Super Rugby enters Round 15 this weekend. With four weeks left the bookies are firming in their opinion that only eight teams retain finals series hopes. Alongside my own opinions I have included the winner predictions of 14 ‘experts’ from Rugby Heaven in Australia and TVNZ in New Zealand. Below are the Luxbet odds for this weekend’s fixtures (subject to change). Keep in mind that Readbet is offering 2.00 lines on Super Rugby this season.
Each team’s points tally is provided in brackets.
Friday – May 27
Hurricanes (29) vs. Force (27)
5:35 PM AEST
Expert tips: 13 for Hurricanes, 1 for Force
The first fixture of the week sees two sides with a mathematical chance of making the final series go head to head to keep their season alive. The Hurricanes showed promise when they beat the Reds in Round 11, but they have lost to the Blues and Highlanders since. They will regard the Force as a weaker opponent than their previous two fixtures, however, and will be looking to pick up maximum points. After a bye last week the Hurricanes welcome back Conrad Smith and Cory Jane, and have opted to rest skipper Andrew Hore.
The 2011 season continues to take its toll on the Force. James O’Connor is one of four starting backs to be unavailable for selection. Also missing are halfback Brett Sheehan, five-eighth Willie Ripia and centre Gene Fairbanks. Such are their injury woes that the Western Force have resorted to drafting players from Sydney club rugby teams in to field a full squad. Manly captain and halfback Chris Cottee and Southern Districts prop Tetera Faulkner have joined the team as they prepare to take on the Hurricanes in Palmerston North on Friday.
I expect a Hurricanes victory, but given the low odds and their inconsistency, backing the Western Force (+16.5) in a line bet at 2.00 odds with Readbet is better value.
Saturday – May 28
Highlanders (43) vs. Lions (19)
5:35 PM AEST
Expert tips: 14 for Highlanders, 0 for Lions
The Highlanders are still very much in the wildcard mix, much to the surprise of many. They’re not a spectacular side, but they are efficient, and they’re not easy to score against. Their victory over the Hurricanes two weeks ago was vital, and the Highlanders will eye this fixture up as a fantastic opportunity to pick up their 9th win of the season. Sitting at the foot of the table, the Lions season ended weeks ago. They will be playing for pride, and will be disappointed they weren’t able to back their victory over the Brumbies with a good result against the Waratahs last week. The Highlanders don’t have a tendency to blow teams away, so I would back the Lions (+14) in a line bet at 2.00 odds with Readbet.
Brumbies (24) vs. Stormers (48)
7:40 PM AEST
Expert tips: 0 for Brumbies, 14 for Stormers
As with many sides, the Brumbies continue to shuffle its line up in the face of injuries. Rocky Elsom is likely out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury, while flankers Colby Faingaa and Michael Hooper have departed to join the Australian under-20 side in the lead up to the IRB Junior World Championship in Italy. The Brumbies do, however, welcome back Mitchell Chapman and Ita Vaea to the forward pack. The Stormers are at the top of the South African conference, and given the second place side isn’t assured of a wild card spot, they will be keen to pick up more points and keep the Sharks at bay. They enjoyed a fantastic last minute win over the Blues last week, and will be expected to make light work of the Brumbies. I believe the odds are fairly generous. I would back the Stormers in a head to head bet.
Sunday – May 29
Sharks (43) vs. Waratahs (45)
1:05 AM AEST
Expert tips: 8 for Sharks, 6 for Waratahs
This is a great fixture. The Waratahs and Sharks are both fighting for wild card positions, and both sides will be desperate not to give away table points to a fellow wildcard contender. The Sharks will be gutted to have lost to the Bulls at home last week. The Waratahs have won three on the trot, but these victories have been against non-finals contenders, so this will be a big step up for them in difficulty. I think the bookmaker odds are spot on here, so I will sit this one out.
Bulls (40) vs. Cheetahs (34)
3:10 AM AEST
Expert tips: 13 for Bulls, 1 for Cheetahs
The Bulls victory over the Sharks last week was critical, as it enabled them to get within striking distance of a wildcard position. The Cheetahs have been much improved of late, and are currently on a four game winning streak, so the Bulls will be wary of their threat. I expect the Bulls to win, but I think it’s marginal whether the odds justify the risk. Thinking of the possible outcomes, the Bulls may lose narrowly, win narrowly, or blow the Cheetahs away here. Given the uncertainty I will sit on the sidelines. If you are desperate for a punt, you may want to back the Bulls in a head to head bet at 1.337 odds with Pinnacle Sports.
Reds (54) vs. Crusaders (48)
4:10 PM AEST
Expert tips: 8 for Reds, 6 for Crusaders
This is arguably the best game of the round. The league leaders in the Reds host the Crusaders who are looking stay in touch with the Blues at the top of the New Zealand conference. The Reds beat the Blues 37-31 two weeks ago, but actually led 24-0 at one stage, and they will be under no illusions as to how tough the Crusaders will be. The Crusaders welcome back Sonny Bill Williams and Brad Thorn to a powerful starting line up that includes Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. The Reds won this fixture 41-20 last year, but I expect a closer encounter this week. I would back the Reds in a head to head bet.