Super Rugby – Semi-finals Preview

Super Rugby OddsThe following are previews and betting tips for the 2014 Super Rugby Semi-finals.

Saturday, 26 July

Crusaders v Sharks

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

Two weeks ago, with the top seed in the conference on the line, the Crusaders thrashed the Highlanders 34-8 to reclaim their ascendancy in New Zealand after two years of playing second fiddle to the Chiefs. As is often the case with the Canterbury side, they’re peaking at just the right time. The Crusaders struggled offensively earlier in the season but have looked much more threatening in the backline once they settled on Colin Slade at fly-half with mid-season signing Nemani Nadolo added to the wing. Dan Carter’s return from sabbatical adds another dimension, with the All Blacks veteran playing in the #12 jersey. The Crusaders suffered a very rare home defeat to the Sharks earlier this season so they will see this as an opportunity to gain revenge. The Crusaders were sucked into a kicking contest last time but they will have seen from the Highlanders that counter-attacking with ball in hand is more effective against the Sharks. The Canterbury side boast a 10-1-1 record against the Sharks in Christchurch so they will be looking to resume normal service this weekend. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw returns to play at blindside with the in-form Matt Todd keeping the number seven jersey.

The Sharks had to come from behind to see of the unfancied Highlanders 31-27 last week. The two sides were separated by the boot of flyhalf Francois Steyn, with both teams scoring three tries. The Sharks dominated in the forwards, particularly at the set-piece, however they had few answers to the Highlanders’ backline attacks, which bodes ominously for this weekend. The Crusaders have a stronger forward pack than the Highlanders and their backline has looked menacing recently. The Crusaders were guilty of playing far too conservatively the last time they hosted the Sharks and I don’t expect them to make the same mistake twice. Sharks prop Tendai Mtawarira and lock Anton Bresler have been left out of the touring squad after failing to recover from their respective injuries. After returning to full fitness, Pat Lambie gets the start at fly-half this week with Frans Steyn shifting to inside centre.

Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Sharks +8.0

Conservative betting: it’s hard not to compare the two sides’ recent performances against the Highlanders. The Crusaders thrashed them 34-8 two weeks ago while the Sharks only just saw them off 31-27 last week. Christchurch hasn’t been the usual fortress for the Crusaders this season, where they boast just a 5-3 record, but they should be much fresher than the Sharks given their week off and the visitors’ 11,000 km journey from Durban. History is certainly against the Sharks, given the Crusaders have never lost a home playoff game in Super Rugby history. I would back the Crusaders -2.5 at 1.47 (Sportingbet).

Aggressive betting: the Sharks have a very strong kicking game and they are relentlessly physical. They haven’t been beaten by more than 13 points on the road this season so I expect them to be competitive on Saturday. It’s worth noting that the Sharks are 3-1 at the line this year as the road underdog. I would back the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.56 (Palmerbet).

Waratahs v Brumbies

7:40 PM AEST, Allianz Stadium, Sydney
View a detailed form guide for Waratahs v Brumbies

The Waratahs enter the semi-finals in fantastic form having won their last seven games. During that stretch they averaged 39 points scored and 15 conceded. Since their Round 13 bye the Waratahs have won by an average margin of 26 points. Continuing with the theme of impressive numbers, in Sydney this year the Waratahs are 8-0 in the head-to-head and 7-1 at the line. The Waratahs also boast a 11-2 record against the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium so they can be forgiven for thinking a win this weekend is in the bag. You would have to be foolish to write off the Brumbies, however. The Waratahs lineout has looked vulnerable lately (although they have had a full week to work on it) and the Brumbies have played some of their best rugby over the last two weeks. The current Brumbies squad also have more playoffs experience than the Waratahs.

The Brumbies survived a late onslaught from the Chiefs to win 32-30 in their qualifying final last week. Two of their four conceded tries came when they were a man down so I’m sure discipline would have been emphasised in training this week. Due to the typical distances involved, lower seeds in the playoffs usually have to do a lot of travelling, however the schedule has been kind to the Brumbies, with Allianz Stadium just three hours from Canberra. They’ve received plenty of motivation this week, with a number of confident comments coming out of the Waratahs camp. Jacques Potgieter said “if we just concentrate on our stuff and do our own things well, we’re going to be unstoppable,” while Phil Waugh labelled the current Waratahs side “one of the best” teams in Super Rugby history.

Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -6.5

Conservative betting: the Waratahs thrashed the Brumbies 39-8 in Sydney just a few weeks ago, however the Brumbies were missing eleven players that week. Five of those players will be playing this Saturday, including fly-half Matt Toomua, and the Canberra side did beat the Waratahs in Canberra in Round 5. The lift in the Brumbies form plus the pressures of finals rugby will make this a closer contest, however I still tip the Waratahs to get it done at home. The Waratahs are an incredibly balanced side, boasting both the best offensive and defensive records in the competition. If they can sort out their lineout issues they will be very difficult to keep up with on Saturday. I would back the Waratahs -2.5 at 1.54 (Sportingbet).

Aggressive betting: six of the eight Waratahs’ wins in Sydney this year have been by 13 points or more while half of the Brumbies away losses have been by more than 13 points. I would back the Waratahs 13+ at 2.85 (Sportingbet).

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