One could think that either Air New Zealand or Qantas is sponsoring the Super Rugby final given that long-haul air travel and its effects are dominating the pre-match talk in both the home countries of the Chiefs and the Brumbies.
Some pundits – mostly, it has to be said, in the Brumbies supporter camp – are talking down the impact that travel will have on the Super Rugby title decider and they have even trawled through this season’s results to support their argument that journeying long distances is not a killer.
This season 26 times Super Rugby teams crossed the Indian Ocean without the assistance of a bye round to play a side that spent the previous week in the region – Australasia or South Africa – in which the two teams would meet. The data is quite supportive of the argument that travel does not impact on the outcome of Super Rugby games as much as certain sections of the rugby union community think.
Eleven of those 26 matches resulted in wins for the side that had to travel several thousand kilometres, with the Brumbies accounting for three of those victories when they beat the Waratahs 35-6 in Round Five, defeated the Bulls 23-20 in Round Seven and downed the Bulls 26-23 in last weekend’s thrilling semi-final. That is why Brumbies fans are relatively confident about their team winning their third Super Rugby title and first since 2004.
But that is a rather simplistic – and incorrect – way in which to view things because Super Rugby organisers are asking the Brumbies to do something over and above what those 11 sides have managed this term. The Brumbies have to beat the defending champion having travelled across the Indian Ocean for consecutive games. That is a monumental task, one that is likely to prove beyond them.
UK bookmaker Stan James have the Chiefs are trading at odds of around 1.33 to win the Super Rugby final but prices like that will only interest the big hitters. Fortunately, there are exotic markets that provide everyday punters with opportunities to make money, with both opening pertaining to second-half events.
One should expect the Brumbies to be competitive in the first half. The effects of travelling to South Africa and back with a bruising encounter against the Bulls sandwiched in the middle are likely to catch up with the Brumbies at some stage of the Super Rugby final but, running on pure adrenaline, probably not until late on. Tactically, the Brumbies should be suited by the forecast wet and windy weather conditions and, in ageless warrior George Smith, they have the edge at the all-important breakdown. The Brumbies will look to keep it tight throughout the match.
The Chiefs and the Brumbies met once during the Super Rugby regular season, with the Chiefs running out 29-22 winners at their second home ground in Mount Maunganui. The game was a nail biter in which the scores were level at 9-9 after 40 minutes and neither team led by more than seven points at any stage. The Chiefs prevailed thanks to a last-gasp Jackson Willison try following superb build-up play.
Bookmakers are offering odds of around 1.85 (at YouWin)that the second half produces more points than the first half and odds of around 1.91 (Betfred) that the Chiefs cover a four-point second-half handicap spread. Given three things – the travel schedule of the Brumbies, the previous meeting between the teams and the Chiefs playing in front of their Hamilton home crowd – they appeal as the best bets on the championship match.
The Chiefs versus the Brumbies is not the only Super Rugby clash this weekend. The Lions and the Kings are playing the second leg of the tie that will decide which of them is South Africa’s fifth side in next year’s tournaments. The Lions beat the Kings 26-19 away from home last weekend and they are confident of getting the job done again in front of their vociferous fans. The momentum is with the Lions and bookmakers are correct to rate them as the hot favourites, with the home team trading at odds of around 1.29.