Super Rugby produced a customary mixed bag last round that saw upsets, further injuries to key players and some horrendous displays of refereeing that were very costly to certain teams and at least one of my best bets! The round started in Dunedin where the Highlanders pipped the Hurricanes in a high scoring contest and the Waratahs coasted to a solid victory over an uninspiring Melbourne Rebels. On Saturday, the Blues ran rampant against the Cheetahs in Auckland, the Brumbies struggled to a win over the Stormers, the Force caused one of the biggest upsets ever with a win over the Chiefs, the Lions stunned the Reds and the Bulls beat the undefeated Sharks at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Looking at the injury tolls, over 50 injuries have already been recorded this year, with more than 10 of them season ending. The size of the players and the pace of the game appears to be dictating the make up of teams each week and we are entering the period where the teams with the most depth usually shine through.
A gripe I have this week is over the standard of refereeing so far this season. In Johannesburg, Stuart Berry put in an absolutely dreadful performance with the whistle blowing a 19 – 4 penalty count in favour of the Lions. There were a number of dubious decisions throughout the match and his display has seen him dropped alongside fellow Super Rugby referees Lourens van der Merwe, Argentinian Francisco Pastrana and James Leckie. It is understandable that referees can’t get everything right, but with the amount of technology available these days alongside two touch judges and a television match official (TMO), more accuracy is needed. The two key matches this week will come out of South Africa on Saturday night with the Bulls hosting the Chiefs and the Sharks welcome the Waratahs to the Shark Tank in Durban. 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 +9.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Brumbies/Blues @ $2.02 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Chiefs +1.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Waratahs +5.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Crusaders ($1.24) vs Hurricanes ($4.15)
On Friday afternoon, AMI Stadium in Christchurch will see the rested Crusaders square up against the bumbling Hurricanes from Wellington. The Crusaders return to action this weekend having won their previous two fixtures against the Rebels and the Stormers, albeit unconvincingly, whereas, the men from the nation’s capital (Wellington), have had one of the worst starts to the season in recent memory, despite having some of the legitimate stars of the game. Matches between these proud provinces often serve up as a mini-All Blacks trial and it will be no different this weekend, in what should be an entertaining game.
Two weekends ago, the Crusaders laboured to a victory over the Rebels in a match that failed to reach any great heights in Melbourne. Two struggling and inconsistent teams made for some pretty average viewing, however, the road win might just be what the Crusaders needed to kick their season into gear. Having had the break, players have had the chance to recuperate mentally and physically, so they will be up for it this weekend in what will be a very special match for Kieran Read. Currently the IRB Player of the Year, Read will celebrate his 100th Super Rugby game in Christchurch. Read has proven over the past couple of seasons that he is a class above the rest and now with his added leadership responsibilities, he has become an even more complete player and a vital cog to both Christchurch and New Zealand rugby. Todd Blackadder, a man under fire, has named an unchanged starting line up and on the bench, Daniel Lienert-Brown replaces Tim Perry who is struggling with a calf injury. The forward pack remains formidable and the backline certainly has the ability to score some tries, but the two units simply haven’t clicked this season, however, they will be hard-pressed to come up against a more leaky defense than what they will this weekend.
The Hurricanes are well aware that they have not scored a try in the first 30 minutes in the five matches they have already played this season. The slow starts and weak defensive systems are simply killing their playoff hopes, as they simply don’t have enough in the tank towards the end of the game to overcome their opponents. A late resurgence last weekend, courtesy of Beauden Barrett who is truly stamping his authority on Super Rugby, was enough to secure the four-try bonus point, however, going up in ones and twos on the competition ladder simply won’t bring them any financial, emotional and mental reward. Barrett scored 26 points, four shy of the Hurricanes provincial record and his running game simply would have fans in the republic in awe, given their kick first before run mentality. Special mention must also go to All Blacks reserve prop Ben Franks and he capped another superb front rowers performance off with a try. A lot of the work he does goes unnoticed to the untrained eye, but his work around the field, especially in the tight, positions him nicely within the All Blacks setup for a number of years to come. Second rower James Broadhurst was also a standout making the most carries of anyone in round six and he has been duly rewarded with another starting spot. Coach Mark Hammett has made a few changes this week by bringing back the injured Blade Thomson for Ardie Savea and Andre Taylor will don the 15 jersey. Tim Bateman, a former Crusader, also returns after an injury layoff and the balance and composure he will provide at inside centre, might just be what the Hurricanes require.
Last year, these teams squared the season series winning their respective home matches. Both teams have really stumbled out of the starting blocks this year and neither team can afford a loss here. The Crusaders have a strong home record and given they have had the extra rest, I think they will just pip the Hurricanes in another high-scoring Friday afternoon fixture.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.24 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Hurricanes +9.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Rebels ($1.37) vs Brumbies ($3.15)
The Rebels return to AAMI Park on Friday evening, searching for that first match form, when the Australian Conference leading Brumbies hit the big smoke. After thrashing the Cheetahs in round three, the Rebels machine has really slowed down having lost three in a row, including a 32 – 8 thrashing at the hands of the Waratahs last weekend in Sydney. Things couldn’t be any different for the Brumbies, after loosing the to Reds first up, they have recorded some impressive victories since then with four wins on the trot.
Before the season started, I tipped the Rebels to win five or less matches in 2014 and after coming out of the blocks with a comprehensive win over the Cheetahs, I must admit I thought I had missed a trick. However, over the past few weeks, the Rebels have mirrored their past form and highlighted the inconsistency issues that still circulate within the squad. I have no doubts that they can cause an upset and probably will cause an upset at some stage this season, but I wouldn’t be comfortable betting on them either given that you just don’t know which team is going to turn up. Players like Captain Scott Higginbotham, Mitch Inman and Hugh Pyle have been industrious all season, but they are lacking game breakers that used to come in the form of James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale.
Coach Tony McGahan was brought in to change the culture of the club and start the rebuilding phase (although they never really have progressed from it) and there are signs that his technical direction is starting to bear some fruit, but he really needs some more from his players. After last week’s defeat to the Waratahs, their 12th loss out of their last 13 on the road, McGahan has made six changes including dumping Luke Burgess to the bench in place of the red haired Nic Stirzaker. Lachie Mitchell, the first Rebels player to rack up 50 games, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. His place will be taken by the lightning fast Tom Kingston and Max Lahiff replaces the concussed Toby Smith at prop. Laurie Weeks, Colby Fainga’a and Jason Woodward all return as well in straight swaps with Paul Alo-Emile, Sean McMahon and Angus Roberts.
Last week, the Brumbies defied their huge injury toll to beat a pretty competitive Stormers outfit and secure their fourth victory on the trot. The Brumbies outscored the Stormers (which doesn’t appear to be very hard to do) by three tries to two, with a brace from their minute winger with jet shoes, Robbie Coleman. Ben Alexander and Scott Fardy were also standout performers, with the latter really showing exactly why he was picked for Australia last year on the back of some extremely consistent performances. The Brumbies were far from clinical and failed to build the phases and create any sustained pressure, gave away too many penalties at the breakdown and their defense was struggling to hold against a big Stormers pack. At the end of the day, they still got the win, which is a sign of a team that believes in themselves and one that has enough depth to combat any challenge that is thrown at them. Coach Stephen Larkham has the luxury of bringing back a few of his stalwarts this week including Christian Leali’fano, who finds himself on the bench. Leali’fano is yet to play this season and although it might take a few weeks for him to find his feet, he has proved that he is an important cog in the Brumbies engine. Tevita Kuridrani also returns after having last week off for compassionate reasons, and the forward pack remains battle-hardened and unchanged.
The Brumbies have shown that despite losing coach Jake White in the offseason, they still have what it takes to cut the mustard in what is proving to be a very competitive Australian Conference. The Brumbies have won their last five matches against the Rebels averaging 33 points a game and conceding less than 15. The Rebels started with a bang and since have justified it as nothing more than a ‘false alarm’. The Rebels have a 3/14 record in local derbies and although the Rebels Army can be very vocal, the Brumbies have too much class to drop these competition points that they really need to bank.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win @ $1.37 – Sportsbet
Blues ($1.50) vs Highlanders ($2.62)
The Blues head back to Eden Park on Saturday afternoon to face the men from the south, the Highlanders, in what should be a fascinating contest. Both teams were victorious last weekend with the Blues racking up 40 against the Cheetahs, whilst the Highlanders put up 35 against the Hurricanes. Defense will be a huge focus at training this week, but this clash has averaged a total of 53 points over the past five seasons and should the rain stay away, I would expect something similar this weekend.
The Blues remain unbeaten at Eden Park this season, however, their woeful road form is really hampering their chances of making the Super Rugby playoffs this season. The Blues capitalised on a dubious sin binning of Cheetahs flanker Boom Prinsloo to run in 17 unanswered points during a ten-minute period that put the match out of reach for the visitors. Tony Woodcock, Steven Luatua, Tevita Li and George Moala all registered tries and flyhalf Simon Hickey had a good day with the boot converting all four five-pointers and kicked a further four penalties. Sir John Kirwan has named All Black superstars Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu in his starting line up this week, alongside Hayden Triggs and Tom McCartney. In some really distressing news for the club this week, doctors have announced that Piri Weepu suffered a minor stroke sometime over the past month and as a result will be unavailable for selection until May. His place will be taken by former New Zealand under 20 player Bryn Hall. The inclusions of Kaino and Nonu have really added a lot of balance and depth to the team and as a result, their odds have shot down considerably for this weekend’s match against the Highlanders.
After two successive losses to the Chiefs and the Western Force, the Highlanders returned to the winner’s circle last weekend with a scratchy win over the Hurricanes in a high-scoring contest. The Highlanders secured a number of turnovers at vital times throughout the match thanks largely to their industrious forward pack and some key players in the backline. All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith is in sublime form and his partnership with Lima Sopoaga is working wonders for the Otago-based franchise. Sopoaga has really matured as a footballer and players like Patrick Osborne, one of the most offensively efficient players in the competition, and Ben Smith are thriving. I have been extremely impressed by Smith this year and I really do believe that he is putting the pressure on Israel Dagg for the All Blacks number 15 jersey. Coach Jamie Joseph has opted for consistency this week by only deciding to bring in Chris King at prop and former Rebels hooker Ged Robinson will give the promising Liam Coltman some time on the bench. One player who has grown in stature this year is outside centre Malakai Fekitoa and he will be looking to have a huge game against the club that let him go at the end of last season.
Both teams have some exceptional attacking threats across the park, however, so far this season the Highlanders have proven that their defense is slightly more reliable. In saying that, the additions of Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino to the Blues arsenal cannot be underestimated and I expect the Blues to square the 2014 series against the Highlanders with a narrow victory in front of their home fans.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $1.50 – Sportingbet
Reds ($1.63) vs Stormers ($2.30)
The Queensland Reds return to their fortress of Suncorp Stadium on Saturday evening when they welcome the down-and-out Stormers from Cape Town. Like many other teams that have ventured across the Indian Ocean this season, the Reds failed to pick up any points from their brief South African trip. Similarly, the Stormers are yet to win on tour and have called in the help of a psychologist to try and help them turn things around. Historically, the Stormers have the edge over their Queensland counterparts having won eight of the last ten matches played.
At the start of the season and especially after their round two victory over the Brumbies, Queensland fans were quietly confident of achieving a repeat of their 2011 success. A few weeks later and the Reds sit in tenth position and 4th in the Australian conference with a two wins and three-loss record. It was expected that the Reds would lose to the Sharks, but they will be aggrieved to succumb to the Lions, albeit partly due a number of dubious refereeing decisions and a horrendous 19 – 4 penalty count in favour of the home team. The Reds seem to be missing some size in their back row, someone who can breach the gain line like Radike Samo and Scott Higginbotham have done in the past. It is much the same story in the backline with a number of extremely talented individuals, but no one that can really power their way through defences with brute force. Coach Richard Graham has made three changes to his team this week bringing in Beau Robinson for his first start of the season at flanker, James Hanson (hooker) and Dom Shipperley (wing) in place of Liam Gill (injured), Saia Fainga’a (100th cap) and Aidan Toua (fullback), who has once again broken down with injury. Everyone knows the Reds thrive off the electric Suncorp Stadium atmosphere and this game could very well define the direction their season is going to go.
From all accounts and understandably so, things are not well in the Stormers camp. Touring Australasia is never an easy task, however, much like the Australian media, their South African counterparts are very fickle and on their return to Africa, the Stormers are going to be lambasted. The men from the Cape have a number of seasoned Springboks in their team, however, much like the Highlanders last year, 2014 looks like it is going to be remembered by more negatives than positives. Duane Vermuelen proved again why he is the best number eight in South Africa and the Stormers have the ability to score some scintillating individual tries, however, their collective performance leaves a lot to be desired. Coach Alastair Coetzee’s head is on the chopping block and there needs to be a change in Cape Town. Speaking of changes, he has made seven of them in his team to face the Reds this week. Springboks Centre Juan de Jong returns to the team, shifting the impressive Damien de Allende to the wing. Nic Groom (scrumhalf), Kobus van Wyk and (wing) Ruan Botha (lock) all drop out and the remaining changes are either positional or occur on the bench. Lions coach Johan Ackermann made mention during the week that the Stormers should target the Reds front row as they have the ability to buckle under pressure, however, with the way scrums are these days, who knows which player is at fault or which way the refs arm is going to go.
In seasons past, this would’ve been a blockbuster clash with the Reds having one of the best attacks in the competition and the Stormers having the best defense in the competition. However, 2014 has been a different story, more so for the Stormers, who can’t seem to catch a break at the moment. Although the Reds aren’t showing the dominance of their Championship winning season in 2011, they should have too much for a Stormers team that wants nothing more than to return home. Given the rain that Brisbane has had this week, I don’t expect this to be an open game of running rugby, but the battle up front in the set pieces and at the breakdown will make tense and could well determine the victors of the match.
Predicted result: Reds to win @ $1.63 – Sportsbet
Bulls ($1.80) vs Chiefs ($2.03)
Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria will be buzzing on Saturday night when the reigning Champion Chiefs cross the Indian Ocean to face Bulls. The Bulls will have ‘partied’ long into the night having disposed of the undefeated Sharks last weekend, whilst the Chiefs will be smarting having lost their first fixture of the season and their first match since July 5th, 2013. Both of these teams rose to stardom in a similar era and although the Bulls have lost a wealth of talent and experience to other competitions, there still appears to be some fight in them yet, which paves the way for an intriguing contest.
The Bulls impressively avenged their round one defeat to the Sharks by dominating the physical battle and showed a lot of maturity in the process. It was clear that the Bulls played as a unit rather than relying on their individual stars and Victor Matfield’s leadership was exemplary and showed that he still can deliver the goods at provincial level and possibly for the Springboks as well. Former South African under-20 player Jacques du Plessis led a spirited Bulls pack with an exceptional and abrasive all-round performance. Deon Stegmann won the battle of the breakdown securing six turnovers and flyhalf Jacques Louis-Potgieter has been a handful for all defences he has come up against since his return. Coach Frans Ludeke would’ve been ecstatic that his troops won the war in Pretoria last week and has only made one change bringing back Akona Ndungane in place of Sampie Mastriet. One area the Bulls will certainly target the Chiefs this week is at lineout time, especially having one of the greatest lineout forwards of all time in Victor Matfield firing once again.
Reports have stated that there were some stern words exchanged from the coaches to the players after last weekend’s disappointing loss to the Western Force. It was the worst performance under the guidance of Dave Rennie and All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith and a number of players will be on notice this weekend. Against the Force, the Chiefs never really got going and the Perth-based side proved that they are more chinks in the Chiefs armour than initially thought. At the time of writing, Dave Rennie has not released his team sheet, however, even with a few changes, they will still field a formidable line up and one that will be eager to overturn last week’s result with a solid performance at Loftus Versfeld.
The Bulls have showed their dominance over the years against the Chiefs, however, it was a brutal match against the Sharks last weekend and the Chiefs haven’t lost back-to-back matches for almost a year. The Chiefs will experience some fatigue at high altitude and the way the Bulls overpowered the Sharks in the second half was a good example of this. For me, the Chiefs have proven their worth and I am still not sold on the Bulls in 2014 and would be very surprised if the Chiefs didn’t win.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $2.03 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Chiefs +1.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Sharks ($1.52) vs Waratahs ($2.55)
Durban will be full of hype and anticipation as the Sharks welcome the Waratahs to the Shark Tank in what will be the most important clash of the round. Both teams are sitting nicely at the top of their respective conferences, however, the Sharks were out-bullied last week in Pretoria to taste defeat for the first time this season. On the other hand, the Waratahs cruised to another four-try bonus point victory, this time over the Rebels at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
The Sharks Championship aspirations took a huge blow last week, not only losing to the Bulls in Pretoria, but also loosing the highly rated Patrick ‘the roast’ Lambie for the entire season with a torn bicep. He left the field only a few minutes into the match and to rub salt into the wound, his halfback partner Cobus Reinach joined him on the sidelines shortly after with a broken hand. The Bulls out-bullied them and as a result, super Coach Jake White has made a sweeping ten changes to his match day 23, albeit the majority of those on the bench. White has resisted moving Frans Steyn in one position and has selected youngster Fred Zeilinga at flyhalf, with Charl McLeod filling Reinach’s boots. The other backline changes see Lwazi Mvovo shift to fullback with SP Marais shifting to the bench. The front row of Springboks Mtwawira and the du Plessis brothers remains ominous and Willem Alberts bolsters the second row with the injury to Anton Bresler. It has become pretty clear that the Sharks are really having a hard time trying to replace Pieter Steph du Toit who has been ruled out for the entire season. Jean Deysel has been recalled to the starting line up in the number seven jersey and will be accompanied by the regular duo of Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski. The biggest change on an inexperienced bench sees former Sharks captain Keegan Daniel look set for some game time after recovering sufficiently from an off season injury. The Sharks have the bye next weekend so there will be no excuses for the players not to throw everything at this game and potentially cement their top at the Super Rugby rankings in the process.
The Waratahs returned to the winner’s circle last week with a comprehensive victory over the inconsistent Melbourne Rebels (32 – 8). Kurtley Beale produced his best performance over the last couple of seasons playing a key role in three tries, including two to the tournament’s leading try scorer Israel Folau. However, the match was won up front where Jacques Potgieter and Michael Hooper were immense at the breakdown and youngster, Will Skelton looks set to be a future Wallaby given his ability to get over the gain line and his huge presence on defense is worrying for any attacking team. Coach Michael Cheika has made six changes to the team that will face the Sharks this week, with Israel Folau the notable absentee. Folau was struck in the throat during last week’s match and failed to make the flight over to South Africa as a precautionary measure. Consequently, Jonno Lance, a former Queensland Reds Champion, will start at fullback and former Wallaby Rob Horne will replace Alofa ‘bread’ Alofa on the wing. The other changes all come in the forwards with Benn Robinson replacing Paddy Ryan, Potgieter shifts back to lock, and Dave Dennis moves to the number six jersey. Bullocking number eight Wycliff Palu will be the latest centurion at Super Rugby level and he will only continue to get better with the more game time he gets after a retched run with injuries.
This is one of the biggest clashes of the season so far with Test match players lining up against each other right across the park. It will be a brutal encounter with both teams possessing huge packs. The loss of Israel Folau is huge and with Jake White’s inside knowledge of Australian teams, I will give the Sharks the nod but I wouldn’t be betting big on it.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.52 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Waratahs +5.5 @ $1.92 – 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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