The following are previews with betting tips for Round 14 of the 2016 Super Rugby season. This is the final round before the June international Tests. The Super Rugby season will then recommence in July with three more rounds followed by the playoffs.
Friday, 27 May
Hurricanes v Highlanders
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Despite having five senior players sidelined for missing a curfew, prior to their bye last week the Hurricanes saw off the Reds 29-14 in Wellington. It wasn’t a performance that would scare the opposition, however, with the scrum looking weak and Beauden Barrett continuing to struggle with his goal kicking. The drop in quality after having five players sidelined has also exposed a lack of depth in the squad in some key positions. The Hurricanes will be back to full strength this week for what is a crucial game.
Prior to their bye last week the Highlanders put in a classy performance to end an eight-game winning streak for the Crusaders. The Highlanders are on a three-game winning streak themselves, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that those wins were over the Brumbies, Chiefs and Crusaders. What I like about the Highlanders, apart from their offensive talent, is their stern defence, which is often what champion teams are built around. Based on current form you would have to say the Highlanders are a genuine chance of winning back to back titles.
Head-to-head pick: Highlanders
Line pick: Highlanders +2.5
Betting: the Hurricanes have a strong home record against most sides, but they’ve only won one of their last six at home against the Highlanders. All five of those defeats were by 1-12 points. There will be a revenge factor this week, however, after the Highlanders beat the Hurricanes in Wellington in last year’s final. Twelve of the last thirteen games between the two have been settled by 12 points or less, with the solitary 13+ Hurricanes win coming when the Highlanders rotated out their All Blacks last year. I would back both the Hurricanes 1-12 at 3.00 (bet365) and the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.30 (bet365).
Waratahs v Chiefs
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The Waratahs currently lead the Australian conference but face four Kiwi sides in the last five rounds of the season. The first of which was last week, which ended in a 10-29 defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch. This snapped a four-game winning streak for the Waratahs. The Waratahs also lost to the Highlanders at home earlier in the season and with the Chiefs and Hurricanes still to play, there is a real danger they will miss out on the playoffs. Coach Daryl Gibson actually came out and said that they can forget about winning the Australian conference if they lose this fixture. The season-ending injury to Kurtley Beale has really hurt them, with the side looking a bit short of spark on offence last week. The Waratahs have made four changes to the squad from last week, with Rob Horne, Zac Guildford, Wycliff Palu and Matt Carraro promoted to the starting XV.
The Chiefs rebounded from their poor performance against the Highlanders by thrashing the Rebels 36-15 last week to move back to the top of the overall standings. The Highlanders defeat was probably just what the doctor ordered because they put in a much more intense and clinical display after their form dipped in prior weeks. The only downside was the Chiefs weren’t able to replicate their strong first half performance in the second spell. The win over the Rebels came at a cost, with impressive No. 8 Michael Leitch ruled out for two months with a dislocated thumb that will require surgery.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs -3.0
Betting: I’m pessimistic about the Waratahs’ chances now that Beale, who had arguably been their best player this season, is injured. They have a very strong record over the Chiefs, however the visitors bring more impressive form into this fixture. I would back the Chiefs in the head-to-head at 1.65 (bet365).
Saturday, 28 May
Kings v Jaguares
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The Kings continue to be an embarrassment to competition organisers after they were thrashed 0-53 by the Sharks last week. Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett has labeled them a “C division” team, but no one can be surprised by their lack of competitiveness given their weak squad and disrupted season preparations. To compound their woes, the Kings have lost hooker Martin Ferreira for the season, along with winger Luzuko Vulindlu and flyhalf Elgar Watts, who have uncertain return dates.
The Jaguares continue to be a Jekyll and Hyde team, putting in competitive performances at home but struggling outside Argentina. Last week they were thrashed by eight tries to two by the Lions. They were made to pay for 28 missed tackles but this week provides a golden opportunity for the side to pick up a rare away win.
Head-to-head pick: Jaguares
Line pick: Kings +22.5
Betting: the Jaguares should win this but they have been awful on the road of late and are painfully short in the head-to-head market, with Unibet offering the highest odds of 1.08 at the time of writing. I’m going to sit this one out.
Blues v Crusaders
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The Blues bounced back from their thrashing at the hands of the Lions by beating the Force 17-13 in rain-soaked Perth last week. They will be pleased with the win but the gulf in quality between them and the rest of the New Zealand sides remains evident. With key players either injured or with the NZ Sevens squad I expect their season to fizzle out.
The Crusaders bounced back from their defeat to the Highlanders with a convincing 29-10 win over the Waratahs last week to move to 9-2 for the season. They get star winger Nemani Nadolo back from suspension this week, however lock Sam Whitelock is out with a hamstring injury and hooker Codie Taylor will face a late fitness test before the team is named.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Crusaders -8.5
Betting: the Blues have a strong historical home record against the Crusaders however they were thrashed at home by them this time last year. The Crusaders opened as 1.50 favourites but have been quickly crunched down to as low as 1.16 with some bookmakers. I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.30 (Ladbrokes).
Brumbies v Sunwolves
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Prior to their bye last week the Brumbies secured a vital 30-22 win over the Rebels in Melbourne. It was an impressive result given the Rebels put in one of their strongest performances of the season. It was also important because it helped turn the Australian conference more into a two-horse race. The Brumbies currently sit a point behind behind the Waratahs in the Australian conference but have a soft run of fixtures to see of the regular season. My only concern for the Brumbies is their inability to pick up bonus points, which could cost them the Australian conference. They have looked rather lacklustre in recent weeks with their recent form not looking like it would be enough to beat the top New Zealand teams come the playoffs.
The Sunwolves backed up their 17-17 draw against the Stormers with a competitive performance against the Reds in Brisbane last week. They’ve been on the receiving end of some hidings on the road, so the Japanese side will take many positives from the 25-35 defeat. The Sunwolves look destined to avoid the competition wooden spoon, which was arguably their only realistic goal at the start of the season.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -28.5
Betting: with the over/under market not yet released at the time of writing I can’t provide any specific tips, but keep an eye on this market on Saturday. The Brumbies have gone over the total in 5 of their last 7 home games while the Sunwolves have gone over in 9 out of 11 fixtures this season, with all four away games going over the total.
Stormers v Cheetahs
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The Stormers fell from 3rd to 9th in the overall standings after they fell 13-17 to the Bulls last week. They sit just behind the Pretoria side in the standings so a win this weekend could see them jump back to 3rd. The Stormers have a relatively easy schedule to see off the regular season so they remain a strong chance of making the playoffs. If the Stormers are to be a title threat, however, they need to cut down on handling errors. They often dominate territory and possession in games but are only ranked 8th in point scored this season. Defensively they have been very strong, however.
Prior to their bye last week the Cheetahs saw off the Kings 34-20 to record their third win of the season. Their wins to date have only been over the Kings and Sunwolves and with the departures of so many key players over the last few years, I get the impression that this is a franchise in decline. The Cheetahs have been boosted by the recent return of Springbok Lood de Jager, along with Charles Marais, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Maks van Dyk, Paul Schoeman and Uzair Cassiem, so perhaps they can finish the season on a high as they build towards next season.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers -12.0
Betting: the last three visits to Cape Town have resulted in 28-3, 33-0 and 41-12 defeats for the Cheetahs. The Stormers have a strong record on the back of a defeat so I expect them to rebound strongly this week. I would back the Stormers -7.5 at 1.53 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 29 May
Bulls v Lions
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The Bulls remain the only undefeated team at home this season after they edged the Stormers 17-13 last week in Pretoria. The crucial win puts them level on points with the Stormers but they sit above the Cape Town side in the standings due to having won more games, so their destiny is in their own hands. They face a tough task against the Lions this week, however.
The Lions remain in pole position to take out the Africa 2 conference and receive the 2nd overall seed after they secured a bonus point win over the Jaguares. Since their disappointing home loss to the Hurricanes the Lions have been in strong form and with the Sharks having a bye this week, the Lions have a chance to put one hand on the conference title if they can beat the Bulls. They will be without the services of flyhalf Elton Jantjies for the next three to four weeks after he fractured his finger last week. Also Jaco van der Walt injured his knee and will be sidelined for six weeks.
Head-to-head pick: Lions
Line pick: Lions +2.0
Betting: I’m expecting this to be a typical South African arm wrestle. The last four games between the two have been won by 12 points or less, with both clashes last season settled by 4 points or less. I would back both the Bulls 1-12 at 3.00 (bet365) and the Lions 1-12 at 3.40 (bet365).
Rebels v Force
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The Rebels’ brief stint at the top of the Australian conference feels like a distant memory after they were thrashed 15-36 by the Chiefs last week. They did well to be more competitive in the second spell after being blown away in the first 30 minutes, but the gulf in class between the two sides was evident. The Rebels are now a long shot of making the playoffs but they do have a realistic chance of finishing 2nd in the Australian conference, which would be a great accomplishment for the Melbourne side.
The Force remain winless at home this season after they fell 13-17 to the Blues in Perth. To add insult to injury, captain Matt Hodgson dislocated his shoulder during the clash so his season could be over. He joins Peter Grant, Jono Lance, Chris Alcock and Nathan Charles on the sidelines.
Head-to-head pick: Rebels
Line pick: Force +12.5
Betting: the Rebels have won 6 of their last 8 against the Force with all of their wins coming by 1-12 points. The Rebels are 1-6 at the line at home over the last 12 months while the Force are 4-2 at the line on the road. I would back the Rebels in the head-to-head at 1.25 (bet365). I would also back the Force +17.5 at 1.48 (William Hill).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.30 (Ladbrokes)
Back the Stormers -7.5 at 1.53 (Sportsbet)