Things are starting to heat up in Super Rugby 2013 and the last three months have flown by. It was another disappointing result last weekend from a tipping standpoint, but you get that from time to time, but like anything you need to get back on the horse and learn you’re your mistakes. International squads are beginning to be named and teams are starting to jostle for positions within the conference standings at the moment, with the finish line just around the bend in July (following a international window of test matches). The key clashes of the round will be see the Chiefs battle the Crusaders, the Blues host the Brumbies, the Stormers welcome the Reds and Sharks versus the Bulls in Durban. Another seven intriguing battles to look forward to, so happy tipping, punting or predicting and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat.
Best Bet 1: Waratahs -6 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Highlanders +3.5@ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Reds +2 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Bulls to win @ $1.95 – Sportsbet
Best Multi: Waratahs/Cheetahs/Reds+7.5 (PYOL) @ $2.54 – Sportsbet
Chiefs ($2.25) versus Crusaders ($1.65)
What a way to kick off round 15 with the reigning Super Rugby champions and current log leaders the Chiefs, playing host to the title favourites and the increasingly threatening Crusaders, who sit just behind them in the New Zealand conference. Last weekend the Chiefs showed their defensive resilience by downing the Hurricanes in dour conditions both on and off the field. The match contained only one try and eight penalty goals, which is far from what we have come to expect from such attacking teams. The Crusaders on the other hand did to the Blues what no other team has been able to this year, by keeping them to a solitary penalty goal, while scoring tries either side of half time themselves.
The Chiefs are yet to play the Crusaders this season, but it won’t be long until they faceoff again in Christchurch in round 21. Their topsy-turvy form in recent weeks has been a cause for concern, but they have won four on the trot and that is a sign of a quality side. The Chiefs have been allocated a healthy price of $2.25 for this match and in these tight matches, punters often sway towards the virtue of home field advantage, which favours the Chiefs this week. When looking at their match day 22, it certainly isn’t the best they have to offer, but like many other teams, injuries have plagued them in 2012. Former Canterbury winger and Fijian flyer Patrick Osborne has been presented with an opportunity to play his old club by starting on the wing and they will need to shut him down before he gets up a head of steam. Additionally, Big Ben Tameifuna has also been named in the front row to help stabilise the scrum. Sam Cane has been named amongst the reserves this week, which surprises me a little bit given his rapid rise on the international stage last year. The Chiefs are an extremely strong outfit as we all know, however, if they don’t dominate early on the scoreboard, they have the tendency to come unstuck. For their sake, they will need to hit the ground running to keep the crowd in the game and if they do so, they should finish the round in pole position.
The Crusaders have beaten two form sides in the Brumbies and the Blues on the way to four wins in succession and are clearly showing signs of success this year, which has been reiterated from the bookies ($3.50 to win the competition). Last week saw the return of Kieran Read and the impetus he provides on attack and the brick-wall he fronts up in defence was a key factor in their success last week. Twelve carries and 14 tackles is an industrious performance and much of the same will be needed this weekend against the Chiefs. Andy Ellis also had a solid game last week and chalked up his 100th game of Super Rugby in the process. After a bruising encounter last week, the Crusaders have been forced to make five changes, most notably Israel Dagg returning to the fullback role and Robbie Fruean sitting on the reserves bench. Up front, hooker Corey Flynn has been ruled out and as a result the Chiefs will be looking to target the Crusaders scrum and lineout, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. The Crusaders are masters of finishing the season strongly and if they win this weekend, their tails will be up and their home fans will start getting excited about the potential of a home playoff. On their day, they play as well as any international team and often stick to their game plan for the full 80 minutes.
A classic New Zealand derby awaits rugby tragics when the form teams in New Zealand and in recent seasons go head to head. In what could be deemed an All Black trial before the June internationals, both teams have class across the park and a win for either side here will be extremely handy and go a long way to potentially securing a home final playoff spot. I must point out that Steve Walsh is also officiating the match this weekend and I’ll have all my toes and fingers crossed that he won’t have much of an influence on the outcome of the match. For me the Crusaders are tried and tested, whereas the Chiefs just haven’t been as convincing in recent weeks, and despite the Chiefs playing at home, I’ll give the Crusaders the edge in a match not to be missed.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.65 – Sportsbet
Rebels ($2.85) versus Waratahs ($1.42)
The Rebels will run out at AAMI Park in Melbourne for a second consecutive match to play the hottest team in the competition at present, the NSW Waratahs. The Rebels will be elated after achieving their first ever win against South African opposition last week, when they beat a desperate Stormers side chasing the four-try bonus point. The Waratahs also picked up a victory over the Australian conference leaders, the Brumbies, but were forced to come from behind and showed their class and temperament in a match that had significant importance to the Australian conference standings.
As aforementioned, the Melbourne team will be confidently approaching this matchup having disposed of the star-studded Stormers at home last weekend. It was a controversial victory, when a penalty try was awarded to them in a situation where it wasn’t a guaranteed try, but they did outscore the Stormers on the board, and that is all that matters. Both Scott Higginbotham and Hugh Pyle continued their prolific try scoring run and the Rebels will need these two players to be at full flight if they are going to mix it with the Waratahs on Friday night. Although the Rebels haven’t been winning many games this year (3), they have been more than competitive in a many of their fixtures, achieving a losing bonus point in five of their nine losses. However, there will be somewhat of an exodus in Melbourne at the end of the season with Nick Phipps (Waratahs), Ged Robinson (New Zealand), Richard Kingi (France), and Gareth Delve (Japan) all departing and chances are high that fullback Kurtley Beale will do the same (Waratahs). Based on the calibre of players leaving, things are looking very grim next year in Melbourne and things will almost certainly get worse unless they can acquire some key signings in the offseason.
It is the first time the Waratahs have won three matches in succession for two years and coach Michael Cheika seems to have found a formula to get the most out of his talented squad. Last week in Sydney, Berrick Barnes made a successful cameo off the bench, which would’ve helped him retain his spot in the Wallabies squad. His game management is probably his most reputable strength and he helped steady the Waratahs ship and scored a try of his own in the comeback victory. Flanker Michael Hooper played well and centre Rob Horne had one of his better games and Robbie Deans continued his ‘bromance’ with the latter by naming him in the Wallabies squad to the bewilderment of many. Tatafu Polota-Nau is synonymous for getting knocked out with his kamikaze like approach to defence and unfortunately, this worked against him last weekend when he fractured is arm after colliding with an opposition shin bone in a trademark TPN tackle. Unfortunately, he will miss the Lions series after having surgery, but still has his eye on finishing out the season for the ‘Tahs.
It is hard to look past the Waratahs in this match having won four of their last five fixtures. Their side looks balanced and the men from Sydney look to have a more dominant forward back and more skilful backs. The Rebels fight hard and have showcased a lot of determination and heart in recent weeks, but the Tahs will have too much for them this week and will look to extend their winning run.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.42 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Waratahs -6 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Blues ($1.60) versus Brumbies ($2.35)
Saturday’s rugby fixtures kick off at Eden Park in Auckland when the Blues welcome one of tournament powerhouses, the Brumbies to town. Both teams are reeling from losses as the Blues were taught a rugby lesson by the more experienced Crusaders last week in Christchurch and the Brumbies were pegged back and overtaken on the scoreboard by a Waratah’s team that is finally starting to show what they are capable of.
Monday’s match viewing session would’ve been depressing for the Auckland franchise and I get the feeling that they wouldn’t have spent too long focussing on the negatives. When looking back at last week’s match against the Crusaders, a few notable statistics stick out. The Blues were kept tryless for only the second time this season and it was the first time in eight seasons that they failed to reach double figures. This clearly illuminates the strength of the Crusaders defence and the discipline that they played with. Horrifyingly, the Blues have failed to win in Christchurch for ten years and for such a strong franchise, this would be a hard pill to swallow. Interestingly, Blues technical advisor and super coach Graham Henry has slammed Super Rugby officials for their inconsistency and poor decision-making and I have to agree. Referees performances need to be evaluated after each match because more and more indiscretions are going unnoticed. I understand that we all make mistakes and have the luxury of the best vantage point from the television cameras, however, the officiating has been nothing short of disgraceful and it is going to cost some teams, like it already has in the more significant fixtures.
Things won’t get any easier for them this week with the Brumbies arriving, and with both teams coming off unsatisfactory losses, they will be doing everything in their power to steer their ship in the right direction heading into the playoffs.
Surprisingly to me, the Brumbies were underdogs last week heading into their matchup with the in-form Waratahs in Sydney, however, the bookies read the situation well. The Brumbies started strongly and looked to have consolidated their top spot, however, they let in three second half tries to eventually fall short. Jesse Mogg kicked well and his dual with Israel Folau was always going to be a key matchup in the game, however, Folau was named in the Wallabies squad and Jesse Mogg wasn’t. Mogg’s time will come and as it is well known, there is no substitute for pace, so I expect him to get his chance later on in the season, perhaps on the end of year tour to Europe. Flanker George Smith and another one of Robbie Deans’ favourite sons, Pat McCabe both left the field with what looked like season compromising injuries, however, it does look like Smith will miss the British & Irish Lions series, but McCabe looks likely to be back within a fortnight. Another loss here will not only further dent the confidence of the Brumbies, but open the door for the Reds to overtake them on the log – something they can’t afford to happen at this stage of the season.
This is a difficult match to predict with both teams having firepower across the park, so personally I am going to stay away from it. The Blues will be happy to be at home again given their successful record there this year. The Brumbies will really get a lot out of their tour of New Zealand and will rediscover their vigour eventually, but the loss of George Smith is a big one and I’ll give the Blues my backing in a close one.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $1.60 – Sportsbet
Force ($1.60) versus Highlanders ($2.35)
NIB Stadium in Perth will once again be the setting for a match that holds no importance to the playoff series, however, with these teams sitting in 14th and 15th position, this very well could decide the wooden spoon. Last week the Force were unable to snap their losing streak to the Sharks and have now lost six in a row, despite being in the contest with only twenty minutes to go. The Highlanders on the other hand were blown off the park from the get go last week in Pretoria, but brought some respectability back to the scoreboard with two late tries.
Back to the drawing board this week for the Force as they have not won since beating the more fancied Crusaders in round nine. In more startling news, there is a chance that Emirates might withdraw their foundation naming rights and from a business point of view, I don’t think it would be a bad decision considering the Force’s inability to crack the top half of the log since their inception. On Sunday afternoon when the Wallabies squad was announced, the Force’s struggles were further reiterated with only Nick ‘the honey badger’ Cummins’ name read out on the team sheet. He has been a standout for them since his return from injury, but it is evident that a lot of their players have failed to make the step up from Super Rugby and as a result they have had to recruit a number of Kiwi’s who were looking for a sea change. The Force need a result this week to help stem the flow of losses, but the Highlanders are very much in the same boat, so it will make for an exciting encounter.
The Highlanders have been an exceptionally hard team to write about this year because they simply haven’t performed and lived up to their expectations. They have adopted a kicking approach which I don’t feel best utilises their talent, but at the end of they day I am not a coach. Each week I harp on about their talented backline, inefficient loose forwards and their aging, high profile recruits who have failed to shine, so I apologise for the lack for new material, but don’t blame me, blame the men from Dunedin. As expected, their tour of South Africa was disastrous losing to both the Kings and the Bulls, but I think the playing field will be a lot more level in Perth. In fact, the Highlanders are going to hit their straps one game this year and I have a feeling it will be this week. But then again, they have failed me and left egg on my face multiple times already in 2013, so time will tell.
When comparing both teams on paper, the Highlanders look almost unbeatable. When comparing both teams on form, the Force seem somewhat unbeatable. I have supported the Highlanders on a number of occasions this year and they have let me down, but this will be my official last play on them because they are a top ten team, but if they can’t beat the Force this week, I wouldn’t want to be heading back to the land of the long white cloud as you can almost hear the knives sharpening from here.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win @ $2.35 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Highlanders +3.5@ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Kings ($3.50) versus Cheetahs ($1.26)
After a week off, the Kings return to Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth to face a huge challenge in the Cheetahs from Bloemfontein. After a string of losses, the Kings managed to beat the hapless Highlanders in round 13 and will be looking to carry that form over into this week meeting. They face one of the tournaments hottest sides, as the Cheetahs were extremely impressive by forcing the Reds into submission last week and securing a comfortable victory in Bloemfontein.
After an exceptional maiden tour of Australasia, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Kings having lost three of their past four matches. In a cellar-dweller clash against the error-ridden Highlanders, they were hailed victorious by a six-point margin in a high-scoring match. The Kings are an unheralded unit, however, their back row and bulk up front has made more than a name for themselves this season and have provided their plucky backs with ample opportunities, which haven’t always been converted. The Kings main aim from here on is to move themselves out of the relegation zone, but with matches against only South African opponents remaining, this looks to be a tough ask. However, their faithful will continue to turnout in droves, which can only be good for the confidence of the team and the financial positioning of the club.
The Cheetahs were desperately in need of a victory last weekend to keep their playoff aspirations alive and the Reds aren’t a team you always want to play when this is the situation. With only two slipups in the last three months, the Cheetahs have been extremely efficient and possess a lot of unsung heroes in their squad. Once again, scrumhalf Piet van Zyl had a sublime game scoring two scintillating tries and no doubt has put his name in the hat for Springbok selection at some stage this year. Flanker Lappies Labushcagne has had a stellar debut season and has been rewarded by being selected in a Springboks training squad. The Cheetahs defence against the Reds was simply outstanding, as they only let in a consolation try late in the match and many other teams would’ve been put to the slaughter against that Reds attack. Without doubt, the Cheetahs play the best brand of rugby in South Africa and will have acquired some new fans, both locally and internationally along the way. With another bye up their sleeve before the end of the regular season concludes, a full house of points against the Kings will have them positioned to make their first playoff series in the history of their franchise.
The Kings have been impressive in their inaugural season and it will be interesting to see if they remain in the competition next year. The Cheetahs are a few years ahead of them and it is hard to ignore their performance last week and they will have five points on their minds to help advance them further up the ladder.
Predicted result: Cheetahs to win @ $1.26 – Sportsbet
Stormers ($1.73) versus Reds ($2.10)
It is a shame that the Stormers will return home to Newlands Stadium in Cape Town this week with a place in the playoff picture out of reach, however, their opponents, the Reds look more than likely to feature at the business end of the season. The Stormers were by far and away the better team last week and if they didn’t need the four-try bonus point, they would’ve won comfortably. Conversely, looking at the Reds performance, they clearly suffered the first match on tour syndrome, but had more than enough opportunities and left a truckload of points on the field against the Cheetahs.
The demise of the Stormers this year has been nothing short of concerning for the Western Cape franchise. Having gone through the season last year having only tasted defeat on two occasions, hopes were high this year for them to go all the way. In actual fact, things couldn’t be any worse with the amount injuries and lack of attacking efficiency being the primary concerns. Their defence has still be strong in 2013, but no where near as watertight as it was last year when they consistently strangled some extremely potent offenses into submission. Last week, the Stormers had plenty of opportunities to sink the Rebels, but turned down a number of kickable penalties to go for the Rebels jugular. They fell short in the end on the scoreboard thanks to a controversial penalty try, but this game was certainly a microcosm of their season. The Reds will be a challenging prospect this week after their defeat to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, but they will have the opportunity to restore some pride and give their fans something to cheer about after one of their worst overseas tours in franchise history. The Stormers have named a severely depleted squad, but lively hooker Tiaan Liebenberg will see some game time after a stint of the sidelines and they will need a collective performance if they are going to trouble the Reds at all.
It was a strange match for the Reds last time out with a number of journalists and fans failing to understand how they didn’t come up trumps against an impressive Cheetahs team. They crossed the try line on a number of occasions, only to be held up or when they looked like scoring, a forward pass or a knock-on was adjudicated by the officials. Some of the disappointment from their performance would have been eclipsed on Sunday afternoon when Robbie Deans named seven Reds in the initial Wallabies squad to play the British & Irish Lion. Somewhat surprisingly, mercurial fly half Quade Cooper was left out, so it appears the comments he made last year about the ‘toxic’ environment in Australian rugby has come back to haunt him. He still has a few more matches for the Reds to stake his claim, with one of those against the Lions in a few weeks, so I expect a big performance form him against the Stormers on a ground he loves playing at. Unfortunately for the Reds, Digby Ioane will sit this match out with a niggling knee injury and his presence on both attack and defence will surely be missed.
The Stormers owe their fans something after a disastrous season having only won four matches from 11 encounters. In saying that, so do the Reds after their somewhat uncharacteristic performance against the Cheetahs last week. The Stormers will now want to adopt the ‘giant-killing’ role and what better way to start against the Reds, but the boys from Brisbane have more to play for and will look for their big three to step up and be counted, and in the process outclass the Stormers.
Predicted result: Reds to win @ $2.10 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Reds +2 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Sharks ($1.85) versus Bulls ($1.95)
The final match of round 15 is sure to be a South African classic in Durban as the Sharks host the high-flying and conference topping Bulls. The Sharks arrive home after a much needed tour-ending victory over the Force in Perth. The Bulls weren’t completely convincing last week, but they still managed to brush a disappointing Highlanders aside in Pretoria.
The Sharks were far from their best in Perth, but a win is a win and in their case, they will be hoping that winning becomes a habit. The relief of their victory last week against the Force was palpable on the faces of management and players alike, but it is fair to say they are up against it in the final rounds of this mouth-watering competition. In a dour affair, fullback Riaan Viljoen was a shining light for the visitors and Patrick Lambie was efficient with the boot and kept the scoreboard kicking over. The Sharks left it late, but their forwards gained ascendency towards the end of the match and propelled them to victory. You get the feeling though that if they were in better form they would’ve scored a lot more. There was talk about Bismarck du Plessis potentially playing his first match of 2013, however, rugby fans around the world will have to wait another week or two. His forthright nature has been a missing cog in the Shark’s engine room this year and his when he is included in their team, it will send shivers down the spine of their opposition, much like Jonah Lomu once did. Marcell Coetzee had his best game for a long time on the weekend and will be looking to repeat that performance this week with the internationals ahead of us. This week really is incumbent Springbok Patrick Lambie’s last chance to press for and retain his fly half jumper as he has failed to reach the heights of last year. The matchup with Morne Steyn will be an important aspect of the game and should give either man the edge.
You will remember earlier on in the season when the Bulls were unlucky to lose against the Reds despite almost scoring in the corner after the fulltime siren and then a week later in Canberra, almost certainly had the draw locked away before conceding a dubious penalty. If these two results were different, the Bulls would be tournament leaders in a year where making the playoff series would’ve been deemed more than adequate. However, they are still on track and came through last weeks drubbing of the Highlanders unscathed, which will only make things that much harder for the Sharks this week. The match on Saturday night will be a true test for the Bulls, particularly in the forwards. There are rumours that hooker Chilliboy Ralepele is not happy with the Springbok management due to his limited game time at international level and flanker Jacques Potgieter seems to have had a falling out with Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, so will most likely continue his rugby in Europe next year. These two teams played out the 2007 final and have had a number of epic tussles throughout the years and I expect this weekend to be no different. Not many teams have achieved five wins on the trot and as we all know, a stampeding Bulls team is hard to pull down.
The Sharks have a slim hope of making the playoffs, while the Bulls look a certainty as they currently sit in second place on the overall ladder. Despite the return of the Tendai ‘the beast’ Mtawarira and a daunting Shark tank of supporters, the Bulls have coasted to five consecutive victories and have to be backed in Durban.
Predicted result: Bulls to win @ $1.95 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Bulls to win @ $1.95 – Sportsbet