|Highlanders v Chiefs: Saturday 5.35pm (AEST)
at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
|Best Bet: Highlanders 1-12 ($2.70)
Value Bet: Highlanders By 1-5 ($4.50)
The Highlanders and Chiefs clash under the roof in Dunedin this Saturday in what could be a straight shootout for the all-important conference title.
Matt Faddes has come in at centre for the Highlanders at the expense of Rob Thompson. Brodie Retallick will return for the Chiefs after being rested for last week’s thrashing of the Reds.
The Chiefs have won 15 games and the Highlanders 12 in 27 previous meetings, but the Highlanders have won the last five straight. The Chiefs hold a 7-6 advantage against the Highlanders away, but the Highlanders have won the last three in Dunedin. The Highlanders prevailed 26-13 in Hamilton in Round 11 this year.
The Highlanders return from a successful fortnight overseas, thumping the Kings 48-18 despite the absence of most of their All Blacks, and downing the fiery Jaguares 34-8. They are just three points shy of the Chiefs with a 10-4 record, and are sixth in attack and third in defence.
The Chiefs followed up their crunch win over the Crusaders in Fiji with a 50-5 drubbing of the Reds in Brisbane. They lead the NZ Conference with an 11-3 record, with the third-best attack and equal-seventh best defence. The Chiefs are a mere one point behind the ladder-leading Lions.
The clash of the in-form fullback stars, Ben Smith and Damian McKenzie, is one of many mouth-watering individual showdowns.
Stats That Matter
The Highlanders are 9-5 against the start in 2016, while the Chiefs are also 9-5 ATS this year. The Highlanders are 12-3 at home since the start of last season (9-6 against the start). The Chiefs are 10-6 on the road since the start of 2015 (11-5 ATS). Home sides are 70-52-3 this season (66-60 against the start). Home favourites are 62-21 overall and 48-34 ATS in 2016.
This barnburner is just about too close to call, but the Highlanders’ excellent home record and outstanding recent run against the Chiefs could be telling factors. Plenty depends on the big-name Chiefs pack – led by Sam Cane and Retallick – getting on top of the less-heralded Highlanders’ eight, while the influence of No.10s Cruden and Sopoaga, in general play and off the tee, will be vital. Stick to the small margins for both sides.
The Way It’s Shaping
Highlanders by 5
Highlanders 1-12 ($2.70)
Highlanders By 1-5 ($4.50)