Round seven of Super Rugby proved once again why it is the most arduous and entertaining provincial rugby competition on earth with some jaw dropping upsets, outstanding tries and results that have just led to an even more congested competition log. The round started with the Hurricanes leaving it late to beat the Crusaders and the Rebels surprised the Brumbies in Canberra. On Saturday, the Blues showed what they were capable of by thrashing the Highlanders, the Reds battled to a win over the uninspiring Stormers, the Bulls and the Chiefs played out a draw in the match of the round and the Sharks cemented their position at the top of the log after totally outclassing the Waratahs in a brutal encounter. Some key stats I wanted to mention this week revolve around home field advantage and touring teams. Firstly, of the 42 matches played thus far, 34 of them have been won by the home team (81%). Secondly, travelling has been extremely difficult for all teams as no team has crossed the Indian Ocean and recorded a victory. Additionally, only three teams have won after crossing the Tasman. I am not going to single out any matches this week because they all have huge bearings on the competition given the crowded ladder. 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: Highlanders vs Rebels – Total Match Points – Over @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Blues +5.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Chiefs/Crusaders @ $2.14 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Waratahs to win @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Highlanders ($1.40) vs Rebels ($3.00)
The eighth round of Super Rugby kicks off in Dunedin on Friday afternoon when the Highlanders host the Melbourne Rebels. Both teams have had inconsistent seasons mixing some clinical and entertaining rugby with just flat and lacklustre performances. Last week the Highlanders were outclassed by a rejuvenated Blues outfit in Auckland, whereas the Rebels pulled off a huge upset as the worst team in the Australian conference beat the best, the Brumbies. Historically, these teams have clashed on three occasions, with the Rebels claiming their first win last year in a 38 – 37 nail biter.
Winning at home is imperative in Super Rugby and the Highlanders will be looking to make the most of their support with a win this weekend in Dunedin. Although they have improved tenfold on their wooden spoon yielding performances of 2013, the Highlanders still lack the consistency that a top six team would possess. Their All Blacks have been putting their best foot forward, but the team was shutdown last week by the Blues and were held tryless in the process. Word coming out of the Highlanders camp is that coach Jamie Joseph has been linked to a European club, but for this week Joseph has made four changes to the starting team with two in the forwards and two in the backs. Suspended prop Kane Hames has been replaced by Chris King and Gareth Evans will partner the impressive duo of Shane Christie and co-captain Nasi Manu in the back row. Kurt Baker and Sean Treeby also make a straight swap with Phil Burleigh and Malakai Fekitoa, as Joseph searches for more fluency in the backline.
The Rebels will be searching for their first win on New Zealand soil in franchise history in Dunedin and with no weather to contend with, they would believe they are in with a chance. The Rebels forwards have been their trump card so far this year, but their backs are lacking the consistency and game breaking abilities that they possessed in 2013. Lock Hugh Pyle would’ve certainly come into contention for the Wallabies this season after his strong showings so far, however, he has decided to take his talents to Europe and end his chance at national selection for the time being. He will be missed as he does a lot of the grunt work and his long strides have seen him coast through gaps on a number occasions. Coach Tony McGahan has made four changes to his match day 23 this week, with two of those injury enforced. Colby Fainga’a has been replaced by Sevens ace Sean McMahon and Tom Kingston also misses out as he still recovers from a head knock, which sees Japanese International Male Sau make his first run on appearance of the year. The other two changes see Shota Horie and likely Wallabies prop Toby Smith bolster the front row with Pat Leafa and Max Lahiff taking a breather.
Don’t be put off by this match featuring the 11th and 12th placed teams. The Highlanders will be desperate to return to the winner’s circle, whilst the Rebels will be looking for that consistency that has eluded them since their inception. From my calculations, the overs in total points has cashed more often than not in the Friday afternoon fixture, and with the match being played at the enclosed Forsyth-Barr Stadium, coupled with a history of high scoring matches, this could be one of the most entertaining of the round.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win @ $1.40 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Total Match Points – Over @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Brumbies ($1.45) vs Blues ($2.80)
The Brumbies will be relieved to be returning to Canberra Stadium on Friday night when they welcome a Blues team that has found another level since their disastrous tour of South Africa a few weeks ago. Against the Rebels, the Brumbies went to sleep in Melbourne after securing an early lead, however, the men from Canberra couldn’t match a spirited home side performance. In Auckland, the Blues battled the Highlanders and raced to a 30 – 12 victory with All Blacks Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu contributing heavily in their first matches of the season. Over the years, these two teams have been neck and neck and given both teams have won Super Rugby titles before, it is always an intriguing contest.
After winning four matches in a row, it was somewhat of a surprise to see the Brumbies capitulate at the hands of the Melbourne Rebels in round seven. Heading into the half time break, the Brumbies had a 10 – 3 lead, but an astounding second half from the Rebels, saw Jason Woodward notch up 27 points for the home team and sent Brumbies rugby into a state of shock in what many believed should’ve been a comfortable victory. The Brumbies fade would’ve been a cause for concern for the management team, but they will be eager to turn things around against a much more dangerous Blues outfit this week. Coach Stephen Larkham has only made the one change bringing in Siliva Siliva in place of the injured Wallabies hooker, Stephen Moore. Moore hasn’t missed a game for the Brumbies since the 2011 season, which speaks volume of his durability and conditioning, but Siliva has represented Australia at age group level, so the Brumbies will have confidence in him. This is turning out to be a crucial game for the Brumbies, especially if they want to remain at the top of the Australian Conference with the Waratahs hot on their heels.
The Blues finished round seven in the top six with an impressive performance against the Highlanders last weekend. The additions of Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu clearly took the Blues game to another level and the players around them played with added confidence in a dominant display. They will be disappointed that they couldn’t pick up the four-try bonus point, but they will take any win over their New Zealand counterparts at this stage. Coach John Kirwan has made two changes to his line up this week that will run out in Canberra having rested Luke Braid after his heavy early season workload and replacing the injured Jackson Willison after he suffered a rib injury after a firm display against some tough centres from Dunedin. Brendan O’Connor replaces Braid and George Moala shifts to outside centre and the young livewire Tevita Li returns to the wing. As a result of Braid’s absence, Jerome Kaino will wear the captain’s armband reiterating his leadership qualities and the influence he has on his peers. The Blues have failed to win on the road for a number of games, having lost three games so far this season, but given the newfound balance they have within the squad, a victory wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.
The Blues will be looking to avenge their loss at Eden Park last year, but Canberra has been a very difficult place to visit for touring teams. Both teams have some exceptional attacking threats, but the Brumbies have had the more stable defensive line so far this year. In saying that, the Blues look a much more balanced line up with the additions of Kaino and Nonu and too be honest, I am finding it hard to split them.
Predicted result: This one could go either way – no match prediction.
Best Bet 2: Blues +5.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($1.53) vs Bulls ($2.55)
McLean Park in Napier is the unfamiliar venue for the first matchup on Saturday between the improving Hurricanes and the Bulls of Pretoria. The Hurricanes produced their strongest performance of the season last week in Christchurch, beating the Crusaders in their own backyard thanks to some individual brilliance by Alapati Leiua scoring a sensational 60 metre try. The Bulls would’ve been equally elated up until the 70th minute mark, when they let in three tries against the reigning champions, the Chiefs, in a match that ended in a thrilling draw.
The Hurricanes have always had the squad to cause havoc for their Super Rugby counterparts, but very rarely have the reached the heights that many have thought or think they can. A loss to the Crusaders last weekend would’ve all but ended their season early, but they fought gallantly to claim the match, 29 – 26. The game was played at a rampant pace and the physicality stakes were high in a replay of the 2006 Super Rugby final. The Hurricanes notched up the bonus point in Christchurch thanks to tries from Levave, Perenara, Julian Savea and Leiua. Just when you thought that things couldn’t get better for the Hurricanes, Coach Colin Cooper has been able to recall All Blacks Victor Vito (number 8), Cory Jane (wing) and future International Brad Shields (flanker – bench) for this weekend’s fixture. The starting fifteen contains 13 players with International experience so the men in gold will be confident in achieving their first victory over the Bulls since 2008.
The Bulls played some of their best rugby and some of their worst rugby over the course of the match against the Chiefs last weekend. In saying that, they still have only lost three of their last 21 matches at Loftus. Victor Matfield, now 36 years young, has been exceptional since his return from retirement and has positioned himself for a potential Springbok recall later on in the year. However, he will be rested for the tour of Australasia, but will still remain with the squad in a coaching capacity and the captaincy will be handed back to Flip van der Merwe, as he has now recovered from injury. In Pretoria, Bjorn Basson and Deon Stegmann had strong games and crossed for tries and Jacques Louis Potgieter’s introduction to the Bulls setup has calmed the players around him and was once again faultless with the boot. Besides bringing in ‘big Flip’, coach Frans Ludeke has recalled the abrasive Jacques Engelbrecht to number eight, shifting Dewald Potgieter to the side of the scrum with the rising star Jacques du Plessis getting a rest after a eye catching start to the season. Ludeke has made mention this week that the Bulls will start to rotate their players so that they can make a real run for premiership glory when they return back to Pretoria in just over a months time.
The Bulls will be vying for their fifth straight victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday in what should be an open encounter, if weather permits. Both teams have racked up the points this year and have personnel that can score some exceptional tries, and with the mid-table congestion, these games could be very telling come July, when the playoffs begin. The Hurricanes have been instilled as favourites and they might just catch the Bulls napping after a long flight over from the Republic.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.53 – Sportsbet
Reds ($1.36) vs Force ($3.20)
The Reds will play their second successive fixture at Suncorp Stadium this weekend, in a local derby that will be fiercely contested. Last week against the Stormers, the Reds prevailed in what was quite possibly the worst rugby game I have seen in a number of years. Quade Cooper was the difference with 20 points, but the entertainment value reminded me of watching old people play lawn bowls. The Force had the week off after a decent run of games, but they will still be riding the wave of their impressive victory over the Chiefs in Perth two weeks ago.
The Reds have had their worst start to a season since 2009, however, with a stretch of home games to come, they are quietly confident of still featuring at the business end of the competition. The Reds strength has always been their attack and their ability to make something out of nothing, but against the Stormers and other teams this season, they have simply kicked away too much ball. It is important to play field position, but this often negates their offensive talents and their back row doesn’t always dominate the breakdown. Additionally, their backline doesn’t have enough punch and power and the loss of Digby Ioane is proving to be much bigger than first thought. There have certainly been some positives though with Will Genia starting to run the ball a bit more, which has freed up Quade Cooper, whose composure has been paramount for the Reds over the last few weeks. Furthermore, his goal kicking continues to go from strength to strength. In the forwards Rob Simmons has been a pillar of strength and has easily been Australia’s best lineout forward this season.
The Reds have a crisis in the outside backs with Lachie Turner and Dom Shipperley ruled out of this match, but a player I earmarked to crack the Reds this year in preseason, JJ Taulagi will make his debut on the wing. Having watched him play for University in the Brisbane club competition last year, his step is the best I have ever seen and his turn of pace and ability to play with freedom make him an extremely exciting player to watch. He will line up alongside rocket Rod Davies and Ben Lucas, who is the other change, with Lucas making his first start at fullback for the season.
The Western Force have had a week off to relax and prepare for this match, which only makes them more dangerous this weekend. The Western Force always get up for this game and have made a name for themselves as the Red’s hoodoo team. Last season, the Force took the series after a 19 – 12 win at Suncorp, followed by an 11 – 11 draw in Perth. The Force’s back row has been a lynchpin for them for a number of years and Matt Hodgson, Angus Cottrell and Ben McCalman have continued that trend. McCalman has been one of the standout forwards in the competition and in terms of statistics, has almost doubled his 2013 output. He is a wrecking ball close the line and his return from suspension comes at a good time for the Force. The Force have the third best maul in the competition and the Reds haven’t coped well with the defensive maul in recent times, so expect to see a few lineouts in Brisbane. The backline has seen few changes over the course of the last few rounds and they are reaping the benefit of the extended playing time together. Winger Luke Morahan will be nervously excited about returning to his hometown and coming up against his University teammate JJ Taulagi.
Both teams are neck and neck on the competition ladder in 8th (Reds) and 9th (Force) respectively and this could very well be a make-or-break match for either team. Given the tightness of the Australian Conference, the intensity of these derbies will only increase, which unfortunately, doesn’t always make for the prettiest rugby. The Reds should have enough firepower to beat the Force because they know another loss here would jeopardise their playoff potential, but from a betting point of view, I wouldn’t waste my chips here.
Predicted result: Reds to win @ $1.36 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($3.00) vs Chiefs ($1.40)
The Cheetahs return to Bloemfontein this weekend where the reigning Champions await, in what should be a free flowing affair. The Cheetahs had a tour to forget losing all four fixtures, whereas the Chiefs would be extremely disappointing only securing four competition points from a loss and a draw from their two matches so far outside of New Zealand.
The Cheetahs and their fans will have been quietly confident heading into the 2014 Super Rugby season after reaching the unfamiliar heights of the Super Rugby playoffs last year – but it is fair to say that things have really taken a turn for the worst. Their personnel remains the same and the Cheetahs have scored some superb tries this year, but their defense, which was a hallmark of their game in 2013, has been found wanting on a number of occasions. Their captain Adriaan Strauss continues to lead from the front with his booming runs and aggressive tackling. Additionally, he currently holds the crown for the best pilferer in the competition with 11 steals from the first seven rounds.
The bye round couldn’t have come at a better time and coach Naka Drotske has announced a team with a handful of changes this week. Cheetahs number eight and the tournament’s current top tackler, Philip van der Walt has been ruled out for up to two months after breaking his hand. He has been one of the Cheetahs best players over the past two seasons and his work rate around the field will be missed. Jean Cook has been injected back into the starting 15, partnering Lappies Labuschagne and former Blitzbokke star Boom Prinsloo. The big-smiling Trevor Nyakane also returns to the front row and his bulk will be needed when they come up against the tournament’s heaviest front row.
The depth that the Chiefs have created over the past few seasons was evident last week with their replacements and their abundantly talented backline almost singlehandedly wrestled the lead off the Bulls in Pretoria. Although their forwards are jam-packed with internationals, their lineout is an area of a concern, both from an offensive and defensive point of view. The South Africans are synonymous for the driving maul and the Chiefs will have spent extra sessions this week honing their skills at stopping the formation at the source, before their opponents can generate any momentum. However, their scrum remains steady and their attention to detail is outstanding. The Chiefs have mastered the ability to play to their strengths better than any other team, but it will take a big effort to win against the Stormers in Cape Town. At the time of writing, Coach Dave Rennie hasn’t realised his team, however, I expect a number of their stalwarts to return this week, especially given their impact off the bench last weekend in Pretoria.
The Chiefs played more rugby in the final ten minutes against the Bulls than some teams do throughout the course of a whole match. Both teams have players with extreme amounts of talent, however, the Chiefs look more likely to gel as a unit first and after a week acclimatising to conditions in the Republic, they could quite easily run away with this one in Bloemfontein.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.40 – Sportsbet
Lions ($2.55) vs Crusaders ($1.53)
Ellis Park in Johannesburg is starting to resemble a time in history when Lions rugby was at it’s strongest, as the fans continue to flock to the ground in support of the men in Red. This weekend will be no different as the perennial superpowers of the competition head to Jo’burg in search of some answers to a very unprofitable season so far. The Lions had the bye last week so will be well rested, whereas, Crusaders looked like keeping their impressive home record alive before some late individual brilliance saw them go down by a narrow margin.
Wins over the Blues and the Reds will be season highlights without a doubt, however, to take the scalp over the Crusaders would put the players, coaching staff and Lions fans on cloud nine. With a largely unheralded squad, the Lions have clicked as a unit and proved that you don’t always need overly talented individuals to make a good fist of things. However, the loss of captain Franco van der Merwe for the next six months has left a huge void in their pack, not only from a lineout point of view, but losing a player of his experience will be costly. Although, the Lions do have the added benefit of a number of their injured players available for selection this week including Andries Coetzee, Anthony Volminck, Alwyn Hollenbach, Deon van Rensburg, Chrysander Botha, Derick Minnie and Malcolm Marx. Coach Johan Ackerman has decided to recall Andries Coetzee at fullback, Lionel Mapoe at outside centre and Martin Muller replaces their injured skipper.
This tour couldn’t have come at a better time for the Crusaders after an ordinary start to the season. Touring often galvanises teams and without the easy-access to criticisms from home fans in New Zealand, the Crusaders can focus on how they are going to turn their season around. They will have to do so without Kieran Read this week as a result of a head knock sustained against the Hurricanes and with Dan Carter and Richie McCaw still on the sidelines, that is a huge wealth of unavailable experience. All in all, under fire coach Todd Blackadder, who couldn’t be any greyer might I add, has made six changes to his line-up against the Lions. Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, brother George Whitelock, Kieron Fonotia and the bullocking Nemani Nadolo will all run out in Johannesburg and Ryan Crotty will captain the red and blacks from outside centre.
The Lions currently sit seven points ahead of the Crusaders on the Championship log and in all honesty, this is more than accurate. The Lions have surprised many by still winning despite not having any Springboks in their team to call upon (Franco van der Merwe is now injured), whilst the Crusaders have an abundance of International caps, yet they have played woefully and have many people scratching their heads. Traditionally, the Crusaders have been strong tourists to South Africa and I see this match as a turning point in their season.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.53 – Sportsbet
Stormers ($1.82) vs Waratahs ($2.00)
The Stormers and the Waratahs will wrap up round seven’s proceedings in Cape Town, with both teams on differing ends of the competition log. The Stormers have been absolutely dreadful in 2014 and after what would most likely be their worst tour in history, I don’t know how much support they are going to get from their home fans. The Waratahs will also be seething after being outmuscled last weekend in Durban against the Sharks and nothing but a victory here will do.
The Stormers fall from grace has been monumental and their failure to evolve with the changing nature of the game has well and truly caught up with them. Coupled with a huge injury toll, 2014 will be a season that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. As was the case with the Highlanders last year, there simply isn’t a lot to write home about and until they start winning and restoring some faith in their jerseys, the Stormers will be the laughing stock of the Super Rugby world this season. They have failed to score 20 or more points in any of their matches so far and you would think their coaches would be under fire, especially given their defensive wall is now fallible. To make matters sores, the men from the Cape will be without their inspirational skipper Jean de Villiers who has proved that he can still mix it with the best in the world, despite starting to get a bit longer in the tooth. His replacement Damien de Allende has had a barnstorming start to the season and he forms an intriguing centre partnership with Juan de Jong. Duane Vermuelen has taken over the Captain’s armband and he is another player that can hold his head high, especially as the incumbent Springboks number eight. Gio Aplon suffered a sickening dislocated elbow last week and Jaco Taute has been handed the 15 jersey, alongside Kobus van Wyk and Sailosi Tagicakibau. Deon Fourie has also been trusted with the hooker jersey despite losing at least five lineouts last week due to wayward throwing and in my opinion, he is a much better openside flanker and needs to focus his attention there.
The Waratahs had a night to forget in Durban against a much better Sharks team that pressured them into making 19 handling errors, but what will be of most concern is the fact that the conceded 18 penalties. As Dave Dennis said in his post-match interview, the ‘Tahs had plenty of opportunities but just failed to get any rhythm in their game. There was talk that Israel Folau would be fit for this contest, however, he hasn’t recovered sufficiently from the throat injury he received against the Rebels. The loss of Folau is huge for this Waratahs team, however, with Cheika having shifted Beale to fullback, they don’t lose a whole lot, especially as Beale was once an IRB World Player of the Year candidate. Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps will be under pressure this week after putting in a subdued performance against the Sharks, although there were certain situations in Durban where he would’ve been seething at his forward pack for letting the Sharks dominate the breakdown. Kurtley Beale and Jonno Lance (inside centre) swap roles, but the rest of the backline remains the same. The other changes coach Michael Cheika has made sees Jacques Potgieter return to blindside flanker with Will Skelton injected into the second row and Captain Dave Denis shifts to number eight in place of the rampaging Wycliff Palu.
The Waratahs are certainly one of the biggest improvers in this year’s competition, but after last week’s effort against the Sharks, there is still a way for them to go yet. On the other hand, the Stormers, alongside the Crusaders are probably the biggest disappointments of the season and unless something drastic changes, they will both be hitting the showers early in 2014. The Stormers haven’t played at Newlands since the end of February, but with the travel factor, injuries and current mood within the camp, I can see the Waratahs breaking away in this fixture.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Waratahs to win @ $2.00 – 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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