The following are previews with betting tips for Round 8 of the 2019 Super Rugby season.
Please note that these previews are published before the team sheets are announced. Those who are more risk averse may prefer to wait for the squad lists before wagering, especially given the enforced resting of international players this season.
Friday, 5 April
Highlanders vs Hurricanes
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Prior to their bye last week the Highlanders fell 26-33 to the Blues in Auckland to slide to 2-1-2 for the season. They’ve now lost 4 of their last 5 fixtures against Kiwi opposition. As I’ve said previously, apart from the notable departure of fly-half Lima Sopoaga, the Highlanders are almost the same team as last year, but they haven’t been able to find their rhythm yet this season. They will be buoyed by being back at Forsyth Barr Stadium, however. The Highlanders are on a 13-game winning streak in Dunedin. In team news, winger Waisake Naholo is out for up to six weeks with a knee injury and halfback Aaron Smith is out for 4-6 weeks with an ankle injury. Rob Thompson returns after being injured since Round 2.
The Hurricanes turned over the ball too easily and made too many mistakes in their 8-32 defeat to the Crusaders last week. They were shut out of the scoreboard in the second half and the loss broke a 13-game winning streak at home. The Hurricanes haven’t fired offensively this season. They have only the 8th highest scoring offence compared to 2nd last year, but the good news is they sit 4th in the overall standings regardless and they have got both fixtures against the Crusaders out of the way. No other team has beaten them this season.
Betting: the last six fixtures between the two were all won by the home team. The Hurricanes have gone 1-8 at the line away from home over the last 12 months. My original tip was for the Highlanders +7.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.50 (Sportsbet), but the absence of Aaron Smith is a major blow.
Reds vs Stormers
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The Reds defended gallantly in the first half but were taken to pieces in the second as they fell 13-32 to the Rebels at home last week. They were second best in virtually every aspect of the game and their offence lacked spark, which will force Brad Thorn back to the drawing board after their impressive win over the Brumbies the week before. The Reds sit 4th in the Australian conference but given how congested the Super Rugby tables have been, they remain well within in playoffs contention.
The Stormers dominated territory, possession and the set piece against the Blues last week, but made too many errors on attack as they fell 9-24 in Auckland. It was their 10th consecutive defeat on foreign soil and their 8th defeat in their last 9 away games. On paper this is the Stormers’ easiest Australasian tour fixture, but I expect the Reds will fancy themselves here too. The Stormers will have to make do without Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth and Dan du Plessis for the rest of the tour. Prop Wilco Louw has an ankle injury and is also in doubt.
Betting: the Stormers have gone 1-7 away from home over the last 12 months and 0-1 as the away favourite. The Reds, meanwhile, have gone 6-3 at the line when at home. Both offences were toothless last week so I’m expecting a close, low scoring game. The Stormers were only able to beat the Reds by 6 points this time last year in Cape Town so I would back the Reds +5.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.53 (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 6 April
Lions vs Sharks
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Prior to their bye last week the Lions recovered from a slow start to outclass the Sunwolves 37-24 in Singapore. Malcolm Marx continues to be a star and the Lions have now put together three consecutive wins following a disappointing start to the season. They currently sit top of the South African conference but just four points separate them from the 4th placed Stormers.
The Sharks slid to 3-3 for the season after they lost 16-19 at home to the Bulls in an ill-tempered affair. A 50-50 TMO call that went against them didn’t help, but the Bulls have long been a bogey team for the Durban side. The South African conference title is still well within sight, however the Sharks will be reeling from having lost two of their four home games this season. They have been away from home recently. The Sharks only away win over the last 12 was against the Sunwolves. In team news, hooker Armand van der Merwe has picked up a three-week suspension for foul play.
Betting: the Lions have gone 7-1 at home over the last 12 months while the Sharks have gone 1-5 away from home and 0-5 as the away underdog. The Lions have won their last five at home against the Sharks, however the last three wins were all by 7 points or less. The Sharks have the best defensive record in the competition so I don’t expect a thrashing. I would back the Sharks +10.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Crusaders vs Brumbies
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After rotating the squad and suffering a shock defeat to the Waratahs in Round 6, the Crusaders fielded a full-strength squad and crushed the Hurricanes 32-8 in Wellington. The win was all the more impressive given the Hurricanes had won their previous 13 games at the Cake Tin. All Blacks captain Kieran Read played well after a four-month absence from rugby, but had to leave the field with a double haematoma to his right leg. The Crusaders enjoy a 5-point lead at the top of the New Zealand conference and they top the overall standings, so their bid for a three-peat remains on track.
Prior to their bye last week the Brumbies put in an insipid performance in stifling conditions to lose 14-36 to the Reds in Brisbane. They lacked urgency in defence and direction in attack. This was on the back of a win over the Waratahs so the Brumbies have been blowing hot and cold this season. Their inconsistent nature can be summed up by their 54-17 win over the Chiefs one week and 13-43 defeat to the Hurricanes the next. One trend to those results, however, is location, with the Brumbies having won their last 2 home fixtures and losing their last three away from Canberra.
Betting: the Crusaders have won 20 of their last 21 games and haven’t lost at home since 2016 (a 20-game winning streak). They will be fired up for this clash given it is their first home fixture since the mosque shootings. Like most teams, the Brumbies have an atrocious record in Christchurch, with 6 of their 8 latest losses at this venue coming by 13+ margins. I would back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.40 (bet365). At the time of writing this selection was as low as 1.27 with other bookmakers.
Blues vs Waratahs
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The Blues overcame a late red card to defeat the Stormers 24-9 last week to move to 3-3 for the season. The visitors dominated territory, possession and the set piece, but the Blues were able to limit the Stormers to just three penalties. It was their 3rd consecutive win after having failed to win back-to-back games in 2018. It was also the Blues’ third home win after winning just one fixture at Eden Park last year. Their offence hasn’t fired yet, but their 3rd best defensive record provides a good platform to build from. In team news, winger Tanielu Tele’a has been suspended for four weeks following his red card offence.
After shocking the Crusaders with an upset win in Round 6, the Waratahs suffered a shock 29-31 home defeat to the Sunwolves. Those results continue the Waratahs’ unusual run of going 3-4 as the home favourite and 3-1 as the home underdog, which adds to their reputation for playing to the level of their opponents. After defending so well against the Crusaders, the Waratahs put in a defensive performance reminiscent of 2017 as they fell off too many tackles against the Japanese team. Come the end of the season they may be left to rue their decision to rotate the squad for a very winnable home game. Bernard Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Jack Dempsey should return this week.
Betting: I’m leaning towards the home team. the Waratahs haven’t won at Eden Park since 2009, with the Blues winning their last four clashes in Auckland. The Waratahs haven’t beaten the Blues at home since 2015 either, with the Auckland side prevailing in their 2017 and 2018 visits to Sydney. Over the last 12 months the Waratahs have gone 4-1 as the away favourite and 0-3 as the away underdog, so bookmakers have had the measure of their abilities when away from home. I would back the Blues in the head-to-head at 1.53 (Sportsbet).
Rebels vs Sunwolves
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Quade Cooper exacted revenge on his old club last week as the Rebels defeated the Reds 32-13 in Brisbane. Most of the win can be credited to the forwards, however, as they dominated their counterparts. They were contained to 11-6 at halftime as the Reds defence frustrated them, but the floodgates opened in the second half. The performance was a good response to the Rebels’ disappointing performances in South Africa. They dominated the Reds at the set-pieces and kept the error count down despite having two-thirds of possession. The Waratahs’ shock defeat to the Sunwolves means the Rebels now sit top of the Australian conference with a 3-point lead over the NSW franchise.
The Sunwolves moved to 2-5 for the season after they shocked the under-strength Waratahs 31-29 in Newcastle last week. It was their 2nd away win of the season after having failed to win a single away fixture in their first three seasons. It was also their second win in Rounds 1-7 after previously going 1-17 in the opening seven rounds of the season. Kiwi fly-half Hayden Parker continues to be deadly accurate with the boot. He kicked his 32nd successive successful kick during the Waratahs match, where just one miss would have cost them the game. His longest kicking streak is 38!
Betting: the Rebels have won all three previous fixtures against the Sunwolves by 20+ points and while the Sunwolves are an improved side this year, I expect the Rebels to win. Since Round 1, no side has beaten the Sunwolves by more than 13 points so I don’t expect a blowout, however. I would back the Rebels in the head-to-head at 1.20 (Unibet).
Sunday, 7 April
Bulls vs Jaguares
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The Bulls bounced back from their shock thrashing to the Chiefs by defeating the Sharks 19-16 in Durban. The win moves them to 4-2 for the season, just one point behind the conference-leading Lions. The match was a war of attrition, which was to be expected, given there was so much at stake with both sides having conference winning aspirations. The Bulls are now 4-0 against South African opponents this season but are 0-2 against overseas teams.
The Jaguares lost their 3rd consecutive game last week when they fell 27-30 to the Chiefs in Argentina. They dominated much of the second half in a seesawing contest but succumbed to a 78th-minute match-winning try. Discipline has again become an issue. The Jaguares have only won 2 of their 4 home fixtures this season. This has put their campaign on the back foot.
Betting: all five previous meetings between the two were won by the home team. The Jaguares have lost their last 11 fixtures in South Africa, so I would back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.34 (Sportsbet).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.40 (bet365).