In another disastrous round of tipping, the Super Rugby competition is well and truly starting to heat up, as the upcoming matches will be crucial to where teams finish on the overall log. At the halfway point of the competition, the Brumbies, Chiefs and Sharks lead their divisions, but could all be relegated from top position pending this round of fixtures. Hesitantly I will say that this round looks relatively easier to pick, however, a lot of us have made this mistake before. Interestingly, three South African franchises, namely the Sharks, Bulls and Stormers, have currently scored the fewest tries in the competition. With a number of these teams still to play each other, they could all very much cannibalise their chances of moving forwards into the playoff rounds (barring one team who qualifies automatically). A lot of teams are suffering injuries to key players and depth is being tested, but in the coming weeks as the intensity of the competition increases, be sure to tune into the important fixtures starting with the Reds and the Brumbies this weekend. Happy tipping, punting or predicting and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat.
Best Bet 1: Chiefs -4.5 @ $1.92
Best Bet 2: Crusaders/Chiefs/Hurricanes/Bulls @ $2.69
Best Bet 3: Brumbies +12.5/Cheetahs +12.5/ @ $1.78
Hurricanes ($1.17) versus Force ($5.25)
Not often does a round of Super Rugby kick off without a traditional New Zealand derby, however, this week the Hurricanes will look at getting back on the horse as they welcome the inconsistent Western Force to town. The Hurricanes were completely outplayed and blown off the park in Auckland last week while the Force will be riding high after they once again proved to be a banana skin for the Super Rugby powerhouses, the Crusaders.
A well known proverb in rugby states that defence wins matches and in recent weeks, the Hurricanes have conceded way too many tries, especially given they have played two teams in the bottom half of the standings. It is fair to say that they have been missing a few of their stalwarts including Dane Coles, Victor Vito and Jeremy Thrush, but at this stage of the season not a single team can field their first choice fifteen (except maybe the Reds). As a result of last week’s 28 – 6 drubbing from the Blues, coach Mark Hammett has made four changes including the return of Thrush, which should bolster their forward pack. The Hurricanes will once again persist with Beauden Barrett at fullback despite a couple of sub-par performances from the back. Additionally, the Hurricanes failed to cross the try-line last weekend for the first time since round three when they came up against a staunch Reds defence in Brisbane.
The Force will field a largely unchanged line up from last week, with the exception of prop Sales Ma’afu, as coach Michael Foley will be hesitant to tinker with combinations that worked so well against the Crusaders. Their forward pack continues to stand up and it is exciting to see backrower Richard Brown playing with the ferocity and confidence he had when he regularly featured in the Wallabies squad. Special mention must go to Ed Stubbs who picked up a man of the match accolade in his debut game, thanks to two massive hits in defence that will be sure to feature on the end of season highlight reel. Kyle Godwin a former Australia under 20 representative is having a breakthrough season in the number 12 jersey and if he starts landing a higher percentage of kicks, he could well be a player that the Australian coaching panel look at for the future. He attacks the gain line well, which creates space for other players, has a good offloading game and is safe in defence.
The Hurricanes can ill-afford to lose this week if they want to keep their playoff aspirations alive, whereas the Force know they will be hitting the showers at the end of regular season play. Very rarely are the team from Perth involved in an entertaining match given the style of rugby that they play, but I get the feeling that they will be forced to this weekend, as they will most likely be chasing the match.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win @ $1.17 – Sportsbet
Waratahs ($2.58) versus Chiefs ($1.52)
Sydney plays host to an important fixture on Friday evening as the Chiefs travel across the ditch to play a demoralised, but revitalised Waratahs outfit coming fresh off a bye. Last time out, the Waratahs were outclassed by the Hurricanes in a match that had plenty of tries and very little defence. Conversely, the Chiefs and the Reds were involved in a grand final-like match in Hamilton with the Chiefs receiving a serious wake up call having failed to pick up a solitary point.
The Waratahs three victories in 2013 have come against two teams in the bottom half of the standings, the Rebels and the Force, with their other victory against a Blues outfit that I can’t see making the playoffs. Coach Michael Cheika has mentioned that they are well and truly out of the playoff race so given this release of pressure, I believe they will be more inclined to throw the ball around and take a few more risks. Their forward back has been reinforced following the return of the bruise brothers, Tatafu “KO” Polota-Nau and Wycliff Palu. Both players haven’t been on top of their game this year and will use the next stanza of matches to put their names forward for the British & Irish Lions series in June. The ‘tahs are in a position now to experiment with the future in mind and Cam Crawford will make his Waratahs debut. Drew Mitchell has announced his exit from Australian rugby and has taken up a contract in Toulon where fellow ex-Wallabies Rocky Elsom and Matt Giteau currently ply their trade. All in all, there is more than enough class in the squad and I wouldn’t be surprise if they knock off a few more highly fancied sides en route to their tournament exit.
When you analyse the Chiefs recent performances, there are a few obvious concerns given their inability to compete against the tournament heavyweights having lost to the Reds and the Stormers already and their performance last week has sent shockwaves through the tournament frequency channel. They have a well-rounded squad with a strong tight five, adaptable back row and an illusive backline, but any more defeats and they will certainly lose their championship lustre and their opponent’s belief levels will rise exponentially. Dave Rennie has made several changes for this week’s encounter, but given the depth in their squad they can afford to do this. The Chiefs head into this match with a strong bench as they will be able to call on Tanerau Latimer, Tim Nanai-Williams and Gareth Anscombe to inject some of their creativity and class at some stage in the second half.
This match sees two teams with different agendas square off and I am certain that there will be very little backing for the Waratahs. The ‘tahs are out of the playoff race while the Chiefs need to start building momentum heading into the July window and another loss would have detrimental effects to both team morale and their positioning in the New Zealand conference. The Chiefs are a champion side and I expect them to return to the winner’s circle this weekend, but expect a refreshed Waratahs outfit that is full of running with nothing to lose so I can’t see it being a blowout.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.52 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Chiefs -4.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Crusaders ($1.22) versus Highlanders ($4.40)
At long last the Crusaders return to AMI stadium as they host the disappointing and winless Highlanders. In what was the upset of the year, an injury-depleted Canterbury outfit succumbed to their bogey team and a gallant Western Force in Perth and they will be smarting and looking forward to putting on an impressive performance in front of their home fans. It was more of the same for the Highlanders last week and they remain winless after losing to a much-improved Brumbies display.
The Crusaders currently sit fourth in a tightly bunched New Zealand conference. Two of their next four games are against top four opposition in the Brumbies and the Chiefs so another loss could be quite costly to their 2013 campaign. It was announced last weekend that Richie McCaw will not take part in this year’s competition and Dan Carter suffered another injury, which will have him sidelined for the next couple of weeks. With Kieran Read battling his own injury problems, the spine of their team remains on the sidelines but as we all have become well accustomed to, the Crusaders cannot be taken lightly and their development programs regularly unearth new talent. Andy Ellis’ form has dipped significantly this year and they made a number of uncharacteristic errors last week, but I expect a much-improved performance on Saturday.
Contrary to initial preseason predictions, the Highlanders have been woeful having failed to secure a single victory this year. The health of their franchise is deteriorating but the Highlanders board has confirmed that coach Jamie Joseph still has the full support of their stakeholders. If they continue to lose, I am certain they will change their tune and given the costs of the development of Forsyth-Barr Stadium, they need their turnstiles active for the rest of the season. The fact that they have scored the fewest amount of points and let in the third most doesn’t paint a pretty picture. A shining light for them in the last few weeks has been Mose Tuiali’i who answered an SOS and returned home from Japan. He hasn’t played Super Rugby for five years, but he doesn’t look like he has skipped a beat and a number of his teammates could learn a thing or ten from him. Momentum is a huge part in any sport and you get the feeling that if they break their duck, they have the ability to chalk up a few more victories but it is a tough ask against the mighty red and blacks this weekend.
The Crusaders are two from two at home this season, but have lost two consecutive matches. Put simply, there is no way that anyone can back the Highlanders this week (unless you need a few tipping upsets, but still probably too early for that) and I expect the Crusaders to come home strongly despite a tough tour.
Predicted result: Crusaders to win @ $1.22 – Sportsbet
Reds ($1.67) versus Brumbies ($2.25)
A sea of red will sprawl over Suncorp Stadium on Saturday evening as the table-topping Brumbies come to town in an important Australian conference fixture. The Reds are riding high after sounding a warning to the rest of the competition last week on the back of outclassing the Chiefs on their home turf. Whilst the Brumbies returned to the winner’s circle by predictably beating the Highlanders in New Zealand. These games haven’t been the most exciting in recent years including a dour 6 – 3 outcome at Suncorp Stadium a few years ago, but the pressure gauge will be right up and this will be sure to be a match riddled with tense moments.
The Reds have strung a few wins together in recent weeks and are starting to look like the team that took out the 2011 Super Rugby championship. It is well documented that Will Genia and James Horwill are linchpins within their franchise and this has been evident in recent weeks. As Quade Cooper was left out of an initial Wallabies training squad last week, he announced his dissatisfaction with an extremely impressive performance in Hamilton where he took the game by the scruff of the neck and illuminated the fact that he simply cannot be left out the Wallabies unit. Ewen Mckenzie has an exceptional record against New Zealand opposition having now won 10 out of the last 14 matches played and the Reds will have no fear in travelling across the ditch in the playoff rounds – if they have to.
On the flip side, the Brumbies started the season off in scintillating fashion, however, in recent weeks their form has teetered. If they play like they have in the last four rounds, they will get beaten, but they have named a strong line up to combat a Reds team that is quickly building confidence. Their back row is impressive as hard man Fotu Auilua has been brought back to lock the scrum and will play alongside the evergreen George Smith and the Brumbies unsung hero, Ben Mowen. Their halves are accurate in what they do and their outside backs have electric pace and will counterattack any wayward Reds kicks. An underlying battle in this match revolves around both coaches, Ewen McKenzie and Jake White, as they are on record stating they would be interested in the Wallabies job when it comes up for renewal at the end of the year.
This is a difficult match to pick and the Reds will be looking to overturn their comprehensive loss to the Brumbies in round one. In what will be the biggest Australian derby of the entire season in front of a huge crowd in Brisbane, I expect the Reds to balance the season ledger (especially at home), but I will stay away from this one and enjoy it for what it is.
Predicted result: Reds to win @ $1.67 – Sportsbet
Sharks ($1.33) versus Cheetahs ($3.40)
This week, the Sharks return home to their tank to play their land rivals, the Cheetahs in a crucial matchup. The Sharks will be looking to distance themselves from other South African teams in their conference with a win, while the Cheetahs can actually become conference leaders (albeit briefly if the Bulls beat the Kings with a bonus point) if they get the result. The Shark tank will be buzzing and I would expect nothing but a fierce and ferocious battle to determine the conference ‘yellow jersey’.
The Sharks offensive frailties continue to be at the forefront of many of their fan’s minds having failed to score a try in their past two fixtures and if it wasn’t for their demolition over a gutless Rebels outfit, their attacking stats have been woeful. It is fair to say that they have some key players out (du Plessis and Alberts), but they simply aren’t playing like the team that achieved the runners up tag last year. Despite sitting atop the South African conference and being positioned in what is most probably the most competitive conference in the competition, they need to start crossing the chalk and picking up some crucial attacking bonus points. It hasn’t been an easy week at Sharks training given they lost 13 players for the bulk of the time to the Springbok training camp, but you just get the feeling that they are going to click shortly and make a strong surge during the second half of the season, as they did last year.
The Cheetahs dream run of a franchise record five consecutive victories ended last week at the hands of the Bulls, but they certainly pushed them into the final stanza away from home. They still managed a losing-bonus point thanks to a last minute penalty, but were also on the losing side of the try-scoring battle (2:1). I don’t believe the Cheetahs have been in the top six before (at this stage of the competition) and they have had trouble against South African opposition in the past. Another loss will surely put a huge dent in their playoff hopes, as they will drop several places down the log due the compactness of the current situation.
The Sharks have an impressive record at home and their home fans will expect them to take care of the Cheetahs this weekend. In another incredibly tight South African derby, I have to put my chips on the Sharks given their experience, record and a team that thrives under the Durban sky.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.33 – Sportsbet
Kings ($4.20) versus Bulls ($1.24)
The Kings are finally home after their first Australasian tour and will no doubt look forward to bringing their winning form to Port Elizabeth, where a dangerous Bulls team awaits. The Kings have been the surprise packets of the competition having drawn with the Brumbies and coming up trumps against the Rebels in Melbourne last week. The Bulls are much the same as they derailed the Cheetahs franchise record five consecutive victories.
The Kings story has been nothing short of admirable given their ‘unimpressive’ squad full of unknown players. Their entrance into the Super Rugby fray has been endearing and they have picked up many extra fans along the way. Season captain Luke Watson has said that ‘his side uses anti-Kings sentiment, and the growing support of others as motivation’ and this is clearly evident in their recent results. They started the season as a defensively oriented team, however, in recent weeks they have managed to score a few tries of their own and finish the final twenty minutes of the match stronger than any other franchise.
The Bulls are riding high after ending the Cheetahs win streak at home last weekend and will look to carry this form to Port Elizabeth in the final match of the round. Morne Steyn’s territorial kicking has been instrumental in recent weeks and he has a knack of keeping his pack running forwards. This is when the Bulls are most dangerous and a strategy that has worked extremely well for them over the years. The Bulls haven’t been able to put teams away this season with a maximum victory of ten points, so this match could remain tight, but the Bulls need this consolidation victory more than ever so I expect their superstars to stand up. Bjorn Basson will make his return off the bench, but coach Frans Ludeke, with freshly born triplets has named an unchanged starting line up. This will allow his combinations to gel further and also allows some of the younger team members such as Jan Serfontein and fullback Jürgen Visser to get some game time alongside more experienced veterans.
The long travel back to South Africa will no doubt affect the Kings, given they received an absolute thumping to the Chiefs after travelling across the Indian and the Pacific first time around. Their hometown fans will no doubt buy into their recent successes, but the Bulls have too much to play for and will play with confidence this weekend and prevail by more than a score.
Predicted result: Bulls to win @ $1.24 – Sportsbet