The penultimate round of Super Rugby takes place this weekend before we hit the June International Test window. As preliminary training squads have been announced by the SANZAR nations, things are starting to intensify and the competition ladder is beginning to take shape. According to Superbru, a social sports prediction game with over 700,000 members, Round 14 was the most unpredictable round of the season thus far. The round was filled with more upsets, two red cards and the typical entertaining brand of Southern Hemisphere rugby. Looking at the matches in Round 14, the only match on Friday saw the Highlanders trump the Hurricanes in Wellington in a low-scoring affair that effectively ended their title chances. Saturday’s action saw the Sharks perform the great escape in Christchurch over the Crusaders, the Reds succumbed to the Rebels, the Cheetahs upset the Brumbies and the Stormers surprised the Force. The action was completed on Sunday afternoon when the Waratahs blitzed what looks to be a tired Lions squad at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
It was the first losing round of betting for a number of weeks so I am hoping to get back on the bandwagon this weekend. I will be in Auckland on Friday evening for the Blues match with the Sharks, which should be a great experience. I will also be keeping an eye on the Bulls vs Brumbies, Highlanders vs Crusaders and Hurricanes vs Chiefs matches – all of which will have playoff implications. 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 +1.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Waratahs/Force Multi-bet @ $1.98 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)
Best Bet 3: Crusaders -4.0 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)
Best Bet 4: Chiefs ML @ $1.85 – Sportsbet
*There should be be another play or two posted on Twitter for today’s matches
Blues ($1.83) vs Sharks ($2.00)
The penultimate round of Super Rugby before the International break begins at North Harbour Stadium in Albany, where the Blues face an emotion-filled Sharks on Friday afternoon. The Blues are currently sitting in 10th place and their chances of making the playoffs looks very unlikely, but they will be raring to go after a week off due to a well-timed bye. The Sharks did the unthinkable last weekend beating the Crusaders in Christchurch for the first time ever, despite playing the match with 14 men for 50 minutes and 13 men for 10 minutes. Historically, the Sharks have dominated the Blues and will be seeking their tenth straight victory over the ‘Aucklanders’ on Friday night.
The Blues have entered dangerous territory knowing that anything but a victory on Friday would most likely end their season. The Blues have some extremely talented players, with a suitable mix of youth and experience. I have made mention a few times that the Blues are probably two years away from making a real fist of things in this competition, but under the guidance of Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry, it is evident that they have come on in leaps and bounds. The Blues will know that they have to front up this weekend against a confident Sharks pack that really stuck it to the Crusaders last week. Players like Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu and Jerome Kaino are really going to have to be at the front of the Blues charge should they wish to keep their season alive.
Coach John Kirwan has named three changes to the one that ran out against the Chiefs. First and foremost, Captain Luke Braid has been recalled after sitting out for the last two weeks due to injury and he will replace Brendon O’Connor. Braid has been colossal over the course of the season and has really filled the void that was left by his brother Daniel a few years ago, who now plies his trade in Europe. Unfortunately for the Blues, All Blacks fullback Charles Piutau has been injured and looks likely to spend approximately two months on the sidelines, ruling him out of both Super Rugby and the AB’s June Test series. Lolagi Visinia shifts from wing to fullback to cover Piutau’s absence and New Zealand Under-20 representative Tevita Li comes onto the wing. The Blues crisis at centre also continues this week with Pita Ahki coming in for the injured players, Francis Saili and Jackson Willison.
The Sharks made the biggest statement possible in Round 14 by beating the in-form Crusaders for the first time in their history in Christchurch and by doing it with 14 men for the majority of the match. For those of you who missed it, the Sharks were made to play with 14 men for 60 minutes last week after flanker Jean Deysel despicably stomped on Crusaders flanker Jordan Taufua’s face in an off-the-ball incident. The Sharks were then further penalised when Willem Alberts was sin-binned for repeated indiscretions, however, the Sharks experienced pack led by the 100 club of the Tendai ‘the Beast’ Mtawarira and Bismarck and Dr. Jannie du Plessis were simply phenomenal in stopping a star-studded Crusaders outfit. Other mentions must go to Stephen Lewies who is maturing at rapid pace and Tera Mtembu who was ruthless on defence and around the pitch all night. In the backs, Cobus Reinach orchestrated his forwards well, Francois Steyn kicked the goals he needed to and S’bura Sithole showed that he could be a future Springbok with some sturdy defense and insightful running. What Jake White would’ve found really pleasing was that when he called upon his bench, they all made a positive impact and continued where the starters before them left off.
The Sharks won’t mind playing at North Harbour Stadium this weekend, as opposed to Eden Park, given the large South African population on the north shores of Auckland. After last week’s courageous performance against the Crusaders, the Sharks fans will be out to support their team on the last leg of their Australasian sojourn. After last week’s bruising encounter, Coach Jake White has resisted making many changes and rewarded the courageous performance of his team. However, Deysel’s suspension has opened the door for Jacques Botes, a Sharks veteran having earned 115 caps.
Fortunately, given some pre-arranged working commitments, I will be present at this match on Friday in Albany. After the highs of last weekend, I truly think we are in for a classic encounter here and it will be very interesting to see how the Sharks back up after such an emotional high. The Blues possess some serious threats across the park from one to 15, but the Sharks know another win in New Zealand would give them a real chance of hosting a home playoff, so I think they will just beat the Blues and effectively end the local’s season.
Predicted result: Sharks to win in a classic match @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 1: Sharks +1.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Rebels ($3.10) vs Waratahs ($1.39)
On Friday night, the Melbourne Rebels will host the New South Wales Waratahs in front of what should be a healthy crowd in Melbourne for the Weary Dunlop Shield. The Rebels will be brimming with confidence having beaten the Reds for the first time in franchise history last weekend at Suncorp Stadium, albeit in dubious circumstances. On Sunday, the Waratahs tamed the Lions thanks to a second-half surge at Allianz Stadium and they will be looking to achieve three wins a row for the first time this season on Friday night.
The Rebels will be buoyed by their first ever success against the misfiring Queensland Reds in Brisbane, but they will know that the match against the Waratahs this week will be another step up. The Rebels are yet to win successive matches this season and coach Tony McGahan has issued his team a huge challenge in front of their home fans this week. Another win would equal the club’s best season (five victories), but they will have to do so without one of their star performers last weekend in Luke Burgess. Burgess what at his brilliant best scoring two tries and marshalled his forwards around intelligently before suffering a knee injury in the second half. Given the fact that Nic Stirzaker is already on the sidelines, the Rebels will go into the match with their third and fourth string halfbacks, which the Waratahs will certainly look to exploit. A lot of the time, defence is all about attitude and Coach Tony McGahan’s defensive influence is clearly evident each week with the Rebels organisation and tackle success rate a hallmark of their play. Scott Higginbotham continues to shine alongside some of his unheralded pack, although I do question his leadership abilities. Mitch Inman and Tamati Ellison form one of the competition’s dangerous midfield partnership and Jason Woodward continues to be a threat at the back. A lot of pressure will be on new halfback Ben Meehan this week who replaces Burgess in the only change to the starting line-up named by Coach Tony McGahan.
The Waratahs will be ecstatic with their victory over a disappointing Lions outfit last week, but it will be a quick turnaround of only five days when they face the Rebels this week. The Waratahs are yet to achieve three successive victories this season and they have a prime opportunity to do it this week in Melbourne. Against the Lions, the Waratahs used their brute strength in the forwards to dominate their opposition at set piece, which allowed their backs the time and space they required to wreak havoc in the second half. Rob Horne was one of the players of the round with two tries, four line breaks, 106 metres made and ten tackles. Israel Folau was equally impressive despite not scoring a try and Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale’s partnership continues to flourish and both have been rewarded with Wallaby call-ups. Coach Michael Cheika has opted for the majority of the squad that battled the Lions by only naming two changes: South African-born Jacques Potgieter returns to the tight five in place of Will Skelton and Alofa Alofa replaces Matt Carraro on the wing.
In what will be the only Australian derby of the round, I truly believe the Waratahs are a class above the Rebels. Although the Rebels have improved exponentially under the tutelage of Coach Tony McGahan, the Waratahs have more at stake and are on the verge of a home playoff fixture and I expect their experienced heads to stand up and prove that they are real title contenders in 2014. Adding to that, the Rebels have failed to secure back-to-back victories this season and I can’t see it happening against the Waratahs in Melbourne.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.39 – Sportsbet
Bulls ($1.60) vs Brumbies ($2.38)
The final match on Friday (Saturday morning Australian time) will see the Bulls and the Brumbies clash at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. The Bulls’ season is hanging by a thread after a disastrous tour of Australasia, however, since they have been back at home, they have beaten both the Cheetahs and the Stormers. After impressively beating the Sharks two weeks ago, the Brumbies were upset by the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, despite making a late comeback. Over the last ten encounters, the Bulls and the Brumbies have won five each, however, the Brumbies won both fixtures last year, including one at this very venue.
The Bulls clearly ‘grow another arm and a leg’ when they play at Loftus Versfeld, a stadium that has hosted two successful Super Rugby finals. The Bulls have had to deal with a mass exodus of players over the past few seasons, however, they continue to churn out some quality youngsters that the Bulls management can build the club around. Coach Frans Ludeke has recalled Captain Flip van der Merwe after the burly lock has served his three-week suspension for striking a Brumbies opponent a few weeks ago. Big Flip replaces the impressive Paul Willemse, who looks likely to earn Springbok colours one day and the no-necked Werner Kruger replaces Marcel van der Merwe at tighthead prop. In somewhat of a surprise, the other change sees Handre Pollard dropped for Jacques-Louis Potgieter, especially given Pollard’s willingness to run the ball. It is a match where a number of Springbok players will come up against their Wallaby counterparts and one can’t forget the narrow victory the Brumbies secured over the Bulls last year in Canberra on the back of a very dubious refereeing decision.
Last weekend at Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein, the Brumbies missed a golden opportunity to bank some vital competition points that would’ve gone a long way to guaranteeing them a Super Rugby playoff position. It was an off night for the men from Canberra and they couldn’t recover after a slow start and their ill discipline eventually cost them in the end. The Brumbies did manage to rally from a 13-point deficit, led astutely by hooker and Wallaby incumbent hooker Stephen Moore. Before the tour, the Brumbies would’ve had higher hopes of defeating the Cheetahs in comparison to the Bulls, however, they will have to do it the hard way and achieve victory against the Bulls if they want to maintain their position at the top of the Australian Conference. The Brumbies will be boosted by the fact that 11 players have been called into the Wallabies training camp for the June International series against France. This includes the naming of lock Sam Carter for the first time. Coach Stephen Larkham has only made the one change this week bringing in Leon Power to start alongside Sam Carter in the second row, which shifts Scott Fardy to the side of the scrum with big Fotu Auelua on the bench.
The Brumbies have been somewhat inconsistent in 2014, often beating teams comprehensively that they shouldn’t have and then losing to teams that they should trounce. Like the Blues, the Bulls season is on a knife’s edge and they know that nothing but winning each of their remaining for matches will give them a chance at reaching the playoffs again. This is a match that could go either way and although I expect it to be close, but the Brumbies will bounce back and clinch it in a tight one. Additionally, if I were to suggest a bet for this match, it would be either team to win by 7 or less.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win in a nail-biter @ $2.38 – Sportsbet
Highlanders ($2.55) vs Crusaders ($1.53)
The Highlanders return to Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin for the second last time this season when they face what will be a smarting Crusaders outfit under the roof. Searching for their third win in succession, the Highlanders will take confidence out of their 18 – 16 victory over the Hurricanes last week in Wellington, but they know the Crusaders will be out to prove a point after botching what should’ve been a comfortable victory over a 14-man Sharks outfit. It will be the first of two fixtures played between these two teams, with the return fixture scheduled for Round 19 in Christchurch.
Very few predicted the Highlanders to come up trumps against the Hurricanes last week, but all credit must go to them after keeping the competition’s most offensively dangerous team to just one try. Fill-in flyhalf Hayden Parker has made the most of his opportunities after Lima Sopaga’s injury and his goal-kicking accuracy of 100% last week through five penalties and a timely drop goal proved to be the difference. It was a typical free-flowing New Zealand match that saw both defences stand staunchly at vital times. Although the Highlanders don’t have as many All Blacks as other squads, they have galvanised this season under the leadership of Jamie Joseph and Co-Captains Nasi Manu and Ben Smith. During the week, Smith, hooker Liam Coltman, halfback Aaron Smith and centre Malakai Fekitoa received call-ups to the preliminary All Blacks training squad – all selections of which are greatly deserved. This weekend, the Highlanders will come up against an emotionally and physically bruised Crusaders line up and a win for the Highlanders would bode well for their playoff aspirations. Coach Jamie Joseph has named a strong side this week that has been boosted by the returns of Chris King, Lima Sopoaga and the rangy Patrick Osborne.
The Crusaders would’ve received an absolute spray last week having failed to beat a 14-man Sharks outfit at AMI Stadium. It was the first time the Crusaders had lost to the Sharks at home and the first time in 33 matches that the Crusaders had lost to South African opposition. As Richie McCaw stated post-match, the Crusaders were guilty of assuming that the one man and sometimes two men advantage would pay dividends itself, however, this wasn’t to be the case. The Crusaders poor-decision making (what was Richie thinking?) to opt for penalties as opposed to going for the jugular by scoring tries was very uncharacteristic. The repercussions of this loss are yet to be seen, however, the Sharks ability to overcome the perennial superpowers bodes well, not only for the Durban-based franchise, but for the Springboks as well.
A livid Todd Blackadder stated to New Zealand reporters after the match against the Sharks, ‘this needs to be anomaly. That’s our challenge – to show that it was.’ Whether they can bounce back this weekend remains to be seen, but they will be up against some pretty hungry opposition. This week, Blackadder has rung the changes, making six in total to his match day 23. Last weekend’s front row of Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn and Owen Franks have all been benched and Tim Perry, Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala return to the starting team. In the backs, Andy Ellis continues his rotation with Willie Heinz with the former starting and Israel Dagg comes back in at fullback, shifting Tom Taylor to the centres in place of Rey Lee-Lo, who has been dropped from the 23 all together.
It is a match where fifth (Highlanders) plays sixth (Crusaders) and a hugely important fixture in terms of the makeup of the Championship ladder. The Highlanders have performed admirably this season given their 14th placed finish last year and they have four players in the preliminary All Blacks squad. However, the Crusaders will be out to prove a point and I expect their All Blacks to fire having been humiliated by the Sharks last week and they should grind out a win over the Otago-based franchise.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win by more than a score @ $1.53 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Crusaders -4.0 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($1.98) vs Chiefs ($1.85)
The second match of Saturday should be a cracker from the Cake Tin in Wellington when the eighth-placed Hurricanes host the third-placed Chiefs. After a strong run of victories, the Hurricanes have stalled in recent weeks losing two of the last three including last week to the Highlanders. The Chiefs are coming off the bye round and given their extensive injury list, it couldn’t have been better timed. They have won their last two matches against the Lions and the Waratahs and will be looking to cement their position at the top of the New Zealand.
The Hurricanes season all but ended last Friday night when they lost to a steely Highlanders outfit at Westpac Stadium. Although they have a calculated chance of progressing to the lucrative end of the season, they will have to win all of their remaining matches, some with bonus points and hope that other results go in their favour. The Hurricanes have a well-balanced team with some brute strength and grunt up front and a backline consisting of some of the most dangerous players in world rugby. However, last weekend when it mattered most, they were unable to penetrate the blue wall of the Highlanders. Things don’t get any easier this weekend when they welcome the two-time reigning Champions. The Chiefs are still well and truly in the playoff mix and given the log jam that currently exists within the New Zealand Conference, competition points are vital at this stage of the season. Departing Coach Mark Hammett has opted for All Blacks hooker Dane Coles over Motu Matu’u and Samoan Jack Lam returns on the flank. Beauden Barrett is under an injury cloud, but other than that, the team is unchanged.
The Chiefs haven’t looked themselves in 2014, but the class of the side still has them positioned at the top of the New Zealand Conference. The team from Hamilton has had to deal with an injury ward reminiscent of war movies, but their structures and belief have continued to propel them to the top echelon in this competition. In Round 13 at the unfamiliar ground of New Plymouth, the Chiefs secured a 32 – 20 and achieved a vital four-try bonus point in the process. It was a tightly contested affair until just after halftime when the Chiefs ran in two quick tries through big Ben Tameifuna and Tom Marshall. In welcome news for Chiefs fans, Aaron Cruden, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Charles Ngatai and Robbie Fruean will all make timely returns. In what has been a familiar sight for rugby fans this year, Coach Dave Rennie has announced a team with a number of changes to face-off against the equally high-flying Hurricanes this weekend. Most notably, Aaron Cruden will make his return off the bench.
Saturday’s match is certainly one in which both teams can win given their talented playing rosters, astute coaches and all-round experience. The Hurricanes have won seven of the last eight matches played in Wellington between these two teams, but they will have to travel to Hamilton in Round 18 for the rematch in a few weeks time. After a four-game winning streak was snapped a couple of weeks ago, the Hurricanes look vulnerable and in recent years, the Chiefs have proven that they know how to win the big games. I expect it to be a high-scoring match, but the Wellingtonians will have to wait another year for the chance the win the trophy that has never been in their possession.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.85 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Chiefs ML @ $1.85 – Sportsbet
Force ($1.22) vs Lions ($4.20)
The Western Force return to nib Stadium (also known as the ‘Force Field’) in Perth on Saturday night when the Lions make a pit stop on route back to Johannesburg. Both teams suffered losses last week with the Force falling to a much-improved and more attacking Stormers outfit and the Lions lost their sixth match in a row to a team that look destined for a playoff spot this season in the Waratahs. This probably isn’t a match I would suggest the casual fan to tune into, but it will give us insight as to what chances the Force really have to make their first finals series in franchise history.
After a good victory against the Cheetahs in Round 13, the Force proved how hard it is to travel to Africa and secure two victories. They were outplayed by a much hungrier and more clinical Stormers team and the Force will be hoping that their season doesn’t hinge on whether or not they won in Cape Town. The Force struggled to find their rhythm, however, they will be after a full house of points this weekend against the Lions to restabilise their playoff hopes. What they will be most disappointed with will be their defense giving up 24 points to a team that has failed to score tries this season. Captain Matt Hodgson produced another fine performance and is the competition’s leading tackler (by a country mile) and pilferer. He is a player that embodies what the Western Force rugby programme is all about and his leadership and influence has clearly rubbed off on some of his teammates this year. Kyle Godwin was really missed in the centres last weekend and remains on the sidelines for this match. Coach Michael Foley has made just the two changes with South African-born Wilhelm Steenkamp and Dane Haylett-Petty starting in place of Adam Coleman and Patrick Dellit respectively.
Like the Bulls, Stormers and Cheetahs before them, the Lions are on the verge of returning to South Africa without a win from their four-match tour of Australia and New Zealand. The Lions felt the wrath of a well-drilled Waratahs unit in Sydney last Sunday and unfortunately for the team from Johannesburg, the injury bogey has struck again. Coach Johan Ackermann will be without frontline players Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan and the tireless flanker Derick Minnie this week in Perth, but they will still have some belief that they could upset the Force in Perth. Their pack continues to remain sturdy and the scrum is well and truly a strong point, however, the often fail to maintain possession of the ball and when they are overworked on defense, gaps seem to open in the second half. Coach Ackermann has made a sweeping eight changes, with six in the pack and two in the backs. The disruptions to his team will only hurt their chances this week and their lack of combinations should bring about their downfall in Perth.
The Force still find themselves in playoff contention, but could really have used the four points they missed out on in Cape Town. After a strong start to the season, the Lions lack of depth and experience has caught up with them and they are now simply playing for pride. They have a number of promising youngsters that they can build their squad around in the coming years, however, the Force at home will be too much for the toothless Lions this weekend and should secure a franchise record eighth win of the season.
Predicted result: Force to win easily @ $1.22 – Sportsbet
Stormers ($1.43) vs Cheetahs ($2.90)
The Stormers run of home matches continues this weekend when they face the highly entertaining Cheetahs in Cape Town in the final match of the round. The Stormers beat the Force last weekend and in turn, elevated themselves off the bottom of the Super Rugby. The Cheetahs also beat their first overseas opponents this year when they took care of the Brumbies in what was their best performance of the season. In Cape Town, the Stormers will be out to avenge their mid-season loss to the Cheetahs after they went down 35-22 just a month ago.
Ever since the Stormers stopped playing uninspiring ten-man rugby, they have looked a completely new team. Against what is a usually resolute Force defense, the Stormers managed to cross the chalk on three occasions and produced a defensive performance that was reminiscent of past seasons. The turning point in the match was when they had a numerical advantage after a Force player was sin-binned and they ran in 14 unanswered points. The Stormers season has been plagued with injuries, but their performances over the past few weeks would really instil confidence in themselves and their fans heading into the Currie Cup competition and next season’s Super Rugby tournament. One of the Stormers’ players of the year is without a doubt flanker Nizaam Carr. After playing a number of games off the bench last season, injuries have allowed him more game time and he has certainly made the most of his opportunities. Alongside Carr, inside centre-come winger Damien de Allende has revelled alongside players like Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jong and his call up to the preliminary Springboks training camp is just reward for a promising season.
With the Reds having the bye this weekend, the Stormers know that they can’t plummet to the foot of the competition, but points at home are always vital. Coach Alastair Coetzee has recalled both Captain Jean de Villiers and Co-Captain Schalk Burger for this fixture. Both have recovered sufficiently from injuries and their experience will be invaluable in a match against one of their biggest rivals. De Villiers’ return shifts rising star Damien de Allende back to the wing and Kobus van Wyk to the bench and Siya Kolisi will find himself on the bench at the expense of Burger. The other changes see Kurt Coleman start once again in the number ten jersey and burly prop Alastair Vermaak will make his run on debut for the Stormers this week in place of Brok Harris.
The Cheetahs victory over the Brumbies was one of their best wins over the past few seasons, even when taking into account the success they had in 2013. The Brumbies were in red hot form and were looking to extend their lead at the top of the Australian Conference, but the Cheetahs met fire with fire and used some insightful tactics to nullify the threats that the Brumbies possessed. Once again players like Adrian Strauss, Heinrich Brussow and Teboho Mahoje were excellent, but number eight Boom Prinsloo’s transition from Sevens to the 15-man game has been phenomenal, much like Lions Captain Warren Whitely. Flyhalf Johan Goosen showed why many believe he has the goods to be a long-term replacement for Morne Steyn for the Springboks and Willie le Roux was at his mercurial best and was rewarded with a five pointer of his own. Another Sevens convert, Cornal Hendricks also showed some great skill and pace and his consistency throughout the course of the season has also seen him receive a call up to the Springboks training squad. In somewhat sad news for the Bloemfontein franchise, Hennie Daniller, the long serving Cheetahs outside back has announced that he will be paying his rugby with Zebre in Italy next season. He has been a solid player and a rock at fullback for the Cheetahs for a number of years, but given his chances of playing for South Africa are slim to none, it is the right move. Coach Naka Drotske has not made any changes to his starting 15 this week, so it will be interesting to see how they back up this week.
I am really looking forward to this match given both teams emphasis on playing attacking rugby. A number of these players will be playing for Springbok colours, but the Stormers are a much stronger team at home and they should get the job done.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $1.43 – 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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