The following are previews and betting tips for Round 20 of the 2013 Super 15 Rugby competition.
Friday, 12 July
Crusaders v Hurricanes
5:35 PM AEST, AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch
After a 3-4 start to the season the Crusaders have since gone 7-1 to secure a playoff spot. Technically they could top the New Zealand conference if they pick up 5 points and the Chiefs fail to secure a point at home against the Blues, however that scenario is unlikely. The Crusaders put everyone on notice last week after dispatching the New Zealand conference leading Chiefs 43-15 in Christchurch. Dan Carter was again in fine form as he picked up 18 points to pass the 1,500 point mark in Super Rugby. The Crusaders are now 7-0 at home and 5-2 at the line at home this season, so if they somehow do manage to secure first seed in the playoffs they will certainly become the odds-on favourite. There is talk of Richie McCaw making a return during the playoffs but quite frankly, I’m not sure they need him. Once again the Crusaders are peaking at the right time.
The Hurricanes reached a new low after handing the Highlanders their first away win of the season last week. The Hurricanes were terrible in the first half and despite a spirited comeback they fell 44-49 at the final whistle. The loss extends their losing streak to four games and with a 2-5 away record this season, an upset win this weekend looks unlikely.
Betting: the last two meetings between these two sides were won by the Hurricanes by a single point, however given the contrasting forms of the two sides, I would back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.61 (bet365)
Rebels v Highlanders
7:40 PM AEST, AAMI Park, Melbourne
This will be the Rebels’ first Super Rugby fixture since the 7th of June. They are just 4-11 for the season but have a more respectable 3-4 home record. Once again not all is well in the dressing room with the Rebels announcing they are dumping James O’Connor at the end of the season. His behaviour is the reason for his axing, with Scott Higginbotham saying the decision has nothing to do with O’Connor’s playing ability. Coach Damien Hill has also been told his services will not be required beyond the end of the season. Kurtley Beale won’t be playing this week as he continues his off field program, while Lachlan Mitchell is suspended for his lifting tackle in the Rebels’ game against the British and Irish Lions. James O’Connor will start from the bench, having not trained with the team since the Wallabies Tests. Cooper Vuna returns to the starting line-up to play on the wing.
With absolutely nothing to lose, the Highlanders have been playing more care-free rugby of late and have been rewarded with two wins in their last three games. It was almost an exhibition match last week as they beat the Hurricanes 49-44 in Wellington with 11 tries scored in all. Like in their victory over the Blues, the Highlanders did most of the damage with a blistering first half performance. The only fixture the Rebels have played in over a month was a 0-35 hammering at the hands of the touring Lions, so I expect the Highlanders will fancy their chances here.
Betting: the Highlanders have beaten the Rebels comprehensively in their two previous meetings and they have found better rhythm on offence in the last few rounds. They have now won two of their last three and with the Rebels looking out of sorts I would back the Highlanders in the head-to-head at 2.25 (Luxbet).
Saturday, 13 July
Blues v Chiefs
5:35 PM AEST, Eden Park, Auckland
The Blues were completely out-muscled in the forwards as they fell 13-34 to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week. The loss extends their losing streak to five games and they now have to face a Chiefs side that will be keen to bounce back from a heavy defeat to the Crusaders. With that being said, the Blues are under no pressure now that they are out of finals contention. They will also be looking to send out skipper Ali Williams on a high before he departs for Toulon. Last season, and with nothing to play for, the Blues derailed the Brumbies’ playoff hopes in the final round, denying the Canberra side the solitary point they required. With the Chiefs needing just one point to secure the New Zealand conference the mercurial Blues can play the role of the spoilers again. Scrum half Piri Weepu returns from injury however fly-half Chris Noakes is still out.
The Chiefs’ six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end when they were blown away in the second half to fall 15-43 to the Crusaders in Christchurch last week. The result dented their chances of securing the coveted first seed in the playoffs, however they are still in the box seat to win the New Zealand conference. If they lose, the Chiefs could slip to third on the table. This would cost them all all-important home semi-final spot, so victory is critical on Saturday. The Chiefs welcome back Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer and Toby Smith for this clash. They also welcome back Gareth Anscombe to the bench.
Betting: I expect the Chiefs will bounce back at the expense of the travel-weary Blues. The home side should be competitive, however, as the Chiefs are only 4-3 away from home this season. Nevertheless, the visitors have won their last four against the Auckland side so I would back the Chiefs 1-12 at 2.62 (bet365).
Waratahs v Reds
7:40 PM AEST, ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Like the Blues, the Waratahs are out of finals contention but have the opportunity to dent the playoff seeding of their fellow countrymen. The Waratahs played some good rugby in the weeks leading up to the Lions Tour. They were unlucky not to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch and they fielded a weakened side that comfortably saw off the Force in Perth. The club is certainly moving in the right direction, with an 8-7 record so far this year after going 4-12 in 2012. At this stage they are confident they can do a deal to extend Israel Folau’s tenure at the club, which would be a huge boost for their playoff ambitions next year.
The Reds played the British & Lions during the international break however they haven’t played a competitive Super Rugby game since the 1st of June. With a change of Wallabies coach, fly-half Quade Cooper will be back in the equation for international selection and he will no doubt be looking to impress with the Tri Nations coming up. If the Reds fail to pick up at least a point on Saturday they will finish the season 6th because they would have a lower number of wins than the Cheetahs, who pick up four points for a bye this week. Mathematically, the Reds still could win the Australian conference, however their inferior points difference to the Brumbies makes that scenario highly unlikely. James Slipper will captain the side in the absence of the injured James Horwill and Will Genia, who are both due back next week. Mike Harris returns from injury, having not played since Round 5.
Betting: the Reds have a lot more to play for which could count against them on Saturday. They have won their last four against the Waratahs, however the NSW side has only lost once at home this season while the Reds have a mediocre 3-1-3 away record. I would back the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.62 (bet365). UPDATE: the Waratahs will be without Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Wycliff Palu and Tatafu Polota-Nau for this clash.
Force v Brumbies
9:45 PM AEST, NIB Stadium, Perth
The Force sit bottom of the Australian conference with just three wins to their name. Their undoing this season has been their inability to convert possession into points, with their 16 points scored per game the lowest in the competition. Their offensive record has actually worsened as the season progressed, with a 14.5 average over the last eight games. To put these figures into perspective, the league average is 24 points per game and the second lowest average – held by the Kings – is 19.
The Brumbies effectively have the Australian conference wound up but need to pick up a win to give themselves a chance of securing a home semi-final spot. They bring decent form into this fixture – having won their last three games – however some of that momentum will have been disrupted by the British & Irish Lions tour. Centre Pat McCabe is out for the rest of the season after picking up a neck injury against the Lions.
Betting: I think the bookmakers have the -9.5 margin spot on, and given the proximity of this line to the 1-12 mark, I would instead back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.27 (Pinnacle Sports) and consider adding them to your multis.
Sunday, 14 July
Sharks v Kings
1:05 AM AEST, Kings Park, Durban
This is one of two fixtures this round where both sides are out of playoff contention. The Sharks have endured an injury-ravaged season which saw them lose five games in a row at one point, however with a few personnel coming back each week they have been better in the last few rounds. Last week they led deep into the game but were just unable to hold on for victory in their 19-20 loss to the Bulls. The Sharks will be limping through the finish line this week as they will be without the suspended Butch James and the injured Patrick Lambie.
Given their modest expectations at the beginning of the year, the Kings have impressed in their first Super Rugby campaign, picking up three wins and a draw. This game is not at all important to them and already their eyes have cast to the promotion/relegation playoff series against the Lions commencing in a few weeks. With those fixtures in mind they have rung the changes for this fixture, making twelve changes to the starting line-up from last week. Three members of the match-day squad have yet to play for the Kings.
Betting: the Sharks will aim to finish the season on a high while the Kings will be going through the motions. I would back the Sharks to win by 13+, however the 1.25 odds are too low, so I would sit this one out.
Stormers v Bulls
3:10 AM AEST, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
The Stormers’ playoff chances ended with the Cheetahs’ victory over the Blues last week however they bring their most consistent form of the season into this fixture. Like the Blues and Waratahs they will relish the opportunity to dent their domestic rival’s hunt for the best possible seeding. This is a mouth-watering clash as the Stormers are 6-1 at home this season while the Bulls are on a nine-game winning streak and have yet to lose on South African soil. The Stormers welcome back captain Jean de Villiers from a sternum injury however fullback Joe Pietersen is injured.
The Bulls have the longest active winning streak in the competition however their Springboks injury toll from the June break has hurt their momentum. The latest casualty is Jan Serfontein, who is out for two weeks with a knee injury. Also, lock Wilhelm Steenkamp has been suspended for two weeks for striking a player last round. The Bulls just got over the line against the Sharks at home last week and they will be wary of a fast finishing Stormers side that has an excellent home record and nothing to lose.
Betting: the Stormers will be keen for a win to carry their good momentum over to next year. Injuries have disrupted their season, but I fancy their chances given their home form. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 2.03 (Pinnacle Sports).