With three rounds of Super Rugby to go before the competition breaks up for the June Internationals, many teams enter a vital phase in terms of their overall positions on the ladder. Unsurprisingly, the New Zealand Conference remains the strongest, however, with ten local derbies scheduled in the coming weeks, a degree of ‘cannibalisation’ will occur and allow one or two more of the Australian or South African teams to sneak into playoff contention. Looking at the matches in Round 13, the Chiefs outclassed the Blues in New Plymouth and the Hurricanes simply had too much for an abrasive Rebels team in Melbourne on Friday evening. On Saturday, the Lions caused Highlanders fans a mighty scare by orchestrating a second half comeback that saw them lose by just a solitary point, the Brumbies beat the Sharks in a stale arm-wrestle in miserable conditions in Canberra, the Force defeated the Cheetahs and the Bulls had too much for the Stormers. The round concluded on Sunday with one of the best displays of attacking rugby I have seen in a long time when the Crusaders embarrassed the Reds and made them pay for failing to execute basic rugby skills and strategy.
Another successful betting round of 3-0 last week and 18 of the last 24 has made some people happy around the traps and with only a few rounds to go, I am hoping to finish this season with a bang. Looking towards this weekend, the Hurricanes and the Highlanders should be a highly entertaining fixture in Wellington and the Crusaders and the Sharks will slug it out on Saturday in Christchurch in Test match conditions. 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: Hurricanes vs Highlanders – 1st Half – Highest Scoring Half @ $2.20 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Crusaders/Brumbies/Waratahs @ $2.27 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
Best Bet 3: Force +3.0 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Brumbies -4 (x2U) @ $1.91 – Sportingbet (early Twitter play)
*There WILL be another play or two posted on Twitter once all markets are available
Hurricanes ($1.33) vs Highlanders ($3.40)
Friday’s only Super Rugby fixture sees the inform Hurricanes face the Highlanders at the ‘Cake Tin’ in Wellington. Given the congestion in the New Zealand Conference, this is an important clash for both franchises as they currently sit in sixth and seventh position respectively. Last weekend, the Hurricanes returned to the winner’s circle after a gritty defeat of the Rebels in Melbourne and the Highlanders beat the Lions by the tightest of margins after a severe second half collapse. This will be the second time these two face off this season with the Highlanders beating the Hurricanes in round six in a high-scoring affair, so the Hurricanes will be out to balance the season’s ledger.
The Hurricanes will be eager to extend their stay in the top six this weekend against a tricky opponent in the Highlanders. They are currently in sixth position and lead the competition in a number of key offensive stats, however, their defense has shown the ability to crack, particularly earlier on in the season. Conrad Smith has led his troops around the Southern Hemisphere gallantly and they play one of the most exciting brands of rugby in the world. After this weekend, they have four more matches, all of which are against New Zealand opposition and two of those of which are at home. They also have a bye in the last round so they will need to be wary of this and look to secure as many wins and bonus points as possible. Departing Hurricanes Coach Mark Hammett has made two changes to his line up to face the Highlanders this weekend. All Blacks hooker Dane Coles will sit out with an injury and the hard-hitting Motu Matu’u will get his first starting role for a number of weeks. In the backs, the classy Tim Bateman replaces the in-form Alapati Leiua, with the latter getting a rest with a number of crunch games to come. Leiua’s absence will be felt, but Tim Bateman is a strong defender and the former’s impact off the bench late in the game could be vital. As always, keep an eye on the back three of Cory Jane, Julian Savea and Andre Taylor who generally break the line with ease either from structured or unstructured play.
Many would find it hard to believe that the Highlanders came within a whisker of finishing dead last in 2013 when they only managed to pick up three wins and finished only five points ahead of the Southern Kings, who were in their inaugural season. Fatigue from jetlag was always going to be a factor against the Lions, but to leak 22 points in the second half will be of concern to both the players and management of the Dunedin-based franchise. In saying that, there were some standouts for the Highlanders including flanker Elliott Dixon, and fullback and Co-Captain Ben Smith proved once again that he is the form fullback in the competition, with his elusive running almost unexplainable at times. Whether or not All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen decides to play him at fullback or on the wing against the English remains to be seen, but he certainly is a class above many others at the moment. Fellow outside back Richard Buckman also continues to perform above his weight and given that he was only in the extended squad prior to the start of the season, he has certainly come a long way, capping off a great evening against the Highlanders with two tries. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, Chris King, the veteran 100+ cap prop has been suspended for one match after striking an opponent last week against the Lions. Ma’afu Fia has replaced him in the match day 23 and the other changes see Shane Christie return to the starting team in place of the injured John Hardie and Shaun Treeby reappears at inside centre in place of Phil Burleigh.
This match has all the ingredients to being a classic encounter with both teams having some exceptional attacking talent and not necessarily the tightest of defences. The Hurricanes have the better team on paper, are in better form and have a solid leadership team that knows how to get the most out of their teammates when the going gets tough. The Highlanders are much improved in 2014, but the Hurricanes have the better chance of progressing further in this year’s competition, especially when you take into consideration the Highlander’s disastrous road record. The first half has been big for both teams in recent weeks and I can see both teams coming out firing before things get tighter in the second half as players fatigue.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win in a classic match @ $1.33 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Hurricanes vs Highlanders – 1st Half – Highest Scoring Half @ $2.20 – Sportsbet
Crusaders ($1.30) vs Sharks ($3.60)
The first match on Saturday takes place in Christchurch in what will be the match of the round when the high-flying Crusaders face the stuttering Sharks. The Crusaders are without doubt the form team of the competition having won their previous six matches, including an absolute demolition of the Reds last Sunday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The night before, the Sharks fell to the Brumbies in Canberra for their second loss in three matches in what many would consider to be one of the worst games of rugby this season.
The Crusaders record-breaking win over the Reds last weekend in Brisbane sounded a warning to the rest of the competition and it is safe to say the Crusaders now have one foot the box seat with not many rounds to go. Brisbane is not an easy place to play for any tourists and to put that into perspective, it was Richie McCaw’s first victory in Brisbane, either for the Crusaders or All Blacks, since 2008. With Kieran Read due to make a comeback shortly and Dan Carter due back after the International Test window, the men from Christchurch can only get stronger. Their forwards are in beast mode both at set piece and at the breakdowns and the backs are starting to gel thanks to the return to form of Colin Slade. Slade’s brilliant weekend was capped off with the announcement of his name in the All Blacks training squad. Although he isn’t likely to get a lot of game time, his goal kicking has been superb and his general play and game management would certainly have him picked for most other International teams. Not a lot of people will know much about Luke Whitelock as his three older brothers have often been first in the spotlight, but I feel his game against the Reds really announced himself to the average viewer combining pace, power, a big engine and good work at lineout time. Therefore, it was no surprise to see him picked in the All Blacks provisional squad. The Sharks will have to be extremely precise with their tactical kicking with the threat of McNicholl, Nadolo and Israel Dagg combining beautifully over the last few weeks. All three pack explosive power, high-octane speed and are tactically very sound, so the Sharks will have to learn from not only the Reds mistakes, but their own mistakes in recent weeks if they don’t want to get punished.
After a sensational win on the weekend, the Crusaders have been dealt a blow with Luke Romano due to miss the rest of the season after breaking a bone in his leg. This bad news was compounded by the fact that both Corey Flynn (Toulouse) and Tyler Bleyendaal (Munster) have decided to head to Europe at the end of the Super Rugby season to further their careers overseas. Looking at this weekend’s line up, coach Todd Blackadder has made just the three changes. Kieran Read is still unavailable, which is becoming a concern, but Dominic Bird returns in place of Romano. Andy Ellis and Willie Heinz rotate at halfback once again and Tom Taylor gives Israel Dagg a spell on the sidelines and will anchor the team from the back.
The Sharks lightning fast start to the season created a cushion at the top of the table for them, however, their recent defeats to the Highlanders and the Brumbies has all but deflated it. The Sharks early run of home games could well prove the catalyst to making the playoffs, however, they only have one remaining, so they will need to find some form on the road and find it quick. They have too good a squad and too good a coach to be playing the way they have been lately, but it doesn’t get any easier this week against the now tournament favourites. The forwards will need to be on song, both at set piece and in the collisions, the backs will need to find the swagger and guile that has eluded them over the past few weeks and Francois Steyn’s kicking will need to improve exponentially. This week, Jake White has shuffled a number of his players around in attempt to try new combinations and alter the way they have been playing recently. The all-Springbok front row remains the same, however, Etienne Oosthuizen’s inclusion at lock moves ‘the bone-crusher’ Willem Alberts to number eight alongside Jean Deysel and Tera Mtembu. Cobus Reinach and Francois Steyn will continue in the halves alongside Paul Jordaan and S’bura Sithole. Finally, SP Marais has been recalled at fullback, which in turn sees Lwazi Mvovo, who has been in great form recently, move to his more regular position of left wing and staring down a huge battle with Nemani Nadolo.
The Crusaders have won seven of the last ten matches played between these two proud provinces, however, the Sharks broke a five match losing streak to the Crusaders last year in Durban. The Crusaders are currently in red-hot form disposing of most in their way, whereas, the Sharks have really struggled after losing players like Peter Steph du Toit and Patrick Lambie to injury. Although I think the Crusaders will win this match up, I wouldn’t be surprised if these two met again in the semi-finals or finals of this year’s competition, but for now the Crusaders form is hard to ignore.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.30 – Sportsbet
Reds ($1.63) vs Rebels ($2.30)
The Reds return to Suncorp Stadium this weekend to face a tenacious Rebels outfit in front of what should be a weaker crowd after last weekend’s embarrassing loss to the Crusaders. Reds rugby is in crisis following the belting they received to the tournament favourites, but they’ll need to win this weekend if they want to avoid the wooden spoon in the Australian Conference. In saying that, the Rebels aren’t fairing too much better having lost their last two, including last Friday’s defeat to the Hurricanes, so don’t expect tens on the excitement scale.
Queensland rugby is currently in a sorry state and it is quite staggering to see given the talent they possess and the support they have from the general public. The Brisbane private schoolboy system has nurtured some of Australia’s best rugby players, both past and present, and the system continues to churn out future Wallabies. However, a lot of these players are now playing interstate, which is understandable and something the Reds just have to accept. The Reds are clearly missing the likes of Scott Higginbotham, Digby Ioane and a plethora of other stars that have sought change over the past few seasons, but they still do have a number of top quality youngsters coming through the ranks. News coming out of the Reds camp suggests that James O’Connor might be returning to Australian rugby and in particular the Reds, in what would be an exciting combination with the mercurial Quade Cooper. There has also been talk about Karmichael Hunt potentially on the Red’s radar and I think this would be a great choice. Having played with him at schoolboy level and watched him bamboozle defences first hand and then subsequently in the NRL, he would not only bring his high level of skill, but most importantly bums on seats.
Will Genia’s form in recent weeks has improved significantly, but his partner in crime Quade Cooper had a night to forget against the Crusaders and just made too many elementary mistakes that his team inevitably paid for. The Reds have nothing left to play for this season, but with a number of Wallabies in the squad, the next few weeks could really be the difference in terms of getting selected for the Test matches against France in June. With other Australian players around the country playing more effective rugby, players like Simmons, Horwill and Cooper really need to stand up. Coach Richard Graham has kept faith in the team that ran out at Suncorp Stadium last weekend and he will hoping that his troops will be able to mimic their first half performance from last week throughout the duration of the match against the Rebels. Beau Robinson will also be playing his 50th Super Rugby match and although he doesn’t possess the size or the skill of some of the better flankers around the world, he puts his body on the line and plays with a lot of passion and his attitude would be a positive attribute in a struggling Reds camp.
The Rebels finished in 13th position overall and last in the Australian Conference last season and their first goal for this year would be to win more than the four games they managed to a year ago. A number of franchise players left in the off-season and Tony McGahan was brought in to create a new culture in the team and to bring his expertise around defense and the ruck to Melbourne. In those to facets, the Rebels have performed admirably as they currently possess the best tackling success percentage (88.5%) in the competition and they look very hard to break down. However, they are still missing a few cogs that would turn the Rebels into title contenders. Players like Captain Scott Higginbotham, Tamati Ellison and Jason Woodward have performed admirably so far this season, but they are still without one or two game breakers that could turn those narrow defeats into important victories. The Rebels will be determined to secure their first victory over the Reds and McGahan has named a similar team to the one that faced the Hurricanes with the most notable change seeing Toby Smith return to the front row.
The Reds will be buoyed by the fact that they have never lost to the Rebels in the six matches to date with an average margin of 18 points between the two teams. The Reds are a shadow of their former selves and their big names are failing to fire, however, after being touched up by the Crusaders last weekend, they will be eager to restore some pride in their jerseys with a win over a well-drilled Rebels team in Brisbane this weekend. The Rebels know the Reds have the second worst defense in the competition, but I expect the home team to bounce and frustrate a Rebels team that showed so much promise early on in the season.
Predicted result: Reds to win in a nail-biter @ $1.63 – Sportsbet
Stormers ($1.70) vs Force ($2.18)
The Stormers head home to Newlands Stadium in Cape Town to face a firing Western Force team that is having their best season in franchise history. The Bulls suffocated the injury-ravaged Stormers last week in Pretoria, whereas the Force remained in playoff contention having beaten the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The Force and the Cheetahs seemed to have reversed roles from last year as their fairy tale ride continues, but the Stormers will be out to regain some pride in the Western Cape and finish this phase of their season on a high.
After the last few seasons, it is a surprise to see the Stormers languishing so far down the ladder and one has to question where things have gone wrong. They have a number of experienced Springboks amongst their ranks and some quality youngsters coming through, but they just haven’t been able to win the games they should’ve and they have tended to get blown out as opposed to losing by a narrow margin of seven points or less. Alongside the Chiefs, the Stormers would have the highest injury toll in the competition, particular in the second row, however, injuries are part in parcel of this long and arduous competition. I truly believe their inability to evolve over the past few seasons has contributed to their failure and their once watertight defense is now leaking and really illuminating their inability to convert pressure into points on the offensive end. To be fair though, since they have started to throw the ball around over the past few rounds, they have looked a much better team, but unfortunately it’s a case of too little too late.
Misfiring Coach Alastair Coetzee has named his squad to play the Force with four changes, one of which is positional. First-choice hooker Scarra Ntubeni will miss the next six to eight weeks after fracturing a bone in his left foot. Since his return to the number two jersey, the Stormers lineout and scrums have improved and he will be missed given with the courage that he plays with every week. The versatile Deon Fourie, whose lineout throwing has been atrocious this season, will replace him. The other change in the forwards occurs in the second row where Michael Rhodes replaces Jean Kleyn who made his debut last week. In the backs, Peter Grant shifts back to flyhalf in his 100th match shifting Kurt Coleman to the bench and Kobus van Wyk returns from injury to shift Damien de Allende to inside centre, with Jean de Villiers still out with injury. De Allende’s stocks continue to rise after another strong performance last week and backline coach and former Springbok Centre Robbie Fleck believes that the big versatile back has all of the attributes to become a regular on the International stage. Although he prefers inside centre, he has spent much of the year on the wing and I am intrigued to see him combine with Juan de Jong, another fine performer since his return from injury, in the Western Province midfield.
The Western Force rolled into Bloemfontein last weekend, got the job done and are now sitting in Cape Town ready to face one of the more disappointing teams this season. 2014 has without doubt been the Force’s most successful season since their inception into the competition in 2005. In Michael Foley’s second year in charge, the positive culture and belief within the group is starting to shine through and a number of their home-grown heroes and ‘imports’ are playing some impressive rugby. The hallmark of the Western Force game has always been their defense and their impressive back row and it is no different this year. Brisbane boy, Angus Cottrell continued his rise in Australian rugby with another physically dominating performance in Bloemfontein last week against the Cheetahs. His work in tight at the breakdown aids fellow back rowers Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman and being a third option in the lineout adds the necessary variety to confuse opposition lineouts. They will come up against a handy trio from the Stormers this weekend and one gets the feeling if they can dominate at ruck time, they will be well on their way to their most successful tour of South Africa.
Of the five times these two teams have met, the Stormers have won four of them including the last two and they have never lost to the Force in Cape Town. In saying that, the Force will fancy their chances this weekend as they are currently riding a powerful wave of momentum and the Stormers just can’t seem to get anything to go their way this season. The Force are streets ahead of where they have been in the past, but I think the Stormers have one big performance left in them this season and even if they deliver, I can’t see them blowing the Force away.
Predicted result: Chiefs by a whisker @ $1.53 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Force +3.0 @ $1.91 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($2.50) vs Brumbies ($1.55)
The Cheetahs will play their second Australian opponent in two weeks on Saturday evening when they host the Australia-Conference leading Brumbies in Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs have had a disappointing season to say the least and this was compounded with a loss to the Force last weekend. The Brumbies on the other hand, will be riding high having toppled the Sharks in Canberra and they will see this fixture as a good opportunity to collect a full house of points.
Like the Hurricanes, the Cheetahs play a great brand of rugby using their big forwards to dominate in tight allowing some of their free running backs to exploit holes and weaknesses out wide. Prop Coenie Oosthuizen has been good since his return from injury and the durable Adriaan Strauss continues to lead from the front with aplomb. Heinrich Brussow, Boom Prinsloo and Teboho Mohoje form a really exciting and agile loose trio and their combination looks like one for the future. Flyhalf Johan Goosen had an ordinary game last weekend and will look to improve and his partnership with Shaun Venter will be under the microscope this week. With three former Springbok Sevens players in the backline, along with Willie le Roux, the Cheetahs have great one-on-one skills and have proven that they can score tries from anywhere on the park, which makes them fascinating to watch. The Cheetahs lively scrumhalf and one of their best attacking weapons, Sarel Pretorius has been sidelined for a month with an ankle injury suffered in training. His urgency around the ruck and his ability to increase the tempo of a game often causes issues for his opponents and Shaun Venter will get his first real opportunity of the season to showcase his talents. The other change in the team named by Naka Drotske on Wednesday sees Willem Serfontein, the brother of nine-time Springbok Jan Serfontein, start at lock.
For the first time in a number of weeks, the Brumbies moved to third spot on the competition ladder after the Chiefs outclassed the Blues, however, they still remain on top of the Australian Conference and prime to make a return to the playoffs this season. Last weekend in the official ‘Jake White Cup’ against the Sharks, the Brumbies defended gallantly and used their superior kicking game to force the Sharks into submission. Stephen Moore was inspirational once again alongside Scott Fardy and Jarrad Butler in a game that was situated around an intense confrontational battle between the 22’s. It was always going to be the case in miserable conditions, but as a combination they certainly stifled what was a pretty weak looking Sharks attack. The omission of Joe Tomane will be a big one over the next few weeks after he suffered a fractured cheekbone against the brutal Sharks in Canberra. However, the Brumbies have developed great depth over the past few seasons and Henry Speight’s return should offset this loss in what is the only change to the squad this week.
The last time these two teams met, a Super Rugby semi-final was on the line in Canberra and the Brumbies prevailed 23 – 15 in an intriguing contest. Unless something catastrophic happens, the Brumbies will be the only team making the finals series this season, but the Cheetahs will be out to get some revenge in front of their Bloemfontein faithful. Although the Cheetahs possess some exceptionally talented footballers, there is a slight different in class and the Brumbies arsenal should be too strong for the team from the ‘Garden City’.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win fairly comfortably @ $1.55 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Brumbies -4 (x2U) @ $1.91 – Sportingbet (early Twitter play)
Waratahs ($1.10) vs Lions ($7.50)
The Waratahs return to Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Sunday afternoon to face the struggling Lions from Johannesburg. The ‘Tahs are coming fresh off a bye and ready to make an assault on the playoffs, whereas, the Lions will be grieving after their narrow one point loss to the Highlanders last weekend in Dunedin. The Waratahs have won the last ten fixtures against the Lions dating back to 2002, so it would be a monumental upset if the men from Sydney were to slip up this weekend.
The Waratahs had the weekend off to recuperate in Round 13, however, I want to take you back to their performance against the Hurricanes the week before in Sydney. The Hurricanes raced out to a lead, scoring three tries in quick succession and led 24 – 0. Many teams at this point would pack it in and start playing recklessly, however, the Waratahs showed true character to score some great tries, tighten up their defense and eventually prevail 39 – 30. It was a real statement, especially against a Hurricanes outfit that had won a number of games on the trot and were beaming with confidence. Chances are high that at one point in the match this weekend, the Waratahs will be the dominant force, however, it will be drilled into them that the Lions’ never say die attitude could come back to haunt the home team, as was almost the case in Dunedin last weekend. Coach Michael Cheika’s influence on his squad has been evident, but inconsistency has been the only thing that could halt the Waratahs from going all the way this season. The ‘Tahs have an abrasive forward pack and backs that would match it with the best on the provincial scene, but they will need to start showing what they are capable of before it is too late to achieve a lucrative home final. Coach Michael Cheika has made just the one change to his starting 15 this week bringing in future Wallaby Will Skelton and the Jacques Potgieter gets a rest and will come off the bench.
The Lions have performed far and above what was expected of them this season with a largely unheralded squad and a fairly inexperienced coach. Currently sitting in 11th position with four wins from 11 attempts, the Lions are still in a precarious position and will be doing anything to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon in their comeback season. The Lions have relied heavily on their stable scrum this season as well as a back row that is spearheaded by Captain Warren Whitely. I have also made mention of the lively halfback Faf de Klerk before, but his impact against the Highlanders was a key catalyst to the resurgence of the Lions in the second half. He knows when to snipe and when to keep things tight and he is certainly a player to keep an eye on over the next few years with a lack of solid young halfbacks currently residing in South Africa. At the time of writing, Coach Johan Ackermann has not named his team, but I can’t foresee any major surprises.
The Lions came remarkably close to causing the upset of the round last week when they took the Highlanders to the brink of defeat after missing a game winning sideline conversion. Although they will get some confidence out of that performance, the third week on tour is often the hardest and a rejuvenated Waratahs outfit will look to use their brute strength up front and their pace and flair out wide to wear down the Lions before finishing the game with one of their highest points tallies of the season.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win easily @ $1.10 – 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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