The June International Test match series has come and gone (except for South Africa) and Super Rugby action returns for the final three rounds of the regular season this weekend. Before I delve into this week’s action, I want to highlight both the All Blacks and Wallabies dominant 3-0 whitewash series against the English and the French respectively. On Saturday at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia cruised to victory over a hapless French outfit that couldn’t find any momentum or find anything worthwhile to write home about. The All Blacks then played England and put together one on their best displays of rugby in their record-equalling streak (17 matches), especially during the first half where they ran in four great tries in wet conditions. South Africa, the third component of the big three, looked like handing Wales their first ever win in South Africa before two tries in the final ten minutes sealed the deal with a one point win and showcased the Springboks ability to stare defeat in the face and beat it. I am really looking forward to the International stars of the aforementioned countries slotting back into Super Rugby this weekend and I am certain that it is going to make for some very entertaining viewing.
We will be treated to five matches this weekend, four of which will be local derbies and given the congestion on the log with ten teams still vying for the six positions, all but one match will have playoff implications. Given the way the New Zealand teams play the game, I am particularly looking forward to the Highlanders clash with the Chiefs and the Hurricanes bout with the Crusaders. 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: Chiefs to win (vs Highlanders) @ $1.83 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 2: Julian Savea – Anytime try scorer @ $2.30 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Waratahs -7.0 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)
Best Bet 4: Blues +1.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)
Best Bet 5: Scotland +25.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Highlanders ($2.00) vs Chiefs ($1.83)
Super Rugby will be back in full swing on Friday afternoon when the Highlanders welcome the two-time defending Champions, the Chiefs to Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Although sitting in fifth position, the Highlanders are coming off the back of two successive losses to the Crusaders (Dunedin) and the Reds (Brisbane). The Chiefs are currently languishing in eighth position having also lost their last two matches to the Hurricanes (Wellington) and the Waratahs (New Plymouth) quite convincingly and they will need to dig deep to turn their season around in the south of New Zealand.
Coach Jamie Joseph will be delighted by the form of his All Blacks over the June Test match series and has recalled all of them this week. Looking at the team, Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga form a dangerous halfback pairing with the unheralded Shaun Treeby entrusted in the 12 jumper. Malakai Fekitoa certainly didn’t look out of place at outside centre for the All Blacks in the third Test match against England, and I expect him to create a lot of space for future All Black Patrick Osborne, the rock solid Richard Buckman and one of the most exciting players in the game, Ben Smith this weekend. In saying that, the forward pack does look a tad light and we all know how important the platform set up front is to give the backs enough time and space. Kane Hames, Brayden Mitchell and Ma’afu Fia will have a big task against the Chiefs monstrous front row and Tom Franklin and Joe Wheeler will need to defend and clean out like trojans all night if the Highlanders are to gain parity in the tight and at set piece. Elliott Dixon, Shane Christie and Nasi Manu restore some balance to the pack in the back row and will need to dominate the breakdown if the Highlanders are to come away with the much-needed victory in front of their home fans.
The Chiefs welcome back both halfback Augustine Pulu and Robbie Fruean from injury this weekend in what looks to be one of their strongest teams of the season. Pauliasi Manu, Mahonri Schwalger and Ben Tameifuna make up the front row with All Black Brodie Retallick and Michael Fitzgerald up their clackers in the scrum. Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer and Liam Squires form a dangerous back row and they will be tasked with making sure the breakdown is a clean service for Augustine Pulu and Captain Aaron Cruden. The flyhalf had a slow start to the series against England, however, found his touch in the third Test match before being substituted for Hurricanes flyer Beauden Barrett. Bundee Aki lines up alongside Robbie Fruean in the centres with Tom Marshall, Dwayne Sweeney and Gareth Anscombe named as the flyers out wide. The bench has a blend of youth and experience with the forward reserves comprising of Nathan Harris, Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Hohneck, Matt Symons and Tevita Koloamatangi. The back replacements include All Black former Wellington speedster James Lowe.
Both the Highlanders and the Chiefs know how important securing a win will be in Dunedin given the impending closure of the regular season. In round three, the Chiefs survived a scare and come from behind to beat the Highlanders 21 – 19 in Hamilton and this match will be rife in the locals mind given their wealth of possession and dominance on the scoreboard for the majority of the match. The Chiefs have proved over the past two seasons that they have match temperament and I expect their big names to stand tall and put their season back on track in Dunedin.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win in a high-scoring match @ $1.83 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Chiefs to win @ $1.83 – Sportingbet
Rebels ($1.67) vs Reds ($2.22)
The Rebels will host the Reds in the second match on Friday night in a local derby that will no doubt be fiery given both teams relatively disappointing seasons thus far. The fourteenth-placed Rebels are only one point clear of the cellar-dwelling Cheetahs, but they have managed to pick up three wins from their six matches so far at home. The Reds are without doubt one of the tournaments biggest disasters in 2014 having only won four matches, but their 38 – 31 win over the Highlanders in late May was a highlight of their season and they will certainly draw some confidence from that.
Tony McGahan has stated this week that his squad is raring to go in front of their home crowd after a month off from the competition. A number of players have gotten over their niggling injuries and spent extra time in the gym to regain their preseason shape. Future Wallabies prop Toby Smith has been selected in the front row alongside Pat Leafa and recent Wallaby debutant Laurie Weeks. Cadeyrne Neville’s experience with the Australian squad would’ve been invaluable and Luke Jones has taken his game to a new level this year and was justly rewarded with a Wallabies cap against the French. Australian Under-20 Captain Sean McMahon has been selected at blindside flanker beside Colby Fainga’a and Scott Higginbotham who will be eager to show what he is capable of after receiving very little game time recently in the gold jersey. Luke Burgess and Bryce Hegarty have played well together this year without setting the world on fire and Mitch Inman and Tamati Ellison are probably the most underrated centre pairing in the competition. The usual fullback and possibly the Rebels best player all season, Jason Woodward, has shifted to the wing alongside Wallabies extended squad member Tom English to make way for promising young fullback Jack Debreczeni.
Coach Richard Graham has opted for just the one change from the team that beat the Highlanders in Round 16. The forward pack remains the same with Slipper, Hanson and Holmes in the front row, Wallabies Horwill and Simmons in the second row and Browning, Robinson and Schatz in the back row. Nick Frisby has been called in to the starting team as a result of Will Genia’s injury (6-8 weeks) and he will partner the versatile Ben Lucas in the halves. Anthony Fainga’a and Ben Tapuai are an experienced centre duo and all three of Shipperley (Rebels), Davies (Biarritz) and Harris (Rebels) will be off to new clubs next season, but they form the Queensland back three for this weekend. Saia Fainga’a, Ben Daley and Albert Anae will warm the bench, alongside Dave McDuling, the experienced Liam Gill, Samu Kerevi, JJ Taulagi and the returning Lachie Mitchell. Interestingly, this will be the first time in six years that the Reds will be without either Will Genia or Quade Cooper and their will be a lot of pressure on Frisby and Lucas.
The Rebels have already conquered the Reds at Suncorp Stadium this year, a team they had never beaten before, albeit due to a dubious ‘eye-gouging’ decision that saw Ed O’Donoghue red-carded late in the match. The Reds will certainly be out for revenge, however, without the likes of Will Genia and Quade Cooper to marshal the troops around Aami Park, I feel the Rebels are capable of doing the double on their counterparts this season in a closely fought contest.
Predicted result: Rebels to win @ $1.67 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($2.05) vs Crusaders ($1.78)
The Cake Tin in Wellington will be the venue for a blockbuster clash on Saturday afternoon when the sixth-placed Hurricanes welcome the leaders of the New Zealand Conference, the Crusaders. The Hurricanes had a brilliant mid-season patch where they ran in four victories on the trot, however, their form has been somewhat inconsistent ever since. On the other hand, the Crusaders who are traditionally slow starters, followed that vein this year, but have now found their feet having won seven of their last eight matches. It is a must-win for both teams, especially given that the Hurricanes have a game in hand with a bye to come.
The Hurricanes always play an expansive and attractive game of rugby and this season has been no different. They have scored more points than any other team in the competition, however, their opposition this week sits just behind them. Their issue has never been about scoring, but more so about stopping other teams from kicking penalty goals and crossing their try line (they sit in the bottom half of the table in the points against tally). Coach Mark Hammett named his team on Thursday with an All Black front row of Ben Franks, Dane Coles and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen. Captain Jeremy Thrush and Blade Thomson are the locking pair, with a dynamic back row selected consisting of Brad Shields, Ardie Savea and the impressive Victor Vito. TJ Perenara remains the general at halfback and Beauden Barrett remains one of the most dangerous runners in world rugby. Tim Bateman has been called into the centres in place of the injured Conrad Smith and he will partner Samoan International Alapati Leiua. The Hurricanes are also fortunate to possess the current All Black wingers in Julian Savea and Cory Jane, with the youngster Matt Proctor selected at fullback. The bench has an experienced feel to it, however, it is incomparable to the class of the Crusaders in this fixture.
Coach Todd Blackadder has been able to name a solid team this week despite the news that Richie McCaw will be out for the next month or so. Apparently, he played against England with a broken rib, which speaks volumes of the man, but the Crusaders will now pay for that, although Kieran Read offsets this loss after being named on the bench. The Crusaders will also be without the bullocking Nemani Nadolo this week as he will be representing Fiji in their Rugby World Cup qualifying final against the Cook Islands. Looking at the front row, All Blacks Wyatt Crockett and Corey Flynn will pack down alongside Nepo Laulala. Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird form an experienced second row pairing with Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd and Luke Whitelock named in the back row. Andy Ellis and Colin Slade form an astute halves combination and will be tasked with providing Captain Ryan Crotty and Keiron Fonotia decent ball to work with in the centres. Nafi Tuitavake, Johnny McNicholl and Tom Taylor round out the back three, with Israel Dagg still on the sidelines due to injury. In good news for the men from Christchurch, the all-time leading Super Rugby and International points scorer Dan Carter will make his return to Super Rugby after a six-month sabbatical off the bench this weekend. His possible inclusion will be a huge boost to the psyche of his teammates and a breath of fresh air for All Black fans and rugby fans in general.
Both teams clashed in round seven at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, but it will be remembered for the brilliance of outside back Alapati Leiua who cut the Crusaders outside defense to pieces to secure a narrow 29 – 26 bonus point win. Both teams ooze class and have a number of All Blacks in their squads, so it might just come down to one or two scintillating pieces of skill from one player or another to decide the outcome of this match. I’m finding it quite hard to split these two as the packs are quite evenly matches, but the influence Dan Carter and Kieran Read could have off the bench leads me towards a narrow away victory. I am going to suggest Julian Savea to score a try at anytime as my best bet given his blistering form in the recent Test Match series and with players like Cory Jane, Alapati Leiua and Beauden Barrett around him, he is the best finisher in the game and is more often than not in the right place at the right time.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win a close one @ $1.78 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Julian Savea – Anytime try scorer @ $2.30 – Sportsbet
Waratahs ($1.23) vs Brumbies ($4.25)
The Waratahs will play their second last game at home in this year’s regular seasons this weekend where they will face a Brumbies outfit that has been compounded with injuries and late season form issues. The Waratahs have won their last four games on the trot, while in that same time period, the Brumbies have a split two and two record. These teams last met in round five where the Brumbies withstood a Waratahs comeback in Canberra as a result of two late yellow cards.
Coach Michael Cheika has kept faith in the majority of the team that beat the Chiefs in their last match before the break. Sekope Kepu has been brought back into the front row after playing himself into some good form with the Wallabies and he will play alongside Wallaby squad member Tatafu Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson. Robinson is in line to make his 130th appearance for the Waratahs, which will see him join fellow prop Al Baxter as the second most capped Waratah behind Phil Waugh’s record of 136 matches played. Jacques Potgieter and Kane Douglas will be raring to go in the second row after a month off and Dave Dennis (Captain), Michael Foley and Wycliff Palu form a formidable loose trio combination. Wallaby squad members Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley will play in the nine and ten jumpers respectively alongside in-form centres Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper. Rob Horne didn’t get a lot of game time against the French and will be looking forward to playing with Alofa Alofa and one of the world’s best players in Israel Folau. The most notable names on the bench are Australian squad members Paddy Ryan and the gigantic Will Skelton who had one of the best Wallaby debuts in recent memory, scoring a try and setting up another, along with his solid work rate in the tight. In a worrying statistic for the Brumbies, the Waratahs contingent in the Wallabies scored all 39 points against the French in Sydney at the same ground this match will be played.
The mid-season break hasn’t been kind to the Brumbies as referenced by Stephen Larkham’s team sheet for the match this weekend. Without names like Stephen Moore (Captain), Sam Carter, Matt Toomua and Pat McCabe, the Brumbies have lost a lot of their sting, however, they have still managed to assemble a decent line up. Scott Sio, Ruaidhri Murphy and Ben Alexander start in jerseys one to three, with the latter needing to make a statement having been left out of the Wallabies so far this year. Scott Fardy has been a revelation for both the Brumbies and the Wallabies and he will pack down in the second row next to Leon Power. Jordan Smiler, Jarrad Butler and Captain Ben Mowen will have a tough task ahead of them against a much larger Waratahs outfit, but they have shown that they can muscle up to pretty much anyone so far this season. Nic White has made the halfback position for the Wallabies his own and Christian Leali’ifano will start at ten and has been entrusted for his game management skills. Andrew Smith and Tevita Kuridrani make up the centres with the lively trio of Robbie Coleman (50th cap), Henry Speight and Jesse Mogg ready to run riot in Sydney.
There will be a lot of hype around this match as Australia’s two best teams jostle for top spot in the Australian Conference. Is it a case of last year’s finalists versus this year’s finalists? Only time will tell, but I get the feeling that when the referee Steve Walsh blows the final whistle, the Waratahs should be within two victories of securing a home semi-final.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.23 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Waratahs -7.0 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)
Force ($1.78) vs Blues ($2.05)
All eyes in Western Australia will be on the ‘Force Field’ in Perth in the final match of the round, when the Force entertain the always threatening Blues. The Force have been the surprise packet of 2014 and have some of the most faithful and passionate fans in the business, but a loss to the Blues this weekend would keep them out of the top six and make the mountain higher to climb. The Force haven’t beaten the Blues since their first match in 2008 and the last time they clashed the Blues won 32 – 9 in Auckland.
Over the years, the Western Force have taken down some of the biggest names in the business, however, they have also mixed that with some embarrassing defeats to some pretty ordinary teams. This season, the Force have turned a new leaf and their leader embodies everything that Western Force rugby is about. Flanker Matt Hodgson is as tough as they come, has a huge motor and his is a player that leads by example. The Force are lucky enough to welcome back six players this week after a number of their squad have recovered from various injuries and ailments in the midseason break. Number eight Ben McCalman, halfback Alby Mathewson, Hugh McMeniman, Marcel Brache, Tetera Faulkner and Solomoni Rasolea all return to bolster the Force’s team sheet, but promising youngster Kyle Godwin still remains on the sidelines. Wallabies winger Nick ‘the honey badger’ Cummins is also a doubtful starter having complained of some neck soreness during the week. Either way, Coach Michael Foley has named a more than competitive squad and should they play to their potential, their first ever trip to the playoffs could well and truly be pencilled in.
Coach John Kirwan has named a strong Blues outfit for their matchup with the Force in Perth this weekend. The All Black front row of Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu and Charlie Faumauina will be a handful for their opponents, as will Tom Donnelly and their most recent All Black Patrick Tuipulotu. Steven Luatua has been recalled to blindside flanker after being bench-ridden for the last few rounds and he will partner up with Captain Luke Braid and the tough-as-nails Jerome Kaino in the back row. There will be a lot of pressure on the young shoulders of Hawkes Bay flyhalf Ihaia West given the ineffectiveness of the tens for the Blues this year. Having someone like Piri Weepu to lean on would be invaluable to West and I think he will grow into a solid player once he has this season under his belt. Ma’a Nonu had an excellent series for the All Blacks against England, but he has often failed to transfer that form back into provincial rugby, however, I think he is on a new level now and I am excited to see what he will do. With players like Pita Ahki, George Moala, Frank Halai and Lolagi Visinia outside of him, the Blues will be keen to throw the ball around and run the Force forwards ragged, but whether they can be clinical enough for the full 80 has been their big issue in 2014.
Although the Blues have had an ordinary road record this season their historical dominance and their influx of All Blacks in good form could well be the difference in this match. The Force have come on in leaps and bounds this season with players like Nathan Charles, Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman anchoring their forward play. The Force have recalled some of their first choice players this week having recovered from various injuries, but their lack of game time together could count against them this weekend in Perth.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $2.05 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Blues +1.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)
South Africa ($1.04) vs Scotland ($11.00)
The coastal city of Port Elizabeth will host the final Test Match of the June series when a depleted Springboks outfit face Scotland on Saturday night at the Nelson Mandela Stadium. The Springboks have recorded three wins from three encounters so far this season (World XV and Wales twice), although they will be the first to admit that last week’s victory was a little bit too close for comfort. Scotland have also been in action over the past few weekends securing wins over the USA, Canada and Argentina and it has helped restore some pride in their jersey after a dismal RBS 6 Nations campaign where they finished second last.
South Africa will round out their June series with a different looking squad after Heyneke Meyer has made six changes to the side that beat Wales last weekend. The Springboks have a staggering six uncapped players in their match day 23, which is surely a record for South African rugby. Coenie Oosthuizen will start his first match at loosehead prop (usually plays tighthead) alongside the du Plessis brothers of Bismarck and Jannie. The impressive Lood de Jager will start his first match at lock patterning Springbok Captain Victor Matfield. Marcell Coetzee’s fine Super Rugby form has seen him rewarded with a starting birth in the six jersey alongside the rampaging Schalk Burger and Duane Vermuelen who is now a mainstay in the Springbok pack. Handre Pollard (debut) has experienced a rapid rise to fame after he received the IRB Under 20 Junior Player of the Year last week in New Zealand, as he has been selected to start at flyhalf outside of Fourie du Preez. Jan Serfontein and JP Pietersen continue their combination in the centres and last week’s heroes, Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks remain with the speedster Lwazi Mvovo replacing Bryan Habana in the outside backs. Adrian Strauss will be called upon as reserve hooker, with Trevor Nyakane and Marcel van der Merwe (debut) the other two front row replacements. Stephan Lewies and Teboho Mahoje have both had strong club seasons and their form has rewarded them with potentially their first caps in the green jersey. Francois Hougaard also makes a return to the Springbok fray on the bench, alongside uncapped Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff and Zane Kirchner, who now plies his trade in Ireland.
Every time I write about Scotland, I find myself penning the same things. They are a team that is capable of causing the odd upset, but they will never have the firepower to be a top four team in world rugby. Period. They have to play in some pretty torrid conditions and that is what suits them – you only have to think about their historical victory over the Wallabies a few years ago in Newcastle in what could’ve been deemed cyclonic conditions. Their recent tour of North America and Argentina yielded some fairly unconvincing results and although they did manage to beat Argentina last week in Cordoba, the Pumas were well and truly understrength. Don’t get me wrong, they do have some players that possess great skills, power and heart, but very rarely do they fire on all cylinders. Coach Vern Cotter has decided to make three changes to the team that beat Argentina last week, including handing number eight Adam Ashe with her first start in Test rugby. The other changes see Henry Pyrgos start in front of the former New Zealand Under 20 scrumhalf Grayson Hart, Tim Swinson gets the nod ahead of Jonny Gray and Chris Fusaro replaces Blair Cowan at openside flanker. The Scots are strong up front and they have some class in their backline with the likes of Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg, but if their pack is retreating it will be very hard for the aforementioned to have much impact on the game.
Over the past two seasons, South Africa has proved that they have the depth to cope with injuries and to cover players that are made unavailable due to their overseas commitments. On their day, Scotland can cause the majority of world teams some problems and with the Springboks depleted, this could be their best chance of victory for a long time. However, like the Welsh, the Scots have never beaten the Springboks in South Africa, they also aren’t fielding their best team and I just can’t see them stopping a green machine that is starting to gather momentum ahead of The Rugby Championship. However, the experimental nature of both could affect the fluidity of the game and with a big line, that will be my play.
Predicted result: South Africa to win easily @ $1.04 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 5: Scotland +25.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
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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