Super Rugby – Round 16 Preview

Super Rugby OddsThe following are previews and betting tips for Round 16 of the 2014 Super Rugby competition.

Friday, 30 May

Crusaders v Force

5:35 PM AEST, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
View a detailed form guide for Crusaders v Force

The Crusaders bounced back from a disappointing home loss to the Sharks by pipping the Highlanders 32-30 in Dunedin last week to move top of the New Zealand conference. Coach Todd Blackadder was rewarded for rotating out the regular front row, with the stand in players more than holding their own against the Highlanders. The Crusaders can ill-afford to let up this week, however, with only two points separating them from the 4th placed Chiefs in the New Zealand conference. The Crusaders welcome back captain Kieran Read for this clash.

It wasn’t as convincing a win as many were expecting, but the Force saw off the Lions 29-19 last week to leapfrog the Brumbies into a playoff spot. The win was the Force’s eighth of the season, which is a record for the Perth-based franchise. The fixture schedule hasn’t been kind to the side, with the Force having to play in three different countries in the space of 14 days. On the injury front, Marcel Brache may return for this clash, however Luke Burton is away to represent Australia’s Under-20 side. The Force should get a raft of players back from injury after the international break.

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

Conservative betting: the Force have been surprisingly competitive against the Crusaders in recent years, winning two of their last four encounters. Both of those wins were in Perth, however they did draw the Crusaders in Christchurch in 2009. Interestingly, the Crusaders have only lost one regular season game to an Australian side in each of 2011-13, with all of those losses coming against either the Rebels or Force. It should be noted that all of those losses game on the road, however, with the Cantabrians boasting a lengthy home winning streak against Australian sides. The Crusaders should be too strong on Friday so I would back the Crusaders -7.5 at 1.55 (Luxbet).

Aggressive betting: the Force have already been to New Zealand and won this season, seeing off the Highlanders 31-29 in Dunedin. I expect they will be competitive so I would back the Crusaders 1-12 at 3.10 (Sportsbet).

Reds v Highlanders

7:40 PM AEST, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
View a detailed form guide for Reds v Highlanders

Each week I wonder whether the Reds season could get any worse, and each week it does. Prior to their bye last week the Reds fell 27-30 at home to the Rebels to notch their sixth consecutive loss. This marks their worst losing streak since 2008. To add insult to injury, fly-half Quade Cooper looks set to miss the rest of the Super Rugby season and the Rugby Championship with a shoulder injury. In the forwards, Saia Fainga’a, Jono Owen and Ben Daley are out with injuries while Eddie Quirk ruptured his ACL at training during the week. In some good news, James Slipper returns from suspension while Liam Gill has recovered from a calf injury and will start from the bench. Ben Lucas will start at fly-half in place of Cooper. Three potential debutantes have been named on the bench.

As I predicted they would, the Highlanders threw the kitchen sink at the Crusaders last week in Dunedin but fell just short, losing 30-32 to pick up two bonus points. In what has been an incredibly tight season, the Highlanders are one of four New Zealand teams in the playoff hunt with all four sides also in contention to win the conference. The Highlanders were highly competitive in their last two visits to Brisbane and with the Reds defence looking out of sorts, they will sniff an opportunity to pick up a rare win at Suncorp Stadium.

Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders -2.5

Conservative betting: Suncorp Stadium has been a fortress in recent years, however the Reds limp into this fixture on the back of four consecutive home losses. The Highlanders are a well balanced team with a decent forward pack and dynamic back line. They have been friendly to punters on the road over the past twelve months, where they boast a 6-1 line record, however they enter uncharted territory having been installed as the road favourite for the first time this year. Worryingly for the Reds, they are 0-2 this season as the home underdog and with Quade Cooper sidelined they will have their work cut out for them on Friday. I would back the Highlanders +3.5 at 1.48 (Sportingbet).

Aggressive betting: the Reds will feel unlucky to have lost to the Rebels and three of their last four home losses were by 3 points. I would back the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.75 (Sportingbet).

Saturday, 31 May

Chiefs v Waratahs

2:35 PM AEST, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
View a detailed form guide for Chiefs v Waratahs

The Chiefs’ title defence suffered a hammer blow last week when they were blown off the park 45-8 by the Hurricanes in Wellington. The loss saw them slip from 1st to 4th in the New Zealand conference and they have four tricky fixtures coming up to finish off the season. The Chiefs simply had no answers to the Hurricanes back line last week and they face a highly potent Waratahs offence this weekend. Aaron Cruden starts at fly-half this week after making his return from injury via the bench last week.

After a patchy stretch where the vaunted Waratahs attack was failing to fire, the NSW side appears to have found top gear again, scoring five or more tries for three straight games. The difference last week was the fact that they did so on the road, beating the Rebels 41-19. Before that game the Waratahs were averaging just 16.8 points away from home, which is one of the worst records in the competition. They have now won three consecutive games for the first time all season, but must be careful of getting ahead of themselves. Last year they put together a three game-winning stretch in the second half of the season but with the playoffs in sight they lost three of their next four games to fall out of the playoff race.

Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Waratahs +3.0

Conservative betting: the Waratahs have an eight-game losing streak in New Zealand and the last time they visited the Chiefs they were hammered 33-10. With that being said, the Waratahs have improved out of sight since then and they did beat the title-winning Chiefs in Sydney last year. All up they have won three of their last four against the Waikato side. The Chiefs boast a 7-1 record at home over the last 12 months, however I wonder how much psychological damage has been done the pasting they received at the hands of the Hurricanes. I would back the Waratahs +7.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet).

Aggressive betting: this fixture could go either way so I would take the value and back the Waratahs 1-12 at 3.25 (Sportsbet).

Blues v Hurricanes

5:35 PM AEST, Eden Park, Auckland
View a detailed form guide for Blues v Hurricanes

The Blues suffered their first home defeat of the season last week when they fell 23-29 to the Sharks. The loss leaves them with only a marginal chance of making the playoffs so they look set for another season of disappointment. The worrying sign last week was they were out-enthused at the breakdown, something we associate more with their away form. Ill-discipline and missed opportunities have become another theme for the Auckland side. They now must hope other results can go their way, but if they are to have any chance of snatching a playoff spot, they need to see off the Hurricanes on Saturday and deny the visitors a bonus point. Up-and-comer Ihaia West will start at fly-half this week. Tevita Li will miss this game after breaching internal team protocols and has been replaced by George Moala. Piri Weepu is back on the bench having overcome a groin injury that has seen him miss the past three matches.

After a mixed bag of results over the last few weeks, the Hurricanes found top gear on attack last week to trounce the Chiefs 45-8. Their back line shredded their counterparts to illustrate the immense talent they in the backs. It’s of no surprise that the Hurricanes lead the competition in clean breaks and defenders beaten this season. They also top the league in points scored. The win over the Chiefs came at a cost, with fullback Andre Taylor suffering a suspected broken ankle. Matt Proctor will start this week in his place.

Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Hurricanes -1.0

Conservative betting: this fixture has been very even in recent years, with both teams winning three of the last six encounters. The Blues are 2-2 against the Hurricanes in their last four clashes at Eden Park so home advantage seems to have a minimal impact when these two meet. An interesting stat for this fixture is that in the last four clashes, the winning margin has been more than 13 points, so one team or the other wins comfortably, it’s just hard to predict which will! With the first and fourth best offences going head to head on Saturday, and with the Blues having one of the worst defensive records in the competition, I predict a high scoring game. I would back over 52.5 in the total score market at 1.91 (bet365).

Aggressive betting: the Hurricanes boast the most potent offence in the competition while the Blues are the 13th worst on defence. Given the last four games between these two have been won by more than 12 points, a pasting isn’t out of the question. I would take the value and back the Hurricanes 13+ at 5.00 (bet365).

Brumbies v Rebels

7:40 PM AEST, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
View a detailed form guide for Brumbies v Rebels

After enjoying a ten game stretch where they incurred just two losses, the Brumbies’ title hopes have taken a hit with the Canberra side returning winless from their two-game tour of South Africa. In that stretch they have gone from 2nd in the overall standings to 7th, which highlights how even the competition is. Their fate remains in their own hands, however, with fixtures against the 2nd placed Waratahs and 4th placed Force coming up after the international break. The Brumbies have played one more game than their main rivals so they can ill-afford a loss this week.

After a heroic away win over the Reds in Round 14, the Rebels were thumped 19-41 at home by the Waratahs to remain well adrift of the playoff race. They sit three points ahead of the Reds at this stage so their aim will likely be to avoid the wooden spoon in the Australian conference. Tamati Ellison and Laurie Weeks could return from injury this week.

Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -9.5

Conservative betting: the Brumbies’ five-game winning streak over the Rebels was snapped earlier this season when they were upset 24-32 in Melbourne. The Brumbies are 7-1 at home this season, however, while the Rebels are 1-6 on the road. Also, the last time the Brumbies lost away against the Rebels they beat them comfortably at home later in the season. The Brumbies should be the more desperate side on Saturday as they have much more to play for. I would back the Brumbies -5.5 at 1.54 (Sportingbet).

Aggressive betting: Canberra has been a miserable venue for the Rebels, who have lost by 15, 31 and 22 points in their last three visits. I would back the Brumbies 13+ at 2.24 (Palmerbet).

Sunday, 1 June

Lions v Bulls

1:05 AM AEST, Ellis Park, Johannesburg
View a detailed form guide for Lions v Bulls

The Lions defended well last week but paid the price for a yellow card offence as they conceded two tries with a player in the bin to lose 19-29 to the Force in Perth. The loss was the seventh in a row for the Johannesburg side, who are now battling the Reds to avoid the competition’s wooden spoon. While they aren’t getting the results, the Lions can take heart from their performance last week, which saw them down by just two points the 75th minute before a frantic period of late tries. The Lions are 3-2 at home this season but will have their hands full against a Bulls side that is looking stronger by the week. Coach Johan Ackerman has made six changes to the squad that lost to the Force, with the team featuring a new front row from last week.

The Bulls appear to have put the nightmares of their winless four-game overseas tour behind them by winning three consecutive games since returning from South Africa. Last week they comprehensively beat the Brumbies 44-23 with 22 of those points coming from the boot of fly-half Jacques-Louis Potgieter. The South African conference title is virtually out of reach but the Bulls do maintain genuine playoff hopes as they sit three just points off sixth place. Veteran Victor Matfield is being rested for this clash.

Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Lions +8.5

Conservative betting: the Bulls have dominated the Lions in recent seasons, however the visitors have a shocking 0-7 away record over the last 12 months. Nevertheless, the Bulls have recently been playing some of their best rugby of the season while the Lions will be weary from their four-game overseas tour. I would back the Bulls -2.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet)

Aggressive betting: the Bulls have been disappointing on the road this season while the Lions’ only two home losses have come against the highly rated Crusaders and Sharks, so I expect they hosts will be competitive this weekend. I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 2.76 (Palmerbet).

Sharks v Stormers

3:10 AM AEST, Kings Park, Durban
View a detailed form guide for Sharks v Stormers

The Sharks return to South Africa having picked up three wins and a bonus point loss during their four-game overseas tour. They enjoy an 11-point lead over the Bulls in the South African conference and have three very winnable fixtures to see off the regular season, so they are in a great position to take the coveted top seed in the playoffs. Coach Jake White will be immensely pleased with their away form over the last couple weeks. The ability of the Sharks to see of the Crusaders and Blues – two traditionally strong home teams – spells trouble for the rest of the competition. The Sharks did suffer a slight wobble a month ago when fly-half Pat Lambie got injured, but after experimenting with Fred Zeilinga and Tim Swiel, the Sharks have found their rhythm again with Francois Steyn in the No. 10 jersey.

The Stormers’ 2014 season is shaping up to closely resemble 2013, when they finished on a five-game winning streak once their playoff hopes had expired. After seeing off the Force 24-8 in Round 14, the Stormers thrashed the Cheetahs 33-0 to move off the foot of the overall standings. With four games left to play, the Stormers may become a thorn in the side of their countrymen as they finish the season with two games against the Sharks and one against the Bulls. The Stormers continue to get out of the blocks quickly in games. They scored their first try in the 5th minute last week, which was the sixth game in a row that they have been the first team to score. Injuries continue to plague the team, with captain Jean de Villiers ruled out for eight weeks with a knee injury.

Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Stormers +8.5

Conservative betting: this is the first time these sides have met this season. The Sharks won their last two home fixtures against the Stormers in close contests and with the Stormers playing their best rugby of the season at the moment, this clash could be a lot closer than many are predicting. Nevertheless, the Stormers have yet to win on the road this season so I would back the Sharks -3.5 at 1.53 (Sportingbet).

Aggressive betting: the Sharks should be too strong given that they’re 8-1 at home over the last 12 months while the Stormers are 1-7 on the road. With that being said, the Stormers are in their best form of the season and the Sharks may be feeling the effects of their travels. I think this will be close so I would back the Sharks 1-12 at 2.65 (Sportingbet).

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