The following are previews and betting tips for Round 11 of the 2014 Super Rugby competition.
Friday, 25 April
Blues v Waratahs
3:35 PM AEST, Eden Park, Auckland
View a detailed form guide for Blues v Waratahs
The Blues remain undefeated at home yet winless on the road after they capitulated in the second half to lose 20-39 to the Hurricanes last week. The Auckland franchise has now lost twelve consecutive away games. They’re often guilty of playing too conservatively on the road, kicking away possession too quickly. At home they’re much more expansive, however, so I expect a much improved performance on Friday. They sit 11th on the table but Blues have more than enough talent to mount a comeback in the second half of the season – although the same could be said for most of their seasons! A lot will come down to whether they can start playing as a team because they’ve been guilty of playing as individuals for much of the season. After making one start and five bench appearances, Benji Marshall looks set to return to league after requesting a contract release. Fly-half Chris Noakes suffered a concussion last week and has been replaced by Simon Hickey. Benji Marshall’s departure sees new signing Ihaia West join the bench for his potential debut. Piri Weepu returns to start from the bench while Ma’a Nonu returns to start at inside centre.
The Waratahs defeated the Bulls for the first time in nine years last week to move within a point of the Brumbies, who sit top of the Australian conference. The Waratahs will be relieved to finally have Israel Folau back in the squad. The talisman scored after just 28 seconds last week after being controversially ruled out of the previous fixture by the ARU. The Waratahs start as the favourite on Friday however they have a terrible record in Auckland, with their one win in eight attempts coming back in 2009. Also, in the last twelve months they are 1-3 as the away favourite. The Waratahs have named the same starting XV as last week with Wycliff Palu returning to start from the bench.
Head-to-head pick: Blues
Line pick: Blues +1.5
Conservative betting: the Waratahs have played the better rugby over the past few weeks however the Blues seem to find annother gear when they’re at home. The return of Ma’a Nonu into midfield is timely. The Waratahs aren’t great travellers and they have a poor record at Eden Park, so I would back the Blues +5.5 at 1.54 (Sportingbet).
Aggressive betting: the Blues blew the Highlanders off the park the last time they played in Auckland, but I don’t see them enjoying that kind of dominance over the Waratahs. I would back the Blues 1-12 at 3.05 (Sportingbet).
Brumbies v Chiefs
5:40 PM AEST, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
View a detailed form guide for Brumbies v Chiefs
The Brumbies remain top of the Australian conference but could finish the weekend as low as third with the Waratahs and Force sitting one and two points behind, respectively. Prior to their bye last week they saw off the fast finishing Reds 23-20 in Brisbane. The Brumbies were a cut above in the first half but fell away in the second spell to bring the visitors back in it. Hooker Stephen Moore is available after escaping sanction for his punch at Suncorp Stadium. The Brumbies will no doubt look to exploit the Chiefs line-out, which is the statistically the worst in the competition. The Brumbies have opted for Christian Leali’ifano at inside-centre at the expense of Pat McCabe for this clash. Lock Sam Carter returns after missing out the Reds game with a knee injury.
After leading 17-9 at halftime, the Chiefs fell 17-18 at home to the Crusaders last week, with Gareth Anscombe’s extra time kick from over halfway falling short. Despite the persistent injury count, particularly in the backs, the Chiefs are still grimly holding onto top spot in the New Zealand conference. With the Crusaders and Hurricanes finding a bit of form, a playoff spot remains far from certain, however. They have received some reinforcements for this clash, with James Lowe and Asaeli Tikoirotuma back from injury, however Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Liam Squire are out with concussions. The Chief have received a further blow, with lock Michael Fitzgerald suspended for one week for a dangerous tackle.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -3.0
Conservative betting: in recent years Brumbies v Chiefs fixtures have been dominated by the home side. With the Chiefs carrying so many injuries into this fixture, I would back the Brumbies here. With Anscombe at fly-half the Chiefs have only scored one try in each of their last two games, so they are definitely hurting from the injury to Aaron Cruden. I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.63 (Sportsbet).
Aggressive betting: the last five fixtures between the two sides have been settled by 5, 7, 8, 7 and 3 points. I expect another close encounter on Friday so I would back the Brumbies 1-12 at 2.75 (Sportingbet).
Saturday, 26 April
Sharks v Highlanders
3:10 AM AEST, Kings Park, Durban
View a detailed form guide for Sharks v Highlanders
The Sharks’ 18-9 win over the Cheetahs last week extended their lead at the top of the South African conference to a whopping twelve points. The Durban outfit is currently the only South African side in the top half of the table, which highlights South Africa’s struggles this season. It was a lacklustre performance against the Cheetahs, with a notable lack of cohesion in the backline which contained three debutantes. The Sharks were forced to start with a third different fly-half in as many weeks, which has been to the detriment of their rhythm, however coach Jake White said he is happy for the team to “win ugly.” At first glance everything seems rosy for the Sharks, but they have a tough second half of the season to come with their overseas tour starting next week. They’ve picked up a growing injury list in recent weeks, particularly at the fly-half position with Pat Lambie ruled out until near the end of the season and Fred Zeilinga also unavailable. Coach Jake White acknowledges his side is feeling the strain of the long season, but he has resisted rotating players this week due to a desire to depart on their overseas tour on a winning note.
Prior to their bye last week the Highlanders fought back from 3-13 down to defeat the Bulls 27-20 in Dunedin. Coach Jamie Joseph will be pleased with the second half in particular, which saw them make only two handling errors whilst forcing the Bulls into making eleven of their own. Defensively it was their best performance of the season, with the 20 points conceded a season low.
The victory came at a significant cost, however, with veteran Brad Thorn likely ruled out for the rest of the season with a bicep injury.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Highlanders +11.5
Conservative betting: the Sharks haven’t looked as sharp since their bye in Round 8. They should still be too strong at home, however the Highlanders will make them work for it. I would back the Highlanders +16.5 at 1.51 (Sportsbet).
Aggressive betting: I expect the margin to be around the 10 mark. I would back both the Sharks 6-10 at 4.33 odds and 11-15 at 5.00 odds (Sportsbet).
Hurricanes v Reds
5:35 PM AEST, Venue TBC
View a detailed form guide for Hurricanes v Reds
The Hurricanes bounced back from a three point deficit at halftime to hammer the Blues 39-20 last week. The Hurricanes have picked up form in the last few weeks as they’ve welcomed more of their injured stars back into the squad. After starting the season with three consecutive losses the Wellington side has now won four of their last five to move within reach of top spot in New Zealand. The Hurricanes have lost prop John Schwalger for the season after he was diagnosed with blood clots on his lungs, however they do get Ben Franks back for this clash.
The Reds paid the price for a slow start when they lost 20-23 to the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium. That was their second consecutive home loss and it takes their record against Australian sides to 1-3 for the season. With just one win from their last five the Reds now languish in 12th place, however there’s still plenty of rugby to play and they have remained competitive, with their last three losses all by three-point margins. If they can sort out their ill-discipline, which has been gifting sides points, there’s no reason why they can’t get a run going. While they have struggled against their compatriots this season, the Reds will take heart from having won 11 of their last 14 trans-Tasman clashes. They welcome back Dom Shipperley for this clash.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Reds +6.5
Conservative betting: the Hurricanes are enjoying a strong run at the moment and will cause the Reds all sorts of problems with their dynamic backline. While the Reds have a strong record against New Zealand sides, they’ve only won 1 out of their last 4 against the Wellington side. I would back the Hurricanes -2.5 at 1.55 (Sportingbet).
Aggressive betting: the Reds match up well against New Zealand sides and they desperately need a result here, so I don’t see them getting blown off the park. I would back the Hurricanes 1-12 at 2.75 (Sportsbet).
Force v Bulls
7:40 PM AEST, NIB Stadium, Perth
View a detailed form guide for Force v Bulls
The Force’s five-game winning streak came to an end last week with a 16-22 loss to the Rebels in Melbourne. They were missing halfback Alby Mathewson, lock Sam Wykes and winger Luke Morahan, but managed to sneak a bonus point with a late try to move within two points of the conference leading Brumbies. After being out-enthused by their hosts in Melbourne the Force will have to pick up their intensity at the breakdown for this clash. The Rebels beat them at scrum time last week so the Perth side will have their work cut out against the Bulls pack.
In what has become a familiar pattern the Bulls picked up a third bonus point loss in as many weeks when they fell 12-17 to the Waratahs last week. They were dominated in the stats sheet but stayed in the game through their strong work rate on defence. The loss extends the Bulls’ losing streak on the road to six games, leaving them without a win away from Pretoria this season. The Bulls will be without scrumhalf Piet van Zyl after he picked up a knee injury against the Waratahs. They have received a further blow with lock Flip van der Merwe suspended for three weeks. In better news, winger Akona Ndungane and fullback Jurgen Visser return to the starting XV after recovering from injury.
Head-to-head pick: Force
Line pick: Force -2.0
Conservative betting: like the bookmakers I’m having a hard time separating the two sides. Historically Force v Bulls fixtures don’t typically feature blow outs so I would back both the Force 1-12 at 2.70 (Sportingbet) and the Bulls 1-12 at 3.25 (bet365).
Aggressive betting: in keeping with the above theme I would back “Any other result” in the Triple margin 7.5 market (i.e. a draw or either team to win by 7 or less) at 2.20 (Sportingbet).
Sunday, 27 April
Cheetahs v Stormers
1:05 AM AEST, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
View a detailed form guide for Cheetahs v Stormers
The Cheetahs sit bottom of the table with just one win this season, however they start as the marginal favourite against the Stormers, who have been just as disappointing this season. After conceding on average over 47 points since Round 4 the Cheetahs will be pleased to have only conceded 19 points against the Sharks in Durban last week. The Cheetahs will now back themselves to get something out of this weekend’s fixture when they take on the weakest offence in the competition. They will be buoyed by the strong performance of Heinrich Brussow last week after he made his long-awaited return from injury. The Cheetahs will be relying on his experience when he takes on fellow poacher Deon Fourie. Lock Lodewyk de Jager was the only casualty of last week and has been replaced by Andries Ferreira. Elgar Watts starts again at fly-half with Johan Goosen still out with a concussion.
The Stormers snapped a five-game losing streak when they beat a depleted Lions side 18-3 last week. It was an unconvincing performance, however, with the Stormers failing to score in the second half in what was overall a low quality game. Winger Devon Williams will get his first start in Super Rugby in place of the injured Sailosi Tagicakibau this week, while Peter Grant will start fly-half in place of Demetri Catrakilis, who’s out with a broken nose. Oliver Kebble , Schalk Burger and Kobus Van Wyk are all back to full fitness and will start from the bench. Hooker Scarra Ntubeni and winger Cheslin Kolbe are still another week away from returning.
Head-to-head pick: Cheetahs
Line pick: Cheetahs -1.0
Conservative betting: it’s always tough picking between two out-of-form sides. While Stormers come into this fixture with a miserable 1-8 away record, they have won six of their last seven games against the hosts. Historically this fixture has been close when played in Bloemfontein, with the margin never going above 10 in recent years. I would back both the Cheetahs 1-12 at 2.76 (Palmerbet) and the Stormers 1-12 at 3.00 (Sportingbet).
Aggressive betting: given the Stormers’ atrocious away record, of the two above wagers, I slightly prefer the Cheetahs 1-12 at 2.76 (Palmerbet).