Friday, 10 May
Chiefs v Force
5:35 PM AEST, ECOlight Stadium, Pukekohe
The Chiefs sit top of the New Zealand conference and second on the overall ladder but things aren’t all going their way. In the last two games they have jumped out of the blocks well but have been reigned back in and have had to work hard for their wins in high scoring affairs. A primary concern for the Chiefs is their defence. After averaging 18.8 points conceded prior to their Round 8 bye they have conceded 29.5 points on average since. Another concern is injuries. They have lost All Black centre Richard Kahui for the season while Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell and Charlie Ngata are out with injury, leaving the squad short of midfielders. In better news, prop Ben Afeaki and scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow are back from injury. Aaron Cruden and Asaeli Tikoirotuma have been rotated to the bench for this clash
The Force clearly enjoy playing the Reds after picking up a draw as 7 1/2 point underdogs last week. This follows a Round 5 victory over the Reds and a Round 6 win last year. The Force are this season’s Jekyll and Hyde team given their 7-41 capitulation to the Brumbies the week before. It’s their work rate on defence that varies between games. They were shredded by the Brumbies but defended gallantly against the Crusaders and Reds. This will frustrate their fans because there are clear signs that the Force are a better team than their 2-1-8 record suggests. Their cause isn’t helped by the release of their top try scorer Alfie Mafi for disciplinary reasons.
Betting: I would back the Force +15.5 at 1.91 (bet365). They are 5-2 at the line away from home this season. Excluding their Round 11 result against the Brumbies, when the Force lose they fall short by an average of 7.9 points. No other team has beaten them by more than 12 points this season and they only lost by 8 points to the Chiefs in the midst of the Waikato side’s nine-game winning streak last year.
Reds v Sharks
7:40 PM AEST, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Reds will be wondering what they have to do to beat the Force after they failed to do so for the second time this season. The Reds were frustrated by the Forces’ defensive effort and work ethic at the breakdown and will feel they failed to take advantage of their opportunities. They now take on the Sharks, who have won their last three games against the Queensland side, including the playoff win at Suncorp Stadium last year. The Reds will be without skipper James Horwill due to a head knock he sustained last week.
Injuries continue to haunt the Sharks as they lost 22-25 to the Highlanders in Dunedin last week. In their last four games they have been in the contest until the final whistle but have fallen short. After a 5-1 start they have now lost their last four and risk falling out of playoffs contention if this slide continues. On the injury front, Bismarck du Plessis and Butch James are a week away from returning while Francois Steyn, Lubabalo Mtembu, Tendai Mtawarira, Tim Whitehead, Cobus Reinach, Jacques Botes, Allan Dell, Dale Chadwick, Louis Ludik, Marius Joubert, Paul Jordaan and Craig Burden are out with longer term injuries. In better news, Willem Alberts is again available after rejoining the squad.
Betting: given the Sharks’ injury woes I fancy the Reds in the head-to-head at 1.40 (Pinnacle Sports). In total score betting the Reds have gone under in all six home games this season while the Sharks have gone under in four out of their five away games. With that being said, the total score mark of 40.5 is very low. In their last three head-to-heads 47, 49 and 58 points were scored, so I would take the over at 1.91 (bet365).
Saturday, 11 May
Cheetahs v Hurricanes
3:10 AM AEST, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
With seven wins from their last eight the Cheetahs remain one of the competition’s most in-form teams. They are 7-1-2 at the line over the last twelve months and given the injury concerns for the Sharks and Stormers they have a good chance of making the playoffs. Lappies Labuschagne picked up an elbow injury against the Kings prior to their bye last week so Frans Viljoen will start in his place.
After going 5-1 from Rounds 4-10 the Hurricanes have lost three of their last four, including a 48-14 hammering at the hands of the Bulls. They were out-muscled in the forwards and their backs were guilty of too many handling errors, although they did play better in the second half. Centre Conrad Smith was knocked out during the game and won’t be playing this week.
Betting: I find the margin hard to predict so I would back the Cheetahs in the head-to-head at 1.35 (Pinnacle Sports). Given the willingness of both teams to throw the ball around I would back the over 51.5 in the total score market at 1.91 (bet365). The last two clashes between these two sides saw 97 and 85 points scored.
Blues v Rebels
5:35 PM AEST, Eden Park, Auckland
The Blues bounced back from a one-point loss to the Reds with a one-point victory over the Stormers in North Harbour last week. They have won three of their last four and coach John Kirwan will be pleased by their consistent defensive effort that has seen them average 13.3 points conceded during that stretch. They are also now playing with more patience and composure, cashing in with all 18 points coming from penalties last week.
Thanks in part to the brilliance of Kurtly Beale the Rebels gave the Chiefs a real scare last week but fell just short in their 33-39 loss. Their competitive performances against the Crusaders and Chiefs will give the Melbourne side real confidence that they can get a result in Auckland. The Rebels will also take heart from the fact that they beat the Blues 34-23 in Melbourne last year. The camp has been disrupted, however, by the standing down of Kurtly Beale for drinking again. His future at the club will be on shaky ground.
Betting: based on their 4 and 6 point losses to the Crusaders and Chiefs, respectively, I would back the Rebels +14.5 at 1.91 (bet365).
Waratahs v Stormers
7:40 PM AEST, Allianz Stadium, Sydney
The Waratahs continue to improve as the season goes on. The last three weeks in particular have seen solid outings, with a win over the Crusaders, a hard fought loss to the Bulls in Pretoria, then a 72-10 hammering of the Kings. Last week was a Super Rugby record for the winning margin of an away team, with the Waratahs scoring eleven tries in total – six of which were in the first 30 minutes. Berrick Barnes has recovered from injury and is available for selection along with winger Drew Mitchell.
The Stormers continue to be competitive on tour but fell just short in their 17-18 loss to the Blues last week. They enjoyed plenty of attacking opportunities but were undone by far too many errors. They will also be disappointed by the number of penalties conceded as they had actually outscored the Blues two tries to none. They had also turned down penalty attempts during the game, which proved costly. The result leaves them with a 1-4 record on the road as they visit the red-hot Waratahs. The Stormers have been hit with the loss of lock De Kock Steenkamp for four weeks, however lock Eben Etzebeth will make his first start of the season.
Betting: I would back the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.80 (Centrebet). In recent years this clash has been won by the home team and the Waratahs are 4-1 at Allianz Stadium this season. Historically this has been a low scoring game so I would take the under if the total score mark is north of 42.5
Sunday, 12 May
Kings v Highlanders
1:05 AM AEST, Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
The Kings enter this fixture with the ignominy of breaking the Super Rugby home losing margin. They conceded eleven tries while their solitary try was courtesy of an intercept pass against the run of play. They now host the lowest ranked team in the competition in the battle to avoid this season’s wooden spoon. They have lost Jacques Engelbrecht to injury so Luke Watson will start with Cornell du Preez moving to number eight. Marcello Sampson returns to replace the injured Sergeal Petersen on the wing.
The Highlanders will be immensely relieved to have picked up their first win of the season. In a game that wasn’t for the faint of heart they trailed 7-15 at the break before jumping out to a 25-15 lead before the Sharks scored to make it 25-22 going into the final spell. The Highlanders defended for their lives and held on for a victory that had eluded them for the last eleven games spanning this season and last. The 9-10 combination between Aaron Smith and Colin Slade was much improved, however Colin Slade continues to miss too many kicks, which could have easily cost them the game on another day. The Highlanders are without Ma’a Nonu and Kade Poki for their overseas tour.
Betting: this is a game where the 8 1/2 point head start for the Kings could be far too generous or not nearly enough. The Kings are 6-1-3 at the line while the Highlanders are 1-0-8 over the past 12 months, however you never know how much damage the result last week will have done to the Kings’ confidence. If I had to bet at the line I would take the Highlanders but I feel more comfortable simply backing the visitors in the head-to-head at 1.31 (Pinnacle Sports).