The following are previews with betting tips for Round 16 of the 2016 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 8 July
Blues v Brumbies
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Last week the Blues were once again competitive against a fellow Kiwi side. They showed flair on attack and were resilient in defence, but poor discipline proved to be their undoing as they fell 27-37 to the Hurricanes. They are now formally out of playoff contention but their fate was sealed much earlier in the season. The Blues now have the opportunity to act as a banana skin for the Brumbies and Waratahs, who will have to tread carefully. The Blues have no new injury concerns and have named an unchanged line-up this week.
The Brumbies defeated the Reds 43-24 last week to maintain their fingernail lead over the Waratahs in the Australian conference. They now face the dangerous Blues who derailed the Brumbies campaign late in the season a few years back, despite having nothing to play for. The Brumbies have made two changes to the squad from last week, with Michael Wells coming in for the injured Ben Hyne, while Tomás Cubelli returns to the starting XV with Joe Powell dropping back to the bench. Wallabies winger Joe Tomane is still a week away from returning.
Head-to-head pick: Brumbies
Line pick: Brumbies -1.5
Betting: when played in Auckland, recent fixtures between these two sides have all been settled by 7 points or less, so I’m happy to back both the Blues 1-12 and the Brumbies 1-12 at 3.50 and 3.30, respectively (bet365).
Reds v Chiefs
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The Reds started well but fell away late in the second half to lose 43-24 to the Brumbies last week to move to 3-1-9 for the season. They now have the opportunity to derail the Chiefs’ season before playing a dead rubber against the Rebels. The Reds are actually undefeated against New Zealand sides at home this season, which is a stat they would love to maintain. They welcome back Waratahs lock Kane Douglas after he made a successful return from injury via the bench last week. Fly-half Duncan Paia’aua gets his first Super Rugby start this week after Jake McIntyre picked up an ankle injury.
The Chiefs knocked the Crusaders off the top in the New Zealand conference with a 23-13 win over them in Fiji last week. Critically, they were also able to deny them a bonus point with a penalty conversion at the end of the match. The tables have certainly turned between the two sides. The Chiefs won just 4 out of 17 matches against the Crusaders between 1996 and 2011 but since 2012 they have won 9 out of 12. This dominance has been critical this season, with the Chiefs having inflicted 2 of the Crusaders’ 3 defeats. The Chiefs welcome back former captain Liam Messam to the bench for this clash after he was released from the New Zealand Sevens team. The 9/10 combo of Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden return to the starting XV this week.
Head-to-head pick: Chiefs
Line pick: Chiefs -12.5
Betting: the full-time line is hard to pick because the Reds are 4-2 at the line at home this season while the Chiefs are 5-1 at the line on the road. I’m leaning slightly towards the Chiefs at the full-time line, but I expect the Reds to be competitive for the first 60 minutes or so. I would back the Reds +8.5 in the pick your own half-time line at 1.57 (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 9 July
Lions v Kings
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The Lions clinched the Africa 2 Conference and a playoff spot by beating the Sharks 37-10 last week. Their sights will be now set on securing first overall seed to avoid having to play possibly the Highlanders or Waratahs in the first round. Despite playing weak opponents this week the Lions are not taking any chances and have named an unchanged line-up.
The Kings fought hard against the Highlanders and trailed by 2 points with 15 minutes remaining, but were blown away in the final minutes as the visitors blew out to a 48-18 victory. The Kings finish off the season with trips to the Lions and Stormers, so they would be lucky to add to their 9 point tally before the end of the season. Coach Deon Davids has opted to look towards next season, making six changes from last week, with three debutants in the 22-man squad.
Head-to-head pick: Lions
Line pick: Lions -36.5
Betting: the Kings have been on the receiving end of some absolute hidings on the road by sides not as strong as the Lions. This included a 73-27 defeat to the Jaguares and a 53-0 loss to the Sharks. The Lions beat the Kings by 35 points in Port Elizabeth earlier in the season, so I would back them to cover the -29.5 pick your own line at 1.46 (William Hill).
Crusaders v Rebels
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Last week the Crusaders lost to the Chiefs for the second time this season, which has seen them slip down to 2nd in the New Zealand conference. They will be expected to see off the Rebels easily, however the Melbourne team has been a bogey side for the Crusaders. The Crusaders have a 2-2 record against the Rebels and lost to them in Christchurch last year. With one eye on the playoffs, the Crusaders will rest captain Kieran Read this weekend. The Crusaders are hopeful that All Blacks lock Luke Romano will be available after he missed last week with a hamstring strain.
The Rebels pushed the Stormers hard last week but fell 57-34 in Melbourne to all but cement their position in the middle of the Australian conference. The Rebels continue their run as a middle of the pack side, with 5-0 record against teams with a losing record and a 1-7 record against teams with a winning record.
Head-to-head pick: Crusaders
Line pick: Rebels +20.5
Betting: historically, the best time to back the Crusaders is on the back of a defeat, however I’m wary of the fact that they’ve never beaten the Rebels by more than 6 points before. I fancy the Rebels will push the Crusaders for much of the match, but there may be a blowout in the score in the final 20 minutes or so. I’m going back the Rebels +12.5 in the pick your own halftime market at 1.53 (Sportsbet).
Waratahs v Hurricanes
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The Waratahs maintained pressure on the Brumbies and Highlanders with a bonus point win over the Sunwolves last week. The Waratahs now face two Kiwi sides to finish the competition, so their impressive 6-1 run may still be for nothing if they can’t win both remaining fixtures. They will be wary of the fact that they are 1-2 against New Zealand sides so far this year.
The Hurricanes were given a bit of a scare, but managed to overcome the Blues 37-27 last week to stay ahead of the Highlanders and Waratahs in the race for the remaining playoff spots. The Hurricanes also remain within touch of the top of the overall standings, so they still have everything to play for.
Head-to-head pick: Waratahs
Line pick: Waratahs -1.5
Betting: this is arguably the best game of the round, not just because it features two in-form teams, but because it features two in-form sides that are desperate for the win. The Waratahs enter this clash in the best form of their campaign and fresh in my mind is their 45-25 win over the Chiefs in Round 14. I would back the Waratahs in the head-to-head at 1.78 (Betstar).
Force v Stormers
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The Force were competitive against the Cheetahs last week, but just fell short to slide to 2-11 for the season. That game was their first under interim coach Dave Wessels after Michael Foley was sacked. They will have to hope the side’s financial woes don’t remain a distraction in the coming off-season.
After showing indifferent form leading into the international break, the Stormers appear to have regrouped well as they beat the Rebels 57-34 in Melbourne. The Stormers’ 57 points tally is a new club record, however the 34 points conceded isn’t a great sign. The Bulls’ defeat to the Jaguares last week means the Stormers have virtually secured the Africa 1 Conference and the automatic playoff spot that comes with it.
Head-to-head pick: Stormers
Line pick: Stormers -8.5
Betting: the Force have a dreadful home record and they’ve lost five of their last six against the Stormers. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.30 (bet365).
Sunday, 10 July
Bulls v Sunwolves
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Any hopes that the Bulls could win the Africa 2 conference virtually expired last week after they were beaten 29-11 by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. They were forced to field a depleted side, but poor overseas form continues to haunt the Bulls, who have won two of their last sixteen outside of South Africa. Their only real chance of making the playoffs is by chasing down the Sharks for a wildcard spot, but given the Sharks’ soft remaining schedule, that looks unlikely. In team news, Roelof Smit and Lizo Gqoboka are both injured and won’t feature this week. Captain Adriaan Strauss returns after being rested against the Jaguares.
The Sunwolves were thrashed 12-57 by the ruthless Waratahs last week to continue their baptism of fire in the Super Rugby competition. The Sunwolves and Kings’ inclusion in the competition was met with much criticism, which you have to say was warranted given the struggles of both sides.
Head-to-head pick: Bulls
Line pick: Bulls -29.0
Betting: the Bulls only beat the Sunwolves by 3 points in Singapore earlier in the season, but they’ll be a completely different beast in Pretoria. The Bulls bring poor form into this clash, however, and have had to make the grueling trip back from Argentina, so I’m not prepared to back them at the line. I’m certainly not willing to back the Sunwolves, either, so I will sit this one out. Keep an eye on the over/under market for this clash. No totals are available at the time of writing, but fixtures involving the Sunwolves have gone over the total in 11 of their 13 games this season, including all 5 on the road.
Sharks v Cheetahs
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It took over 60 minutes for the Sharks to get on the scoreboard as they were comprehensively beaten 37-10 by the Lions last week. The Africa 2 Conference title is now out of reach but the Sharks remain in pole position to secure the wildcard playoff spot, with the Bulls sitting three points behind. In team news, fly-half Patrick Lambie and fullback Willie le Roux are both injured and won’t feature this week.
The Cheetahs managed to overcome the Force 30-29 last week to move to 4-9 for the season. As I’ve written before, they’ve been bleeding Springboks to other franchises in previous off-seasons so it’s important that they finish the season strongly. During the week it was confirmed that 2015 SA Player of the Year Lodewyk de Jager is leaving the Cheetahs for the Bulls next season, so their annual leakage of talent has already begun. The main issue that’s preventing the Cheetahs from being competitive at the moment is their poor defensive structures, which was highlighted last week.
Head-to-head pick: Sharks
Line pick: Cheetahs +10.5
Betting: the Cheetahs this season remind me of the Blues in that they are often competitive against compatriot sides but always seem to fall short. The Cheetahs have won just once away from home this season, and that was against the Sunwolves. I would back the Sharks in the head-to-head at 1.28 (bet365).
Jaguares v Highlanders
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Having already beaten the Cheetahs and Kings, the Jaguares claimed their first big scalp of the season, beating the injury-hit Bulls 29-11 in Buenos Aires last week. They haven’t been as competitive as expected this year, but there’s little doubt they will become a force to contend with in future seasons, particularly at home.
The Highlanders fielded a weakened team but flourished late to thrash the Kings in Port Elizabeth last week to maintain their four-point lead over the Waratahs in the race for the final playoff spot in Australasia. The Highlanders face two tough fixtures to see off the season, however, so they do remain in great peril of missing out on the playoffs. Their cause has been hit by injuries, with Shane Christie, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Squire and Marty Banks all ruled out this week.
Head-to-head pick: Jaguares
Line pick: Jaguares +7.5
Betting: this is only the Jaguares’ 2nd home fixture against a New Zealand side, the first was a 26-30 defeat to the Chiefs, when the Jaguares led late but fell to a 78th minute match-winning try. I expect the Jaguares to give the Highlanders an all mighty battle this weekend. Their three home defeats this season have been by 4, 5 and 3 points, so I’m surprised they’ve been given such a big head start by the bookmakers. I would back the Jaguares +7.5 at 1.96 (CrownBet).
Best Bets of the Round
Back both the Blues 1-12 and the Brumbies 1-12 at 3.50 and 3.30, respectively (bet365)
Back the Jaguares +7.5 at 1.96 (CrownBet).