The following are previews and betting tips for Round 7 of the 2012 Super Rugby competition.
Rounds 1-5 have been tight for the most part, with the majority of fixtures won by 7 points or less. This was turned on its head last week, with five of the seven games won by double digit margins. The Rebels and Reds in particular were on the receiving end, losing by 31 and 26 points, respectively. Sadly, the biggest three losing margins concerned Australian sides, who, with the exception of the Brumbies, appear to be a bit off the pace at this stage of the competition.
Click here to view the form guide for the round.
Thursday 5 April
Rebels v Blues
7:40 PM AEST, AAMI Park, Melbourne
This fixture features two desperate teams with 1-4 records. After the euphoria of breaking their 12-match winless streak against the Force, the Rebels were brought back down to earth last week with a 43-12 hiding from the injury-hit Highlanders. The Rebels led 9-0 at one stage on the back of James O’Connor penalties, but the Highlanders turned it up a gear shortly before half time and they were never able to get back into the game. The Melbourne side looked short of ideas, repeatedly kicking to danger men such as Gear and Smith, who duly punished them. On the upside for the Rebels, O’Connor and Beale were in good form last week after returning from injury. They will be further boosted by the returns of Danny Cipriani and Mitch Inman from injury for this week, however Cooper Vuna is suspended for two weeks after pleading guilty to a dangerous tackle charge.
The Blues are having a typical Blues season, filled with mercurial performances and failing to meet expectations given the strength of their squad. They had a bye last week to stew over their second one-point loss to a Kiwi side. The last minute try to the Hurricanes in round 5 condemned the Blues to a 1-4 record, which is the worst out of the New Zealand teams. They will eye up the Rebels as a good chance to return to winning ways, however, and if they play even close to their potential then they should get the job done.
Tip: Blues to win, but I can’t predict the margin
Friday 6 April
Hurricanes v Sharks
5:35 PM AEST, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
The Hurricanes will be hurting after letting their 32-11 lead against the Cheetahs slip last week. Once again the lack of balance in the squad showed. They have all the talent in the world in the backs, but the forwards fell short against the South African outfit. This was highlighted by a scrum near the Hurricanes try line where they had the put in. The scrum was over-run by the Cheetahs, who scored a try from the ensuing passage of play. By the end of the game the Hurricanes looked fatigued, constantly coughing up possession with knock-ons and loose passes. The superior fitness of the Cheetahs had a big impact on their eventual 38-47 loss.
The Sharks did incredibly well to hold on for victory against the Brumbies last week. The Sharks spent a large part of the second half camped in their own 22, fending off one Brumbies assault after the other. Their win moves them to 3-2 for the season and keeps them well in contention for a playoff spot.
This game is hard to pick. The Hurricanes are a points scoring machine, but they are conceding almost as many at the same time (30.5 scored, 29.5 conceded per game). A repeat performance will see them lose to the Sharks, but they have every chance of winning if they can tighten up their defence.
Tip: either side to win by 1-12
Reds v Brumbies
7:40 PM AEST, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Reds are in disarray after back to back hidings. They have conceded 106 points in the last two games while scoring just 27. The Reds look to be short of confidence at the moment, and until they can get close to full strength, I think more punishment is in store for them.
The Brumbies continue to impress, despite just falling short against a valiant Sharks side last week. One piece of bad news is that playmaker Matt Toomua will require reconstruction on his left knee after injuring it against the Sharks. He has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Nevertheless, the Brumbies will feel now is a good time to play the Reds, and they will eye up victory to go 4-2 for the season. The 2.14 head to head odds on them is good value.
Tip: Brumbies to win by 13+
Western Force v Chiefs
9:40 PM AEST, NIB Stadium, Perth
The Force will be pleased with their ability to dispatch an out of sorts Reds outfit last week. It was a game they probably felt they should win, so it will be satisfying to have run out 45-19 victors. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are looking like genuine title contenders. I thought the Waratahs were going to give them a real contest last week, but the Chiefs blew them away in the second half to win 30-13. They remain undefeated since round 1 and will back themselves again this week. As I have said before, the Chiefs have always had a devastating backline, but they look strong in the forwards this year too, with loosehead prop Sona Taumalolo continuing to be a try scoring machine. They also defensively have the best record in the competition, conceding just 17 points per game. I back the Chiefs here, but I suspect the Force will make them work for it.
Tip: Chiefs to win by 1-12
Saturday 7 April
Highlanders v Stormers
5:35 PM AEST, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The superb start to the season for the Highlanders continued last week with a convincing 43-12 victory over the Rebels. Adam Thomson sat out their solitary loss to the Brumbies in round 5, and it just goes to show what an impact he has on the team. Apart from the fact that he scored three tries last week, the Highlanders’ usual aggressiveness at the breakdown, which was lacking against the Brumbies, was back against the Rebels. Halfback Aaron Smith has also been fantastic this season. He repeatedly keeps Jimmy Cowan out of the squad and he has some pundits in New Zealand calling for him to be given the All Blacks No 9 jersey. My primary concern for the Highalnders, however, is their injury list, particularly at the playmaker position. They are down to their third choice #10 in rookie Chris Noakes, who didn’t impress me last week. The Stormers meanwhile, continue to rack up wins without blowing sides away. They remain the only undefeated side in the competition and it’s very much the same Stormers as last year. They don’t score many, but they have one of the tightest defences in the competition, with only the Chiefs and Bulls conceding fewer points per game. Given the injury list of the Highlanders, particularly at the playmaker position, I tip the Stormers to grind out another narrow victory.
Tip: Stormers to win by 1-12
Cheetahs v Lions
0:00 PM AEST, Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
The Cheetahs return to South Africa on a high after upsetting the Hurricanes in a try-fest last week. They have played attractive rugby all season, showing great willingness to pass the ball around, so it was nice to see them get some reward after a long overseas tour. The only win for the Lions so far this season was against the Cheetahs in round 1, where they won 27-25 on the back of nine penalties from Elton Jantjies. Since then they have lost by 4, 4, 5 and 10 points, so they’re not getting blown away, and will feel their 1-4 record doesn’t reflect their competitiveness this season. This should be a tight contest. The Cheetahs have the better season record, but may be travel weary after four back-to-back overseas games. My primary concern for the Lions is their ability to put points on the board, with a downward trend in points scored as the competition has gone on. This leaves me leaning towards the Cheetahs.
Tip: Cheetahs win by 1-12
Bulls v Crusaders
1:05 AM AEST, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
The Bulls may be ruing the timing of this fixture, because the Crusaders machine appears to be slowly kicking back into life. They have been quiet so far this competition, but they welcomed the return of Dan Carter to the starting line-up last week, and while he didn’t take over the kicking duties, the former world player of the year did play a role in both of their tries. The latest news is that Carter will take over the goal kicking for the Bulls fixture. The Bulls will be disappointed to have fallen short against the Stormers, with a lack of discipline in kickable areas costing them last week. With the Sharks picking up in form, they will be keen to win to maintain their grip on a playoff spot.
Tip: either side to win by 1-12