Friday, 27 March
Hurricanes v Rebels
5:35 PM AEDT, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
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The Hurricanes remain undefeated this season after seeing off the in-form Highlanders in Dunedin. It was a messy performance, however the Highlanders have dominated the Hurricanes in recent seasons so it was in excellent result. The most impressive aspect of the Hurricanes’ 5-0 start to the season is the fact that four of those fixtures were on the road – three of which were overseas. The Hurricanes have won 6 of their last 7 at home so if they can replicate their impressive away form at home they have a strong chance of topping the New Zealand conference. Last week’s win came at a cost, with flanker Ardie Savea ruled out for four weeks with a finger injury and Blade Thomson missing this week with a concussion. This week’s side has a different look about it, with the All Blacks trio of Beaden Barrett, Ben Franks and Julian Savea rested this Round.
The Rebels suffered a shock home defeat to the Lions last week, conceding a late try to fall 16-20. The Rebels paid the price for Mike Harris’ wayward kicking which saw him miss three relatively straightforward kicks. The loss was their seventh straight home loss with the side’s previous three wins all coming on the road. The Rebels haven’t won back-to-back games since 2013. The loss has severely hurt their momentum and with fixtures against the Hurricanes, Brumbies, Waratahs and Chiefs to come in upcoming weeks, the Rebels’ playoff hopes could peter out long before the end of the season. Their chances haven’t been helped by the loss of winger Dom Shipperley for up to six weeks with a fractured hand.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Rebels +13.5
Conservative betting: had the Hurricanes been at full strength I would have back them to win comfortably, but with a new 9/10 combo this week and Julian Savea rested, it remains to be seen how fluent they will be on attack. The Rebels have yet to lose by more than 10 points this season so I would back the Rebels +17.5 at 1.48 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: taking a more aggressive stance to the wager above, I would back the Hurricanes 1-12 at 2.75 (Sportsbet).
Reds v Lions
8:00 PM AEDT, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
View a detailed form guide for Reds v Lions
Prior to their Round 6 bye the Reds were thrashed 0-29 at home by the Brumbies. There was no lack of heart shown by the Reds, but they made too many errors and were simply out-classed by the well-organised visitors. The Reds now have the worst offensive record in the competition, averaging just 8 points per game. To compound their woes, flanker Liam Gill was suspended for two weeks for a dangerous tackle against the Brumbies. Due to the bombastic bye rules, however, he already served one week of his suspension in Round 6 so he will only miss this clash. In better news, the Reds welcome back six players from injury this week. Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi and Lachie Turner return to the starting backline, while props Greg Holmes and Ben Daley have been named on the bench.
After the South African sides performed so poorly overseas last year, the Lions have managed to win two from three on tour this year, beating the Blues and Rebels. Both wins were marked by excellent defence, with the Lions limiting the Blues and Rebels to 10 and 16 points, respectively. The Lions’ conditioning program seems to have done the job, with the side conceding just 3 points in the second half against the Rebels and 0 points in the second spell against the Blues. With the Reds having not won since Round 2, the Lions will be eyeing up a third tour scalp this week. They have opted for Elton Jantjies at fly-half this week, with Marnitz Boshoff dropping to the bench.
Head-to-head pick: Reds
Line pick: Lions +6.5
Conservative betting: the bye was timely for the Reds who have been desperately struggling with injuries this season. This is a nasty fixture for them, however, because they’ll be expected to win but the Lions are a hard working, defensively well organised side. The Lions will back themselves to cause an upset here. I would back the Lions +11.5 at 1.47 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Reds have been soundly beaten at home in their last two fixtures but I expect them to have made good use of their bye week to sort things out. Nevertheless I’m going to take the value and back the Lions 1-12 at 4.15 (Luxbet).
Saturday, 28 March
Chiefs v Cheetahs
2:30 PM AEDT, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
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The Chiefs were left to wonder what could have been after they fell 11-12 to the Sharks in Durban last week in wet and windy conditions. The Chiefs led 11-9 at the break but weren’t able to add to their tally in the second spell, with Aaron Cruden’s penalty and conversion misses proving costly. Three red cards were issued in the match – two to the Sharks and one to the Chiefs. Hika Elliot was the recipient of the red card for a no-arm tackle and has been suspended for this week. Flanker Liam Messam was cited after the match for an alleged foul but has avoided suspension.
The Cheetahs led 14-10 at the break last week against the Crusaders, but were blown away in the second half to lose 14-57. Much of the damage was done with Willie le Roux in the bin. During his ten minutes on the sideline the score blew out from 10-14 to 38-14 in favour of the hosts. The Cheetahs’ tour of hell continues this week with a game against the Chiefs followed by a visit to Canberra. They have lost Oupa Mohoje for 8-12 weeks after he suffered a groin injury last week so his season could be over. Among the six changes to the squad for this clash, Willie le Roux, Coenie Oosthuizen and Francois Venter are being rested.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs -17.5
Conservative betting: Chiefs vs. Cheetahs fixtures tend to be open, high scoring games. After a good start things have begun to unravel for the Cheetahs, however they will benefit from the Chiefs having just flown back from South Africa. Also, the Chiefs will be without Hika Elliot, who has been excellent for them this season. The Chiefs have only won by 13+ at home twice in the last 12 months, however the Cheetahs have the worst defensive record so far in the competition. With the Cheetahs resting some key players this week, I back the Chiefs -9.5 at 1.38 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: there’s so much uncertainty with this fixture. The last time the Cheetahs visited the Chiefs they lost by 42 points. The time before that they drew 25-25. I will personally sit this one out, but if I had to recommend a play I would take the value and back the draw at 56.00 (Luxbet). Draw odds tend to be around the 20-30 mark and two of the last five meetings between the two sides ended in a draw.
Highlanders v Stormers
5:35 PM AEDT, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
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The Highlanders suffered their second defeat of the season last week, falling 13-20 at home to the high-flying Hurricanes. It was a messy, error-ridden performance but they did well to pick up a consolation bonus point at the end. The Highlanders still occupy a playoff spot, but with a bye next week followed by a trip to Christchurch, this fixture could have a major bearing on the Highlander’s momentum going into the second half of the season.
Prior to their bye last week the Stormers fell 18-29 to the Chiefs at home to record their first loss of the season. The Stormers forwards dominated their counterparts, particularly at scrum-time, but they struggled to finish off chances against the resilient Chiefs defence while the Chiefs took their chances well. The Stormers now embark on a possibly season-defining overseas tour. South African teams have been generally poor overseas in recent years but the Stormers will need to pick up at least a couple of wins to maintain their title winning hopes.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers +3.0
Conservative betting: the Stormers have an excellent record against the Highlanders, having won their last five straight against them, including their previous two visits to Dunedin. I am mindful, however, of the fact that the Highlanders are 4-0 as the home favourite over the last 12 months. Either way, it should be a close game. The Highlanders haven’t won by or lost by more than 7 points at home over the last twelve months, so I would back both the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.88 (Pinnacle Sports) and the Stormers 1-12 at 3.35 (Pinnacle Sports).
Aggressive betting: of the two above selections I would take the value and back the Stormers 1-12 at 3.35 (Pinnacle Sports).
Waratahs v Blues
7:40 PM AEDT, Allianz Stadium, Sydney
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The Waratahs beat the Brumbies 28-13 at home last week to revive their season. They trailed the Brumbies by 10 points in the standings prior to the clash, so the win was vital for their conference aspirations. After two disappointing performances against the Reds and Highlanders, the Waratahs put in an impressive, physical display, with the Brumbies never threatening the Waratahs’ try line in the second half despite plenty of possession. The Waratahs really lifted their physicality for last week’s crucial clash, so it will be interesting to see if they can match that intensity again this weekend.
Prior to their bye last week the Blues fell 23-30 to the Hurricanes to move to 0-5 for the season. They can take positives from the fact that they were highly competitive against the Hurricanes, however the Blues have a poor reputation for consistency and they have a tough run of fixtures coming up. After the Waratahs they will face the Chiefs, Brumbies, Highlanders and Crusaders, so it is possible that the Blues could find themselves with a 0-10 record going into Round 12. With Ihaia West being rested this week, recent signing Dan Bowden will make his Blues debut at fly-half after recovering from a foot injury.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -10.5
Conservative betting: this fixture has been dominated by the home side in recent years. Given the Waratahs are 8-1 at home over the last 12 months while the Blues are 1-7 on the road, I would back the Waratahs -5.5 at 1.48 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Waratahs are 6-3 at the line home over the last 12 months while the Blues are 3-5 at the line on the road. Last week the Waratahs appear to have found some of their form which saw them thrash teams at home last season. I would back the Waratahs -10.5 at 1.91 (William Hill).
Sunday, 29 March
Sharks v Force
2:05 AM AEDT, Kings Park, Durban
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The Sharks snapped a five-game losing streak to the Chiefs last week, winning 12-11 in a game that saw them receive two red cards and the Chiefs one. The worst of the three offenses was by Bismarck du Plessis, who has received a four week ban for kicking. Francois Steyn, meanwhile, has been cleared of a dangerous lifting tackle. The win gives the Sharks a 3-2 record, which has put them back in the playoff spots for now.
The Force were down to thirteen men for ten minutes of the second half but pushed the Bulls all they way last week, falling 25-24 after a succumbing to a last minute penalty by Handre Pollard. They outscored the hosts three tries to one but were buried by the penalty count. The result leaves the Force still without a win since Round 1, so their playoff chances will likely be extinguished before the halfway mark of the competition.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Force +12.5
Conservative betting: the Force didn’t get the win last week, but their performance will have given them a lot of confidence. The Sharks have a 2-8 line record on the back of a win and are 1-6 at the line at home over the last 12 months while the Force are 5-1-3 at the line on the back of a loss. I would back the Force +16.5 at 1.47 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Sharks have never lost to the Force so while the visitors should be competitive, the home side should win this. I would back the Sharks 1-12 at 2.70 (Sportsbet).
Bulls v Crusaders
4:10 AM AEDT, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
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The Bulls started as heavy favourites but only just beat the Force last week, winning 25-24 after Handre Pollard kicked a match-winning penalty in the final minute. The result was made even less impressive by the fact that the Force were down to 13 men for ten minutes of the second half and the visitors outscored the hosts three tries to one. The Bulls should get stronger over the next few weeks, with numerous players scheduled to return from injury. Midfielder Burger Odendaal is the latest to return to training after recovering from a knee injury.
After a slow start to the season the Crusaders have suddenly become the side that no one wants to play. After scoring just four tries in their first three matches, the Crusaders welcomed back five front-line players and have since scored four tries against the Lions and eight tries against the Cheetahs. In both the Lions and Cheetahs fixtures the opposition were well in the match at halftime only to be blown away in the second spell. The Crusaders scrum in particular looked strong last week, which bodes well for their tour of South Africa.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders +1.0
Conservative betting: this fixture has been dominated by the home side in recent years, with neither team winning away since 2008. Having said that the Bulls only just won when they last hosted the Crusaders in 2012. Given the Bulls have already lost twice at home this season and they were almost beaten by the unheralded Force, I would back the Crusaders +5.5 at 1.45 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: I can’t see an overseas team blowing the Bulls away in Pretoria. This should be close so I would back the Crusaders 1-12 at 3.03 (Pinnacle Sports).