Another round of Super Rugby down and another round of some extremely surprising results. The Sharks all but ended their playoff aspirations, the Reds ‘failed’ again in their Western Force examination and the Brumbies opened up the competition having been completely outplayed by the Crusaders. An important statistic to note and especially heading into the business end of the tournament, is that the Super Rugby champions have finished either first or second at the end of regular season play, on all but one occasion. On a side note, coaches and players alike are often crucified when discussing the influence a referee has had on a fixture, however, something needs to be done with a few culprits repeatedly performing below par (namely Steve Walsh and Garratt Williamson). Not only does this cost teams points, potential sponsors and momentum, but from a betting point of view, PROFITS! Two out of three best bets came off last week, albeit one of them at lesser odds as a result of a draw, and I am hoping this positive trend continues this round. Six matches precede us this weekend so 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/Reds/Hurricanes+12.5 @ $2.52 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Stormers to win @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Highlanders -8.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Chiefs ($1.12) versus Force ($6.25)
The highly entertaining Chiefs play yet another Australian side to open this weekend’s account as the Force travel across the ditch to Pukekohe, the birthplace of rugby legend Jonah Lomu and the home of ECOlight stadium. The Chiefs were given a scare last week by an improving Rebels outfit in Melbourne, but their attacking prowess once again shone bright and got them over the line. Additionally, the Perth-based franchise pretty much had a win as they held the classy Queensland Reds to a draw, which no doubt pleased their home fans after a season that has failed to hit consistent heights.
The defending Super Ruby champions aren’t exactly where they want to be at the moment, but with some injuries to key players, this is to be expected. Star centre Richard Kahui has been ruled out for the season with an injury to the same shoulder he had reconstructed that kept him out of the game for so long. A key player in their ranks this year is Tawera Kerr-Barlow who is an important inclusion this week after spending a month on the sidelines. Alongside Will Genia, he has been one of the form halfbacks in the competition and is a critical link between their forwards and elusive backs. In recent weeks they have struggled, particularly from a defensive point of view. They have leaked tries to some of the lesser fancied sides, which indicates that their could be an issue with their defensive systems and general trust in their teammates on ‘D’. They have no issue scoring points, as was highlighted last week when they acquired the important four-try bonus point in less than 30 minutes. Consequently, when looking for betting options in matches involving the Chiefs at the moment, the overs is generally safe.
In what is to be expected with new personnel, both on and off the field, the Force have had an extremely inconsistent season. On occasion, they have mixed it with the best (Reds and Crusaders), but then succumbed to the Kings and the Rebels, twice. Much of their season has been on the road this year and I read an interesting article this week with coach Michael Foley suggesting they should play in the South African conference. Currently, an inter-conference battle involves a return trip of ten hours in comparison to the 2-4 with the other sides, which surely takes a toll on their roster. In breaking news, one of the stars of their season and their leading try scorer Alfi Mafi, has been released as a result of some off-field disciplinary issues. In a way, this has to be commended as coach Foley is certainly enforcing team rules and making players accountable for their actions. Their strong forward pack and dynamic back row keeps them in touch in most fixtures, but this week, their backline looks like the area the Chiefs will target them.
Of these two sides, only the Chiefs remain in playoff contention this year, but the Force do possess an innate ability to beat the super powers. Travelling to New Zealand to face a Chiefs team regaining confidence will be one step too far this week and I can see the home team clicking into a higher gear and easily taking care of the Force.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.12 – Sportsbet
Reds ($1.33) versus Sharks ($3.35)
A desperate Reds team returns home to their fortress of Suncorp stadium where a battered and mentally scarred Sharks team arrive from New Zealand. The Force have well and truly devised a blueprint to compete with the Reds, as they haven’t lost to them for the last three encounters. The Sharks on the other hand have been caught hook, line and sinker and they have well and truly fallen behind the chasing pack and will need to win all encounters from here on in if they want to repeat their feats of 2012.
The Reds record highlights yet another team with consistency issues, albeit minor ones with two wins and two draws from their last four encounters. On a positive note, the Queensland team hasn’t lost since mid-March, but continue to adopt a tit-for-tat strategy with the Brumbies who sit two points in front of them. The Reds forwards were somewhat outplayed against the Force last week, and their back line failed to threaten with Quade Cooper, Ben Tapuai and Anthony Fainga’a all having one of their poorest games of the season. On the other hand, Digby Ioane played to his full potential by busting tackles and making key decisions on defence and his move to France at the end of the season will certainly be playing on the minds of their coaching staff. Suncorp Stadium will be buzzing on Friday night with a large group of South African expats to help fill the stands, but more often than not do the Reds thrive on their hallowed turf.
Four losses in a row doesn’t bode well for any team with playoff aspirations, but this is to be expected for a team decimated with injuries week in and week out. Francois Steyn has been ruled out for the rest of the season having to undergo surgery the night of their last match after suffering a bad leg injury. It is a real shame because on his day, he is a joy to watch and he has just started showing glimpses of returning to form ahead of this year’s internationals. Hooker Craig Burden and number 8 Lubabalo Mtembu have also returned home to South Africa, but the Sharks forward pack will be reinforced by the ‘bone crusher’ in Willem Alberts. The Reds will look to target the Sharks backline, with JP Pietersen playing in a relatively unfamiliar position for him in the number 13 jumper. Another loss here and you could write off the Sharks chances this year and unfortunately, for their fans – it is looking more than likely.
Although still sitting in fourth position, the Reds remain two points adrift of the Brumbies they can ill-afford to lose to the Sharks this week. The Reds are a different beast at home and despite losing to the Sharks in the last two matches, they should have too much for their opposition, as they will be reeling from last week’s draw.
Predicted result: Reds to win @ $1.34 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($1.28) versus Hurricanes ($3.70)
A revitalised Cheetahs franchise return to Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday evening (SA time) to play the Hurricanes who will wrap up their South African sojourn. The Cheetahs received a must needed rest last week, as well as the four competition points, which has them sitting in outright sixth and well positioned to make a run at this year’s playoffs for the first time. On the other hand, the Hurricanes are currently in 11th place and need everything to go their way after being pummelled by the Bulls last week in Pretoria.
The Cheetahs will run out to their customary revving Harley Davidson’s having one seven out of their past eight games. The majority of their wins have been by narrow margins, but their backline has scored more than enough tries to date and will be looking for their gelled combinations to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Upfront they have been extremely impressive and despite Bismarck du Plessis’s pedigree and reputation, inspirational captain Adriaan Strauss is a sure certainty for the Springboks hooking role. In team news, one of the competitions leading tacklers, youngster Lappies Labuschagne will sit this match out due to a shoulder injury and will be replaced by veteran hard-man Frans Viljoen. This is a crucial game for the Cheetahs and they will know more than anyone that a win here will set them up very nicely for their run towards the playoffs.
I often circle the Hurricane’s match each week as a must watch given their attacking threats and confidence to attack from anywhere on the park. But it must be said, that along with their injury toll, this has probably been their undoing in recent weeks. It is a dangerous tactic and any form of ill-discipline or poor ball handling generally costs them. Looking at the team sheet this week, Conrad Smith is a notable absentee as he received a nasty blow to the head last weekend and for precautionary reasons will sit this match out. It is becoming a concern for the Hurricanes, All Blacks and rugby fans alike, as his concussions seem to be occurring more frequently and will be watched closely by their medical staff in the coming months. This match promises to be a high-scoring encounter so the overs is a good secondary bet, but like a lot of other teams, the Hurricanes hopes are hanging by a thread.
The bye week often plays it’s part in stifling a team’s momentum and now that the Hurricanes will be acclimatised to the South African conditions, they will be very competitive against the Cheetahs. Both teams play an attractive brand of rugby and I can see the scoreboard manager earning his wage this week. $3.70 for the Hurricanes looks extremely enticing, but I will go with the safe option and chose the Hurricanes +12.5 in a multi bet, with the Cheetahs form and record too hard to ignore.
Predicted result: Cheetahs to win @ $1.28 – Sportsbet
Blues ($1.12) versus Rebels ($6.25)
The Blues return to Eden Park this week (a.k.a the spiritual home of rugby) where they will face off against the gutsy Rebels who seem to be hitting their straps after some narrow losses in recent weeks. In round twelve, the Blues survived a scare from the Stormers, but played with heart and determination to down the Stormers. As aforementioned, the Rebels pushed the Chiefs last week, but simply didn’t have the nous to outperform a more experienced side.
Other teams will no doubt have the Blues on their radar having only lost once to the Reds in the last five rounds. A lot of their successes this year must be attributed to John Kirwan, who is renowned for developing under performing teams, namely Italy and more recently Japan. He also spent some time coaching the Barbarians and this is evident with his youthful squad playing with flair and confident from attacking in their own half. Steven Luatua has emerged onto the Super Rugby scene and is even reaping praise from his fellow players and you get the feeling that it won’t be too long before he features in the All Black fray. Kevin Mealamu has once again succumbed to a calf injury, which will be of real concern to the Blues and the All Blacks. The Blues have only lost one fixture at home this year and they will be looking to keep this up against the Rebels this weekend with their forwards and backs continuing to dominate their opponents.
In recent weeks, the RebeIs have turned a leaf in comparison to the start of their season, but a third narrow loss in succession will no doubt be playing on the minds of their youthful side. Almost back at full-strength last week, they ran the Chiefs close thanks to a few dubious refereeing decisions in Melbourne. Despite surrendering a huge lead to the Chiefs early on, the Rebels dug deep and one of their tall timbers Hugh Pyle scored a brace of tries. Kurtley Beale returned to Super Rugby after a month in ‘rehab’ after assaulting one of his teammates in South Africa, but only needed 30-odd minutes to press his claims for a Wallabies squad call-up. His combination with James O’Connor and Nick Phipps was promising and when you watch him play like that, you just wonder if they had him over the last few weeks, they could’ve notches up a few more W’s. In news hot off the press today, he has been stood down from this match for alcohol-related issues after the loss last weekend and you get the feeling that the Rebels and Australian rugby need to make a stand. He is an exceptional player, but the decision on whether he plays again this season for the Rebels or the Wallabies is an important one, as it will surely set a precedent for players moving forward.
The Blues results have been a couple years ahead of schedule and another win here will solidify their top six position. The Rebels on the other hand have some breathing room in front of the Force, Kings and Highlanders, but you get the feeling that their recent narrow defeats will have impacted on their belief and confidence, so the Blues should have enough to collect the four points (or more) this week in Auckland.
Predicted result: Blues to win @ $1.12 – Sportsbet
Waratahs ($1.82) versus Stormers ($2.00)
The Waratahs return to their Sydney base this week after a one and one South African tour where the desperate Stormers await with a mirrored result from their New Zealand ‘holiday’. The Waratahs absolutely annihilated a sorry Kings side last week and it was great to see their stern coach, Michael Cheika, finally crack a smile after his troops notched him the highest points total in the competition this year. The Stormers on the other hand fought back valiantly against the Blues, but fell short by a point after an ill-disciplined display.
The Waratahs produced a performance last week that their fans have been waiting for, for a long, long time. They scored eleven tries and really made it look easy for most of the match. Although it must be said, their opposition looked tired and lacked the attitude and decision making qualities that made them a tough team to breakdown at the start of the season. Each week, I focus on some stand out performances and Israel Folau is starting to make a habit of playing some sublime rugby, reinforcing his exceptional footballing talents. For me he is a certainty for the Wallabies squad as he offers yet another X factor alongside Genia, Cooper, Beale and JOC. Bernard Foley looks to have made the number ten jersey his own as he mixes his kicking, passing and running game up creatively and creates a lot of space for the players outside of him. Berrick Barnes will be making a return off the bench and I am interested to see if he slots into the number 10 or 12 jersey. Adam Ashley-Cooper has hit form at the right time of the season with the Lions series coming up and both debutants Peter Betham and Cam Crawford have performed exceptionally and certainly look to strengthen the Waratahs backline in the years to come.
The Stormers will be livid about their display last week and in particular the first 60 minutes in Auckland. In the final 20 minutes they were completely dominant and they will look to carry over this momentum and style of play to this match. Nevertheless, the Stormers remain the best defensive team in the competition having conceded just less than 21 points per game. Although, it must be said that their defence has been slightly weaker than last year when they allowed 77 fewer points than any other team in the league. In recent weeks, the Stormers have had the luxury of being able to select increasingly stronger starting fifteens, but this hasn’t necessarily eventuated in the results that they have been after. Giant lock Eben Etzebeth will make his first start since the earlier rounds of the competition and his direct battle with the confrontational Sitaleki Timani will be worth the entrance price alone. It’s all or nothing for the Stormers so expect them to front up this week, but Allianz Stadium is a difficult place to play with the Waratahs only losing once there this season
In what I believe is the match of the weekend and the hardest match to call, the Waratahs will be jetlagged after a long trip home and the Stormers know that nothing less than a victory will do. The clash of the forwards will be crucial with both packs resembling international line-ups, so I expect the collisions to be ferocious and the breakdowns to be heavily contested. This match could really go either way, but I am willing to back the Stormers one more time as their defence remains strong and the Waratahs still battle consistency issues.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Stormers to win @ $2.00 – Sportsbet
Kings ($3.65) versus Highlanders ($1.28)
The final match of round 13 will see the Port Elizabeth faithful return to Nelson Bay Stadium to watch their Super Rugby newbies play a confident Highlanders outfit, having tallied up their first victory of the season. Both teams had polar opposite rounds last week, as the Kings were trampled by a Waratahs outfit littered with Wallabies, and the Highlanders managed to scrape through as three point victors over the Sharks.
After such a successful and enlightening inaugural tour of Australasia, the Kings have lost three matches on the trot to the Bulls, Cheetahs and Waratahs. Having only crossed the chalk once in this allotment of matches, their offensive deficiencies have again been highlighted, but more of a concern is that their previously sturdy and resolute defence is leaking horribly. They showed very little character against the Waratahs last week, but it must be mentioned that the Waratahs were a ticking time bomb and unfortunately for the Kings, they went off last week. Season captain Luke Watson has been reinstated and his leadership qualities will no doubt bring confidence to the youngsters around him. It must be said though, losing becomes a habit and with the Highlanders finally breaking their duck last weekend, they will bend over backwards to keep winning from here on in. The Kings have the bye next week, but in all honesty they probably need it more than ever, now.
The Highlanders organisation would’ve slept much easier this week, even when taking into consideration their 20-odd hour trip from Dunedin. The Sharks turned down a kickable penalty late in the match last week, so in all honesty the Highlanders could still be winless, but the proof is in the pudding and they have notched up win number one. They are a class team on paper, but everyone knows rugby is played on grass (or turf as is the case with the Saracens club in the UK). They have a solid forward pack and a ruthless backline when they hold the ball and don’t push the pass. A win might’ve been all this side needs to make a late push away from the bottom of the log. Unfortunately though, they look likely to finish wooden spooners in the NZ conference and management will need to seriously assess their balance, structures and systems moving forwards, especially given their current financial position (negative).
This match can very well be looked at as a grand final for both teams this weekend. The Highlanders are a much better team than their current position suggests, and despite some brave performances by the Kings in their inaugural year of this competition, there is a huge difference in class and I can see the Highlanders running away with this one by 13 or more.
Predicted result: Highlanders to win @ $1.25 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Highlanders -8.5 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet