Best Bet 1: Highlanders -13.5 (vs Cheetahs) @ $1.90 – Sportsbet (early twitter play)
Best Bet 2: Crusaders -11.5 (vs Bulls) @ $1.87 – Tab.co.nz (early twitter play)
HURRICANES ($1.05) VS STORMERS ($10.00)
The 11th round of Super Rugby kicks off at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday with a match between the reigning Champions, the Hurricanes and the Stormers. The Hurricanes are coming into this fixture fresh off their bye and knowing that the Stormers have leaked 57 points in each of their tour matches in New Zealand against the Crusaders and the Highlanders. The Hurricanes have beaten the Stormers four of the last six times this match has been played in Wellington.
Both teams are limping into this matchup with a number of their star players and leaders unavailable due to injury. The Hurricanes are without captain Dane Coles, now due to concussion symptoms for another week, which will be a real worry for coach Chris Boyd and surely All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. The Stormers will be without their towering international lock duo of Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit. The Cape-based side has now conceded 17 tries and 114 points on tour after starting the season with six consecutive wins. The Stormers have lost seven consecutive games in New Zealand and without their leadership and it being the third match on tour, I expect the Hurricanes to blitz to a comfortable victory in Wellington.
Predicted result: Hurricanes win with a bonus point @ $1.05 – Sportsbet
CHEETAHS ($5.00) VS HIGHLANDERS ($1.17)
The late-night match from Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein sees the struggling Cheetahs host the Highlanders. The Cheetahs have now lost six matches in a row after being completely outclassed against the Crusaders last weekend. On the other hand, the Highlanders have now won five in a row after a slow start to the season, last week easily disposing of the Stormers in Dunedin. The Highlanders have won nine of the 10 matches played between each other, including all five matches in Bloemfontein.
The Cheetahs had a good start to the season winning two of their first three matches, however, they have now lost six matches on the trot. The Highlanders are quite the opposite having had a slow start to the season, but they are now finding their feet having won their last five. The Dunedin-based outfit’s 43-point win over the Stormers was their greatest victory margin in the club’s history and they head to South Africa in search of a maximum 10 competition points (including next week versus the Bulls). Despite not being able to call upon co-Captain Ben Smith this week, the Highlanders should be able to put away a Cheetahs outfit that is down on confidence, quite easily.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win comfortably @ $1.17 – Sportsbet
REBELS ($6.00) VS LIONS ($1.15)
The Rebels return to AAMI Park in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon to face last year’s beaten finalists, the Lions from Johannesburg. In round ten, the Rebels season hit a new low, maintaining their winless record in South Africa at the hands of a 3 – 44 thumping by the Kings. The Lions extended their winning streak to six games, which is a club record, with a win against the Western Force in Perth.
The Rebels return to Melbourne after a topsy-turvy tour to South Africa that saw them draw with the Sharks, before getting absolutely belted by the Kings. The Rebels were held tryless in consecutive matches for the first time in their seven-year history. The loss of halfback and captain Nick Stirzaker pre-match to injury and the loss of his replacement Mick Snowden early in the match, saw the Rebels using reserve back rowers as their halfback. As a result, they simply failed to control the game and a more expansive Kings outfit put together their best ever Super Rugby performance. Looking at the Lions, their attitude is what is getting them through games at the moment, not their form or attack which has been so hard for other teams to handle over the past couple of seasons. The Lions have been in Melbourne all week and will be well acclimatised to Australian conditions by now. The Rebels will put up a fight, but the Lions have more to play for. The Lions will be looking to extend their three-match unbeaten record against the Rebels and they have now won their past three games in Australia (their longest winning streak in Australia) and I expect them to do that by double-digits in Melbourne this weekend.
Predicted result: Lions to win @ $1.15 – Sportsbet
CHIEFS ($1.06) VS Reds ($9.00)
For the first time this season, the Chiefs take Super Rugby to Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth, where they’ll face the Queensland Reds on Saturday evening. The Chiefs were given a scare in last weekend’s 27 – 20 victory over the Sunwolves in Hamilton, however, fullback Damien McKenzie continued his fine form in bagging his third career double. The Reds weren’t as lucky, losing their seventh match in succession to the Waratahs (26 – 29), despite leading the match at halftime. The Chiefs have won the last two matches they have played against the Reds, by 21 and 45 points respectively.
The Chiefs have won eight out of nine this season, but notably, they have ‘struggled’ for fluency against South African and Australian opposition this year. They are a world class team and are even stronger at home, having won nine of their last ten matches. The Reds have underperformed this season and only a few individual cameos each match have brought any sort of respectability to their season. Namely, Lukhan George Smith and Karmichael Hunt last week against the ‘Tahs. Everything seems to be going against the Queensland side at the moment, including some refereeing decisions, but c’est la vie. The Chiefs have a bye next week and they won’t want to go into that one on the back of another subpar performance. By all accounts, Coach Dave Rennie has put a rocket up his team this week and stated that they need to show they are a championship-calibre team and I think the state of Queensland rugby is going to be exacerbated across the ditch on Saturday with an easy Chiefs victory.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win comfortably @ $1.06 – Sportsbet
WARATAHS ($3.20) VS BLUES ($1.35)
The Waratahs return to Allianz Stadium on Saturday night to face the Auckland Blues. The Waratahs were forced to come from behind last weekend against the Reds, with flyhalf Bernard Foley’s boot proving to be the difference. The Blues were also victorious in Canberra, winning 18 – 12, however, the margin of victory should’ve been much higher given how they dominated possession and territory and forced the Brumbies to miss over 50 tackles. Last year’s match saw the Blues win 34 – 28 in Auckland.
The Waratahs and the Blues both had big wins in the context of their seasons last weekend. The Waratahs found a way to beat their oldest foe, the Reds in Brisbane on the back of the ‘ice man’, Bernard Foley. The Waratahs have come-from-behind at halftime in all three of their victories this season, so if they are behind at the break and the margin is narrow, consider a play. What was most impressive about the Blues trip to Canberra, was their ability to hold the home team tryless for the first time since 2007. The Blues have won seven straight against Australian opposition and three straight in Australia for the first time since 2000.
The Blues have this bad habit of drifting in and out of games, but when they turn it on, they play some sublime rugby. I still think they are a year or two away from challenging the rest of their New Zealand counterparts, much like the rest of the competition. The Waratahs are going to be a tough opponent as I think the tide has turned for them this season, however, the Blues have shown that they are more than capable on the road and have enough strike power across the park to get another vital win in Sydney.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $1.35 – Sportsbet
SHARKS ($1.13) VS FORCE ($6.00)
The Sharks welcome the Western Force to Kings Park in Durban on Saturday night. The home team return home from Buenos Aires with a vital 33 – 25 win under their belts extending their unbeaten record over the Argentinians. The Force were once again dogged at home, however, weren’t good enough to stop a confident Lions outfit, going down 15 – 24. The Sharks have never lost to the Force in Durban and have one the last seven matches played.
The Sharks showed a great deal of character and composure to secure victory in Buenos Aires last week and if they repeat that this weekend, they shouldn’t have a great deal of trouble with the Force, who are an entirely different team away from home. The Force have now lost eight of their last night matches against South African opposition and an interesting stat is that the Force have been held tryless in four of their last eight games against South African teams. The Force’s injury toll is huge not being able to call upon first-choice players like Adam Coleman (lock), Angus Cottrell (flanker), Ben McCalman (number eight), Ryan Louwrens (halfback), Luke Morahan (wing), Chance Peni (wing) and Dane Haylett-Petty (fullback). Back at home, the Sharks will be gunning for a wild card spot and nothing less than five competition points will suffice in Durban. The Force will provide resistance, but the on-point boot of the newly selected South African under-20 player, Curwin Bosch, will more than likely be too much.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.13 – Sportsbet
BULLS ($5.00) VS CRUSADERS ($1.17)
The Bulls face the table-topping Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night. The Bulls will be looking for their third successive victory this season, but face a Crusaders outfit that hammered the Cheetahs 48 – 14, last weekend in Bloemfontein. The last time these two teams clashed, the Bulls won 31 – 19 in Pretoria and the Crusaders haven’t tasted victory there since 2008.
Once upon a time, this was one of the matches of the season. Both teams have experienced huge talent drains over the years, however, the Christchurch conveyor belt continues to churn out world-class rugby players. I picked the Bulls to be one of the stronger teams in South Africa this season, but three wins from eight matches makes a mockery of that early season call. Coach Nollis Marais must be slightly concerned about his long-term duration at the helm of the ‘Blou Bulle’ and it doesn’t get any easier this week for him and his troops. The Crusaders remain undefeated in 2017, having won nine matches on the trot. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Kieran Read broke his thumb and looks set to miss around six weeks of action and captain Sam Whitelock has been suspended for a reckless forearm to the face of one of the Cheetahs players last weekend. Youngster flyhalf Richie Mo’unga is really taking his opportunity in a jersey that has been worn in the past by Andrew Mehrtens and Dan Carter, two greats of the game. The 22-year-old wing George Bridge has scored a hat-trick in back-to-back matches and becomes the first player to achieve this feat in Super Rugby history. The Crusaders might not pack the same punch this week, but given their extremely difficult schedule coming up, a rare five points is a must in Pretoria and they should do it with ease.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.17 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Crusaders -11.5 (vs Bulls) @ $1.87 – Tab.co.nz (early twitter play)
JAGUARES ($1.04) VS SUNWOLVES ($11.00)
The Jaguares and the Sunwolves will clash for only the second time in their history, this time at the Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires. The Sharks snapped the Jaguares four match winning streak at home last week, but the Sunwolves will be pleased with their performance in a narrow loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton. The first clash between these two saw the Sunwolves beat the Jaguares 36 – 28 in Tokyo last season.
The battle of the expansion teams is always an interesting one and it comes at an intriguing time of the season this year. The Jaguares have hit a slump losing four in a row, whereas, a three-week tour of New Zealand has seen the Sunwolves get thumped by the Crusaders, suppressed by the Highlanders, before securing a losing bonus point against the high-flying Chiefs last weekend. The 27 points conceded by the Sunwolves in Hamilton was the fewest points they have ever allowed away from home, so things are certainly heading in the right direction for the Sunwolves. In saying that, the Sunwolves have now lost all 12 of their games outside of Japan/Singapore and I expect a Test-match laden outfit of the Jaguares to be too strong in front of their home crowd, who will be demanding a win from their team. The handicap does seem a bit high though.
Predicted result: Jaguares to win @ $1.04 – Sportsbet