The Super Rugby season is well underway and with Rugby League kicking off and the RBS 6 Nations resuming as well this weekend, we are in for a feast of rugby. The Blues, Chiefs and Brumbies are the form teams of the competition so far, but as we all know, a week in rugby is a long time and things can change very quickly. This weekend also sees the return of Sunday afternoon rugby so I expect a big crowd at Eden Park, especially on the back of a firing Blues outfit. Let’s have a look at the matchups in more depth and hopefully I can pick you a winner. 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: Reds -7 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Chiefs to win @ $1.98 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Sharks -17.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($2.40) versus Crusaders ($1.57)
Another New Zealand derby will open Week four’s account with two struggling teams, the Hurricanes and the Crusaders doing battle in Wellington. The Hurricanes have had a difficult start to their campaign with losses to the Blues and the Reds, while the Crusaders were compellingly defeated by this year’s dark horses, the Blues in Auckland last weekend.
The Crusaders let five tries in for the first time since 2010 and their defence just wasn’t up to scratch, even though the Blues attack was sublime. The Crusaders were pedestrian in defence and were responsible for being too lateral in attack, which is easy for any defensive system to handle. They were also penalised heavily at the breakdown, which could be expected given it was their first game of the new season. One of the game’s superstars, Daniel Carter had a perfect night with the boot (5 from 5), however he had no support from anyone else on the score sheet. Kieran Read rarely goes missing on attack or defence and he continued this trend, but the other nine All Blacks really need to raise their games this week and for the rest of the season if they want to compete. Keep an eye out for winger, Johnny McNicholl who was very impressive in the ITM Cup last year and the ever-present Matt Todd.
The Hurricanes travelled to Suncorp Stadium with an impressive record against the Reds, however, it took a dent as they went down by six in a low scoring affair. This wasn’t aided by the drizzling rain, poor goal kicking from Beauden Barrett, and the lack of continuity that they played with. Some people have stipulated that there were a few dodgy refereeing decisions, but the truth of the matter is, the Hurricanes had enough ball to win two games. In fact, captain Conrad Smith said it was the weirdest game he has ever played in. All Blacks, Victor Vito and Dane Coles will be celebrating their 50th cap
This isn’t a game I want to touch because both teams are capable of blowing the other off the park. A crucial matchup will be in midfield, where the incumbent All Black Conrad Smith will be facing off against Robbie Fruean, who in my opinion would quite easily make any other international squad. It is only a matter of time before these two click, although I can’t see the Crusaders getting dominated like the did last week and should come away with the win.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win in Wellington @ $1.57 – Sportsbet
Rebels ($3.10) versus Reds ($1.37)
The teetering Rebels will entertain the Queensland Reds in Melbourne on Friday evening in an important Australian conference matchup. The Rebels have been competitive so far this year, despite losing their last two matches, after an opening weekend victory over the Force. Conversely, the Reds lost their opening matchup and have managed to string together two consecutive wins in Brisbane.
It is becoming evident that the Rebels are getting outplayed in the forwards and simply have a lack of depth. Week in and week out, Beale, O’Connor and Higginbotham try their hardest to keep their franchise in the game, however, they have been fading with very few quality substitutes to call upon to make an impact. This week they will also be without Beale as he has a broken bone in his hand that has required immediate surgery. This has seen a shift to fly half for captain James O’Connor, which I am sure the Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans wouldn’t mind.
The Reds are beginning to find another gear, with their defence and young back row being key catalysts. Their forwards have scrummed well and their pick and drives have assisted their gain line advantage stats. Young flanker, Liam Gill was fantastic and he is often forgotten, but could arguably be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Hooper (Waratahs) and David Pocock (Brumbies). Aidan Toua had a disappointing night at fullback after an injury plagued few years, while Ben Tapuai continues to perform. It is clear that the Reds do their homework each week and implemented a game plan that nullified the Hurricanes attack. You could say that the Reds used a few of their ‘get out of jail free’ cards last week, but that is a sign of a class team and one that can prevail in the face of adversity. They are also bolstered by Wallaby centre Anthony Fainga’a who will play his first game of the season.
The fly half battle between Quade Cooper and James O’Connor will unofficially be an early Wallabies trial so it should make for some entertaining viewing. Although JOC may keep the Rebels in the game with the boot, they are missing some key players through injury. There is too much class in this Reds squad to not capitalise and the momentum is clearly with them.
Predicted result: Reds to win in Melbourne @ $1.37 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Reds -7 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Highlanders ($1.12) versus Cheetahs ($6.25)
The world’s southern most rugby ground will host the Highlanders and the Cheetahs in a Saturday afternoon clash in Invercargill. The Highlanders are coming fresh off a bye after they lost their round two match against the inform Chiefs. The Cheetahs campaign has taken a huge hit early on having lost to the Sharks and being completely blitzed by the Chiefs in Hamilton last weekend.
In round two, the Highlanders were involved in the match of the year so far where both teams were full of energy and gave the ball plenty of air. They enjoyed over 70% of the possession and were just beaten by the better team on the night. Ben Smith, captain Hosea Gear and exciting winger Kade Poki managed to cross the chalk, while Ma’a Nonu was guilty of trying to do too much at times. The Highlanders will be lifted this week with the addition of Brad Thorn and captain Andrew Hore to the starting line up, which will be a welcome relief given that they won’t be able to call on Nasi Manu’s services for the rest of the year after he suffered a season ending knee injury. He has been one of the most consistent players for the Highlanders and their depth has be tested early on. All in all, there team looks solid on paper, however the Cheetahs will look to target a weakened back row.
Looking at the Cheetahs, last weekend’s fixture was a tale of two halves as they started extremely well and completely dominated possession in the first forty. However, they received little reward after incumbent Springbok fly half missed a few shots at goal and they were very lateral in attack, which made it very easy for the defence to mirror. In recent years, the Cheetahs have opted for a loose game plan as they have looked to utilise their speedy backs. However, the issue with this game plan is that you give the opposition chances and if you don’t capitalise on yours, things can go very wrong, very quickly like it did in Hamilton. The Chiefs are too good a team to try and beat at their own game and I think other teams will analyse this game when constructing game plans moving forward. Heinrich Brussow will make his long awaited return from the bench, but other than that coach Naka Drotske is backing his troops to put up a better fight this week.
If the skies over Invercargill remain clear, we can expect a few tries as both teams play an expansive game. The Cheetah’s confidence and morale will be quite low after the battering they took last week and the Highlanders should be able to pick them apart and come away convincing winners, but not as big a win as the Chiefs managed to achieve.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win @ $1.12 – Sportsbet
Brumbies ($1.40) versus Waratahs ($2.90)
Another all-Australian derby awaits us on Saturday night as the Waratahs head south to play the Brumbies at Canberra Stadium. Although the rivalry isn’t as strong as the Reds and Waratahs, there will still be a lot of competition given the bottleneck at the top of the Aussie conference and not to mention the B&I Lions tour in June.
Last weekend, the Waratahs ended a nine-match losing streak, something I am sure the Sydney faithful will be breathing a sigh of relief about. Mind you, it wasn’t an impressive performance as they started slowly and went into half time trailing. In what seems to be a trend this season, they came out firing and took control of the match after the break and with so many seasoned Wallabies, you would have to expect this. They are now unbeaten against the Rebels, but they will need to deliver more polished performances if they are to challenge for a playoff birth this year. Coach Cheika will need to address their continual slow starts and will surely be questioning his players about their poor discipline on the field. Super-sub Ben Vola Vola has caused some selection headaches this week as he came on at fullback, which in turn shifted Israel Folau to the wing. The game opened up upon his introduction and the Waratahs looked more threatening with the ball. As a result, this is how they will line up on Saturday.
The Brumbies have had a week off to rejuvenate after two bruising encounters against Australian opposition. They sit atop the championship ladder having received four points for the bye and they remain undefeated this season. They started slowly against the Rebels in the last round, but managed to storm home with a bonus point. Fullback Jesse Mogg seems to have fast tracked his way to a possible Wallabies birth as he used his blistering pace to score a great try and outsprinted James O’Connor in the process. It was nice to see Clyde Rathbone score his first try in five years as well, but special mention must go to the Brumbies forwards who continue to lay an impressive platform. The Brumbies will be playing in a new strip this week to celebrate their 100-year tenure in Canberra. All jerseys will be signed and auctioned and reinvested back into the ACT rugby community.
Michael Hooper faces his old team for the first time since making a switch to the Waratahs and he will have a difficult task trying to contain David Pocock and the returning George Smith, when he comes off the bench. What a player to bring into a squad and Jake White certainly is creating something special in Canberra. The battle of the breakdown will be key and the Canberra crowd will get right behind the Brumbies and watch them put on a clinical display to wear down the Waratahs.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win @ $1.30 – Sportsbet
Stormers ($1.82) versus Chiefs ($1.98)
On Saturday night, the Stormers welcome the in-form and reigning Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs to Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. These teams are having two contrasting seasons so far and a win for either side will be important for differing reasons. The Stormers are yet to open their campaign having lost to both the Bulls and the Sharks, while the Chiefs have been extremely impressive in defeating the Highlanders (away) and the Cheetahs to remain unbeaten.
The Stormers face an even tougher task this week, although they probably wouldn’t want it any other way as the Chiefs have had to travel half way around the world and jet lag could well play a factor. The Chiefs will have had a couple of light sessions in the build up to this match, while the Stormers would’ve gone back to the drawing board after two consecutive losses despite showing some resolve and grit, especially in defence.
Last week, the Stormers were involved in a typical South African derby with test match intensity, but it certainly wasn’t test match quality. Ball control wasn’t of the highest standard and the Stormers two main attacking specialists, Aplon and Habana were non-existent. It was a bruising encounter and the battle of the breakdown was fierce and in all honesty, the game could’ve gone either way at various stages. The team will be looking forward to the return of Schalk Burger and Eben Etzebeth in the next few weeks, but for now the focus needs to be on their lacklustre attack, which has been a constant theme over the past few seasons. The Stormers have named an unchanged line up and Elton Jantjies is given another chance at fly half after failing to set the world alight. Juan de Jong and Jaco Taute remain in the casualty ward, which will make things a little more challenging.
The Chiefs on the other hand managed to get their second four-try bonus point in succession despite having an ordinary first half. They managed to score five second half tries and eventually blitzed the Cheetahs 45 – 3. This was well orchestrated by the superb Aaron Cruden, Gareth Anscombe and Lelia Masaga, who is easily one of the most dangerous and balanced runners of the football in the game. Despite getting a blasting at half time from their coaching panel, their defence was of epic proportions. The Chiefs are still missing a few first choice starters and the competition for places within the squad seems to have raised their game to a new level.
This is a hard game to pick given the quality of players on both sides of the equation, however, you have to stick with the form team in this situation and the Chiefs will want to start their overseas campaign with a win. Cape Town is high up on the list of favourite places for travelling teams to visit and this will have made the journey a little bit easier. It will be close, but it is hard to pick against the Chiefs this weekend.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.98 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Chiefs to win @ $1.98 – Sportsbet
Kings ($8.00) versus Sharks ($1.08)
Two undefeated teams faceoff in the penultimate clash of the weekend as the Sharks travel to Port Elizabeth to play the Eastern Province Kings with five points surely on offer. The Kings produced the upset of the year as they dismantled a woeful Western Force in their only match so far, whilst the Sharks have beaten the Cheetahs and then weathered the underperforming Stormers.
Despite losing their inspirational captain, Luke Watson early on, the Kings managed to find another level and regularly threatened the Force defence. They went into the break down by five, but rallied to score 17 unanswered points with two tries coming from winger Sergeal Petersen. Fresh out of school, he played well beyond his years, but the real test will be to consistently perform throughout the course of the tournament. Former Stormers fly half, Demetri Catrakilis implemented their game plan exceptionally well and they defended resiliently until the ref blew the final whistle.
The Sharks have quickly become the favourites to take out the South African conference and without setting the competition on fire, they have gone about their business with few slipups. It is evident that they have the flexibility to play both a wide running game and a typical South Africa bash ‘em up style like they employed in Durban against the Stormers. They can do this as they have breakdown exponents across the park who can help turn defence quickly into attack. The captaincy doesn’t seem to be a burden on Francois Steyn whose direct running mimics the South Pacific islander approach. Franco Van der Merwe has been a great acquisition and has filled the boots left by Johan Muller with ease and Jean Deysel has really stepped up and his barraging runs are vital in a game of inches.
The Sharks have been accustomed to playing their home games in front of lively crowds, however, this weekend they will be on the opposite side of the ledger. The Eastern Cape locals will be flocking to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium to witness their team take on perennial powerhouses the Sharks. I know I ate humble pie after predicting the Force to romp home in round one, however, I can’t see myself backing the Kings this year and the Sharks have way too much class from 1 – 22 and will come away with an easy result.
Predicted result: Sharks to win in P.E @ $1.08
Best Bet: Sharks to cover the line of -17.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Blues ($1.28) versus Bulls ($3.55)
The Bulls have made the dreaded trip over both the Atlantic and parts of the Pacific during the week to end up in Auckland, where the tournament dark hoses await. The Blues have been in splendid form in 2013, far from the last place prediction in the New Zealand conference that many, including myself suggested. The Blues have really silenced their critics by obtaining two four-try bonus points – the only other team to have done so is the Chiefs and you could argue that the Blues have had the tougher opponents so far.
Last week, a combative forward pack led by captain Ali Williams, youngster Steven Luatua and Luke Braid provided the platform for Rene Ranger and company to wreak havoc on the seven-time tournament champions, the Crusaders. They terrorised the red and blacks and former sevens star, Frank Halai managed to pick up a brace of tries for the second week in succession. New Zealand sevens super coach, Gordon Tietjins is surely missing his services, especially given the injury crisis they currently have. Even coach John Kirwan has stated he is surprised how well his troops are playing. The general, Chris Noakes has been playing at another level after making the move north from the Highlanders in the offseason. There is always something to work on, but the Blues are ticking a lot of boxes at the moment.
The Bulls have also started this year with consecutive wins, however, they were pretty ordinary against a revitalised Western Force team in Pretoria. The Bulls coach has gone as far as saying that the weekend’s performance was the worst of his five-year tenure with the franchise. Things started well for the Bulls as Morne Steyn crossed in the opening two minutes and the floodgates looked set to open, however, the Force tightened up their defence and cranked up the pressure. The Bulls play a predictable game and their back row lacks balance and the presence of a genuine fetcher. This is an area that the Western Force clearly dominated. The Bulls ended up with five points (4 for the win, 1 for the bonus point) and never really looked in danger of falling victim on the scoreboard. They are also slowly introducing youngsters like former Baby Boks reps Jan Serfontein, who was player of the tournament at the recent world cup, Jean Cook, who scored a decisive try and Sampie Mastriet, who is an elusive runner but looks a little bit light at this level. They have made seven changes this week and the side looks a lot stronger on paper.
The crowds are starting to flock back to Eden Park as the momentum continues to build for the Blues. They will falter eventually and I still wouldn’t have them in my final six playoff positions. The Bulls have had 20-plus hours of travel to contemplate their opponents this week and will be looking to halt the Blues momentum. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls managed to cover the line or even win, given the strength of their forward pack. However, I will tip the Blues on the back of the travel factor and current form.
Predicted result: The Blues to win a close one @ $1.28 (way too short)
Glenn Paton has followed rugby union for 15 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.
Specialities: Super Rugby, 6 Nations, Rugby Championship, International Tests, Currie Cup, ITM Cup, Rugby Sevens
All of the above are the opinions of the author and are not recommendations or advice. The author may not be taking every bet listed above. Bet at your own risk.
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