The following are previews with betting tips for Round 4 of the 2016 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 18 March
Hurricanes v Force
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The Hurricanes picked up their first win of the season by seeing off the Blues 23-19 in Auckland last week. It was a topsy-turvy game but the Hurricanes can be proud of their character after fighting back from an early deficit. The win came at a heavy cost, unfortunately, with winger Nehe Milner-Skudder ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury. Brad Shields, Reggie Goodes, and Leni Apisai are also out injured. In better news, captain Dane Coles returns to the line up for the first time this season.
The Force fell behind quickly against the high-flying Brumbies last week but very much held their own for the remaining 50 minutes to avoid a rout. The 1-2 side will start as firm underdogs this week, but there have been enough signs in recent weeks to suggest they will at least be competitive. Veteran fly-half Peter Grant will make his first start for the Force after Jono Lance suffered a pectoral injury. Wallabies prop Tetera Faulkner returns to the starting XV after recovering from a pre-season injury.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Force +17.5
Betting: bookmakers have completely written the Force off here, but I fancy them at the line. This side is much better on the road than at home and they are 5-1 at the line away from Perth over the last 12 months. The all-conquering Brumbies only beat them by 17 points last week, so I would back the Force +17.5 at the line at 1.90 (Sportsbet).
Waratahs v Highlanders
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Prior to their bye last week the Waratahs lost 15-32 to the Brumbies to move to 1-1 for the season. The defeat came with a loss of personnel, with Tatafu Polota-Nau fracturing his arm and Bryce Hegarty tearing his ACL. Hooker Tolu Latu received a one-week suspension after punching a Brumbies player, however under the ridiculous SANZAAR rules, he won’t miss this clash because he technically served the suspension due the Waratahs’ bye week. Wycliff Palu will make his first start of the season this round.
The Highlanders notched their second win of the season by beating the previously unbeaten Lions 34-15 in Dunedin last week. It was an arm wrestle for much of the match, but some explosive second half plays saw the Highlanders score 14 points in 4 minutes to take the game away from the visitors. The win showcased the Highlanders’ improved depth this season. Replacement winger Matt Feddes scored two tries while new signing Rob Thompson was solid at inside centre. Their depth will be further tested this week, with Dan Pryor and Luke Whitelock the latest players to be side-lined with injury. With just three weeks of the season completed the Highlanders already have nine players on the injury list.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -1.5
Betting: this fixture has traditionally been dominated by whoever hosts the clash. With the Highlanders’ injury list continuing to grow, I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.83 (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 19 March
Bulls v Sharks
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Prior to their bye last week the Bulls survived a spirited comeback from the Rebels to win 45-25 in Pretoria. The win was a great response to their listless offensive performance in Round 1, however fitness may be a concern. The Bulls were blown away in the second half of Round 1 by the Stormers and in Round 2 they led 42-3 at the 46-minute mark against the Rebels before the visitors fired back with four unanswered tries to deny the Bulls a bonus point.
The Sharks extended their winning streak spanning this season and the last to six games after upsetting the Stormers 18-13 in Cape Town last week. The Stormers enjoyed most of the possession but the Sharks defended well and employed a strong tactical kicking game. The Sharks also enjoyed some ascendancy at the scrum. They remain the only team in the South African Group without defeat so their season is progressing nicely.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Sharks -1.0
Betting: the Sharks have looked the stronger of the two sides this season, however the Bulls have an impressive home record against the Sharks. All of the Bulls’ last nine wins over the Sharks were by 1-12 points, so I’m going to back both the Bulls 1-12 at 3.30 (bet365) and the Sharks 1-12 at 3.00 (bet365).
Sunwolves v Rebels
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The Sunwolves suffered an agonising 31-32 defeat to the Cheetahs last week. Thanks to a hat-trick of tries to Akihito Yamada they led 28-13 at the half but couldn’t hold on in the second spell. Heat may have played a role because prior to the game there was talk that the Sunwolves were struggling to adapt to the Singaporean heat after a cold winter in Japan. The Japanese side can take plenty of positives from their performance, however, and will be buoyed by the stellar kicking performance of fly-half Tusi Pisi.
The Rebels looked fatigued at times after returning from South Africa, but they held on for an important 25-23 home win over the Reds to record their second win of the season. Tournament organisers have done the Melbourne side no favours, with the Rebels now playing in Tokyo before hosting the Highlanders next weekend.
Head-to-head pick: Rebels
Line pick: Sunwolves +6.5
Betting: the Rebels have been firming with bookmakers all week, but you have to wonder what toll their torturous travel schedule will take. The Sunwolves are back in Tokyo this round so heat won’t be an issue. I’m going to tentatively back the Sunwolves +12.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.43 (William Hill).
Crusaders v Kings
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Prior to their bye last week the Crusaders bounced back from their opening round defeat to the Chiefs by putting on a clinical performance to defeat the Blues 28-13. They were frustrated by a resolute Blues defence for much of the game but they kept their composure and capitalised well on Blues’ mistakes.
The Kings’ miserable start to 2016 continued with a home 24-58 thrashing at the hands of the Chiefs last week. They’ve conceded 51 points on average so far this season, so no one is giving them any chance of causing an upset this weekend.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders -32.5
Betting: so far this season the Kings have remained within touch in the first half only to be blown away in the second spell, so if I had to bet on this fixture I would take the Kings -20.5 in the first half pick your own line market at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Reds v Blues
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Under the new coaching regime of Matt O’Connor and Nick Stiles, the Reds almost upset the travel-weary Rebels last week, but fell 23-25 in Melbourne to remain one of three sides without a win this season. It was a much more fighting performance than what we saw a week earlier against the Force, however poor discipline cost the Reds the chance of an upset.
The Blues were their own worst enemy last week in their 19-23 home defeat to the Hurricanes. There were a number of individual moments of brilliance, but the side conceded too many penalties in the end. Prior to that clash the Blues were dealt a blow with winger Ben Lam rupturing his ACL in training, which has ruled him out for at least six months. After making a raft of changes to the squad in Rounds 2 & 3, the Blues have opted for fewer changes this week. Patrick Tuipulotu will start at lock with Stephen Luatua moving back to No 8 and Akira Ioane dropping to the bench. Rieko Ioane will get his first start on the wing.
Head-to-head pick: Blues
Line pick: Reds +6.0
Betting: this is a tricky fixture to bet on because the Blues should win this, yet they have an appalling away record. At the same time, the Reds have been dreadful at home, with a 1-5 win-loss record to go with a 1-5 line record over the last 12 months. If the Blues can avoid committing too many penalties then they should win this. If I had to bet I would tentatively back the Blues in the head-to-head at 1.50 (Ladbrokes).
Sunday, 20 March
Lions v Cheetahs
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The injury-depleted Lions suffered their first loss of the season when they fell 15-34 to the explosive Highlanders last week. Their line-up hasn’t been announced at the time of writing, however mid-week reports suggest Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Franco Mostert and Ruan Lerm have a good chance of playing this weekend. Flanker Warwick Tecklenburg has picked up a one week ban for foul play so he won’t feature.
The Cheetahs survived a major scare to defeat the Sunwolves 31-32 last week after trailing 13-28 at the half. They remain within touching distance of the Stormers in the Africa 1 conference and now face an important clash against the travel-weary Lions.
Head-to-head pick: Lions
Line pick: Cheetahs +10.5
Betting: the Lions have won their last four straight against the Cheetahs and they’ve only lost one of their last six home fixtures, however they are awfully short in the head-to-head market (1.20-1.28 at the time of writing). Four of the Lions’ last six wins over the Cheetahs have been by 1-12 points and they have just returned from a tour of New Zealand, so the Cheetahs have a decent chance of keeping this close. I would back the Lions 1-12 at 2.81 (Pinnacle Sports).
Stormers v Brumbies
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The Stormers suffered their first defeat of the season last week when they fell 13-18 to the Sharks at home. They dominated possession but were denied by a strong Sharks defensive effort. The Sharks also employed a strong tactical kicking game, which will no doubt interest the Brumbies.
The Brumbies maintained their unbeaten start to the season by seeing off the Force 31-14 in Perth. The last time they visited Cape Town they emerged as 20-point winners, so the Brumbies will fancy their chances of getting another win this week. They have no new injury concerns and have named an unchanged team. The Brumbies backline remains unchanged for a fourth straight week.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -1.0
Betting: the Brumbies are in fantastic form at the moment and they played in Perth last week so the travel to South Africa isn’t quite as painful as usual. I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.87 (Ladbrokes).
Jaguares v Chiefs
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Prior to their bye last week the Jaguares fell 15-19 to the Sharks in Durban, with discipline once again being an issue for the Argentine side. They outscored the Sharks two tries to one but penalties and cards were their undoing. For the second game running they were reduced to 13 men at one stage.
The Chiefs bounced back from their home defeat to the Lions by crushing the Kings 58-24 last week. They now sit top of the New Zealand conference but face a much sterner test this week.
Head-to-head pick: Jaguares
Line pick: Jaguares -2.0
Betting: this is a tough fixture to pick, but I’m leaning towards the Jaguares because of the Chiefs’ brutal travel schedule. Nevertheless I expect it to be a close game so I would back both the Jaguares 1-12 at 2.82 (Pinnacle Sports) and the Chiefs 1-12 at 3.40 (bet365).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Force +17.5 at the line at 1.90 (Sportsbet)
Back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.87 (Ladbrokes).