Friday, 13 March
Hurricanes v Blues
5:35 PM AEDT, FMG Stadium, Palmerston North
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Prior to their bye last week the Hurricanes thrashed the Force 42-13 in Perth. This capped off an undefeated three-game overseas tour, which has put them in a fantastic position to make a push for the playoffs. Even more impressive is the fact that the Hurricanes have been rotating players on tour. With exciting youngsters like Nehe Milner-Skudder coming in, they boast good depth in the back-line so Hurricanes fans have every reason to be optimistic. Milner-Skudder will get his first start this week. All Blacks winger Cory Jane will be rested.
The Blues have made their worst ever start to a Super Rugby campaign, losing to the previously winless Lions in North Harbour last week. They dominated the territory and possession statistics but couldn’t breach the outstanding Lions defence. Pressure will be building on coach John Kirwan given the Blues’ disappointing performances in recent seasons. The Blues will be without Jerome Kaino this week after he failed to recover from a concussion. Jimmy Cowan has a knee strain and may miss this clash.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Hurricanes -9.5
Conservative betting: the Hurricanes are 6-1 at home over the last 12 months while the Blues are 1-7 on the road. The line betting stats are almost as one-sided, with the Hurricanes 4-1-1 at home and the Blues 2-6 on the road. With the Hurricanes full of confidence and the Blues camp looking unsettled, I would back the Hurricanes -5.5 at 1.51 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Hurricanes and Blues have a habit of blowout games when they meet. The last five games between the two were won by 13 points or more. With the Hurricanes in the ascendancy at the moment I would back the Hurricanes 13+ at 2.20 (Palmerbet).
Force v Rebels
10:00 PM AEDT, nib Stadium, Perth
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The scoreline wasn’t too bad, but the Force were clearly outclassed in their 15-27 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra last week. The defeat was their third in a row so there will be a lot of pressure to get a result this weekend before to departing for South Africa. They can take positives from the fact that last week’s performance was an improvement on previous rounds.
The Rebels have only won one game from three, but they’ve been playing good rugby this season. Prior to their bye last week the Rebels fought gallantly against the Brumbies in wet conditions, falling 15-20 with the Rebels finishing the stronger of the two sides. All of their games have been against quality opposition so the Melbourne side has done well to pick up 6 points from their first three fixtures.
Head-to-head pick: Rebels
Line pick: Rebels +3.5
Conservative betting: the Force have been disappointing since their Round 1 shock win over the Waratahs. While they haven’t been getting the results the Rebels have been playing better rugby than the Force this season. I am also mindful of the fact that the Rebels have won 5 of their last 6 against the Force. I would back the Rebels +7.5 at 1.47 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Force showed signs of improvement last week so this should be close. I would back the Rebels 1-12 at 3.75 (bet365).
Saturday, 14 March
Crusaders v Lions
2:30 PM AEDT, AMI Stadium ,Christchurch
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The Crusaders have again made their customary slow start to the season, winning one game from three prior to a bye last week. In Round 3 the Crusaders were unable to cope with the Chiefs speed speed and physicality, and while the Crusaders were missing Dan Carter, Israel Dagg and Owen Franks, they were still fielding a strong team that was clearly second best to the Chiefs on the night. The Crusaders have received a blow with Robbie Fruean ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his broken arm. In better news, Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo is expected to be back in action this week. Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg should also be back.
They were dominated in the possession and territory statistics last week but the Lions put on an excellent defensive effort to see off the Blues 13-10 in North Harbour. The result was their first win of the season and will give them a huge boost in confidence knowing they will be playing the struggling Reds and Rebels after this. The Lions have no new injury concerns and have named an unchanged line-up.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders -14.5
Conservative betting: the Crusaders have been disappointing this season but the bye last week has given them time to get reinforcements back. They have a dominant record over the Lions – both home and away – so I would tentatively back the Crusaders -8.5 at 1.43 (William Hill). There isn’t much value in these odds, unfortunately, with the Crusaders getting a strong backing from punters during the week.
Aggressive betting: with so many All Blacks back I expect the Crusaders to start putting in stronger performances. Four of their last five home wins were by 13 points or more while four of the Lions last six away losses were by more than 13 points. If I had to bet I would back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.75 (Palmerbet), but again there isn’t much value in these odds.
Highlanders v Waratahs
5:35 PM AEDT, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
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The Highlanders upset the Chiefs in Hamilton last week to pick up their second win in three games. To be fair, though, the result was as much to do with the Chiefs having an off night as anything else. The Highlanders’ forwards were dominated by their counterparts and they were second best in the territory and possession stats.
After an untimely bye in Round 3 the Waratahs defeated the Reds 23-5 in Brisbane last week. Despite the impressive scoreline, the Waratahs put in a poor performance, missing out on countless point scoring opportunities due to knock-ons and dropped passes. What is impressive, however is the fact that they didn’t concede any points until the final minute and the win is their fifth on the road in a row. The Waratahs have no new injury concerns and have named an unchanged line-up for this clash.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -2.5
Conservative betting: this fixture has been dominated by the home side in recent years, however the Waratahs are much improved since their last visit to Dunedin in 2012. Last year the Waratahs thrashed the Highlanders 44-16 in Sydney and I expect them to be too strong this week. They should be sharp. Their sloppy performance against the Reds will have had Michael Cheika on their backs all week. I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.67 (Ladbrokes).
Aggressive betting: the Highlanders don’t have a habit of being thrashed at home. No side has beaten them by more than 13 points in Dunedin over the past 12 months. I would back the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.76 (Palmerbet).
Reds v Brumbies
7:40 PM AEDT, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
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The Reds were thumped 5-23 by the Waratahs last week, with the result made worse by the fact that the Waratahs put in a poor performance and the Reds were playing at home. They weren’t helped by the late withdrawal of James Horwill, but it was a dreadful Reds performance with their only points coming in the final minute. They were physically dominated by the Waratahs and will somehow have to turn things around ahead of hosting the Brumbies, who thrashed them 47-3 in Round 1.
The Brumbies were always in control last week as they saw off the Force 27-15 in Canberra. Their defence in particular was strong as they withstood a late onslaught from the visitors. The Brumbies sit six points clear at the top of the Australian conference and with fixtures against the Reds and Waratahs coming up they have the opportunity to cement their dominance over their domestic rivals.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -6.5
Conservative betting: with a high injury count, the Reds have struggled to find cohesion on attack this season. Losing at home so easily to the Waratahs who themselves put in a poor performance won’t have done much to help their confidence. The Brumbies don’t have a great away record however they did win this fixture last year and they should be too strong for the depleted Reds. I would back the Brumbies -2.5 at 1.53 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Brumbies thrashed the Reds by 44 points just a few weeks ago. I think the 1-12 vs. 13+ selection is marginal so I would instead back the Brumbies -6.5 at 1.90 (Pinnacle Sports).
Sunday, 14 March
Stormers v Chiefs
0:00 AM AEDT, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
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The Stormers maintained their undefeated start to the season by seeing off the Sharks 29-13 last week. It wasn’t a dominant display, with the Sharks the stronger at the set-piece and breakdown, but the Stormers took their chances well and will have a great deal of confidence for their title chances given they started the season with so many injuries.
The Chiefs’ undefeated start to the season came to a halt with a shock home loss to the Highlanders last week. In an off night for the side, they dominated possession and territory throughout the match but failed to make it count. Aaron Cruden and Andrew Horrell combined for four penalty misses which could have won them the match.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers -1.5
Conservative betting: this fixture has been a high scoring affair in recent years. I am mindful of the fact that the Stormers are 7-2 at home over the last 12 months while the Chiefs are 2-2-5 on the road. I would back the Stormers +3.5 at 1.47 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: six of the Stormers’ last seven home wins were by 8 points or more, however the Chiefs have a good record in Cape Town. I would back the Stormers 1-12 at 2.80 (Palmerbet).
Cheetahs v Sharks
2:05 AM AEDT, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
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The Cheetahs’ unbeaten start to the season came to an end as the Bulls – featuring numerous poached Cheetahs forwards – beat them 39-20 last week in Bloemfontein. Their impressive start has surprised many, but with the Sharks visiting this week followed by a tough four-game overseas tour, the Cheetahs will be mindful that a run off losses could quickly make their strong start seem like a distant memory. The Cheetahs welcome back flanker Heinrich Brussow via the bench this week while Sarel Pretorius returns after being a late withdrawal last week. Oupa Mohoje is being rested.
The Sharks have slumped to one win from four games after they fell 13-29 to the Stormers last week. They were competitive in the first half and were strong the set-piece and breakdown, but the Sharks became victims of their own errors while the Stormers took their chances well. The Sharks are expected to receive a boost this week with the return of Springboks front-rowers Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Sharks -1.5
Conservative betting: the last five meetings between the two were settled by 12 points or less. With both sides in desperate need of a win there’s little to expect anything different this week. I would back both the Cheetahs 1-12 at 3.50 (bet365) and the Sharks 1-12 at 2.80 (bet365).