The following are previews with betting tips for the 2015 Super Rugby semi-finals, featuring Hurricanes vs. Brumbies and Waratahs vs. Highlanders.
Saturday, 27 June
Hurricanes v Brumbies
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Having played nine consecutive games leading up to the playoffs, the Hurricanes enjoyed a well-deserved bye last week after seeing off the Chiefs in Round 18. The Wellington side has only lost two games all season, which equals the competition record since Super Rugby was expanded to 15 teams. As is often the case for table-topping sides, the Hurricanes have been well balanced this season, boasting both the second best offensive and defensive records during the regular season. As shown against the Chiefs two weeks ago, the Hurricanes have an ability to score points quickly with their lethal running game, making them a notoriously difficult side to keep quiet for 80 minutes. A perceived weakness of the Hurricanes, however, is their line out, which has been a focus point in training given the Brumbies have one of the best line outs in the competition. In team news, Cory Jane has failed to recover from a hamstring injury so Nehe Milner-Skudder will start on the right wing with James Marshall at fullback.
The Brumbies have made the long trip back from South Africa after thrashing the Stormers by six tries to one. Coach Stephen Larkham felt the Brumbies’ performance was their best in years, but the game was marred by ill-discipline, with Henry Speight picking up a red card and a five-game suspension for a dangerous tackle. With the squad close to full fitness again, the Brumbies have shaken off their mid-season slump and are now in great form. They will have to contend jet lag, but as the Sharks showed in 2012, it is possible to head back and forth across the Indian Ocean and win back-to-back games.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Brumbies +7.0
Conservative betting: the Brumbies have won their last four straight against the Hurricanes and have won their last three road games, however they have just made the long journey back and forth to South Africa and playoff history strongly favours the home side. Also, the Hurricanes have won 8 of their last 9 at home while the Brumbies have gone 5-6 on the road over the last 12 months, including 1-5 as the road underdog. Nevertheless, while I do expect a Hurricanes victory, 6 of their last 8 home wins have been by 1-12 points, so if I were to bet on the full-time score I would back the Brumbies +12.5 in the Pick Your Own Line market at 1.47 (Sportsbet). Given the Brumbies may fade late in the game given their travel schedule and the fact that the Hurricanes tend to be fast finishers, however, I’m learning more towards backing the Brumbies +7.5 in the “Pick Your Own Line – Halftime” market at 1.44 (Sportsbet).
Aggressive betting: you have to go back to 2009 for the last time a game between these two was settled by more than 12 points. I would back the Hurricanes 1-12 at 2.72 (Pinnacle Sports).
Waratahs v Highlanders
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The Waratahs locked up the Australian conference in style by thrashing the Reds 31-5 two weeks ago. They would have enjoyed their bye last week, with their previous two byes coming in Rounds 3 and 8. The Waratahs haven’t been able to match their 2014 form so far this season, but they are well placed to defend their title, knowing they’ve already beaten the Hurricanes in Wellington this year. Forward Dean Mumm isn’t eligible to play because he only joined the squad late in the season after returning from England. Kurtley Beale is struggling to overcome a quadriceps injury so he may not play.
The Highlanders booked their place in the semi-finals with an impressive defensive display and a superb performance in particular from halfback Aaron Smith to defeat the Chiefs 24-14 in Dunedin. On paper they boast one of the most lopsided squads in the competition, with five of their backline players receiving All Blacks call ups but not one forward selected. The Highlanders forwards are under-rated, however, as shown by their dominant performance over the Chiefs’ pack last week. Unfortunately, they will be without backrower Dan Pryor after he dislocated his elbow. The Highlanders are already struggling for openside flankers, with John Hardie and Shane Christie also injured. The other two flankers, Elliot Dixon and Gareth Evans, are more blindside specialists.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -4.5
Conservative betting: the Highlanders defeated the Waratahs 26-19 earlier in the season but this fixture has been dominated by the home side in recent years. You have to go back to 2008 for the last time a game between the two was won by the visitors. Also, the Waratahs are 10-2 at home over the last 12 months while the Highlanders are 5-6 on the road and 2-6 as the road underdog. I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.54 (bet365).
Aggressive betting: I fear for the Highlanders’ injury-hit pack against the Wallaby-laden forward back of the Waratahs. Given 4 of the Highlanders 6 away losses this season were by more than 12 points while 8 of the last 10 Waratahs home wins were by 8+ points, I would back the Waratahs -7.5 in the Pick Your Own Line market at 2.35 (Sportsbet).