Super Rugby – Round 2 Preview

Super Rugby OddsThe following are previews and betting tips for Round 2 of the 2014 Super Rugby competition.

Friday, 21 February

Crusaders v Chiefs

5:35 PM AEDT, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
View a detailed form guide for this fixture

This is a fantastic game to start the round given it’s basically an All Blacks trial, however it’s a shame this fixture is so early in the season. Neither team will be at full strength, with the Crusaders resting Kieran Read and the Chiefs missing numerous players. The Crusaders are persistently competitive each season, however they will have to make do without Dan Carter until June. Tyler Bleyendaal, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor will compete for the No. 10 jersey in Carter’s absence, so the Crusaders do at least have good options in this department. It will be interesting to see whether the Crusaders can avoid their usual slow start to the season. They will have to be at their defensive best on Friday, with the Chiefs’ legendary counter attack looking lethal last week in pre-season.

The Chiefs will be aiming to be the first team since the Crusaders (1998-2000) to win three consecutive Super Rugby titles. Their preparation for 2014 hasn’t been ideal, however, with hooker Hika Elliot along with backs Gareth Anscombe, Tom Marshall and Robbie Robinson out injured. In addition, they’re stretched for loose forwards, with rookie openside flanker Tevita Koloamatnagi getting the start due to injuries to Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer. In better news, Tim Nanai-Williams returns after a seven-month injury layoff and new signing Robbie Fruean has declared he’s the fittest he’s ever been following his second heart surgery.

Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders -3.5

Conservative betting: the Crusaders boasted a 9-0 home record last season with a 6-3 record at the line. Given their home record and the Chiefs’ injury list, I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.57 (Sportingbet).

Aggressive betting: the Crusaders generally don’t start the season quickly, so I’m not expecting a blow out. I would back the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.80 (Sportingbet).

Saturday, 22 February

Cheetahs v Bulls

4:10 AM AEDT, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
View a detailed form guide for this fixture

Last week the Cheetahs outscored the Lions two tries to nil and led 17-9 early in the second half but fell 21-22 courtesy of a last minute drop goal. The home side payed the price for four missed penalty kicks and will be hoping the result doesn’t come back to cost them a playoff spot. They will need to focus on their discipline as the penalty count against the Lions cost them the win.

The Bulls were comprehensively beaten by a superior Sharks outfit last week, which confirmed expectations that the squad is weaker with the departures of Springboks such as Morné Steyn. They missed Steyn’s goal kicking accuracy in particular as Louis Fouché went 2 from 5 in penalties. The Bulls also haven’t been helped by the injury list that has been building in pre-season. Coach Frans Ludeke has said the side won’t move away from their kicking game, despite receiving criticism for it last week. Ludeke said it was poor accuracy in the execution of their game plan and defensive lapses that cost them against the Sharks. The Bulls will be without captain Pierre Spies, who injured his elbow last week.

Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Bulls +2.0

Conservative betting: it’s hard to look past the Bulls given they’ve never lost to the Cheetahs since the Bloemfontein side joined Super Rugby in 2006. They obviously match up well against the Cheetahs’ brand of rugby. I would back the Bulls +2.0 at 1.90 (Sportsbet).

Aggressive betting: I’m not expecting a blow out, so I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 3.00 (Sportsbet).

Highlanders v Blues

5:35 PM AEDT, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
View a detailed form guide for this fixture

The Highlanders have suffered an exodus of All Blacks during the off-season after they went 3-13 in 2013. This leaves them, on paper, the weakest side in the New Zealand conference. Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga and Ben Smith will need to have big seasons given the departures of Slade, Ellison, Nonu, Gear, Poki and Popoali’i. The Highlanders did show some flashes of promise in pre-season, but they were guilty of numerous errors and turnovers, which won’t quell speculation that they are in for a tough year.

The Blues finished 2013 with six consecutive losses and their three defeats in pre-season left some pundits questioning how competitive they will be this season. The worrying sign is they showed little improvement as the pre-season wore on. Their third fixture saw them lose 19-43 to the Chiefs as they were punished for turning over possession too often. There’s plenty of individual talent in the team, however, which has been further boosted by the acquisitions of Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock, Tom Donnelly and Ma’a Nonu. Like the Crusaders, the Blues will ease their veterans into the season, with Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock rested for the opening game. High-profile recruit Benji Marshall will start from the bench.

Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders +2.0

Conservative betting: I expect both teams to struggle early on this season. Given the Blues’ terrible defensive performances in pre-season, I’d back the Highlanders +6.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet).

Aggressive betting: as with many fixtures this week I’m not expecting a blow out. I would back the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.20 (Sportsbet).

Brumbies v Reds

7:40 PM AEDT, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
View a detailed form guide for this fixture

This is always an important fixture, but it carries extra edge this season given both sides have new head coaches. Stephen Larkham has massive shoes to fill now that Jake White has left the Brumbies while Richard Graham takes the full reigns for the Reds now that Ewen McKenzie has moved on. Both head coaches will be desperate to start the season well to assuage fears that their team has been weakened by their appointments.

The Brumbies will be delighted to have David Pocock back from injury. They, along with all Australian rugby fans, will be hoping he can have an injury-free season. The Brumbies are able to select centre Tevita Kuridrani this week because his five-match suspension included the three warm-up games. They will be without play-maker Christian Lealiifano as he continues his recovery from ankle surgery.

The Reds have named a full-strength line-up after Quade Cooper was cleared of any serious injury following a hit to his neck in pre-season. They’ve had relatively little turnover during the off-season, although they will miss Digby Ioane’s physicality at centre. The Reds had a mixed pre-season, which saw them beat the Chiefs and then lose to the Rebels, however it’s hard to gauge teams based on pre-season form given all of the combination testing and player rotations.

Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Reds +4.5

Conservative betting: I think this will be close. I think the Brumbies will win, but given the departure of Jake White I would back the Reds +9.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet)

Aggressive betting: I’m going for a value bet here by taking the Reds 1-5 at 6.50 (bet365). The last time the Reds won in Canberra it was by a solitary point.

Sunday, 23 February

Sharks v Hurricanes

2:05 AM AEDT, Kings Park, Durban
View a detailed form guide for this fixture

The Sharks started this season as one of my main contenders for the title and they’ve enjoyed an auspicious start with a convincing 31-16 bonus-point win over the Bulls. With eleven Springboks in the starting XV and another three on the bench, the Sharks were always expected to be strong and coach Jake White appears to be getting the most out of the talented squad. One of the most notable changes has been the decision to play Patrick Lambie at flyhalf rather than fullback, which has worked well. It was a complete performance last week, with their four tries showcasing the Sharks attacking ability and their only conceded try occurring when they were a man short. The only slight dampener to the performance was Pat Lambie’s and François Steyn’s combined 4 from 9 record with the boot.

The Hurricanes will hope they can put their dreadful end to 2013 behind them. The Wellington side picked up just one win in the second half of the season as they finished on a five-game losing streak. In all the Hurricanes finished with 16 fewer points than they accumulated in 2012. This year they welcome back All Blacks winger Cory Jane after he missed last season with a knee injury and they boast nine All Blacks in the starting XV, so the potential is there. The Hurricanes will be without Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Tim Bateman and Matt Proctor for this fixture.

Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Sharks -12.5

Conservative betting: back the Sharks -7.5 at 1.53 (Sportsbet)

Aggressive betting: the last two times the Sharks hosted the Hurricanes they won by 16 and 17 points. I would back the Sharks 11-15 and 16-20 at 4.25 and 6.00 odds, respectively (bet365).

Lions v Stormers

4:10 AM AEDT, Ellis Park, Johannesburg
View a detailed form guide for this fixture

The Lions shocked the Cheetahs with a near 50-metre drop goal from debutante Marnitz Boshoff to steal a last minute victory in Bloemfontein last week. The result gives the promoted side a much needed confidence boost after a season out. With just one round concluded, they’ve already improved on their away record in 2012 when they went 0-8. Marnitz Boshoff’s 6/6 record with the boot and match-winning drop goal shows the Lions have a solid option at fly-half behind the currently injured Elton Jantjies. If the Lions are to avoid a relegation playoff again this season, they will have to find a way to cross the try line, however. The Lions have suffered a double injury blow leading into this match, with Michael Bondesio and Lionel Mapoe ruled out for six weeks.

Like the Bulls, the Stormers lost a number of key players during the off-season and, like the Bulls, the Stormers are starting the season with a growing injury list. Lock Eben Etzebeth has a foot injury and isn’t due back until late April. Fellow lock De Kock Steenkamp has a groin injury and is expected to miss the first few rounds. Centre Juan de Jongh will miss at least five weeks due to a pre-season knee injury and Cheslin Kolbe will miss the opening 4+ rounds with a knee injury. The Stormers will also be without fullback Jaco Taute for this fixture after he failed to recover from a knee injury. The lack of experience in their second-string squad was shown up last week when the Stormers lost to the Boland Cavaliers in a friendly, although they did brush the Kings aside with ease with a first-string squad. The fitness of their leader, Jean de Villiers, will be key to their season.

Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Lions +10.0

Conservative betting: the Stormers have dominated the Lions in recent years so they should start the season with a win. I would back the Stormers -5.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet)

Aggressive betting:

Waratahs v Force

4:05 PM AEDT, Allianz Stadium, Sydney
View a detailed form guide for this fixture

While they did show flashes of brilliance, the Waratahs put on an error-riddled performance in pre-season against the Highlanders last week, but to be fair, Michael Cheika gave all three halfbacks game time and experimented with his fly-half and inside centre combinations. The Waratahs have targeted the breakdown as the main area for improvement leading into this match, given the number of South Africans in the Force squad. They will start the season with Bernard Foley at fly-half, Kurtley Beale at inside centre and Adam Ashley-Cooper at outside centre. Alofa Alofa will make his debut on the right wing.

The Force have just three internationals in the entire squad (Nick Cummins, one-Test Wallaby Luke Morahan and former All Black Alby Mathewson), so on paper there’s a big difference in quality between them and the Waratahs, but the mood in the Force camp appears to be positive. Former Brumbies playmaker Zack Holmes will start at fly-half. The Force have been surprisingly competitive in their three previous visits to Sydney, having won once and just missing out twice (by 5 and 4 points).

Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Force +12.5

Conservative betting: the Force don’t have a tendency to get blown away so I would back them +17.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet). The Force were 5-1 at the line as the road underdog last season while the Waratahs were 2-4 at the line as the home favourite.

Aggressive betting: of the Force’s 7 away losses last season, 6 were by 12 points or less, so I would back the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.75 (Sportsbet)

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