The following are previews with betting tips for Super Rugby Round 1.
If you have not done so already, be sure to check out the team-by-team season previews and our article on futures betting:
- Australian Conference Preview
- New Zealand Conference Preview
- Africa 1 Conference Preview
- Africa 2 Conference Preview
- Super Rugby – 2016 Futures Betting Tips
Friday, 26 February
Blues v Highlanders
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While the Blues have lost plenty of experience during the off-season, particularly in the forwards, they have Tana Umaga as the new coach and they boast some exciting up and comers in the squad. The Blues are my pick for the most improved team this year after an injury-hit 2015. This is a tough first up fixture for them, however, with the Highlanders having won 4 of their last 5 and 6 of their last 8 against them. Blues captain Jerome Kaino is suspended this week for an infringement against the Chiefs in pre-season.
The Highlanders have retained the nucleus of last year’s squad while most other New Zealand franchises have lost a lot of experience after a World Cup year. They started last season with just three capped All Blacks, compared to six this season, so if they can stay healthy they have every chance of having another playoff run.
With the exception of their last meeting, when the Highlanders beat a severely depleted Blues side, recent fixtures between the two have been closely fought affairs, with 6 of the last 8 clashes being won by 11 points or fewer. I’ll be backing the Highlanders in the head-to-head, however the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.10 (bet365) is worth a look at if you want to take on more risk.
Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders -0.5
Betting: the Blues have had promising pre-season results, but I’m going to side with the more settled Highlanders outfit and back the visitors in the head-to-head at 1.87 (William Hill).
Brumbies v Hurricanes
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The Brumbies will feel they have a great chane of winning the Australian conference given they have been less impacted by player turnover in the off-season than the Waratahs. They actually start the season as the title favourites, however it’s worth noting that the South African sides have much easier schedules as part of the new competition format.
With Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith among those departing during the off-season, the Hurricanes have lost a lot of experience, but the side still boasts a huge amount of talent, including the Savea brothers. They also have Cory Jane back to full health. All Blacks hooker Dane Coles won’t play this week after he injured his calf in training. Lock James Broadhurst will miss the start of the season because of a serious concussion sustained in the NPC.
This game could go either way. The Brumbies have been firming with the bookmakers all week, however the Canberra side went 1-4 against New Zealand opposition last season. Having Dane Coles out is a big loss for the Hurricanes, nevertheless I’m prepared to take them at the line. If you’re thinking about taking the Brumbies you might want to consider the Brumbies 1-12 at 2.80 (bet365) for a bit more value than the 1.50 head-to-head odds.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Hurricanes +5.0
Betting: back the Hurricanes +5.0 at 1.91 (William Hill).
Saturday, 27 February
Cheetahs v Jaguares
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The Cheetahs appear to be a team in decline, with more key players jumping ship to rival franchise during the off-season, much like last year. Prop Danie Mienie will miss this fixture having dislocated his shoulder in a warm-up clash.
The Jaguares may be a brand new team, but with the side backed with Pumas players, the franchise is tipped to have a strong debut season. Their recent 49-28 win over the Lions in pre-season will only have cemented that belief, however the Lions fielded a largely second-string team for that fixture.
Head-to-head pick: Jaguares
Line pick: Cheetahs +7.0
Betting: with so much uncertainty around how the Jaguares will fare this season, I’m going to take the value and back the Cheetahs 1-12 at 4.00 (bet365).
Sunwolves v Lions
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The Sunwolves are tipped to be the whipping boys of the competition this year. To provide some comparisons, the Force went 1-2-10 in their debut season while the Rebels went 3-13 in their maiden year. Unlike the Jaguares, who are all Argentinian, the Sunwolves have opted to import players, with more than a dozen foreigners on the roster. Their head coach is former All Black Mark Hammett.
The Lions have far fewer Springboks than the larger South African franchises, but they finished 2nd in their conference last season on the back of good coaching and solid defensive structures. They fielded a largely second string team against the Jaguares in pre-season and were hammered, which highlights their lack of squad depth. Any injuries to front-line players will hurt them badly.
Head-to-head pick: Lions
Line pick: Lions -11.5
Betting: the Lions should be too strong for the debutantes. I find it difficult to pick a winning margin, so I will simply back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.22 (Ladbrokes).
Crusaders v Chiefs
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The Crusaders have lost a vast amount of experience during the off-season, including Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor. Most of those departed have been replaced by players from New Zealand domestic ranks, so this is a much younger team than previous seasons. Ryan Crotty will miss the beginning of the campaign due to a thumb injury while centre Robbie Fruean is recovering from surgery to a torn pectoral muscle.
The Chiefs start the season with a number of injury headaches. Mitchell Karpik and Nepo Laulala have been ruled out for the season, while Dominic Bird will miss the first 7 weeks with a foot injury and Augustine Pulu is out for the first 8-10 weeks. Michael Leitch will miss the start of the season to give him a rest following his involvement in the Japanese Top League.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs +2.5
Betting: with Aaron Cruden back to pull the strings for the Chiefs, I back them to upset the historically slow-starting Crusaders. The Chiefs have actually won 6 of their last 8 against the Cantabrians. I would back the Chiefs +2.5 at 1.95 (Ladbrokes).
Waratahs v Reds
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The Wallabies begin a new era after Michael Cheika’s departure as head coach. Like many teams, the Waratahs have lost some experienced players during the off-season, but they still boast more internationally capped players than any other Australian franchise. Fly-half Bernard Foley is expected to miss up to a month of Super Rugby due to a shoulder injury so utility back Kurtley Beale will wear the no. 10 jersey. Former All Black Zac Guildford gets his first Waratahs start on the wing.
After enduring a horror 2015 season, the Reds lost a huge amount of talent during the off-season, particularly in the backs, so this will likely be a year of rebuilding for them. They may actually enjoy playing without the burden of expectation this year and the Reds can take heart from the likes of the Lions and Highlanders, who have shown that you don’t need big name players to compete effectively in Super Rugby. In team news, flankers Lolo Fakaosilea and Liam Gill are out injured. Gill isn’t expected back for four weeks.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -11.5
Betting: after losing four straight to the Reds in 2013 & 2014, the Waratahs have since won four straight, all by very comfortable margins (32-5, 34-3, 23-5, 31-5). The hallmark of those wins was the Waratahs’ suffocating defence, that limited the Reds to no more than 5 points. With the Reds featuring a number of new faces, I expect the Waratahs to try to assert their dominance over them to prove that nothing has changed despite a change of coaching. I would back the Waratahs -11.5 at 1.99 (Pinnacle Sports).
Force v Rebels
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The Force are looking back to bounce back from receiving the competition wooden spoon last year. They only won three fixtures in 2015, with all three coming against Australian opposition. The cause of their woes was their 15th ranked offence, which for the last four years has struggled to turn territory and possession into points. Perhaps the signing of former Springbok Peter Grant can spark their offence back into life.
The Rebels enjoyed their best ever season in 2015, winning 7 games to finish 3rd in the Australian conference. They have recruited well over the years, particularly from overseas ranks. The latest astute signing is former All Black Adam Thomson. The question is whether they can make the next step and push for a playoff spot, which would likely involve having to out-perform the Brumbies or the Waratahs this season.
Head-to-head pick: Rebels
Line pick: Rebels +2.0
Betting: the Rebels have had the wood over the Force in recent years, winning 6 of their last 8 matches, however the honours were shared last season. Seven of the last eight fixtures have been won by 7 points or less, so I would back both the Force 1-12 at 3.10 (bet365) and the Rebels 1-12 at 3.10 (bet365).
Sunday, 28 February
Kings v Sharks
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On paper the Kings look weak, with no Springboks in the side. The team is made almost entirely of players from the provincial team, the Eastern Province Kings, which could only finish 7th in the Currie Cup last year. The South African Rugby Union took over the running of the franchise in 2015 when the it ran into financial difficulties. Brent Janse van Rensberg was appointed as head coach but resigned less than a month later, so it doesn’t sound like all is well behind the scenes.
Despite boasting a Springbok-laden squad, the Sharks could only manage to finish 4th in the South African conference last year. They’ve lost a lot of experience during the off-season, however they have managed to poach some quality talent from other franchises. I’m expecting them to be the most improved South African side from last year. Fly-half Patrick Lambie is out for the first six weeks, however the Sharks have fared well without him in pre-season.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Sharks -11.5
Betting: I think it’s marginal whether the Sharks will cover the line or not, so I’m going to back the Sharks -7.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.54 (William Hill).
Stormers v Bulls
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The Stormers embark on a new chapter after the departure of coach Allister Coetzee and captain Duane Vermeulen. The new conference system has been kind to them, with the Stormers due to play the Sunwolves and Cheetahs twice each year. In player news, Damian de Allende and Jaco Taute are both out for five to six weeks with ankle injuries.
The season hasn’t started yet the Bulls have already been setback by injuries. Loose forwards Deon Stegmann and Lappies Labuschagne have been ruled out of action for eight weeks due to ankle injuries. The Bulls have also lost flyhalf Handré Pollard for the season after he ruptured knee ligaments in training.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers -4.5
Betting: both sides have lost a lot of talent during the off-season, but the Stormers have looked the more convincing of the two in pre-season. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.48 (Sportsbet).
Best Bets of the Round
Chiefs +2.5 at 1.95 (Ladbrokes)
Waratahs -11.5 at 1.99 (Pinnacle Sports)
Sharks -7.5 at 1.54 (William Hill)