The following are previews with betting tips for Round 17 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 14 July
Highlanders v Reds
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Prior to the international break the Highlanders suffered their second 3-point defeat to the Crusaders this season, losing 22-25 after the Crusaders kicked a last-gasp miracle drop-goal. The defeat snapped a nine-game winning streak for the Highlanders. The defeat hurt because the Highlanders picked their best available squad for that clash while the Crusaders made ten changes to their starting XV. The upside was the Highlanders successfully altered their defensive structures at halftime after trailing 10-19 at the break. The reason Mitchell Hunt attempted a last ditch drop goal was because for over four minutes the Crusaders couldn’t make inroads through the Highlanders brick wall. The Highlanders have since beaten the British and Irish Lions 23-22 and the Crusaders 33-12 in a friendly last Thursday, so the mood in the camp will be good. All Blacks Aaron Smith and Ben Smith are being rested this week. Liam Squire returns to the starting XV after recovering from a broken thumb.
The Reds snapped a five-game losing streak against the Brumbies by squeaking past them 16-15 last week in wet conditions in Brisbane. They were dominated for much of the game, particularly at set pieces, but found a way to snatch a win with a last minute penalty. The coaching staff will be pleased by some of the key contributions of younger players late in the game, but it was a low quality game, it must be said. In team news, Caleb Timu will make his run-on debut at blindside flanker while Rob Simmons starts at lock with Kane Douglas shifting to the bench. Reece Hewat and Jayden Ngamanu are poised to make their Reds debuts from the bench.
Betting: this fixture sees both teams looking ahead. The Highlanders named their squad with the playoffs in mind while the Reds have named a youthful squad as they look ahead to next season. The Reds have won 5 of their last 6 against the Highlanders but their respective forms this season have been poles apart. Even with a few players rested the Highlanders should be too strong. I would back both the Highlanders 13+ at 1.33 (bet365) and the Reds +31.5 at 1.33 (Sportsbet).
Rebels v Jaguares
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Despite leading at halftime the Rebels fell 22-31 to the Force last week to slump to 1-1-12 for the season. The defeat was their 7th in a row. The nearest side in what has been a weak Australian conference has more than twice as many points as the Rebels, which highlights just how poor their season has been. They now take on the Jaguares in what could be their final ever game in Super Rugby. The Rebels welcome back Sean McMahon from a wrist injury this week.
The Jaguares bounced back from a horror run of form by upsetting the Waratahs 40-27 in Sydney last week. Most of the damage was done early on as the Jaguares raced out to a 25-3 lead. The Waratahs made a comeback while the Jaguares had two men in the bin, but the Jaguares pulled away later in the game. The Jaguares will now look for their third Australian scalp of the season when they take on the Rebels. If they can keep their discipline under control they will be a good chance of taking the win.
Betting: both sides have had disappointing seasons but the Rebels have been the worse of the two. I would back the Jaguares in the head-to-head at 1.44 (Palmerbet).
Kings v Cheetahs
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The Kings picked up their second 31-30 upset away win in a row with the Bulls their latest victims following the Jaguares. The Kings are now guaranteed to finish above the Bulls and Cheetahs in the standings in what has been a much more competitive than expected season. It’s a shame they will be axed from Super Rugby. The Kings finished 2016 with just 9 points but have picked up 27 points this year with one game to play, so the Kings have been the most improved side this season. They welcome back Wilhelm van der Sluys from a concussion this week.
Prior to their bye last week the Cheetahs fell 34-40 to the Stormers in an entertaining game that reflected the fact that neither side had much to play for. The Cheetahs will be dropped from Super Rugby next season, possibly to join the Pro 12 competition, so like the Kings, this is their final Super Rugby fixture. The Cheetahs will be without flanker Henco Venter who is suspended this week.
Betting: with nothing but pride to play for, it wouldn’t surprise me if this turns out to be a high scoring game. There shouldn’t be much to separate the two so I would back both the Kings 1-12 at 3.00 (William Hill) and the Cheetahs 1-12 at 3.75 (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 15 July
Sunwolves v Blues
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The Sunwolves bounced back from a thrashing at the hands of the Lions by putting in a much more competitive first half performance against the Stormers last week. They trailed by just 9 points at the break and had enjoyed 60% of possession. It all fell to pieces in the second half, however, as the Stormers ran out 52-15 winners to leave the Sunwolves rooted to the bottom of the standings with the 2nd worst offensive record and worst defensive record in the competition. To put the Sunwolves’ defensive woes into perspective, they have conceded 46 points per game, which is 8 points more than the second worst team.
Prior to the international break the Blues came back from a late deficit to see off the Reds 34-29 in Samoa. It wasn’t a great performance but the Blues rested key players in the second half. The Blues then upset the British and Irish Lions 22-16 to show what the side is capable of. The break would have been a strange time for them because they last played on the 7th of June (against the British & Irish Lions) and have had to wait until now to play this meaningless fixture to see off the season. The Blues will be without centre Sonny Bill Williams after he picked up a four-week suspension.
Betting: the Blues boast a lot of explosive talent and are the type of side that could really hurt the Sunwolves. The Blues will score plenty of points but the question is whether they will bother to defend with this being virtually an exhibition match. If the Blues play to their potential they could win this by 40+. I would back the Blues -29.5 at 1.91 (Sportsbet).
Chiefs v Brumbies
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Prior to the international break the Chiefs picked up a crucial 17-14 win over the Hurricanes in Wellington. The win puts them just one point behind the Hurricanes in the race for the 5th seed. This was their second win over the Hurricanes this season. If the Chiefs win this fixture and the Hurricanes lose, then the Chiefs will play the Brumbies again next week in Canberra, otherwise the Chiefs will visit the Stormers, who have already beaten them once this season.
The Brumbies looked in control for most of the game but somehow found a way to lose 15-16 to the Reds in a poor quality game in Brisbane last week. The win snapped a three-game winning streak and while playoffs rugby is assured, the Brumbies risk entering the quarter-finals with no momentum if they lose badly to the Chiefs. The Brumbies have received a blow ahead of the playoffs, with Kyle Godwin and Aidan Toua ruled out with season-ending injuries.
Betting: the Chiefs haven’t named their squad at the time of writing but if they go full strength they should win this comfortably. The last time the two sides met the Chiefs won by 25 points in Canberra. They may have to shake off some rust, but the Chiefs should win this by a double-digit margin in a low scoring game (sub 50 points). I would back the Chiefs -9.5 at 1.36 (Sportsbet). Keep an eye on the over/under when it is released because that market may prove to have a better value play.
Hurricanes v Crusaders
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Prior to the international break the Hurricanes’ 12-game home winning streak ended with a 14-17 defeat to the Chiefs. They had their chances but errors derailed their cause. The Hurricanes sit one point ahead of the Chiefs in the standings but will likely have to beat the Crusaders to retain that spot with the Chiefs hosting the Brumbies earlier in the day. The Hurricanes boast both the best offensive and best defensive stats in the competition, but I am concerned by the fact that the Crusaders have beaten them once and the Chiefs have beaten them twice. The Hurricanes will be keen to beat the Crusaders this week if only to prove that they can beat the best in the competition. At the moment they look like a side that’s only the best at thrashing weaker opponents. With the Hurricanes looking to hold onto 5th seed to avoid a trip to South Africa in the quarter-finals, coach Chris Boyd has picked the strongest possible side, with TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea added to the squad that drew with the British and Irish Lions.
Prior to the international break the Crusaders squeaked past the Highlanders for the second time this season, prevailing 25-22 thanks to Mitchell Hunt’s astonishing last-gasp drop-goal 43 metres out from an angle. The win was impressive given the Crusaders made ten changes to their starting XV for that clash while the Highlanders picked their strongest available side. The Crusaders are now one game away from a perfect 15-0 regular season, but on paper this clash against the Hurricanes is their toughest fixture of the regular season.
Betting: this is the best match of the round because if the Chiefs beat the Brumbies both sides will have everything to play for. The Lions will certainly be watching with great interest. I expect this to be a tense, close encounter. Since 2013, games between the two in Wellington have been settled by 7 points or less. I would back both the Hurricanes 1-12 at 3.00 (Sportsbet) and the Crusaders 1-12 at 3.60 (bet365).
Force v Waratahs
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The Force saw off the Rebels to pick up a deserved 31-22 win last week to move to move to 5-9 for the season. They trailed at halftime but dominated the second half as they cut down on errors and their forwards took the ascendancy. With the Rebels languishing with a 1-1-12 record, the Force will be hoping their relative performances this year determine which side is cut from Super Rugby. The Force will be without Chance Peni-Ataera this week after he picked up a three-game suspension for a dangerous tackle.
The Waratahs’ disappointing season continued with a 27-40 defeat to the Jaguares last week. They got caught making another poor start to a game, trailing 3-25 in the first half before mounting a comeback while the Jaguares had two players in the bin. This was the Waratahs’ 11th consecutive defeat to an overseas side. Defence continues to be a major issue for the Waratahs, who have conceded at least 40 points in 4 of their last 5 games. Their defence around the fringes of rucks was badly exposed last week and they fell off too many tackles. Sorting out the Waratahs’ defence will have to be a priority going into next season. To put their 2017 defensive woes into perspective, they have conceded 34 points per game this season, compared to 17 points in 2014, 20 points in 2015 and 21 points in 2016. In team news, winger Bryce Hegary suffered a hamstring injury and is a 50% chance of playing.
Betting: despite their poor form the Waratahs are 4-1 this season against Australian opposition and have won 5 of their last 7 in Perth, so you can see why they’ve been installed as the 1-point favourites. The Force will be keen to finish the season with a win while the key Waratahs players will be looking to avoid injury, so I think this could go either way. Over the last 12 months both sides have combined for just two 13+ wins, so I would back both the Force 1-12 at 3.25 (Sportsbet) and the Waratahs 1-12 at 3.10 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 16 July
Sharks v Lions
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Prior to their bye last week the Sharks were expected to make light work of the Bulls but were defeated comfortably, losing 17-30. With playoffs rugby coming up the nature of the defeat is a concern because the scoreline didn’t do justice to the fact that the Sharks were dominated by the unfancied Bulls. The loss has thrown a spanner in the works of trying to avoid the 8th seed and the possible visit to the Crusaders that comes with it.
Prior to their bye last week the Lions maintained their red-hot form by thrashing the Sunwolves 94-7 at Ellis Park. The Lions have now won four of their last five games by 37+ points. With one round to play they sit just 2 points behind the Crusaders in the overall standings so they will be hoping the Hurricanes can beat the Crusaders earlier in the day. The result of that clash will have a large bearing on how the Lions approach this one.
Betting: the Sharks will be really up for this clash but their best rugby has been far below the Lions’ this season. The Lions have won their last 4 against the Sharks and have the potential to cover the -8.5 line comfortably. My only concern is if the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes then the Lions will have nothing to gain and may just go through the motions. You might want to wait until the conclusion of the Hurricanes v Crusaders game before considering your options. If I had to commit to a bet now I would take the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.30 (Ladbrokes). The Lions will have to name their squad prior to the Crusaders fixture so they will likely be close to full strength.
Bulls v Stormers
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The Bulls weren’t able to back up on their impressive win over the Sharks two weeks ago. They fell 30-31 at home to the Kings last week, having trailed 3-22 at one stage. The loss sees them slump to 4-10 for the season. The Kings have 7 more competition points than the Bulls so the Pretoria side will be relieved that the axing of two South African franchises wasn’t based on this year’s form.
The under-strength Stormers cruised to a 52-15 win over the hapless Sunwolves last week to tighten their grip on the 3rd overall seed. Centre Juan de Jongh and loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe are available for selection, but the Stormers have virtually nothing to play for this week so are under no pressure to rush players back from injury. Huw Jones, Dewaldt Duvenage, SP Marais, Shaun Treeby, Kobus van Dyk, Oli Kebble and Ali Vermaak have been ruled out this week but are all on track to be available for the playoffs.
Betting: with the Stormers carrying so many injuries and having little to play for, I will back the Bulls to end the season on a high at home. I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 3.60 (Sportsbet).
Best Bets of the Round