|Waratahs v Hurricanes: Saturday 7.40pm (AEST)
at Allianz Stadium, Sydney
|Best Bet: Waratahs WIN ($1.80)
Value Bet: Waratahs by 1-5 ($4.00)
Conference leads and finals oblivion are among the rewards and consequences for both teams in this Saturday night blockbuster.
Taqele Naiyaravoro returned on the wing for the Waratahs last week, while the versatile Dave Dennis filled in at No.8 for the injured Wycliff Palu. Expect Nick Phipps to return to the starting No.9 role for Matt Lucas. The Hurricanes were virtually at full strength last week and no significant changes are expected.
The teams have met 21 times previous, with the Hurricanes winning 11 and the Waratahs 10. The Waratahs hold a 7-3 advantage at home, however. The Waratahs have won six of the last eight clashes, including a 29-24 upset in Wellington last year.
The 8-5 Waratahs have won six of their last seven, including a 45-25 thumping of the Chiefs before the international break and a 57-12 defeat of the Sunwolves last week. They are tied for spot in the Australian Conference with the Brumbies. The Waratahs are ranked sixth in attack and fourth in defence.
The Hurricanes notched hard-fought wins over the Highlanders and Blues at home either side of the Test rugby break. The Hurricanes are third in the NZ Conference but are just two points off the lead. They are ranked third in attack and seventh in defence.
Influential Test No.10 incumbents Bernard Foley and Beauden Barrett will be a critical as ever to their respective teams’ chances.
Stats That Matter
Both teams are 8-5 against the start in 2016. Their last three encounters were decided by 1-12 margins. The Waratahs are 10-6 at home since the start of 2015 (9-7 ATS). The Hurricanes are 10-4 on the road since the start of 2015, overall and against the start. Home sides are 65-48-3 this season (62-55 against the start). Home favourites are 58-20 overall and 45-33 ATS in 2016.
Both teams come into this encounter in good form, desperate and with a finals mentality. On the score of firepower and experience, the sides can barely be split – which is reflected by the tight odds on offer. The combatants remain in contention to finish atop their respective conferences, but a loss could bounce either team out of the playoffs altogether. The Hurricanes haven’t played away from Wellington in two months, which hands the edge to the Waratahs, but this game should go down to the wire. Lean towards the ’Tahs, but the 1-12 margin options for both sides are looking attractive.
The Way It’s Shaping
Waratahs by 2
Waratahs WIN ($1.80)
Waratahs by 1-5 ($4.00)