The following are previews with betting tips for Super Rugby Round 17. With two rounds to play the most likely playoff sides are the Hurricanes, Waratahs, Stormers, Highlanders, Chiefs and Brumbies, however both the New Zealand and Australian conferences remain up for grabs, so there’s still plenty to play for.
Friday, 5 June
Hurricanes v Highlanders
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The Hurricanes suffered their second defeat of the season after they were out-enthused by the desperate Crusaders last week. The result serves as a wake up call because they will need to be at their best against the in-form Highlanders, with this fixture possibly determining who secures the first overall seed. The Hurricanes have received a massive boost ahead of this clash, with fly-half Beauden Barrett returning from a knee injury. Barrett won’t be doing the goal-kicking, however, with his MCL still not quite 100%. Ma’a Nonu is being rested this week.
The Highlanders won convincingly against the Chiefs last week to move up to second in the New Zealand conference. The win has guaranteed them playoff rugby but they would love to secure first overall seed and the first round bye that comes with it because their last bye was in Round 8. The Highlanders will likely have to rest All Blacks Aaron Smith and Ben Smith this week as per their rest agreement with the All Blacks. Star fly-half Lima Sopoaga and tournament try leader Waisake Naholo aren’t contracted to the All Blacks, which is why the Highlanders have had the luxury of playing them all season.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Highlanders +9.5
Conservative betting: home advantage hasn’t counted for much when these two meet, with the away team winning six of the last seven fixtures. I can see this going either way and given the last eight meetings between the two were settled by 7 points or less, I would back both the Hurricanes 1-12 at 2.80 (Sportsbet) and the Highlanders 1-12 at 5.50 (Luxbet).
Aggressive betting: given how much is at stake this weekend and the fact that recent fixtures have been very close between the two sides, I would back the ‘Any Other Result’ selection at in the Triple Margin market at 2.40 (William Hill). This selection wins if the winning margin is 7 or less of if there is a draw.
Force v Brumbies
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The Force’s dire season continued with a demoralizing home thrashing at the hands of the struggling Reds last week. With two rounds to play and just two wins for the season all they have left to play for is to avoid the competition wooden spoon. There are a players in the side trying to retain their Wallabies jerseys as well.
The Brumbies remain locked in a fierce battle with the Waratahs for top seed in the Australian conference. It wasn’t a great performance against the Bulls last week, but they got the result they needed. The win came at a cost, however, with lock Sam Carter ruled out for three months with a knee injury. The Brumbies will be hoping to have Matt Toomua back from injury this week.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -8.5
Conservative betting: with the Force looking weaker as the competition wears on, I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.33 (Ladbrokes).
Aggressive betting: nib Stadium hasn’t exactly been a fortress for the Force, who are 2-7 with a 2-7 line record at the venue. With the Brumbies still having everything to play for, including the need for bonus points, I would back the Brumbies -8.5 at 1.92 (CrownBet).
Saturday, 6 June
Rebels v Bulls
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After a run of poor performances in South Africa the Rebels were far more competitive last week, falling 21-25 to the Sharks after going down to 14 men in the 28th minute. The effort was excellent, however you have to wonder how much gas will be left in the tank after making the long trip back from South Africa only to face another physical team. In team news, winger Sefanaia Naivalu is out with a broken leg while Laurie Weeks is suspended for the rest of the season. Tamati Ellison may also not play after picking up a groin injury.
The Bulls’ dismal overseas record has extended to ten consecutive defeats after they fell short against the Brumbies. Once again they fought hard but let themselves down with too many mistakes and poor decision making late in the game. The Bulls hold a mathematical chance of making the playoffs but would need a raft of results to go their way. Coach Frans Ludeke has rotated the squad for this clash, making seven changes to the side from last week. Handre Pollard and Adriaan Strauss are being rested. Jacques-Louis Potgieter will start at 10.
Head-to-head pick: Rebels
Line pick: Bulls +2.5
Conservative betting: the Bulls have a strong record against the Rebels but the home side have won their last three at AAMI Park. The Bulls, meanwhile, have a 2-6 record on the road over the last 12 months and have lost ten straight overseas. I expect this will be close so I would back both the Rebels 1-12 at 2.87 (bet365) and the Bulls 1-12 at 3.16 (Pinnacle Sports).
Aggressive betting: if I had to choose between the above two selections I would side with recent history and back the Rebels 1-12 at 2.87 (bet365).
Blues v Crusaders
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Prior to their bye last week the Blues suffered their first defeat of the season at Eden Park. They were simply outclassed by the Hurricanes, with the Blues looking noticeably weaker due to their injury toll. The Blues will be limping through the remainder of the season, with Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Tony Woodcock, Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua among twelve players on the injured list. In addition, young stars Tevita Li and Akira Ioane are away playing in the U20 Championship.
The Crusaders kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a convincing win over the table-topping Hurricanes last week. The Crusaders were missing five All Blacks yet managed to put together one of their best performances of the season. Dan Carter looked immense back in the No. 10 jersey while Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo continues to have a blinder of a season and Robbie Fruean looked good on his return from injury. I feel it’s too little too late for the Canterbury side, however, who need other results to go their way if they are to avoid missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders -7.5
Conservative betting: the Crusaders were impressive last week but they’ve only won back-to-back games once this season and they don’t have a great record at Eden Park. The Blues, however, are fielding a patchwork side this week and they have much less to play for than the visitors. I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.36 (Ladbrokes).
Aggressive betting: with the Blues fielding three starting debutantes this week, including a player who has never even played ITM Cup rugby, I would back the Crusaders -7.5 at 1.95 (Marathonbet).
Reds v Chiefs
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Having shown signs of improvement over the last few weeks, the Reds thrashed the Force last round to distance themselves from the wooden spoon discussion. Fly-half Quade Cooper had an excellent game after returning from a shoulder injury, scoring 22 of the side’s 32 points. He linked up well with halfback Will Genia, with the duo having two more weeks to push their Wallabies credentials ahead of the Rugby Championship and the World Cup. This will be the final home fixture in the Super Rugby careers of James Horwill and Will Genia and the Reds have stated their intentions of sending them out on the right note.
After being comprehensively beaten by the Highlanders last week the Chiefs now face two tricky fixtures to see off the season. They will most likely make the playoffs, however they haven’t been in great form of late, with just one win from their last four. They are the favourites to beat the Reds but this fixture has banana skin written all over it. The Chiefs welcome back Brodie Retallick and Liam Messam for this clash.
Head-to-head pick: Reds
Line pick: Reds +3.5
Conservative betting: the Chiefs’ form has fizzled over the last few weeks while the Reds look to be finally finding their strides. I would back the Reds +7.5 at 1.54 (William Hill).
Aggressive betting: the Chiefs were blown away last week, but that doesn’t happen very often, with every other loss over the past 12 months coming by 1-7 points. I would back the Reds 1-12 at 3.80 (bet365).
Cheetahs v Waratahs
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The Cheetahs’ defensive woes continue as they conceded five tries in their 12-42 loss to the Stormers last week. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but their defensive record is killing them, with their 31.7 points conceded per game far worse than the competition average. The difference between this season and previous years, however, is their offensive record has also been poor, with the poaching of numerous key forwards by the Bulls during the off-season taking its toll. This is the first fixture under new coach Franco Smith, who has made seven changes to the starting XV this week, including opting for Niel Marais over Joe Pietersen at fly-half.
Poor discipline continues to haunt the Waratahs during their 22-25 loss to the Lions last week. After losing Silatolu Latu and Will Skelton to suspensions two weeks ago, both Rob Horne and Jacques Potgieter were sinbinned against the Lions. Rob Horne has since received a three-week suspension. The good news is the Waratahs’ destiny remains in their own hands and they now face the Cheetahs, who have been dreadful in recent weeks.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -9.5
Conservative betting: the Cheetahs have become more of an unknown quantity given this is their first fixture under their new head coach, but in recent years the best time to back the Waratahs is the week after a loss. Given they haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2013, I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.28 (Ladbrokes).
Aggressive betting: with the Cheetahs looking as poor as they have and the Waratahs boasting a 4-0 line record on the back of a defeat, I would back the Waratahs -8.5 at 1.80 (Ladbrokes).
Sunday, 7 June
Stormers v Lions
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The Stormers have one hand on the South African conference title after thumping the Cheetahs last week. A win this week would guarantee it. The Waratahs’ loss last week means the Stormers can also secure second overall seed and the coveted first round bye that comes with it. The Stormers look to be gathering good momentum ahead of the playoffs, with fly-half Demetri Catrakilis looking as sharp as ever at goal kicking and their scrum looking strong.
The Lions kept their playoff aspirations alive with a 27-22 win to snap an 11-game losing streak to the Waratahs last week. The Lions have a bye in the final round so a win over the Stormers this week is absolutely critical. The Lions will likely need to deny the Stormers a losing bonus point as well so they may have to chance their arm a bit more than they’re used to this weekend. So far this season only one of their nine wins was by more than 7 points.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Lions +7.5
Conservative betting: the Stormers have won seven of their last eight fixtures against the Lions and they boast a 7-2 home record over the last 12 months. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.40 (Palmerbet).
Aggressive betting: the Lions are a tough nut to crack so I expect they’ll be competitive this weekend. I would back the Stormers 1-12 at 2.80 (Sportsbet).