Aotearoa’s domination of the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition continued into the final week of the regular season as all five New Zealand-based sides once again bested their Australian opponents with the Blues and Highlanders booking their place in this weekend’s grand final.
As it stands, online bookmakers in Australia are backing the Blues to win at $1.36, and the Highlanders at $3.20, despite the Highlanders coming out on top 35-29 last time the two teams met back in April.
The week leading up to the final matches of the series was not a hopeful one for Australia’s five Super Rugby franchises as New Zealand’s teams occupied the top five positions in the ten-team ladder.
As expected the battle was centered around Aotearoa’s top three sides – the Blues, Highlanders, and Crusaders – while the Hurricanes and Chiefs still had a mathematical chance of making it to the final but were counted out by most bookies.
These three teams remained undefeated in their first four matches with both the Highlanders and the Crusaders sitting on 18 points each thanks to two bonus points, bettered only by the Blues on 19 after they secured bonus-point wins in their first three matches of the series.
Although they thumped the Warratahs 35-48, the Rebels 35-13, and then the Force 43-6 in their first three games securing 3 convincing bonus-point victories, the Hurricanes stumbled in the second to last week against the Brumbies in Canberra in a 12-10 contest.
Still, with 16 points courtesy of their three wins and four bonus points, the Wellington based-side was hoping that Brumbies could repeat their victory against the Highlanders last weekend and that either the Western Force could overcome the Blues or the Rebels the Crusaders to give them a shot at the finals this Saturday.
The Chiefs were also wishing for a miracle after dropping a game against the Reds three weeks ago putting them on 14 points, as three other New Zealand losses and a bonus-point win could have seen them defy the odds and make the two top two.
In the end, there was no room for the Hurricanes or Chiefs as New Zealand’s dominance continued until the end and all Australian sides lost their final matches putting the total number of New Zealand wins for the season at 23, while the Australian teams recorded just two.
Given Australia’s lackluster performances this season the results should have come as no surprise with Aussie betting sites giving none of the Australian sides much of a chance heading into the last week.
The Rebels were paying $13.00 to beat the Crusaders who were heavy favourites in a match that ended 52-26 giving the Crusaders a bonus point and a good shot at making the finals with 23 points.
Similarly, the Blues were $1.04 favourites against the struggling Western Force who were priced at $12.00 although this game was tighter with the Blues coming up victorious 31-21 also giving them 23 points.
The Highlanders had the worst odds heading into the last match, given a price of $1.36 to defeat the Brumbies who were paying $3.10, although a convincing 33-12 win gave them the bonus point they needed to also secure 23 points in the standings.
With the top three sides tied at 23 points apiece, the top two teams were decided based on points differential seeing the dominant Blues keep their top position at +119 points followed by the Highlanders at +103 points and the Crusaders at +97 points.
The Crusaders, who won the Super Rugby Aotearoa championship and were backed by most Australian betting sites to win the double at $1.70 before they got knocked out, were sent packing, missing out by just six points.
In the end, the Hurricanes’ 43-14 demolition of the Reds and the Chiefs’ 40-7 trouncing over the Warratahs wasn’t enough to get these two sides into the top two despite the Hurricanes securing their fifth bonus point from as many matches and ending the season on 21 points.
While the series may have looked dismal for Aussie rugby fans there were some glimmers of hope. The Trans-Tasman series has seen young Australian talent step up with Melbourne Rebels flyhalf Carter Gordon, Waratahs flyhalf Ben Donaldson and Reds centre Isaac Henry among the players turning the most heads.