The following are previews with betting tips for Round 6 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 31 March
Highlanders v Rebels
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The Highlanders picked up a crucial away win over the Brumbies to move to 2-3 for the season. It was a great result given their injury list, with nine players unavailable last week. Reinforcements are trickling back in each round so, barring new injuries, the Highlanders should get stronger as the competition progresses. The New Zealand franchises are now 9-0 against foreign opponents this seasons.
The Rebels will be hurting after letting a 25-6 halftime lead slip to lose 25-32 to the Waratahs in Melbourne to sink to 0-4 for the season. The Rebels have struggled in the dying stages of games in recent weeks. The Chiefs and Waratahs have each scored two tries in the final four minutes. Poor tackling continues to hurt the Rebels, who missed 39 tackles last week. Their set piece repeatedly lets them down at crucial times too. In team news Sefa Naivalu is out with a shoulder injury.
Betting: both sides sit at the foot of their respective conferences but the difference is the Highlanders have 9 points and the Rebels have 1. The Highlanders certainly should win this but I’m struggling to find value in their 1.04 head-to-head and 1.27 13+ odds. The home side has only won one home game by 13+ points over the last 12 months and the last time the Rebels visited Dunedin they only lost by 3 points. I’m going to back the Rebels +30.5 at 1.42 (William Hill).
Saturday, 1 April
Blues v Force
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The Blues were level at 7-7 with the Bulls at the break after a forgettable first half last week but came to life in the second spell as they ran out 38-14 winners. That second half performance will have helped to negate the pain of their second half collapse against the Crusaders two weeks ago. The result continues the Blues’ contrasting international vs. domestic form. They are now 9-1-1 in their last 11 games against foreign opponents but have an 8-game losing streak against Kiwi sides.
The Force limp into this fixture on the back of a 45-17 thrashing in Christchurch. They scored a late try to be down 28-17 at the end of the first half but couldn’t add to their tally in the second spell. The Force did manage to cause the Crusaders some problems at the scrum and Matt Hodgson made a successful return from injury, but those were the only positives. The defeat has added to their injury concerns, with flanker Kane Koteka leaving the field after a head knock and prop Jermaine Ainsley leaving the field with what appeared a serious arm injury. Captain Ben McCalman remains out with a thumb injury.
Betting: the Blues to tend to shoot themselves in the foot during games, but with the abundance of individual talent in the squad, when they do click they are a formidable team. The day they put together an 80-minute performance will be a terrible one for their opponent. The Force will have a hard time containing them on Saturday. The Blues’ last three home fixtures against the Force were won by 21, 23, and 17 points and they look stronger this season than they have in years. I would back the Blues 13+ at 1.48 (bet365). This selection is at odds as low as 1.30 with other bookmakers.
Confidence: medium – all signs point to them covering this easily, but I always get nervous when backing the Blues!
Chiefs v Bulls
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After an undefeated start the Chiefs rejigged their line-up against the Rebels for what was supposed to be their easiest fixture ahead of their bye. The move almost backfired as the Chiefs put in a poor performance in which they were outperformed at the breakdown and conceded two yellow cards. Two late tries saved the Chiefs’ blushes as they ran out 27-14 winners in Melbourne, but the result will have shaken off any complacency that may have been building within the squad. Chiefs coach Dave Rennie put their lacklustre performance down to the difficulties of maintaining their intensity after three domestic fixtures. In team news, Tim Nanai Williams is out until the end of April with a dislocated shoulder. Winger Toni Pulu is doubtful after suffering a hamstring injury.
The Bulls managed to contain the Blues in the first half last week and went into the sheds 7-7 at the break. It all fell to pieces in the second spell, however, as the Blues ran out 38-14 winners to extend the Bulls’ poor start to the season. Their sole victory was a 13-point win over the Sunwolves, so it’s fair to say the Bulls have been disappointing. Prop John-Roy Jenkinson and fly-half Dries Swanepoels have returned home with injuries. Hanro Liebenberg will face a late fitness test to see if he can play.
Betting: the Chiefs have a habit of winning all of their games without blowing teams away and they lost 7-28 to the Bulls in pre-season. With that being said, the Bulls showed no creativity on attack last week and I fancy the Chiefs’ defence will keep them quiet. The Bulls are 0-5 at the line as the road underdog over the last 12 months so I will back the Chiefs 13+ at 1.45 (William Hill).
Reds v Hurricanes
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The Reds return home from a joyless overseas tour and now have the Hurricanes to contend with, who are fresh off a bye. The Reds were more competitive than I had expected against the Jaguares but ill-discipline and and poor tackling let them down. Crucially, they were unable to take advantage in the second half when the Jaguares had a man in the bin. The Reds remain without Quade Cooper for another two weeks as he serves out his suspension. They are aiming to arrest a four-game losing streak but will be up against it. Lock Rob Simmons gets the start this week in place of the injured Izack Rodda.
Prior to their bye the Hurricanes returned to winning ways in style by thrashing the injury-hit Highlanders 41-15. The game was close at halftime but the Hurricanes just got stronger as the game wore on, showing great handling and passing skills all over the park. Captain Dane Coles is being rested this week to help recover from a bruised knee.
Betting: the Hurricanes have won their last three meetings against the Reds by 14, 16 and 15 points, so the line market looks to be spot on. The Crusaders only sneaked away from Brisbane with a 2-point win three weeks ago but I can see the Hurricanes scoring a flurry of points late in the second half as the travel schedule catches up with the Reds. I would back the Hurricanes -10.5 at 1.55 (William Hill).
Sunday, 2 April
Stormers v Cheetahs
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The Stormers had a very manageable schedule to start the season and enter this clash with a 4-0 record after seeing off the Sunwolves 44-31. The Stormers actually trailed by 11 points against the Sunwolves at one stage, so it was hardly a convincing performance. The Cheetahs are the nearest team to them in the Africa 1 conference with a 2-3 record, so a win here would put a huge amount of daylight between the Stormers and the rest of their weak conference. The win over the Sunwolves came at a heavy cost, with flanker Rynhardt Elstadt ruled out for three months with an ankle injury, winger Seabelo Senatla out for 6-8 weeks with a foot fracture, prop Wilco Louw out this week with a sternum injury and lock JD Schickerling out this week with a concussion. In some positive news, outside back Cheslin Kolbe (ankle) and halfback Jano Vermaak (calf) have recovered from their respective injuries and are available for selection.
The Cheetahs fell short 30-38 against the Sharks in a topsy-turvy game last week. They inexplicably turned down a shot at goal in the final moments so the 8-point defeat left them with nothing to show for their efforts. The Cheetahs have a bye next week followed by a New Zealand tour, so they will be desperate to get something out of this fixture to stay within touch of the Stormers in the Africa 1 Conference.
Betting: the Stormers’ last two wins over the Cheetahs were by 10 and 7 points, so I don’t see much value in the line markets. The Stormers do have a good have a good habit of closing out home games while the Cheetahs have been awful in that department on the road. Over the last 12 months the Stormers are 6-1 as the home favourite while the Cheetahs are 0-6 on the road so I will simply back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.25 (Ladbrokes).
Lions v Sharks
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The Lions continue to be the form team in South Africa after they brushed the Kings aside 42-19 last week with most of the work done in the first half. It has to be said, it wasn’t a great second half performance as the Lions went back into first gear with a 23-point halftime lead. The line-out was a bit of a mess, but you could argue the Lions simply dropped down to playing at the level of their opponent once the result was beyond question. The Lions’ offence has been consistently strong over the last few weeks, with the side scoring at least 40 points in three of their last four fixtures.
The Sharks enter this crucial clash on a four-game winning streak after they saw off the Cheetahs 38-30 in Bloemfontein, helped by 18 points from the boot of Curwin Bosch. They’re one of three teams in the Africa 2 conference with a 4-1 record and with the Lions fixture this week and the Jaguares their opponents in Round 7, the next few weeks will have huge implications for the Sharks’ conference title hopes.
Betting: the Lions have been imperious at home and the sloppy second half performance last week would have only served to sharpen them up for this clash. They started as 1.42 favourites but have unfortunately been crunched down to 1.29 at the time of writing. Last season the Lions beat the Sharks by 15 points on the road and 27 points at home, so I would back the Lions -9.5 at 1.90 (Unibet).
Waratahs v Crusaders
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The Waratahs put on a Crusaders impression last week as they overcame a 6-25 halftime deficit to beat the Rebels 32-25. The result was crucial because it arrested a three-game losing streak and avoided the Waratahs going into this fixture with a 1-4 record. Instead, a win here would put them at 3-3 for the season. Waratahs’ fans will just have to hope that they see a repeat of the second half performance from last week and not the first half display. Bernard Foley is in doubt for this clash after his concussion symptoms returned after playing the Rebels. It would be a huge blow if he can’t play.
The Crusaders are traditionally known as slow starters in Super Rugby but they have got off to a 5-0 start this season and now top the table, courtesy of some incredible second half comebacks. Last week no comeback was required as they thrashed the Force 45-17 in yet another game where they kept their opponents scoreless in the second half. The Crusaders have been mighty in the second half all season. In five games they have conceded just 3 points from the 48-minute mark onward.
Betting: in 2017 thus far the Australian franchises have a 1-12 record against overseas opponents so I can’t back the Waratahs here, especially with Bernard Foley in doubt. Given their second half stats I would back the Crusaders to win the second half at 1.51 (Unibet).
Confidence: medium-low – the Waratahs have won their last two home games against the Crusaders
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Rebels +30.5 at 1.42 (William Hill)
Back the Lions -9.5 at 1.90 (Unibet)