Friday, 3 April
Hurricanes v Stormers
5:35 PM AEDT, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
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The Hurricanes’ fantastic start to the season continued last week with a 36-12 win over the Rebels. The Rebels fought hard but were simply outclassed in the second half, with visitors outscored 26-0 in the second spell. The one-sided scoreline was made all the more impressive by the fact that the All Blacks trio of Beauden Barrett, Ben Franks and Julian Savea were rested. All three return to the staring line-up this week, along with rookie sensation Nehe Milner-Skudder.
With a game this week against the Hurricanes, followed by a trip to Sydney, the Stormers were desperate to pick up points last week, but fell 21-39 to the Highlanders. They dominated the set pieces and enjoyed good territory, but the Highlanders made the most of their opportunities to put the Stormers’ season on the back foot. They have now slipped to 3rd in the South African conference and can only hope that their conference rivals trip up on their overseas tours late in the season. Captain Duane Vermeulen returns to the squad after being rested last week.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Hurricanes -7.5
Conservative betting: the Stormers have a four-game winning streak against the Hurricanes, however prior to last week they had a six-game winning streak a against the Highlanders, who beat them by 18 points. All of the Stormers’ away losses over the last 12 months have been by more than 13 points. I would back the Hurricanes -4.5 at 1.54 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: in keeping with the above I would back the Hurricanes -7.5 at 1.917 (Pinnacle Sports).
Rebels v Reds
7:40 PM AEDT, AAMI Park, Melbourne
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The Rebels fought hard and defended well for most of the game last week but were blown away late in the second half to lose 12-36 to the unbeaten Hurricanes in Wellington. The result leaves them with a 2-4 record but they can take solace from the fact that they’ve been playing good rugby this year and last season the 6th seed made the playoffs with an 8-8 record. Often, however, you see the weaker teams fade as the season progresses so it will be important that they get a win this week to take some momentum into their bye week. The Rebels have received a hit, with prop Laurie Weeks ruled out for six to eight weeks after injuring his knee last week.
The Reds suffered a gut wrenching 17-18 loss to the Lions last week to leave them with just one win for the season. With a raft of players, including Quade Cooper, returning to the squad the Reds had been confident they could turn their season around but last week’s defeat leaves them at long odds of making the playoffs. This fixture against the Rebels is certainly a must win for them, especially with a tricky tour of South Africa to follow. Karmichael Hunt and Liam Gill have served their respective suspensions and are available for selection this week.
Head-to-head pick: Rebels
Line pick: Reds +3.5
Conservative betting: the Reds are 1-7 on the road over the last 12 months however they have an excellent record in Melbourne and the Rebels are just 1-5 at home over the same period. Both sides will be desperate for a result here so this could be a nervy affair. I would back both the Rebels 1-12 at 2.88 (Pinnacle Sports) and the Reds 1-12 at 3.50 (bet365).
Aggressive betting: the Rebels have been playing the better rugby this season however I get the feeling they will get weaker as the season goes on while the Reds will get stronger as their injury crisis fades. I would take the value and back the Reds 1-12 at 3.50 (bet365).
Saturday, 4 April
Chiefs v Blues
5:35 PM AEDT, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
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The Chiefs bounced back from a disappointing loss the week before to see off the Cheetahs with a bonus point win last week. It wasn’t a clean performance, particularly in the first half, but they will be pleased to have picked up a bonus point after having just returned from South Africa. The Chiefs are now 5-2 for the season with both losses coming by 3 points or fewer, so they remain genuine title contenders. One aspect of their game they really need to work, however, on is discipline. The Chiefs are the most penalised side in the competition and were down to 14 men on two occasions last week, which was on the back of a red card offence the week before.
The Blues battled hard but fell 11-23 to the Waratahs in Sydney last week to put more pressure on coach John Kirwan. With the halfway mark of the season fast approaching they remain the only team in the competition without a win. The Blues can take positives, however, from the fact that they have been competitive in every game, with only 2 of their 6 defeats coming by more than 7 points. The Blues will be without All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock this week after he failed a concussion test.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs -9.5
Conservative betting: I couldn’t possibly back the Blues given their 1-7 away record, 3-5 away line record and 1-4 line record against the Chiefs. They’ve lost 8 straight against the Chiefs and based on recent form it’s hard to see that streak ending this weekend. I would back the Chiefs -6.5 at 1.54 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Blues tend to lift against domestic opposition so I expect them to make the Chiefs work for it. Earlier this season the Blues lost by just 7 points away against the high flying Hurricanes. I would back the Chiefs 1-12 at 2.76 (Palmerbet).
Brumbies v Cheetahs
7:40 PM AEDT, GIO Stadium, Canberra
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Prior to their bye last week the Brumbies lost an excellent opportunity to impose themselves on the Australian conference, losing 13-28 to a physical Waratahs outfit in Sydney. The defeat means they have lost 9 of their last 10 clashes against the NSW side. To add insult to injury (or injury to insult!), centre Tevita Kuridrani has been ruled out for two months with a shoulder injury.
The Cheetahs were unable to take advantage of the Chiefs’ ill-discipline as they fell 27-37 in Hamilton last week. They are already nine points adrift of the playoffs, with a poor defensive record again being their undoing. The Cheetahs are conceding 35.5 points per game this season. To put how bad that statistic is into perspective, the bulls have the second worst defensive record, conceding 24.0 points on average. Springboks Willie le Roux and Coenie Oosthuizen were rested last round and return to the starting XV this week.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -14.5
Conservative betting: for Brumbies vs. Cheetahs fixtures the home side has won each clash going back to 2010. With the Brumbies boasting a 7-0 record at home over the last 12 months and the Cheetahs having a 1-6 away record during that time, I would back the Brumbies -6.5 at 1.32 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: with the Cheetahs defending as poorly as they have been and the Brumbies holding a 5-2 over/under record at home over the last 12 months, I would back the over in the over/under market is if the total is at or below 48.5.
Sunday, 5 April
Sharks v Crusaders
-12:00 PM AEDT, Kings Park, Durban
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The Sharks put in an unconvincing performance last week, coming from behind to see off the Force 15-9. They were outplayed for most of the game but critically they did pick up four points to move to 4-3 for the season. The Sharks currently sit top of the South African table however they have yet to have a bye and their overseas tour won’t start until Round 12. The Stormers will be back in South Africa by that time so the Sharks will likely have to build up a lead over their Cape Town rivals prior to the tour if they are to win the conference. The Sharks received a blow during the week, with Francois Steyn’s original not guilty finding for a lifting tackle two weeks being overturned. The Sharks centre has been banned for five weeks.
The Crusaders worked hard but some poor execution and ill-discipline cost them as they fell 31-19 to the Bulls last week in Pretoria. They will fancy their chances if the Sharks played anything like they did last week, however the Bulls had gone into last week’s fixture on the back of a poor performance against the Force as well. The Crusaders are 3-3 for the season and would dearly love to win this with the 6-0 Hurricanes, 5-2 Chiefs and 4-2 Highlanders starting the season strongly. The Crusaders will be without Dan Carter this week after he flew home to attend the birth of his second child.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders +2.5
Conservative betting: the Crusaders have won 5 of their last 7 against the Sharks, however the Sharks have won 2 of the last 3. The Sharks have won without really looking convincing this season so I would back the Crusaders +5.5 at 1.50 (William Hill). It’s worth noting that the Sharks are 1-7 at the line at home over the last 12 months.
Lions v Bulls
2:05 AM AEST, Ellis Park, Johannesburg
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The Lions upset the Reds 18-17 in Brisbane last week to record a remarkable three wins from four tour result. The first two wins were based around excellent defence, while a sub-par performance against the Reds was still enough for victory. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Lions can replicate these results against South African opponents, who have had the better of them so far this season. Anthony Volmink will make his first start of the year having fully recovered from a long-term injury.
The Bulls saw off the Crusaders 31-19 in an entertaining game last week. After losing their opening to fixtures the Bulls have now won four straight to get their season very much back on track. They started the season with a huge injury list but have progressively strengthened as reinforcements have trickled in. Handre Pollard continues to have a sublime record with the boot and has passed the 100-point mark with just six games played. Victor Matfield and Jan Serfontein are being rested this week.
Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Bulls -3.5
Conservative betting: the Lions will be on a high after winning three from four overseas but I wonder how much that tour would have taken out of them. Their performance last week was sub-par and the Bulls have won 6 of their last 7 against the Lions. The Bulls have a poor away record however they do have a decent record as the away favourite. At the same time the Lions are 1-3 at home over the last 12 months as the home underdog. I would back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.62 (CrownBet).
Aggressive betting: I’m going to go for a bit of value and take the Bulls 13+ at 3.75 (). Seven of the Lions’ ten losses over the last twelve months were by 13 points or more while half of the Bulls wins were by more than 13 points.