|Jaguares v Highlanders: Sunday 7.40am (AEST)
at Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aries
|Best Bet: Highlanders -7.5 ($1.90)
Value Bet: HT/NT – Jaguares/Highlanders ($6.50)
The defending champions will be keyed up for a tricky Argentine assignment this weekend, with top spot in the New Zealand Conference still a possibility but their place in the finals still not assured.
The Highlanders are likely to draft All Blacks Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Elliot Dixon back into the squad after the quartet was rested last weekend. The Jaguares are unlikely to tinker with their winning line-up.
The Jaguares advanced the debut-season record to 3-10 with a 29-11 defeat of the Bulls at home in Round 15. Well out of finals contention in 14th, the Jaguares have the 10th-best attack and 13th-ranked defence in the comp.
After downing the Chiefs and Crusaders in high-stakes clashes, the Highlanders went down to the Hurricanes in a cliff-hanger prior to the international break. They grabbed a 48-18 away win over the struggling Kings last week, after holding a tenuous two-point lead midway through the second half. The Highlanders are three points off the NZ Conference lead in fourth place, boasting the eighth-best attack and third-ranked defence in the competition.
Impressive Jaguares fullback Joaquin Tuculet and All Blacks superstar Ben Smith will engage in an important duel.
Stats That Matter
The Jaguares are 4-9 against the start in 2016, while the Highlanders are 8-5 ATS this year. The Jaguares are 2-3 at home during their debut campaign, overall and against the start. The Jaguares’ three home losses were all by five points or less. The Highlanders are 13-4 away since the start of last season (8-9 ATS). Home sides are 65-48-3 this season (62-55 against the start). Home underdogs are 7-29-3 overall and 19-20 ATS in 2016.
Watch for the Highlanders’ championship qualities to come to the fore in this clash, with their season potentially depending on the result. The Jaguares have certainly got better in the latter stages of the competition and are a force to be reckoned with at home, but they don’t have the composure or superstar backline talent of their opponents. Expect the Highlanders to play the long game in what is sure to be a hard-fought first 60 minutes, before putting the foot down late as they search for a critical bonus point.
The Way It’s Shaping
Highlanders by 15
Highlanders -7.5 ($1.90)
HT/NT – Jaguares/Highlanders ($6.50)