After another round of intense and exhilarating Super Rugby action we can look forward to a further six games this weekend. Last weekend’s entertainment factor was a mixed bag, with a couple of high quality matches (Hurricanes/Crusaders, Stormers/Chiefs) and a kick-a-thon in Port Elizabeth. Three teams (Brumbies, Sharks, Bulls) remain unbeaten and the New Zealand sides had a disastrous weekend ending up 0/3 against South African opposition. Unfortunately, we also saw a couple of crucial injuries as well, with David Pocock (Brumbies) being ruled out for the rest of the year and Bryan Habana will be on the sidelines for the best part of three months. Injuries are part and parcel in rugby and depth is crucial to surviving this arduous and exciting competition.
Let’s have a look at the matchups in more depth and hopefully I can pick you a winner. Happy tipping, punting or predicting and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat.
Best Bet 1: Highlanders versus Hurricanes Total Points – Over 51.5 @ $1.87
Best Bet 2: Bulls with the handicap of +9.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Reds to win by 13 or more @ $1.80 – Sportsbet
Highlanders ($1.74) versus Hurricanes ($2.10)
Round five gets underway at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin when the floundering Highlanders entertain the Hurricanes from Wellington. This is another Friday afternoon game that reeks of running rugby and a bucket load of points is expected. Both teams play the game in the same manner and I think it is safe to say that we can expect some end-to-end rugby.
Having just lost to the Chiefs in a high scoring, match of the year candidate in round two, coupled with the pre-season hype as a result of some high calibre acquisitions, the Highlanders were expected to take care of the Cheetahs. However, to their shock they were completely outwitted and outplayed and were out of the match at half time, trailing 30 – 7. The Cheetahs white wall in defence was resolute in the first half, however, Kade Poki managed to cross the chalk three times as a result of some elusive running. The other outside backs, Hosea Gear and Ben Smith were great to watch as always, however, the young fly half, Lima Sopoaga had a disastrous first half costing his team 14 points off two ordinary kicks and was replaced. The game really fizzed out in the second half, but there were no excuses for a horrendous Highlanders display. The coaches were livid at half time and no doubt there would’ve been a few heated exchanges in the dressing rooms after the match.
Last weekend, the Hurricanes eclipsed the Crusaders in a high-scoring match in Wellington. Both teams were smarting after losses and traded blows early. The Crusader looked to have the game in the bag before a penalty and a late intercept try from Alapati Leua sealed it for the ‘Canes. They were inaccurate at times and they have developed an inability to maintain possession. This will need to be eradicated from their game if they want to progress during the business end of the season. Julian Savea is the inform winger of the competition, scoring a Jonah Lomu-esk try by dropping his shoulder into Tom Marshall and All Black Israel Dagg before going over.
On the basis of last week’s results, it is hard to support the Highlanders. Their back row isn’t up to scratch and they are missing a big, bullocking ball runner. Both backlines are extremely talented and the team that wins the collisions, set pieces and the breakdown battle, will be well on the way to picking up the four points in this match. This is an extremely difficult game to call from a head-to-head perspective, but I think a few tries will be scored and for that reason I am happy to look at the overs in the points market.
Predicted result: I’m willing to back the Highlanders one more time, but it really is anyone’s game.
Best Bet: Total Points – Over 51.5 @ $1.87
Waratahs ($1.29) versus Cheetahs ($3.65)
The first Australian matchup of the weekend sees the battling Waratahs matched up against the Free State Cheetahs in Sydney. As the old cliché goes, a week is a long time in rugby and this couldn’t ring more true than for the Cheetahs. They were absolutely belted by the Chiefs in Hamilton the week before, however, on the weekend the same Cheetahs team managed to overpower and outsmart the Highlanders, a team in which a lot of pundits think could feature in the playoffs. The Waratahs will be hoping the same fortunes are presented to them this weekend.
In round four, the Waratahs travelled to Canberra to get outplayed by the tournament leaders, the Brumbies. It seems like a bit of déjà vu again and I know the Waratahs are a work in progress and Michael Cheika hasn’t had enough time or money for that matter to make huge changes, but they simply look like making up the numbers this year. Once again, poor discipline cost them on the scoreboard and when Tatafu Polota-Nau went off the field early, their scrum and lineout combusted. Bernard Foley doesn’t offer enough direction at ten and Berrick Barnes will hopefully add some spark upon his arrival back. What is most frustrating about the Waratahs is that despite being an ordinary team to watch at present, they have the talent to play a very attractive brand of rugby and I hope Michael Cheika can unlock this for the relief of any fans that currently watch them.
The Waratahs could really take a leaf out of the Cheetahs book, as there is no lack of attacking flair or prowess. Against the Highlanders, the Cheetahs had an incredible first half on the back of their white wall in defence, which inevitably turned into a white wash on the scoreboard, leading 30 – 7 at the end of the half. They ended up winning and recorded an historic victory – their first ever over the Highlanders. The odds were stacked against them, but their passion and spirit buoyed them and helped dismantle a famed Highlanders unit. Inspirational captain Adriaan Strauss has been playing his best rugby in the last two years and their young, unheralded back row has got people talking. Sarel Pretorius had a great game at halfback and Johan Goosen rediscovered his kicking game to help propel them to a famous win.
The Waratahs know what to expect when the Cheetahs come to town and they have a great opportunity to get their season record back to level pegging. It is often said that the third week on tour is the hardest and I think the Waratahs will manage to supress the Cheetah’s flair this week and get their fans back on board, but once again it won’t be convincing.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.29 – Sportsbet
Kings ($8.50) versus Chiefs ($1.07)
The overnight match on Friday sees the surprise packet of the tournament so far, the Eastern Province Kings welcome a bruised and determined Chiefs outfit to Port Elizabeth. Both teams were involved in tightly contested losses in round four, although you would expect these teams to be at the opposite end of the table come playoff time.
I really expected the Sharks who have a wealth of Springbok talent to call upon to wear down the Kings and make them look like a second division team. Although I am not completely convinced by them yet and after this weekend I will know more, but the Kings were exceptional on defence. The Kings were forced to make 107 tackles and only missed one. Any team would be over the moon by that defensive performance and with a team containing only a couple of international players, I must say I was extremely impressed. I expect to hear defensive coach Omar Mouneimne’s name mentioned a few more times throughout the course of the season given what his unit has achieved so far. He was also considered as the brains behind turning the Italians defensive weaknesses around, which is obviously reaping rewards now. Fly half Demetri Katrakilis had another good showing with the boot, however, their offense has left a little to be desired and the focus really needs to be on turning their defensive pressure into points down the other end.
The Chiefs were always going to be up against it last week considering the distance they had to travel and they were just beaten 36 – 34 by the Stormers. They still managed to pick up two crucial bonus points in the loss and have now managed to grab the four-try bonus point in all three of their matches. This is something that no other team has done and even when they are down on the scoreboard, you never really get the feeling that they are out of the match. In the end, their discipline let them down and promising halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sin-binned. Co-captain Liam Messam will play his 100th game and no doubt his teammates will want to make it a special occasion.
To date, the Kings have had hard-fought encounters against the Force and the Sharks and I think the Chiefs are going to find a way through their defence on the weekend. Their attacking prowess is currently second to none and I just don’t think a battered and bruised Kings can hold on for much longer.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win
Crusaders ($1.26) versus Bulls ($3.90)
The latest instalment of the modern day superpowers of this competition takes place in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon when the struggling Crusaders host the Blue Bulls (in pink). With ten Super Rugby titles between them and two differing game plans, we are going to be in for a treat at AMI Stadium. Looking at the table, you would expect this to be a one-sided match, however, I can guarantee you this will not be a landslide in favour of the Bulls.
The Crusaders will be hurting after two successive losses to the Blues and the Hurricanes, but they will know what to expect when the Bulls come to town. Last week the Crusaders managed to get two bonus points from the loss and really should’ve won the game, but their poor discipline was prevalent again and a late intercept try was the nail in the coffin. Daniel Carter was as crafty as ever and Ryan Crotty just outside him had an outstanding game and is underrated in my opinion. Israel Dagg looked more at home at fullback and the forwards performed slightly better than in week one. This week, prop Wyatt Crocket mentioned that the focus would be on combating the Bulls scrum, heady lineout and rolling mauls. A lot easier said than done.
Last week the Bulls inflicted a first defeat for the Auckland Blues, something both the Crusaders and Hurricanes couldn’t do and in the process they broke their Eden park duck. The Bulls started strongly and once they got ahead on the scoreboard, they were always going to be hard to pull back with the quality they had to call upon from their bench. Their pack was immense with direct running and impressive games from Arno Botha (who also scored a try), Captain Pierre Spies and Jano Vermaak. It was a physical effort and once they get their maul rolling, it is almost impossible to bring down legally.
All signs are pointing to an extremely physical, test match-like encounter and with both sides loaded with stars of the international game, we can expect to see some entertaining rugby. The Bulls will look to use their forwards to dominate and the Crusaders will look to run them ragged. It will come down to who can implement their game plan more efficiently. With a few injury concerns in the Bulls camp and recent fixtures favouring the Crusaders, I will go with them to edge it by 1 – 12.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.26 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Bulls with the handicap of +9.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Reds ($1.13) versus Force ($6.00)
The Reds return to their fortress of Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night when the play the Western Force who are coming off a bye after a disastrous tour of South Africa. It is a huge week for Queensland as Will Genia returns and immediately takes over the captaincy, whilst the Western Force return to Australian shores after a poor tour of South Africa.
The Reds are starting to gather momentum in this year’s competition having won three successive matches after falling to the Brumbies in week one. Their defensive patterns are working well and James Slipper continues to dish out some massive tackles. He is easily one of the best defenders in the Reds program and once again, Liam gill was monumental at the breakdown and is a player that plays well beyond his years. Ben Tapuai’s name features again after some nifty footwork helped him carve up the Rebel’s defence on a number of occasions. His partnership with Anthony Fainga’a will blossom the more they play together and this combination looks unlikely to change in the near future barring injury.
Quade Cooper has had a slow start to the year but with Genia’s arrival, I think that could very well change. The nuggetty halfback gives everyone a few extra metres with his bullet-like passing and is one of the best option takers in the game. Digby Ioane has also been suspended for this game for an incident that occurred in Melbourne after their match last weekend. He wasn’t involved in anything illegal, however, being a senior member of the team he incurs extra responsibility and needs to set an example.
The Force have been extremely inconsistent in their three losses, having put up a fight against the Rebels and the Bulls, but played abysmally against the Kings. They aren’t littered with international superstars, but they play a very gutsy and sometimes unentertaining brand of rugby. When they recruited Sias Ebersohn from the Cheetahs, it was evident that they wanted a more accurate kicking option and that is what he has produced so far. Rising star, Nick Cummins and Sam Wykes have been ruled out, and captain Matt Hodgson remains doubtful. I can’t see anything other than a big Reds victory here and teams are going to be keeping an extra eye on the Reds from now on, given their strong start to the tournament. Not to mention the Reds have won their last 23 out of 26 matches at Suncorp.
Predicted result: Reds to coast it @ $1.13 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Reds to win by 13 or more @ $1.80 – Sportsbet
Sharks ($1.52) versus Brumbies ($2.55)
What a clash awaits us all on Saturday night as the undefeated, well-coached and well-drilled Brumbies cross the Indian Ocean to face the Sharks in the coastal city of Durban. Both teams remain undefeated and the winner is likely to sit at the top of the table at the end of the first quarter of this year’s competition.
The Shark’s didn’t get out of first gear against the brave Kings on the weekend, despite threatening their try line on a number of occasions. The matched turned into a boring kick-a-thon in front of a lively home crowd in Port Elizabeth. The Sharks basically played as well as the King’s defence allowed them to. This is the second week in a row that the Sharks have failed to score a try, despite having ten Springboks in their starting line up. It was a physical encounter, which is what you would expect in an all South African derby. Patrick Lambie has been great with the boot thus far, however, they will need to be more incisive if they are to remain unbeaten. Keegan Daniel returns to bolster the back row and is has been one of the Shark’s most consistent players in the last few seasons.
To date, the Brumbies have been extremely clinical and have managed to pick up a four-try bonus point on two occasions, which included last weekend’s defeat of the Waratahs. They coasted to a 35 – 6 win on the back of an exceptional kicking display and industrious forward work. Their scrum is powerful and the man who locks it at the back, captain Ben Mowen, constantly reaps praise from Jake White and surely has to be considered for an Australian squad birth. As previously mentioned, the Brumbies campaign took a huge blow when David Pocock left the field with a dreaded torn ACL. Coach Jake White has called it fate, but the return of stalwart George Smith, couldn’t have been timelier. Despite not playing Super Rugby since 2010, he didn’t skip a beat, tackled his heart out and stole three balls on the deck. Minute super-sub Robbie Coleman scored the try of the round thanks to a great break by rising superstar Jesse Mogg.
The Brumbies are yet to concede a single point in the second half of their first three matches which is an extremely impressive statistic given the quality of the opposition they have come up against. I think this trend will be bucked this week and the travel factor will be a hard obstacle to overcome for the Brumbies. This is one of the harder matches to pick, but I am going to have to go with the home team, just.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.52 – Sportsbet