The following are previews with betting tips for Round 7 of the 2016 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 8 April
Chiefs v Blues
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The Chiefs put the rest of the competition on notice with a commanding 48-23 win over the Brumbies in Canberra last week. Their fitness has been a feature this season, with most of their points coming in the second half. Also impressive is how fresh they look despite having to play in four different countries in as many weeks. Their backline looks to be the best in the competition at the moment and the scary thing is they’ve had to cope with a long injury list. Fly-half Aaron Cruden has been in superb form after returning from injury, with All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens tipping him to fill Dan Carter’s boots in the All Blacks this year. The only concern for them at the moment is their scrum, which has been disrupted by injuries to key players, some of whom are out for the season. The Chiefs have been boosted this week, however, by the returns of locks Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird from injury.
The Blues picked up their first win since Round 1 by beating a largely second string Jaguares last week. Since the opening round the Blues haven’t really fired this year. They continue to concede too many penalties and were lucky the Jaguares opted to rotate so many players. Each week we see individual patches of good rugby but they always seem to deliver missed tackles and lost possession as well. In team news, Patrick Tuipulotu is out for two weeks with a hand injury while Nic Mayhew is out for two to three weeks with a knee injury.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs -12.5
Betting: the last time the Chiefs lost to the Blues was in 2011 but these clashes have traditionally been close, with the Chiefs winning by 1-12 points in the last seven straight meetings. Having said that, the Blues have lost by 13+ in 6 of their last 8 defeats coming into this fixture and the Chiefs are looking red hot at the moment. I’m on the fence regarding the -12.5 line set by most bookmakers, so I will instead back the Chiefs -5.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.40 (Sportsbet).
Force v Crusaders
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The Force jumped out to a 14-0 lead but fell 20-32 to the Highlanders last week to extend their winless run to four games. They will be pleased to have seen the back of their tour of New Zealand, however the Force have one of the worst home records in Super Rugby, so their miserable run could continue this weekend.
Crusaders return to Australia after winning both of their South African fixtures to move to 4-1 for the season. This was supposed to be a year of rebuilding for the Canterbury side but they are proving to be a tough side to crack. In team news David Havili and Ben Funnell have returned home with injuries. The Crusaders have also made a number of rotational changes for this clash, so it is certainly not a full-strength squad.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders -10.0
Betting: the Force are 1-7 in the head to head as well as 1-7 at the line at home over the last 12 months. The Crusaders, meanwhile, are 4-2 at the line on the road. Having said that, the Force have won two of their last 3 at home against the Crusaders and they were surprisingly competitive against the Highlanders last week. As with the Friday fixture, I’m on the fence regarding the 1.91 line so I will back the Crusaders -4.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.43 (William Hill).
Saturday, 9 April
Stormers v Sunwolves
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Prior to their bye last week the Stormers saw off the Jaguares 13-8 in Argentina to remain in control of the Africa 1 conference. The win was on the back of another strong defensive performance, with the Stormers leading the league with just 11 points conceded per game in 2016. The Stormers have since hit by a terrible run of injuries. Dillyn Leyds is out for the season after he suffered a non-contact knee injury in training. To compound matters, in addition to Robert du Preez who isn’t due back until late may, fly-half Kurt Coleman has been ruled out for the season after rupturing his ACL in training. They have also lost scrumhalf Jano Vermaak for the three months after the neck disc injury he suffered against the Sharks proved to be worse than initially suspected. Lock Jan de Klerk has been ruled out for teen weeks while fellow lock Eben Etzebeth will miss four weeks after he picked up a calf injury in training. In better news, Damian de Allende and Rynhardt Elstadt have returned to training ahead of schedule and have been named on the bench. Jean-Luc du Plessis will make his starting debut at flyhalf in the absence of du Preez and Coleman.
The Sunwolves’ search for a maiden win continues after they fell 28-33 to the Kings in Port Elizabeth last week. It is a hammer blow for the side that has come close on three occasions for a win but has always come up short.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Sunwolves +32.5
Betting: given the fighting spirit in the Sunwolves squad, the fact that the Stormers tend to win through strong defence rather than try blitzes, and the fact that the Stormers have been heavily disrupted by injuries, I will back the Sunwolves +32.5 at 1.92 (Luxbet).
Hurricanes v Jaguares
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Prior to their bye last week the Hurricanes saw off the Kings 42-20 for their third consecutive win. The scoreline actually flattered the Hurricanes, who put in an error-ridden performance. All of their wins thus far have been over weaker teams in the competition so this clash will provide a slightly better indication of their playoff prospects. In team news, James Marshall is out with a concussion so winger Cory Jane may start at fullback this week.
The Jaguares made the strange decision to rotate most of their squad for what was arguably a winnable fixture against the Blues last week. They fell 16-24 in a low quality affair and will presumably go back close to full strength this week. The Jaguares’ four losses have all been by 8 points or less but this is arguably their sternest test of the season.
Head-to-head pick: Hurricanes
Line pick: Hurricanes -12.5
Betting: I expect the Jaguares to come out firing, but despite rotating some players last round they may fade in the second half due to travel fatigue. The Hurricanes are coming off a bye week so they will be fresh. I’m going to do something a bit different for this fixture and back the Jaguares -6.5 in the first half handicap at 1.92 (Luxbet) and the Hurricanes -6.5 in the pick your own line (full-time) market at 1.45 (Sportsbet).
Reds v Highlanders
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Prior to their bye last week the Reds fell 13-15 at home to the Waratahs to remain without a win this season. Fans can take heart, however, from the vast improvement in their performances since Richard Graham was sacked. They now have Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper and Liam Gill back from injury, which is helping matters. The Reds actually dominated the Waratahs at the scrum and at the line out. Just too often their attacking plays broke down once the ball was moved to the backs.
Highlanders saw off the Force 32-20 to extend their unbeaten run at home to eight matches. The Highlanders were unfancied in the futures market at the start of the season but the reigning champions are showing that last year’s title was not a fluke. The Highlanders have won their last five straight and are 8-4 away from home in the last 12 months with a 8-4 line record. They have suffered a blow, however, with loosehead prop Brendon Edmonds ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders -7.0
Betting: it has been a long time since the Highlanders won in Brisbane, but this isn’t the same Reds team as of old. I would back the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.89 (Pinnacle Sports).
Sunday, 10 April
Sharks v Lions
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Prior to their bye last week the Sharks fell 14-19 at home to the Crusaders to record their first defeat of the season. They opted to take a defensive approach and play off Crusaders’ mistakes but the approach ultimately fell short. The Sharks welcome back lock Stephan Lewies after a nine month absence due to injury. Philip van der Walt is out this week due to injury while Etienne Oosthuizen and Lwazi Mvovo have recovered from the knocks they took against the Crusaders and are available for selection.
The Lions put in a brave performance but fell 37-43 to the Crusaders last week to move to 3-2 for the season. They remain in a good position to challenge for the Africa 2 Conference because they have their tours of New Zealand and Japan out of the way.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Lions +5.5
Betting: the Sharks have a dominant record over the Lions, particularly at home, but I give the Lions a fighting chance of causing an upset. I would back both the Sharks 1-12 at 2.88 (Pinnacle Sports) and the Lions 1-12 at 3.60 (Luxbet).
Kings v Bulls
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The Kings held on for a vital 33-28 win over the Sunwolves last week in their bid to avoid the competition wooden spoon. They had a terrible build up to the season but the side has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. They will continue to be the underdog each round but at least they’re starting to look more capable of putting up a fight.
The Bulls ground out a 23-18 win over the Cheetahs last week to move to 3-1-1 for the season. They’re not playing fantastic rugby at the moment but the scheduling has been kind to them, with a run of easy fixtures coinciding with injuries to key players. On the injury front, the latest casualty is midfielder Burger Odendaal, who is expected to be out for six weeks with a quad injury.
Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Kings +14.5
Betting: the Kings are getting stronger as the season wears on, but I still expect the Bulls to get the win. I would back the Bulls -7.5 at 1.43 (William Hill).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Chiefs -5.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.40 (Sportsbet)
Back the Sunwolves +32.5 at 1.92 (Luxbet)
Back the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.89 (Pinnacle Sports)
Back the Bulls -7.5 at 1.43 (William Hill)