Things are starting to heat up in Super Rugby’s 2014 edition with two of the best games I have seen all year taking place last weekend. There was a lot of movement on the competition ladder, with at least ten teams still in the running for the final six play off spots. We are only a few weeks away from the June International Test window, so teams will want to be building some momentum and banking points while they can ahead of the break. The round started off with the Blues running rampant over the Reds and the Sharks became the first South African team to win overseas this year when they beat the Rebels in Melbourne. On Saturday, the Crusaders put the Brumbies to the sword in Christchurch, the Chiefs thrashed the Lions, the Waratahs edged the Hurricanes in a thrilling encounter before the Stormers and the Bulls achieved narrow wins over the Highlanders and the Cheetahs in South Africa.
Another successful betting round last week is starting to turn this Super Rugby season into quite a profitable one. Three out of four best bets cashed with one of those being a three-unit play, so make sure you spread the word as we are riding a serious hot streak. Looking towards this weekend, the Chiefs and the Brumbies should be a cracker in New Plymouth, as should the top of the table clash between the Brumbies and the Sharks in Canberra. Below I will analyse each match and provide some plays that I believe are favouring us, the punters. Make sure you follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for last minute tips, game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat. Good luck!
Best Bet 1: Hurricanes -2.0 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
Best Bet 2: Bulls -5.5 @ $1.91 – Bet365 (early Twitter play)
Best Bet 3: Crusaders -7.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
*There is potential for another play or two to be posted on Twitter
Chiefs ($1.38) vs Blues ($3.10)
It has been a few weeks since we have had an all-New Zealand Derby on Friday afternoon, but this week we will be treated to a clash between the Chiefs and the Blues at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth. Last weekend, the Chiefs put the Lions to the sword in Hamilton with a 30-point win and the Blues embarrassed the Reds by 30 in Auckland. Both of these teams are yet to clash this season, however, the Chiefs have won the last five encounters so it will take a special effort from the Blues to beat them.
The Chiefs turned the clock back last week and showed what they are capable of, albeit against an inexperienced Lions team. In the process, the Chiefs returned to the summit of the New Zealand Conference, four points clear of the surging Crusaders. Operating at fullback, Tim Nanai-Williams showed his class when given more time and space, and his nifty footwork at close quarters led to a try and put the icing on the cake for a big Chiefs victory. This was on the back of a strong forwards display that gained parity over a very gritty Lions pack. After making 14 changes last week, coach Dave Rennie has only made four changes this week. The two changes in the forwards see big Ben Tameifuna and Michael Fitzgerald make a return to the starting team in place of Josh Hohneck and the injured All Black Ross Filipo. In the backs, Bundee Aki returns to inside centre, but he will not play in New Zealand next season after recently signing for Irish club Connacht. Tim Nanai-Williams surprisingly moves to outside centre with Tom Marshall set to don the number 15 jersey. As this week’s game is being played in the Taranaki region, a number of their players will be getting some extra home support before the ITM Cup begins later in the year.
The Blues will be looking for their third win in a row this weekend against the Chiefs having beaten the Waratahs and the Reds in recent weeks. However, their issue has been their ability to win away from home and the Chiefs will certainly be looking to use this to their advantage in New Plymouth. In saying that, the Blues were impressive against an under firing Reds team. Coach John Kirwan’s mantra is ‘better never stops’ and he will be hoping that the Blues can transfer some of that passion and energy they play with at home, into good performances abroad. One of the Blues latecomers Jerome Kaino, could quite easily be their best and fairest player this season. He has a monumental impact on most games and the time he has spent in Japan looks like it has rejuvenated him, as opposed to tiring him out. With Kaino in the line up, the Blues and the All Blacks can only get better.
Ma’a Nonu has often failed to produce his International class on the provincial scene, however, if the last two weeks are to go by, we might be in for an exciting end to the season. Nonu has been at his scintillating best and will need to keep up his form given the talented New Zealand midfielders going around the traps these days. When on form, Nonu creates a lot of opportunities for the men around him and players like rookie Lolagi Visinia and All Black Charles Piutau are certainly reaping the rewards. Coach John Kirwan has been forced to make just the one change this week given the injuries to Francis Saili and reserve centre Jackson Willison. George Moala has been promoted from the bench and he has spent a lot of time in the centres this year, so it should be quite a smooth transition.
In 2014, the Blues are slowly turning Eden Park into a fortress, however, their away form has been ordinary holding a 0-4 record. Equally, the Chiefs have won four of the five matches played at ‘home’, so these statistics are certainly something to take into consideration. Either way, both teams have plenty of power, pace and flair and together they will contribute a number of players to the All Blacks setup. It should be a classic encounter and I am going to lean towards the Chiefs given their home field advantage and the match against the Lions may have been exactly what the doctor ordered to make a strong run home in their final matches.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win in a close one @ $1.38 – Sportsbe
Rebels ($2.22) vs Hurricanes ($1.68)
The Friday night fixture comes to us from AAMI Park in Melbourne where the Rebels host the Hurricanes. Last weekend, the Rebels all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention despite putting up a good fight against the Sharks, whilst the Hurricanes dropped out of the top six when they fell to Waratahs 39 – 30 in one of the matches of the season. The Rebels and the Hurricanes have only faced off on two occasions, with both clubs securing one win a piece.
The Rebels put up a spirited performance against the Sharks last weekend in front of their home fans before going down 22 – 16, in a match they could’ve stolen at the death. To be fair, a few dubious decisions went their way throughout the match and the Sharks were off their game, but a defensive lapse in the final quarter of the match proved to be the difference. Fullback Jason Woodward was a standout performer and his elusive running and pinpoint goal kicking proved to be a thorn in the Shark’s side all night. This week, the Rebels will be without the fiery-haired Nic Stirzaker after injuring his ankle late in the match against the Sharks. Although he probably wouldn’t have started against the ‘Canes, he has made an impact off the bench this season. Stern Coach Tony McGahan has only made one change to the starting team bringing in Pat Leafa for Japanese hooker Shota Horie. Stirzaker’s injury also opens the door for young halfback Ben Meehan on the bench.
The Hurricanes will be livid after conceding defeat to the Waratahs last weekend in Sydney, having led by as many as 17 points midway through the first half. Their forwards and backs combined magnificently in the opening stanza in a breathtaking display of running rugby, however, their defensive systems failed and the Waratahs ‘never say die’ attitude was the catalyst that left them seething after the match. The Hurricanes will be looking to get back into playoff contention in front of a passionate Rebels army this weekend. Coach Mark Hammett has announced his team to do battle with three changes on the team sheet and all of which come in the forwards. Reggie Goodes will slot into loosehead prop shifting All Black Ben Franks to tighthead with the workhorse Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen getting a rest. The other change sees exciting youngster Ardie Savea swapping place with Jack Lam who has had an extremely intense, but impressive first half of the season. Tight five member Jeremy Thrush is going to be a game day decision and should he not be passed fit, Blade Thomson will make a start and Brad Shields will make a return off the bench after a long injury layoff.
The Hurricanes are by far and away the most effective team offensively in the Super Rugby competition this year. On the other hand, the Rebels have one of the best tackling success records, so it will be interesting to see who can wear down their opposition most effectively. I have to side with the Hurricanes in this one as their attacking flair is just too hard to ignore and they will want to return to the top six after a demoralising loss last weekend to the Waratahs.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.68 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Hurricanes -2.0 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
Highlanders ($1.18) vs Lions ($5.00)
The Highlanders will return to Dunedin on Saturday afternoon to face the Lions after completing a successful African sojourn that saw them pick up seven points from their two matches in the Republic. Last weekend, although they didn’t win, the Highlanders were involved in hard-fought tussle with the Stormers in Cape Town, where they were narrowly defeated 29 – 28. On the other hand, the Lions experienced why it is so difficult to win away from home in Australasia having been thumped by the Chiefs 38 – 8. The last time these two teams faced each other was in 2011, when the Wikus van Heerden of the Lions scored a try a minute from fulltime to secure their first ever victory in Dunedin.
The Highlanders will be thrilled having secured seven points from their two matches in South African and now return to Forsyth-Barr Stadium to make a real run for the playoffs. Currently sitting in eighth position, the Highlanders have a tough run home with two matches against the Crusaders, and matches against the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Waratahs. However, looking at last week, they put in a spirited performance and were just eclipsed by the Stormers. It was another polished display from Aaron Smith who seems to know the way to the try line better than any other half back in the world, but he is also creating many more opportunities for the players around him with an astute kicking game. Also, Malakai Fekitoa’s rise to fame continues to grow after another strong performance against the Stormers and in particular, two Springbok midfielders. Up front, the Highlanders somewhat unheralded forward pack deserve a lot of credit because they are creating the momentum that players like Smith and Fekitoa thrive off. Coach James Joseph has made just the one change to his squad this week bringing in Hayden Parker for his first start of the season in place of the injured Lima Sopoaga. Losing Sopoaga will be a big blow to the home side given his thriving partnership with Aaron Smith and his exceptional goal kicking form this season.
The Lions will be heading to Dunedin this weekend in search of a much-needed win after receiving a hammering at the hands of the Chiefs last weekend. It was their fifth loss in a row to the Hamilton-based franchise, but their record against the Highlanders is slightly better. Against the Chiefs, the Lions showed that they can defend for long periods of time, however, the onslaught from the home team was simply too much, but the attitude was certainly there. The Lions’ captain Warren Whitely was simply sensational last weekend and one of a few players who could truly hold their head high after the match. He doesn’t possess the bulk of a Wycliff Palu or the speed of Pierre Spies, but his Sevens experience certainly has helped hone his skills and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Springbok squad later this year. Centre Lionel Mapoe also had an extraordinary opening stanza and showed why some suggest that he could be a Springbok inclusion over the next few seasons. Coach Johan Ackermann has picked up on the fact that the Highlanders almost always lose upon returning from their African Safari, so he does believe that they are ripe for the picking. Coach Ackermann has made three changes this week with one in the forwards and two in the backs. MB Lusaseni replaces Franco Mostert at lock, while Marnitz Boshoff comes in for Elton Jantjies and Anthony Volmink comes into the run-on side in place of Deon van Rensberg.
The Highlanders will return home to Dunedin this week buoyed by a rare, successful tour to South African. I had my doubts about the Lions as travellers, especially given their youthful squad and the Chiefs proved that they can be broken with enough patience and accuracy. Although I don’t see the Highlanders winning by a cricket score this weekend, they will still be too strong and should deny the Lions of any competition points.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win @ $1.18 – Sportingbet
Brumbies ($1.53) vs Sharks ($2.55)
The blockbuster match of the round is set to take place in Canberra on Saturday evening when the Brumbies host the table-topping Sharks from Durban. In Round 12, the Brumbies tasted defeat for the first time since losing to the Rebels at the end of March, when they were beaten by a much more clinical Crusaders outfit in Christchurch. The Sharks also became the first South African team to win in Australia or New Zealand this season, although they didn’t make it easy for themselves by only winning 22 – 16.
The Brumbies will want to and have to put last weekend’s disappointing defeat to the Crusaders behind them as they come up against the best team in the competition thus far. The men from Canberra will be licking their lips knowing that a bonus-point victory will draw them level with the Sharks, but a loss could be detrimental to their title causes with the Waratahs hot on their heals. A key sub-story this week is that Jake White, the former Brumbies coach returns to Canberra, a team he took to the Super Rugby finals just last season. After finding out that he wouldn’t be succeeding Robbie Deans in the Wallabies head coach role, White went back to South Africa. Therefore, it is fair to say that there will be a lot of underlying tension from both sides heading into this match in what should be a chilly Canberra atmosphere.
Stephen Moore has been once of the Brumbies best all season and is a shoe-in for the Wallabies number two jersey ahead of Tatafu Polota-Nau. He is a key ball carrier on attack and defends like a man possessed and a player that is so vital to the Brumbies’ playoff cause. Coach Stephen Larkham has pulled a trump card this week by naming the Samoan wrecking ball Fotu Auelua in the number six jersey in place of Jordan Smiler. Fotu’s presence both on attack and defense will go a long way in combatting the Sharks physical nature, but it will take an all-compassing performance to dominate the Sharks in that respect. The rest of the team remains the same and the settled combinations should be a big bonus for the Brumbies this weekend.
The Sharks have fallen by the wayside in recent weeks, yet still manage to eek out victories that they really shouldn’t have. They were lucky against the Cheetahs in Durban, before the Highlanders put them to the sword the week after. Last week in Melbourne, the Sharks played some of their worst rugby in years. They committed basic areas, looked rudderless without the likes of Pat Lambie, and did just enough to cling onto a tight win. If they play anything like they have in recent weeks, the Brumbies will punish them, but one would expect the Sharks have enough class and pride to put on an improved performance. Unfortunately for the Sharks, Marcell Coetzee, who has been a standout performer for them this year has been injured, along with up and coming fly half Fred Zeilinga, so both players have returned to South Africa for rehabilitation. This week, Jake White has recalled Cobus Reinach at halfback in place of Charl McLeod, Paul Jordaan moves in one position to inside centre shifting Heimar Williams to the bench and the Sharks former Captain Keegan Daniel replaces the aforementioned Coetzee in the back row. With 11 Springboks in their starting 15, the Sharks certainly have it in them to win this game, but they will need to dominate the contact areas and ensure that their kicking game can gain parity with that of the Brumbies. In recent weeks, Frans Steyn’s powerful boot hasn’t always had the guile or accuracy compared to that of his Brumbies counterparts and it is a game where I expect a lot of tactical kicking.
Both teams have a rich history with the Brumbies holding a 10 – 9 advantage over their 20 encounters to date. This also includes the 29 – 10 victory the Brumbies achieved last season in Durban, so it is safe to say that the Sharks will be out to avenge that humiliating loss this time around. Both the Sharks and the Brumbies were well and truly subpar last weekend, however, at home in Canberra, the Sharks will need to improve their game tenfold having seemingly lost their mojo in recent weeks. I am not going to make a play on this one and I will just enjoy it for the ‘test-match’ that it will be.
Predicted result: Brumbies by a whisker @ $1.53 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($1.53) vs Force ($2.55)
The Cheetahs return to Vodacom Stadium in Bloemfontein this weekend to face the Western Force. The Cheetahs will feel aggrieved at last week’s result against the Bulls having led by nine points at halftime, however, they failed to close the game out in front of a hostile crowd. On the other hand, the Force had the week off last week having beaten the Bulls in a physical encounter the week before. Interestingly, the Cheetahs have won the last three fixtures, so the Force will be out to end that streak this week.
Another week has passed and it is the same old story from the Cheetahs who slumped to their eighth loss in 11 matches this season. The Cheetahs continue to play some of the most attractive rugby of any team in this competition, however, their defensive systems, something that held so firm last season, has more leaks than the Titanic. Flyhalf Johan Goosen and Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen both made successful returns off the bench and Naka Drotske has instilled them into the starting team this week. As a result, both Elgar Watts and Maks van Dyk are relegated to the bench. The other change sees Teboho Mahoje, the versatile back rower start in place of the injured Jean Cook, who had an outstanding game before leaving the field with a shoulder injury against the Bulls. He will join the impressive Heinrich Brussow and former Springbok Sevens ace Boom Prinsloo in the back row. Willie le Roux, a man that features heavily in my write-ups and around the rugby media, was once again outstanding. He has improved on his form last year that saw him break into the Springbok setup and I think he easily would fit into the top five players of the tournament this season. Hopefully for the Springboks sake, he doesn’t get injured, because he seems to have an extra dimension to his game in comparison to some of the other incumbent stars.
After a solid season for the Western Force so far, their bye week came at just the right time as it allowed them to head over to South Africa and acclimatise to their conditions a lot sooner than many other travelling teams can. After this weekend, the Force will face the Stormers and the Lions, which are two winnable games, before they face the might of the Brumbies and the Blues before ending their season against the lowly placed Reds. Western Force coach Michael Foley has named an unchanged starting fifteen for the match against the Cheetahs this week. He has kept faith in the players that beat the Bulls two weeks ago. The men from Perth will have watched the Bulls recent victory over the Cheetahs and will use that as a blue print for this match, but their strong loose forwards will have a challenge on their hands with the likes of Heinrich Brussow and Boom Prinsloo in excellent form for the home team. Fly half Sias Ebersohn also returns home to his native land and will play his first game at Vodacom Park since making the switch to the Force and he is no doubt in for a few sprays from the Cheetahs faithful.
The Cheetahs are far better than their 15th placing suggests, but it is fair to say they will only be playing for pride in their remaining matches. The Force have been the surprise packets of this year’s competition and are still in playoff contention currently sitting in fifth place. A win for the Force in Bloemfontein, followed by another win next week against the Stormers would setup their season nicely, but they don’t have the best record in South Africa. I think this will be another nail-biter and if you must bet, I would go the Force with the handicap.
Predicted result: Force to win a close one @ $2.55 – Sportsbet
Bulls ($1.40) vs Stormers ($3.00)
Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria will host their second match in a row when the Bulls play the Stormers in the traditional North-South derby on Saturday night. Both teams will be disappointed with their seasons thus far, however, both teams did record victories over the Cheetahs and the Highlanders last weekend. It is hard to split both teams over the years and last year was no different with both teams winning their respective fixtures at home.
Last weekend in Pretoria, the Bulls beat the Cheetahs to end their four game losing streak, to keep their unbeaten run at home this season alive. It was a match that gave their fans some solace after a miserable Australasian tour that saw them fail to win any of their matches. The three-time Super Rugby Champions currently occupy tenth place on the competition log, only two points behind the six-placed Crusaders. The Bulls have upcoming fixtures against the Brumbies, Rebels and a few local derbies, so they aren’t far off making the playoffs this season, but they will need to beat an understrength Stormers team at Loftus this weekend. Coach Frans Ludeke has only made the one change to his team this week, bringing in JJ Engelbrecht to replace William Small-Smith who had a solid debut last weekend against the Cheetahs. They will fancy their chances at Loftus, especially given the quality of their bench in comparison to their opponents.
The Stormers look like a new team having adopted a more attacking mindset over the past few weeks and against the Highlanders it clicked, securing their first four-try bonus point of the season. The first half saw the Stormers run the ball at nearly every opportunity, which is a far cry from their traditional ‘up and unders’ and tactical kicking. Prop Frans Malherbe, capped two times for the Springboks, scored a brace of tries, which is a rarity for a prop forward. Reserve front rower Oliver Kebble also crossed the chalk thanks to a power surge metres from the line in the second half capping off a good night for the blue and white front rowers. Winger Damien de Allende also managed to cross for a five-pointer in what is proving to be an excellent season for him.
Against the Bulls, the Stormers will be without their inspirational skipper Jean de Villiers after he sustained an injury last weekend. However, Schalk Burger has been entrusted with the captaincy after a man of the match performance last weekend against the Highlanders. Like Richie McCaw, he is an absolute warrior around the park throwing his body at everything with reckless abandon, but his no-look flick pass to Frans Malherbe was simply sensational and one that even surprised himself. Coach Alastair Coetzee has been forced to name a youthful team to confront the Bulls at Loftus this weekend. In total, there are six changes to the starting 15 and a further six new faces on the pine. In the front row, Brok Harris comes in for Steven Kitshoff and Michael Rhodes is replaced by rookie lock Jean Kleyn, and he is sure to face the heat against a solid Bulls lineout. The back row of Nizaam Carr, Captain Schalk Burger and Duane Vermuelen remains their strong suit. In the backs Peter Grant replaces Jean de Villiers and Cheslin Kolbe, who is a player that everyone will know about in a few years, comes onto the wing for Kobus van Wyk. On the bench, only Siya Kolisi and the versatile Deon Fourie have more than three Super Rugby caps, so it could well be a baptism of fire for many of them.
The Bulls will be looking to build on the momentum they created last weekend against the Cheetahs and what better way to do so against the 14th ranked team the Stormers. Put simply, the Bulls are still a calculated chance of making the top six, whereas the Stormers will be hitting the showers early this year. With the visitors huge injury toll, it would take a huge effort to beat a hungry Bulls outfit in Pretoria and I simply don’t think they will.
Predicted result: Bulls to win @ $1.40 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Bulls -5.5 @ $1.91 – Bet365
Reds ($3.30) vs Crusaders ($1.35)
Super Rugby fans will be ecstatic with another Super Rugby fixture scheduled for Sunday afternoon when the 2011 finalists, the Reds and the Crusaders battle it out at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The Reds started the season with a bang beating the Brumbies in Canberra, however, they have only managed to win two more games from their next nine matches. On the contrary, the Crusaders had a miserable start to the season, but their form in recent weeks, including a strong win over the Brumbies last weekend, has now instilled them as favourites to take out this year’s title.
Last weekend in Auckland and in Quade Cooper’s 100th game, the Reds season went from bad to worse. The Reds were completely overwhelmed by the Blues physicality and flair. Quade Cooper and his compatriots at the back were shut down all night by a wall of Blue, but their forwards through the likes of Slipper, Simmons and Horwill, were marshalled around well by half back Will Genia, who had one of his best games of the season. It was a match that really took it’s toll on the Reds, with breakaways Liam Gill and Eddie quirk and one of the Reds best backs of the season Chris Feauai-Sautia all succumbing to injuries that will see them spend some time on the sidelines. In another blow to the Reds, one of their most consistent players in James Slipper has been suspended for three weeks after an illegal spear tackle against the Blues. It is hardly what the Reds needed, but it is good to see IRB and SANZAR trying to limit injuries from dangerous play where possible. At the time of writing, Coach Richard Graham hasn’t announced his squad, but I do expect a few changes given the high injury toll in Brisbane, which will only make things harder for them in terms of having inexperienced combinations.
After a string of wins against high-calibre opposition, the Crusaders have quickly become the team to beat in this competition. Although a lot of eyes will be fixated on the Brumbies and Sharks battle in Canberra on Saturday, both of those teams will have a keen eye on this match to see the latest instalment of the Crusaders improving game. With word that Dan Carter is due to return towards the end of June, the Crusaders will be back to having their three future IRB hall-of-famers on the field playing together. Richie McCaw played his first match in almost two months and looked like he hadn’t skipped a beat being a terror at the breakdown and lasting the full eighty minutes. McCaw’s leadership and the calmness he brings to the players around him is second to none and although he has probably lost a yard of pace, he still remains an important part of the Crusaders and All Blacks setup.
Unfortunately for Crusaders fans and rugby fans in general, Kieran Read has been ruled out for another week after suffering a concussion in mid-April. The loss of Matt Todd compounds this and the reserve stocks of the Crusaders back row will surely be tested, but their development systems have proved time and time again that they know how to source and nurture talent. Coach Todd Blackadder has made five changes to the team that was successful against the Brumbies last week. Corey Flynn replaces Ben Funnell in the number two jersey and Luke Romano will partner Sam Whitelock in a dangerous second row combination. Matt Todd’s injury has opened the door again for Jordan Taufua and Ryan Crotty will partner Ray Lee-lo, the Steve Urkle lookalike in the centres. Winger Johnny McNicholl, a player I earmarked in my season preview, had his best game of the season against the Brumbies and will be much better over the next few seasons after the exposure he has had at the top level this year.
The Crusaders and the Reds have had some classic battles, none more so than the 2011 Super Rugby final at this very venue. However, the Crusaders have continued their stability at the top echelon of the competition, whereas the Reds glory days have well and truly passed. Will Genia always takes his game to another level against the Crusaders, but it won’t be enough to stop the red and black juggernaut in Brisbane on Mother’s Day.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.35 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 3: Crusaders -7.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
All of the above are the opinions of the author and are not recommendations or advice. The author may not be taking every bet listed above. Bet at your own risk.
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