Best Bet 1: Crusaders/Rebels/Chiefs/Stormers @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
CRUSADERS ($1.06) VS BULLS ($9.00)
The sixth week of Super Rugby action kicks off at AMI Stadium in Christchurch where the Crusaders host the Bulls. The reigning champion Crusaders suffered their second loss in succession last week, this time to the Highlanders (17-25) in Dunedin, whereas, the Bulls were kept scoreless in the second half, to fall gallantly to the Chiefs (28-41) in Hamilton. Last year’s match between these two sides saw the Crusaders hammer the Bulls 62-24 in Pretoria, but a more important statistic is that the Bulls are winless in 10 trips to Christchurch.
REBELS ($1.50) VS SHARKS ($2.60)
The second match on Friday night sees the Rebels host the Sharks at AAMI Park in Melbourne. The Rebels unbeaten run came to an end last Sunday in Sydney, falling to the Waratahs (27-51), despite leading 20-3 in the first half. An ill-disciplined and scrappy sharks outfit also battled to a 17-24 loss against the Brumbies in Canberra. The Sharks have a dominant record over the Rebels having won four of the five matches played, but last year the Rebels did manage to sneak a 9-9 draw against the Sharks, despite playing most of the match with a one-man advantage.
Up until late in the first half, the Rebels looked likely to notch up another victory over their Australian counterparts, however, they capitulated in worrying fashion. The Rebels took their feet off the gas and showed bad signs of complacency and were rightly punished for it on the scoreboard and by coach Dave Wessels in the change rooms after the match. Their lineout was poor (3/7) and they struggled to get their hands on the ball, as the Waratahs continued to knock the wind out of them with dominance in territory and possession. By no means am I taking anything away from the Waratahs performance, but Wessels and fans should’ve expected more from their team, and as a result, he has made a number of changes for this clash. This week they face a Sharks outfit that has been disappointing at best this season. Dubbed as a potential South African conference winner, the Sharks have been weak in the scrums and guilty of conceding far too many penalties. Their eagerness too go wide without earning the right has been costly this season and they’ll get punished if they try the same approach this week. Traditionally, the Sharks have been good on the road in Australasia, but I am going to back the Rebels to get the important win in Melbourne on Friday, bouncing back from the shock of last week and consolidating their position at the top of the Australian conference.
Predicted result: Rebels to win @ $1.50 – Sportsbet
SUNWOLVES ($10.25) VS CHIEFS ($1.05)
Super Rugby returns to the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday afternoon when the Sunwolves host the Chiefs. The Sunwolves were brave and much improved in their 38-40 defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg last weekend. The Chiefs also showed great fightback to overcome a two-try halftime deficit to the Bulls, eventually running out 41-28 winners in their first home game of the season. The Chiefs and the Sunwolves have clashed just the one time in Super Rugby, resulting in a 27-20 win to the home side in Hamilton last season.
The Sunwolves have the ability to score some great tries and have a great fitness base as they continue to play for the 80 minutes, however, their defence (62/97 tackles) continues to be a big problem. This is largely due to the lack of pre-season due to the Japanese Top League season only finishing just prior to the start of Super Rugby. They came within a whisker of earning their biggest ever scalp last weekend against the Lions, but the same issues (lineout, defence, discipline) continue to plague them. The Chiefs will be well aware of the threats the Sunwolves pose and will welcome a open game of rugby. Brodie Retallick put in another phenomenal performance for the Chiefs, scoring two tries against the Bulls and was supported by prop Aidan Ross and outside centre Anton Lienert-Brown, who also produced strong displays. Retallick’s locking partner last Saturday, Mitchell Brown, has been sidelined for the rest season after rupturing his ACL, adding to what has already become an unfathomable casualty ward. Despite the Chiefs injury concerns, coach Colin Cooper has still named a team that should be able to care of the home side by double digits. The handicap does seem a bit steep though.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.05 – Sportsbet
HURRICANES ($1.45) VS HIGHLANDERS ($2.76)
The match of the round will see the Hurricanes host the undefeated Highlanders at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday night. The Hurricanes will return from their bye, refreshed and confident having dispatched the Crusaders at this venue, two weeks ago. The Highlanders remain the only undefeated team in the competition having also beaten the reigning champions last weekend under the roof in Dunedin, in what was a highly entertaining fixture. The Hurricanes won this corresponding clash 41-15 last year in Wellington and have won three of the last four matches played in the nation’s capital.
I expect the Hurricanes to win the competition this year as they have a great blend of youth and experience and world beaters in key positions. The return of Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen to the bench this week will add some stability to the front row, but they will miss the presence of lock Vaea Fifita. They have one of the best back rows in the competition with flanker Ardie Savea in fine form so far this season. TJ Perenara will rack up his 100th Super Rugby cap this weekend adding another accolade to his resume that already includes holding the record for most tries scored by a halfback in this competition. Their Rolls-Royce back line will only get stronger with the eventual return of Nehe Milner-Skudder, but being able to call upon five All Blacks at this point isn’t too shabby.
The Highlanders are quietly announcing themselves as title contenders in 2018. For a pack containing only three players with All Black experience (and very limited at that), they punch way above their weight week-in and week-out. Given the quality of their back line, if the forwards can gain any sort of parity up front, other teams struggle to contain the likes of Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith. However, what is interesting is that the Highlanders actually kick the ball more than any other team in Super Rugby – they are happy to play without the ball. They put a lot of emphasis on their fitness and defence which allows them to capitalise on the mistakes they force their opposition into making. Coach Aaron Mauger has brought in man-of-the-match from last week Elliott Dixon to replace the injured Liam Squire and young Tyrel Lomax, a player with a big future, starts at tighthead prop.
This will be the first trip outside of Dunedin for the Highlanders this year and they are coming up against a powerful and talented squad. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if they got the victory in the windy city, however, I do believe the locals will inflict some pain on the Highlanders and cause their first defeat of the season in a game that is not to be missed.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.45 – Sportsbet
STORMERS ($1.19) VS REDS ($4.75)
The Stormers welcome the Reds to Newlands Stadium in Cape Town on Saturday night. The Stormers surprised many (including myself) with an impressive 37-20 victory over the Blues last weekend, despite having to deal with the travel factor and number of injuries and sickness amongst the camp. The Reds were also solid in Buenos Aires, notching up their third successive victory (18-7) for the first time in five years. The last match between these two in Cape Town saw the Stormers secure a comfortable 40-22 victory, with the Reds winless there since 2011.
After three disappointing defeats on their Australasian tour, the Stormers stormed back into contention with a physically imposing victory over the Blues. Springbok forwards Wilco Louw, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit had their best outings of the season and young flyhalf Damien Willemse mesmerised the Blues with a 17-point performance that will no doubt see him selected for the Springboks squad in June. This week they welcome a Reds outfit that have put together three gritty performances, resulting in three victories based off a strong set piece and resolute defence. They have trouble scoring tries (the fewest scored in the competition), but Brad Thorn’s hardened troops seem to have the ability to stifle their opposition’s strengths and limit their attacking ability. The fact that they had to make an astonishing 149 second half tackles against the Jaguares and still won is very impressive. Whether they can keep that up on the road in South Africa will be their next big test, but I think a confident Stormers outfit will have too much in the tank for a young Reds outfit that hasn’t found their attacking groove and have been forced to travel from Brisbane-Buenos Aires-London-Cape Town over the last week. $4.75 for the Reds to win this match is good value considering both teams recent performances, but the Stormers have the pack to match them.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $1.27 – Sportsbet
JAGUARES ($3.35) VS LIONS ($1.33)
The final match of the round takes place at the Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires, where the struggling Jaguares host the Lions. The Jaguares were brought back down to earth last week with yet another embarrassing loss to the Reds (7-18) and the Lions were forced to dig deep in their 40-38 victory over the travelling Sunwolves. The Lions have won the last two matches against the Jaguares, however, both matches played in Buenos Aires have resulted in a victory to the home side, primarily due to the Lions sending understrength teams to compete.
The Lions are now 10 competition points ahead of the second-ranked team in South Africa (Stormers), which probably says more about the lack of quality in South Africa than the Lions actually playing very well, because they aren’t. Sure it was an experimental side with a number of first choice players rested against the Sunwolves, but a bonus point really would’ve been considered par for the course against a team that has never won outside of Japan. This week they come up against an experienced Jaguares outfit, that is more inconsistent than any team that I can remember in the history of Super Rugby. The Jaguares had no right to lose to the Reds last week. Sure their scrum was under pressure all match and lineout was completely picked apart (11/16), but the home side conceded a whopping 26 turnovers, many of which occurred in the Reds half of the field. I’m surprised they still attract a decent crowd to their games as they would be one of the hardest teams to follow in world sport. The Lions have a dominant record over the Jaguares and if they can’t beat them in Buenos Aires, they won’t rate as genuine title threats this season. It’s not going to be pretty and I expect a lot of points in this match, but I’m picking last year’s runners-up to get the chocolates in Buenos Aires.
Predicted result: Lions to win @ $1.33 – Sportsbet