Round 15 splits over two game weeks, with the Australian and New Zealand teams playing this week
Going into this round of games Crusaders lead the overall table with 13 wins from 13 ahead of the Lions with 12 from 13 as we head nearer to the Finals stages.
8.35pm Blues v Reds (played in Samoa)
The Blues played out a 16-16 draw with the Chiefs in Auckland last weekend, the first New Zealand derby this season where they have avoided defeat. The game was played in wet conditions and the result means the Blues will finish at the bottom of the New Zealand Conference this season.
The Blues opted to switch this game to Samoa and after the internationals they finish the season away to the Sunwolves in Tokyo. Against Australian sides this season the Blues have won all four of their matches.
The Reds were a big let down last week, losing a home game to the Force 40-26. That defeat has killed off any chance of a play off place with the Brumbies now 12 points ahead of the Queenslanders with three games remaining. The Reds have won just three times this season, beating the Sharks and Kings in Brisbane and the Rebels in Melbourne..
The Blues should cover -15 points here against poor opponents at 10/11
3.35am Crusaders v Highlanders
It’s now 13 wins from 13 outings this season for the Crusaders who have this game followed by a visit to the Hurricanes in Wellington after the internationals to come. The Crusaders won their four earlier New Zealand derby matches this season by margins of three to nine points. The narrowest of those wins came in the first meeting with the Highlanders when the Crusaders launched a late fight-back to pinch the win.
The Highlanders have put together a nine match winning streak and all bar one of those victories came against sides outside of New Zealand. They beat the Waratahs 44-28 in Dunedin last weekend, a result which saw them move into third spot in the New Zealand Conference
The Crusaders should win this and 4/9 outright is a fair price with the -6 handicap being tightly set against in form opponents
6.05am Chiefs v Waratahs
The Chiefs were involved in a close gamee with the Blues on a wet Auckland surface last weekend and in the end they drew 16-16. The Chiefs subsequently dropped a place to fourth in the NZ Conference and their chances of catching the Crusaders at the top of the table are extremely remote given the gap is 14 points and the Chiefs have three matches remaining. The more realistic target now is to attain the most favourable route in the play offs and with the Africa Conferences settled and the Australian group heading that way too, the picture is becoming clearer.
The Waratahs were beaten 44-28 by the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend and they are now nine points behind the Brumbies in the Australian Conference with three rounds of matches to go. The chances are they will need to win all three of their remaining games which also include a home fixture against Jaguares and a visit to the Force to have any hope of extending the season. This would appear the most difficult of those remaining tasks.
The Chiefs should comfortablycover-16 points at 10/11 here.
10.45am Brumbies v Rebels
Coming into this round of matches the Brumbies are nine points clear of the Waratahs and 11 better off than the Force in the Australian Conference with three rounds of fixtures to come. In theory, the Brumbies could wrap the Conference up this weekend if other results go their way. This is their final home game with visits to the Reds and Chiefs to come after the internationals. The Brumbies have won in the last two rounds winning awkward looking away fixtures at the Kings and Jaguares.
The Rebels had a home win over the Brumbies earlier in the season and did draw away at the Sharks a week after that win but five subsequent defeats have seen them add just one losing bonus point to their tally.
I probably won’t bet on this game, the Brumbies -14 would be the way I would go but without much confidence
12.55pm Force v Hurricanes
The Force chalked up a fourth win of the campaign away to the Reds last weekend. The Force have lost all four of their matches against New Zealand sides this season
The Hurricanes will have an eye on the earlier game between the Crusaders and Highlanders the outcome of which will tell us more about their chances of catching the Crusaders at the top of the NZ Conference.
Coming into this round the gap was 11 points but the Hurricanes have played one game fewer and the Hurricanes still have to host the Crusaders in Wellington. Two defeats this season came in local derby matches and the Hurricanes have been perfect against overseas opposition.
The Hurricanes -20 at 10/11 is the bet here.