The following are previews with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2017 Super Rugby season. If you have not done so already, be sure to view our team-by-team 2017 Super Rugby season preview, which includes futures betting tips.
Thursday, 23 February
Rebels v Blues
View a detailed form guide for Rebels v Blues
The Rebels have a decent back line but I have my concerns about the forwards, who came off clearly second best – particularity at the scrum – against the Force and Reds in pre-season. They’re not helped by a growing list of injuries to their forward stocks, with locks Dominic Day, Alex Toolis and Sam Jeffries unavailable this week. Also, flanker Sean McMahon isn’t due back for a month.
The Blues enter their second year under coach Tana Umaga, who was able to turn around their fortunes last season, finishing 11th (out of 18) compared to 14th (out of 15) in 2015. They struggled against the Kiwi sides last year but did very well against overseas opposition. It will be interesting to see how the new 9/10 pairing of Augustine Pulu and Ihaia West works out. The Blues have full access to the Ioane brothers this year after their participation was cut short last season due to New Zealand Sevens commitments.
Betting: the Blues went 7-1-1 against foreign opposition last year and 6-1-1 when installed as the favourite, while the Rebels went 0-4 as the home underdog. I would back the Blues in the head-to-head at 1.53 (CrownBet).
Confidence: medium-high. My only reservation is the fact that all five meetings between the two sides have been won by the home team
Friday, 24 February
Highlanders v Chiefs
View a detailed form guide for Highlanders v Chiefs
The Highlanders’ strong 2016 season showed that their 2015 title was no fluke. Coach Jamie Joseph has departed but they have retained the nucleus of last year’s squad, including their lethal backline, with Tevita Li thrown in for good measure. They are once again a good chance of making the playoffs.
The Chiefs lost some big names during the off-season with Tim Nanai-Williams the only new signing with Super Rugby experience, however they still boast a formidable squad. The Chiefs managed to make the playoffs last year despite an injury-ravaged season. If they can stay fit they will be title contenders.
Betting: this fixture tends to produce close games, with 11 of the last 15 clashes settled by 12 points or less. Astonishingly the Highlanders have won their last six straight against the Chiefs. The Highlanders went 6-1 at home last season, so they have made strides into making Forsyth Barr Stadium the fortress that Carisbrook (“The House of Pain”) was. I would back the Highlanders in the head-to-head at 1.62 (CrownBet).
Reds v Sharks
View a detailed form guide for Reds v Sharks
The youthful Reds squad has been given an injection of experience, with the arrivals of Stephen Moore, George Smith, Scott Higginbotham and Quade Cooper. Cooper and Karmichael Hunt combined well in pre-season, which will give Reds fans cause for optimism. The Reds have steadily regressed over the last four seasons, winning 11 games in 2012, 10 in 2013, 5 in 2014, 4 in 2015 and 3 in 2016. With the player turnover at the Brumbies and Waratahs, is this the year the Reds turn things around?
The Sharks have boasted strong squads in recent years but always seemed to under-perform. They have lost some big names during the off-season, including Marcell Coetzee, but perhaps things will turn around with the appointment of Robert du Preez as coach following the departure of Gary Gold.
Betting: the Sharks have won 5 of their last 6 against the Reds, however bookmakers have understandably installed the hosts as 5-1/2 point favourites based on both sides’ player turnover during the off-season. At the line last season the Sharks were 5-2 as the road underdog while the Reds were 1-3 at the line as the home favourite. If I had to pick a winner I would lean towards the Reds, but if I were to bet on this fixture I would take the visitors +5.5 at 1.87 (TopBetta).
Confidence: low – the high level of player turnover creates a lot of uncertainty
Saturday, 25 February
Sunwolves v Hurricanes
View a detailed form guide for Sunwolves v Hurricanes
After a demoralising debut campaign in which the Sunwolves received the wooden spoon with a 1-1-13 record, the side has undergone a massive amount of player turnover during the off-season. Top try scorer Akihito Yamada and Tusi Pisi are among the big departures, while Fumiaki Tanaka, Sam Wykes and Willie Britz are some of the main signings. After playing only the Australian Conference sides last season they take on the NZ sides this year.
The Hurricanes’ story could not be more different to the Sunwolves. They are back-to-back minor premiers, they won the title last year and they have retained the bulk of last year’s squad. The Hurricanes also have cause for celebration after securing the services of up-and-comer Jordie Barrett. Spanning this season and the last the Hurricanes are on an 8-game winning streak, with their last four opponents all scoring 10 points or less. Fullback Milner-Skudder (hamstring) and prop Loni Uhila (calf) have been left out of the touring squad.
Betting: the Hurricanes should be too strong, it’s just a matter of how many points they win by. This time last year the Sunwolves put in a spirited home performance to lose 13–26 to the Lions in their opening fixture. If I were to bet I’d back the Sunwolves to cover the +28.5 line at 1.92 (CrownBet).
Confidence: low – it’s tough when such a wide range of margins are possible
Crusaders v Brumbies
View a detailed form guide for Crusaders v Brumbies
The Crusaders start a new era following the departure of coach Todd Blackadder, although you could argue a new era started last season after Carter and McCaw departed. Andy Ellis has now left but a bigger loss is the departure of Fijian strike weapon Nemani Nadolo. You’d be crazy to think the Crusaders will be weak this year, however. They’ve brought in a number of new names from Canterbury, which won the Mitre 10 Cup, and we all know how deep the talent is across the Tasman.
The Brumbies have lost a lot of experience during the off-season, with Stephen Moore, Matt Toomua, Robbie Coleman and Joe Tomane departing. In addition, David Pocock is on a sabbatical and Tomas Cubelli ruptured his ACL in pre-season. Christian Lealiifano is continuing to receive treatment for leukemia. The forward pack still looks good but on paper this is the weakest backline the Brumbies have fielded in years.
Betting: last year the Crusaders didn’t lose to any overseas opponents during the regular season. They have won 7 on the trot against the Brumbies (6 by 13+ points) and after rummaging through the stats it appears the last time they lost at home to the Canberra side was in 2000. There is a glimmer of hope for the Brumbies, however. Since 2011 the Crusaders have only won the first game of the season on one occasion. With the Brumbies’ poor pre-season showing against the Waratahs fresh in my mind, I will stick with the home side, however. I would back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.75 (bet365).
Confidence: medium – the Crusaders’ poor Round 1 record is a concern
Waratahs v Force
View a detailed form guide for Waratahs v Force
In Daryl Gibson’s first year in charge the Waratahs dropped from an 11-5 season to 8-7. They appear to have incurred net loss of talent during the off-season too, with Kurtley Beale arguably the biggest departure given his partnership with Bernard Foley. The Waratahs have looked decent in pre-season, however, with some of the new NRC recruits showing good promise. They have also brought in Cameron Clark from the Australian Sevens team.
After posting a dreadful 2-13 record last season, the Force have made some promising new signings, but they limp into Round 1 with a sizable injury list (read the season preview to learn more). The Force were toothless near the try line last season, scoring just 26 tries, the fewest in the competition and 8 fewer than the Sunwolves. The Force have been at the bottom of the try scoring table in three of the last four seasons.
Betting: the Force won three on the trot against the Waratahs in 2014/15, but that streak was brought to an emphatic end with a 13-49 defeat at home last season. Last year on the road the Force went 2-6 in the head-to-head but 6-2 at the line. The Waratahs have only beaten the Force at home by 13+ points once out of 6 games. I expect the Waratahs to win, but would back the Force +14.5 at 1.93 (Pinnacle).
Sunday, 26 February
Cheetahs v Lions
View a detailed form guide for Cheetahs v Lions
The Cheetahs have been a team in decline in recent years and on paper it’s hard to see how they will improve upon their 4-11 record last season. The club continues to lose it’s best players to other franchises, with Lood de Jager the latest departure.
The Lions were the only franchise that were at the same level as the New Zealand teams last season, with the Johannesburg side the only reason why we didn’t have an all-NZ semi-finals week. They have retained the nucleus of last year’s squad and they play the Australian conference this year instead of the New Zealand conference. With the Kiwi sides distracted this year by the British & Irish Lions tour, the Lions have an excellent opportunity to win the coveted 1st overall seed in the playoffs.
Betting: the Cheetahs were swatted aside easily by the Sharks and Stormers in pre-season. The Lions have won their last 5 straight against the Bloemfontein side, winning their last two meetings comfortably. I would back the Lions -9.5 at 1.90 (Sportsbet).
Confidence: high – my only concern is that the Lions were only able to beat the Sunwolves by 13 points in Round 1 last season
Kings v Jaguares
View a detailed form guide for Kings v Jaguares
The Kings were dreadful last season, particularly defensively, and they are rebuilding following a huge turnover in players. Steven Sykes, who was one of their standout players, is among the departures. They only won two games last season but take on the Australian conference this year instead of the New Zealand conference.
The Jaguares didn’t live up to expectations last year but they now have a season under their belt and will be better placed to handle the rigours of Super Rugby now that they’ve had a chance to reflect on what went wrong. The Jaguares have retained the nucleus of last year’s side and have the opportunity to be one of the biggest improvers this season if they can tidy up their discipline. They enter this clash with seven players already injured, unfortunately.
Betting: to highlight the gulf in form for the Jaguares at home vs. away last season, they beat the Kings 73-27 in Argentina but lost 29-22 in Port Elizabeth a month later. The Jaguares didn’t win a single game on the road last season and they went 1-6 at the line during that stretch. Until they can prove they can win away from Argentina I would back the Kings +12.5 at 2.00 (Ladbrokes).
Stormers v Bulls
View a detailed form guide for Stormers v Bulls
This fixture is crucial because it features the only two sides with a realistic chance of winning the Africa 1 Conference.
The Stormers have been South Africa’s most consistent side in recent years, making 5 of the last 7 post-seasons. This year will be tougher, however, with the Africa 1 Conference due to play the Kiwi sides. The Stormers 10-1-4 record last year was flattering given they only had to play three games against playoff-bound sides. While the Stormers have poached Bjorn Basson from the Bulls, they have lost the likes of Schalk Burger, Cornal Hendricks, Vincent Koch and Jaco Taute.
The Bulls have undergone a fair bit of turnover during the off-season, particularly in the forwards. Apart from poaching Lood de Jager from the Cheetahs, the majority of the new signings are from provincial ranks, mainly the Blue Bulls, so the Bulls look a more youthful side this season. Having so many new players makes them a bit of an unknown quantity this year. The Bulls will be pleased to have fly-half Handré Pollard back to full fitness.
Betting: this fixture favours the home team, with 7 of the past 8 clashes won by the home side. The Stormers have had the better of the Bulls in recent years, winning 4 of the last 5 clashes. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.55 (Luxbet).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Blues in the head-to-head at 1.53 (CrownBet)
Back the Lions -9.5 at 1.90 (Sportsbet)