In what was one of the more ‘predictable’ weekends of rugby so far this season, round eight dealt up the traditional upsets, more injuries and all-round solid rugby. The round got underway with the Highlanders edging the Rebels in a high-scoring affair and it was followed on Friday evening by a Brumbies routing of the Blues in dismal conditions in the nations capital. On Saturday, the Hurricanes won their third fixture out of their last four against the Bulls, the Force beat the Reds at Suncorp for the second time on the trot, the Crusaders secured a well-earned victory over the Lions and the Waratahs beat the hapless Stormers. Without a doubt, the match of the round took place in Bloemfontein, where the Chiefs turned around a 24-point half time deficit to secure a last minute draw. In the process, the Crusaders and the Waratahs ended the astounding record of no teams having won after crossing the Indian Ocean and I am sure this will continue to occur in the coming weeks.
The two important matches I see this weekend surprisingly involve four Australian teams with the Reds hosting the Brumbies and the Force welcoming the Waratahs to Perth. There should be a lot more clarity in the Australian conference after this fixture and Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie will have a keen eye on these fixtures. From a betting standpoint last week, four out of five best bets cashed with one of those a two-unit play, so I hope many of you jumped on board. 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: Brumbies to win @ 1.83 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 2: Waratahs -4.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
Best Bet 3: Crusaders -3.0 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Sharks -8.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
*Additional plays will be released on Twitter once all markets have been released
Highlanders ($1.57) vs Bulls ($2.45)
The ninth round of Super Rugby once again kicks off at the enclosed Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Hamilton on Friday afternoon, when the depleted Bulls visit the hot and cold Highlanders. Last weekend, the Highlanders managed to return to the winner’s circle after beating the Melbourne Rebels in a high-scoring shootout 33 – 30, while the Bulls had a bad start to their Australasian campaign, going down 26 – 20 to the Hurricanes in Napier. Both teams have been pretty evenly matched over the past ten matches (5 – 5), however, the Highlanders will be looking to avenge their 35 – 18 loss last season, this week on home turf.
Since the bye round a month ago, the Highlanders have maintained their inconsistency securing two wins and two losses. Against the Rebels in Dunedin, flanker Shane Christie, All Black halfback Aaron Smith and one of the best fullbacks in the game, Ben Smith all crossed for tries and flyhalf Lima Sopoaga continued his strong start to the season with the boot, adding 18 points to his season tally. The Highlanders were in control for the majority of the match, but took their foot off the gas late to almost let the Highlanders sneak away with the victory, but they did show grit and determination to keep their unbeaten record against the Rebels alive. Coach Jamie Joseph has made a number of changes to his team this week bringing back Brad Thorn (lock), the previously suspended prop, Kane Hames, Elliot Dixon (number eight) and the rangy Patrick Osborne on the wing. Aaron Smith has been back to his best in recent weeks, however, the diminutive halfback has also missed more tackles than any other player in the competition (16) and the All Blacks staff will have a keen eye on this moving forwards. With the Highlanders embarking on their South African sojourn after this match, a win here is vital and a match against the Bulls will be good preparation for the style of rugby they are about to face in the Republic.
Although the men from Pretoria currently sit in sixth position, after only one week, this tour has already taken its toll. The Bulls have now lost Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann to long-term injuries. This toll would cripple any team and given the importance of the breakdown in determining the outcome of a match, you would expect the Bulls to struggle to have any edge here in their upcoming fixtures. Against the Hurricanes, the Bulls looked shell-shocked and had to make a mountain of tackles early on, racking up a 50 – 10 tackle count in the opening stanza and they were lucky to go into the halftime break down 16 – 13. However, when it was all said and done, the Bulls were outmuscled at the breakdown, and their inaccuracy and slowness to react, cost them a great deal of good quality possession and led to Beauden Barrett kicking the Hurricanes to the win. How much last week’s match has taken out of the Bulls remains to be seen, but coach Frans Ludeke has made four changes to his match day 23, all of which are in the forwards. Victor Matfield who wasn’t due to play on tour has been rushed into lock and the tackling machine Jacques du Plessis and Jono Ross will start in the back row alongside Grant Hattingh. Last week, Captain Flip van der Merwe made a round-high 22 tackles and was backed up by the aforementioned, du Plessis and JJ Engelbrecht, but they will need to do more offensively under the roof in Dunedin.
This match is shaping up to be vital for both teams as only two points separate them on the competition ladder. The Bulls have a depleted back row and besides Shane Christie, the Highlanders back row are also fairly green. The Friday afternoon fixture has delivered on every occasion in terms of the ‘overs’ in the total points market, but I am a little bit weary about suggesting it this week. It is also important to note that many of the Highlanders matches have gone down to the wire with an average of 4.5 points differential (minus the blow-out loss to the Blues) this season, and when matches are close, teams opt for penalties as opposed to going for tries. All in all, this match is a tough one to predict and I will stay away, but if I had to make a bet, it would be the Bulls with the Handicap.
Predicted result: Bulls to win @ $2.45 – Sportsbet
Reds ($2.00) vs Brumbies ($1.83)
The first of two blockbuster clashes within the Australian conference will take place at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night as the struggling Reds host the conference leading Brumbies. Last weekend in Brisbane, the Reds succumbed to a well-drilled Western Force outfit, courtesy of a late Jayden Hayward try, whereas the Brumbies made light work of the travelling Blues from Auckland in miserable conditions in Canberra.
The Reds 2011 Super Rugby Championship seems a distant memory with the way the Brisbane-based team has started their 2014 campaign. The forwards haven’t had the edge on their opposition like the they once did and their backs, besides Quade Cooper are failing to fire on the big stage. In somewhat of a concern, the Reds are starting to make a habit of starting slow at Suncorp Stadium, which wouldn’t be ideal against a firing Brumbies outfit. Coach Richard Graham will be distraught at the fact that he lost to his old team, but with the Reds already beating the Brumbies this year, the mood in the camp will still be strong, especially with so much experience to call on. Coach Graham has made two changes to his line up for this week’s clash. Chris Feauai-Sautia comes onto the wing having sat out the last three matches and the firepower he adds to the backline might just be what the Reds need to get some go forward ball. Additionally, Mike Harris pulled up lame with an Achilles injury after the match against the Force last weekend, so Anthony Fainga’a, a 23-time Wallaby, will line up at inside centre. His partnership with Ben Tapuai, who made three clean line breaks last week, will be vital and the outside backs will need to be on their toes with one of the competitions best kicking teams coming to town. Flanker Beau Robinson continues to be a workhorse, making 18 tackles last weekend, but their lineout will need to be on the ball coming up against Ben Mowen and his troops.
The Brumbies will be extremely happy with their performance last week against a Blues team that had more X-Factor than all of the TV series combined. In slippery conditions, the Brumbies utilised their superior kicking and mauling game to record a 26 – 9 victory. Pat McCabe, who the bias home commentators often refer to as the Australian ‘Chuck Norris’, scored his first career double and Robbie Coleman, a man who plays well above his weight, also notched up his six try of the season. It was the first time the Brumbies have ever held the Blues tryless in 18 years of Super Rugby, which is a huge credit to their defensive systems. This week against the Reds, Coach Stephen Larkham has the luxury of recalling Scott Sio and Stephen Moore to the front row alongside Ben Alexander and their return couldn’t more timely as they will be coming up against an International front row. Siliva Siliva and JP Smith have been relegated to the pine and will most likely get some game time late in the second half. The only other change sees newcomer Tom Staniforth inserted into the number five lock position after injuries to Sam Carter and Leon Power. The backline remains the same and Larkham has opted for the settled combinations he has used over the last few weeks meaning Wallaby Christian Leali’ifano remains on the bench. Against the Blues, the Brumbies dominated territory and possession for the majority of the match and I have no doubts that they will look for field position once again this week in Brisbane.
The tide has changed in the Australian Conference since round two, when the Reds visited Canberra and cruised to a fairly comfortable 27 – 17 victory. Since then the Reds have gone 3 – 3, whereas the Brumbies have kicked on with a 5 – 1 stretch. The Reds have the home ground advantage, but the Brumbies are heading into this match with all the form and I expect the visitors to emulate what the Force achieved last weekend at Suncorp.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win @ 1.83 – Sportingbet
Best Bet 1: Brumbies to win @ 1.83 – Sportingbet
Chiefs ($1.20) vs Rebels ($4.70)
The Chiefs will be ecstatic to return home to Hamilton this week in a bid to secure some much needed competition points when they face the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday afternoon. Like many teams before them this season, the Chiefs returned home from Africa (and Perth) having not achieved a win, however, they have cemented themselves as the comeback kings after drawing once again 43 – 43, this time with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. In Dunedin, the Rebels were denied their maiden win against the Highlanders and it won’t get any easier this weekend against the Chiefs.
The last two weeks have dished up some of the Chiefs best rugby and some of their worst rugby, however, Coach Dave Rennie will be fuming after their two slow starts in South Africa, as they should’ve cost them vital competition points. In the first half against the Cheetahs, the Chiefs lacked rhythm, made too many uncharacteristic errors and were horrible at the set piece. However, it was a game of two halves and the second stanza saw the Chiefs play some sublime rugby, with Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Tim Nanai-Williams and Augustine Pulu all scoring two tries each. Nanai-Williams’ try after the hooter sealed a dramatic draw, but after the match they were met with the news that Aaron Cruden could be out for up to eight weeks with a broken thumb. This week, Gareth Anscombe will make his long-awaited start at fly half in a side that features seven other changes from last week’s draw to the Cheetahs. Coach Dave Rennie has recalled prop Jamie Mackintosh, lock Mike Fitzgerald, the stalwart flanker Tanerau Latimer and Kane Thompson will start at number eight. This is the first match the Liam Messam won’t be in the run on team this season and with the injury to Aaron Cruden, lock Brodie Retallick will captain the team for the first time. In the back line, Counties Manakau centre Bundee Ahki comes in at inside centre for his first match of the season, Mils Muliaina has been selected on the left wing and Tom Marshall will start at fullback. In my honest opinion, I think this is one of the weakest Chiefs teams over the previous two seasons, but there is still some firepower on the bench that they can call on.
The Melbourne Rebels are desperate to claim their first win on foreign soil and got within striking distance last weekend before falling short yet again to the Highlanders. Currently sitting in last position in the Australian conference, and 13th overall with a 2 – 4 (win-loss) record, the Rebels can ill-afford to loose many more games if they want to make 2014 their best season in franchise history, which ultimately would’ve been one of their main objectives this year. With the Rebels being the most recently created franchise, depth is often something that doesn’t get developed for a number of years and with nine players currently unavailable through injury, the Rebels are clearly suffering. Coach Tony McGahan will look to emulate a similar game plan to what Michael Foley and the Force used a few weeks ago and has kept faith in the majority of his team that went down to the Highlanders by only making one change to the starting fifteen. Colby Fainga’a returns to the starting line up after a week on the sidelines and Australian Sevens player Sean McMahon misses out. Tom Kingston has also recovered from concussion and takes his place on the bench, so look for him to use his speed against a tiring defense late in the match.
The Chiefs and the Rebels have only clashed on two occasions, with the Chiefs unsurprisingly winners of both. The home team hasn’t been as crisp this season and are having huge issues at set piece, however, their skill levels, experience and depth are unrivalled in this competition and I except them to beat a much-improved Melbourne Rebels team in Hamilton.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.20 – Sportsbet
Force ($2.55) vs Waratahs ($1.53)
For those with a vested interest in Australian rugby, all of their eyes will be fixated on the coverage from nib Stadium in Perth, when the Waratahs make a pit stop on Saturday evening. The Western Force have really turned their season around, especially after beating the Reds last week in Brisbane, whilst the Waratahs continue to develop and build their confidence after beating the Stormers in Cape Town.
In Brisbane, the Force reiterated why they are the Reds bogey team when former Hurricanes player, Jayden Hayward stepped three defenders late in the match to secure a hard-fought victory over the Reds and their second in succession at Suncorp Stadium. Before this, both teams were involved in an arm-wrestle that saw many ebbs and flows, however, the men from the west and particularly their bench managed to close out the match. A few week’s ago, Michael Foley’s head was on the chopping block, however, his team has galvanised and are playing some smart rugby that other teams are finding hard to cope with. Coach Foley has only made one change this week, which is injury-enforced, with ex-Stormers player Marcel Brache making his first start of the season in the outside centre position, as a result of the injury to Junior Rasolea. This match could well be season defining for the Force, who currently sit in the unfamiliar position of fifth place. A win against the ‘Tahs will really announce their title aspirations this season, but their second loss to the Waratahs of the season would symbolise that they are a season or two away from really threatening the front runners of the competition.
The Waratahs arrival in Perth signifies the culmination of their longest overseas tour of their campaign. After a mauling in Durban and with the faded memories of 2006 being the last time the Waratahs won in Cape Town, pressure was building and history was against them. However, against a hapless Stormers outfit, the Waratahs laboured to a 22 – 11 win, courtesy of some faultless kicking from Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley. The former had big boots to fill with Israel Folau’s unavailability and despite not crossing the try line as Folau seems to do with ease, he was a constant threat on attack and his distribution was pinpoint to his fellow teammates. The pack was powerful and has been rewarded with the same eight being selected this weekend by Coach Michael Cheika. However, injuries to regular wingers Peter Betham (broken foot) and Alofa Alofa (knee), looked likely to decimate the back three but with Israel Folau (fullback) deemed fit and Rob Horne (wing) returning from suspension, things aren’t looking too shabby. The final vacant wing spot has been handed to Cam Crawford, who has sufficiently recovered from an off-season injury, and with eight tries in seven games last season, he is a more than handy replacement.
The Force will be looking to avenge their round two trouncing from the Waratahs (43 – 21) in front of what should be a packed nib Stadium. The Force will be gunning for five consecutive victories for the first time in franchise history and although they are on a roll, the Waratahs have a more balanced side and the X-factor that should undo the Force’s sturdy defence on Saturday night.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.53 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Waratahs -4.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
Cheetahs ($2.30) vs Crusaders ($1.63)
The Cheetahs will return to Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein this weekend with mixed feelings after their performance against the Chiefs last weekend. Having raced to a 34 – 10 half time lead, they simply capitulated and allowed a much more skilled Chiefs team to snatch a draw. The Crusaders lie in wait and after beating the Lions last week, they will be looking to take another South African scalp and on the back of their historical dominance over the Cheetahs, they would be quietly confident.
Much like the Bulls in round seven, the Cheetahs hit the ground running in Bloemfontein coming fresh off their bye, racing out to what seemed like an unassailable lead over the reigning Super Rugby Champions. Sarel Pretorius was simply sensational and was a huge catalyst in the Cheetahs securing the four-try bonus point before the first half was even over. Johan Goosen and Willie le Roux showcased their precise kicking game and really had the Chiefs against the ropes, however, a second half capitulation undid what was easily the first half of rugby the Cheetahs have ever played. The Cheetahs came within a whisker of securing their first ever win against he Chiefs, but Naka Drotske and big Os du Randt looked helpless in the coaching box as they watched their lead disappear to a Chiefs team that are making a name for themselves as the comeback kings. Drotske has resisted the temptation to make any changes to his squad this week. Willie le Roux continues to feature in key statistic categories including total runs, total metres, total kicks and remains one of the finest attacking talents in the game. Inspirational skipper Adriaan Strauss also leads total pilfers, which is becoming a necessary skill for all hookers in the modern game.
After a traditionally poor start to the season, the Crusaders trip to South Africa was always going to be the make or break for their 2014 season. So far, so good as they beat the courageous, but error-ridden Lions like no other team has done this season. In doing so, the Crusaders also became the first New Zealand team to win in South Africa this year and also the first team to defeat the Lions on their home turf, which appears to be a pretty impressive feat given how the earlier rounds have played out. However, this weekend in Bloemfontein, the ‘Saders will come up against a classier team that held the Chiefs to a draw last weekend, so their result on Saturday will be a more accurate reflection of where they currently sit in terms of potential and form. Stand-in captain Ryan Crotty was one of the Crusaders best on the night and since receiving his first of five All Black caps last year, he has continued with that form and could quite easily feature in the AB’s plans this season. Coach Todd Blackadder will have breathed a huge sigh of relief after their win against the Lions, but he knows the job isn’t done yet and will need his troops to continue to improve week in and week out if they are to make the playoffs this year. He has the luxury of bringing back number eight Kieran Read this week after he has sufficiently recovered from a head knock and Luke Whitelock has returned to home to New Zealand to get his knee injury examined. Cory Flynn has also been recalled alongside prop Nepo Laulala and Andy Ellis, who has been in fine form from the base of rucks and the set piece, swaps with Willie Heinz.
The Cheetahs have won the last two times the Crusaders have visited Bloemfontein, however, their defense is a huge concern at the moment. Although the Crusaders are having issues offensively, their defense hasn’t been bad at all and I expect some of the All Blacks big names to stand up and deliver a couple of knockout punches in the second half.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.63 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Crusaders -3.0 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Lions ($3.45) vs Sharks ($1.32)
The Lions return to Ellis Park on Saturday evening to wrap up round nine when the table-topping Sharks embark on South Africa’s most iconic rugby venue. The Lions felt the wrath of the perennial superpowers, the Crusaders last weekend, suffering a 28 – 7 defeat. On the other hand, the Sharks had a well-deserved bye and will be looking to recommence stage three of their campaign with a strong performance over one of the competition’s surprise packets. The last time these two teams clashed was in round four when the Sharks raced to a bonus point victory over the Lions in very muggy conditions in Durban.
The Lions have had a great start to the year and have already won more matches (four) than I thought they would win all season. Currently sitting seventh on the log, the Lions have claimed some big scalps, however, they look stretched to beat the top three in the competition. Against the Crusaders, they were guilty of trying to play too much rugby and as a result of pushed passes and impatient attack, they coughed the ball up on a number of occasions and a team like the Crusaders never need a second invitation to capitalise. Their forward pack remains industrious and players like Willie Britz and Jaco Kriel can stand tall after their performances to date. Furthermore, halfback Faf de Klerk has been one of the Lions’ shining lights this season using his sniping runs and bullet passes to make inroads into the defensive lines of opposition teams. The Lions like to play a quick game, however, they will need to adopt a more balanced approach against the teams with more street smarts than they have. At the time of writing and I know I am sounding like a bit of a stuck record, Johan Ackermann has not released his line up, but unless he can somehow convince Paul O’Connell, Manu Tuilagi and Leigh Halfpenny to run out for their other Lion cousins this week, I can’t see them troubling the front runners.
The Sharks are sitting pretty at the top of the Super Rugby Championship having won five matches from six attempts and coming fresh off the bye, they will be looking to start this eight-match stretch in a positive manner. Last time out. against a star-studded Waratahs outfit, the Sharks used their brute strength and territorial advantage to outclass the Waratahs 32 – 10 in a one-sided match in Durban. Consequently, Coach Jake White has named an unchanged starting 15 for their trip to Johannesburg. The forward pack looks confronting and fly half Fred Zeilinga had a positive start to his young career and alleviated some of the stresses that were caused by the injury to Patrick Lambie. Lwazi Mvovo continues at fullback and Odwa Ndungane will be the latest Super Rugby player to join the 100-club, only a few weeks after his brother Akona achieved it with the Bulls. Odwa has been a one-club man and although he hasn’t always set the world alight, he is a consistent performer at this level and is an important part of the Sharks back three. Frans Steyn also looks to be playing some of his best rugby and Jake White’s influence on Steyn is very similar to Ewen McKenzie’s ability to extract the best out of Quade Cooper (something Robbie Deans couldn’t do).
The Lions have surprised many this year with a largely unheralded squad, however, the Crusaders delivered a blueprint last week that the Sharks will look to emulate in Johannesburg. The Sharks pack is huge, their backs are fast and there simply appears to be too much of a class difference for the Lions to cause an upset here. Additionally, the Sharks haven’t lost in Jo’burg since 2001, so I don’t think any more convincing is needed.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.32 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Sharks -8.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early Twitter play)
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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