It was a week of upsets in Round 1, with six of the seven home teams losing. Both the Waratahs and Bulls were undefeated at home last season but both fell at home. Looking at the futures market, what a difference a week can make! Following Round 1 the futures market has taken a jolt, with the Brumbies the biggest movers:
Odds from Sportingbet:
Chiefs 4.75 (was 5.00)
Waratahs 6.00 (was 5.00)
Brumbies 6.00 (was 11.00)
Crusaders 6.50 (was 5.50)
Sharks 11.00 (was 8.00)
Hurricanes 13.00 (was 17.00)
Bulls 15.00 (was 13.00)
Stormers 15.00 (was 17.00)
Blues 21.00 (was 17.00)
Reds 26.00 (was 15.00)
Force 51.00 (was 67.00)
Highlanders 34.00 (was 41.00)
Rebels 81.00 (was 151.0)
Cheetahs 81.00 (was 126.00)
Lions 201.00 (unchanged)
Friday, 20 February
Chiefs v Brumbies
5:35 PM AEDT, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
View a detailed form guide for Chiefs v Brumbies
The Chiefs notched their 8th consecutive win over the Blues last week, with returning centre Sonny Bill Williams contributing to both of their tries. The most impressive part of the Chiefs performance was their defence, which kept the dangerous Blues back line tryless. The Chiefs welcome back the All Blacks trio of Liam Messam, Aaron Cruden and Brodie Retallick (via the bench) for this clash. Former All Black Hosea Gear will make his Chiefs debut on the wing.
The Brumbies kicked off their 2015 campaign in style by annihilating the Reds 47-3 in Canberra last week. This extended their home winning streak to nine games. Wallaby skipper Stephen Moore came off the bench and successfully played for 30 minutes as part of his return from long-term injury. Unfortunately Captain David Pocock is out this week with an ankle injury.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Brumbies +5.5
Conservative betting: this fixture has been dominated by the home side in recent years. You have to go back to 2008 for the last time the away team won. This stat is heavily due to the Brumbies, who are much more comfortable at home than away. Covering this season and last the Brumbies are on a 10-game streak of winning every home game and losing every away game. With that being said, the Brumbies looked immense last week, albeit against a poor Reds performance. The last three Chiefs’ home wins over the Brumbies were by 7 points or less so I would back the Brumbies +9.5 at 1.53 (Centrebet).
Aggressive betting: this could go either way but I’m going to side with history and take the Chiefs 1-12 at 2.80 (Palmerbet).
Rebels v Waratahs
7:40 PM AEDT, AAMI Park, Melbourne
View a detailed form guide for Rebels v Waratahs
I gave the Rebels a fighting chance of winning last week and they did just that, upsetting the Crusaders to record their first ever win outside Australia. The win was made all the more remarkable by the fact that the Rebels spent a quarter of the game down a player. Captain Scott Higginbotham is free to play this week after being cleared of a stamping charge, however halfback Nic Stirzaker is suspended for his stomp on McCaw.
Coach Michael Cheika should have the Waratahs fired up for this clash after his side put in a poor display to be beaten at home by the Force last week. After going unbeaten at home all of last season the Waratahs let themselves down with handling errors and they failed to match the urgency of the visitors. The tries they conceded were soft, which is in contrast to last season when they led the league in fewest points conceded. The Waratahs have no new injury concerns and have named an unchanged starting line-up this week.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -5.5
Conservative betting: the Rebels upset a Crusaders side that they have a good record against last week, but this week they’re taking on a side that has a dominant record over them. I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.50 (Ladbrokes).
Aggressive betting: with the Waratahs not firing on all cylinders yet and the Rebels in good form, I expect the home side to be competitive. I’m not expecting a blow out so I would back the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.80 (Palmerbet).
Saturday, 21 February
Bulls v Hurricanes
4:10 AM AEDT, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
View a detailed form guide for Bulls v Hurricanes
The Bulls were undefeated at home last season but fell at home to the Stormers last week, a side that were 1-7 on the road last year! After being beaten for pace last season, the Bulls recruited well during the off-season, poaching three Cheetahs forwards, however they were dominated by the Stormers’ forwards last week and were well beaten at scrum time. The Bulls have spoken about moving away from their famed kick-and-suffocate approach to a more expansive style of rugby, which was evident last week, so it’s fair to say the Bulls are still in a period of transition. They did look better in the second half, enjoying good spells of ball retention, so there are positives to take into this week. Unfortunately, last week’s loss was compounded by the losses of Werner Kruger, Arno Botha and William Small-Smith for the next few weeks after they all picked up injuries. Other players on the long-term injury list are Flip van der Merwe, Hencus van Wyk, Pierre Schoeman and Burger Odendaal. With so many players sidelined the Bulls will be relieved to welcome back captain Pierre Spies to the starting line up this week. Dean Greyling is fit again and will start on the bench.
The Hurricanes kicked off their campaign with a professional performance to see off the Lions in Johannesburg. They made excellent use of the little possession they had and were clinical on defence. The Bulls boast a formidable forward pack but with five props out with injury, the Hurricanes will back themselves at scrum time, spurred on by the success that the Stormers enjoyed last week. The Hurricanes welcome back centre Ma’a Nonu for this fixture.
Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Hurricanes +5.0
Conservative betting: the Bulls have a formidable home record but they are certainly a wounded team at the moment with so many players sidelined. The Hurricanes played smart rugby last week but the second half performance last Round from the Bulls gives me the impression we’ll see a much stronger performance from them this week. With 4 of the last 5 games between these two settled by 12 points or fewer, I would back both the Bulls 1-12 at 2.80 (Centrebet) and the Hurricanes 1-12 at 3.80 (Palmerbet).
Aggressive betting: the Hurricanes should be competitive but the Bulls are always tough a home. I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 2.80 (Centrebet)
Highlanders v Crusaders
5:35 PM AEDT, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
View a detailed form guide for Highlanders v Crusaders
The Highlanders were the unlucky ones with the scheduling this season, picking up a useless bye in the first round. They lost some handy players during the off-season, with the squad replenished from New Zealand domestic ranks. On paper they’re the weakest side in New Zealand but the Highlanders are accustomed to being more than the sum of their parts. Despite making the playoffs for the first time many years the Highlanders faded badly down the stretch last season, winning just one of their last six games. They were strong at home, however, going 6-2 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The Crusaders suffered a home defeat to the unheralded Rebels last week to continue their trend of starting seasons slowly. The Canterbury side has now won only 1 of their last 7 games in the first two rounds of a season. Once again it’s their offence that has started slowly. To add insult to injury, Dan Carter tweaked his right leg, forcing him out of this week’s clash. Israel Dagg will likely return this week to start at fullback with Colin Slade shifting to fly-half. Halfback Andy Ellis and winger Nemani Nadolo remain out. The Crusaders are one of the best travelling teams in Super Rugby so they will back themselves this weekend but a win will require a much improved performance from last week.
Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders +3.5
Conservative betting: the Crusaders have won their last five straight against the Highlanders, however all of those fixtures were later on in their respective seasons. With the Crusaders starting this season in typical slow fashion, the Highlanders will like their chances on Saturday. The Highlanders have already beaten them in pre-season. Two of their last three meetings in Dunedin were settled by 3 points or less, so I’m going to back both the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.80 (Palmerbet) and the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.35 (Palmerbet).
Aggressive betting: I think it’s a coin toss who’s going to win this, but I’ll take the value and back the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.35 (Palmerbet).
Reds v Force
7:40 PM AEDT, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
View a detailed form guide for Reds v Force
The Reds started their campaign with a 3-47 thrashing at the hands of the Brumbies last week. Captain James Horwill got his season off to a strange start, picking up two yellow cards for repeated infringements at the breakdown. The Reds as a whole conceded far too many penalties, with the Brumbies exposing how much work they have to do to if they are to be competitive this season. On the injury front the Reds have lost fullback Jamie-Jerry Taulagi for six to eight weeks and fly-half Duncan Paia’aua for at least a week, however James O’Connor and former All Blacks loose forward Adam Thomson are now available for selection.
This time last year the Force started their season by being hammered in Sydney so they would have enjoyed their upset away win over the Waratahs last week. The result was made all the sweeter by the fact that the Force picked up a bonus point whilst denying one to the Waratahs. It was also the first time in 10 seasons the Force won their opening round game. The only real blemish on the performance was the spot kicking of Sias Ebersohn, who went 2 from 7. Prop Pek Cowan underwent scans on his neck and spine after being stretchered off the field last week but has been cleared of any serious injury.
Head-to-head pick: Force
Line pick: Force +3.5
Conservative betting: spanning this season and the last the Reds have only won two of their last eight games and they have failed to beat the Force in their last five attempts. Suncorp Stadium isn’t the fortress it used to be. The Reds only won three home games last season. I would back the Force +6.5 at 1.62 (BetEasy).
Aggressive betting: the Force haven’t won an away game by more than 12 points since 2010. I would back the Force 1-12 at 3.30 (Luxbet).
Sunday, 22 February
Stormers v Blues
2:05 AM AEDT, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
View a detailed form guide for Stormers v Blues
The Stormers upset the Bulls in Pretoria last week to extend the fine form they showed at the end of last season. The Stormers were under strength for the fixture and the Bulls had recruited well in the forwards during the off-season, however the Stormers forwards dominated their counterparts in open play and at scrum time. The Stormers put in a clinical performance, applied pressure at the breakdown and converted their opportunities. With the Sharks losing last week the long-suffering Stormers fans may be hoping this can be their year. The Stormers welcome back Springbok tighthead prop Frans Malherb for this clash.
Having enjoying a fantastic home record last year the Blues lost at home last week against the Chiefs – a side they have a miserable record against. After being behind at the break the Blues did manage to dominate the second half but weren’t able to catch up, with all of their points coming from the boot of Ihaia West. Handling errors cost them in the end and they now face the prospect of starting the season 0-3 with their two-game tour of South Africa starting.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers -6.5
Conservative betting: the Blues have an awful away record and they’re facing a Stormers side that won six of eight at home last season. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.40 (Centrebet).
Aggressive betting: the Blues are 1-6 at the line away from home over the last 12 months and five of their last six losses were by 8 points or more. I would back the Stormers -6.5 at 1.92 (Luxbet).
Sharks v Lions
4:10 AM AEDT, Kings Park, Durban
View a detailed form guide for Sharks v Lions
In one of many upsets last Round, the Sharks fell 29-35 to the unheralded Cheetahs last week. They were under strength for the fixture, with Heinrich Brussow among those sidelined, and they weren’t helped by the late withdrawal of skipper Bismarck du Plessis before the game. The Sharks then lost lock Lood de Jager inside the first ten minutes and prop Tendai Mtawarira just before halftime.
The Lions were their own worst enemy last week. Mistakes undid all of their advantage in territory and possession as they fell 8-22 to the Hurricanes at home. Marnitz Boshoff had a bad night with the boot which cost them any chance of a bonus point. In contrast to a number of other South African sides, the Lions have no new injuries and they will be boosted by the return of Springbok prop Julian Redelinghuys. Hooker Robbie Coetzee has also returned to full contact training, leaving MB Lusaseni as the only player unavailable for selection.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Sharks -10.5
Conservative betting: unlike with the Cheetahs, who upset them last week, the Sharks enjoy a dominant record over the Lions, particularly at home. The Lions have lost their last seven away fixtures – six of which were by eight points or more. Despite the Sharks struggling with injuries, I back the home side to get the win. I expect the winning margin to be around 10 points so I would back both the Sharks 1-10 at 3.00 and the Sharks 11-20 at 4.20 (Sportsbet).
Aggressive betting: I’ll narrow the win margin for this selection and back the Sharks 6-10 at 5.00 and the Sharks 11-15 at 5.50 (Sportsbet).