The long and ‘agonising’ wait is finally over as Super Rugby returns this weekend with a taste test of two matches coming to us live from South Africa. Over the next six months, the biggest, fastest, most skilful and exciting rugby players on the planet will compete for glory in what is arguably the toughest and most competitive provincial rugby competition. All conferences will be intense with some historical and fierce rivalries underpinning many fixtures, but the teams that have the most depth and cope best with inopportune injuries and pressure often prevail. I made mention of this last year, but it is a telling statistic: no side has ever won the competition finishing lower than second at the end of the regular season since 1999, so every game counts. 125 matches totalling 10,000 minutes of bone crunching hits, breathtaking tries, sublime skillsets and more often than not, enthralling rugby awaits us, so sit back, relax and enjoy the season. Let’s get the weekly preview started by having a look at both matches and hopefully, I can pick us all a few winners. Make sure you follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for last minute tips, game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat and I can’t wait for things to kick off this weekend!
Best Bet 1: Cheetahs -12.5 @ $1.90 – Betfair
Best Bet 2: Sharks -6.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($1.23) vs Lions ($4.60)
Vodacom Park, also known has Free State Stadium, has the honour of opening 2014’s Super Rugby account as the Cheetahs host the Johannesburg-based Lions in the first derby of the season. In my opinion, it is only fitting that the Cheetahs kick things off this year as they were the most improved and one of the most impressive teams last year, making their first finals series in franchise history. On the other hand, the Lions were forced to sit out of last year’s competition having been replaced by the unsuccessful and lacklustre Southern Kings. Interestingly over the years, the Cheetahs and the Lions have faced each other ten times, splitting the ledger with five wins apiece.
Coach Naka Drotske has selected a powerful Cheetahs line up to face the competition-returning Lions on Saturday in Bloemfontein. Inspirational skipper Adriaan Strauss will once again lead the side and he will be joined by the Oosthuizen’s, Coenie and Caylib in the front row. Lood de Jager and Francois Uys make up the second row, with the former gaining a lot of respect from his debut season last year. The back row features former Springbok Sevens (Blitzbokke) star, Boom Prinsloo, last season’s top tackler Lappies Labuschagne and the ever-consistent Philip van der Walt at the back of the scrum. Southern Kings halfback Shaun Venter has made his way to Bloem’ in the offseason and he will partner Johan Goosen, a prodigious talent whose provincial and international season was cut short in 2013 due to a knee ligament injury. Former South African Schools and Bulls centre Francois Venter joins Johan Sadie in the midfield and the back three of Raymond Rhule, Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux are full of pace, power and X-Factor. The bench, which will be sure to get a workout, is balanced with a mixture of youth and experience.
View my season preview of the Cheetahs here: http://www.theprofits.com.au/2014/02/super-rugby-preview-2014/
Having missed last year’s competition, the Lions will be out to prove their worth in Super Rugby this season. Whether they have a place in next year’s competition remains to be determined, however, a few wins and a couple of upsets here and there might just be enough to justify their inclusion. Coach Johan Ackermann has selected six Super Rugby debutants including a whole front row for their first clash of the season. Those players are: Schalk van der Merwe (prop), Robbie Coetzee (hooker), Julian Redelinghuys (prop), Franco Mostert (lock), Marnitz Boschoff (flyhalf), and Chrysander Botha (fullback). One would say fielding so many debutants, especially in key positions, is asking to be exposed at this level. Some of their more familiar names include Franco van der Merwe, Warren Whitely (captain) and outside centre Lionel Mapoe. It will be exciting to see a new breed of South African talent, however, coming up against some pretty solidified Springboks, may just prove to be too much of a challenge at this point in the season.
View my season preview of the Lions here: http://www.theprofits.com.au/2014/02/super-rugby-preview-2014/
The Cheetahs had an exceptional 2013 season and certainly didn’t look out of place in last year’s finals series. Whether or not they can back up remains to be seen, however, the Lions are underdone and will take a few games to get up to speed with the pace and intensity of this competition. With that being said, I see the Lions slumber continuing for a few more weeks as the Cheetahs run rampant in Bloemfontein.
Predicted result: Cheetahs to win @ $1.23 – Betfair
Best Bet 1: Cheetahs -12.5 @ $1.90 – Betfair
Sharks ($1.35) vs Bulls ($3.20)
The match that will attract the most attention in the opening round of this year’s competition sees the 2007 finalists, the Sharks and the Bulls lock horns at the Shark Tank in Durban. Surprisingly, the Bulls finished the regular season in second place last year on the back of nine consecutive victories, before falling to the Brumbies in the semi-finals in Pretoria. On the other hand, the Sharks had an extremely inconsistent season that saw them very rarely string back-to-back wins together, despite competing in many of the matches that they were defeated. Last year’s home and away series was won by the Bulls, although as you would expect with South African derbies, they were low-scoring affairs with only three points being the difference over both matches.
The Sharks are a team that many players, coaches and fans alike will have their eye on this season. They often play at a packed Kings Park stadium that creates an atmosphere that is almost unrivalled in the competition. With a new sense of belief around Kings Park instilled by none other than super coach Jake White himself, the Sharks look primed to go from strength to strength. White has named 11 Springboks in his starting fifteen, including an imposing all-Springbok front row in Tendai ‘the beast’ Mtawarira, captain Bismarck du Plessis and his brother Dr. Jannie du Plessis. Anton Bresler and the up and coming superstar affectionately known as ‘PSTD’, Pieter Steph du Toit will lock the tight five. The back row looks powerful with Marcell Coetzee in the number seven jersey, the bullocking Willem Alberts at blindside and Ryan Kankowski who has just returned from Japan, at number eight. Jake White has made mention of helping Patrick ‘the roast’ Lambie find his top form and the service from halfback Cobus Reinach will be crucial. Francois Steyn and Paul Jordaan form an exciting centre partnership and there is loads of pace to burn on the wings with Odwa Ndungane and Lwazi Mvovo. Finally, SP Marais recruited from the Southern Kings will run out at fullback.
View my season preview of the Sharks here: http://www.theprofits.com.au/2014/02/super-rugby-preview-2014/
As the Bulls embark on another Super Rugby season, it is hard to see them veering away from what has worked so well in the past for them: bruising forwards and quick backs that spread the ball wide. As many as ten Bulls players departed Pretoria in the off season, which has cost them some vital experience, but at the same time provides many up and coming youngsters the opportunity to test their mettle at this level. Coach Frans Ludeke has named the biggest possible team he could with Springbok props Dean ‘brain-explosion in New Zealand’ Greyling and Werner ‘no-neck’ Kruger being joined by Callie Visagie in the front row. Springbok bruise brother Flip van der Merwe partners Paul Willemse, who is a man-mountain of a youngster in the second row. For many years, Stegmann, Potgieter and Spies were shoe-ins for the Bulls back row positions, however, since their departures, Jean Cook and 2013 Under 20 RWC winning flanker Jacques du Plessis get their opportunities alongside Captain Spies. In the offseason, Francois Hougaard was somewhat surprisingly rewarded with a Springbok contract, despite failing to reach the heights he once set at the RWC in New Zealand in 2011. He will partner Louis Fouche in the halves, someone who has been Morne Steyn’s understudy over the past two seasons. Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht form a future Springbok centre partnership and Bjorn Basson and Akona Ndungane will join them on the wings, who are both Springboks themselves. Additionally, Jurgen Visser rounds out the fifteen. When scanning the bench, one name sticks out: Victor Matfield. The 37 year-old announced in the offseason that he would like to make a tilt towards the RWC in 2015 and this will be the first step for him in his comeback should he get some game time off the bench late in the match.
View my season preview of the Bulls here: http://www.theprofits.com.au/2014/02/super-rugby-preview-2014/
2013 saw the rise of both the Bulls and the Sharks to the top echelon of Super Rugby, however, many pundits are suggesting under Jake White’s tutelage, in 2014 the Sharks will displace all South African teams before them and make a run for the coveted championship trophy. The Bulls have once again had to cope with a mass exodus of players chasing the cash cows of Europe and Japan’s ‘greener pastures’, and given the duration of the competition, I can’t see the Bulls coping with injuries as well as they have done so in the past. On the other hand, under new management, the Sharks will be brimming with confidence and with a plethora of Springboks to choose week-in and week-out, I see them pipping the Bulls this weekend in an extremely confrontational encounter amid humid conditions in Durban.
Prediction: Sharks to win – $1.35 (Betfair)
Best Bet 2: Sharks -6.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
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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