The following are previews with betting tips for Round 2 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
Thursday, 2 March
Force v Reds
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The Force led at the break but were held scoreless in the second half as they fell 13-19 to the Waratahs in Sydney last week. They lacked execution on attack at times and the line out went astray in the second half, but the Force can take positives from their scrummaging and their defensive performance, which limited the hosts to one try. The Force have reshuffled their pack for this game, with Matt Philip, Brynard Stander and Ben Daley getting starts.
The new-look Reds started their 2017 campaign with a hard-fought win 28-26 win over the Sharks in Brisbane last week. They trailed for most of the game but finished the stronger of the two sides. The win came despite the Reds going down to 14 men on two occasions due to yellow cards. After winning just three games in 2016, last week’s victory over a playoff team from last year will have been a good boost of confidence.
Betting: the Force have a dreadful home record, having lost their last 10 straight in Perth. The Reds have actually lost their last 8 on the road, however, with their last away win coming at this very fixture in 2015. With their new acquisitions the Reds look like a team on the up at the moment, while the Force are still lumbered with a long injury list. I would back the Reds in the head-to-head at 1.66 (Sportsbet).
Friday, 3 March
Chiefs v Blues
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The Chiefs broke a six-game losing streak against the Highlanders last week, winning 24-15 in Dunedin while keeping the hosts tryless. The Highlanders enjoyed the bulk of territory and possession, but the Chiefs were able to absorb what was thrown at them while taking the most of their chances, with James Lowe’s two intercept tries proving to be the difference between the two sides.
The Blues got their season off to the best possible start by thrashing the Rebels 56-18 in Melbourne. The New Zealand media had talked up the Blues’ improved defence in pre-season, and this was on display as the Rebels were kept scoreless in the final 39 minutes. Blues’ fans will also be buoyed by the strong performance of former Chiefs halfback Augustine Pulu and the solid kicking display from fly-half Ihaia West. Rieko Ioane scored a hat-trick on the night – it’s scary to think he’s only 19. The Blues are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 against foreign opponents but if they are to improve upon last season they will have to improve on their 1-5 record against Kiwi opposition last year. The Blues have been boosted by the returns of Jerome Kaino and Patrick Tuipulotu this week, who are among six All Blacks named on the bench.
Betting: despite the Blues’ woes in recent years they have actually remained competitive against the Chiefs in recent seasons, losing 8-11, 18-23, 16-23 and 23-29. In all, 11 of the last 13 clashes between the two have been settled by 12 points or less. With the Blues looking like a team on the up I would back the Blues +12.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.37 (William Hill).
Confidence: medium – my primary concern is the fact that the Chiefs held the vaunted Highlanders offence to just 15 points last week
Saturday, 4 March
Hurricanes v Rebels
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The Hurricanes started their title defence with an 83-17 demolition job of the Sunwolves in Tokyo, outscoring their hosts 13 tries to 3. With the Sunwolves having just 17 days together prior to that clash, there’s not much we can read into the result, but the Hurricanes will be pleased to have started well given their 10-52 defeat to the Brumbies in Round 1 last year. They also started with a number of key players on the bench last week to keep them fresh. Winger Cory Jane injured his neck in a training session prior to last week’s game and is out for a few weeks. No.8 Blade Thomson is in doubt after dislocating his shoulder last week.
The Rebels’ season got off to a horrific start, losing 18-56 at home to the Blues, with a 3-31 scoreline in the second half. They started well, but things fell apart defensively, with the intercept try at the end of the first half starting their downfall. The Rebels were guilty of kicking possession away too poorly and too often last week. They will be torn to shreds if they do the same against the Hurricanes. The Rebels aren’t helped by a lengthy list of injuries to their forwards stocks. Their lack of depth was on display last week. Those injured players can’t return fast enough.
Betting: the Hurricanes won this clash 13-38 in Melbourne last season and 36-12 in Wellington the year before. 7 of the Hurricanes last 9 home wins were by 13+ points while 7 of the Rebels last 9 defeats were by 13+ margins. I would back the Hurricanes 13+ at 1.29 (William Hill).
Confidence: medium – shame the odds are so low, everyone has written off the Rebels
Highlanders v Crusaders
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The Highlanders enjoyed the bulk of territory and possession against the Chiefs last week. They weren’t able to execute, however, with handling errors mounting they fell 15-24 at home. The Highlanders have also suffered an injury blow, with co-captain and fullback Ben Smith ruled out with a concussion.
It was an unconvincing performance, but the Crusaders beat the Brumbies 17-13 last week to record just their second opening game victory since 2011. The win came at a heavy cost, however, with starting fly-half Richie Mo’unga ruled out for 6-8 weeks with a fractured hand.
Betting: the Crusaders normally dominate this match-up, but the Highlanders have won their last two against their local rivals. Like the bookmakers I have a hard time separating the two sides so I would back both the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.88 (Ladbrokes) and the Crusaders 1-12 at 3.50 (Ladbrokes). The last three meetings between the two in Dunedin have been settled by 2, 6 and 8 points.
Brumbies v Sharks
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The Brumbies started as 16.5 point underdogs against the Crusaders last week, but nearly nicked a win before losing 13-17 in Christchurch. It was a great response after their poor showing against the Waratahs in pre-season, with a strong defensive effort keeping the Brumbies in the game.
The Sharks led 16-13 at halftime but faltered late in the second half to fall 26-28 to the Reds in Brisbane last week. They didn’t execute as well as they would have liked and will feel they let one slip away. The Sharks continue to be competitive on foreign soil after pushing the New Zealand sides hard on their overseas tour last season. They will be without the services of lock Etienne Oosthuizen for two weeks after he was suspended for striking a Reds player.
Betting: the Sharks’s biggest losing margin in their three-game tour of New Zealand last season was just 5 points, and with the young Brumbies backline not looking like a try-machine, I would back the Sharks +7.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.52 (William Hill).
Sunwolves v Kings
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The Sunwolves were spared from playing the New Zealand franchises in their inaugural season, with the two South African conferences switching between playing the Kiwi and Australian sides each year. Based on their 17-83 thrashing at the hands of the Hurricanes last week they might be feeling that 2018 can’t come fast enough. The Sunwolves underwent a huge amount of turnover during the off-season and they only had 17 days preparation prior to the Hurricanes match, so it may be some time before they find their feet in this year’s competition.
Much like the Sunwolves, the Kings underwent huge changes to the squad after their first year of being reinstated into Super Rugby, so they too are still finding their feet in this year’s competition. They fought gallantly against the Jaguares last week, but were simply outclassed by the visitors 26-39. The Kings were let down by execution at times, and some risky play hurt them as the Jaguares counter-attacked well, but at least the scoreline wasn’t embarrassing. In team news, lock Irne Herbst sustained a concussion and will miss this week.
Betting: both sides will view this fixture as a chance to avoid the competition wooden spoon, so it will be a key fixture for both. What belief will the Sunwolves have after last week’s thrashing, though? The Kings beat the Sunwolves 33-28 in Port Elizabeth last year, so on paper this could be close. Based on last week’s results I’m going to have to side with the visitors and back the Kings in the head-to-head at 1.56 (bet365).
Sunday, 5 March
Lions v Waratahs
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It took a late try, but the Lions overcame the Cheetahs 28-25 in slippery conditions last week in Bloemfontein. It was a poor performance by their standards, with numerous handling mistakes letting the Lions down in promising positions. Also of concern is the fact that the Cheetahs’ scrum gained the ascendancy as the game wore on. In the end the Lions were the beneficiaries of a Cheetahs’ yellow card that led both to a penalty try and a match-winning try with the hosts down to 14 men. In team news, the Lions have lost the services of centre Howard Mnisi for the season after he suffered a severe knee injury.
The Waratahs made hard work of it, but eventually overcame the Force 19-13 in Sydney last week. Only one try was scored each, with the result settled by the Waratahs’ four penalties to two. Offensively it wasn’t a great performance, but the Waratahs will be pleased that they kept the Force scoreless in the second half.
Betting: the Lions started last season with an unconvincing performance against the Sunwolves, only to go on and have an excellent season, so the Waratahs will have to tread carefully. The Lions have won their last 8 straight as the home favourite (7-1 at the line!) so I will back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.42 (Luxbet). At the time of writing the over/under markets aren’t available, but another stat of note is the Lions are 9/1 over/under at home over the last 12 months while the Waratahs are 4/2 over/under on the road.
Stormers v Jaguares
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The Stormers dominated the Bulls in a pretty open game last week to get their Africa 1 Conference defence off to a strong start. The Stormers look to be a well balanced side, with the forwards playing well and the back line showing plenty of flair. They were the only winner from their conference last round so they will be pleased with how things stand. In some bad news, centre Damian de Allende has been ruled out for up to three months due to an ankle injury. He joins Scarra Ntubeni (Achilles), Leolin Zas (leg) and Juan de Jongh (knee) on the injury list.
The Jaguares kicked off their campaign with a 39-26 win over the unfancied Kings last week. They were clearly the better of the two sides, with some desperate tackling and a late try from the Kings preventing the scoreline from blowing out. The Jaguares looked good with ball in hand and were dangerous on the counter attack, so there were plenty of positives to take from the game. The only spoiler were the two yellow card infringements. Discipline was a recurring issue for the Jaguares last season. Last year the Jaguares won their opening away fixture against the Cheetahs only to lose every away game for the rest of the season, going 1-6 at the line during that stretch, so it remains to be seen whether they have shaken off their travelling blues.
Betting: the Stormers are 6-2 in their last 9 home games while the Jaguares are 1-6 on the road with a 1-1-5 line record over the last 12 months. I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.30 (TopBetta).
Cheetahs v Bulls
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The Cheetahs weren’t fancied against the Lions last week but put up an almighty fight before a late yellow card cost them dearly. They can take positives from that result, however, especially the ascendancy they enjoyed at the scrum as the game wore on.
The Bulls fought back from 24-0 down but ended up losing 24-37 to the Stormers in Cape Town last week, with Lood de Jager coming off with a concussion and ruled out for this week. The Bulls have now lost 5 of their last 6 against their Currie Cup rivals. Fly-half Handré Pollard had a poor day with the boot in his return from injury. The Bulls have received a boost this week, with Jan Serfontein and Martin Dreyer available for selection after returning to full training.
Betting: the trump card for the Cheetahs at home is they play at high altitude, however the Bulls are also based at altitude, making them the sole opponents for which this advantage cancels out. This shows in the stats with the Bulls winning 6 of their last 7 visits to Bloemfontein. The Bulls have been predictable on the road over the last 12 months, going 4-0 as the away favourite (3-1 at the line) and 0-4 as the away underdog (0-4 at the line). With the visitors starting as favourites this week I would back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.76 (TopBetta).
Best Bet of the Round