Super Rugby 2018 – Round 7 Preview

Best Bet 1: Highlanders to win (vs Chiefs) @ $1.90 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 2: Crusaders -5.5 (vs Lions) @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)

CHIEFS ($1.90) VS HIGHLANDERS ($1.90)

The Easter round of Super Rugby kicks off on Friday afternoon at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton where the Chiefs host the Highlanders. The Chiefs were rampant in their 61-10 victory over the Sunwolves last weekend, their biggest winning margin in Super Rugby history. On the other hand, the Highlanders suffered their first loss of the season (12-29) to a clinical Hurricanes outfit in Wellington. Last year, the Chiefs ended a six game losing streak to the Highlanders with a 24-15 win in Dunedin.

Prediction:

The Chiefs are currently tied for third in the New Zealand conference and know they need to win as many matches against fellow Kiwi teams as possible in order to make the playoffs this season. They have been decimated with injuries, but last week’s win, albeit against a tired Sunwolves outfit, showed they have the depth to cause any team in this competition issues. The move of Damien McKenzie to flyhalf continues to gain momentum after he scored 26 points in Tokyo, but Colin Cooper clearly wants someone with experience in the ten jersey as opposed to a youngster like Tiaan Falcon.
I’m very interested in the clash between Solomona Alaimalo and Ben Smith at fullback this weekend, as both players have been in good form this season, with the Chiefs flyer currently leading the competition in clean breaks (15).
The Highlanders won’t be overly concerned with their loss to the Hurricanes last week given that they didn’t play too badly, they were just beaten by a more clinical outfit on the day. They still remain the best defensive team in the competition in terms of tackle percentage (87.2%), largely due to the ‘mongrel men’ up front that often don’t reap the accolades that their star-studded backline receive. Aaron Smith has had a great start to the season at halfback, but Lima Sopoaga has been quiet, ahead of his move to the UK later this season. Ben Smith is building into the season nicely and forms a dangerous back three with Tevita Li and Waisake Naholo.
The Chiefs performances have been inconsistent so far this season, but it is understandable with the depth of their injury toll. The Highlanders are the more settled outfit and I believe they will get their third win in row in Hamilton on Friday, spoiling Chiefs captain Sam Cane’s 100th match celebrations.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win @ $1.90 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 1: Highlanders to win (vs Chiefs) @ $1.90 – Sportsbet

REBELS ($4.00) VS HURRICANES ($1.25)

The second game on Good Friday takes place at AAMI Park in Melbourne as the Rebels welcome the Hurricanes. Both the Rebels and the Hurricanes had impressive wins in round six, beating both the Sharks (46-14) and the Highlanders (29-12) respectively. The Rebels do have a dismal record against the Hurricanes though, with the men from Wellington winning the last five matches played, including two of the three matches played in Melbourne.

Prediction:

The Rebels currently occupy top spot on the Super Rugby ladder courtesy of racking up four bonus points from their five games played. They also have the best points differential in the tournament and by some margin, so things are looking positive for Dave Wessels and his troops in Melbourne. They have the forwards up front laying a platform that allow players like Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete and Jack Maddocks time and space in the back line. This week they come up against a team that I believe is a more advanced version of the Rebels. The Hurricanes have the pack, the X-factor, the breakdown prowess and power and pace out wide as both Vince Aso and Ben Lam showed last week. After a surprising opening round loss the Bulls in Pretoria, the Hurricanes have manufactured four solid victories and are the form team in the competition. This will be the Rebels first legitimate test to gauge how they are fairing in 2018 from a playoff aspiration perspective, so I’ll be keeping a keen eye on this contest. The Rebels haven’t beaten a New Zealand team since they defeated the Blues in 2015, but it’s a different team now on a more legitimate mission. There are a number of juicy matchups across the park in this fixture, but the Hurricanes cohesion and ability to weather their opponent’s storm should get them across the line in Melbourne.

Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.25 – Sportsbet

BLUES ($1.19) VS SHARKS ($4.75)

The first of three Saturday matches comes to us from Eden Park in Auckland where the Blues host the Sharks. The Blues are the most inconsistent of the New Zealand sides and that was evident after they beat the Lions in Johannesburg and then got trounced by an understrength Stormers outfit in Cape Town the following week. The Sharks are also desperate for a win having been thumped by the Rebels (14-46) in Melbourne last week. Surprisingly, the Sharks have won ten of the last 11 matches against the Blues, including six of the nine total matches played in Auckland.

Prediction:

The Blues return from the bye this week looking for a win to gain some ground on their New Zealand counterparts. They currently sit nearly two games behind the Highlanders and a loss this weekend would make things very difficult if they are hoping to progress to the playoffs this season. The loss of Sonny-Bill Williams (thumb injury) for eight weeks will be felt by the home side, as he does a great job at organising the team on attack and defence and always attracts multiple defenders. Coach Tana Umaga has named a number of youngsters in his team this week including prop Mike Tamoaieta, lock Josh Goodhue and winger Jordan Trainor, so I’ll be interested to see how they go against a desperate Sharks outfit. Rieko Ioane has also been selected at inside centre, which is a shame because he is such a damaging runner when he has space.

Sharks coach Rob du Preez is shouldering the blame for the Sharks slow start to the season, but he must very disappointed with the results so far. One win from five matches doesn’t paint a pretty picture for a team that was tipped to top the South African conference. Errors continue to hamper the visitors, with the Sharks once again conceding an obscene number of turnovers (22) against the Rebels, by far and away the most ill-disciplined team in this regard so far in the competition. They Rebels rightfully punished them and the Blues will do exactly the same this weekend if they fail to protect the ball.

With a matchup against the Hurricanes looming in Napier next weekend, the Sharks really need a victory on Saturday, but their form suggests they’ll be on the wrong end of the scoreboard once again. I think the Blues will win this one by single digits and build momentum heading into what should be another win next week against the Sunwolves.

Predicted result: Blues to win @ $1.19 – Sportsbet

BRUMBIES ($2.00) VS WARATAHS ($1.81)

The Brumbies and the Waratahs will go head-to-head at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Saturday night. The Brumbies return from the bye refreshed knowing that they beat the Sharks 24-17 in round five and the Waratahs also come off the bye after a confidence-boosting 51-27 win over the Rebels in Sydney. The Brumbies are currently riding a three match win streak over the Waratahs and the home side has won four of the last five matches against the men in blue in the nation’s capital.

Prediction:

Many eyes will be fixated on this clash as David Pocock returns to Australian rugby after a year long sabbatical. He comes into a Brumbies team that has been well below where they expected to be at this stage of the season, having only won two of their four matches. The captain on the opposing team, Michael Hooper, has occupied the Waratahs and Australian number seven jersey for many years and he will be licking his lips ahead of the upcoming match-up with Pocock. The Brumbies are a different beast at home and the the Waratahs will want to prove that their eye-catching victory over the Rebels wasn’t a once-off. This is a match that could really go either way, but I’m going to back the visitors because they way in which they disposed the high-flying Rebels was eye-catching and if they can match that performance or close enough to, the match will be theirs for the taking. The Waratahs inconsistency has plagued them over the past few seasons so I won’t be going too hard on this one.

Note: The majority of the games between these two rivals seem to yield much lower points compared to other matches so look to take the ‘unders’ if you want to have a punt.

Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.81 – Sportsbet

BULLS ($2.25) VS STORMERS ($1.65)

The Bulls host the Stormers in the traditional north-south derby at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday night. The Bulls return home from their Australasian tour winless, after yet another loss to the Crusaders last weekend in Christchurch. The Stormers are currently riding a two match win streak having beaten the Reds in a physical and nail-biting contest at Newlands last weekend. The Stormers won both of these clashes last season and have a 50% winning record in the Republic’s capital since the start of the competition many moons ago.

Prediction:

The Bulls opening round victory seems so long ago and five rounds later they are ranked second last (14th) in the competition. They will take confidence out of the fact that their tour to Australia and New Zealand is now over, but they need to start winning if they are going to make the playoffs this season. They have made huge improvements under John Mitchell, but unfortunately for Bulls fans he is going to need more than just a pre-season to turn his squad into world-beaters again. The Stormers are in a similar boat and looked well in control of their match against the Reds last weekend, but when they took their foot off the gas, the Reds came storming back to almost snatch the victory. This is the second time that has happened to the Stormers this season, allowing other teams to gain valuable bonus points, whilst relinquishing their own. There are a number of youngsters including Cobus Wiese and Damien Willemse who are playing out of their skin for the Stormers so their future looks bright, but I have also been impressed with inside centre Damien de Allende, who has had a quiet 12 months after bursting onto the scene in 2013 and adopted more of a leadership role in the back line.

This will be a physical and combative contest in front of some parochial fans in Pretoria on Saturday night. The flyhalf match-up between Handre Pollard and Damien Willemse will more or less a Springbok trial and be worth the price of admission alone, but I’m going to stick with the visitors to win a close, but high-scoring fixture.

Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $1.65 – Sportsbet

LIONS ($3.00) VS CRUSADERS ($1.40)

A rare Sunday night fixture sees the Lions host the Crusaders in a 2017 Final rematch at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The Lions return home with their tails between their legs having lost to the Jaguares for the third consecutive time in Buenos Aires, whereas, the Crusaders got back on the horse with a 33-14 victory over the Bulls in Christchurch. The Crusaders won the Final last year by a 25-17 margin after Kwagga Smith was red-carded late in the first half. The visitors have also won five of the last six times they have travelled to Johannesburg.

Prediction:

The Lions currently sit six points ahead of the Stormers on the ladder, but the matches against the Sunwolves (40-38) and the Jaguares (35-49) have really exposed last year’s finalists and given a true indication of where they are at this season under Swys de Bruyn. Their set-piece remains strong and their structures look good when they remain patient and look to grind their opposition down, but they are relying to heavily on the individual brilliance of players like Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith to keep them in games. Their defence has been atrocious this season and despite Elton Jantjies remains the leading point-scorer in this year’s competition (63), his defence and game management that he really needs to improve or his place in the Springbok setup might be in jeopardy.

The Crusaders are missing a number of their big guns, but the depth of the region is showcased when you can still name a formidable team. The pack remains solid, but I believe the biggest loss they are currently feeling in flyhalf Richie Mo’unga. Mitch Hunt could develop into a good flyhalf, but he just doesn’t have the polish of his predecessor. Sete Tamanivalu and David Havili cut the Lions to pieces last year and they will be licking their lips at the prospect of doing it again this weekend. George Bridge (Crusaders) and Malcom Marx (Lions) have all crossed the chalk on five occasions this season, one behind Jaguares wing Emiliano Boffelli, so look for them in your anytime try-scorer markets.

The Crusaders are a consistent machine and they enjoy travelling to South Africa. The Lions have been too erratic to warrant backing them this season and I expect the visitors to take this one fairly comfortably in what I believe will be a a high-scoring fixture.

Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.40 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 2: Crusaders -5.5 (vs Lions) @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)

Author

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Glenn

Glenn has followed rugby union for 19 years and has expert knowledge on the game freely committing to over 500 viewing hours a year. Having played with and against some current Super Rugby players and International superstars, he understands the game, the players and the laws inside out. Having been born in South Africa, spent time in New Zealand and currently living in Australia, Glenn lives and breathes rugby. With so many different tournaments happening around the world simultaneously and the addition of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program, there are always plenty of healthy betting options available. An obsession, a passion, call it what you will, Glenn enjoys sharing his insight, opinions and predictions with anyone who wants to listen.

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