The Super Rugby competition of 2014 has reached the halfway mark and this year’s version has certainly continued to reiterate the power the southern hemisphere possesses in terms of scoring exceptional tries, making huge hits defensively and generally, manufacturing some enthralling play. Round nine saw the Highlanders (vs Bulls), Brumbies (vs Reds), Chiefs (vs Rebels), Force (vs Waratahs), Crusaders and Sharks all secure wins. At this stage, the Sharks, Brumbies and Chiefs all look set for playoff spots this year, with as many as nine teams still in the running to feature at the business end of the season. The New Zealand conference appears to be very even, as does the Australian, whereas the Sharks appear to be the only likely South African team that could raise the title this year. This weekend, five of the six matches are local derbies, so there is bound to be some inter-conference movement with the Chiefs vs Crusaders matchup, most likely to be the blockbuster match of the round. From a betting standpoint, three out of four of my best bets cashed again last weekend, taking the total to eight out of the last ten best bets cashing over the past two weekends. Below I will analyse each match and provide some plays that I believe are favouring us, the punters. Make sure you follow me on witter (@S15_TheProfits) for last minute tips, game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat. Good luck!
Best Bet 1: Rebels -1.5 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet – Completed
Best Bet 2: (Waratahs v Bulls) Total Points Over 46.5 @ $1.90- Sportingbet
Best Bet 3: (Sharks v Cheetahs) Total Points Over 49.5 @ $1.91 – Bet365
Hurricanes ($1.55) vs Blues ($2.40)
Round 10 will get underway on Good Friday in Wellington when the high-flying Hurricanes welcome the Blues from Auckland in what should be a match full of running rugby. Both teams had that luxury of having the bye last weekend, so both teams will be relatively ‘fresh’. Both teams also currently sit on 16 competition points, so the winner will certainly be within striking distance of the top six at the end of the round. Last time out, the Hurricanes snapped a four-game losing streak to the Bulls and the Blues were outplayed in miserable conditions in Canberra, so this is sure to be a clash you don’t want to miss.
During the week, Coach Mark Hammett announced that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season, which ‘Wellingtonians’ seem to be quite thrilled about. It is clear that it is nearly impossible to transfer a culture from one squad (Crusaders) to another and had the Hurricanes not secured as many wins as they have in recent weeks, I think the writing would’ve been on the wall for the former Crusaders and All Blacks hooker. The Hurricanes have turned a corner over the last few weeks, which prompted Captain Conrad Smith to publically spray their naysayers, but the match against the Blues will give fans an insight as to how far they can really go this year.
Hammett has kept the faith in the majority of the team that beat the Bulls last time out, by recalling South African born prop Reggie Goodes in place of the injured Ben Franks. Franks has been ever consistent this season and All Black fans will be hoping that his groin injury isn’t too serious. The forward pack remains bulky and balanced with openside flanker Jack Lam contributing heavily to his team’s success over the past few weeks. Similarly, Beauden Barrett continues to have a splendid season and should Aaron Cruden not recover from injury, the Hurricanes number ten could create some serious havoc for the English in the June Internationals. He leads the competition with the total number of kicks he has made, but a lot of them don’t necessarily go out, as they like to play the game at real pace. Alapati Leiua has also been one of the Hurricanes trump cards and had either himself or Jack Lam not pledged allegiance to Manu Samoa, they certainly would’ve come into consideration for the almighty AB’s this year.
The Blues would’ve enjoyed their off week to let some of their niggling injuries heal and to get some better insight into their opponents this weekend. The men from Auckland have now lost the last 11 matches on the road and their fourth of this campaign. Traditionally teams don’t win away, but if they can snag a full house of points here and there, their chances of playing playoff rugby increase significantly. Additionally, you would think that under the guidance of Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry, they would’ve cracked the travelling code by now. Kirwan has named no less than seven changes to his starting 15 this week, signifying his disappointment in the squad that were easily swept aside by the Brumbies.
A number of players return from injury including the 100+ Test cap All Black, Kevin Mealamu, who will scrum down in a test match front row comprising of Tony Woodcock, ‘Kev’, and Charlie Faumauina. Patrick Tuipulotu and the ageing Tom Donnelly return to the second row, with Captain Luke Braid, Steven Luatua and Jerome Kaino, three of the Blues best this year, making up the back row. Kaino continues to impress since his arrival back in New Zealand after his stint in Japan and is one of the few forwards that has some ruck presence and is hungry for work around the breakdown. Chris Noakes returns to the number ten jersey, partnering Bryn Hall in the halves, while Jackson Willison (Ma’a Nonu ruled out) and Francis Saili form a sturdy midfield. The outside back are also extremely dangerous with youngster Lolagi Visinia, George Moala and All Black Charles Piutau ready for an all out assault. League convert Benji Marshall continues to warm the bench alongside Frank Halai, but as the weeks go on, it certainly appears that the Marshall experiment has been a failure.
The Hurricanes and the Blues are yet to clash this season, however, with two matches in the next six, if one team was to do the double on the other, they would be well placed to make a run for the playoff series. The Blues have won the last two fixtures, and four of the last six, however, the Hurricanes have secured solid wins over the Crusaders and the Bulls in recent weeks and will look to build off that momentum. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if this match went either way and with a high chance of rain and conditions heavy under foot, it is a hard one to predict.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.55 – Sportsbet
Rebels ($1.78) vs Force ($2.06)
The Rebels return to AAMI Park in Melbourne on Friday evening where they welcome the one of the hottest teams in the competition, the Western Force. Currently languishing down the bottom of the table, the Rebels have lost four of the last five, with the one win coming against the conference-leading Brumbies. Last weekend, they fell just short of the Chiefs in Hamilton, but they would’ve taken a lot out of that defeat and can only grow from that. On the other hand, the Force have won a club-record five in a row and their defeat of the Waratahs last week was nothing short of spectacular.
So close, but so far seems to be a theme for the Melbourne Rebels this season. Over the last two weeks, the Highlanders and the Chiefs have narrowly defeated them, with last weekend’s game far from being an entertaining spectacle. The Rebels are yet to taste victory in New Zealand from four years of touring there, but under coach Tony McGahan, it shouldn’t be too long before they claim a scalp across the ditch. There were certainly some positives to take out of the Chiefs match with their defense holding strong after the initial onslaught that saw the Chiefs race out to an early lead. In the end, their discipline let them down and Captain Scott Higginbotham will be disappointed with his own performance as he gave away a number of kickable penalties. This week will be a huge clash for the Rebels and one their fans will certainly think they can win. Coach McGahan has made just the one change with Hugh Pyle being rested after a heavy workload this season and Cadeyrn Neville who stands at 2.02 metres tall has been entrusted with the left lock position.
Against the Waratahs last weekend, the Force proved that they are the real deal in 2014 by claiming yet another high profile scalp. Whether they have what it takes to make the business end of the season remains to be seen, but they certainly are starting to strike fear into their opposition’s eyes. Their defense continues to go from strength to strength and their forward pack is as tough as nails. The back row of Cottrell, McCalman and captain Matt Hodgson is certainly one of the form combinations of the competition, with the latter having his best season and could well be wearing gold at some point this year. Sias Ebersohn has also been playing some great rugby and some have said he is the form South African fly half in the competition. His partnership with youngster Kyle Godwin is starting to pay dividends the more they play together with the latter almost certain of making the Wallabies squad this year.
Alongside Israel Folau, Nick “The Honey-Badger” Cummins is quickly becoming one of Australia’s most marketable athletes with his trademark post match interviews and social media banter. Up until last weekend, there was a lot of ‘sizzle, but no steak’, however, Cummins produced his best performance of the year, either on or off the field, by notching up the Force’s first ever hat trick in front of a boisterous sea of blue. Unfortunately for the Force, last week’s bruising encounter has sidelined a few of their players. Coach Michael Foley has been forced to make three changes to the starting fifteen with the trio of Sam Wykes, Alby Mathewson and Luke Morahan ruled out. Their places have been taken by Adam Coleman, Ian Prior, both of whom will be making their run-on debuts and Patrick Dellit finds himself on the wing.
At the beginning of the season, I earmarked this fixture as a crucial one for deciding who received the wooden spoon in the Australian conference. Although I was right with one of the teams (Rebels), the Force have turned their season around and have recorded five wins on the trot. The Force thrashed the Rebels earlier on this season in Perth, so the Rebels will want revenge, and with the Force’s injury concerns, the Rebels will be adamant on balancing the season ledger.
Predicted result: Rebels to win @ $1.78 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Rebels -1.5 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
Chiefs ($1.55) vs Crusaders ($2.40)
Without a doubt, the match of the Easter Weekend comes to us from Hamilton when the reigning champion Chiefs face the Crusaders, who have been the perennial superpowers of this competition for many years. With two draws, a win and a loss in their most recent fixtures, the Chiefs look far from the team they have been over the past two seasons, however, they are still showing signs, albeit intermittently that they can beat anyone on their day and still occupy first place in the New Zealand Conference. After a customary slow start by the Crusaders, they have now won four of their last five and feature just outside the top six, so an intriguing clash awaits us, from a Super Rugby and Test match selection point of view.
For the first time in almost a month, the Chiefs managed to start with a bang against the Rebels, by reverting back to a more structured game plan which profited for them as they raced out to a 19 – 0 lead. However, from that point, the wheels began to fall off and the Rebels probably came too close to achieving their first win over the Chiefs. The Chiefs have such an impressive squad, with a great balance of all the qualities a good team would need, but despite their mounting injury toll, the Chiefs simply haven’t put an eighty-minute performance together this year. This will be somewhat of a concern for the rest of the competition, especially given that they still lead the New Zealand Conference and sit third overall.
In what has been quite common this year, Dave Rennie has decided to make a number of changes to battle the Red and Blacks in Hamilton. Last weekend’s Captain Brodie Retallick has recovered sufficiently from a head knock to retain his place, however, Liam Messam will retain the Captaincy after playing off the bench last weekend. Further changes see Pauliasi Manu start at loosehead prop and Liam Squire will play from the back of the scrum. Tawera Kerr-Barlow will don the nine jersey for the first time in a couple of weeks and Asaeli Tikoirotuma, a damaging ball-runner will also start on the wing in place of Mils Muliaina, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season.
The Crusaders are starting to find some form and many teams in the competition will be wary of them over the next two months. They possess a host of All Blacks and their home record is almost unrivalled in this competition. Furthermore, with a number of stars still to come back, things are starting to look a lot peachier in Christchurch. Against the Lions, winger Nemani Nadolo, a player I earmarked in pre-season announced himself on the Super Rugby stage by collecting a hat trick in Bloemfontein. He is a player that will only continue to get better as he becomes more conditioned and his size and speed resembles the great Jonah Lomu. It has been a while since the Crusaders have run rampant against any opposition and fly half Colin Slade’s total points tally benefited when he added 25. It was the Crusaders first clean sweep of their matches in the Republic since 2008 and it couldn’t have come at a better time for them.
Coach Todd Blackadder and his management staff have decided to make three changes to their starting side to play the Chiefs on Saturday evening. The tough as nails Owen Franks rotates with Nepo Laulala who had a strong game against the Cheetahs, Jordan Taufua, a former New Zealand under 20 representative makes his first start of the season at blindside flanker and Tom Taylor replaces Keiron Fonotia who has been ruled out with injury. Taylor’s partnership with Crotty, one of the form inside centres of the competition will be crucial, especially when it comes to creating opportunities and space for players like Nadolo, McNicholl and Israel Dagg.
The Chiefs currently hold the wood over the Crusaders having won four out of the last five and the match in Christchurch in round two (18 – 10). The Chiefs are out of form and are finding it hard to string an eighty-minute performance together, whereas, the Crusaders seem to have found their mojo, rhythm and game plan that suits their squad. The Chiefs have been strong finishers in the majority of their matches and with the Crusaders travel fatigue setting in late in the match, this is where the Chiefs have the edge. It will be an extremely physical encounter and I wouldn’t expect a cricket score, however, a moment of brilliance could break this game open and the home team might just have the finest of edges.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.55 – Sportsbet
Waratahs ($1.28) vs Bulls ($3.75)
Allianz Stadium will be the venue for Saturday evening’s matchup between the Waratahs and the Bulls in Sydney. The Waratahs will be disappointed after their defeat to a much hungrier Western Force outfit in Perth last weekend, but they would’ve learned a lot from that game and would now realise that no one can be taken lightly. Like many of the South African touring parties this year, the Bulls are yet to taste success having lost both matches in New Zealand and it certainly won’t get any easier against the ‘Tahs this weekend in what will be an extremely physical encounter.
I was quite confident going into the Waratahs game last week that they had enough to dent a Force outfit that was riding high on success and pride. When Israel Folau was ruled out, I reconsidered and genuinely believed the ‘Tahs had enough weapons in their arsenal to outplay the Force. Boy was I proved wrong. The ‘Tahs were overpowered across the park and simply struggled to find any rhythm. The battle of the breakdown clearly went to the home team and Matt Hodgson made life very difficult for Michael Hooper and Dave Dennis. Since the Waratahs bye in round four, they have alternated wins and losses over the last five weeks, and air has certainly been let out of the Waratahs bubble.
Coach Michael Cheika has opted for a relatively similar team to the on that played the Force with the most notable inclusion being that of Israel Folau. Folau was visibly frustrated at the ARU’s decision to withhold him from the clash with the Force in a pre-match interview and it must be questioned whether or not the ARU would’ve done this if it were a Wallabies vs All Blacks fixture instead. Luckily for Waratahs and Wallabies fans, Folau has been cleared by the ARU this week and should cause the Bulls a lot of headaches. Despite not playing for three weeks, Folau still remains the tournament’s top try scorer with eight, but in his absence, the Waratahs attack has floundered only scoring three tries. His influence is huge and his support play puts the icing on the cake for the Waratahs backline, but their forwards will have a huge task to nullify one of the Bulls main strengths. I expect Jacques Potgieter, a former Blue Bull, to really stand up and meet his former teammates head on.
The Bulls 2014 season started with a bang, but has certainly started to fizzle out as most touring teams do at this stage in the season. The grunt men from Pretoria headed into the match against the Highlanders knowing that they had only achieved one win from seven in Dunedin, so history was certainly against them. With four forwards (and an extra one on the bench) towering at two metres tall, the Bulls imposed themselves physically early on and their accurate breakdown work allowed them some lightning quick ball in the opening stanza. Bjorn Basson scored a great early try on the back of some great work from new scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, whose inclusion shifted the electric Francois Hougaard to the wing. I feel that this is a much better balance and offers Hougaard a chance to play a much more expansive game. It has been a difficult year for Hougaard given he was Reeva Steenkamp’s ex-boyfriend (Oscar Pistorious) case and he will be looking to rediscover the form that made him such a potent threat at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. As the old rugby cliché goes, it was a game of two halves and the Bulls simply ran out of grunt and lost their way in the second half, but in fairness, they did manage to salvage point at the death by losing within seven points.
The third week on tour is known to be the most difficult and against a smarting Waratahs outfit (with Israel Folau), I think the Bulls will be certainly up against it in Sydney. Coach Frans Ludeke has named an unchanged line up for this week’s clash. There is still enough class and talent amongst the camouflaged Bulls with a huge forward pack and some pretty nifty backs, but this week could certainly dent their title aspirations, if not from a competition point of view, more so mentally and physically given they still have some big clashes to come.
The forward battle in this match is going to be immense with both teams advocates for using blunt force trauma on their opposition. The Bulls have shown that they are capable of mixing it with the best this season, however, a number of unfortunate injuries (a whole back row) have derailed their season and they just haven’t been as clinical as we have come to expect. Although, the Bulls haven’t lost to the Waratahs since 2006, including three straight victories in Sydney, the Waratahs are a team that are looking to break the shackles and at home against a tiring team, I expect the ‘Tahs to get the job done.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.28 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Total Points Over 46.5 @ $1.90- Sportingbet
Sharks ($1.14) vs Cheetahs ($5.85)
The table-topping Sharks return to Kings Park in Durban this weekend to play one of their archrivals, the Cheetahs. Both teams currently sit on opposite ends of the competition ladder, with the Sharks in first and the Cheetahs in second last. The Sharks were made to work last weekend in Johannesburg before pulling away late, whereas, the Cheetahs were thumped by the Crusaders in what will be remembered as an exceptionally weak defensive effort late in the match.
The Sharks have had the benefit of playing five matches at home so far this season and having not lost in Durban, their season has been well and truly set up. The Sharks have by far and away the best defense in the competition having only let in 113 points from seven matches at an average of 16 points per game. Adding to that, the Sharks have also been the second best attacking team (surprisingly second to the Cheetahs), so their points differential is looking extremely healthy. The Sharks use their forwards to lay the platform for their crafty and speedy backs to make in roads in their opposition defensive systems and in all honesty, they have been doing it with ease so far. Super Coach Jake White has made three changes to his team to play the Sharks, bringing in former Captain Keegan Daniel for the rested Ryan Kankowski, Tonderai Chavhanga, a man who once scored six tries on his Springbok debut replaces Odwa Ndungane and youngster Tim Swiel comes in for the injured Odwa Ndungane. There are huge wraps on Swiel and given that he hasn’t committed to South African rugby yet, there has been some talks that he may look to making a fist of things in England, but he will need to demonstrate he has what it takes first.
Many fans in Australian and New Zealand have adopted the Cheetahs as their 2nd team or preferred South African team given the way they play the game. The men from Bloemfontein like to play at pace and spread the ball wide, but also use the big boots of Hennie Daniller and Johan Goosen when necessary. The Cheetahs have certainly contributed to the high entertainment factor of this year’s competition, but one must say, not always from scoring tries. Their defense is the worst in the competition having leaked 303 points from eight matches at an average of just less than 38 points per game, so keep this in mind for ‘totals’ betting options. Having lost to the Crusaders, Blues and Hurricanes in recent weeks, the Sharks will be a step up, especially in Durban. Coach Naka Drotske, who has really ridden an emotional roller coaster the last few weeks, has made two changes to his team. First and foremost, Heinrich Brussow, once considered one of South Africa’s best players returns from injury and takes his place in front of Lappies Labuschagne, who will sit out with a minor groin strain. The other change is also injury enforced with Johan Goosen suffering a head knock against the Crusaders, so Elgar Watts take the number ten jersey off him.
The Sharks power, speed, game plan and depth have all been tested so far this season, with only the Bulls managing to crack their mettle. The Cheetahs couldn’t be any further from their golden season of 2013 if they tried and although they score some fantastic tries, their defensive system is the worst in the competition and the Sharks will pick them apart in a comfortable win in what should be perfect conditions for running rugby.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.14 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Total Points Over 49.5 @ $1.91 – Bet365
Stormers ($1.34) vs Lions ($3.30)
The final match of the Easter weekend round finishes up in Cape Town, where the Stormers, who are currently sitting at the foot of the competition ladder, host the Lions from Johannesburg. The bye round couldn’t come at a better time for the Stormers as they lost five fixtures on the trot, but they will be refreshed ready to restore some pride in their jerseys. The Lions were thumped at Ellis Park last weekend by a much more experienced Crusaders outfit, but they will definitely feel that they are capable of picking up at least four competition points at one of the most iconic venues in South Africa.
Despite containing a number of Springboks and seasoned Super Rugby campaigners, the Stormers are deeply rooted to the bottom of the Championship ladder. I am certain that if I had said to anyone, the Stormers would have a mere six points at the midway point of the competition, I would’ve have had very few, if any supporters, but that is what makes Super Rugby such a fascinating tournament. Under fire coach Alastair Coetzee has named his squad with a number of changes, although the forward pack remains the same. This week, the Stormers first choice locking pairing of De Kock Steenkamp and Rynhardt Elstadt were ruled out for the remainder of the season and with Springbok powerhouse Eben Etzebeth also out for the season, the tall timber depth of the Stormers will be severely tested from here on in. In the backline, Captain Jean de Villiers returns to inside centre to partner the exciting Juan de Jong and they will be looking for good ball from half back Nic Groom and fly half Demetri Catrakilis. Sailosi Tagicakibau, Damien de Allende and flyhalf turned fullback Peter Grant round out the starting fifteen.
The Lions hit the ground running in 2014 and fought valiantly for the first few weeks of the competition, however, as the weeks have gone on, teams have started to figure them out and the rigorous nature of the competition seems to be taking it’s toll. The Lions are still due to tour and their mettle will be severely tested in Australasia, but first they have to travel to Cape Town. Johan Ackerman has had to make five changes this week, with three of those injury-enforced changes as Willie Wepener (hamstring), Deon van Rensburg (knee) and Andries Coetzee (knee) were all ruled out. Hooker Robbie Coetzee, Anthony Volmink (wing) and Namibian fullback Chrysander Botha regains the number 15 jersey. Jaco Kriel recaptures the blindside flanker jersey and Faf de Klerk, one of the Lions best all season, gets a rest with Ross Cronje to start at halfback. Captain Warren Whitely will be asking his team to dig deep this week having lost the last two, but they will know they will have a battle on their hands against an extremely desperate Stormers outfit.
Traditionally, the Stormers have been almost unbreakable at home, but based on their 2014 form, it is hard to read too much into the fact that the Lions have only won one of the past 14 matches against them. That match in fact was in Johannesburg in round two, where the Lions trounced the Stormers 34 – 10, so the Stormers will be looking for revenge. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest a Stormers victory here because I think the experienced heads of the team will help galvanise their team for a much better display in front of their home crowd.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $1.34 – 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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