Super Rugby is back and it seems like a distant memory since Round 16 finished.  There were four upsets in Super Rugby Round 16 and only two bonus points for teams being within seven points and four out of the seven games had margins of 13 points or more, so if you are struggling in the tipping stakes, it could be worth going big with some of your margins!

Super Rugby Round 17 has only five matches, with four of them being the tough to pick derbies.  Remember that these can be difficult to pick as the underdogs sometimes get a sniff of doing over their big brother.  There are no South African teams in action this week, so there no need to stay up half the night watching games from South Africa.  There are only three regular season rounds left, so make sure if you are in any fantasy rugby competition, that you favour players from teams who will be involved in the finals.

There are some tough games to pick, with four local derbies causing potential banana skins for the better ranked teams.  It will be interesting to see how the teams bounce back after the June International tests.  It is hard to know if it is a good thing to have a break when the season is heating up.  There will also be some injured players after the test matches with the likes of Stephen Moore and Conrad Smith likely to be on the sideline for some weeks.

There are some virtual All Blacks and Wallabies trials in Super Rugby Round 16 with the Highlanders hosting the Chiefs, while the Hurricanes host the Crusaders in the New Zealand conference.  All four of these teams are in finals contention, but unfortunately only two will probably make it making these matches almost like virtual Quarter Finals.

The Australian conference has two epic matches too with the top of the table Waratahs hosting the Brumbies, while the Rebels host the Reds in a battle for the wooden spoon in the Australian conference.

The Force host the Blues in the only crossover match.  The Blues could do their New Zealand friends the Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes a huge favour by winning on the road for the first time this season.

Tipsters need to be careful as there aren’t any clear cut winners in this round of Super Rugby.  Do you play it safe and back the home team relying on getting approximately three or four out of five based on historical data or do you go for broke and risk everything by picking some away teams to win?

Managers playing need to avoid picking any South African players as they all have the bye in Round 17 and watching out for injured or unavailable international players.  Israel Dagg, Stephen Moore and Conrad Smith were injured during the internationals for example, while players like Nemani Nadolo will be involved with Rugby World Cup qualification matches.

There are some big points’ scorers around the traps of Super Rugby 2014 with players like Colin Slade, Julian Savea and Israel Folau posing some headaches for managers.

Highlanders vs Chiefs

This is a virtual Quarter Finals in some ways with the losing team probably knocked out of Super Rugby 2014.  The Highlanders sit in fifth spot while the Chiefs are a close eighth.  This is a tough match to pick with the Chiefs likely to benefit from the return to form of Aaron Cruden, while the Highlanders have kept a relatively stable team from the side that lost to the Reds.

The Chiefs will be hurting and now that they are outside the Top Six they will be desperate for a win against the Highlanders and a win for the Chiefs would probably spell curtains for the Highlanders who have a tough run in of games finishing away against the Waratahs and Crusaders.

There will be plenty of fireworks in this game with the Chiefs welcoming back Robbie Fruean and his clash with Malakai Fekitoa will be brilliant.  Aaron Cruden’s return to form with the All Blacks will potentially be the difference between these two teams in a dry Forsyth Barr Stadium.  This allows Gareth Anscombe to return to fullback where he will get more space.

The Highlanders welcome Tom Franklin to their middle row and he could be a bargain priced option for fantasy players.  The two Smiths, Aaron and Ben along with Malakai Fekitoa will test the Chiefs defence.

The Chiefs got the skids before the June International Test window, but watch for them to bounce back refreshed after the break.  It will be interesting to contrast a settled team like the Highlanders with a team like the Chiefs who have got used to chopping and changing players all the time, but still seem to win the games that count.

My pick – Chiefs

Players to watch –

For the Highlanders, avoid Brayden Mitchell the hooker who is a yellow card candidate, but Lima Sopoaga, Patrick Osborne, Richard Buckman, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Joe Wheeler are good points’ producers while loose forward Shane Christie and lock Tom Franklin will be worth a shot.

For the Chiefs, Aaron Cruden is worth picking now that he is in good form.  Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick are some good points’ producers, while Dwayne Sweeney is reasonably priced.

Rebels vs Reds

The Rebels wearing a special strip will be hosting the Reds in a bottom of the Australian conference grudge match as both teams have been forced into being spoilers in 2014 after a substandard season.

While many tipsters are picking the Rebels to win at home, I think the Reds will be inspired by their win over the Highlanders before the break and will be looking to win on the road.  Will Genia was inspirational in their win over the Highlanders and him and James Horwill will be looking for some respect following being on the outer of the Wallabies squad.

Scott Higginbotham’s team will be looking to finish on a positive note, before they hit the road and tour South Africa.  A home win would be just the tonic for them.

My pick: Reds

Players to watch – Rebels – Scott Higginbotham and Jason Woodward.

Reds: Mike Harris, James Horwill and James Hanson.

Hurricanes vs Crusaders

The Hurricanes return home for their second last match of the season, but they have a tough job against the Crusaders.

It will be interesting to see how the June Internationals affect both of these teams who have plenty of All Blacks.  There are so many great match ups in this game, although it is a shame that we won’t see Israel Dagg, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith, Nemani Nadolo or much of Kieran Read.

Both of these teams are inside the Top Six in third and sixth, but given how tight the competition is, a loss would definitely hurt their chances, but a win is crucial, not only to gain points, but also stop the opposition getting points.

The Hurricanes have a more stable side and it will be interesting to see how all the chopping and changing affects the Crusaders.  They do have depth, but it is hard to replace players the calibre of Dagg, McCaw and Nadolo.

I think they will miss Nadolo the most as it is no coincidence that having a genuine game breaker on the wing is what they were missing before his arrival and what the Hurricanes have in Julian Savea.

The clash between Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade will be brilliant, while I can’t wait to see Kieran Read vs Victor Vito.

The Hurricanes won the last game between these teams and the aura of the Crusaders no longer holds the fear it once did.

My pick – Hurricanes

Players to watch –

For the Crusaders watch for Sam Whitelock and the mercurial Colin Slade.

The Hurricanes get excellent value out of Dane Coles, Beauden Barrett, Victor Vito, Jeremy Thrush and Julian Savea.

Waratahs vs Brumbies

The leading Australian team, the Waratahs are the hottest favourites for Super Rugby Round 17 when they host the Brumbies.  The Sydneysiders were part of a Waratahs stacked Wallabies team who dismantled France in the June Internationals.  The Brumbies are still in contention in fourth spot overall or second spot in the Australian conference, but they have played one more game.

The Brumbies will miss Stephen Moore and Matt Toomua and have moved Christian Leali’fano into the Number 10 jersey.  They still have enough quality with some useful fantasy rugby players.

Meanwhile, the Waratahs can now boast on enough firepower to compete with the big boys.  Guys like Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley are classy.

My pick – Waratahs

Players to watch – for the Waratahs, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau are on fire. In the forwards, Micheal Hooper, Dave Dennis and Tatafu Polatu-Nau.

Brumbies – Ben Mowen, Christian Leali’fano and Robbie Coleman.

Force vs Blues

The Blues chances have all but gone for Super Rugby 2014 as they lie in tenth spot, pretty much relegated to the spoilers category.  The Force on the other hand have an amazing opportunity to improve on their seventh position when they host the inconsistent Blues.

The Force team has been a revelation in Super Rugby 2014, but like the Highlanders, it is hard to know if they have the ability to go from pretenders to contenders by winning the must win games.

Neither of these teams have been named, but the Blues have got the better team on paper, but the Force have the better team spirit and will be tough to beat in Perth.

My pick – Force

Players to watch:

Force – The Force has some great value players like Nathan Charles, Luke Hodgson and Nick Cummins.

The Blues have some exciting players, but their experienced players like Keven Mealamu, Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu are their players to watch.

Who are you picking to win Super 15 Rugby Round 17 matches?