The following are previews with betting tips for Round 6 of the 2016 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 1 April
Highlanders v Force
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The Highlanders remain unbeaten since Round 1 after they thrashed the Rebels 27-3 in Melbourne last week to follow up on their away win over the Waratahs. They put on a superb defensive performance and were once again lethal on the counterattack. I wouldn’t want to bet against them having another strong playoff run this year. The Highlanders have made numerous rotational changes to their forward pack for this clash. In the backs Waisake Naholo is out injured while Matt Faddes returns from injury.
The Force enter this fixture on the back of two consecutive thrashings to Kiwi franchises, falling 41-6 to the Hurricanes and 53-10 to the Chiefs. They now face the Highlanders this week and the Crusaders the next, so their demoralising run could continue. Ben McCalman gets the start at No. 8 this week while Luke Morahan returns from injury to start on the right wing.
Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders -18.5
Betting: the Force have actually won each of their last three away fixtures against the Highlanders, but I expect that run to come to an end on Friday. The Highlanders ended a five-game losing streak to the Force last season by beating them 23-3 in Perth. Given the Force’s poor showings in over the last couple of weeks it appears the Kiwi franchises have found a way to exploit their defensive structures. Based on that and the Highlanders’ suffocating defence, I would back the Highlanders -18.5 at 1.85 (Ladbrokes).
Saturday, 2 April
Lions v Crusaders
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After losing to the Highlanders in Dunedin, the Lions returned to winning ways by beating the Cheetahs 39-22 to move to 3-1 for the season. The mood in the camp appears to be good, with the club announcing that they have re-signed head coach Johan Ackermann and the bulk of their senior squad for 2017 and beyond. The Lions have received a boost ahead of this fixture, with fly-half Elton Jantjies not requiring surgery on his wrist so he may be available to play. He has been bracketed with Marnitz Boshoff to get the start.
The Crusaders remain undefeated since Round 1 after they came from behind to defeat the previously unbeaten Sharks 19-14 in Durban last week. The result was closer than it could have been, with the Crusaders missing 11 points worth of shots at goal. The Crusaders have a strong record on South African soil and will no doubt back themselves to beat the Lions. They have made four rotational changes to the forwards for this clash. Fly-half Richie Mo’unga gets the start despite a poor goal kicking performance last week.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders -1.5
Betting: the Crusaders have beaten the Lions comfortably in recent seasons, but the Lions are on the up while the Crusaders are still rebuilding after the departure of their entire fly-half line-up from last season. I can see this going either way, with neither side getting blown away. I would back both the Lions 1-12 at 3.14 (Pinnacle Sports) and the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.92 (Pinnacle Sports).
Blues v Jaguares
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Prior to their bye last week the Blues drew the Reds 25-25 in Brisbane to end a 10-game losing streak on the road, which we will now call an 11-game winless streak 🙂 Captain Jerome Kaino injured his shoulder in the clash and is expected to be out for a month. This fixture is being played at QBE Stadium rather than Eden Park. The Blues haven’t won at this venue since 2013.
The Jaguares remain without a home win after falling 8-13 to the Stormers last week. Their missed shots at goal proved costly, with kicking accuracy proving to be the difference between the two sides. They now face a very different opponent in the Blues, who will likely play a much less conservative brand of rugby. The Jaguares have made nine changes for this clash for rotational reasons. The squad features a new front row and two debutants. Winger Santiago Cordero will miss the start of the overseas tour after being involved in a minor car crash.
Head-to-head pick: Blues
Line pick: Jaguares +10.5
Betting: the Blues started the week as 1.67 favourites but have since been crunched down to 1.25 odds after the Jaguares’ squad was announced. This isn’t being played at Eden Park and Blues can’t help but shoot themselves in the foot, while the Jaguares have get to lose by more than 4 points this season, so if I had to bet I would tentatively take the Jaguares +10.5 at 1.92 (Luxbet).
Brumbies v Chiefs
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The Brumbies bounced back from their defeat to the Stormers by seeing off the Cheetahs 25-18 to move to 4-1 for the season. They have previously struggled in Bloemfontein so the win was an excellent result and they now return to Canberra where they have a commanding record.
The Chiefs shrugged off any travel concerns by thrashing the Force 53-10 on their return to Hamilton after visiting South Africa and Argentina. They currently top the overall standings but will start as underdogs this week at a venue where they have had little success.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -4.0
Betting: going back many years, fixtures between these two sides have all been won by the home team. I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.58 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 3 April
Kings v Sunwolves
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The Kings remain without a win this season after losing 42-20 to the Hurricanes last week. The scoreline actually flattered the Hurricanes, with the Kings down by just 5 points deep into the match. They now have to refocus for what is arguably their most winnable fixture this season. The loser of this clash will likely end up with the competition’s wooden spoon.
The Sunwolves were unexpectedly competitive against the Bulls last week, falling 27-30 at home. They now have two crucial bonus points for the year in their effort to avoid the competition wooden spoon. Like the Kings, the Sunwolves will eye this fixture as their best chance of securing a win this season, so it’s almost a Grand Final of sorts.
Head-to-head pick: Sunwolves
Line pick: Sunwolves +4.5
Betting: it’s very hard to pick between two winless sides, but the Sunwolves have almost pulled off two wins this season while the Kings’ best result thus far is to only lose by 22 points. I would back the Sunwolves +4.5 at 1.92 (Luxbet).
Bulls v Cheetahs
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The Bulls put on a scrappy performance to see off the Sunwolves 30-27 last week. It was their first win outside South Africa in over three years but the nature of the win will have done little to silence critics of their away form. In team news, loose forward Lappies Labuschagne has recovered from injury and will make his first appearance of the season via the bench. Warrick Gelant suffered a broken jaw and is out for six weeks so Jesse Kriel has been moved to fullback for this clash.
The Cheetahs remain without a home win this season after falling 18-25 to the Brumbies last week. Their poor defence continues to hold them back, with too many tackles missed last week. The Cheetahs have a poor overall record in Pretoria, although they did win at this venue last year to snap a long losing streak.
Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Cheetahs +9.5
Betting: there are essentially two versions of the Bulls, the home version and the away version. With the side back at home I expect them to get the win, however you have to go back to 2012 for the last time the Bulls defeated the Cheetahs at home by more than 6 points. I would back the Bulls 1-12 at 2.90 (Pinnacle Sports).
Waratahs v Rebels
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The Waratahs beat the Reds for the sixth consecutive time last week to move to 2-2 for the year. Both of the Waratahs’ two wins this season have been over the Queensland side. With the Brumbies dominating the Australian conference, this fixture could go a long way to determining the second highest finisher in Australia. With the New Zealand franchises looking strong it’s unlikely three Australian teams will make the playoffs so the loser of this clash will have their playoff hopes severely dented. If the Waratahs are to become a playoff threat they will have to improve on their set pieces, with their scrum in particular looking weak. The win over the Reds last week came at a cost, with hooker Tolu Latu ruled out for 6-8 weeks with a torn hamstring and Rob Horne ruled out for six weeks with a broken hand. Kurtley Beale is also in doubt after he injured his elbow in practice.
The Rebels moved to 3-2 for the season with a sobering 3-27 home defeat to the classy Highlanders. With a bye coming up next week they now face a critical clash against the Waratahs to maintain some kind of pressure on the Brumbies. If the season ended now only one Australian team would make the playoffs, so the Rebels and Waratahs will have to find a higher gear if they are to increase Australia’s representation in the post-season.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Rebels +9.0
Betting: the Waratahs are unbeaten at home against the Rebels, however it was a close run thing last year, with the hosts prevailing by 2 points. If I had to bet on this fixture I would back the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.85 (Pinnacle Sports).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.58 (Sportsbet).