Both semi finals in the 2017 Super Rugby competition previewed: The four leading teams on the overall standings are through, having tallied just seven losses between them all season.
Times are BST, prices from Bet365
Saturday 29th July
8.35am Crusaders v Chiefs
The seven time Champion Crusaders lost the number one seed, and potentially a home tie in the final, when they lost their final conference game against the Hurricanes. Hosting the Highlanders in last week’s knockout round in filthy weather they won 17-0 in a game they controlled with a dominant display from their forward pack.
The Chiefs meanwhile beat the Stormers in Cape Town 17-11 in a hard fought tussle. A creditable away win but they will need to improve substantially to trouble the Crusaders in Canterbury.
The two teams met this season, the Crusaders winning 31-24 away. The Chiefs aren’t daunted by Christchurch, where they have won on their last three visits.
The Crusaders are 4/11 favourites outright and -7 at 10/11 on the handicap. The Chiefs can be backed at 11/5. Weather conditions might play a part here. I expect the Crusaders to win but expecting them to win by more than seven might be a stretch. The Chiefs +7is my bet in what I expect to be a tight match.
4.10pm Lions v Hurricanes
The Lions barely justified their No 1 seeding, needing a long-range penalty in the final minute from Ruan Combrinck to see off the unfancied Sharks 23-21 having been 14-3 behind at half time.
The defending champion Hurricanes may be heartened by the South African powerhouse’s apparent struggles and will hope to close them down, as they did in last year’s final in Wellington.
Still to face a Kiwi team this year, the Lions could also find the extra pace of the game an issue. However, 12 months ago the Lions dispatched both the Crusaders and Highlanders in fast-paced home playoff matches, running up 42 points on both occasions.
Last year’s champions the Hurricanes travel from Sydney where they beat the Brumbies 38-16 scoring 24 unanswered second half points and really stepped through the gears after a sluggish first half.
This is expected to be an extremely close game. The Lions are one point underdogs and can be backed at even money, the Hurricanes 5/6 favourites. Whilst the Lions should improve I expect the Hurricanes to win this match and will be backing them.