Super Rugby returns for the 12th week of the competition and with only a month to go before the International Test match window, we enter a crucial stage of the year. Last week’s results certainly created some movement amongst teams on the competition ladder with an upset or two and the Chiefs dropped out of the top three for the first time this year and were replaced by the Hurricanes. The Anzac Day action kicked off on Friday when the Waratahs failed to beat the Blues yet again at Eden Park and the rematch of last year’s finals saw a role reversal with the Brumbies juggernaut putting in a huge performance against the Chiefs. The late Friday night match also saw the table-topping Sharks drop some points after an impressive Highlanders team outclassed them in Durban. On Saturday, the Hurricanes beat the disappointing Reds, the Force beat the Bulls in the wet in Perth and the Cheetahs ran away with it against the Stormers in Bloemfontein.
Looking towards this weekend, there are a number of inter-conference matchups with the tournament’s top three teams, the Sharks, Brumbies and Hurricanes all in action. I am particularly interested in the match in Christchurch where the Crusaders host the Brumbies in a clash of two of the form teams in the competition. 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: Sharks -2.5 @ $1.91 – Sportingbet (x3 units)
Best Bet 2: Hurricanes +5.5 @ $1.91 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 3: Highlanders +3.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Cheetahs +5.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Blues ($1.38) vs Reds ($3.10)
The Blues and the Reds will kick off round 12 of Super Rugby action in Auckland, in a match that should contain a lot of attacking rugby. Last weekend, the Blues kept their slender playoff hopes alive by beating the Waratahs in Auckland, whereas, the Reds saw their playoff aspirations fade away after a heavy defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington. The Reds have held the wood on the Blues winning five of the last six clashes including two of those at Eden Park, so the Blues will want to reverse their previous fortunes.
As I mentioned last week, the Blues appear to still be a season or two off playing their best rugby and consistency appears to be their biggest issue at present. However, they did manage to beat the Waratahs last week in a match where they made their opposition play poorly and they only surrendered 13 points in the process. Therefore, it is fair to say that they will fancy their chances against the Reds this weekend, who are currently sitting at the foot of the Australian Conference. Coach John Kirwan has made just the one injury-enforced change this week by bringing in Brendon O’Connor for the injured skipper Luke Braid. As a result, the evergreen Kevin Mealamu will regain the captaincy. There is also a change in the back row with Peter Saili and Jerome Kaino swapping places, so Kaino will lock the back of the scrum. The Blues are really starting to look like a formidable unit mixing a good forward pack with some really elusive backs. However, as aforementioned it may still be a season or two until they really start to reap the benefits of John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry’s leadership.
After last weekend’s drubbing to the Hurricanes, coach Richard Graham has opted to make a number of changes to his team this week. In the forwards, Greg Holmes replaces Ben Daley at prop, shifting the consistent James Slipper to loosehead. The inclusion of Liam Gill is also a huge bonus for the Reds as he has sat out for the last five weeks and although Beau Robinson has been his durable and aggressive self, Gill has a few more strings to his bow. In the backs, Anthony Fainga’a returns to inside centre to partner the improving Ben Tapuai and Mike Harris moves to fullback. JJ Taulagi hasn’t found his feet yet at this level yet and Rod Davies’ experience sees him rewarded with another start on the wing.
The mercurial Quade Cooper will receive his 100th cap when he runs out against the Blues this weekend. At just 26 years old, he is a player that has had a rocky career mixing some exceptional rugby with a few bad decisions both on and off the field. However, it appears as though he has turned a new leaf and he will no doubt look to impose himself on this fixture to help his team get the win this weekend. One area the Reds will look to dominate is at scrum time, where they have lost possession fewer times on their own put in than any other team. Additionally, the Blues have lost the ball more time on their own scrum feed so the Reds will look to dominate this battle and set a solid platform for their backs.
The Reds will be looking for their fifth win in a row against the Blues this weekend in Auckland, however, the Blues have certainly played the better rugby so far this season and are currently unbeaten at home. From my calculations, it appears that the Reds only have pride to play for and the pressure of not having to win may just be what the doctor ordered. However, current form is hard to ignore and a win to the Blues could elevate them into the top-six should other results go their way and I see this match being the second weekend in a row where a Reds stalwart (Quade Cooper) fails to win in their centurion match.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $1.38 – Sportingbet
Rebels ($2.28) vs Sharks ($1.64)
Friday’s clash between the Rebels and the Sharks in Melbourne is shaping up to be quite an intriguing contest. Much like the Reds, the Rebels will find it hard to make the playoff picture from here, however, they will take confidence from their recent victory over the Force and the bye last week would’ve rejuvenated their players after an arduous season so far. The Sharks were seemingly coasting heading into last week’s match against the Highlanders, however, they were simply outplayed and as a result, experienced their second defeat of the season. These teams have only clashed on two occasions in Super Rugby history, with the Sharks having won both.
After a week ‘off’, hard-nosed Coach Tony McGahan has decided to bring back Luke Burgess into the half back position in place of the red-haired Nic Stirzaker. Burgess’ physicality gives him an edge over Stirzaker against the Sharks, given the Durban-based outfits intense physicality around the park and at the break down. The other change occurs in the front row where Cruze Ah-Nau will make his first run-on start of the year in place of Toby Smith who is out with a shoulder injury. It is surprising to see both Cadeyrn Neville and Shota Horie starting in front of the hard-working Hugh Pyle and Pat Leafa, however, McGahan appears to be rewarding them after they both had particularly good outings last time out against the Force. Luke Jones continues to be immense in both the tight and the loose and he complements the back row of Fainga’a, Fuglistaller and Captain Scott Higginbotham really well. Bryce Hegarty continues in the number ten jersey and I am not convinced with him and his performances thus far. He has a solid centre pairing to work with in Mitch Inman and Tamati Ellison, but he doesn’t seem to have the X-factor or game management that the Rebels need against stronger teams. In turn, I expect Sharks to frequently send their big forwards down his channel to see how he copes.
The Sharks will want to move on from their roasting by the Highlanders as quickly as possible and what better way to do so with a strong win in Melbourne this weekend. The fact that both Bismarck du Plessis and Jean Deysel were ruled out just before kick-off probably aided my best bet somewhat last week and affected the composition and combinations of the Sharks forwards. Both of them return this week at the expense of Kyle Cooper and Keegan Daniel respectively. Young fly half Tim Swiel, who is facing a decision of having to pledge his allegiance to South Africa or England, has been dropped and Frans Steyn has been given the opportunity to run the show in the number ten jersey. This allows Heimar Williams to start at inside centre alongside Paul Jordaan, who had a pretty poor outing in his first game back from injury last weekend. Lwazi Mvovo continues at fullback alongside Odwa Ndungane and JP Pietersen, with the latter having had one of the worst performances of his career last weekend. He is a class player and I expect him to be a key figure for the Sharks in Melbourne.
The last time these two teams played, the Rebels suffered a drubbing 64 – 7 in Durban as the home team ran in 10 tries. Both teams haven’t necessarily played their best rugby in recent weeks, but a win to either team could really kick start their runs towards the play offs. All in all, the Sharks have more to play for and despite Melbourne being quite a strong unit in front of their own fans, I can’t see the Sharks losing two on the trot.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.64 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 1: Sharks -2.5 @ $1.91 – Sportingbet (x3 units)
Crusaders ($1.56) vs Brumbies ($2.45)
The match of the round will take place at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon when the Crusaders host the high-flying Brumbies. After a traditionally slow start to the season, the red and black machine has risen from it’s slumber and is starting to play some gritty, winning rugby. Last time out, the Crusaders beat the Chiefs in a hard-fought contest, but like the Rebels, they were fortunate to have the bye last weekend. The Brumbies will also be riding on the crest of their momentum after hammering the Chiefs last weekend and handing the Hamilton based team their biggest defeat of the season. Historically, the Crusaders have won the last three matches between these teams with all three of those matches going ‘overs’ in total points.
It would take a brave person to ever write the Crusaders off, no matter where they sit on the ladder given their talented roster, exceptional development systems and traditionally strong coaching staff. Remarkably, the Crusaders haven’t lost at home to South African or Australian opposition since the first match of the 2004 season, a total of 49 games, which basically suggests that the Brumbies are a long shot to win this weekend. However, as they say, records are made to be broken. It is hard to read into how good the Crusaders are given their results this year, but they will be buoyed by their narrow win against the Chiefs two weeks ago. Whether or not they can raise their games to another level remains to be seen, but the Brumbies certainly won’t go down without a fight.
In good news for the Crusaders, the inspirational Richie McCaw will return to action at blindside flanker, which shifts Jordan Taufua to the bench. However, Kieran Read is still under a medical suspension due to a head knock so Ryan Crotty retains the captaincy in the twelve jersey. The other changes that Coach Todd Blackadder has made include bringing back Andy Ellis in place of Willie Heinz and Tasman centre Keiron Fonotia returns to the centres to shift the versatile Tom Taylor to the pine. Luke Romano also takes his place on the bench after being on the sidelines for more than a month, so the All Black lock will no doubt look to make a big impact on the match ahead of the June Internationals.
After a strong win against the reigning Champions from Hamilton last weekend in Canberra, coaches Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher have opted to field the same starting fifteen against the perennial super powers of this competition. This is the fifth time this year that the Brumbies have been able to field an unchanged line up, which signifies the durability and a solid strength and conditioning program in Canberra. The front row continues to be a huge asset of the Brumbies alongside having Scott Fardy in the second row, who basically acts as fourth back rower. Captain Ben Mowen continues to be a force, especially at lineout time and both Jarrad Butler and Jordan Smiler have played consistently well. Nic White could well be the form halfback in Australia and his partnership with Matt Toomua has been key in recent weeks. Christian Leali’ifano and Tevita Kuridrani have a season under their belt together in the centres and Robbie Coleman, Joe Tomane and Jesse Mogg complete an outstanding backline for the home team. The Brumbies are sitting nicely atop the Australian Conference and a win here against the Crusaders will really provide them with leg up heading towards the playoffs and given the experience in their squad, they will be giving it their all to gain that extra advantage.
Once upon a time, this was one of the biggest rivalries in Super Rugby. When players like Andrew Mehrtens, Ron Cribb and Aaron Mauger used to run around for the Crusaders and Finegan, Gregan and Larkham donned the Brumbies jersey, this contest used to be fierce. The Brumbies haven’t beaten the Crusaders since 2009, however, they haven’t beaten the Crusaders in Christchurch since the turn of the millennium – 14 long years. I think it is going to be a close match and I wouldn’t risk any money on this and just enjoy it for the spectacle that it will be.
Predicted result: Undecided – should be a cracking game
Chiefs ($1.11) vs Lions ($6.75)
Saturday evening’s action kicks off in Hamilton when the stuttering Chiefs welcome the Lions to New Zealand for the first time since 2012. The Chiefs have really hit a low-point after dominating the competition over the past two seasons, especially after being spanked by the Brumbies in Canberra last week. The Lions had a strong start to the season, but haven’t won since beating the Reds in mid-March and it will be interesting to see how they regroup on their tour of Australasia.
After an ordinary six-week period, Coach Dave Rennie has made a whopping 14 changes to his squad to face the battling Lions this weekend. It is an unfamiliar team sheet compared to those over the past two seasons, however, the spine of players that led them to the Championship victories, still largely remains. Pauliasi Manu, Nathan Harris and Josh Hohneck will be under pressure at scrum time and will require a lot of support from All Blacks Ross Filipo and Brodie Retallick. The back row of Latimer, Cane and Messam remain experienced and a huge strength of their game, as do the halves pairing of Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Gareth Anscombe. There have been discussions that Warren Gatland might lure Gareth Anscombe to Wales however, this week All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen threw his weight around and suggested that it would be a good decision for New Zealand rugby to keep him. It is looking likely that the Blues will in fact dangle that juicy carrot in front of Anscombe and give him first rights to the fly half jersey, should he wish to stay. Tom Marshall and Charlie Ngatai are a potent midfield combination and there is a lot of pace to burn out wide in James Lowe, Dwayne Sweeney and Tim Nanai-Williams. I expect the bench to be emptied in the second half and players like Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Bundee Aki and Andrew Horrell should make a big impact. It seems that it is only a matter of time before the Chiefs click and the Lions will be hoping that they don’t cop the champions’ wrath.
The Lions are currently sitting in 11th position with four wins from their nine matches played so far. In all honesty, the Lions have performed a hell of a lot better than most pundits would’ve predicted, but the overseas tour could well and truly destroy any momentum and belief they have created for themselves so far in 2014. In a move I don’t necessarily agree with, Coach Johan Ackermann has named Elton Jantjies ahead of the tournament’s second leading points scorer Marnitz Boshoff. I understand that Ackermann might be looking to play a more expansive game, however, I truly believe that Boshoff has been one of the Lions shining lights this season and he isn’t exactly afraid to attack the line and chance his arm. To be fair, Jantjies hasn’t had a lot of game time this season, so he is most likely looking to see what the diminutive Jantjies can bring to the table in Hamilton. The other changes see the lively halfback Faf de Klerk replace Ross Cronje, Deon van Rensburg returns and Captain Warren Whitely has recovered from injury to take his place at number eight.
The Chiefs will be looking to record their fifth win in succession this week against the Lions and I think they will – quite comfortably. The Chiefs have faced some pretty tough teams over the last few weekends and this might just be the game where the Chiefs kick start their run for premiership glory for the third time on the trot.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win with a bonus point @ $1.11 – Sportsbet
Waratahs ($1.55) vs Hurricanes ($2.50)
Saturday evening’s attention will shift to Allianz Stadium in Sydney when the bumbling Waratahs host the high-flying Hurricanes. After such a promising start to the season, the Waratahs have really lacked the consistency needed in the last few weeks having won two and lost three in their last five matches. On the other hand, the Hurricanes have been polar opposites and have won their last four. Last year, this corresponding fixture saw the Hurricanes blow the Waratahs away 41 – 29 en route to a four-try bonus point.
After another capitulation in Auckland last weekend, coach Michael Cheika has made eight changes, with five of those being positional to face the in-form Hurricanes. The biggest inclusion sees Wycliff Palu regain the number eight jersey and Matt Carraro and Paddy Ryan replace Cam Crawford and Sekope Kepu respectively. The back row now consists of Dave Dennis at blindside flanker, Palu and one of the competition’s most consistent players Michael Hooper. Besides injuries to Peter Betham and Alofa Alofa, the backline has had very few disruptions this season. Against the ‘Canes they will need to find that form that made them premiership contenders early on in the season. In other news, Coach Michael Cheika has been handed a six-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to misconduct when abusing a South African cameraman in Durban earlier this season. This is a huge match for the Waratahs and I expect a lot of their experienced heads to stand up and really use their talent and familiarity at this level of rugby, but most importantly concentrate on ball retention!
After beginning the season with an ordinary record of one win from five attempts, the Hurricanes now find themselves at the top of the New Zealand conference for the first time in a number of seasons. Their win against the Reds last weekend in Wellington not only showed how they have come since their early season jitters, but also how bad the Reds have become. The Hurricanes look set to lose the services of Alapati Leiua in the off-season after London Wasps have snapped the versatile back up. He has been a star performer for the Hurricanes and one of the best backs in the competition, so a huge hole will be left in the ‘Canes backline next season.
Coach Mark Hammett has opted for the same line up that defeated the Reds last week in Wellington, which makes sense given the success the Canes have had in recent weeks. Ben Franks, Dane Coles and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen have showed why they have all received All Black caps while Jeremy Thrush and James Broadhurst have combined extremely well in the set piece and around the field. Levave, Lam and Vito form a dangerous back row and allow TJ Perenara the quick service to unleash one of the best back lines in the competition. In full flight, the Hurricanes are almost unstoppable, but the physicality of the ‘Tahs will give them a real run for their money.
The Hurricanes will be searching for the fifth victory in a row this weekend when they make the trip over the Tasman to face a very physical Waratahs unit. They have won the last two matches between these two proud provinces and with both teams currently sitting in the top six, either can ill-afford to lose here. If this match was in Wellington, the Hurricanes would be the favourites, but their ability to score points just outclasses a subdued Waratahs outfit at present.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $2.50 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Hurricanes +5.5 @ $1.91 – Sportingbet
Stormers ($1.63) vs Highlanders ($2.30)
The first of the two Saturday night late night fixtures comes to us from Newlands Stadium in Cape Town where the troubled Stormers host the confident Highlanders. Just when you thought that the Stormers might be able to salvage some pride this season, a dubious refereeing decision shifted momentum in the match and they were put to the sword by an attacking-minded Cheetahs outfit. The Highlanders on the other hand raced out of the blocks and really took it to the Sharks like no other team has done this season and as a result they reaped the ultimate reward – a win at the Shark Tank.
The Stormers raced to a lead last weekend against the Cheetahs before letting in 23 unanswered points, which inevitably cost them the game. Sure there were a couple of questionable decisions made by experienced referee Craig Joubert, however, sometimes the rub of the green doesn’t go your way and you need to be better than what the Stormers were. Despite finishing the weekend at the bottom of the Super Rugby ladder, a shining light was Springbok and Stormers Captain Jean de Villiers, as he reminded us of what he is capable of with a few barnstorming runs, a great try and some effective work on defense. But clearly, injuries as much as anything have derailed the Stormers hopes in 2014. The Stormers lock crisis is nothing short of incredible. Five of their first choice locks including Eben Etzebeth, De Kock Steenkamp, Rynhardt Elstadt, Manuel Carizza and Michael Rhodes are all injured and their usual replacements haven’t had enough playing minutes given their injury problems as well.
Coach Alastair Coetzee has rushed Schalk Burger back into the starting line up this week in an attempt to give his team more options at set piece and around the field. The other change in the forwards sees the 2013 Currie Cup Player of the Year Scarra Ntubeni return at hooker in place of the versatile Deon Fourie. In the backline, Sailosi Tagicakibau returns to the wing with one of last week’s try scorers Devon Williams missing out of the match day 23 all together. The biggest change sees Peter Grant booted from flyhalf with Kurt Coleman due to start the match in the number ten jumper. These selections have shifted a number of experienced Super Rugby players in Deon Fourie, Brok Harris, Siya Kolisi and Peter Grant just to name a few to the pine so look for them to make an impact late in the match.
The Highlanders did what many would’ve described as the unthinkable last week by defeating the table-topping Sharks in Durban. The men from the South Island of New Zealand ran in four tries en route to a bonus point victory that simply had the Sharks stunned. Forwards like Liam Coltman, Joe Wheeler and Shane Christie have been monumental in the tight, while Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga seem to have developed a combination that could last for many years in Dunedin. Outside centre, Malakai Fekitoa has been a revelation at outside centre and showed his true talents last week with one of the tries of the season in a 50-metre run that sliced up the best defense in the competition. After so much was expected of the Highlanders last year, their near-wooden spoon finish would seem like a distant memory, as the Highlanders have almost eclipsed their points tally of last season already.
Unfortunately for the Highlanders and their fans, both Patrick Osborne (winger) and Craig Millar (prop) were injured in the Sharks match and have already flown home for rehabilitation. Matias Diaz, capped six times for Argentina, has been sent over from New Zealand as injury cover for the front row. Chris King will play his 100th match for the Highlanders in what has been a magnificent decade of rugby for him and former Chiefs player Trent Renata comes in for Osborne on the wing.
This match is shaping up to be an intriguing battle. The Stormers haven’t found their groove this season, but you get the feeling that since they have been focussing on playing a more attacking game, they look a lot more dangerous. The Highlanders on the other hand are sitting just outside the top six and they know this is a must-win game for them given the Stormers low rank. On form, I have to side with the Highlanders, but I think it’ll be much closer than people think.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win @ $2.30 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Highlanders +3.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Bulls ($1.48) vs Cheetahs ($2.70)
The final match of the rounds comes to us from Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, where a gut-wrenched Bulls outfit host the entertaining Cheetahs. Like all South African touring teams before them this season, the Australasia leg wasn’t kind to the men in camouflage. Four matches played with only four losing bonus points to show, makes it safe to say that the Bulls will be happy to breathe in the fresh air of the high veldt. The Cheetahs secured only their second victory of the season last week when they ran away with it in Bloemfontein against the struggling Stormers and in turn, elevated themselves off the foot of the competition ladder.
The Bulls experienced their sixth defeat of the season in Perth and ended their tour from hell without a win, yet their coach seems to think they have come back a better team then when they left. On paper they have a number of International players and combinations that you would think would work, however, the 10-man rugby that they play obviously doesn’t always pay off and to put it bluntly, it doesn’t appear like they want to win at times. Victor Matfield’s presence has been highly influential and in fact has the Bulls positioned as the best lineout team in the competition. Against the Force, the Bulls were successful on 14 out of 15 throws and poached six of their opposition’s lineout throws. Matfield’s lineout partner Paul Willemse, who is a man mountain might I add at just 21, had an outstanding game for the Bulls and got through a lot of the grunt work that Matfield might just be a little bit more hesitant to do these days.
Bulls Coach Frans Ludeke has opted for a youthful approach to his squad this week by replacing Jacques-Louis Potgieter and JJ Engelbrecht with young sensation Handre Pollard and former South African Sevens ace William Small-Smith. The other change to the starting fifteen sees the hulk-like Marcel van der Merwe take over from Werner Kruger in the tighthead role. This is a match that the Bulls won’t need motivation for given the rivalry that exists and I am sure they will want to give the Loftus faithful something to smile about after an abysmal month overseas.
The Cheetahs showed once again last week why they are one of the most entertaining teams in the competition. Springbok and Cheetahs wizard Willie le Roux was simply sensational last week against the Stormers. He is a class player that just seems to have more time than a lot of his teammates and opponents and has the skillset and footwork that rivals some of his Australian and New Zealand counterparts. After the Cheetahs success last week, Coach Naka Drotske has named an unchanged line up to tackle the Bulls. Captain Adriaan Strauss has been an inspirational leader all season and continues to be a dominant force around the paddock. It also comes as no surprise that the Cheetahs have started to play better with Heinrich Brussow’s return. His ability to secure possession and win opposition ball at the breakdown has surely caught Springbok Coach Heyneke Meyer’s eye. In the backline Rayno Benjamin has been a revelation at inside centre since moving from the wing and his combination with Johann Sadie appears to be working well. The most notable changes to the team this week occur on the bench with Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen and fly half Johan Goosen likely to get some game time. The former has been cleared to play 20 minutes after recovering from yet another neck injury. Ligtoring Landman, the man they call ‘the lighthouse’, should also get some minutes this weekend.
For many years, the Bulls and the Cheetahs have had an intense rivalry, in particular at Currie Cup level, however, the Bulls have been the dominant force in Super Rugby winning 11 of the 13 matches played. Surprisingly, the Cheetahs only other win this season came when they defeated the Bulls in Bloemfontein 15 – 9, the Bulls will be out for revenge. On form, the Cheetahs should have the edge here, but I expect it to be a tight tussle.
Predicted result: Cheetahs to win @ $2.70 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 4: Cheetahs +5.5 @ $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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