Super Rugby’s third round gets underway on Friday afternoon with the match of the round and a classic New Zealand derby between the Chiefs and the Hurricanes. Currently, the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Crusaders remain unbeaten from two matches in the New Zealand conference, the Stormers and the Lions lead their respective conferences in South Africa (both 2-0), and the Western Force are surprisingly on top in Australia. Last weekend saw my plays go 1/4 (-2.09 units), but I’ve got to jump back on the horse ahead of this weekend’s actions. Below you’ll find my preview of each of the eight 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: Hurricanes to win (vs Chiefs) @ $2.00 – William Hill (early twitter play)
Best Bet 2: Blues to win (vs Highlanders) @ $1.90 – William Hill (early twitter play)
Best Bet 3: Jaguares to win (vs Lions) @ $1.81 – Sportsbet
CHIEFS ($1.80) vs HURRICANES ($2.00)
Super Rugby week three kicks off with undoubtedly the match of the round between the Chiefs and the Hurricanes at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. Both teams have hit the ground running in 2017 sitting undefeated with the classy Chiefs beating a 14-man Blues team at Eden Park and the Hurricanes smashed the Rebels in a 11-try romp (71 – 6) in Wellington. Many will remember the Hurricanes 25 – 9 victory over the Chiefs last year in the Semi-Final in Wellington on the back of a 15-point Beauden Barrett haul. The Chiefs have only lost one match (and drawn one) to the Hurricanes at home since 2008.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has named a physical side with five changes to face the Hurricanes on Friday. Co-Captain Sam Cane returns this week after missing the first two matches of the season, but his replacements in Mitchell Karpik and Lachlan Boshier have proved to be more than handy backups. Mitchell Brown also comes into the starting team at blindside flanker in place of Liam Messam, who has had a heavy workload in the first two weeks seeing out both matches. The backline changes see Anton Lienert-Brown shifting to inside centre with Tim Nanai-Williams starting at outside centre, and Toni Pulu has been selected on the right wing. These changes have created a spot for crowd-favourite Stephen ‘Beaver’ Donald on the bench.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd has made two changes to the starting 15, with both of those in the back. The Tongan Bear, Loni Uhila starts his first match of the season in the loosehead position in place of Chris Eves and Mark Abbott comes into the second row for James Blackwell. Understandably the backline remains the same with TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett both in fine form last weekend against the Rebels. In Nehe Milner-Skudder’s first competitive in a year, he managed a hat trick against the Rebels and he now finds himself alongside Vince Aso, Ardie Savea and Ngane Laumape as the tournament’s second-highest try scorers.
Friday’s match sees two unbeaten New Zealand teams square off for 80 minutes with a point to prove. The conditions are due to be wet in Hamilton, which could potentially suit the home side’s forward pack, who have had an impressive start to the year, especially in the set pieces. There are key All Black matches across the park including Sam Cane vs Ardie Savea, Tawera Kerr-Barlow vs TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden vs Beauden Barrett, and Damien McKenzie vs Nehe Milner-Skudder. Due to the opposition faced, the Chiefs don’t necessarily need to win this match, with the Hurricanes will feel they need to make a statement in their first local derby of the year. The Chiefs have been good, but I have to side with the reigning champions in what should be a brutal and classic encounter of the highest order.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $2.00 – William Hill
Best Bet 1: Hurricanes to win (vs Chiefs) @ $2.00 – William Hill
BRUMBIES ($1.39) VS FORCE ($2.99)
The second match on Friday night takes place at GIO Stadium in Canberra, where the Brumbies host the only winning Australian team in round two, the Western Force. The Brumbies were beaten after the siren by the Sharks last weekend (22 – 27), whereas the Force masterfully defeated a more experienced and talented Reds outfit 29 – 19. The Brumbies have a dominant record over the Force winning the last six matches and nine of the last 10.
Force head coach David Wessels has made several changes for his team’s clash in the nation’s capital on Friday night. Strong performances off the bench have seen both props, Pek Cowan and Tetera Faulkner return, along with number eight Richard Hardwick. Ross Haylett-Petty shifts from blindside flanker to the second row after Wallabies lock Adam Coleman was ruled out for approximately five weeks due to a calf injury. For the third week in a row, the backline remains unchanged. Winger Chance Peni has been one of the finds of the season for the Force with his big frame and electric speed off the mark huge assets to the franchise.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has left Scott Fardy out of his team, potentially as a result of Fardy signing with Leinster earlier this week, and replaced him with former Brisbane City (NRC) start Ben Hyne. The other change sees Ben Alexander replace the Kiwi-born Nic Mayhew at loosehead prop.
Heading into last week’s matchup against the Reds, the Force had lost 13 of the last 14 home matches, but a brave performance saw them win their first game at home in 663 days and has them positioned as the highest place Australian team on the Super Rugby ladder. Players like hooker and co-Captain Heath Tessman, halfback Ryan Louwrens, Chance Peni and Dane Haylett-Petty have started the season in good form and their teams ability to grind down the opposition will be encouraging for their coaching staff and fans. The Brumbies have been led defensively by captain Sam Carter who tops the tournament tackler count with 35, with hooker Josh Mann-Rea three positions behind him with 28. It is a difficult match to call and I’ll stay away from it from a betting standpoint, but I’ll side with the visitors narrowly in a game that should see a few points scored.
Predicted result: Force to win a coin toss game @ $2.99 – Sportsbet
BLUES ($1.77) VS HIGHLANDERS ($2.07)
The first of six matches to kick off on Saturday will be a classic New Zealand-derby between the Blues and the Highlanders at Eden Park. The Blues were hamstrung with Steven Luatua’s red card last weekend in their loss to the Chiefs, but fought back well to reduce the losing margin to just 15 (26 – 41). The Highlanders looked to have an important victory over the Crusaders in the bag, however, they let a 21-point lead slip to a more determined Crusaders outfit in Dunedin. Last year’s match was a high-scoring 33-31 classic that kicked off the season with a victory to the Blues.
Tana Umaga has named a strong line-up and a physical and uncompromising forward pack for the all-important clash with the Highlanders. Captain and hooker James Parsons, prop Charlie Faumauina, lock Patrick Tuipulotu, flanker Jerome Kaino, and rising New Zealand Sevens star Murphy Taramai all come into the forward pack. In the backs, Rene Ranger finds a spot on the wing to counter the threat of Waisake Naholo and George Moala replaces Piers Francis at inside centre.
Highlanders Coach Tony Brown has named an injury-ravaged line-up, however, there are no changes to the front five. Flanker Liam Squire was a beast in defence last week, but he has been ruled out and replaced by Gareth Evans. Evans joins captain Elliott Dixon and the returning Luke Whitlock in the back row. Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga form the halves pairing with Rob Thomson and Malakai Fekitoa in the centres. Tevita Li and Waisake Naholo are a dangerous wing combination and Richard Buckman remains fullback with Ben Smith ruled out for another week. The bench is where the Highlanders look light and it isn’t surprising given that they are without Ash Dixon, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Adrian Smith, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Dan Pryor, Ben Smith, Jason Emery and Hayden Parker.
The Highlanders really need to win this match, but unfortunately they have been dealt a horrible injury toll. No team in the competition can cope with that many disturbances to the pack and given the Highlanders have to play the Hurricanes next week as well, places more importance on winning this fixture. The Blues have recalled their All Blacks to the starting 15, which worked against the Chiefs when they were down to 14-men last week and I expect the Blues to have just a little bit too much in their armoury for an injury-ravaged Highlanders outfit.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $1.90 – William Hill (early twitter play)
Best Bet 2: Blues to win @ $1.90 – William Hill (early twitter play)
REDS ($3.16) VS CRUSADERS ($1.37)
Super Rugby returns to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night with a rematch of the 2011 Final between the Reds and the Crusaders. The Reds were beaten by a more dogged Force outfit (19 – 26) last weekend in Perth, despite winger Eto Nabuli scoring a hat-trick. The Crusaders will be confident after storming back to overturn a 21-point deficit to the Highlanders in Dunedin, with Seta Tamanivalu scoring the winning try with just a minute left on the clock. The recent history between these two suggests a Crusaders victory given they have won the last five matches dating back to 2012.
Reds coach Nick Stiles has made three changes to his team that was so disappointing against the Force last week. Rising star Izack Rodda will make his run-on debut in place of Kane Douglas and last year’s best and fairest Red, Hendrik Tui takes over from Adam Korczyk at blindside flanker. The final change sees Izaia Perese start on the right wing in place of Chris Kuridrani.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has made three changes to the starting 15. The tight five remains unchanged with Pete Samu set to wear the number six jersey and Heiden Bedwell-Curtis debuting at openside flanker after Matt Todd succumbed to a calf injury in training this week. The other change sees Digby Ioane starting on the left wing for the first time for the Crusaders against his old team, the Queensland Reds.
You would expect with the amount of experience the Reds have in their ranks, that when the going gets tough, the leaders would stand up. It was quite the opposite in Perth last weekend and reminiscent of the Reds under Richard Graham. I have no doubt that the Reds will put together an improved performance, but they come up a team that is very well-drilled. I still think the Reds will come good later in the season, but the Crusaders are also missing a couple of players of their own, namely Matt Todd, Kieran Read and Richie Mo’unga. The Crusaders started the first 120 minutes of the season not having scored a try, but they turned that around in the second half last week with four tries against the Highlanders. After last week’s performance and the history, I have to side with the visitors, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the Reds caused the upset in what should be a high-scoring match-up.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.37 – Sportsbet
KINGS ($9.60) VS STORMERS ($1.05)
The Kings will play their second home match of the season when they host the undefeated Stormers on Saturday night at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. The Kings return home after a 37 – 23 victory over the Sunwolves in Singapore, on the back of four tries and a 100% goal kicking record for flyhalf Lionel Cronje. The Stormers edged the Jaguares 32 – 25 in a far from convincing performance at Newlands, courtesy of a late SP Marais try. The Stormers have faced the Kings on three occasions for three wins.
Kings coach Deon Davids has made five changes to his troops to face the Stormers. Lock Irne Herbst comes back into the team with flankers Chris Cloete and Thembelani Bholi getting their first starts of the season. The Kings have an injury crisis at halfback at the moment and as a result, Rick Schroeder gets a start. The other change sees Luzuko Vulindlu start at inside centre, partnering Waylon Murray.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has named Eben Etzebeth as captain this week in the absence of the rested Siya Kolisi. The seven changes see Oli Kebble and Frans Malherbe start at prop, with Nizaam Carr coming back into the team at number eight. The halves pairing of Jano Vermaak and Jean-Luc du Plessis have been replaced by Dewaldt Duvenhage (returning from overseas) and Robert du Preez with Dan du Plessis selected at inside centre. Former Bulls flyer and aerial specialist Bjorn Basson will also make his Stormers debut on the left wing. Fullback SP Marais is having his best season to date sitting third in the competition for total carries (29), second for metres made (250) and second for offloads (6).
The Stormers have developed a strong offloading game, but 24 handling errors against the Jaguares simply isn’t going to cut it when they play against the more fancied New Zealand teams. Fortunately for them and despite their raft of changes this week, they will be too strong for an amateur looking Kings side.
Predicted result: Stormers to win with a bonus point @ $1.05 – Sportsbet
CHEETAHS ($1.01) VS SUNWOLVES ($21.00)
The Cheetahs host the Sunwolves on Saturday night at the Vodacom Stadium in Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs will be ecstatic with their 34 – 28 victory last weekend and they’ll coming up against a battered and bruised Sunwolves team that failed to beat the Kings last weekend in Singapore. The corresponding fixture last year saw the Cheetahs absolutely annihilate the Sunwolves 92 – 13 on the back of a 14-try blitz.
The Sunwovles clash probably came at a good time for the Cheetahs as Franco Smith hasn’t been able to call upon prop Ox Nche, lock Reniel Hugo, flanker Uzair Cassiem and outside centre Nico Lee. They have been replaced by Charles Marais, Fracois Uys, Neill Jordan and Rayno Benjamin, with debutant Zee Mkhabela taking Benjamin’s spot on the right wing.
Sunwolves coach Filo Tiatia has rung the changes in the forward pack bringing in props Masataka Mikami, Yasuo Yamaji, hooker Yusuke Niwai, lock Uwe Heia and openside flanker Shumei Matsuhashi. Halfback Fumiaki Tanaka has also been replaced by Keisuke Uchida. The final change sees former Western Force centre Will Tupou take over from Timothy Lafaeli. There are five debutants in total.
Franco Smith and the Cheetahs were clever in moving the Bulls big forwards around the park last week and took every opportunity to speed up the game. This is something they won’t be able to do against the Sunwolves, so their adaptability and physicality will be key. The Sunwovles have been ordinary so far this season and with last year’s 79-point loss at this venue still fairly fresh in their memory, it’s hard to see them really bouncing back. I can’t see the Cheetahs by winning by the same amount, but with so many changes made to the Sunwolves and the travel factor working against the visitors, it should be enough to get a vital bonus point.
Predicted result: Cheetahs to win comfortably @ $1.01– Sportsbet
SHARKS ($1.56) VS WARATAHS ($2.47)
The penultimate game of round three sees the Sharks host the Waratahs at Kings Park in Durban. The Sharks return home after a two-game tour that saw them lose narrowly to the Reds and last weekend they beat the Brumbies in injury time, something they hadn’t done since the year 2000. The Waratahs will play their final match in the Republic this season, but they won’t be happy with last weekend’s lacklustre defeat to the Lions (36 – 55) in Johannesburg. The Sharks have won three of the last four matches played in Durban, however, the most recent fixture in 2015, saw the Waratahs win 33 – 15 in Sydney.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has named an unchanged matchday 23 to face the Waratahs. The Sharks have been led on the front-line by flankers Jean-Luc du Preez and Philip van der Walt who both have 31 tackles a piece (tied for second most) and lock Ruan Botha currently leads the competition in lineout takes with 15. Centre Lukanyo Am secured three breakdown turnovers last week and a lot of early season praise has been heaped on him in the outside channel. His true test will come this week against the dangerous Israel Folau.
Waratahs coach Darryl Gibson has made two changes bringing in Dave McDuling into the second row and Nick Phipps returns from an ankle injury. Unfortunately, Bernard Foley still remains on the sidelines with concussion-related symptoms, weeks after his most recent head knock.
This is a tough match to call because the Sharks have had to make the journey back from Canberra, whereas the Waratahs would’ve enjoyed the sun and sand of Durban this week. The Sharks will be buoyed by they first win in Canberra since 2000. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Waratahs stole a victory here, but I feel the Sharks have the power up front to negate the Waratahs powerful, but underperforming backline.
Predicted result: Sharks to win narrowly @ $1.56 – Sportsbet
Jaguares ($1.81) VS lions ($2.03)
The first match of the season at the Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires between the Jaguares and the Lions will conclude round three. The Jaguares will look forward to being home after a one win (Kings), one loss (Stormers) record on their recent trip to South Africa. The Lions have started the season just as they finished 2016 with wins over the Cheetahs and the Waratahs. These teams have only played two matches for one win a piece, however, many will remember the Lions final round loss last year that saw them miss out on a home Final after sending a ‘B’ team to Buenos Aires.
Jaguares head coach has opted for consistency and named an unchanged starting 15 for the match against the Lions. There are two big changes on the bench with flanker Javier Ortega Desio and the experienced inside back, Juan Martin Hernandez likely to get some game time.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made a staggering nine changes to his team after leaving lock Franco Mostert, flyhalf Jantjies and centres Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Lionel Mapoe behind in Johannesburg. Janse van Rensburg is a big blow given he is the tournament’s leading try-scoring crossing the chalk on four occasions so far. The nine newcomers this week include props Dylan Smith and Johannes Jonker, lock Marvin Orie, flankers Kwagga Smith and Cyle Brink, flyhalf Shaun Reynolds, wing Anthony Volmink, centre Jacques Nel and fullback Jaco van der Walt.
The Lions are a good team and one that should be a shoe-in for the playoffs and potentially in the running for home playoff finals, however, they are missing some key players and the Jaguares at home should be able to nullify their impressive attacking game in a high-scoring match. Too much class on display for the home team.
Predicted result: Jaguares to win @ $1.81 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Jaguares to win (vs Lions) @ $1.81 – Sportsbet