The following are previews and betting tips for Round 1 of the 2013 Super 15 Rugby competition. This round is an all-Australian affair. There will be two more such rounds later in the season as the Super Rugby schedule is adjusted to fit in the British and Irish Lions Tour of Australia in June.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out our 2013 Super Rugby Season Preview.
Friday, 15 February
Rebels v Force
The Rebels and Western Force had forgettable seasons in 2012, finishing 13th and 14th respectively in the overall standings. The Rebels picked up four wins last season, with two of them coming against the Force. The Force managed just three wins, however those did include the scalps of the Reds and Waratahs. Both sides will be keen to start 2013 on a positive note after the Rebels and Force ended 2012 on four-game and three-game losing streaks, respectively.
In the off-season the Rebels made a great acquisition in Scott Higginbotham, however they will miss Mark Gerrard. The Force, meanwhile, have had a fair amount of player turnover in the off-season and will be hurting from the losses of Nathan Sharpe and David Pocock. They also have a new coach in Michael Foley, who comes over after just one season with the Waratahs. They will be without captain Matt Hodgson who picked up a hamstring injury during training.
The two Rebels’ victories over the Force last year were by just one point. In fact, in their four-game head-to-head history the Rebels have beaten the Force by just one point on three occasions and lost to the Force by three points on one occasion.
Bookmakers have installed the Rebels as 6.5 point favourites for this fixture, which indicates they feel the Force have weakened since last year. The primary area of concern for the Force will be the strength of their forward pack. The absence of Matt Hodgson doesn’t help.
Betting: I fancy the Rebels to win this, however the Force will be an unknown quantity with a new coach and plenty of turnover in the off-season. I prefer to err on the side of caution in early rounds of a season, so if I had to bet I would take the Rebels at 1.42 (Pinnacle Sports) in the head-to-head.
Saturday, 16 February
Brumbies v Reds
This game features the top two sides in the Australian conference last season. The two were separated only by points difference at the end. Much was made of the relative weakness of the Australian conference last season, with the Reds and Brumbies ranked 6th and 7th on raw points on the overall table.
Very little was expected of the Brumbies last year, but former Springboks coach Jake White had an excellent first season in charge. The Brumbies start this season with much higher expectations. They made an excellent acquisition over the off-season in David Pocock, however they will miss Michael Hooper. Fly-half Christian Lealiifano is back from injury and the Brumbies will be hoping he can remain match fit for the duration of the season after losing him for the latter part of last year.
The Reds have made relatively few changes to the squad from last year, with the loss of Scott Higginbotham being the only major talking point. This should bode well for their continuity on the field at the start of this season. The Reds have said James Horwill will miss the game with injury, however Brumbies coach Jake White doesn’t buy it. Will Genia is still injured with reports saying he will be back sometime between rounds 4 and 8.
The Reds beat the Brumbies twice last season and they’ll fancy their chances here again. It was a tight tussle last year in Canberra, with the Reds prevailing 13-12. In fact, the biggest winning margin between the Brumbies and Reds has been eight points over the last four encounters.
Betting: I like to be more conservative during the opening rounds of a new season. I find it very difficult to separate the two teams, so for this fixture I would be tempted to back both sides to win by 1-12 (Brumbies 1-12 at 2.62 with bet365, Reds 1-12 at 3.25 with bet365.