I’m surprised to see the Stormers are still over 4.00 odds to win the competition. Based on their form at this stage of the competition I think this is good value. At 7.00 the Chiefs also look good, while the Crusaders look to be poor value at 4.00 odds based on current form (Centrebet odds quoted).
Head to head stats and form guides for round 8 can be viewed here.
Friday 13 April
Blues v Sharks
5:35 PM AEST, Eden Park, Auckland
The Blues are looking dreadful at the moment. They dominated territory and possession against the Rebels last week but just couldn’t execute. With the individual talent they possess the Blues should be faring much better than 1-5 at the moment. After only seven weeks of rugby they almost need to win every remaining fixture to make the playoffs, which looks unlikely to happen at this stage. The Sharks enter this fixture on the back of a hammering at the hands of the Hurricanes last week, although the score line flattered the Hurricanes. The Sharks were undone at times by infringements with ball in hand, although some individual brilliance from Hurricanes players also did the damage. They have a 3-4 record for the season, and will eye the Blues up as ripe for the taking. The danger for the Sharks, however, is the mercurial nature of Blues performances. The last time they performed very poorly (9-29 against the Chiefs), the Blues went on to beat the Bulls 29-23 in South Africa, so you never know what to expect from them. If in doubt, simply expect the unexpected, which in this case is a Blues victory.
Tip: Blues to win by 1-12
Betting: I find the Blues too unpredictable to wager on.
Western Force v Waratahs
9:10 PM AEST, NIB Stadium, Perth
Both the Force and Waratahs enter this fixture on the back of a defeat to the Chiefs. The Waratahs lost 12-30 in Hamilton two weeks ago before their bye last week, while the Force lost 12-20 at home. Both sides also boast only two wins to their name this season, and will feel their playoff hopes slipping away from them if they can’t win here. The Force welcome back Cameron Shepherd into a back line that could do with bolstering. Interestingly, despite being only round 8, the two sides have faced each other already this season, with the Waratahs emerging victorious with a 21-20 win in Sydney. Given their respective forms, I expect a similar close contest this week, and find picking a winner very difficult. If the Force can replicate their stubborn defence from last week, the Waratahs will have their work cut out for them.
Tip: either side to win by 1-12
Betting: if I had to bet I’d take the Force at the line (+3.0 at Centrebet). However I will probably sit this one out.
Saturday 14 April
Crusaders v Stormers
5:35 PM AEST, Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
This is a fantastic fixture for the neutral. Despite their late onslaught, the Crusaders fell just short in their 30-32 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria last week. Goal kicking was the difference between the sides, with Morne Steyn kicking 8 from 10 while Dan Carter was 3 from 7. After a long flight home the last opponents they would want to face are the in-form Stormers, who were highly impressive as they suffocated the Highlanders attack last week in Dunedin. The Stormers were also opportunistic, scoring tries from turnover ball. Again, kicking had a big impact, with Chris Noakes, the 3rd choice Highlanders playmaker missing numerous penalties after sustained pressure and possession by the Highlanders.
The Stormers are certainly the team to beat at the moment, but the Crusaders will back themselves at home. It will be interesting to know if the Stormers still have their 2011 home semi-final loss to the Crusaders on their mind. In that game Wyatt Crockett scored two tries as a depleted Crusaders outfit won 20-14 in Cape Town. My prediction is that goal kicking will make the difference between the two sides this week, and given Dan Carter is only making his third start of the season, I tip the Stormers for a narrow win.
Tip: Stormers to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Stormers to win by 1-7 (or 1-12) if your bookmaker offers that wager. It’s a higher odds, risky wager, but decent value in my opinion.
Brumbies v Rebels
7:40 PM AEST, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
The Brumbies will be disappointed to have fallen short against an injury-ravaged Reds side last week. While the Reds do have a fantastic home record, it was the Brumbies who beat them in Queensland last year, and the task last week was an easier one on paper. They will no doubt point to the controversial awarding of the converted Reds try as the difference between the two sides, with 7 points the margin on the night. They started the season well, but the Brumbies have only won 1 of their last 4 games, so a win at home would be an important step to getting their season back on track.
After snapping a 12-game losing streak the Rebels are 2-1 in their last three fixtures, having dispatched the Blues 32-23 last week. The side looks much more balanced with O’Connor, Beale and Cipriani all in the side, and they will certainly fancy their chances against the Brumbies this year. Like the Highlanders, the Brumbies were an unfancied team that had a great start to the season, and I just wonder if both sides will fade as the season wears on.
Tip: either side to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Rebels at the line (+5.5 at Centrebet)
Cheetahs v Chiefs
1:05 AM AEST, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
The Cheetahs have played what I would call Hurricanes-style rugby this season. They’re always willing to pass the ball around and are attractive to watch. After losing the first three games they have won three of the last four, so they are now getting rewards for their style of play. After coming back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Hurricanes, the Cheetahs blew the Lions away in the first half in their 26-5 victory in Bloemfontein. With the side in the form its in, hopefully the locals can support them better this weekend, because the stadium looked pretty sparse last week.
The Chiefs continue to accrue wins, overcoming the stubborn Western Force defence to win 20-12 in Perth last week. This takes them to 5-1 for the season, with their only loss coming in round 1 against the Highlanders. As I’ve said before, they have a decent forward pack to complement their athletic backs, which makes the side better balanced than it has been in previous seasons. The in-form Cheetahs will be a real test for them, however. This has the potential to be a high scoring affair. As a value bet I’m picking the Cheetahs to win this one.
Tip: Cheetahs to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Cheetahs to win (2.00 odds at Centrebet)
Lions v Bulls
3:10 AM AEST, Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Since their 27-25 victory over the Cheetahs in round 1 the Lions have toiled this season, with no wins since then. More alarmingly for them, they have yet to leave South Africa, and things are only going to get tougher when they head abroad. The Bulls will be delighted to have beaten a Crusaders outfit with Dan Carter in the squad. They were given a bit of a scare at the end, but Morne Steyn’s accuracy with the boot proved to be the difference between the two sides. The Lions were blown off the park in the first half against the Cheetahs last week, and while they avoided the same punishment in the second half they could only manage 5 points for the match. I back the Bulls to be too strong here, but am inclined towards a narrower losing margin for the Lions this week.
Tip: Bulls to win, but I can’t predict the margin
Betting: Bulls at the line (-9.5 at Centrebet)