker without their star player. The Highlanders struggled to earn possession last week (40%), while poor defence (25 missed tackles) also proved costly. At least they know where they must improve.

Greg Growden's verdict: After such a joyous season, the Highlanders lost their way against the Waratahs - overwhelmed by one of NSW's greatest performances. With one of their best players, Ben Smith, in doubt, they could again suffer big time this week, especially as the Crusaders are so focused towards a finals spot.

Tips: Greg Growden: Crusaders by 14 Brittany Mitchell: Crusaders by 7 Brett McKay: Crusaders by 3.

Queensland Reds v New South Wales Waratahs, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Cheika warns Tahs of finals furnace (Australia only)
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19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST

Head to Head: Played 22; Reds 13, Waratahs 8, Drawn 1

In Brisbane: Played 11; Reds 7, Waratahs 3, Drawn 1

Last Played: Round 3, 2014 - Waratahs 32-5 Reds, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Preview: The Reds are considered one of the Waratahs' bogey sides, and they will love nothing more than to regain some pride at the end of a disappointing season. The Reds have spoken this week about targeting the Waratahs pack as they seek to avenge their 32-5 loss earlier, but it's hard to see how they can shut down the minor premiers.

The Waratahs have secured the minor premiership, but still they will want to extend their franchise-record winning streak to seven matches as they enter the final series. They are guaranteed a week off and a home final, but the best team in the competition in attack and defence will want to maintain momentum with another statement of intent.

Greg Growden's verdict: Two years ago, the Reds were mighty; the Waratahs a mess. Now everything is changed. The Reds have lost their way, and massive changes are drastically required. They will lift for the Waratahs, but it won't be enough. This is a mismatch.

Tips: Greg Growden: Waratahs by 25 Brittany Mitchell: Waratahs by 15 Brett McKay: Waratahs by 10.

Lions v Cheetahs, Ellis Park, Johannesburg

17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 01:05 EST +1d, 00:35 CST +1d, 23:05 WST

Head to Head: Played 10; Lions 5, Cheetahs 5

In Johannesburg: Played 4; Lions 2, Cheetahs 2

Last Played: Round 1, 2014 - Cheetahs 20-21 Lions, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Preview: The Lions dominated the Rebels last week, and they enter their final game of the season two points above the Cheetahs having surprising the majority of pundits this year. They have produced strong performances at home in the past two rounds, and will be brimming with confidence. It's not hard to see them attempting to strangle the Cheetahs, forcing mistakes and penalties that gift the kickers opportunities to continue their fine record from the tee.

The Cheetahs shocked many as they took down the South African conference-leading Sharks last week, and they will be confident they can replicate their strong attack against the Lions. Any number of star players are preparing to play their last game for the Cheetahs, including Bull-bound Adriaan Strauss, and that will be a motivator.

Greg Growden's verdict: This is only of interest to those on the veldt, and the Lions deserve to finish the season well as they have been one of the most improved teams of 2014.

Tips: Greg Growden: Lions by 4 Brittany Mitchell: Lions by 5 Brett McKay: Lions by 5 (but only after flipping a coin).

Stormers v Sharks, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town

19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 03:10 EST +1d, 02:40 CST +1d, 01:10 WST +1d

Head to Head: Played 21; Stormers 11, Sharks 10

In Cape Town: Played 10; Stormers 6, Sharks 4

Last Played: Round 16, 2014 - Sharks 19-21, Kings Park, Durban

Preview: The Stormers are on a four-match winning run having beaten the Sharks in their last game before the Test window and returning with a dominant 16-0 against the Bulls last week. They will be full of confidence with home-ground advantage, but they must watch their discipline after conceding 12 penalties last week. Their inability to earn any more points after half-time last week also has to be addressed against the Sharks.

The Sharks' title hopes took a serious blow when they went down 27-20 to the lowly Cheetahs last weekend as the South African conference winners are still fighting for second place on the overall ladder and the assured advantage of a week off and a home final. They must be tighter in defence and convert their possession into points if they are not to suffer a similar loss this week.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Sharks are finals bound but this is not the right time to get the stutters, which occurred last week against the Cheetahs. This game could easily provide the upset of the round, as the Stormers know how to perform at Newlands… and they're no fans of the Sharks.

Tips: Greg Growden: Draw Brittany Mitchell: Stormers by 3 Brett McKay: Stormers by 7.

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