The following are previews with betting tips for Round 9 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 21 April
Hurricanes v Brumbies
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It wasn’t the greatest performance, but the Hurricanes beat the Blues for the 5th consecutive time last week to keep the pace with the Crusaders and Chiefs. Beauden Barrett continues his habit of putting in strong performances despite card trouble. He has picked up three yellow cards in the last two weeks to go with two tries and match-winning effort last week. The Hurricanes have made a rotational change for this clash, with halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi starting ahead of TJ Perenara. No.8 Blade Thomson returns after dislocating his shoulder in Round 1, so Ardie Savea shifts back to the openside. Lock Michael Fatialofa has suffered a knee injury and has been replaced by Vaea Fifita.
The Brumbies suffered a shock 17-19 loss to the Rebels last round, despite outscoring the hosts three tries to one. The defeat ended a 10 game-winning streak against Australian opposition. The Brumbies failed to score in the final 37 minutes of the game but with two fixtures against Kiwi sides coming up, perhaps they were guilty of taking the Rebels too lightly. The Brumbies showed great endeavor against the Reds two weeks ago but appeared to retreat back into their shells last week. They are now 3-4 for the season but that record is good enough to enjoy a 7-point lead in the Australian conference! The Brumbies welcome back hooker Josh Mann-Rea for this clash.
Betting: courtesy of their strong defence, the Brumbies have been competitive in their two defeats to New Zealand teams this season, falling by 3 points to the Crusaders and 5 points to the Highlanders. The Brumbies have won 5 of their last 6 clashes against the Hurricanes, including a 52-10 win in Canberra in round 1 of last season. The Hurricanes beat the Waratahs by 10 points two weeks ago and a similar margin wouldn’t surprise me. Since 2010 the Hurricanes haven’t beaten the Brumbies by more than 20 points so I would take the Brumbies +22.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Confidence: low – I’m always squeamish about taking on the Kiwis
Waratahs v Kings
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Prior to their bye last week the Waratahs fell 28-38 to the Hurricanes in a game of two halves. The Waratahs trailed 7-33 at the break but made good adjustments in the second half, choosing not to kick but back themselves with ball in hand. Bernard Foley’s return has certainly given the side a lift and the Waratahs will be buoyed by the Brumbies’ slip up against the Rebels last week. In team news, prop Tom Robertson returns from injury and replaces the suspended Sekope Kepu. Rob Horne returns from a hamstring injury so Israel Folau shifts to fullback.
The Kings are now on a 5-game losing streak after losing 34-47 to the Reds in Brisbane last week. The Reds led 47-10 at one stage so the Kings did well to score 17 unanswered points late in the game to prevent an embarrassing defeat. They will enter this clash with one eye on a winnable home fixture against the Rebels next week. Winger Yaw Penxe has returned home with a concussion so Wandile Mjekevu gets his first start of the season.
Betting: the Waratahs should be too strong. With Foley’s return they should be better offensively. The Kings have a 7-2 line record as the away underdog, however, as opponents often switch off after building big leads. I would back the Kings +21.5 at 1.91 (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 22 April
Lions v Jaguares
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The Lions come into this fixture on a high after they ended the Stormers’ unbeaten streak in Cape Town. They defended well when they needed to and were strong at the set pieces and broken play, so the nature of the win would have pleased coach Johan Ackermann. The Lions’ only loss of the season thus far was to the Jaguares when they fell 24-36 in Argentina. The Lions sent over a weakened squad for that clash and given the Jaguares’ poor away form they will back themselves to get the win this week. Last season they lost 34-22 in Argentina but beat the Jaguares 52-24 at home.
The Jaguares lost their third consecutive away game last week to continue their poor form outside Argentina. Once again they picked up a yellow card as discipline continues to be a problem. Much like the Bulls, the Jaguares have a lopsided home vs. away record. They’ve won 5 of their last 6 at home but only 1 of their last 11 on the road.
Betting: until the Jaguares can sort out their away form I can’t back them outside Argentina. The Lions are 7-2 at the line as the home favourite over the last 12 months so I would back the Lions -13.5 at 1.90 (CrownBet). Also keep an eye on the over/under market when it is released. Games in Johannesburg have gone under the total in just one of the Lions’ last ten home games.
Highlanders v Sunwolves
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Prior to their bye last week the Highlanders picked up their second win over the Blues this season, winning 26-20 in Dunedin to move to 4-3 for the season after a 1-3 start. The result very much resembled the outcome of their Round 3 clash in which the Highlanders won by being more physical and treasuring possession better. The Highlanders had a miserable run of injuries early on but they have grown in strength each round as reinforcements have returned and it has shown in their results. In the absence of injured fly-half Lima Sopoaga, Marty Banks has been imperious with the boot. He has yet to miss a kick in the four games he has played this season. Despite facing a weaker side this week the Highlanders have named a strong squad, with All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo returning from an injury that has kept him out since Round 3.
The Sunwolves enter their third ever clash against a Kiwi team having been thrashed 83-17 by the Hurricanes and 50-3 by the Crusaders. The Japanese side has been much more competitive against South African opponents but they clearly don’t match up well against Kiwi teams. the Highlanders boast a formidable home record against foreign sides so life doesn’t get any easier this week. Oh, and the Sunwolves play the Chiefs in Hamilton next week.
Betting: Malakai Fekitoa is having a fantastic season and with Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo back, in the “Highlanders – Jersey of First Tryscorer” market, I would back “Number 11, 12, 13, 14 or 15” at 1.70 (William Hill). Only once this season has the first try scorer for the Highlanders been a player in any other position.
Crusaders v Stormers
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The Crusaders remain the only unbeaten team in the competition after they thrashed the sloppy Sunwolves 50-3 in Christchurch last week. The scoreline was impressive given they played on a waterlogged pitch following Cyclone Cook. The star of the show was Fijian winger Manasa Mataele, who scored a first-half hat-trick in the space of 8 minutes. Kieran Read made his season debut after returning from injury and put in a great performance. The only caveat to the Crusaders’ winning streak is they have only played one team with a winning record – the 4-3 Highlanders. We will learn more about their title credentials after this clash against the 6-1 Stormers.
After a soft patch of fixtures to open the season the Stormers are now in the midst of a tough run. They saw off the Chiefs 41-27 in Round 7 but fell 16-29 to the Lions last week to record their first defeat of the season. The scoreline arguably flattered the Stormers, who were outscored four tries to one and couldn’t breach the Lions’ defence in the second half. The Stormers came off second best at set pieces and in broken play, which isn’t a great sign heading into Christchurch. This is the first of three away fixtures against Kiwi sides, which will go a long way towards determining the Stormers’ title credentials.
Betting: the Stormers’ last three visits to Christchurch ended in 4, 7 and 1 point defeats. They are also unbeaten on the back of a defeat over the last 12 months so I will back the Stormers +14.5 at 1.91 (Sportsbet).
Confidence: low – I hate taking on the Kiwis
Force v Chiefs
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Prior to their bye last week the Force edged the Kings 46-41 in Perth to move to 2-4 for the season. Most of the scoring occurred in the second half after the Force led 15-7 at the break. The Force will be pleased by the return of co-captain Ben McCalman, who scored the match-winning try against the Kings. It was McCalman’s first appearance of the season after he recovered from a thumb injury.
The Chiefs overturned a 24-point deficit to beat the Cheetahs 41-27 last week to move to 6-1 for the season. In an uncharacteristically poor opening spell, the Chiefs found themselves down 24-0 in 22 minutes, but to the credit of the leadership within the squad, they kept their composure and applied relentless pressure on the Cheetahs to win the remaining 58 minutes of the game 41-3. The Chiefs have a winnable fixture against the Sunwolves next week so it wouldn’t surprise me if they select a strong squad this week and look to rotate players for the next round.
Betting: the Force will be keen to maintain their unbeaten home record this season but they will be up against it on Saturday. The Force are 1-4 at the line at home over the last 12 months and 5 of the last 6 away wins for the Chiefs have been by 8+ points, so I would back the Chiefs -7.5 at 1.45 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 23 April
Bulls v Cheetahs
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The Bulls beat the Jaguares 26-13 last week to maintain their lopsided home vs. away form. The Bulls have won 6 of their last 7 home fixtures but only 1 of their last 9 away. Last week’s win moves them to 2-5 for the season, so they remain well adrift of the 6-1 Stormers in the Africa 1 Conference.
The Cheetahs limp into this fixture having let a 24-nil lead against the Chiefs turn into a 27-41 defeat. They crumbled easily under the pressure applied by the Chiefs, so the nature of the defeat was demoralising. Defence has been the Cheetahs’ undoing this year, as it has for the previous four seasons. They’re conceding 37 points per game, which goes a long way towards explaining why they’re 2-6 for the season.
Betting: the Cheetahs are the only other team that play at altitude, so the Bulls’ home advantage is diminished. Five of the last six Bulls’ home wins over the Cheetahs were by 1-12 margins so I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 2.75 (William Hill).
Sharks v Rebels
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Prior to their bye last week the Sharks ground out a 18-13 win over the Jaguares in a battle of attrition in Durban. They are now 5-2 for the season and undefeated at home, so the Sharks will be pleased with how the first half of the season has gone.
The Rebels picked up their first win of the season last week, defeating the Brumbies 19-17 despite being outscored three tries to one and conceding three yellow cards. Perhaps the off-field news about the Rebels’ future sparked a response? The bye following their 12-51 defeat to the Highlanders was probably well-timed, because the Rebels looked a different team defensively last week. They’ve had a nasty habit of fading late in games but they kept the Brumbies pointless in the final 37-minutes of the game. The Rebels have had a torrid time against Kiwi opposition this season so they will be hoping for better fortunes against South African teams. In team news, Lopeti Timani is suspended for four weeks.
Betting: the Sharks are 7-0 at home over the last 12 months with 5 of those 7 wins coming by 8+ margins. For the Rebels, 4 of their 5 away defeats over the last 12 months have been by 13+ margins. I would back the Sharks -7.5 at 1.36 (Sportsbet).
Confidence: low – I wish I could get better odds
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Lions -13.5 at 1.90 (CrownBet)