The following are previews with betting tips for Round 5 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 24 March
Crusaders v Force
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For the third week running the Crusaders made a big come-from-behind victory to see off the Blues 33-24 in Christchurch last week. The Blues led 21-5 at halftime and extended that lead to 24-5 shortly after the break, but it was all the Crusaders after that as their forward pack put in an incredible 30 minutes of dominant rugby to overturn the deficit. On one hand you have to tip your hat to the Crusaders for these incredible comebacks, but on the other hand you have to wonder why they persistently start games poorly. In what has been an injury-hit season for New Zealand fullbacks, Israel Dagg will miss the next two months with a knee injury. The Crusaders have made seven rotational changes for this clash.
Prior to their bye last week the Force shot themselves in the foot as a late yellow card led to two late Brumbies tries as the Force fell 17-25 in a physical, but error-strewn encounter. The scrum certainly needs work as it was taken to pieces by the Brumbies.
Betting: the Crusaders have made a habit of starting poorly and then coming to life in the second half. In their four games this season they have conceded just 3 points from the 48-minute mark onward, which is something to keep in mind for in-play betting. For pre-game betting, I would back the Crusaders to win the second half at 1.22 (Unibet). At the full-time line I would take the Force +20.5 at 1.884 (Pinnacle). The last meeting between these two was settled by just one point.
Confidence: medium-low – the Crusaders’ rotational changes throw a spanner in the works
Rebels v Waratahs
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After being thrashed 18-56 by the Blues and 6-71 by the Hurricanes, the Rebels will be pleased by their more competitive showing against the Chiefs last week in which they lost 14-27 after conceding two late tries. The performance was marked by a much better effort on defence, particularly at the breakdown. With news that one Australian team will be scraped or merged next season, that type of performance is just what the doctor ordered. The Rebels have no new injury concerns and have named an unchanged XV. Lopeti Timani has recovered from a knee injury and has been named on the bench.
The Waratahs suffered a demoralising 12-28 home defeat to the Brumbies last week. It was a second consecutive poor performance in which their set-piece disintegrated in the second half after going into halftime 7-7. To add insult to injury it looks like the Waratahs have lost flanker Jack Dempsey for the season with an ankle injury. They will be pleased to have fly-half Bernard Foley back after he recovered from a pre-season injury. Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan also return after missing Round 4. In a back line reshuffle Israel Folau will start at fullback with Andrew Kellaway on the wing and David Horwitz in the centres alongside Rob Horne.
Betting: both sides are in a rut but the Rebels showed signs of improvement last week while the Waratahs looked to have regressed. The last three meetings have been settled by 10 points or less, with the last two meetings settled by 4 points or less, so I would back both the Rebels 1-12 at 4.33 (bet365) and the Waratahs 1-12 at 2.65 (William Hill).
Saturday, 25 March
Blues v Bulls
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The Blues lost to the Crusaders last week despite leading 24-5 at one stage. Their woes against Kiwi opponents continue, with the side currently on an eight-game looking streak against their compatriots. The good news, however, is they have gone 8-1-1 in their last ten against overseas opponents. Last week illustrated everything that is both good and bad with the Blues. The first half was full of energy with lethal offloads in the tackle and numerous individual shows of brilliance. The limp second half performance, however, highlighted the fact that they had no plan B once the Crusaders’ started to assert themselves with classic forwards-dominated rugby. The Blues will need to address how they defend mauls quickly with a South African side coming to town this week. A painful statistic is the Crusaders won 14 from 15 line-outs and all seven scrums last week.
The Bulls started as 34.5 point favourites but only managed to defeat the Sunwolves 34-21 courtesy of a strong second half performance despite being down to 14 men for the entire 40 minutes. The win was the Bulls’ first of the season. They will be without the services of flanker Renaldo Bothma after he picked up a four-week suspension. The Bulls would have watched with great interest how the Crusaders forward pack took the Blues to the cleaners in the second half last week.
Betting: the Cheetahs beat the Bulls by six points two weeks ago and I expect the Blues can match that. I would back both the Blues -5.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.44 (William Hill).
Confidence: medium-low – I always feel uncomfortable backing the Blues!
Brumbies v Highlanders
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After a 0-2 start the Brumbies have won their last two games to move top of the Australian conference – courtesy of the fact that no other Australian team has won more than once this season! Last week they comfortably saw off the sub-par Waratahs 28-12 in Sydney but they will be acutely aware that they are 0-2 against foreign opposition this season. The Brumbies have won 9 straight games against Australian opponents but are 3-8 against overseas opponents since 2016 and 0-6 against Kiwi opponents in that time.
The injury-ravaged Highlanders are just 1-3 for the season after they fell 15-41 to the Hurricanes. They were right in the game at halftime but let themselves down with too many handling errors in the second half. They now take on their first overseas opponent of the season. The Highlanders still have a lengthy injury list but welcome back Patrick Osborne this week. Greg Pleasants-Tate joins Siosuia Halanukonuka have also recovered and will start from the bench. Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Ash Dixon, Dan Pryor, Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo, Adrian Smith, Josh Dickson and James Lentjes remain injured.
Betting: the last time these two sides met in Canberra was in the quarter-finals last season, which the Highlanders won 15-9. With both sides failing to impress so far this season I expect another close game so I will back both the Brumbies 1-12 at 3.75 (Ladbrokes) and the Highlanders 1-12 at 4.20 (Ladbrokes).
Sunwolves v Stormers
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For the second straight week the Sunwolves started as heavy underdogs but came close to pulling off an upset in their 21-34 defeat to the Bulls in Pretoria. They had an incredibly truncated pre-season which contributed to their awful Round 1 showing but since then the Sunwolves have made a mockery of the bookmakers’ lines.
Prior to their bye last week the Stormers thrashed the Kings 41-10 to maintain their unbeaten start to the season. The Stormers will be under-manned this week. Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit were not considered for selection due to the Springbok management plan, while Huw Jones (entire season), Jean-Luc du Plessis (3-5 weeks), Jano Vermaak (1-2 weeks), Cheslin Kolbe (1-2 weeks), Juan de Jongh (6 weeks), Damian de Allende (6-8 weeks), Steph de Wit, Leolin Zas and Scarra Ntubeni are all sidelined with injuries. In some good news, captain Siya Kolisi rejoins the squad this week.
Betting: the last time the Sunwolves hosted the Stormers they held the visitors to a draw. With the Sunwolves looking more competitive by the week and the Stormers bringing an injury-hit, rotated squad into this clash, I wold back the Sunwolves +23.5 at 1.90 (William Hill). At the time of writing most other bookmakers were offering +21.5 lines.
Sunday, 26 March
Kings v Lions
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The Kings made the most of the Sharks’ mistakes but just fell short last week, losing 17-19 in a game where they started as 27.5 point underdogs. The result was a huge improvement on the 10-41 hammering by the Stormers a week before. With the franchise due to be axed for next season this campaign now becomes a job interview as the players look for spots on other teams for next year. Kings captain Schalk Ferreira is out this week with injury.
The Lions thrashed the ill-disciplined Reds 44-14 last week to be one of three sides with a 3-1 record in the competitive Africa 2 Conference. Their only defeat was away against the Jaguares when they sent over a weakened side, so the Lions will be pleased with their start to the season.
Betting: the Lions thrashed the Kings 45-10 in Port Elizabeth and 57-21 in Johannesburg last year. They have been prolific on offence this season so I would back the Lions -18.5 at 1.43 (William Hill).
Confidence: medium-low – wish the odds were better
Cheetahs v Sharks
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The Cheetahs were brushed aside by the Jaguares easily last week, but few teams have had much joy in Argentina of late. They are now 2-2 for the season and will take heart from the Sharks’ off-colour performance against the Kings last week.
The Sharks started as 27.5 point favourites against the Kings but only scraped away with a 19-17 win in a low quality game. They are 3-1 for the season but only sit third in the Africa 2 Conference, which is proving to be very competitive.
Betting: this could go either way. One stat that stands out to me is the Sharks are 5-1 over the last 12 months when installed as the favourites while the Cheetahs are 1-9 when installed as the underdog. If I had to bet on this game I would take the Sharks in the head-to-head at 1.70 (William Hill).
Confidence: low – not much value in the odds
Jaguares v Reds
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The Jaguares currently top the competitive Africa 2 Conference after they thrashed the Cheetahs 41-14 to move to 3-1 for the season. The Jaguares have the fourth best offence so far this season and if they can keep their ill-discipline to a minimum there’s no reason why they can’t win every home game in 2017.
The Reds limp into this tough fixture having lost captain James Slipper for the season and Quade Cooper to a three-week suspension. They were thrashed 44-14 by the Lions last week and I’m not optimistic about their chances against an intimidating home opponent.
Betting: the last four visitors to Argentina have all been beaten by 12 points or more. No Australian team has ever faced the Jaguares before but if the woes of the South African opponents are anything to go by, the Reds are in for a tortuous game. Early in the week I jumped all over the Jaguares at 1.25 but they have since shortened to 1.14. Given the lack of value in the head-to-head market I would back the Jaguares 13+ at 1.75 (Luxbet).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Jaguares 13+ at 1.75 (Luxbet)