The following are previews with betting tips for Round 12 of the 2015 Super Rugby competition.
Friday, 1 May
Highlanders v Sharks
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With an intensive schedule coming up, the Highlanders fielded an under-strength team last week and were comprehensively beaten by the Brumbies. The Highlanders boast a lot of backline talent but their lack of depth in the forwards was exposed, with three of the Brumbies’ four tries coming from rolling mauls. The Highlanders currently sit 6th on the table, however they were missing seven forwards due to injury last week and with seven consecutive games coming up, I expect their playoff chances to fade. The Highlanders’ forward stocks have taken a further hit with Joe Wheeler ruled out for the season.
Prior to their bye last week the error-prone Sharks suffered a third consecutive loss by losing 10-17 to the Bulls to slump to 4-6 for the season. Under new coach Gary Gold the side has looked a shadow of the team that dominated the South African conference last year. The Sharks have received a boost ahead of this clash, with Bismarck du Plessis returning to the starting line-up after serving his suspension.
Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Sharks +7.5
Conservative betting: with the All Blacks trio of Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Smith returning to the back line this week, I’m expecting a huge improvement from the Highlanders’ disjointed performance in Canberra. What concerns me, however, is the ability of the injury-hit forwards to muscle up against the Springbok-laden Sharks pack who are fresh off a bye. I would back the Sharks +12.5 at 1.48 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Highlanders are 4-0 in the head-to-head as the home favourite over the last 12 months however they are 1-3 at the line in those circumstances. I would back the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.76 (Pinnacle Sports).
Brumbies v Waratahs
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The Brumbies bounced back from back-to-back defeats by beating the under-strength Highlanders 31-18 last week. The only negative from the Brumbies’ performance was the fact that they couldn’t add to their score in the second half. The Highlanders were missing seven forwards due to injury so it came as little surprise that three of the Brumbies’ four tries came from rolling mauls. It remains to be seen whether they can dominate the Waratahs’ pack, however.
The Waratahs continue to struggle for consistency after they put in an unconvincing performance to see of the Rebels 18-16 at home last week. The good news is they continue to be in the playoff hunt despite their inconsistency. They sit 4 points behind the Brumbies and have a game in hand, so the Australian conference remains up for grabs.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs +2.5
Conservative betting: the last time these two sides met was in Round 6, when the Waratahs won 28-13 in a spiteful encounter. Historically this fixture has been dominated by the home team however I have my concerns for the Brumbies given their inability to score in the second half against a weakened Highlanders side last week. While the Waratahs have been inconsistent this season I’m sure they would have had this fixture circled in their diaries and will put in a solid shift. I would back the Waratahs +7.5 at 1.46 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the last three Waratahs’ wins over the Brumbies (albeit in Sydney) were all by 13+ points. I’m going to be aggressive and take the value by backing the Waratahs 13+ at 7.00 (William Hill).
Saturday, 2 May
Blues v Force
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The Blues put in another error-ridden performance as they lost to the Crusaders last week to move to 1-9 for the season. They had made eight changes to the squad and omitted the All Blacks trio of Jerome Kaino, James Parson and Charles Piutau, so you get the impression the Blues are more focused on winning their remaining home fixtures. The Blues will be fielding a more formidable line-up this week.
The Force found themselves 30-8 down and a man short against the Chiefs last week but performed strongly in the second half to eventually lose 35-27. The defeat extended their losing streak to ten games, however the Force can take positives from their four-try performance after struggling on offence all season.
Head-to-head pick: Blues
Line pick: Force +8.5
Conservative betting: despite their woes this season the Blues have a formidable record at Eden Park. This is only their second fixture of the season at this venue. The first was in Round 9 when they beat the Brumbies. Given that eight of the Force’s nine losses this season were by 4 or more points I would back the Blues -3.5 at 1.47 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Blues have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot and handing cheap points to their opposition, so I expect the hard working Force to make this interesting. I would back the Blues 1-12 at 2.76 (Pinnacle Sports).
Hurricanes v Crusaders
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The Hurricanes bounced back from their first loss of the season a fortnight ago by seeing off the Reds 35-19 in Brisbane. They have now won five consecutive away games for the first time in franchise history. The Hurricanes remain one of the most evenly balanced sides in the competition, boasting the best offensive record and the second best defensive stats. It wasn’t perfect performance against the Reds last week, but the Hurricanes are lethal from turnover ball and they have an ability to score points at an alarming rate. The Hurricanes welcome back All Blacks hooker Dane Coles via the bench for this clash.
The Crusaders returned to winning ways by beating the Blues 29-15 last week to move to 5-5 for the season. They did well to pick up a bonus point but it was not a performance that will have the Chiefs and the Hurricanes worried. Richie McCaw is out this round due to a concussion. Israel Dagg also remains out.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Hurricanes -2.5
Conservative betting: the Hurricanes have been playing the better rugby of the two sides this season and they’ve won four of their last five against the Crusaders. I would back the Hurricanes in the head-to-head at 1.61 (CrownBet).
Aggressive betting: all of the last four Hurricanes wins over the Crusaders were by 1-12 points. I would back the Hurricanes 1-12 at 2.77 (Pinnacle Sports).
Rebels v Chiefs
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The Rebels came close to claiming their third consecutive domestic scalp last week, but lost 16-18 to the Waratahs in Sydney. They have been consistently strong this season, with only one of their four defeats coming by more than 10 points. The Rebels remain in the playoff hunt, however with their lack of squad depth I don’t expect them to achieve a top-six finish this year.
It wasn’t a great defensive performance, but the Chiefs saw off the fast-finishing, 14-man Force last week to move to 8-2 for the season. Aaron Cruden is out for the season, but Marty McKenzie looks to be a handy replacement, kicking six from seven last week.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs -6.5
Conservative betting: the poor second half performance against the 14-man Force would have served as a wake up call to the Chiefs. At the time of writing they haven’t named their squad yet but with a bye scheduled for next week I expect them to field a strong side. I would back the Chiefs in the head-to-head at 1.42 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Rebels have a pitiful 1-6 home record over the last 12 months however 4 of those six losses were by 1-12 points. I’m expecting the Chiefs to win by 8-12 points this weekend so I would back the Chiefs 1-12 at 2.85 (Pinnacle Sports).
Sunday, 3 May
Cheetahs v Stormers
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The Cheetahs fell 29-34 against the Lions in Johannesburg to remain with just one win from their last eight games. After enduring some heavy defeats the Cheetahs can at least take solace from the fact that they’ve been more competitive in recent weeks. They were more competitive than expected against the Lions and they were unlucky to have lost to the Reds two weeks ago. The Cheetahs still have the worst defensive record in the competition, however, with their 30 points on average conceded far worse than the 20.3 competition average.
The Stormers ground out a crucial 15-13 win over the Bulls last week. With the Bulls and Sharks yet to play their overseas tours the Stormers are now in pole position to take out the South African conference. The Brumbies are struggling with injuries so the Stormers are also in a good position to secure a first round bye in the playoffs.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers -4.5
Conservative betting: the Stormers lost their two most recent visits to Bloemfontein but the Cheetahs have been disappointing this season. The Stormers are unbeaten as the road favourite over the last 12 months so I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.53 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: five of the last six Stormers away wins were by 1-12 points and the Stormers haven’t beaten the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein by more than 12 points in many years. I would side with history and back the Stormers 1-12 at 2.85 (Pinnacle Sports).
Bulls v Lions
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Handre Pollard’s late drop goal attempt was blocked as the Bulls fell 13-15 to the Stormers last week in Cape Town. The loss was a hammer blow for their conference aspirations because they now sit a point behind the Stormers, who have already completed their overseas tour. The Bulls have received a boost ahead of this clash, with Victor Matfield and Jan Serfontein returning to training.
The Lions held off the Cheetahs last week to become the side with the longest active winning streak at five games. They sit just 2 points behind the 6th placed Highlanders so a playoff berth remains well within reach, however the 7th placed Waratahs loom as the more likely playoff team.
Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Lions +8.5
Conservative betting: the Lions have won their last three away games, however they were against sides ranked 11th or below on the table. The Bulls should be too strong at home, where they boast a 7-2 record over the last 12 months. I would back the Bulls -2.5 at 1.45 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: in recent weeks the domestic South African fixtures have all been closely contested affairs. I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 2.76 (Pinnacle Sports).