As we enter Round 3 of the Super Rugby season, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of the abilities of each side, although four teams have only played one game this season. Alongside my own opinions this week I have also included the outcome predictions of 15 ‘experts’ from Rugby Heaven in Australia and TVNZ in New Zealand. Below are the Luxbet odds for this weekends fixtures (subject to change).
Crusaders vs. Waratahs
Expert tips: 10 for Crusaders, 5 for Waratahs
The Crusaders started the competition with a narrow loss to the Blues. Last week’s game against the Hurricanes was canceled due to the Christchurch earthquake, with the match formally ruled a 0-0 draw. The Waratahs have had a great start to the competition, with convincing wins over the Rebels and Reds. The Crusaders have labeled the Waratahs the team to beat, as the Waratahs are the only team to pick up maximum points in their first two games. The Waratahs have also yet to concede a try. After week one I was unsure as to whether the Waratahs’ demolition of the Rebels was due to their brilliance or how poor the Rebels are. However the Rebels bounced back with a surprise win over the Brumbies, which makes the Waratahs form look ominous. The Crusaders will be emotional after last week’s earthquake. Many of the players have been involved in the clean up. The Crusaders will be bolstered for this fixture, with Sonny Bill Williams set for his debut. Meanwhile the Waratahs will be without the services of Berrick Barnes due to a concussion. I would back the Waratahs (+5) in a line bet here.
Lions vs. Blues
Expert tips: 4 for Lions, 11 for Blues
The Lions are without a win this season (and last season!), but have been competitive against the Bulls (20-24) and the Stormers (19-16), who were last year’s finalists. The Blues started with a great home victory against the Crusaders, but fell 12-24 to the Sharks last week. The Blues should be a bit more refreshed this week, however, as they’ve had a bit of time to acclimate to South African conditions. The bookies have installed the Blues as the favourites for this fixture, but they should be wary of a home team that is hungry for success. Overall I think the Lions are better value for money here, so I would back the Lions (+3) in a handicap bet.
Chiefs vs. Rebels
Expert tips: 12 for Chiefs, 3 for Rebels
The Chiefs once again have made numerous changes from the week before, with Leonard, Donald and Umaga back into the starting lineup. The Rebels will start with the same side that defeated the Brumbies last week. I’m backing the Rebels (+14) in a handicap bet here, given they were able to beat a Brumbies side that saw of the Chiefs in the opening round. I back the Chiefs to win the game, but feel the 1.14 odds are poor value.
Brumbies vs. Reds
Expert tips: 9 for Brumbies, 6 for Reds
Based on the split in expert opinion, this should be one of the even games of the round. Both teams come into the fixture on the back of disappointing losses, so both will be desperate to secure a win to stay in touch with the Waratahs. The Brumbies start this play this week under a new coach in Tony Rea, after a rumoured player-revolt causing Andy Friend to be shown the door. Given that they have an impressive home record, I’m backing the Brumbies in a head-to-head bet.
Force vs. Sharks
Expert tips: 11 for Force, 4 for Sharks
This fixture is fascinating, because expert opinion is in contrast to the odds. The Force started the season with a closely contested loss to the Reds and a bye last week. The Sharks enter Australia on the back of consecutive wins against the Cheetahs and Blues. Given the difficulties of traveling overseas in Super Rugby, many pundits are backing the Force, but I expect the Sharks to be competitive. I give the slight edge to the Sharks here, but given the odds, I would back the Force (+3) in a line bet.
Stormers vs. Cheetahs
Expert tips: 14 for Stormers, 1 for Cheetahs
The Stormers started the season with a bye, followed by a surprisingly close win over the Lions. I expect them to be sharper this week, and back them to win here. My only concern is the low odds on offer for head-to-head betting. You get better value backing the Cheetahs (+11.5) in a handicap bet.
Bulls vs. Highlanders
Expert tips: 13 for Bulls, 2 for Highlanders
Given their lack of star players, I can’t help but be impressed by the Highlanders’ start to the season. They have bounced back from a pre-season string of close losses with two impressive wins over the Hurricanes and Chiefs. The Bulls have also enjoyed a strong start to the season, but they were always expected to beat the Cheetahs and Lions. Perhaps the only surprise was how close the fixtures were.
Making the trip to South Africa is always a tough task for NZ teams, in particular for the Highlanders, who have the longest distance to cover. Had this game been played in Dunedin I think it would be an intriguing match, but I expect the Bulls to be too strong for a jet-lagged Highlanders squad. Unfortunately, the odds on a Bulls victory are poor. I expect them to win, but think 1.12 isn’t worth the risk. I don’t expect the Highlanders to be blown away here, so I would take the +14.5 handicap bet on the Highlanders.