Friday, 6 March
Chiefs v Highlanders
5:35 PM AEDT, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
View a detailed form guide for Chiefs v Highlanders
The Chiefs maintained their undefeated start to the season by trashing the Crusaders 40-16 last week. They outscored the visitors 5 tries to 1 as code switcher Sonny Bill Williams again had a good game. Ill discipline was arguably the only downside of the Chiefs performance, with cheap penalties helping to add some respectability to the Crusaders points tally. The win came at a cost for the Chiefs, with Brodie Retallick ruled out for four to six weeks with an AC shoulder joint injury.
The Highlanders saw off the Reds 20-13 last week to record their first win of the season. Apart from Waisaki Naholo’s superb try the Highlanders could only accumulate points through penalties, which the Reds ill-discipline assisting their cause. They welcome back regular fly-half Lima Sopoaga for this clash.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs -10.5
Conservative betting: the Highlanders have been competitive against the Chiefs in recent seasons, but they have taken a step backward this year from a personnel perspective while the Chiefs have strengthened. The Crusaders are normally renown for their defence but the Chiefs managed to put 40 past them last week, which bodes ominously for the Highlanders. Also the Chiefs are 7-2 at home over the last 12 months while the Highlanders are 2-6 away from Dunedin. I would back the Chiefs -5.5 at 1.48 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: half of the Highlanders’ losses over the last 12 months were by 13 points or more and based on the Chiefs result last week I would back the Chiefs 13+ at 2.12 (Palmerbet).
Brumbies v Force
7:40 PM AEDT, GIO Stadium, Canberra
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Stephen Moore made a successful return as captain as the Brumbies saw off the Rebels 20-15 in Melbourne last week. The result broke an eleven-game streak where the Brumbies had won every home fixture and lost every away game. They now sit comfortably at the top of the Australian conference, however the Waratahs have a game in hand.
The Force visit Canberra on the back of a demoralising home loss to the high-flying Hurricanes. They were outscored four tries to one and spent most of the game under siege. If anything the 13-42 scoreline flattered the hosts, with the Hurricanes denied two more tries due to marginal referee calls. After a promising start by beating the Waratahs, the Force haven’t won since and they will be short on confidence coming into an intimidating fixture. They welcome back winger Nick Cummins for this clash.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -12.5
Conservative betting: despite having good year in 2014 the Force lost both of their fixtures to the Brumbies relatively comfortably. The Brumbies are undefeated at home over the last 12 months and 7-1 at home at the line. The Force were unable to cope with the dynamic backline of the Hurricanes last week so I’m pessimistic about their chances this round. I would back the Brumbies -7.5 at 1.48 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: given the Brumbies impressive line record at home I would back the Brumbies 13+ at 1.94 (Palmerbet).
Saturday, 7 March
Blues v Lions
5:35 PM AEDT, QBE Stadium, North Harbour
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The Blues fell 24-25 to the Cheetahs last week, marking their worst ever start in Super Rugby. They dominated long passages of play but weren’t able to convert their dominance into points. At the other end of the field the Cheetahs took full advantage of virtually every chance so the Blues will be disappointed by the result. The Blues welcome back winger Frank Halai this week after he recovered from a shoulder operation.
The Lions, like the Blues, remain without a win after they fell 19-22 at home to the Stormers. It was a heart-breaking defeat, having led for 76 minutes and having two chances in extra time to steal the win. After a disappointing opening two rounds the Lions made a large number of chances to the squad last week and it paid dividends, with their performance against the Stormers a marked improvement on previous rounds.
Head-to-head pick: Blues
Line pick: Blues -10.5
Conservative betting: this fixture features the only two teams in the competition without a win. Spanning last season and this the Blues have lost their last 5 while the Lions have lost their last 3. The Blues are much stronger at home, however, and the Lions have a miserable away record – especially overseas. I would back the Blues -6.5 at 1.42 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Blues only failed to cover the line once as the home favourite last year. Three of their five home wins over the last 12 months were by 13 points or more while five of the Lions’ seven away losses were by 13 points or more. I would back the Blues 13+ at 2.00 (Sportsbet).
Reds v Waratahs
7:40 PM AEDT, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
View a detailed form guide for Reds v Waratahs
Despite missing numerous players the Reds were competitive against the Highlanders last week but the penalty count buried them in the end. They did well to secure a bonus point and they can take positives from James O’Connor’s debut at fly-half. The result leaves them with just one win for the season so they will be keen for a home victory to build some momentum for the campaign. New signing Karmichael Hunt has banned for six weeks over his cocaine admission. He will be available again in Round 8.
Prior to their bye last week the Waratahs bounced back from their home loss to the Force by beating the Rebels 38-28 in Melbourne. It was a much improved performance from the NSW side, with Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley in particular having better games. After being dominated by the Reds in prior seasons the Waratahs won both home and away against their Queensland rivals last year and will be keen to reassert their ascendancy this week.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -5.5
Conservative betting: the Waratahs smashed the Reds 34-3 in Brisbane last year. With the home side struggling with injuries the Waratahs should be too strong. I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.47 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Reds will put up a fight at home, but I’m going to take the value and back the Waratahs 13+ at 3.00 (Palmerbet).
Sunday, 7 March
Cheetahs v Bulls
2:05 AM AEDT, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
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The Cheetahs kicked a late penalty to see off the Blues 25-24 last week to remain unbeaten for the season. They took their chances and coped well with the pressure applied by the Blues. The Cheetahs remain undefeated this season but with their overseas tour starting in Round 6 they will be keen to notch at least one more win when they host the Bulls this week and the Sharks the next.
The Bulls picked up a much needed win over the Sharks last week to record their first victory of the season. While they did benefit from a few referee calls, their forwards put in a much improved performance after having been dominated at the set piece in the first two weeks. The Pretoria side prides itself on its home form so they will be gutted to have lost two out of there three home games, however. It remains to be seen how competitive the Bulls can be on the road this year after going winless away from Loftus Versfeld last season.
Head-to-head pick: Cheetahs
Line pick: Cheetahs +2.5
Conservative betting: the Bulls have won 6 of their last 7 against the Cheetahs, however they have been awful on the road of late. The last four clashes between the two were won by 6 points or less so I would back both the Cheetahs 1-12 at 3.05 (Palmerbet) and the Bulls 1-12 at 2.85 (Palmerbet).
Aggressive betting: despite having an awful 2014 season, the Cheetahs are 4-1-2 at home last 12 months while the Bulls failed to win on the road. This should be a close game so I would back the Cheetahs 1-12 at 3.05 (Palmerbet).
Sunday, 8 March
Stormers v Sharks
4:10 AM AEDT, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
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The Stormers trailed for 76 minutes last week but managed to see of the much-improved Lions 22-19 in Johannesburg. The win maintains their unbeaten start to the season, which is impressive given their injury toll. Jurie van Vuuren is the latest casualty. He is out for three weeks with a should injury, however locks Jean Kleyn and Eben Etzebeth are both available for selection after missing the start of the season and flanker Schalk Burger is expected back from Japan.
After being on the wrong end of some 50:50 referee calls, the Sharks let one slip away after they fall 35-43 to the Bulls in Pretoria last week. The result leaves them with just one win for their opening three games so the heat will be on new head coach Gary Gold, who has big boots to fill after the departure of Jake White. The Sharks have received a blow leading up to this clash, with flanker Jean Deysel ruled out for four to six weeks with an ankle injury. In better news, Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen have returned from Japan and are available for selection. Also Willem Alberts has recovered from an hamstring injury and may feature this weekend.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers -2.5
Conservative betting: home advantage hasn’t counted for much when these two have played in recent seasons, with the away team winning 3 of the last 6 fixtures. The Sharks certainly don’t mind being the road underdog – they were 3-2 as the road underdog over the last 12 months compared to their 2-3 record as the road favourite. With that being said, the Stormers have only lost 1 of their last 8 fixtures over the last 12 months while the Sharks have lost 5 out of 8. I would back both the Stormers 1-12 at 2.68 (Palmerbet) and the Sharks 1-12 at 3.20 (Luxbet).
Aggressive betting: I fancy the Stormers’ chances, however the Sharks should be competitive and only 1 of their 5 away losses over the last 12 months was by 13 points or more. I would back the Stormers 1-12 at 2.68 (Palmerbet).