Super Rugby Semi’s: Lions v Highlanders

rugby union odds
Lions v Highlanders: Saturday 11.00pm (AEST)
at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Best Bet: Highlanders WIN ($2.00)
Value Bet: Highlanders by 6-10 ($7.00)

After taking care of the Crusaders last week, the in-form Lions welcome the defending champion Highlanders to the high veldt for the second berth in next weekend’s Super Rugby final.

Selection Notes

Captain Warren Whiteley made a successful return from injury for the Lions last week, and no major changes are expected for the home side.

The Highlanders will be without hulking reserve prop Siosuia Halanukonuka, who is out for the year after suffering an ankle injury last week; Craig Millar is his replacement. Experienced back-up playmaker Marty Banks has joined the squad after an injury layoff, and is likely to come into the match-day 23 for Fletcher Smith.

History

The Highlanders boast an 11-7 all-time record against the Lions, but the Lions are 6-2 as the home side – including a 28-23 victory in their last meeting, midway through 2015.

Form

The Lions finished with a wet sail to down the Crusaders 42-25 at Ellis Park last week – their fifth straight win at home and sixth victory in their last seven outings.

The Highlanders’ gritty two-tries-to-none, 15-9 win over the Brumbies in terrible Canberra conditions was their fourth in a row.

Key Matchup

The world’s No.1 halfback, Aaron Smith, is central to the Highlanders’ success, and was superb again last week. He will keep the pressure on Lions scrum-feeder and recent Springboks debutant Faf de Klerk all afternoon.

Stats That Matter

The Lions are 11-5 against the start in 2016, while the Highlanders are also 11-5 ATS this year. The Lions are 11-5 at home (10-6 ATS) since the start of last year. The Highlanders are 15-4 away since the start of last season (10-9 ATS). The last 11 encounters between the Lions and Highlanders have been decided by 1-12 margins – seven of those by five points or less. Neither side has won back-to-back games against the other since 2006. Home sides are 79-57-3 this season (72-67 against the start). Home favourites are 70-23 overall and 54-39 ATS in 2016.

Final Thoughts

The Lions proved themselves as bona fide contender last weekend – their first appearance in a finals clash since 2001. They dominated up front and their competition-best attack was firing, with flyhalf Elton Jantjies and their big wingers particularly impressive. But the Crusaders were missing a couple of key players, and the Highlanders represent another step up in class. They are Super Rugby’s top defensive outfit, but they have the attacking brilliance to match and the Lions will need to step their game up without the ball. The Highlanders’ scrum struggled at times last week, but their spoiling in the lineout was superb. The Lions’ home-ground advantage is a big one, but the Highlanders thrive on the road and their big-match temperament and experienced Test backs give them a slight edge in what should be a gruelling and gripping clash.

The Way It’s Shaping

Highlanders by 7

Recommended Bet

Highlanders WIN ($2.00)

Value Bet

Highlanders by 6-10 ($7.00)

The Wolf’s Super Rugby Semi Finals Tips

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