What an entertaining weekend of Super Rugby it was as we saw records fall, nail-biting finishes and a spate of huge collisions that you could feel through the TV screen. Four teams (Chiefs, Crusaders, Reds and Sharks) that could very well make their way into the final six positions achieved strong victories, while the Brumbies experienced their first defeat at the hands of the Stormers in Cape Town. With another full round of fixtures this week, teams are jostling for positions, early threats are being nullified and the giants are awakening, so hopefully I can pick you another winner after five out of seven match bets and two out of three best bets came off last week (about time). 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: Reds +3.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Kings +29.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Chiefs -7.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 4: Rebels +14.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Multi Bet: ‘Canes 13+/Chiefs/Brumbies/Cheetahs/’Tahs @ $2.60 – Sportsbet
Highlanders ($1.62) versus Reds ($2.30)
Time: Fri. 29 Mar 5:35pm
The first match of the Easter round has the potential to be an absolute humdinger when the struggling Highlanders host a Reds team with renewed vigour under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. The Highlanders are the current cellar dwellers of the competition, however, they have more than enough class from one to fifteen to cause an upset here, while the Reds are looking like the team of old with Will Genia and James Horwill back in their ranks after long injury layoffs.
Last week the Highlanders tried to match it with the Chiefs, but simply got burnt as they were often guilty of playing too much rugby inside their own half and regularly pushed the final pass. The Highlanders have no shortage of attacking threats across the park and quite possibly have one of the most deadly back three in the competition. The Highlanders threw all they had at the Chiefs, but both times against them this season they have fallen short. There is a long way to go for the Highlanders, but they are a better team than dead last and the Reds will know they are in for a real battle this week.
The Reds are starting to hit their straps in 2013 as they can almost name a full strength line up for the first time in a long time. They managed to hold on against a relentless Bulls outfit in Brisbane last weekend and they will travel across the ditch knowing they need to continue to pile the pressure on the Brumbies. In Super Rugby, if you don’t host a home semi-final, you are almost dead and buried, so finishing fifth or sixth isn’t ideal. Quade Cooper played some of his best rugby of the year last week and Will Genia was a key part of that. The more these superstars play with each other, the stronger the Reds will become. Coaches very rarely receive accolades in the game of rugby, as there are very few with successful records or championship trophies. This week, Reds coach Ewen Mckenzie will be in charge of his 121st match, overtaking Robbie Deans as the most capped coach in Super Rugby history.
With no chance of the elements intervening, I can see this being a high scoring encounter with exciting backs on both sides and huge engine rooms up front. Based solely on form I have to tip the Reds, although I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the Highlanders broke their tournament duck due to their backline power.
Predicted result: A Good Friday as theReds win @ $2.30 – Sportsbet
Hurricanes ($1.01) versus Kings ($16.00)
Time: Sat 30 Mar 2:35pm
The first of Saturday’s matches sees a rested Hurricanes squad face off against a demoralised Kings outfit in Wellington. The Hurricanes are currently sitting at .500 (for our American fans out there) or two wins from four matches, whilst the Kings were extremely competitive in South Africa before being absolutely outclassed by a firing Crusaders unit last weekend.
Similarly to the Blues and the Crusaders, the Hurricanes haven’t had the best start to the season chalking up two wins and two losses. Having had the bye last week they are fresh, however, there are doubts whether the ever-consistent Conrad Smith and lively halfback T.J Perenara will play. If they don’t, I would highly consider taking the Kings on the high handicap. Heading into this week’s fixture against the Kings, nothing but a win will be accepted by coach Mark Hammett and the home fans, but I have no doubts that the Hurricanes will throw the ball around and entertain as the always do.
Let’s face it; the Kings were never going to be regular winners in their first season of Super Rugby. However, no one has given them a chance (including myself), yet they managed to beat the Force in round two, held the Sharks try-less, never let the Chiefs get away, before being taught a rugby lesson last week against the Crusaders. They have performed well above expectations to date and this stage provides an opportunity for new young and emerging talent to breakthrough. As mentioned last week, they Kings are currently involved in a ‘foreign player’ saga, but the likes of Sergeal Petersen, their young back row and fly half Katrakilis are beginning to make a name for themselves. An almost flawless performance by the Crusaders last week will have dented their confidence and things don’t get any easier this week against the Hurricanes, but there is a long way to go before they are a constant threat and are able to attract the required talent to their region. It doesn’t help either that they have named Andries Strauss as captain for this fixture, their fifth leader in as many weeks.
Now that the Kings have been softened up and well and truly pummelled last week, I can see things going the way of the Hurricanes in similar fashion. New Zealand is the hardest place to go on the planet to win a game of rugby and it won’t be any easier this week with the Hurricanes expecting to pick up maximum points here. The Kings will be outclassed in Wellington, but the Kings never-say-die attitude will help keep the Hurricanes secure a victory by less than the allocated handicap.
Predicted result: Hurricanes to win by 13+ @ $1.14 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Kings +29.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Chiefs ($1.33) versus Blues ($3.30)
Time: Sat 30 Mar 5:35pm
Another enthralling Kiwi derby awaits us from Bay Park Stadium in Mount Maunganui on Saturday as the Chiefs host the teetering Blues. The Chiefs are flying high having lost only one match to date, while the Blues have lost two consecutively after a positive start to the season. These types of games are known for being fast paced, high skill levels and an amazing ability to beat defenders one on one. We can only hope this match reaches those heights yet again!
The Chiefs have managed to travel halfway around the world and back in recent weeks and continue to feature at the top of the New Zealand conference, scoring four-try bonus points in all but one of their matches so far. They defend extremely well and without having the biggest backs, they are pacey, skilful and opportunistic. A lot of the backline spark comes from Tawerra Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden, however, the former broke his jaw during last weekend’s match and he will spend a further six weeks on the sideline. It will be interesting to see how this injury might disrupt the flow that the Chiefs play with, but Brendon Leonard is more than a capable replacement. Messam, Cane and Latimer form a formidable loose trio and are a handful at the breakdown for any team. The inclusion of Richard Kahui will also create an exciting battle as he opposes Rene Ranger, one of the most underrated players in the game.
The Blues were one of the stronger starters of this year’s competition, however, they have since managed back-to-back defeats against the Bulls at home and the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend. In a match that they should’ve won, they completely outclassed the Waratahs in the first half scoring three tries to one before letting the ‘Tahs score seventeen unanswered points in the second half. This included the game winning penalty goal from in front after the siren had gone. With the lead they had at the break, the Blues should’ve adopted a territory-based game plan, however, they opted to run the ball from inside their own half and eventually coughed up possession on a number of occasions, which led to crucial points being scored against them. Outside centre Rene Ranger was simply outstanding in defence, on the deck (securing a couple of trademark turnovers) and in open play. Unfortunately for New Zealand rugby, he has already signed a lucrative contract in France and the exodus continues.
The Chiefs have now had an extra week to get over their jet lag and based on current form, you would be brave to pick against them. The Blues are a team that can play some exceptional rugby, but they are starting to experience some teething problems, which is expected when you have an inexperienced squad playing under a new coach in John Kirwan. The structure and class of this Chief’s outfit should be too much for the Blues, but don’t expect this to be a low scoring match and plenty of tries will be scored. Keep an eye out for the weather as well, as things might tighten up if it buckets down.
Predicted result: Chiefs to win @ $1.33 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Chiefs -7.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Brumbies ($1.28) versus Bulls ($3.70)
Time: Sat 30 Mar 7:40pm
Last week the Brumbies experienced their first loss of their campaign in Cape Town and they will be looking to return to winning ways against a difficult prospect in the Bulls from Pretoria. The Brumbies have made their way back from South Africa during the week so emphasis will be on recovery after a bruising encounter, while the Bulls will be smarting after a tight loss to the Reds and probably one they thought they should’ve won.
The Brumbies have gone through a rollercoaster ride of emotions lately having lost inspirational flanker David Pocock for the season, teaching the Sharks a lesson on their home track and then tasting defeat for the first time this season against the Stormers in Cape Town. South Africa, much like New Zealand, isn’t an easy place to go and play, let alone go and win, so considering this, they wouldn’t be too distraught having walked away with five competition points from the tour. Jesse Mogg was a notable absentee last week and will be a welcome inclusion on home turf this weekend. George Smith continues to turn back the clock and is clearly still one of the masters of the breakdown in world rugby. Rampaging number 8 Fotu Auelua leaves bruises all over the world and Christian Lealifano is turning into a very well rounded footballer. The squad is balanced and if they remain somewhat injury-free, they can continue to maintain their buffer at the top of the Australian conference standings.
The Bulls will always be respected given their history of successes in Super Rugby and despite not being the crème of the crop at present, they still have the ability to cause a lot of teams big problems. Having lost two games in succession, albeit against difficult opposition (Crusaders and Reds), they will be desperate to acquire some points in their last match on tour. Their casualty ward continues to grow week after week, with the serial penalty conceder Deon Stegmann being ruled out of this week’s game. They still have a number of youngsters that can do the job, but you get the feeling they are a few years away from reaching the heights of yesteryear.
The last match on tour is often one of the more difficult ones, so if the Bulls mind isn’t on the job, they will get punished. Although I don’t think this will be the case, I think the Bulls will hang in there, however the Brumbies have been more consistent, clinical and will make a conscientious effort to not falter twice in a row. All in all, frequent flyer miles will be the only thing the Bulls take out of this game.
Predicted result: Brumbies to win @ $1.28 – Sportsbet
Cheetahs ($1.10) versus Rebels ($7.00)
Time: Sun 31 Mar 02:05am
‘Beautiful’ Bloemfontein and the highflying Cheetahs host the embattled Rebels in the early hours of Sunday morning. The Cheetahs are riding an impressive run of results having their most successful tour ever in this competition with three wins from four and beating the Highlanders, Waratahs and Force in the process. The Rebels on the other hand have been winless since round one and are suffering both injury and disciplinary issues with Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna sent home after an altercation on the team bus last weekend. The Rebels need to get their season back on track and the Cheetahs will be looking to impress their fans so this game could very well be worth a watch.
I mention it week after week, but the Cheetahs are a team that you should make time to watch. Last week was an exception, however, they managed to win a game that they probably would’ve lost in recent seasons. Despite the injury to wonder-kid Johan Goosen, Rian Smit stepped up well last week and it will be interesting to see what he can produce with more rugby under his belt. Their back row, led by Heinrich Brussouw continue to impress and their coaching panel of former Springboks Naka Drotske (hooker) and legend Os du Randt (prop) ensure that they compete strongly up front every week. They need to win this game if they want to achieve bigger things in 2013, although at the end of the day they will be judged by how competitive they are in matches against other teams in their conference.
As aforementioned, things couldn’t be much worse for the Melbourne Rebels at the moment given their poor off field and on field-form. A team’s character is often illuminated when their backs are against the wall, so I expect team leaders like Delve, Higginbotham and James O’Connor to take some ownership to redirect their sinking ship. They were absolutely belted in a record-setting match against the Sharks last week and the Cheetahs will be out to reiterate that Bloemfontein is a long, long way from the bright lights of Melbourne.
The Rebels backs are against the wall and the Cheetahs will have their travel fatigue working against them, so this is a match that could really go either way. Although the quality of the opposition the Cheetahs have beaten hasn’t been of the highest standard in recent weeks, their tails are up and could compound the Rebels woes in front of a lively crowd. Rain is a possibility and the Cheetahs injury count is mounting, so I am going to have to back the Rebels with the handicap.
Predicted result: Cheetahs to win @ $1.10 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Rebels +14.5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Stormers ($1.52) versus Crusaders ($2.55)
Time: Sun 31 Mar 4:10am
In what will be the match of the round, the inform Crusaders travel to Newlands Stadium in Cape Town to face a Stormers outfit that is starting to get into their stride. The Stormers are coming off an impressive victory over the previously undefeated Brumbies and last week the Crusaders did what I had thought a few teams before would’ve done by pummelling the Kings. This has all the makings of a final four matchup and will be of test match quality and test match intensity.
The Stormers are riding high at the moment after a slow start to the season, however it doesn’t get any easier this week with the red and black hitting Cape Town. The Stormers will yet again field a massive forward pack and player combinations that has served them so well over the past few seasons. Their impeccable defensive structures will no doubt be under pressure this week, however, they will be buoyed and battle-hardened by the quality of opposition they have faced in recent times. Tiaan Liebenberg and Steven Kitshoff will sit this match out, however Gio Aplon will take his place in the number 14 jersey despite the sickening blow he took last week from Brumbies bruiser, Fotu Auelua. The played well to nullify the threats the Brumbies possess, but the Crusaders will throw even more at them given their backline talent.
Not often do you see a Crusaders outfit without McCaw (rest leave), Carter (baby duties) and Read (injured), however, they are still littered with talent given the depth they have as a result of their development programs. One of the four Whitelock brothers, George will lead the team in the absence of Kieran Read and the local Crusaders fans, which there are plenty of may be a little quieter than usual. Israel Dagg also returns after a week on the sidelines which will no doubt add some impetus from the back. Last week, the Crusaders looked like the team of old as they schooled the Kings with some classic Canterbury rugby. They took their foot off the gas in the second half, something they can ill afford to do this week. Keep an eye out for young number 8 Jordan Taufua, who will make his Super Rugby debut off the bench. South African fans will be well aware of his ability as they saw first hand his power and skill at the IRB Under 20 Rugby World Cup in South Africa last year.
This is the hardest game of the weekend to pick, as you could make genuine arguments for both teams. Kieran Read and Dan Carter are huge losses for the Crusaders and although they have extreme depth, these two are world-beaters and their absence could be the difference.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $1.52 – Sportsbet
Waratahs ($1.22) versus Force ($4.25)
Time: Sun 31 Mar 4:05pm
The final match of round seven allows Sydneysiders to travel to Allianz Stadium to watch the Waratahs play host to the inconsistent Force. The Waratahs are the worst starting team in the competition, but one of the better second half teams, whereas last week the Force started strong and got pegged back and eventually overtaken by the Cheetahs in Perth. It is fair to say that Australian derbies don’t generally offer high-octane rugby, but both teams will be looking to improve on their conference positions and there is enough talent on display to create a worthwhile atmosphere.
The Waratahs are a team capable of beating most teams on their day, but given their slow starts, you wouldn’t be confident that they could give the better teams a lead before chasing it down. They are very inconsistent mixing poor skill, kicking and mental lapses with breathtaking structural and opportunistic play. The Waratahs need to win this if they want to feature towards the business end of the season and at the time of writing their team sheet hasn’t been released. What is known is that if Adam Ashley-Cooper and prop Benn Robinson take the field, they will both celebrate their 100th Super Rugby games. They have been great servants to Australia rugby and their efforts must be commended.
To be honest, the Force were never expected to be prominent this year and they simply haven’t been except a surprise victory over a complacent Reds team. Week after week, the Force aren’t given much of a chance and things aren’t positive over in the west. The signing of the Waratahs unsuccessful coach Michael Foley created a lot of eye brows to be raised and they just don’t have the player pool to one, win consistently and two, attract bigger names to the region. Hooker Nathan Charles has been ruled out for the season, but this week will see the return to Super Rugby for utility back Sam Norton-Knight after a stint in Japan.
The Waratahs have a team that is littered with Wallabies, however, currently they just lack the cohesion and concentration that is needed at this level. The Force are a team that will put up a fight this year without achieving too many results. With the Waratahs beating the Blues last Sunday, it was a step in the right direction and they will gain a lot from that and should put the Force to the sword in front of a healthy crowd to wrap up the round.
Predicted result: Waratahs to win @ $1.22 – Sportsbet