The following are previews and betting tips for Round 9 of the 2012 Super Rugby competition.
The Australian conference continues to lag behind New Zealand and South Africa. The Brumbies top the conference, but their 24 points are only good enough for 3rd and 4th place in the South African and New Zealand conferences, respectively.
Head to head stats and form guides for the round can be viewed here.
Friday 20 April
Highlanders v Blues
5:35 PM AEST, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
After a much needed bye last week, the Highlanders host the out of sorts Blues. Like last season, the Highlanders have started the year incredibly well, winning their opening four games. Injuries have started to accrue, however, and like last season, their form is starting to slip. While the squad is deeper than last year, I would be surprised if the Highlanders make the playoffs. One of the positions hardest hit is the playmaker position, with the luckless Colin Slade the latest casualty. They hit a brick wall when they faced the Stormers in week 7, with the kicking off Chris Noakes letting them down. At full fitness they can challenge anyone, but they are a weaker proposition for opponents now than they were a month ago.
The Blues lost again last week to go to 1-6 for the season. They did show signs of having the ability to turn the season around against the Sharks. The scrum was solid (Tony Woodcock in particular is in good form), Gareth Anscombe was good with the boot, and they forced numerous turnovers in the ruck and maul area. What continues to let the Blues down, however, is their inability to take advantage of their opportunities, especially those that come from turnover ball. They also make too many handling errors, with kick-off returns a mess in the first half last week. By the end of the second half the Blues looked frustrated, which I’m sure is how their fans feel. While I don’t back them to make the playoffs this season, there is enough substance in the squad for them to turn their form around.
As I’ve said before, the Blues make wagering tough because they are so inconsistent. At their best they should beat the Highlanders, but based on current form I’d be inclined to back the locals.
Tip: Highlanders to win by 1-12
Betting: the Blues are too unpredictable for me to suggest a wager. You can’t rule out any scenario. If anything, back the unexpected.
Reds v Stormers
7:40 PM AEST, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Reds bounced back from their 0-3 run on tour with an ugly 20-13 win over the Brumbies in week 7 before their bye last week. It just goes to show the value of playing on home soil for the Queenslanders. They got hammered by the 2-6 Force away from home, then beat the 4-3 Brumbies at home. The dual selection of scavengers Liam Gill and Beau Robinson against the Brumbies worked wonders as they were able to dominate the ruck and maul area to force numerous turnovers and penalties. The Reds are boosted this week by the return of players from injury, and have the choice of Ben Lucas and Mike Harris for the #10 jersey. They may even opt to continue with Sam Lane in this position, given his strong performance against the Brumbies two weeks ago and his superior match fitness over Lucas and Harris. The Stormers will be a huge step up for them, however. The South Africans have a massive pack and have been excellent at taking advantage of opportunities from turnover ball. They also boast an excellent goal line defence. The Stormers were unlucky to lose lock Andries Bekker early in the game against the Crusaders last week, and they will be hoping for his quick return. Joe Pietersen and Bryan Habana have been in excellent form for them this season.
Tip: Stormers to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Stormers to win (1.80 with Centrebet)
Saturday 21 April
Hurricanes v Crusaders
5:35 PM AEST, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
In what should be an excellent game for the neutral, the Hurricanes host the Crusaders in the first game on Saturday. They sit third and fourth in the New Zealand conference, respectively, and both will be keen to avoid falling further behind the Chiefs. The Hurricanes will be disappointed to have let their 21 point lead against the Cheetahs slip in week 6, but will be pleased to have bounced back with a convincing win over the Sharks in week 7. They have since had a bye, which they feel came at a good time for them. The Crusaders machine looks to be slowly kicking into gear, with a 3-1 record since their 1-2 start to the season. Dan Carter certainly adds attacking threat to the squad, while Tom Taylor was imperious with the boot last week, kicking nine from nine as he scored all 31 points for them against the Stormers. Tom Taylor’s strong performance has earned him the #10 jersey for a second week, with Carter wearing #12. This combination appears to work well for the Crusaders, with both players taking on a tactical kicking role. The fact that they were able to knock off the previously undefeated Stormers serves as a real warning for other teams. With Ritchie McCaw still to return to the squad, the Crusaders are looking good for a playoff spot at the moment.
Tip: Crusaders to win by 1-12 (not a confident prediction)
Betting: hopefully we’ll see a free flowing, high scoring game. I’d take the overs.
Waratahs v Rebels
7:40 PM AEST, Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney
The Australian conference continues to lag behind New Zealand and South Africa at this stage of the tournament. The Brumbies sit top of the conference with 24 points, which would only be good enough for 4th place in the New Zealand conference. This means it is still anyone’s game to secure the conference. The Waratahs will be pleased to have completed the double over the Force when they beat them 23-18 in Perth last week. They kept the ball in hand more rather than resorting to midfield kicks, and they are starting to show more confidence in attack. Their win last week takes the Waratahs to 3-4 for the season, and with a tour of South Africa still to come, they will be keen to take all the points this weekend. The Rebels were very poor in their 37-6 hammering at the hands of the Brumbies last week. With a 2-5 record this is the type of fixture they need to win to avoid falling out of playoff contention. Handing more points to Australian sides is the last thing they need. Having said that, they look vulnerable in defence, and don’t appear to cope well when pressure is applied. The Rebels also have an eight game losing streak on the road. The two sides have already faced each other once this season, with the Waratahs winning 35-19. I expect a similar result this weekend.
Tip: Waratahs to win by 13+
Betting: back the Waratahs to win. Unfortunately the head-to-head odds are eye wateringly low at 1.13, so you may prefer the 1.79 odds for the Waratahs to win by 13+ (odds from Centrebet).
Sharks v Chiefs
1:05 AM AEST, Kings Park, Durban
You have to feel sorry for the Sharks and their schedule this season. The Lions have their second bye of the season this round, while the boys from Durban have yet to have a week off. This is the second year in a row that they’ve been unlucky with scheduling. They played the Blues last week in Auckland, and now fly back to South Africa to face the in-form Chiefs, who are on a six game winning streak. I thought the Blues were poor last week, and given that the Sharks weren’t able to put them away easily, I back the Chiefs to sneak home here. The Sharks gave the Blues too many opportunities last week, and the Chiefs take better advantage of turnover ball than the Blues. With the likes of Sona Taumalolo, Sonny Bill Williams and Kahui in the squad, they have too many players who can hurt you, and are almost impossible to keep quiet for 80 minutes.
Tip: Chiefs to win by 1-12
Betting: back the Chiefs to win. It would be a bit of an upset, but you are getting 2.20 head-to-head odds, which I think is reasonable. You may also be interested in the 3.15 odds on the Chiefs to win by 1-12, because the Sharks are too good a side to lose by 13+ at home (odds from Centrebet).
Bulls v Brumbies
3:10 AM AEST, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
The Bulls are going pretty well at this stage of the competition, with a 5-2 record thus far. They will be acutely aware, however, that they need to maintain a strong record ahead of their tour of Australia and New Zealand. They are a tough side to beat because they accrue so many points. Their 33.4 points average is the highest in the competition, with only the Hurricanes (32.1) coming close. The Brumbies bounced back well from their loss to the Reds with a resounding 37-6 victory over the Rebels. The damage was done in the first half, with the boys from Canberra leading 30-6 at the break. The Bulls are a huge step up from the Rebels, however, and I back the home side for the victory.
Tip: Bulls to win by 13+
Betting: my first instinct is back the Bulls to win. Unfortunately the head-to-head odds are only 1.13, so it’s up to you whether it’s worth the risk. I find it difficult to predict a score line, because when they’re on song the Bulls can blow sides away, although a narrow score line wouldn’t surprise me either (odds from Centrebet).