Friday/Saturday Plays: TBC
Hurricanes ($1.09) VS Brumbies ($7.50)
Round nine of Super Rugby kicks off with a match between the Hurricanes and the Brumbies at McLean Park in Napier. The Hurricanes currently sit third in the New Zealand Conference, three points adrift from the Crusaders, reiterating the importance of last week’s fifth straight win over the Blues (28 – 24). The Brumbies had their first blemish to their record since round five going down to a more hungry and dogged Rebels outfit in Melbourne (17 – 19). Interestingly, the Brumbies have won five of the last six matches they’ve played, including a 52-10 thumping to get the season underway in 2016. This will be the first time these two teams have played each other in Napier.
The Brumbies are going to bring a structured game to Napier, with a strong scrum and a solid line-out (and driving maul), built on the back of their strong defence. The Brumbies can ill-afford to kick or kick aimlessly to the Hurricanes. They simply don’t have the defensive capability to diffuse the best counter-attacking team in provincial rugby. All teams are aware of this, but the Hurricanes are one of the best at suffocating their opposition into making bad decisions and tire them out by running them off their feet. The Hurricanes Championship season in 2016 was built on the back of their almost impenetrable defence. This season they are leaking 19 points and surprisingly, the Brumbies have let in fewer at conceding 17 points per game. The difference is the Hurricanes have scored almost twice as many points as the Brumbies so far this campaign (313:161). The Hurricanes’ offence is so potent, they are currently leading stats for metres (4164), defenders beaten (210), clean breaks (129), and tries (48). Beauden Barrett in is a league of his own and his ‘supporting cast’ are putting up their own All Black claims. They are a fantastic team to watch and their brand of rugby deserves more eyes on it. I am amazed that the Brumbies sit atop the Australia Conference still and I get the feeling that this round will show how big the gulf actually is with the Hurricanes running away with a comfortable victory.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win comfortably @ $1.09 – Sportsbet
WARATAHS ($1.06) VS KINGS ($9.00)
The Waratahs and the Kings will face-off at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Friday night. The Waratahs are coming fresh off a bye and currently sit fourth in the Australian Conference, whereas, even though the Kings haven’t been getting the wins, they have been putting together extremely spirited performances, including their 34 – 47 loss to the Reds in Brisbane. The Waratahs will have fond memories of annihilating the Kings 72 – 10 in Port Elizabeth in 2013, the last time they played.
Teams have entered this matchup all season looking to run the Kings off their feet, but the visitor’s fitness seems to be top notch. Three tries in the last eight minutes against the Reds last week was evidence of this, as was their 41 points scored against the Force the week prior. The Waratahs have only beaten two teams so far this season (Force & Rebels), so they have been far from convincing and coach Darryl Gibson must be starting to look over his shoulder after an unimpressive record. For me, this match is screaming overs and I have to back it with the Waratahs looking to give their fans something to celebrate after a poor start to the season, both at home and away, and the Kings are playing with complete and utter freedom before they get cut from the competition.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win by double-digits @ $1.06 – Sportsbet
Lions ($1.17) VS Jaguares ($5.10)
The final match on Friday night comes to us from Ellis Park in Johannesburg where the Lions host the Jaguares. As predicted, the Lions had too much for the Stormers last weekend (29 – 16), reaffirming their position at the top of the Africa 1 Conference. The Jaguares put together one of their worst performances of the season going down to a belligerent Bulls outfit 13 – 26 in Pretoria. The Lions will be seeking redemption this week, having sent weakened teams to Buenos Aires on the last two occasions, resulting in losses, including the most recent hit out in round 3 (24-36).
I have been a big fan of the Lions over the past two seasons, as I love how they have created the ability and skillset to complement different game plans. There seems to be good camaraderie amongst the players and more belief. However, I’m starting to get the impression that the wheels are about to start falling off their Championship aspirations. The announcement of coach Johan Ackermann defecting to Gloucester a few weeks ago, coupled with a couple of key injuries, the latest being inside centre, Rohan Janse van Rensburg for the season, has provided them with some tough roadblocks in their quest for that elusive title. Rohan’s absence is a huge blow because he gives the backs so much go-forward and a presence in what is otherwise quite a small back line. All this negative talk, yet they still managed to beat the Stormers.
The Jaguares were off last week against the Bulls, but you have to give it to them for giving away yet another yellow card, their ninth in seven matches this season. They will simply be run down by other teams if they continue with this ill-discipline and what is most frustrating is that they are selling themselves short with such an impressive playing roster at their disposal. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jaguares somehow snuck the points in this one, but form suggests the Lions will have a little bit too much at Ellis Park in another high-scoring fixture.
Predicted result: Lions to win @ $1.17 – Sportsbet
highlanders ($1.00) VS sunwolves ($67.00)
Super Rugby kicks off on Saturday at the closest rugby stadium to Antarctica, Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill, where the Highlanders host the touring Japanese Sunwolves. The Highlanders had the bye last week and will be well poised for another strong performance this week coming off three successive wins. The Sunwolves got their first taste of what rugby is like in New Zealand last weekend, going down 3-50 against a star-studded Crusaders outfit in Christchurch. This will be the first time that the Highlanders and Sunwolves face-off in this competition.
There is only going to be one result in this match, with the margin of victory to the Highlanders the only contentious point. The Sunwolves were ordinary in their New Zealand debut last weekend and coming up against a team that has just added two All Blacks to their starting 15 in Liam Squire (flanker) and Waisake Naholo (wing), only signals danger signs for the visitors. Given they aren’t playing under the roof in Dunedin and with rain forecasted this week, it is hard to make a call on such a big handicap or total points, given that Tony Brown will most likely call upon his inexperienced bench sooner rather than later if they have raced out to a big lead.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win by a large margin @ $1.00 – Sportsbet
CRUSADERS ($1.13) VS STORMERS ($6.00)
The table-topping Crusaders return to AMI Stadium in Christchurch for a crucial match-up with the Stormers on Saturday evening. The Crusaders remain the only unbeaten team in the competition after easily disposing of the Sunwolves last week. The Stormers suffered their first loss of the season last weekend to the Lions and will need to ensure they don’t drop too many points in New Zealand against tough opposition. The Stormers have a miserable record against the Crusaders, only winning four of the 19 matches played and the visitors have never been victorious in Christchurch (0 from 9 attempts).
The Crusaders are brimming with confidence at the top of the ladder, their forward pack is laden with All Blacks and they are playing in front of their faithful fans, who are desperately seeking their eighth Super Rugby title, but what would only be their first since 2008. The Stormers have had to make the long trek over from Cape Town, but will be ready to take the Crusaders on up front. However, last week showed that if you match the Stormers pack, the youthful backline finds it hard to be inventive and the 28 errors the squad made last week won’t cut it this week. I can see the home team coming away with a double-digit victory, but the hits will be ferocious and the match will be played at a high-intensity.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win a physical encounter @ $1.13 – Sportsbet
FORCE ($5.00) VS CHIEFS ($1.18)
Super Rugby returns to nib Stadium in Perth for a clash between the Western Force and the touring Chiefs. The Force had last week off, but the week prior the struggled to take care of the Kings in a high-scoring 46-41 victory. The Chiefs returned to winning ways last week, overturning a 24-point deficit to beat the Cheetahs by a score of 41 – 27 in Bloemfontein. The Chiefs have won eight of the 10 matches played against the Force so far, but the Force have managed two victories in Perth, the latest being in 2014.
It is a well-known fact that New Zealand teams have often slipped up in Perth on their way back from South Africa. After such a dominant start to the year, the Chiefs took care of the Highlanders, Blues and the Hurricanes before falling short of the Stormers in Cape Town. They were then staring down the barrel of successive defeats, down 24-0 to the Cheetahs, but the sign of a class side is to win even when you aren’t playing well. The Force will offer some competition up front, but they lack the creativity, pace and power in the backline to run the Chiefs off their feet – the only way it appears you can beat them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few omissions from the starting line-up, but they still have more than enough weapons in their arsenal to put another dampener on an already dire year for the Force.
Predicted result: Chiefs to finish off their tour with a win @ $1.18 – Sportsbet
bulls ($1.36) VS cheetahs ($3.15)
The penultimate match of the round is a classic South African derby between the Bulls and the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. The Bulls secured only their second win of the season last week against the Jaguares, whereas, the Cheetahs blew an unassailable lead against the Chiefs to go down by 14-points in Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs have already beaten the Bulls in round two (34-28), but the Bulls will be looking to defend their proud home record, as they have won seven of the eight matches played at Loftus.
This was once a huge derby in South Africa, but with crowds of less than 6,000 in Pretoria (Bulls vs Jaguares) and less than 10,000 in Bloemfontein (Cheetahs vs Chiefs) last weekend, coupled with their poor 2017 records, this game certainly won’t break any attendance or viewing records. The Bulls seem to be struggling with their identity at the moment and flyhalf Handre Pollard’s comeback from injury has been stifled at best. The Cheetahs can attack all day, but their defence, which was the cornerstone to their undefeated Currie Cup winning season last year, has been a real problem. I wouldn’t put my hard earned money on either of these teams, but I would lean towards to Bulls, at Loftus, once one of the most daunting stadiums in the world for touring teams.
Predicted result: Bulls to win a nail-biter @ $1.36 – Sportsbet
SHARKS ($1.12) VS REBELS ($6.50)
The final match of the round takes place at the Shark Tank in Durban between the Sharks and the Rebels. The Sharks will be fresh after their bye, whereas the Rebels will be brimming with confidence having won their first match of the season last week against the Australia-Conference leaders, the Brumbies in Melbourne. The Sharks have never beaten the Rebels, either home or away, but it is interesting to note that three of the four matches played have been settled by a margin of 1-12.
The Sharks are currently positioned second in a tight Africa 2 Conference. Since their first round loss to the Reds in Brisbane, the Sharks have managed to beat the Brumbies, Waratahs, Kings, Cheetahs and Jaguares, whilst only dropping one other match to the Lions at Ellis Park. On the other hand, the Rebels only have the solitary win to their name, against the Brumbies last week. They had to earn the victory as they were on the receiving end of three yellow cards throughout the match. When the Rebels play well, their back row is heavily involved in the game and Jack Debreczeni and Reece Hodge use their huge boots to alleviate pressure. Additionally, when they are attacking, Marieke Koroibete and Sefa Naivalu, in particular, are potent finishers. Can they bring it all together again in Durban? Probably not, given the Sharks simply have a whole lot more to play for and the fact that they are unbeaten at home this season. I would expect the visitors to jag a couple of tries though.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.12 – Sportsbet