We have now passed the midway point in the competition and by my calculations, 13 teams are still in the running for the six playoff spots up for grabs. The New Zealand conference will always be tough and although they aren’t necessarily putting teams away, the Chiefs and the Crusaders are business-end specialists. The Australian Conference is the most competitive it has ever been, however, the Sharks are the only team in South Africa that can really make a run for the top gong this year. Round 10 was slightly more predictable than some with all of the favourites winning except the Chiefs. The action kicked off on Friday afternoon when the Hurricanes ran rampant over the Blues and that match was followed by the Rebels snapping the Force’s five match win streak. On Saturday we saw the Crusaders narrowly beat the Chiefs, and the Waratahs (vs Bulls), Sharks (vs Cheetahs) and Stormers (vs Lions) were all victorious in some of the dourest rugby I have seen this year.
Looking towards this weekend, there are a number of inter-conference matchups with the tournament’s top three teams, the Sharks, Brumbies and Chiefs all in action. I am particularly interested in the match in Canberra where the Brumbies host the Chiefs, given the different waves of momentum they are both on. Last weekend, one of the three best bets cashed, however, over the last three weekends, nine of the 13 have come off and I am hoping to return to the winner’s circle this week. Below I will analyse each match and provide some plays that I believe are favouring us, the punters. Make sure you follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for last minute tips, game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat. Good luck!
Best Bet 1: Chiefs Total Match Points (vs Brumbies) – Over 19.5 @ $1.87 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Highlanders 1st Half Points Over 8.5 @ $1.87 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Hurricanes vs Reds – Highest Scoring Half – 1st Half @ $2.19 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Stormers +2.5 (PYOL) @ $1.83 – Sportsbet
*Twitter play may follow for Force vs Bulls
Blues ($2.05) vs Waratahs ($1.79)
The eleventh round of Super Rugby kicks off at the sacred home of New Zealand rugby on Friday afternoon (early game) when the Blues host the Waratahs in Auckland. After last weekend’s loss to the Hurricanes, the Blues are languishing in 11th spot, the worst of any New Zealand franchise. However, they will be licking their lips at the prospects of upsetting the Waratahs, who clung onto a seven-point win over the Bulls in Sydney last weekend.
The Blues appear to still be a season or two off playing their best rugby and the additions of Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu could just be the core that they need to continue to develop into legitimate title contenders. Despite having an All black front row, the Blues scrum has been one of their downfalls this season only winning 77% of their ball, however, some of these calls may have come down to the referees interpretation on the day. Their backline has some serious flair, however, there still appears to be some chinks in their armour, but if their forward pack can consistently lay a dominant platform, they will only get better. In major news this week, after six Super Rugby appearances, the Benji Marshall rugby union experiment is over. The players that have made the code switch before him including Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor, Israel Folau, Brad Thorne all made successful transitions, however, Marshall hasn’t been the player that he once was and proved that the adjustment between the two games is a lot harder than some people may think.
Looking towards this week, Coach John Kirwan has made four changes to his starting for this clash with one of those coming in the forwards and three in the backs. After sitting on the sidelines for more than a month, number eight Peter Saili returns to the back of the scrum shifting Jerome Kaino to his preferred position of blindside flanker. Simon Hickey returns to the all-important five-eight role, alongside Ma’a Nonu and the rangy Frank Halai will start with George Moala taking a breather on the sideline. The bench is also packed with power and experience with Steven Luatua and Piri Weepu more than likely to get some game time, with the latter recovering sufficiently from a minor stroke a little over a month ago.
From all accounts, it looked like the Waratahs were going to open the Bulls right up in Sydney last weekend, when Israel Folau scored the fastest try of the season in the first thirty seconds. However, the Bulls used their grinding defense and nullified what is a pretty crafty Waratahs backline for the remainder of the match. The incumbent Wallabies openside flanker Michael Hooper, was by far and away the best player on the field with his quickness around the park, his ability to contest the breakdown at the right time and his huge motor all on display. It must be said thought that Bernard Foley’s kicking wasn’t quite up to scratch and with the final series only a couple of months away, this is an area the Waratahs will want to improve given the general closeness of playoff fixtures.
Coach Michael Cheika appears to have settled on a starting fifteen after naming the same line up for the match this week as the one that clashed with the Bulls in Sydney in round 10. There were concerns that Kurtley Beale’s season may have been put on hold, however, he has recovered from an ankle injury and will play at 12. The biggest inclusion on the bench is Wycliff Palu and the Waratahs have really missed his barnstorming runs and ferocious hits in defense. His presence alongside Samoan and Tongan monsters Will Skelton, Sekope Kepu and Tatafu Polota-Nau is extremely intimidating and something that the ‘Tahs have used to their advantage when they have all been on the pitch this year.
The Blues and the Waratahs have shared some classic battles throughout the years, including last year’s 30 – 27 Waratahs victory in Sydney. Having won sixth of the last nine, the ‘Tahs will be confident heading into this match, however, the Blues are a team you cannot take lightly with so much strike power across the park. In an interesting statistic, the Waratahs have only won once at Eden Park in Super Rugby history. The Anzac Day emotion will surely be rife amongst the players in this Trans-Tasman battle, but the Waratahs road record hasn’t been great and I think the Blues just have more to play for given their current ladder positioning.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $2.05 – Sportsbet
Brumbies ($1.59) vs Chiefs ($2.40)
The biggest match of the round comes to us on Anzac Day (Friday) when the top of the Australian Conference (Brumbies) face the top of the New Zealand Conference (Chiefs). Both teams have had polar opposite results in recent weeks with the Chiefs only managing one win, two draws and two losses, whilst the Brumbies have gone three from four with a bye in there as well. The Chiefs haven’t lost to the Brumbies since 2011, however, they will know travelling to Canberra and playing a settled side won’t be an easy task.
The Canberra faithful would’ve had high expectations of their team heading into this season and they certainly haven’t disappointed yet. They have a number of up and coming and experienced Wallabies amongst their ranks, with a few more of them potential bolters for the Wallabies in the next few seasons. Surprisingly, the Brumbies have the worst tackle success percentage in the entire competition, yet they have only let in the third most points, which suggests that their scramble defense is of the highest quality. Looking at some more positive statistics, Robbie Coleman and Jesse Mogg have been outstanding this season and they currently sit in second and third place on the try scorer’s list. However, I am sure that they will admit that a lot of the hard work has been done before them by some of the herculean efforts of their forwards. This week against the Chiefs, Coach Stephen Larkham has injected Christian Leali’ifano into the inside centre position for the first time this season after a few matches on the bench. Larkham has resisted making any more changes, as he will be relying on his settled combinations against the once all-conquering Chiefs.
The Chiefs certainly haven’t been the same team as the one that won the title in 2012 and 2013, but they are still doing enough to position themselves nicely to make a run for this year’s trophy. They have been affected by a number of injuries, but the Brumbies will be sure to target their lineout, as it is statistically the worst in the competition and I would expect them to kick a few more balls deep into touch than they usually would. Last weekend’s match was a grind and this week will be no different. After the loss to the Crusaders, it is no surprise to see Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith continue to tinker with their squad making six changes to their match day 23 and a further four on the bench. Mahonri Schwalger returns to hooker and he will look to target Ross Filipo, who will make his first start of the 2014 campaign. Nick Crosswell also returns to the back row alongside All Blacks Sam Cane and Captain Liam Messam. Augustine Pulu has had a strong season at halfback and continues his partnership with Gareth Anscombe, who play inside of Bundee Ahki and Andrew Horrell. The outside backs of Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Tim Nanai-Williams and Tom Marshall round out the starting fifteen in what looks to be a pretty dangerous backline and a balanced squad overall.
There is a lot of anticipation surrounding the 2013 Grand Final rematch at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Friday. After a shock loss to the Reds at home in round one, the Brumbies have won their past three fixtures in Canberra. It is interesting to note that six of the past eight encounters have seen the match finish within a seven-point margin, so the tri-bet should certainly be considered here. Based on form, a lot of pundits are suggesting that the Brumbies will win, but I find it very hard to oppose this Chiefs outfit. However, if I had to pick, I would agree and think the home team might just have the edge.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win narrowly @ $1.59 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Chiefs Total Match Points – Over 19.5 @ $1.87 – Sportsbet
Sharks ($1.20) vs Highlanders ($4.70)
The Sharks will play their second last home match of the season (until playoffs) at Kings Park in Durban on Friday evening when they welcome the travelling Highlanders. The Sharks were made to work for their win last weekend against the Cheetahs after an ordinary display of rugby, whilst the Highlanders will be fresh having travelled over the Indian early as a result of a well-timed bye. The Highlanders will also be taking confidence out of their narrow victory over the last year’s finalists in Dunedin in 2013.
The Sharks continue to plod on in this year’s competition mixing some sublime forward and backline play with some pretty ordinary spurts, with last weekend’s match against the Cheetahs a perfect example of this. They have been hard hit this season with a number of first choice player’s having to watch on from the stand, however, the Sharks received a boost this week with news that Patrick Lambie might still feature in this year’s competition having torn his bicep a few weeks ago. Tim Swiel, Frans Steyn and Fred Zeilinga have all played minutes in the ten jersey, however, Lambie’s experience will be invaluable come playoff time should he recover in time.
Super Coach Jake White has made two changes to his team this week with both of them coming in the backline. Tonderai Chavanga’s short-lived return to the big stage is over after suffering another injury and Springbok JP Pietersen will replace him. Paul Jordaan also returns from injury and he will line up alongside Frans Steyn in the centres in what looks to be a more balanced backline. The forwards remain the same as White has fielded the du Plessis brothers and the Beast Tendai Mtawarira in the front row, with Willem Alberts and Stephan Lewies in the second row. Flanker Jean Deysel had a big outing last week and has been rewarded by being reselected, as did Marcell Coetzee who is bound to regain the green jersey this year on current form. Keegan Daniel also remains at the back of the scrum and will play his 100th match in Super Rugby in what will be the Sharks last home game before they begin their tour.
Two weeks ago against the Bulls, the Highlanders got off to a slow start trailing 13 – 3 before scoring three unanswered tries and defending resolutely for the final sixty minutes of the match. Malakai Fekitoa has been one of the standout outside centres in this year’s competition and the Blues will be smarting having let him go in the off-season. His power, pace and balance are tuned exceptionally well and there are already talks that he might be a bolter for the All Blacks squad this year – behind Conrad Smith of course. Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga have also created a dangerous partnership in the halves and are really getting the best out of each other. In unfortunate news for the Highlanders, Brad Thorn has torn his bicep and will miss the rest of the season. Hopefully for players and fans alike, that won’t be the last we see of him on a football field.
The Highlanders are coming off three wins from their last four fixtures, with their only loss being the to he Blues. However, the Highlanders are yet to win away from home this season, which will be a huge concern for Coach Jamie Joseph and their fans. Joseph has opted to make three changes this week with Jarrad Hoeata, who has been in good form this season replacing Brad Thorn and co-Captain Nasi Manu returns to number eight shifting Elliot Dixon to the blindside flanker role. The backline remains the same and I am sure that the game plan will be situated around meeting the Sharks up front to give their explosive backs the best opportunity to make inroads in a rigid Sharks defense.
The Sharks were simply ordinary last week and injuries to some key players seem to have disrupted their early season form and rhythm. However, good teams find a way to win ugly and that is exactly what the Sharks did. The Highlanders are a dangerous team and will run the ball with vigour all day against the Sharks, but the Sharks defense is the best in the competition for a reason and they should eek out a narrow victory before they embark on their overseas tour.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.20 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Highlanders 1st Half Points Over 8.5 @ $1.87 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($1.37) vs Reds ($3.20)
Saturday’s action kicks off in Wellington when the high-flying Hurricanes welcome the once dynamic Reds to Westpac Stadium in the windy city of Wellington. The Hurricanes have been exceptional in recent weeks having won their last three, whereas the Reds have lost three of their last four and the glory days of 2011 appear to be slipping further and further into a bottomless abyss. Last year, this corresponding fixture saw the Reds hold the Hurricanes tryless in a dour affair at Suncorp Stadium, however, the Reds have a pretty poor record in the windy city.
It is clear that the Hurricanes are really enjoying their rugby at the moment and since Coach Mark Hammett announced he was leaving at the end of the season the ‘Canes have continued to kick on. The Hurricanes have scored more tries than any other team this season having crossed the chalk on 26 occasions, averaging just over three per game. They also lead the clean breaks, total carries and metres gained stats, which signifies their willingness to attack. Samoan International Alapati Leiua and All Black Julian Savea are important cogs in the Hurricanes backline as they both sit one and two in clean breaks and defenders beaten. Their combination of power and pace and high work rates have certainly been key components in the recent successes of the Wellington-based franchise. Their forward pack is also getting through a lot of work and the they do look a much more complete side with Jack Lam in the seven jersey and Victor Vito back at number eight. Coach Hammett has only made one change this week and one that will certainly strengthen their front row with All Black Ben Franks returning in place of Reggie Goodes and the tussle up front with Slipper Fainga’a and Daley will make for some interesting viewing.
After a week off, Coach Richard Graham has made four changes to his team to face the Hurricanes this weekend. Ben Daley has been rushed into the loosehead prop position in place of Greg Holmes after spending over a month on the sidelines with a knee injury. Saia Fainga’a has also been rewarded and will pack alongside Ben Daley and James Slipper in the front row. In the backs, Rod Davies has had a fairly ordinary year and Graham has opted for JJ Taulagi on the left wing and Mike Harris has recovered sufficiently from an Achilles injury and shifts Anthony Fainga’a to the bench. Chris Feauai-Sautia will have a huge task on his hands marking Julian Savea and you get the feeling that the outside backs of the Hurricanes will look to attack the Reds’ outside channels given their huge size advantage. The Reds have had a great record against New Zealand teams in recent years and they will be counting on their spine of Horwill, Genia and Cooper to really set the standard this weekend in Wellington in what looks to be a make or break game for the Brisbane-based franchise.
The Hurricanes and the Reds have produced some of the most exciting rugby players to ever play the game (Lomu, Horan, Cooper, Savea etc.) so I am always intrigued when these two lock horns. Under the leadership of Conrad Smith, the Hurricanes have raised their game in recent weeks, whereas, the Reds seem to be relying too heavily on their game plans and not playing what’s in front of them (too much kicking). The Reds have a solid team, but I think the Hurricanes have the squad to combat their strengths and can see James Horwill heading into the sheds a shattered man in his 100th fixture after another loss.
In an interesting statistic discovered by @rpetty80, The first half has been the highest scoring of the halves in the last 11 Reds games and all four home games for the Hurricanes this season. This is hard to ignore and I will tail it.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.37 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 3: Highest Scoring Half – 1st Half @ $2.19 – Sportsbet
Force ($1.75) vs Bulls ($2.10)
The penultimate match of the round sees the Western Force return to nib Stadium in Perth to face the bumbling Bulls who are on the way home after a disastrous Australasian tour. The Force have won three matches at home this season including impressive wins over potential finalists the Chiefs and the Waratahs, but they will be hurting having been beaten by the Rebels last weekend in Melbourne. In what seems to be a familiar tale this season, the injury-stricken Bulls failed to kick into gear in Sydney and were punished by a Waratahs team that also failed to hit their straps.
The Force have been the surprise packet of this year’s competition, especially after a slow start to the season that had Tim Horan saying that Coach Michael Foley was potentially going to the first coach to be sacked this season. Led by their inspirational skipper Matt Hodgson, the Force visibly have the camaraderie, belief in their systems and in each other. Hodgson has been a workhorse all season and currently heads up the tackles made tally in this year’s competition. His consistency is what is most impressive and despite his small frame, he plays well above his weight. The Force certainly won’t be scared of the Bulls pack having faced the onslaught from teams of similar size over the past few weeks. The men from Perth aren’t necessarily the biggest, however, their tackling technique and courage has been nothing short of courageous over the last month. Coach Michael Foley has decided to make two changes to the starting 15 and one positional switch. Sam Wykes has been recalled to the team to add some grunt to the tight five and Jayden Hayward returns to fullback after a couple of weeks out. The New Zealand born Hayward’s selection sees former Biarritz player Dane Haylett-Petty move to the right wing, with Luke Morahan still out injured.
Bulls Coach Frans Ludeke has made five changes to his starting team and has handed the captaincy armband to Victor Matfield. Bulls Captain Flip van der Merwe was found guilty during the week of striking Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan and has been subsequently suspended for three matches. This isn’t the first time he has been suspended and since the Springboks lost their enforcer Bakkies Botha, there were questions as to who would replace him and I think big Flip has taken too many of the wrong pages out of the former’s book. Their lineout will surely suffer as Flip has played an integral role and his partnership with Matfield has propelled them to have the second best lineout in the competition. In Perth, Paul Willemse takes the suspended van der Merwe’s place and Bongi Mbonambi will start at hooker for the first time. Piet Van Zyl makes way for Francois Hougaard, Akona Ndungane returns to the wing and Jurgen Visser regains the fullback jersey. Visser’s replacement last week, Ulrich Beyers, had a solid game and although he doesn’t look to have the out and out pace of someone like Gio Aplon or Willie le Roux, he is solid under the high ball and isn’t afraid of chancing his arm and taking contact.
It has been hard to separate the Bulls and the Force since their inception into the competition, with the home team winning four of the five matches played. Both teams will be desperate to return to winning ways as the Bulls are still in reach of the top six and with the Waratahs losing, the Force could leapfrog them in the competition standings. Both teams have key players out due to injury and there should be a big crowd in to support the Force, not too mention the Bulls as there is a large contingent of South Africans living in Perth. I am finding it hard to split these two teams because I think the Bulls are due a win, but the Force have had a great season, especially at home and simply want to give their fans what they have waited for, for a long time.
Predicted result: Force to win @ $1.75 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($1.83) vs Stormers ($2.00)
The final match of the rounds comes to us from Bloemfontein when the ‘attack but can defend’ Cheetahs come up against the ‘can defends but not attack’ Stormers on Saturday night. Last weekend, the Cheetahs travelled to the Shark Tank in Durban and pushed the tournament leaders very close, however, they didn’t have the bite in them to cause the upset. However, in Cape Town, the Stormers secured their first win since beating the Hurricanes by a single point at the end of February, when they topple the Lions last weekend.
The Cheetahs remain one of the most entertaining teams in the competition, but still only have nine points to their name on the competition ladder. Willie le Roux continues to be their star performer and tops the competitions carrying stats and is also the leading metre maker amongst the 15 teams. However, he hasn’t been finishing off many of his gains with five pointers like he did last season. Their discipline continues to be a real concern and in terms of yellow cards, the Cheetahs have been the biggest culprits this season with five in total. Last weekend, the return of Heinrich Brussow was a huge bonus for the men from Bloemfontein, however, his eagerness and sometimes over-eagerness earned him a ten-minute spell on the sideline for repeated ruck infringements. In saying that, he did steal four balls off the deck and Springbok Coach Heyneke Meyer would have certainly taken interest in his performance after a long injury layoff.
Coach Naka Drotske has resisted making many changes this week after his team’s brave performance against the Sharks in Durban. Giant lock Lood de Jager has been sidelined for up to six weeks with a broken finger, which is a blow for the bottom ranked Cheetahs. However, he has insisted that he will be back should Heyneke Meyer select him for the June Internationals. Andries Ferreira has replaced De Jager. Speedster Raymond Rhule has also been recalled after recovering from injury to move Cornal Hendricks onto the bench and the Springbok setup will have a keen eye on the Ghanaian born flyer after showing so much promise last season.
Without a doubt, the Stormers have been the biggest disappointments of this year’s competition. After scoring two tries last weekend, the Stormers have elevated themselves off the bottom of the total season tries tally, however, averaging 1.5 tries per game is not something to write home about – so take this into consideration when betting on total team tries. Their scrum has passed most tests so far this season, but their depleted second row stocks have seen their lineouts suffer significantly. Stormers fans were greeted with mixed news during the week with Schalk Burger named to return on the bench alongside future Springbok prospect Oliver Kebble, Kurt Coleman and Kobus van Wyk. However, injuries to Pat Cilliers (knee), Sailosi Tagicakibau and Demetri Catrakilis during last weekend’s match against the Cheetahs are a blow to the squad. The back row of Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermuelen worked well as a unit last week and they will need to be at the top of their game coming up against the jackling expert, Heinrich Brussow. Peter Grant returns to the flyhalf jersey to partner Nick Groom, while Jean de Villiers and the livewire Juan de Jong make up the centre pairing. Devon Williams who made his debut off the bench last weekend goes one better this week by gaining a starting position alongside Damien de Allende and Springbok Jaco Taute to round out the outside backs.
I can’t see many people in Australia and New Zealand staying up for this one given it is 14th versus 15th on the log, however there are still a number of quality players on display and fighting for Springbok colours. The inconsistent nature of both teams make this game somewhat of a lottery, however, dating back to 2008, the Stormers have won eight of the last nine matches. In saying that, the Cheetahs did manage to square the home and away series last year. Both teams showed that they took a step in the right direction last week, but I think the Stormers have enough points in them to combine with their defense to edge out a close victory.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $2.00 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 4: Stormers +2.5 (PYOL) @ $1.83 – 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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