The following are previews with betting tips for Round 10 of the 2018 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 20 April
Blues v Highlanders
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The Blues snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Sunwolves 24-10 in Tokyo last week. It wasn’t a convincing performance, particularly in the first half, with the Blues finding themselves down 10-nil early on, but they found their rhythm as the Sunwolves faded in the second half to run out comfortable winners. The Blues need to put in a much stronger performance if they are to challenge the Highlanders, however. They limp into this fixture with virtually half the squad unavailable. The latest additions to the casualty ward are fullback Michael Collins (five weeks) and lock Josh Goodhue (one month). A whopping eighteen players are unavailable for selection, with six of them out for the season and a further six set to be sidelined for several more weeks.
The Highlanders returned to winning ways with a convincing 43-17 home win over the Brumbies last week. The visitors were still in the contest at halftime before the Highlanders showed their superior quality in the final half hour. The win continues their run of winning every home game and losing every away game this season. The Highlanders remain 4th in what is a very competitive New Zealand conference, but are still well within the playoff hunt.
Betting: the Blues are on a 14-game winless streak against domestic opponents but they have been consistently competitive. They always lift against their Kiwi counterparts and the last eight domestic fixtures have all seen them lose by 9 points or less. With half their squad unavailable, however, I’m not sure whether that trend will continue. If the Blues’ squad were fitter I would be all over them at the +12.5 line at 1.50 (Sportsbet), but I’m going to instead back the Highlanders in the head-to-head at 1.40 (Unibet).
Waratahs v Lions
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The Waratahs now lead the Australian conference after they saw off the Reds 37-16 last week. They certainly look the best team in Australia at the moment but they haven’t played a New Zealand team yet. The Waratahs’ title credentials will be tested this week when they take on the classy Lions.
Prior to their bye last week the Lions ended a two-game losing streak by beating the Stormers 52-31 in Johannesburg. The crucial win leaves them in the box seat to win the South African conference. After a poor month of results the Lions put in vintage performance in that fixture. They completely dominated the Stormers, winning every aspect of the game, including the breakdown and set-pieces. The quality of that performance bodes ominously for the rest of the conference. In team news, captain Warren Whiteley won’t feature this week after his comeback from a knee injury was delayed.
Betting: the Waratahs have a perfect 3-0 home record against the Lions, but the two sides haven’t played in Sydney since 2014 and the Lions are a completely different side to the one that lost 17-41 that season. Their most recent meeting was last year in Johannesburg, which the Lions won 55-36. Last season the Lions won all three fixtures in Australia but will be mindful that the Waratahs are unbeaten at home this season and are on a 4-game winning streak. Fixtures between the two tend to be high scoring affairs, so I would take over 56.5 at 1.87 (William Hill). Six of the Waratahs’ last seven home games went over the bookmaker’s total.
Saturday, 21 April
Crusaders v Sunwolves
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Prior to their bye last week the Crusaders put in a clinical performance to see off the Jaguares 40-14 in Buenos Aires. It was their 14th consecutive win against an overseas opponent and their 8th straight on foreign soil. In mixed injury news, Israel Dagg and Owen Franks made successful returns via club rugby last week, however Joe Moody suffered a finger injury while playing for North Canterbury and will be out for a further six weeks.
The Sunwolves started positively against the Blues last week and were up 10-0 at one stage, but the early energy expenditure caught up with them as the Blues eventually ran out 24-10 winners. It was a game dominated by errors and a heavy penalty count, plus the Sunwolves’ defence continues to be atrocious as they fell off tackles ever more frequently as the game wore on. They will certainly be up against it this weekend.
Betting: the line for this game is 38.5, which is understandable given the Sunwolves were hammered 50-3 when they visited Christchurch last year. I’m never fond of betting on games with such high lines, but if I had to bet on this fixture I would take the Crusaders -27.5 at 1.36 (Sportsbet).
Reds v Chiefs
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The Reds played better against the Waratahs than they did the week before against the Brumbies, but it wasn’t nearly enough as they fell 16-37 in Sydney. The Reds show good promise at times but have been guilty of playing too narrow. They also struggle when they don’t have the ascendancy at the set-piece. Following the game, coach Brad Thorn threw cold water on any speculation that he would bring Quade Cooper or Karmichael Hunt back into the fold.
The Chiefs’ 5-game winning streak came to an end last week with a 13-25 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington. They were outclassed by the Hurricanes’ backline on the night but you felt like a loss was due after a number of close wins. They can take positives, though, from the strong performances of Solomon Alaimalo and Damian McKenzie against such strong opposition. The Chiefs continue to have an injury-plagued season. Prop Aidan Ross picked up a serious knee injury and No.8 Taleni Seu had to leave the field last week.
Betting: the Chiefs should be too strong. They won their last two meetings against the Reds 50-5 in Brisbane and 46-17 in Hamilton. I’m not expecting a repeat of the 50-5 scoreline, but would nevertheless back the Chiefs -8.5 at 1.52 (William Hill). All four of the Chiefs’ most recent wins over the Reds were by 13+ points, three of which were in Brisbane.
Bulls v Rebels
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The Bulls hammered the Sharks 40-10 away in Durban last week to move to 2nd in the South African conference. They ran out to an early lead and kept the Sharks scoreless in the second spell to seal the 6 tries to 1 result. After winning their last two fixtures as the underdog, the Bulls now find themselves as the firm favourite against the Rebels. With the Lions embarking on their four-game tour of Australia and New Zealand, the next few weeks provide a crucial chance for the Bulls to bridge the 11-point gap to the conference leaders.
The Rebels slumped to a second successive defeat after they fell 22-25 at home to the Jaguares last week. As has become a habit in all three defeats this season, the Rebels started positively and led the game in the first half before falling behind in the second spell. Given the Argentinians’ scrummaging ability, Rebels will also rue their decision in extra time to opt for a scrum after receiving a penalty in front of the posts. In the end the Rebels paid the price for trying to close out the game with over half an hour to go. They went into their shells and lost a game they probably should have won.
Betting: this fixture features two teams who are heading in opposite directions. After a slow start the Bulls have won two in a row, while after a fast start the Rebels have lost three of their last four. The Bulls have 3-0 record at home against the Rebels, but this year’s Rebels squad is far superior to previous seasons, so I’m not prepared to back the home side at the -10.5 line. Never in franchise history have the Rebels won in South Africa (the Force didn’t manage to since 2014), so I would back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.33 (bet365). If you like this selection get in early because the Bulls’ odds have been shortening all week.
Sunday, 22 April
Sharks v Stormers
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The Sharks have just one win from their last five fixtures after they fell 10-40 to the Bulls in wet conditions last week. The result was disappointing given they only lost by one point to the competition-leading Hurricanes the week before. The Sharks have only won 1 of their last 9 against the Bulls, so the Pretoria side is clearly their bogey team. The Sharks will have to find some consistency in form if they are to bridge the 11-point gap to the conference leaders.
Prior to their bye last week the Stormers were completely outclassed as they fell 31-52 to the Lions in Johannesburg. The result was a hammer blow as it leaves them 12 points behind the conference leaders as well as below the Sharks and Bulls. The defeat continues the Stormers’ lopsided stats of going 3-0 at home and 0-5 on the road.
Betting: the Sharks have been blowing hot and hold this season, so it’s hard to make a confident prediction on their fixtures. They’ve won 5 of their last 7 against the Stormers, including their last 3 meetings, so if I were to bet on this fixture I would back the Sharks in the head-to-head at 1.73 (BlueBet, TopBetta, Ladbrokes). The Stormers have a 2-8 away record over the last 12 months and have gone 0-7 as the away underdog.
Brumbies v Jaguares
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The Brumbies were thrashed 17-43 by the Highlanders in Dunedin last week as the Australian franchises’ drought against Kiwi teams extended to an unbelievable 34 games. They were very much in the contest, down 10-12 at halftime, but had no answers to the Highlanders’ second half display. The Brumbies were too lateral when in possession, which never gave the Highlanders any problems. Prior to that game it had been many a year since the Brumbies had lost by more than 13 points to the Highlanders, so the 26-point defeat shows just how far the gap between the two sides has widened.
The Jaguares have a perfect 3-0 record on Australian soil after they upset the Rebels 25-22 in Melbourne last week. The win was built around a strong defensive performance as the Jaguares finished the stronger of the two sides, although it has to be said the Rebels contributed to their own downfall.
Betting: the Brumbies won this clash comfortably in Argentina last year but they’ve regressed dramatically since then. Nevertheless, given their strong record in Canberra, I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.55 (William Hill).
Best Bet of the Round
Back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.33 (bet365)