The following are previews with betting tips for Round 4 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
There has been plenty of news off the pitch this week, with reports that SANZAAR will cut the Kings from the 2018 season along with one other South African team and one Australian team. The South African and Australian rugby unions have reportedly been set a May deadline to decide which club will be cut or possibly merged. This move is in response to some South African and Australian sides struggling financially in recent years and performing poorly on the field. The current conference system is also disliked by fans, so it appears that SANZAAR will revert to a three-conference system once the competition has been reduced to 15 teams. The Sunwolves’ and Jaguares’ place in the competition is safe for 2018, along with the five New Zealand franchises.
Friday, 17 March
Crusaders v Blues
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The Crusaders are beginning to make a habit out of starting slowly and finishing quickly as they fought back from 7-20 down against the Reds last week to win 22-20 courtesy of a late penalty by Mitchell Hunt. They somehow remain undefeated this season, which will have oppositions groaning, because the Crusaders are known for starting campaigns slowly and finishing strongly.
The Blues’ struggles against Kiwi sides continue as they fell 12-16 at home to the Highlanders in a low quality game to extend their losing streak against compatriot sides to seven. The Highlanders were seriously under-manned so the Blues really had no excuse not to pick up the win. Their handling of kicks let them down at times and their line outs were plundered for the second straight week. The Blues’ inability to score a try against the patchwork Highlanders is also of concern.
Betting: the Crusaders are 6-1 at home over the last 12 months while the Blues are 0-4 as the road underdog. I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.40 (William Hill). I also like the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.88 (Sportsbet). The Chiefs only managed to beat the 14-man Blues by 15 points so I expect this to be close.
Rebels v Chiefs
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Prior to their bye last week the Rebels were taken to the cleaners by the Hurricanes, losing 6-71 after leading 6-0 at the 15-minute mark. The game looked like it was being played by teams in different divisions at times. The Rebels’ scrum was completely dominated the their one-on-one tackling was really poor. This followed the Rebels’ 18-56 defeat to the Blues a week earlier, so it has been a terrible start for the Melbourne franchise, particularity in lieu of reports that Australia will only have four teams next season.
The Chiefs’ excellent start continued with a convincing win over the Hurricanes in a high quality contest despite the extremely wet conditions last week. They have successfully navigated a tricky run of games and can throw everything at the Rebels this week ahead of their Round 5 bye. The Chiefs have shown a fantastic ability to draw mistakes out of opponents and then punish them this season. I wasn’t convinced by them leading up to last week but that performance against the Hurricanes was really impressive. One interesting stat is the Chiefs haven’t conceded a try in the first 60 minutes of a game this season. No.8 Michael Leitch has received a one-match ban for a high tackle and will miss this match.
Betting: the Chiefs last visited Melbourne in 2015 and lost 16-15, so they will certainly be taking the Rebels seriously. The Rebels would have winced while watching the Chiefs beat the Hurricanes. If the Hurricanes beat them 71-6 what are the Chiefs going to do to them? The Rebels are 0-5 at the line as the home underdog over the last 12 months so I would back the Chiefs -16.5 at 1.80 (bet365).
Saturday, 18 March
Bulls v Sunwolves
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Prior to their bye last week the Bulls fell 34-28 to the Cheetahs despite a late comeback. The Bulls have started slowly in both fixtures this season. They found themselves 0-24 down before losing 24-37 to the Stormers in week 1 and they let the Cheetahs jump out to a 14-31 lead before late tries made the scoreline more respectable. The Bulls welcome back Jan Serfontein this week while Lood de Jager has recovered from a concussion and will start.
After losing 92-17 to the Cheetahs last year the Sunwolves were expected to be shredded last week in their rematch, but actually pushed the Cheetahs hard in a 31-38 loss. Some costly mistakes actually cost the Sunwolves the chance of winning what was a see-sawing game. The Sunwolves had a very short pre-season to prepare, which reflected in their slow start to the season, but with their inclusion in the 2018 season looking guaranteed, it’s good to see them looking more competitive now that they’re beginning to find their rhythm after a huge amount of player turnover in the off-season.
Betting: the Bulls only beat the Sunwolves by 3 points last season so I’m going to take my chances with the visitors at the line. Given the recent habit of the Bulls for starting games slowly I would back the Sunwolves +15.5 in the halftime line at 1.90 (William Hill).
Hurricanes v Highlanders
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The Hurricanes’ ten-game winning streak came to an end last week with a hard-fought defeat to the Chiefs in incredibly wet conditions in Hamilton. The game was arguably lost in the first half when they made two yellow card infringements and conceded a late try to take an 11-point deficit into the break. The Hurricanes scored a late try to make the scoreline respectable, but the Chiefs were clearly the better side on the night. Despite that defeat the Hurricanes have looked impressive this season. They have great depth in the squad and should be a factor in the playoffs. The Hurricanes will be without fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder for the next six weeks with a fractured foot, but have a handy backup in Jordie Barrett.
They have suffered a terrible run of injuries, yet somehow the Highlanders managed to hold on to defeat the Blues 16-12 in Auckland to pick up their first win of the season. They were forced to play with a loose forward on the wing at one stage as the casualties mounted to add to the eleven players who were already unavailable. It was a poor performance offensively, but defensively the Highlanders were superb, with a great work ethic at the break down causing numerous turnovers. After conceding seven tries in their opening two games, the Highlanders held the Blues tryless. In mixed injury news they welcome back fullback Ben Smith but fly-half Lima Sopoaga and winger Waisake Naholo are out. Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Ash Dixon, Dan Pryor and James Lentjes and Jason Emery remain sidelined.
Betting: the gulf in class between the Chiefs v Hurricanes and Blues v Highlanders games last week was huge. If the Highlanders were at full strength this would be very interesting, but with the Highlanders struggling with so many injuries I can’t see them upsetting the Hurricanes in Wellington. I would back the Hurricanes in the head-to-head at 1.35 (Luxbet).
Waratahs v Brumbies
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The Waratahs return home from a miserable tour of South Africa where they lost 36-55 to the Lions and 37-14 to the Sharks. It was a particularly poor, error-ridden, ill-disciplined performance last week. The Waratahs can take positives from the fact that they won the second half 7-6 against the travel-weary Sharks, but the game had already been lost by then after the Waratahs had been dominated in all aspects of the game in the first half. The Waratahs return to Sydney having conceded 92 points in their last two games. In team news fly-half Bernard Foley is aiming to return this week.
After losing to the Crusaders and Sharks the Brumbies picked up a crucial first win of the season by seeing off the Force 25-17 in Canberra last week. It was an error-strewn game and it took two late tries with the Force down a player for the Brumbies to secure the win, so it’s fair to see they still have a lot of work to do if they are to compete for a playoff spot. One big positive for the Brumbies, however is their scrum, which took the Force to pieces last week. They have also been solid defensively.
Betting: the Brumbies won this fixture 26-20 last season but both sides look weaker at the moment than they did last season. The Waratahs have a good overall record at home against the Brumbies but they’ve just returned from a South African tour. I expect it to be close so I would back both the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.75 (bet365) and the Brumbies 1-12 at 3.50 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 19 March
Lions v Reds
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The Lions are back at home after a trip to Argentina. As they did last season, the Lions left a number of key players at home for the journey and were clearly second best against the Jaguares, with two late Lions tries adding some respectability to the 24-36 score line. Cyle Brink is out this week with a shoulder injury while Dylan Smith may also miss out.
The Reds had a 20-7 halftime lead against the Crusaders last week but were held scoreless in the second half as they went on to lose 20-22 after conceding a late penalty. It was a far superior performance to the one they put in against the Force two weeks ago, however, so the Reds can take positives from the fact that they’re moving in the right direction.
Betting: the Lions should be too strong but interestingly the most recent clashes between the two have been closely fought affairs. Nevertheless based on recent form I’m going to back the Lions -10.5 at 1.85 (bet365).
Sharks v Kings
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The Sharks take on their first South African opponent this season after winning two of their three fixtures against Australian sides. Last week fly-half Pat Lambie left the field early in the game and the 19-year-old Curwin Bosch put in an impressive performance in his absence, scoring a try to go with 22 points from the boot. The Sharks have looked stronger each week and have two very winnable fixtures ahead of their crucial Round 6 clash against the Lions.
The Kings were swatted aside easily by the Stormers last week so they will be desperate for a more competitive showing to maintain some confidence in the new-look side. You can’t help but wonder if their Round 2 win over the Sunwolves will be their only victory of the season. Centre Luzuko Vulindlu suffered a concussion and won’t feature this week. The news this week is the Kings will be axed from the competition next season, which can’t be good for moral.
Betting: the Sharks thrashed the Kings in their last three meetings should be too strong but the 30.5 line looks to be spot on. I would back the Sharks -21.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.40 (Sportsbet).
Jaguares v Cheetahs
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The Jaguares marked their first home game with a 36-24 win over the under-strength Lions last week to move into a three-way tie for the Africa 2 Conference. The scoreline flattered the Lions, who scored two late tries to bring some respectability to the score line. Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez is suspended this week as the Jaguares continue to shoot themselves in the foot with ill-discipline.
The Cheetahs started as 35.5 point favourites, but could only beat the Sunwolves by 7 points at home last week. It was a curiously close see-sawing game after the Cheetahs beat the Sunwolves 92-17 last season. Nevertheless they picked up the win and have won two games from three to stay within touch of the Stormers in the Africa 2 conference.
Betting: the Jaguares at home are formidable opponents because of the amount of travel required to get to Argentina. Despite the suspension of Sanchez I would back the Jaguares in the head-to-head at 1.33 (Luxbet).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Chiefs -16.5 at 1.80 (bet365)
Back the Hurricanes in the head-to-head at 1.35 (Luxbet)