Both Super Rugby tippers and punters suffered last week as one of the most unpredictable rounds in recent memory unfolded. The Super Rugby playing field has well and truly been levelled, which can only be positive for the growth of the greatest provincial rugby competition on the planet moving forwards. Briefly looking at last week, the Kings came within a whisker of creating the biggest upset in Super Rugby ever, the Rebels turned around a disastrous two weeks, the Cheetahs stretched their win streak to a franchise record and the Sharks are starting to gain some momentum. After a few good weeks of tipping, we go back to the drawing board this week and with seven games on the horizon I am hopeful of picking a few winners. 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: Brumbies -2 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Hurricanes +2.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Kings +7.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Crusaders -8.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Highlanders ($2.20) versus Brumbies ($1.68)
The first match of round nine kicks off on Friday afternoon as the winless Highlanders welcome the misfiring Brumbies to Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. There aren’t a lot of positive things to write about the Highlanders at the moment having lost ten matches on the trot dating back to round 15 of last year’s competition. Although the Brumbies held top position on the ladder for most of this year, in recent weeks they have lost all of their momentum culminating with a lucky draw against the Kings last week.
The Highlanders have been a huge disappointment in 2013 and it is quite clear that losing has become a habit for them. Besides the bye round where they picked up an automatic four points, they have harvested two measly bonus points from six encounters in 2013. They have experienced internationals across the park, but their lack of cohesion, composure and attention to detail has been substandard this year. Their forward pack is solid and very rarely takes a step backwards and Mose Tuiali’I at number eight was a great acquisition after a few years in the wilderness. Hosea Gear and Ben Smith continue to do their reputation no harm, however, Ma’a Nonu has been nothing but a coach killer this year having had a brain explosion on more than one occasion. What is most surprising is that they currently lead the competition in terms of carries, offloads and running metres, but defensively they sit towards the bottom. Coach Jamie Joseph will have begun looking over his shoulder, as no one’s position in this franchise is currently safe. This would be a prime time for the Highlanders to turn their season around and do a few other teams a favour in the process, but they have given their fans and punters in general, no reason to have high hopes.
The Brumbies have been in Dunedin since Tuesday preparing for this crucial encounter and have named a near full strength side, with the exception of unknown Jordan Smiler playing in the number six jersey. The Brumbies have been relatively injury-free over the past few weeks, but you wouldn’t think so given their overconfident display against the Stormers in which they lost, a nail-biting win over Bulls and a title-denting draw against Super Rugby newcomers, the Kings. They can ill-afford to drop any points against the tournament cellar-dwellers this week, but the Highlanders have played well in recent weeks at home losing by narrow margins. Bruise brother Fotu Auelea will be influential off the bench and Jesse Mogg will make a timely return after a few weeks out with a shoulder injury.
This fixture is going to make for some entertaining viewing this week as neither team can afford a loss for varying reasons. I simply cannot back the Highlanders as they have let me down on a number of occasions this year already, but the Brumbies aren’t playing their best rugby either. The Highlanders will continue to throw the ball around and the Brumbies will no doubt match them in this facet, but the team that plays the better defence will prevail. When the ref blows the final whistle, I expect a Brumbies victory but it will be closer than their polar opposite log positions would suggest.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win @ $1.68 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Brumbies -2 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Chiefs ($1.35) versus Reds ($3.25)
I am picking this match to be a thriller in Hamilton as the high-flying Chiefs welcome the Reds to Waikato Stadium on Saturday for the first match of a quadruple-header. The Chiefs continue to chalk up the wins in 2013, while the Reds have gathered a lot of momentum themselves. Both teams are coming fresh off a bye so with an extra week of rest up their sleeves, I expect this match to be of high intensity and will really illuminate how good these teams really are.
Both teams head into this fixture having won on five occasions this year but the Chiefs are a team that have managed to well and truly supress the second year syndrome that plagued the Reds last year. They have superstars across the park including centre Richard Kahui, flanker Liam Messam and the constantly improving Aaron Cruden. The young fly half has done it all in rugby having already received a rugby world cup winner’s medal, but given the depth of ten’s in New Zealand, he cannot rest on his laurels. Despite his small stature, he manages to carve up defences and has a rugby brain that cannot be coached. Their screaming fans have high hopes for season 2013 and if they manage to put the Reds away, they will be one step closer to securing a home semi-final later on in the year.
The Reds have the youngest squad in Australia, if not the entire competition with an average age of 24. Despite this, many of them know what it is like to win this competition and their level heads like James Horwill, Will Genia and Quade Cooper provide a formidable spine week in and week out. As the Reds casualty ward known as #teamrehab begins to minimise, they are well positioned to feature heavily again this year. Rocket Rod Davies has been granted his first start of the year and will know doubt look to exploit the Chiefs defence with his lightning speed. The corresponding match in Brisbane last year was one of the matches of the year and this fixture has all the ingredients to replicate it. The Reds will need all their stars working in tandem and will need to find another gear as they haven’t been able to put teams away so far. This is a litmus test to see where they really are and they won’t have a bigger challenge than this before the finals begin (if they make it).
It is hard to pick against the Chiefs this week despite the recent successes of the Reds. Both teams are littered with international representatives and full of players with big match temperament (BMT). The Chiefs are playing some exceptional running rugby at the moment and back it up with strong defensive efforts week in and week out. Given that they are playing in front of their home crowd, I think they will edge it, but I would be surprised if either team won it by more than a score.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.35 – Sportsbet
Blues ($1.67) versus Hurricanes ($2.22)
Auckland plays host to two of the best attacking sides in the competition on Saturday afternoon when the Blues clash with the Hurricanes. The Blues are coming off a strong victory against the Highlanders last week and their seasoned veterans are really starting to stand up and be counted. Similarly, the Hurricanes are currently riding a five-match win streak and are nestled just behind the leaders and are quietly building their playoff hopes.
The Blues returned to the winner’s circle last week thanks largely to Piri Weepu who scored a brace of tries and rising star Steven Luatua who is a menace in both attack and defence. It is great to see Piri return to form after experiencing a world cup hangover last year. Rene Ranger continues to impose himself on the opposition, but their results still suggest that they are in the development phase. Rene Ranger has been placed on the wing to cover the suspended George Moala and he is certainly a player that needs to touch the ball as much as he can because when he does the Blues attack looks a hell of a lot better. I still feel as if they remain a little bit weak up front and I have no doubts that the Hurricanes will look to put the pressure on at scrum time.
The Hurricanes will be looking to square the season series having lost at home to the Blues in round two. They lost the following week, but haven’t lost since so they head into this matchup with a lot more confidence and they continue to play an exciting brand of rugby. Beauden Barrett has been instrumental and continues to put pressure on Daniel Carter and Aaron Cruden for the All Back’s fly half spot and is developing into a well-rounded footballer with a great balance of wide passing, nice running angles and astute kicking. Julian Savea continues to shine and no doubt has etched his name onto the All Black’s starting sheet against France in June and his younger brother Ardie, might be a season or two behind him. Their backline has remained consistent this season, but their forwards continue to allow them the go forward ball they require. Beauden Barrett has been selected at fullback and he will drop into the first receiver role when necessary to add something different as Tusi Pisi takes over the fly half position.
Having done some research, a lot of punters seem to be staying away from this game, but I have to take Hurricanes with the handicap here as they are one of the form teams of the competition so far and although the Blues beat the Highlanders last week, they were on a three match skid prior to that and the ‘Canes management would be well prepared to exploit their weaknesses.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $2.22 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Hurricanes +2.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Rebels ($1.35) versus Kings ($3.25)
After a month filled with very few highs and some tumultuous lows, the Rebels return home to Melbourne to play a Kings side oozing with confidence after their exceptional drawn result against the Brumbies last week. If you haven’t heard about the Rebels roller coaster ride in recent weeks, you most likely aren’t really interested in the game, however, they will be battered and bruised after a calamitous South African sojourn, but will have gained some confidence having beaten the Force in Perth last week.
The Melbourne Rebels have a huge chance this week to put the first half of the Super Rugby season behind them by chalking up their first consecutive match-winning streak against the Kings. If they are to do so, they will have to tighten up their defence as they have currently conceded nine more tries than any other team in the competition. They have X-factor players across the park including O’Connor, Higginbotham, Vuna and company so I expect them to throw the ball around. Yet again they can’t call upon their experienced internationals Kurtley Beale (personal reasons/idiot) and captain Gareth Delve. Given how the Kings played against the Brumbies last week, they would be irresponsible to think of this game as a walk in the park and I don’t think they will, but the Rebels are an extremely inconsistent squad so you just don’t know which team is going to turn up.
The Kings are a team that have picked up a number of extra fans as a result of their recent performances on tour, including former Wallaby Matt Dunning. I have mentioned his name before but Omar Mouneimne, must take a lot of credit for the Kings having the best tackling success percentage of any team in the completion sitting at just under an impressive 90%. They have more than exceeded their goals and expectations in their inaugural season and although I have mentioned it before, they are probably doing better than what the Lions have done in recent years. Place kicking expert, Demetri Catrakilis has been drafted back into the side and they have been fortunate enough to keep a relatively clean bill of health in recent weeks. Their back row has been exceptional and it is evident that there is a great deal of unity in the squad as they had a lot longer to prepare for this season than any other Super Rugby squad.
This is an extremely difficult fixture to predict, as the Rebels have a well-balanced team with some experienced internationals, but have simply lacked cohesion and any real form of defence thus far. The Kings continue to improve and the fact that this is their last match on tour before they return to Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, it could count against them. Coupled with a hugely emotional draw against the Brumbies, I don’t think they’ll win but I am happy to pick them with the handicap.
Predicted result: Rebels to win @ $1.35 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Kings +7.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Force ($3.70) versus Crusaders ($1.28)
The sea of blue faithful in Perth will be treated to one of the most well-drilled and successful provincial rugby franchises as their boys play the Crusaders on Saturday evening. Last week the home team put up a fight before going down to the Melbourne Rebels, whereas the Crusaders will be smarting over a narrow loss to the Sharks in Durban.
Barring their incredible win against the Reds in Brisbane, as expected the Force have been ordinary this year having lost to teams in the bottom half of the table five times. Last week a desperate Rebels outfit silenced the crowd on a number of occasions and although the Force hit back, they fell short by exactly the same margin and they were on the wrong side of an identical score line as they had in round one in Melbourne. The Force are currently rebuilding after losing some of their superstars in recent years, however, it appears that they are starting to implement the structures that will bode well for them in future. The Crusaders are one of the most difficult teams to play, but given they aren’t at full strength and are coming off a loss in Durban, the Force will have high hopes of repaying their supporter’s faith by putting in a spirited performance this weekend.
Typical slow starters the Crusaders have a win percentage of 50% this year and they have been ravaged by injuries. They have lost a few games that they could’ve easily won, however, they are struggling to play for the entire 80 minutes. The Crusaders return to Christchurch next week so they will be eager to pick up a bag of points this weekend and they are more than capable of running away with this one. They have a strong pack and deadly backs, but what often sets them a part from the rest is the rhythm and cohesion that they can play with. The Crusaders are adaptable and have put together a few near perfect performances over the years and no doubt will be looking to get up a head of steam before a string of home games in Christchurch.
This match could get ugly, but in recent times the Force have often provided some stern opposition for the Crusaders. Put simply, the visitors are a class above and anything less than a comfortable victory would really surprise me. Tyler Bleyendaal’s kicking accuracy could well determine how big the gap is between the two sides at the end of the match.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.28 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Crusaders -8.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Stormers ($1.73) versus Sharks ($2.12)
Newlands Stadium in Cape Town will be the setting of a crucial all-South African conference fixture as the battling Stormers play host to a Sharks outfit brimming with confidence. The Sharks are coming off an impressive victory over the Crusaders, a team that beat the Stormers the week before, whereas the Cape Town franchise suffered a demoralising defeat to the tournament dark horses, the Cheetahs.
Put simply, the Stormers are desperate to start recording some wins in this year’s competition. Admittedly, they have had the most difficult draw so far of any team and in the second half of the season they will be matched up against teams that are well and truly out of the title race. Players like Duane Vermuelen, the lively Deon Fourie and Siya Kolisi continue to perform, but halfback Nick Groom will have nightmares about his performance last week almost single-handedly costing his team 19 points. The Stormers defended astutely when these two sides met in round three and Patrick Lambie’s boot was the decider in a try-less match as the Stormers went down 12 – 6. The Stormers have kept the majority of their losses within seven points insinuating that they could well have been higher up the log and they will be looking to make a statement this weekend at home.
The Sharks are sitting staunchly at the top of the South African conference having only lost to the Brumbies, but their positioning doesn’t really paint a true picture of their current form. They have failed to score tries on three occasions, but have looked unstoppable against others, notably the Rebels. Their reliance on Patrick Lambie’s boot could cost them against stronger opposition, but there is no lack of firepower in the Sharks backline, namely JP Pietersen and rising star Paul Jordaan. Francois Steyn’s form will be a concern to Durbanites and South Africans in general, but he is a class player and just needs a good match to turn his season around. This is a crucial match for both teams and this match will no doubt be a bruising encounter that well leave either side battered at the end of the 80 minutes.
The Stormers can’t afford to lose too many more games considering that they will shortly be embarking on their Australasian tour. They have named a strong starting fifteen, but they are certainly missing the likes of Habana, Etzebeth and Burger. Despite their offensive ‘hit-and-miss’ start having scored only three tries outside of their Rebels demolition, they have an extremely strong bench that I expect will have a huge influence late in the match. Notwithstanding the additional injuries they picked up last week, the Sharks are the form team and should be able to get one over their rivals to stablise their top ranking in the South African conference.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $2.12 – Sportsbet
Bulls ($1.46) versus Cheetahs ($2.75)
The Bulls coming off a bye, host the tournament dark horses the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld in the final fixture of round nine in the early hours of Sunday morning (Australian time). Last up the Bulls narrowly missed out on a draw in Canberra and will have overcome their jetlag prior to this week’s encounter. For the Cheetahs, they confidently disposed of the Stormers at home last week, which speaks volumes for how far they have come as a franchise over the past two seasons.
The Bulls have been unlucky in recent weeks and you get the feeling that if they had a few more experienced heads on the field as they did in yesteryear, they quite possibly would’ve won their fixtures against the Reds and the Brumbies, which isn’t an easy thing to do. They haven’t lost at home yet this year as they beat the Stormers and the Force by more than a converted try each and their fans will have high expectations in a derby that has a lot of history. They still have a number of first choice players such as Kirchner, Hougaard, Olivier etc. on the sidelines, but they will welcome back the bullocking lock, Flip van der Merwe and Akona “I have a sound in my name” Ndungane, with open arms.
Despite early season injuries to Johan Goosen and the injury-prone Juan Smith, the Cheetahs have been reasonably injury-free and have named an unchanged line up to face the Bulls this weekend. The Cheetahs are on a five-match win streak and are playing their eighth consecutive fixture in a row and they will be looking forward to their bye in round 12. Much like the Hurricanes, the Cheetahs are renowned for their attacking game having scored some memorable individual and team tries over the past two seasons. Their tighter defence in 2013 has been at the forefront of their successes to date and the fact that the core of their squad has remained relatively unchanged is starting to reap the rewards.
The Cheetahs have never beaten the Bulls in Super Rugby in nine attempts with an average match score of 38 – 22. It is hard to ignore this statistics and given that the Bulls are rested, the bookies think that they will win. The Cheetahs will inevitably run out of steam at some point and they both will play an open game which might catch up to the Cheetahs towards the end of the match. Given that the weather Gods have decided to keep the rain away for this match (if things don’t change), I expect this to be a high scoring encounter and the match total might be the go.
Predicted result: Bulls to win @ $1.45 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: If the overs is 52 or less take it!