The following are previews and betting tips for Round 7 of the 2014 Super Rugby competition.
Friday, 28 March
Crusaders v Hurricanes
5:35 PM AEDT, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
View a detailed form guide for Crusaders v Hurricanes
The Crusaders had a bye last week after grinding out a win over the Rebels to move to 2-2 for the season. While the Crusaders often start the season slowly, they’ve looked particularly out of sorts this campaign, with a back line that has yet to really ignite. Defensively there aren’t many problems, it’s just their attack they need to sort out. For a team that feeds off opposition penalties, the Crusaders will be pleased by Tom Taylor’s 7/7 performance with the boot last outing. After trying numerous combinations, the Crusaders appear to have settled on Colin Slade, Tom Taylor and Ryan Crotty at 10-12. They have named an unchanged starting XV for this fixture.
The Hurricanes outscored the Highlanders 3 tries to 2 last week but paid the price for numerous infringements. In all they conceded 21 points through penalties to fall 31-35 in Dunedin. Prior to their win over the Cheetahs the Hurricanes had lost 8 in a row and will be fearful of building another losing streak. Defence continues to be an issue, with the side conceding 27.4 points per game – the 12th worst record in the competition. Offensively they’re getting better, although they were disrupted by injuries in the lead up to last weekend’s clash. Fly-half Beauden Barrett has been excellent lately. He has scored 4 tries in the last 2 games and went 7/8 with the boot last week. The Hurricanes welcome back Tim Bateman, Jeremy Thrush and Blade Thomson for this clash.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Hurricanes +9.5
Conservative betting: this is a tricky fixture because the Crusaders have struggled on offence but they’re taking on a defensively poor team. The Crusaders should be too strong, but I do give the Hurricanes a chance of causing an upset. Given the Crusaders have failed to blow any teams away this season I would back the Hurricanes +14.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Aggressive betting: in recent years the Hurricanes have been fairly competitive in Christchurch. I would back the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.74 (Palmerbet).
Rebels v Brumbies
7:40 PM AEDT, AAMI Park, Melbourne
View a detailed form guide for Rebels v Brumbies
After a promising win over the Cheetahs to start the campaign, the Rebels have lost three on the trot to sink to the bottom of the Australian conference. Last week they trailed by just 3 points at the break but were blown away in the second half to fall 32-8 to the Waratahs in Sydney. As is classically the case in sport, Kurtley Beale had a strong game, with two decisive breaks setting up two tries against his former employer. As for what’s gone wrong for the Rebels, Tamati Ellison feels the side needs to think less and be more physical. The Rebels have lost winger Lachlan Mitchell for the rest of the season with a broken knee while Toby Smith will miss this clash with a concussion. In better news, tighthead prop Laurie Weeks, fullback Jason Woodward and halfback Nic Stirzaker return for this clash.
The Brumbies beat the Stormers 25-15 last week to move to 4-1 for the season. It wasn’t the greatest performance, with the Brumbies struggling at times to put phases together. They also missed tackles and conceded too many penalties, however they’ll be delighted with the win over a side they hadn’t beaten since 2010. The Brumbies have been boosted by the return of Christian Lealiifano for this clash. Pat McCabe’s strong form means Lealiifano will start from the bench. Tevita Kuridrani also returns to the side after being away last week on personal leave.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -7.0
Conservative betting: the Brumbies have won their last five straight against the Rebels and they won all of those games by at least eight points. Last time they visited Melbourne the Brumbies won 30-13. I would back the Brumbies -2.5 at at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Aggressive betting: I’m predicting the winning scoreline to be somewhere around the 10 mark. I would back the Brumbies 6-10 and 11-15 at 5.00 and 6.50, respectively (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 29 March
Blues v Highlanders
5:35 PM AEDT, Eden Park, Auckland
View a detailed form guide for Blues v Highlanders
After being refereed harshly against two weeks ago in Johannesburg, the Blues were the recipients of a controversial try in their 40-30 win over the Cheetahs. The game was one for defensive aficionados to avoid, with the Blues and Cheetahs holding the 14th and 15th worst defensive records in the competition. The high error count was a major contributor to the 70-point total score, with Cheetahs offensive errors rather the Blues defensive efforts keeping the total from going even higher. With that being said, the win means the Blues remain undefeated at home. On the injury front, Blues will be without halfback Piri Weepu for at least four weeks after he suffered a minor stroke. Hooker Keven Mealamu remains out with a calf injury.
The Highlanders saw off the fast finishing Hurricanes to win 35-31 last week to move to 2-2 for the season. They were outscored 3 tries to 2 by the visitors but accumulated 21 points in penalties through the boot of Lima Sopoaga. Coach Jamie Joseph made a raft of changes in the 63rd minute when his side held a big lead. This sparked a Hurricanes comeback which almost ended in disaster for the hosts. The Highlanders were guilty of defending their lead rather than trying to score. This is something they can ill afford to do against a dynamic Blues back line on Friday.
Head-to-head pick: Blues
Line pick: Blues -5.5
Conservative betting: over the last 12 months the Blues have gone 6-2 at home while the Highlanders have gone 1-7 on the road. The Highlanders will keep things close, but I would back the Blues in the head-to-head at 1.53 (Pinnacle Sports).
Aggressive betting: the -5.5 line looks to be spot on. I would back the Blues 1-12 at 2.80 (Palmerbet).
Reds v Stormers
7:40 PM AEDT, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
View a detailed form guide for Reds v Stormers
The Reds will face their fourth South African team in as many weeks after beating the Cheetahs at home and losing to the Sharks and Lions in South Africa. Durban was always going to be a tough assignment but the Reds will be sorely disappointed to have lost to the Lions in Johannesburg. They led 20-6 at halftime thanks to two Quade Cooper tries, but failed to add to their score in the second spell as they fell foul of referee Stuart Berry and a resurgent Lions outfit. The Reds finished the match with 13 players on the field and a lopsided 19-4 penalty count as they continue to struggle with discipline this campaign. The Reds do have reason to be aggrieved, however, with referee Stuart Berry having handled the game very poorly. The Reds will be without flanker Liam Gill for six weeks and fullback Aidan Toua for ten weeks after they picked up knocks last week. This is in addition to centre Chris Feauai-Sautia (3 weeks) and prop Ben Daley (6 weeks), who were victims of the Sharks clash.
The Stormers’ overseas tour of hell (Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies, Reds) concludes this week, with the visitors having lost every away game so far this season. They pushed the Brumbies hard last round but were let down by a sub-par performance from goal kicker Peter Grant and an 80th minute penalty try. It has been a frustrating tour for the Cape Town side. They’ve been competitive in all of their games only to be let down by late errors to concede crucial points. The Stormers lost Schalk Burger with a bicep injury shortly before last week’s game. Hooker Tiaan Liebenberg has also returned home with a neck injury. With fellow hooker Scarra Ntubeni also out, flanker Deon Fourie, who does have experience at hooker, will wear the No. 2 jersey. In the backs, winger Kobus van Wyk will miss this clash with a knee injury. One positive is Juan de Jongh looked sharp last week after returning from injury and the Stormers get back fullback Jaco Taute.
Head-to-head pick: Reds
Line pick: Reds -3.5
Conservative betting: both squads are beaten up at the moment, but with the Reds holding a strong home record and the Stormers going 2-8 on the road over the last 12 months, I would back the Reds in the head-to-head at 1.65 (Sportingbet).
Aggressive betting: the Stormers rarely get blown off the park when they lose. I would back the Reds 1-12 at 2.65 (Sportingbet).
Sunday, 30 March
Bulls v Chiefs
0:00 AM AEDT, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
View a detailed form guide for Bulls v Chiefs
The Bulls defeated the previously unbeaten Sharks 23-19 last week to move up to 6th in the overall standings. After an insipid start to the season which saw them lose their first two games, the Bulls have found much better rhythm since Jacques-Louis Potgieter was given the No. 10 jersey. They have also benefited from the recent return of former captain Dewald Potgieter. The Bulls were convincingly beaten by the Sharks in Round 1 so coach Frans Ludeke will be delighted with their progress since then. It was typical battle of attrition last week. In the end the Bulls took their chances well to close out the game. The Bulls remain without lock Flip van der Merwe for this clash after he was ruled out of last week’s game against the Sharks.
After a 3-0 start to the season, the Chiefs fell 15-18 to the Force in their first overseas fixture of the year. The side continues to be disrupted by injuries, particularly to the back line, which was evident in the Chiefs failure to cross the try line on Australian soil for the first time since 2001. The Chiefs made 15 handling errors in total as they wilted against the pressure applied by the Force. They now face one of the toughest tests in Super Rugby, a visit to the altitude of Pretoria to face a Bulls side that has just beaten the table topping Sharks. Given the strength of their own forward pack, the Bulls will likely take an interest in the inability of the Chiefs to legally stop the Force’s rolling mauls last week. The shaky Chiefs lineout will also interest the Bulls.
Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Bulls -1.5
Conservative betting: the Chiefs haven’t had any luck in Pretoria over the last few years. The Bulls boast a commanding 9-1 home record over the past 12 months and should get the win on Saturday. I would back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.83 (Sportingbet).
Aggressive betting: the Chiefs could be in for a shock here. While 1-12 to the Bulls is the most likely result, the Chiefs have lost their last three visits to Pretoria by more than 13 points, so there’s a bit of value in the 13+ selection. The Chiefs’ weaknesses match up badly against the Bulls’ strengths, so I would back the Bulls 13+ at 5.00 (Sportsbet).
Sharks v Waratahs
2:05 AM AEDT, Kings Park, Durban
View a detailed form guide for Sharks v Waratahs
The Sharks’ first away game of the season ended in defeat last week as they fell 19-23 to the Bulls. They lost fly-half Pat Lambie and halfback Cobus Reinach early in the match but started the stronger of the two sides, taking a 13-6 lead at halftime. The Bulls crossed the try line twice in the second half and while the boot of François Steyn kept the Sharks in touch throughout the tense match, they ended up short with a 79th minute Bulls penalty sealing the result. The Sharks have since suffered a major blow for the campaign, with Pat Lambie ruled out for the season and Cobus Reinach ruled out for eight weeks.
After leading 11-8 at halftime, the Waratahs kicked into gear to thrash the Rebels 35-8 in Sydney last week. Kurtley Beale punished his former team with two key line breaks to set up Israel Folau tries. The Waratahs now sit 5th in the overall standings, however they have yet to win on the road in this campaign. Last year the Waratahs were 6-2 at home but only 2-6 on the road. The Waratahs have received a boost for their tour with outside back Cam Crawford returning from shoulder surgery, however Israel Folau has been ruled out with a bruised throat and he may also miss next week’s fixture against the Stormers. Jonno Lance will start on the wing in his absence. The forwards have been reshuffled for this clash with Benn Robinson getting the start at loosehead prop. Wycliff Palu will start at No. 8 and with the expectations of a physical clash, Rob Horne has been selected on the left wing instead of Alofa Alofa.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Sharks -6.5
Conservative betting: Israel Folou’s absence is a major loss for the Waratahs given he has accounted for more than half their tries this season. Given the Waratahs’ poor away record I expect the Sharks to be too strong in Durban. I would back the Sharks in the head-to-head at 1.52 (Sportingbet).
Aggressive betting: Pat Lambie’s injury is a major hit to the Sharks season, however they have a very capable replacement kicker in François Steyn. History suggests this will be close. The last four clashes between these two sides have all been settled by 4 points. The Waratahs have enough quality to make this interesting, but I would back the Sharks 1-12 at 2.65 (Sportingbet).