The second round of Super Rugby is upon us and as expected, there were some great individual performances (Rieko Ioane, Samu Kerevi, Julian Savea, Scott Fardy, Pieter-Steph du Toit) and some exceptional team play (Blues, Hurricanes, Stormers) in round one. There is always going to be a degree of ring rust over the first few weeks of the competition as players and teams improve their match fitness and the combinations will need some time to start to gel. This week, round two returns on Thursday night with a match between the Force and the Reds in Perth. There are two classic New Zealand derbies between the Chiefs and the Blues (Friday) and the Highlanders host the Crusaders on Saturday. The main match from South Africa sees last year’s beaten finalists, the Lions taking on the travelling Waratahs in Johannesburg. Last weekend saw my plays for 2/4 (-0.23 units), but I’ll take those learnings into consideration ahead of this weekend’s action. Below you’ll find my preview of each of the nine matches this weekend alongside some of my preferred plays. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for insight, other plays or just for a chat.
Best Bet 1: Reds -2.5 (vs Force) @ $1.91 – Bet365
Best Bet 2: Hurricanes -23.5 @ $1.91 – Ladbrokes
Best Bet 3: Waratahs +7.5 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Bulls to win @ $1.80 – Sportsbet
Force ($2.14) vs Reds ($1.71)
For the second week in a row, Super Rugby fans will be treated to a Thursday night game when the Western Force welcome to the Queensland Reds to nib Stadium in Perth. The Reds got their season off to a positive start in round one, with a nail-biting 28 – 26 win over the Sharks in Brisbane. The Force also put together a spirited performance but fell short, 13 – 19 to the Waratahs in a scrappy match in Sydney.
Force coach David Wessels has shuffled the forward pack bringing in Ben Daley (loose head prop), Matt Philip to lock, shifting Ross Haylett-Petty to blindside and Brynard Stander to number eight. The backline remains unchanged, which allows us to have a close eye on how ex-league player Curtis Rona handles Samu Kerevi, after successfully nullifying Israel Folau last week. Nick Stiles has named an unchanged starting fifteen with the ‘Tongan Thor’, Taniela Tupou named on the bench after serving a suspension he picked up at the Brisbane Tens.
Both teams will be better off for the run last week, but I really feel as if the conditions hampered the width that the Waratahs wanted to play with. The Reds have a better pack than the Force and Nick Frisby and Quade Cooper need to assert themselves if they want to become the go-to halves pairing for the Wallabies. The Reds didn’t win a single game away from home last season, but it’s a new year and with new personnel, comes new belief and I expect the Reds to beat an ill-disciplined Force outfit by more than a score.
Predicted result: Reds to win @ $1.71 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Reds -2.5 @ $1.91 – Bet365
Chiefs ($1.45) VS Blues ($2.75)
The Chiefs will play their first home match of the season when they clash with the high-flying Blues at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Friday evening. Both teams were exceptional in round one, with the Chiefs 24 – 15 winners over the Highlanders and the Blues put the Rebels to the sword with a comprehensive 56 – 18 win in Melbourne. In a powerful stat, The Chiefs haven’t lost to the Blues since 10 matches dating back to 2011.
This fixture can certainly make claims of being the match of the round with both teams possessing dangerous runners across the park. Coach Tana Umaga has named an unchanged starting 15 with an incredible six All Blacks on the bench for the Blues, with the likes of Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Charlie Faumauina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino, George Moala and Rene Ranger all eager to make an impact. Tana Umaga has certainly kept the faith in the team that performed so admirably in Melbourne, but they’ll be in for a much sterner challenge this week against their fellow countrymen.
Dave Rennie has named an unchanged starting five with Lachlan Boshier and Michael Leitch both coming into the back row alongside Liam Messam. Aaron Cruden is in line to play his 100th Super Rugby match, which is an incredible feat given that he is just 28 years of age and considering how many injuries he has succumbed to. He will be ecstatic that he got to reach this milestone in what will be his final season of Super Rugby before he heads to Europe. The only other change sees the sharp-stepping Tim Nanai-Williams replace Tony Pulu on the right wing. The bench is very young and inexperienced, but Rennie has signalled out several of these players including Atu Moli, Taleni Seu, Tom Sanders and Shaun Stevenson as having big futures in the game.
Up front, the Blues scrum will look to target the Chiefs through Pauliasi Manu, a player who is rated one of the best scrummagers in New Zealand. The back row battle will be intense with the Blues having the physical advantage, whereas the Chiefs might get there a yard quicker. All eyes will be on how each halves pairing influences the match and the clash in the midfield between All Black Anton Lienert-Brown of the Chiefs and the dangerous Rieko Ioane will be one the All Blacks selectors are keeping a close eye on.
This is a difficult match to forecast and I’d suggest staying away from it from a betting standpoint and enjoy it for the entertainment value. The Chiefs will need to head into halftime with a lead because the Blues bench is ominous. There should be plenty of points in this one and the dominant home record and home advantage should swing it in the Chiefs favour.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.45 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($1.04) VS Rebels ($11.00)
The first of seven matches on Saturday comes to us from the Westpac Stadium in Wellington where the reigning champion Hurricanes host the Melbourne Rebels. The Hurricanes sounded a warning to the competition last weekend with a 66-point thumping of the Sunwolves in Japan. On the other hand, the Rebels will be looking to put together a more complete performance this week after being dismantled by the Blues (18 – 58) last week in the season opener.
In just 60 minutes last weekend, the Hurricanes ran in 13 tries, including doubles to lock Michael Fatialofa, flanker Ardie Savea and winger Julian Savea. They were simply unstoppable, but the Sunwolves lack of preseason was clearly evident. The Rebels started their fixture against the Blues well, scoring a great first try (Nic Stirzaker) before going into the halftime break trailing by 10 points. After the break, the Blues opened the floodgates and the Rebels just simply couldn’t keep up with the visitors.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd has named a dangerous team to face the Rebels in their first match at home. Captain and hooker Dane Coles returns to the front row with former Cantabrian Reed Prinsep replacing Blade Thomson at number eight after he suffered a dislocated shoulder against the Sunwolves. Beauden Barrett returns at flyhalf and Nehe Milner-Skudder starts the match at fullback shifting Jordie Barrett to the bench.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan has made three changes to his team that were dismantled by the Blues last weekend. Wallaby-capped hooker, James Hanson returns to the front row, but the inspirational Sean McMahon remains on the sidelines. In the backs, Mitch Inman takes his place at inside centre after being a late omission last week and Marika Koroibete will play his first game of rugby union on the right wing. The Melbourne Storm-convert has once been clocked at 10.66 for the 100 metres and he is a genuine finisher – something the Rebels and the Wallabies need.
The Hurricanes will head into this match with a lot of confidence being the reigning champions and after the destruction they caused in Tokyo last weekend. Additionally, the Hurricanes are on a five-match win streak over the Rebels. The visitors will definitely pose more of a threat than the Sunwolves did, but the home teams attacking proficiency coupled with the return of two players who are the best in the world in their positions, will hand the Rebels their second loss in as many games this season.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.04 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Hurricanes -23.5 @ $1.91 – Ladbrokes
HIGHLANDERS ($1.65) VS CRUSADERS ($2.25)
The Highlanders and the Crusaders clash in an important New Zealand conference matchup at the Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday evening. The Highlanders were outplayed last weekend by the Chiefs at this stadium despite dominating possession and territory for much of the match. The Crusaders wouldn’t have been too happy with their display, doing it tough in a 17 – 13 win over the Brumbies, but they still managed to extend their 17-year home winning streak over the men from Canberra.
After last week’s sub-standard performance against the Chiefs, coach Tony Brown has made three changes to the starting 15, with a further four changes on the bench. Siosuia Halanukonuka (a mouthful of a name) replaces Siate Tokolahi at tighthead prop and Elliot Dixon will wear the number six jersey, as well as captain the side for the first time. The final change sees Richard Buckman come in at fullback to replace Ben Smith, who is likely to be out for a few weeks after a bad head knock last week against the Chiefs. Buckman or the ‘barracuda’ as he is affectionately known is a solid inclusion for the Highlanders because he has a load of pace and punches well above his weight in the contact zone.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has made a number of changes to his team to face the 2015 champions. In the pack, All Blacks Codie Taylor and vice-captain Matt Todd return to the starting line-up to strengthen what was already a powerful pack. In the backs, Mitchell Hunt comes in for the injured Richie Mo’unga, which surprises me given that I thought Marty McKenzie would’ve been the right player in a high-pressure game. Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue remain in the centres with Seta Tamanivalu and Israel Dagg occupying wing positions, with David Havili starting at fullback.
The Highlanders have won the past two fixtures, although the Crusaders have a strong record in Dunedin, winning three of the last four. In saying that, with their class of outfit, you wouldn’t expect the Highlanders to butcher so many opportunities at home again this weekend and they really need this win so that they don’t fall too far behind in the competitive New Zealand conference. It is an extremely tough match to call as the Crusaders pack features six All Blacks, but I expect Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga to really put the pressure on Bryn Hall and Mitchell Hunt, squeaking out a narrow win.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win by a whisker @ $1.65 – William Hill
Brumbies ($1.57) VS SHarks ($2.24)
Super Rugby returns to the GIO Stadium in Canberra on Saturday night with the Brumbies battling the Sharks. Both teams were on the wrong side of the scoreboard in round one, despite pushing the Reds (26 – 28) and the Crusaders (13 – 17) respectively.
The Brumbies are currently riding a two-match win streak over the Sharks and have only lost one match to them in Canberra since 2000. Coach Stephen Larkham has named an unchanged squad for this clash, which makes sense given his team’s youth and strong performance last week in Christchurch. Sharks coach Robert du Preez has replaced Etienne Oosthuizen who is out through suspension with Stephan Lewies, a player who made a name for himself in 2015. The only other change sees former French International Clement Poitrenaud come in for Curwin Bosch.
I see this match playing out like a ‘South African derby’. There will be a lot of big collisions, a lot of in-field kicking and I expect both kickers to have a number of shots at goal each. It is a hard match to pick as both teams will be eager to pick up a win after losses in round one. If I was forced to make a selection, I would back to the Brumbies, purely on the back of their home record dominance over the Sharks.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win @ $1.57 – Sportsbet
SUNWOLVES ($2.50) VS KINGS ($1.54)
The first of three matches in Singapore this season sees the Sunwolves face the Kings in what I expect to be the two teams fighting it out for the wooden spoon. The Sunwolves were smashed by a record margin against the Hurricanes last weekend, whereas, the Kings battled hard to push a test-laden Jaguares outfit close in Port Elizabeth (26 – 39).
Sunwolves coach Filo Tiatia has made four changes to his team that were romped last weekend. The only change in the pack sees Shokei Kin take over from Malgene Ilaua at openside flanker. The halves pairing from last week (Keisuke Uchida and Hikaru Tamura) have been dropped and replaced by former Highlanders halfback Fumiaki Tanaka and Kiwi Hayden Cripps. I’m also interested to see if JJ Taulagi gets any game time. The former Reds signing was exceptional on the Brisbane Premiership Rugby circuit, but injuries have really curtailed his progress over the past couple seasons.
Kings coach Deon Davids has made two changes to his starting line-up with Tyler Paul replacing Irne Herbst (concussion) in the second row and Masixole Banda gets an opportunity to start at fullback replacing the Namibian fullback, Chrysander Botha.
The Kings were without a shadow of a doubt the more impressive of the two teams in round one, but they showed last season that they weren’t the best travellers, failing to win a game away from home. In that respect, the same can be said about the Sunwolves. Last year’s match saw the Kings edge the Sunwolves 33 – 28 in an eight try extravaganza in Singapore and although a lot of bookies are pointing to a Kings win, I’d rather see more of both teams in action before investing any money on either of them. If I was forced to pick, I would side with the Kings in a high-scoring encounter.
Predicted result: Kings to win @ $1.54 – William Hill
LIONS ($1.35) VS WARATAHS ($3.30)
The first of three matches in South Africa should be an absolute cracker between last year’s beaten finalists, the Lions, and the New South Wales Waratahs. Both teams were rusty in round one, but still managing narrow victories over the Cheetahs and the Force respectively.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made three changes to his squad this week. Surprisingly, Springbok hooker Malcom Marx has been dropped to the bench for Robbie Coetzee. Halfback Faf de Klerk had a shocker against the Cheetahs and he has been replaced by Guy Cronje, with the injured Howard Mnisi being replaced by Harold Vorster.
Waratahs coach Darryl Gibson has name an unchanged line-up for this fixture. I expected Bernard Foley to come back into the mix, but apparently he is still suffering concussion symptoms from pre-season, which is a real worry for him, the Waratahs and the Wallabies. Against the Force last week, Will Skelton used his ‘trimmed’ frame to his advantage in one of the better matches I’ve seen him play. Israel Folau was non-existent making only two runs for 11 metres, but the conditions certainly didn’t suit.
In 2015, the Lions ended a 11-match losing streak to the Waratahs and the bookies are backing the locals to get the Waratahs number again. Thunderstorms are on the cards for Johannesburg on Saturday, so the battle of the packs and the goal kickers will be crucial to the pack. Initially, I had this match down to be a high-scoring match, but given the conditions, this probably won’t be the case. The Lions weren’t very impressive last weekend and despite the travel fatigue that might set in for the ‘Tahs, in these conditions I expect them to keep it close enough to cover the handicap.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $3.30 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Waratahs +7.5 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
STORMERS ($1.28) VS JAGUARES ($3.68)
The Stormers and the Jaguares are on a collision course on Saturday night at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. The Stormers were impressive in their round one 37 – 24 victory over the Bulls. The Jaguares still covered the handicap against the Kings, but it was a very patch and slightly complacent performance.
Robbie Fleck has kept the changes to a minimum this week bringing in Sikhumbuzo Notshe for Nizaam Carr and Damien de Allende’s 12-week injury layoff allows Dan Kriel (Jesse Kriel) a chance in the midfield alongside EW Viljoen. The latter was exceptional last week in his debut, but the pressure will be on him this weekend with the inexperienced Kriel inside of him.
Jaguares coach Raul Perez has made three changes to his team that struggled past the Kings last weekend. The only change to the pack sees Santiago Garcia Botta selected at loosehead prop for Lucas Noguera Paz. The backline will be boosted by the return of Nicolas Sanchez at flyhalf, a player who can ignite the Jaguares dangerous backline. The other change sees Ramiro Moyano replace Matias Moroni on the right wing.
I expect this to be an entertaining match to watch and the weather looks set to play its part. The Stormers pack was superb in the scrums and at lineout time last week and the underrated Dillyn Lloyds was excellent in the back line. The Jaguares are full of points, but their defence is questionable, especially given the fact that they had to deal with three yellow cards last weekend. Last year’s match saw one of the lowest scoring encounters of the season with the Stormers edging the Jaguares 13 – 8 in Buenos Aires. Rather than backing either team, look for the ‘overs’ in the total points markets as I expect both teams to play an attacking brand of rugby.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $1.28 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($1.35) VS Bulls ($1.80)
The final match of the round sees the Cheetahs host the Bulls in a classic Highveld derby in Bloemfontein on Saturday night. Both teams were round one losers with the Cheetahs letting the Lions fight back late in a 25-28 loss and the Bulls were outmuscled by a more technically astute Stormers line-up, 24 – 37 in Cape Town.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has made two changes to the team this week. Ox Nche comes in for Charles Marais at loosehead prop and former Springboks sevens ace Ryno Benjamin comes in as an injury replacement for Sergeal Petersen.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais has also made just the two changes with Lizo Gqoboka coming into the front row for Pierre Schoeman and Jason Jenkins has been drafted in for the Lood de Jager (concussion) in the second row. The backline remains unchanged.
The Bulls will look to target the Cheetahs shaky lineout this week through Jason Jenkins, RG Snyman and Hanro Liebenberg. Handre Pollard will be better off for his hit out last week and the Bulls pack will be looking to bounce back after being completely overpowered by the Stormers front row. will be looking to bounce back. The Bulls have won four of the last five matches against the Cheetahs including eight of the nine matches that have taken place in Bloemfontein and although the Cheetahs will be gritty, I expect the visitors to win.
Predicted result: Bulls to win @ $1.80 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Bulls to win @ $1.80 – Sportsbet