Recent form suggests Landers will deserve spot in playoffs

The Highlanders celebrate after midfielder Tanielu Tele’a scored the opening try against the...
The Highlanders celebrate after midfielder Tanielu Tele’a scored the opening try against the Crusaders in the Super Rugby Pacific clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
What a difference a couple of weeks have made.

The Highlanders were teetering after the 10th round of Super Rugby Pacific.

They had beaten the Force, granted, but that was in — no jokes — the worst game in the history of the competition, and they hardly looked like a team that deserved to play finals rugby.

A tricky trip to Tonga approached, followed by the inevitable loss to the Crusaders, a towelling at Eden Park, maybe a scratchy win over the travel-averse Fijian Drua, and a loss to the Hurricanes that would leave the Highlanders in 10th or 11th.

Eat humble pie, that man.

The Highlanders have only gone and posted two highly impressive wins that suggest they will not only make the playoffs but will genuinely deserve to be there and, whisper it quietly, might even give their opponents in that stage a scare.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Here is an updated, no doubt wildly inaccurate prediction of how the season will end and where the Highlanders will finish.


Auckland, Saturday

Highlanders: It would be folly to say a win at Eden Park is impossible. They are full of beans after beating the old enemy, and have a squad close to full strength, and would dearly love to get the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy back. But we should still be realists here. The Blues are top of the table and look champions in waiting. They win, comfortably.

Other games: Hurricanes over Moana Pasifika, Chiefs over Rebels, Drua over Reds, Brumbies over Crusaders, Force over Waratahs.

Points table: Blues 50, Hurricanes 48, Brumbies 44, Chiefs 42, Reds 31, Rebels 26, Highlanders 23, Drua 22, Force 19, Moana Pasifika 14, Crusaders 14, Waratahs 13.


Dunedin, May 26

Highlanders: Nothing has changed — the Drua would be warm favourites at home, but I do not see them winning on the road. The Highlanders should be highly motivated in their final home game, knowing a win seals a playoff spot. They won’t win by 50 but they will win.

Other games: Hurricanes over Chiefs, Brumbies over Rebels, Moana Pasifika over Waratahs, Blues over Crusaders, Reds over Force.

Points table: Blues 54, Hurricanes 52, Brumbies 48, Chiefs 43, Reds 36, Highlanders 28, Rebels 27, Drua 22, Force 19, Moana Pasifika 18, Crusaders 15, Waratahs 14.


Wellington, June 1

Highlanders: Hopefully not as one-sided as it was when the sides clashed in Dunedin in round six. But the Canes will be warm favourites for a reason.

Other games: Crusaders over Moana Pasifika, Reds over Waratahs, Drua over Rebels, Blues over Chiefs, Brumbies over Force.

Final points table: Blues 58, Hurricanes 57, Brumbies 53, Chiefs 44, Reds 40, Highlanders 28, Drua 27, Rebels 27, Crusaders 20, Force 19, Moana Pasifika 18, Waratahs 15.


Quarterfinals: Blues over Rebels, Hurricanes over Drua, Brumbies over Highlanders, Chiefs over Reds.

Semifinals: Blues over Chiefs, Hurricanes over Brumbies.

Final: Blues 32, Hurricanes 30. Same prediction as two weeks ago. They are clearly the best two teams in Super Rugby.