The following are previews with betting tips for Round 3 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
As things stand the Chiefs (4.50) and Hurricanes (4.50) are joint title favourites, followed by the Crusaders (6.00) and Lions (8.00). Of the four I like Hurricanes and Lions at the moment. The Hurricanes have been prolific on offence while the Lions stand a good chance of securing the first overall seed because they don’t have to play any Kiwi sides. If you ignore their defeat to the Jaguares when they sent a second-string side, all of the Lions’ defeats in 2016 were to New Zealand franchises. Also, the British & Lions tour will be a major distraction for the All Blacks in June.
Friday, 10 March
Chiefs v Hurricanes
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The Chiefs enter this clash in good form, having defeated the Highlanders 24-15 and the Blues 26-41. Their forwards looked particularly good last week, especially at the set pieces. The Chiefs still have room for improvement, though. They conceded almost three times the number of penalties as the Blues and were second best once the Blues brought their six All Blacks on from the bench. Two weeks ago Chiefs were the beneficiaries of an uncharacteristically high error count by the Highlanders and secured the win with two intercept tries against the run of play. Co-captain Sam Cane has reached full fitness and gets his first start of the season.
The Hurricanes look scary at the moment. I wasn’t sure how much to read into their 83-17 win over the Sunwolves but the 71-6 win over the Rebels certainly was impressive. The Rebels led 6-0 at the 15 minute mark but once the Hurricanes found their rhythm a procession of 11 tries followed. The Hurricanes took the Rebels’ scrum to pieces and the backs looked incredibly hard to defend against. It’s scary to think they won the Super Rugby title last year despite the season-long injury to fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder. He scored a hat-trick last week and had a fourth try disallowed for a forward pass. In team news, prop Loni Uhila makes his first start of the season after recovering from a calf injury.
Betting: the Chiefs and Hurricanes have faced completely different classes of opposition so far, which makes reading into their relative form difficult. The Hurricanes have looked the more convincing, albeit against weaker opposition, while the Chiefs have seen off some tricky opposition. The Chiefs are 6-1 at home over the last 12 months, however the Hurricanes are 6-1 on the road and 6-0 as the road underdog. The Chiefs have gone 5-1-1 in their last 7 at home against the Hurricanes, but that sole home defeat actually came during the Hurricanes’ most recent visit. You could make a case for either team, but based on what I’ve seen from both sides this season I’m going to back the Hurricanes in the head-to-head at 2.05 (Pinnacle).
Brumbies v Force
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The Brumbies will still be sore over the way they lost 22-27 to the Sharks last week. Late in the game their line outs went astray and in the 80th minute, with the scores locked at 22-22, the Brumbies pushed for the winner only to concede an 81st minute try down the other end. The result leaves them without a win and with some tricky fixtures coming up the Brumbies will be desperate to return to winning ways to avoid a potential lengthy losing streak. Ben Hyne has recovered from injury and get his first start of the season.
In humid conditions it wasn’t the highest quality match, but the Force won their first home game in 663 days after they saw off the Reds 26-19. They trailed at the 65-minute mark but took full advantage of a yellow card infringement by the Reds to score 11 unanswered points to win the game. The Force should get some reinforcements back in the coming weeks, but have added another player to the injury list, with lock Adam Coleman ruled out for five weeks with a calf injury.
Betting: the Brumbies have won their last six straight meetings against the Force, however they’re not the same team they were in prior seasons. I fancy the Brumbies in the head-to-head but give the Force a good chance of covering the +7.5 line, so I will back the Brumbies 1-12 at 2.75 (William Hill).
Saturday, 11 March
Blues v Highlanders
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After thrashing the Rebels in Round 1 the Blues were brought back to earth with a 26-41 defeat to the Chiefs. I had talked up their improvement in defence but the Blues missed 25 tackles last week. Their cause wasn’t helped by the red card for Luatua in the 40th minute, however, when the score was 9-15. Coach Tana Umaga was perhaps guilty of placing too much faith in his young players by giving them the start following their good result in Melbourne. By the time the Blues brought their six All Blacks on from the bench they were down 9-41. Nevertheless the Blues can take positives from the fact that they won the final 20 minutes 17-0 despite being down a player. The Blues will hope they can turn around their fortunes against their fellow compatriots. Since last season they have gone 8-1-1 against foreign opponents but 1-6 against Kiwi sides. They will be without the services of Steven Luatua after he picked up a four-week suspension. The Blues are starting with their All Blacks this week.
The Highlanders are the only Kiwi franchise yet to win this season after they blew a 27-6 lead against the Crusaders before losing 27-30. Malakai Fekitoa’s 72nd minute yellow card proved costly as the Crusaders scored two late tries in his absence. To lose in that fashion to their biggest rivals will hurt badly, but they need to refocus quickly as they take on the Blues who beat them at this venue last season. It’s only Round 3 but the Highlanders have already lost as many games to Kiwi sides as they did all of last year. Injuries continue to be a problem for the Highlanders this year. Centre Jason Emery has been ruled out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He’s the second player to be ruled out for the entire campaign following Hayden Parker’s injury. Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Ash Dixon, Dan Pryor, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Ben Smith, Adrian Smith, Josh Dickson and James Lentjes and are also injured.
Betting: this could go either way. I don’t see either side getting blown off the park so I would back both the Blues 1-12 at 3.25 (Ladbrokes) and the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.60 (Ladbrokes).
Reds v Crusaders
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The Reds succumbed to their 9th consecutive away defeat last week, losing 19-26 to the Force. They were leading in the 65th minute but lost momentum when Sef Fa’agase was yellow carded. The Force scored a penalty from his infringement and then a further 8 points with Fa’agase sidelined to win the game. Of concern for the Reds will be how their line-outs and scrum went awry in the second half. There were also too many handling errors, although the humid conditions didn’t help.
The Crusaders came back from 6-27 down to defeat the Highlanders 30-27 last week to remain undefeated for the season. Former Chiefs back Seta Tamanivalu and Waikato recruit Whetu Douglas have proven to be strong acquisitions in the off-season, with both players scoring tries in each of their opening fixtures.
Betting: the Crusaders have won their last five straight against the Reds and I think they will be too strong again this week. I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.40 (Palmerbet).
Sunday, 12 March
Kings v Stormers
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The Kings took a major step towards avoiding the competition wooden spoon by defeating the Sunwolves 37-23 in Singapore. They went 0-7 against South African sides last year in their return to Super Rugby, so claiming a domestic scalp will certainly be a goal this season. It remains to be seen whether they have the quality to do so, however.
The Stormers moved to 2-0 after seeing off the dangerous Jaguares 32-25 in Cape Town. Young fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis has paired up well with veteran halfback Jano Vermaak this season, which has contributed to their strong start.
Betting: the Stormers should win but there’s no value in the head-to-head market. The Stormers only won this fixture by 12 points last year so I would back the Kings +20.5 at 1.92 (TopBetta).
Cheetahs v Sunwolves
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The Cheetahs jumped out to a 31-14 lead over the Bulls last week and managed to hold on for a 34-28 win. This follows a competitive showing against the Lions so the Cheetahs have started this season much better than most had expected. Fred Zeilinga is 13 from 15 so far from the boot this season. The Cheetahs have averaged five converted penalties per game this season so you might want to consider him for your fantasy team.
The Sunwolves look destined for the competition wooden spoon after they fell 23-37 to the Kings in Singapore last week. That was quite possibly their only winning fixture this season.
Betting: the Cheetahs thrashed the Sunwolves 92-17 in Bloemfontein last season so it’s hard to be optimistic about the visitors’ prospects. I would back the Cheetahs -25.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.40 (Sportsbet).
Sharks v Waratahs
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After letting one slip away in Round 1 against the Reds, the Sharks return home with one win from two, having defeated the Brumbies 27-22 in Canberra, courtesy of an 81st minute try after the Brumbies had pushed to break the 22-22 deadlock. The Sharks had no luck in Brisbane so they deserved the luck they got in Canberra.
The Waratahs lost 36-55 to the Lions in an entertaining affair last week, with the Lions’ dominance in the scrum and line-out proving to be the difference between the two sides. Four of the Lions’ first five tries were scored from set pieces. Ill-discipline also hurt with Waratahs, with two yellow card infringements in the first half. They also weren’t helped by 36 missed tackles. The Waratahs will be without fly-half Bernard Foley after he was sent home with concussion symptoms.
Betting: the head-to-head market looks spot on for this clash, which makes finding value a bit difficult. I would go for a higher odds selection in this instance and back the Sharks 1-12 at 2.80 (Ladbrokes).
Jaguares v Lions
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The Jaguares pushed the Stormers all the way last week but again ill-discipline hurt their cause, with two yellow cards in the final quarter as they fell 25-32. Nevertheless it was another competitive away performance from the Argentinian side after being poor away from home last season.
Last year the Lions visited the Jaguares in the final round of the regular season. They sent over a second string squad with the playoffs in mind and lost 22-34. That defeat cost the Lions the first overall seed and possibly the title, so it would be interesting to know if they regret that decision. Last week the Lions saw off the Waratahs 55-36 in a high scoring affair, with their dominance in the scrum and line-out proving to be the difference. The Lions have again left key players at home for this tour. They will be without fly-half Elton Jantjies, who is expecting his second child, as well as Franco Mostert (rest), Lionel Mapoe (rehab and rest), Rohan Janse van Rensburg (funeral) and Ruan Combrinck (injured).
Betting: the Lions were my initial favourite for this clash until their touring squad was released. I think this will be close so I will back both the Jaguares 1-12 at 3.10 (Ladbrokes) and the Lions 1-12 at 3.40 (Ladbrokes).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.40 (Palmerbet)