After an appetiser of Super Rugby last weekend, the competition gets into full swing with six highly competitive matches. Six of these games are local derbies and the final match sees the first cross-conference matchup with the newly instilled Eastern Province Kings hosting the Western Force. Much like last week, rustiness will be prevalent, combinations won’t be firing at optimal potential and defences will still be maturing. I can’t remember being this excited for a round of Super Rugby for many a year and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat.
Best three bets of the week
Brumbies -5.5 @$1.90 – Sportsbet
Sharks -5.5 @ $1.90 on Sportsbet
Force -10.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Multibet of the week
Brumbies/Sharks/Force to win @ $2.39
Highlanders ($1.82) versus Chiefs ($2.00)
Round two gets underway with arguably the match of the weekend. This encounter sees the reigning Super Rugby champions travel south to Dunedin to face the tournament dark horses and the well-recruited Highlanders. The Highlanders are perennial good starters and have just managed to fade towards the back end of the season in the last two years. To address these issues, coach Jamie Joseph has acquired the services of three All Blacks, Tony Woodcock (prop), Ma’a Nonu (centre) and the 38-year-old Brad Thorn (lock). In terms of trophies received, Brad Thorn is without a doubt the most successful rugby player of all time. He rugby resume includes winner’s medals for the New Zealand provincial competition, Super Rugby, the Heineken Cup, the Bledisloe Cup, the Tri-Nations and most recently the Rugby World Cup. Unfortunately, he won’t make an appearance this week due to a calf injury.
The Chiefs didn’t skip a beat in the offseason, as their form has been promising having easily dispatched the Highlanders, and grinded out victories against the Reds and the Hurricanes. The Highlanders did manage to beat the Crusaders but then lost last weekend to the Blues. You can’t look into preseason form too much, but it is evident that the Chiefs have created a winning culture and momentum is clearly on their side. Unfortunately, the Chiefs backline will be depleted with four first-choice starters in Richard Kahui (centre), Andrew Horell (centre), Brendon Leonard (halfback) and Robbie Robinson (fullback) being ruled out. They still look strong on paper but only a shadow of the first fifteen of 2012.
In the preseason, the Highlanders chopped and changed their squad in an attempt to figure out their best combinations, but like all New Zealand teams, they have been playing very attractive rugby. The coaches from Otago have named a solid outfit for Friday’s game, but certainly not their strongest. The Highlanders also head into their first home game knowing they have the support of the city with a record number of season ticket holders in 2013.
The enclosed Forsyth-Barr stadium will be buzzing on Friday and with university back in full swing, the Zoo (student area) will be as animated as always. The teams are sure to put on a spectacle, unlike the Reds and Brumbies match last weekend, and I can see more points being scored and some deft backline play. Both teams have been hit with injuries and despite home ground advantage, the Chiefs have had the stronger build up and should win this by a small margin.
Predicted result: The Chiefs to come out on top @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Chiefs to win @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Rebels ($3.00) versus Brumbies ($1.40)
The second match of the weekend sees the two winners from round one clash at AAMI Park in Melbourne. The Rebels started slowly in week one, but in the end their expansive game plan was a catalyst to entertaining their home crowd and they came away with a seven-point win. Things may have been closer, however some ill-discipline let down a Western Force team who was fighting well above their weight. The Rebels were guilty of pushing the pass on a number of occasions and they need to earn the right to move the ball wide, but there were certainly some good signs and James O’Connor, sporting an interesting hairdo, was faultless with the boot. The Rebels head into this week’s fixture with the added luxury of naming an unchanged squad, which will allow their combinations to gel even further.
It must be said that the Brumbies forwards will be licking their lips having seen the Force outplay their opponents at set piece. The Brumbies forwards were extremely effective against the Reds as they nullified any influence Quade Cooper and company could have on the match. David Pocock was colossal in the tight and had a great battle with another up and coming flanker, Liam Gill. In the end, the scoreboard did flatter the Brumbies, but it was a hard fought victory and something positive looks to be brewing in Canberra given that they now have what seems like the right ingredients to go one step further.
As a result, it is hard to go against the Brumbies this week and they start as favourites. In the game of rugby, you can have some of the best backs in the world (Beale and O’Connor), but unless the forwards compete and provide good go forward ball, it will always be a huge challenge to come out on top. I see this being the case in Melbourne and can see the Brumbies controlling the breakdown through David Pocock and cementing their position at the top of the Australian conference.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win by 10 or more @ $1.40 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Brumbies -5.5 @$1.90 – Sportsbet
Bulls ($2.00) versus Stormers ($1.82)
The first match in the South African conference sees the regular season champions of 2012 travel to the heights of Loftus Versfeld where an injury-deplete Bulls team awaits. In a game that has Springboks scattered across the park, the hits will be ferocious and the passion for the game will be evident by both players and spectators alike.
The Bulls have announced an experienced line-up with eleven players having received 40 caps or more. Three Springboks, Dean Greyling, Akona Ndungane and Jacques Potgieter were not considered due to injury. The Stormers on the other hand have an exciting backline, which will be orchestrated by the imported general, Elton Jantjies. Duane Vermeulen and Andries Bekker will provide some profitable go forward ball, but their forwards still remain understrength given the absence of Schalk Burger and the young sky scraper Eben Etzebeth.
The Bulls are still rebuilding and don’t perform consistently at the level they once did and the Stormers will be gutted having not won the silverware yet, despite an exceptional last two seasons. At the end of 80 minutes, I expect the Stormers defensive structures to prevail and I can see them crossing the try line more often than we have been accustomed to in the last twelve months. The battle between Jantjies and the out-of-favour Morne Steyn could very well decide the outcome, but there is enough talent on show to make an early morning viewing time worthwhile.
Predicted result: A tough game to start a campaign for both sides but the Stormers may just edge this one away from home @ $1.82 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Stormers to win @ $1.82 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($1.57) versus Blues ($2.40)
The rebuilding Blues travel to Wellington to face one of the most exciting teams in Super Rugby in the first of Saturday’s matches. Both teams are young and have some experienced campaigners to help guide them through the process, although it appears as if the Hurricanes are further along given the additional twelve months that they have had to mature.
Conrad Smith, one of the most natural and consistent players in the world, retains the captaincy in 2013. Much has been made of the loss of Cory Jane who will be out for the whole season having just had surgery on his knee. Mind you, their team still includes the modern day Jonah Lomu, Julian Savea and joint-leading try scorer in 2012 Andre Taylor, who will be a handful for any defence to contain. Prior to the season, I singled out Ardie Savea (flanker) as a rising star for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, he will not be in action for the next four weekends as he will be serving a suspension he picked up in their final trial match for a dangerous tackle.
Experienced All Black, Ali Williams will lead the Blues, but many have regarded this as a controversial decision. Despite this and the Blues losing their opening trial fixture, they managed to string two consecutive wins together, including a win against the Highlanders last week, which will provide the fans and the players with some welcome belief heading into the new season.
Despite being the least hyped teams in the New Zealand conference, this game has the ability to open up in a big way. Playing at home, the Hurricanes should have too much fire power both upfront and out wide.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win in Wellington @ $1.57 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Hurricanes -5.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Reds ($1.82) versus Waratahs ($2.00)
The latest chapter in one of Australia’s longest sporting rivalries will be written this week at the fortress known as Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The Reds are coming off a demoralising loss to an impressive Brumbies outfit, while the Waratahs came up just short against Super Rugby powerhouse, the Crusaders, in their final trial match in Sydney. These two teams clashed in week one last year and the Reds left it late by scoring a 75 metre try through Dom Shipperley in injury time. This is a great Australian derby to watch and it stems from the rugby league spectacle, ‘State of Origin’.
In last week’s fixture, the Reds did well to stay in touch with the Brumbies for most of the match, but they faded towards the end and their reserves didn’t make enough of an impact. Additionally, this week the lineout coach has no doubt held extra sessions to ensure that it performs at a higher standard. It is evident that the Reds really miss Will Genia, as they just don’t look the same team without him (and neither does Quade Cooper). His sniping runs at the base of the ruck and his snappy passes often create opportunities for his teammates and the Reds will be hoping that he doesn’t have any setbacks in his recovery from a knee injury. The Reds will be happy to know that Will Genia is due back in approximately 3 weeks. Also due back shortly is James Horwill, another player whose grunt and size was missed in the tight. He has bulked up considerably in the off-season and is itching to get onto the field after a nine month stint in #TeamRehab. Quade Cooper had a quiet re-entry back into Super Rugby and the ‘Red Army’ in Brisbane will be hoping for some of the Cooper magic that they have been so accustomed to seeing in recent years to be on display.
NSW rugby has been dismal over the last few seasons and after a much needed spring clean, fans in NSW seem to be optimistic about the Waratahs future. In my season preview, I mentioned a lot of their brand is built around four key players, Polota-Nau, Palu, Barnes and Horne. The latter two have already succumbed to short-term injuries so some early pressure might be added to the much hyped, three-code hopper, Israel Folau. He has been sublime in preseason trials and many pundits across the country are saying he is a certainty for higher honours later this year. He starts this week at fullback and will no doubt look to target Chris F Sautia (first start at outside centre) and the other outside backs in red.
A win is so crucial this week for both teams as the Reds won’t want to start their season with two losses, and the Waratahs need the win to kick-start their campaign and to get their fans back onside. Brisbane is not an easy place to play for any travelling team and with the Reds tough hit out last week, they will be better acclimatised to Super Rugby. However, this will be a new Waratahs team with a monstrous forward back and I expect them to edge it, just.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win in front of a massive sea of red @ $2.00 – Sportsbet.
Best Bet: NSW Waratahs to win @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($2.85) versus Sharks ($1.42)
The penultimate match of the weekend involves last season’s runners up, the Sharks and the ever-improving Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. In preseason, both the Cheetahs and the Sharks opted for matches against understrength opposition so it will be interesting to see the standard of rugby played when they lock horns on Saturday.
The Sharks have lost both captain Keegan Daniel (6 weeks) and the bullocking back rower Willem Alberts (4 weeks) as a result of pre-season injuries. Fortunately, for the Sharks they still have adequate cover with Marcel Coetzee, Ryan Kankowski and Jacques Botes all ready to go. They do remain strong upfront with the Beast and Dr. Jannie du Plessis, and his brother Bismarck due back from injury in about a month. When you see names like Pat Lambie, Francois Steyn and JP Pietersen on the team sheet you know there is potential to achieve a four-try bonus point.
Looking at the Cheetahs, the most promising young star coming out of South Africa is fly half Johan Goosen. He played four test matches last year in the Rugby Championship before getting injured and missed the remainder of the season. At just 20 years of age, the South African faithful are excited to see a fly half that can kick, pass but most importantly run the ball. This is the reason why he fits into the Cheetahs structure so well as they generally have an expansive style of game. Another superstar in the making is young winger, Raymond Rhule. Many hoped that he would be selected in the Springbok squad last year for the autumn internationals as an understudy to Bryan Habana, however, this would have been a big risk given he hadn’t played a Super Rugby game. He has pace to burn and an eye for the try line and this season could well be his breakthrough on the international stage. A definite candidate for leading try scorer of the year given he remains injury free.
In what should be an exciting game, both teams have some exceptionally talented players, however, the Sharks are more experienced and should have what it takes to overpower a gallant Cheetahs side.
Predicted result: Sharks to hit the ground running in 2012 with a solid win @ $1.42 – Sportsbet.
Best Bet: Sharks -5.5 @ $1.90 on Sportsbet
Kings ($4.60) versus Force ($1.20)
The final match of the round sees the introduction of the Eastern Province Kings into Super Rugby and what better way to do it than on their home turf at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth.
Before the team has even run out, it is not certain that the Kings will be a regular component of Super Rugby over the next few years, so each game is going to be vital. I mentioned in my season preview that this would be a game the Kings could potentially compete in, however, after watching the Force last week, I’m not so sure. The Force surprised many and got off to a pretty decent start In Melbourne and despite being down to thirteen men at one stage, they managed to steal a bonus point in an entertaining bout against the Rebels.
Their discipline really let them down at key stages and this is not a competition you want to play without your full quota. There is no doubt about it, you will get punished and they did. Despite this, their forwards competed extremely well and dominated both the scrum and the lineout. Special mention must go to the illusive winger, Alfi Mafi, who bagged a brace of tries and is an attacking threat in open play.
The Force look likely to recall skipper Matt Hodgson, former Wallaby Hugh McMeniman, prop Salesi Ma’afu and a rising star of the last few seasons, winger Nick “the honey badger” Cummins. These changes will strengthen their line up considerably and they will have high hopes of picking up a full house of points.
The Kings have selected an all South African fifteen and have resisted adding any of their imports, which probably isn’t a wise decision given that they need to hit the ground running. Their leader Luke Watson is inspirational, but with very few Super Rugby caps scattered across the rest of the team, it could be a long 80 minutes for them in PE. Despite having to travel half way across the world, I can see the Force getting up in this match. In front of what should be a good crowd in Port Elizabeth, the Kings will lift and compete for periods during the match, but the emotion of the situation and their lack of class and cohesion will eventually cost them.
Predicted result: Force to spoil the party and win big $1.20 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Force -10.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet