The following are previews with betting tips for Round 7 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 7 April
Hurricanes v Waratahs
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They were made to work for it, but Hurricanes saw off the Reds 34-15 last week to move to 4-1 for the season. Despite their Round 3 defeat to the Chiefs I still think they are the team to beat. The Hurricanes boast the best offensive and defensive records in the competition and rookie Jordie Barrett continues to live up to the pre-season hype. Cory Jane and Vaea Fifita have recovered from injury and will make their first appearances of the season. Ardie Savea and Dane Coles are out injured and Julian Savea is being rested. The Hurricanes come into this fixture having won 9 of their last 10 home games.
The Waratahs were their own worst enemy in their 22-41 home defeat to the Crusaders last week. They looked to have got back into the game at one point, but the 34 missed tackles proved costly as the Crusaders pulled away for a convincing win as the Waratahs faded late in the game. They Waratahs are now 2-4 for the season yet remain within striking distance of the conference-leading Brumbies, which is a sign of how weak the Australian conference has been. The Waratahs receive a welcome boost this week, with fly-half Bernard Foley and centre Rob Horne returning to the side. Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro has been promoted to the starting XV after a strong performance against the Crusaders. Israel Folau returns to fullback now that Horne is back. Prop Tom Robertson suffered a head knock and will miss this clash. Waratahs fans will be hoping that the side doesn’t resort to as many box kicks without meaningful chasers they did against the Crusaders, because kicking possession away cheaply to the Hurricanes is a recipe for trouble.
Betting: the Hurricanes will be wary of the fact that the Waratahs won their most recent visit to Wellington, however the Australian teams are 0-11 against Kiwi sides so far this season and with the Waratahs facing a short turnaround from last week, the Hurricanes should be too strong. The last five visitors to Wellington have all lost by 16 points or more so I would back the Hurricanes 13+ at 1.57 (bet365). While the over/under market hasn’t been released at the time of writing, fixtures for the Waratahs have gone over the total in 7 of their last 8 away games. This is largely due to the poor Waratahs’ defence, which is conceding over 33 points per game this season.
Confidence: medium-low – the Waratahs have a good record against the Hurricanes
Saturday, 8 April
Sunwolves v Bulls
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Prior to their bye last week the Sunwolves gave the Stormers a major fright in their 31-44 defeat in Singapore. They led by 11 points at one stage and were trailing by just three points before a 75th-minute yellow card and two subsequent tries killed off any chance of an upset. It was the third game in a row that the Sunwolves covered the line comfortably, which will please SANZAAR who have opted to keep the Japanese side in the competition while South African and Australian franchises are being axed.
For the second consecutive week the Bulls were highly competitive in the first half against Kiwi opposition before running out of petrol in the second spell. This fixture is the final game of a taxing tour for the Bulls, whose injury list has grown by the week. John-Roy Jenkinson and Dries Swanepoels are the latest to return home, joining Conrad van Vuuren, Arno Botha, Ruan Steenkamp and Piet van Zyl who flew back after the Chiefs clash two weeks ago. In some positive news, Hanro Liebenberg and Jacques Potgieter are expected to return this week.
Betting: the Bulls won this fixture by just 3 points last season and they defeated the Sunwolves by only 13 points at home in Round 4 so I will back the Sunwolves +15.5 at 1.90 (Mad Bookie).
Highlanders v Blues
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After a poor start to the season the Highlanders have clawed their way back to 3-3 for the year. They were far too good for the Rebels last week, thrashing them 51-12 in Dunedin. The Highlanders had a terrible run of injuries early on but have been getting reinforcements back in each week and they look stronger for it. They will be pleased with the kicking performance of backup fly-half Marty Banks, who went 8-8 from the boot last week. The Highlanders currently sit bottom of the New Zealand conference (with more points than any Australian team!) but are only one point away from the last playoff spot, which is currently occupied by the Blues.
The Blues defeated the Force 24-15 last week to extend their lopsided statistic of going 10-1-1 against foreign opponents and 0-8 against New Zealand sides. It was a scrappy performance last week, with the two tries scored with the Force down to 14 men proving to be the difference between the two sides. The Blues have lost fly-half Ihaia West for four weeks with an ankle injury so Bryn Gatland – son of British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland – has been brought into the squad as injury cover. Sonny Bill Williams has recovered from an Achilles injury and will makes his Blues debut from the bench. Steven Luatua returns from a four-week suspension and Blake Gibson returns from injury this week.
Betting: this is a rematch of the Round 3 clash in Auckland, which the Highlanders won 16-12, despite missing 11 players due to injury. The Highlanders will field a stronger squad this week and until the Blues can show they can beat New Zealand opponents, I will have to side with the home team. I would back the Highlanders in the head-to-head at 1.44 (Ladbrokes). The last six clashes between the two in Dunedin have all been settled by 12 points or less so I also like the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.70 (William Hill).
Brumbies v Reds
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Prior to their bye last week the Brumbies suffered a close home defeat to the Highlanders to slide to 2-3 for the season. With the 15th ranked offence, it’s fair to say the Brumbies have been a disappointment in attack this season. Much of this is arguably due to the loss of stocks in the backs during the off-season, but the Brumbies have been guilty of being a bit one-dimensional, relying on forwards-dominated rugby, making heavy use of rolling mauls. The New Zealand sides have coped well with this approach, with the Crusaders and Highlanders only conceding 13 points against the Canberra side. Fortunately the for Brumbies, they have enjoyed great success against Australian sides in recent years. They boast a nine-game winning streak against domestic opposition coming into this fixture.
The Reds remain without a win since Round 1 after they lost 15-34 to the Hurricanes at home last week. It looked like it was going to be a blowout at one stage, but the Reds showed good resilience to keep themselves in the game until the Hurricanes pulled away with two late tries. This game sees veteran Stephen Moore take on his old club. The Reds welcome back prop Sef Fa’agase this week while back Karmichael Hunt has been ruled out with a concussion. Quade Cooper is still serving his suspension.
Betting: with the Australian teams collectively 1-16 against overseas opponents this season, the domestic fixtures become incredibly important because the top seed is anyone’s for the taking. This has been an area of strength for the Brumbies, whose last defeat to an Australian team came back in Round 12 of the 2015 season. With the Reds winless on the road in the last 12 months I will back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.38 (CrownBet).
Sharks v Jaguares
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The Sharks put in a spirited performance in an entertaining game against the Lions last week, but fell 29-34 with the yellow card to Etienne Oosthuizen proving to be pivotal. They also weren’t helped by some contentious refereeing calls. Teenage fly-half Curwin Bosch continues to have an impressive season, with a 50-metre drop goal and a 65-metre penalty among his 19 points.
Prior to their bye last week the Jaguares faced their first Australian side in franchise history and saw off the Reds 22-8 to move to 4-1 for the season to continue their strong run at home. As I write almost every week, they need to improve on their discipline, with the yellow card to Bautista Ezcurra almost costing them dearly against the Reds. The Jaguares have had seven yellow cards issued in five games this season. The other issue is whether they can replicate their strong home form overseas. They are 6-2 at home over the last 12 months but 1-6 away from Argentina.
Betting: the Sharks are 6-1 at home over the last 12 months while the Jaguares are 1-6 away from home and 0-4 as the away underdog. The Jaguares are also 1-1-5 at the line away from Argentina over the last 12 months. I expect the Sharks will win but it will be close given the two clashes last season were settled by 4 and 3 points. I would back the Sharks 1-12 at 2.70 (William Hill).
Sunday, 9 April
Stormers v Chiefs
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The Stormers remain undefeated this season after they thrashed the woeful Cheetahs 53-10 last week. The performance was just the response they needed after they only barely saw off the Sunwolves the week before. The win continues the Stormers’ strong run at home, where they’ve gone 6-2 over the last 12 months. To cover their injury woes in midfield, the Stormers have signed former Highlanders centre Shaun Treeby on a four-month contract.
The Chiefs had to come from behind to avoid an upset loss to the Bulls last week. They ran out 28-12 winners in the end but continue their habit of winning without blowing teams away. Defence continues to be the Chiefs’ strength. They kept their opponents tryless last week and boast the second best defensive record in the competition. The Chiefs won’t be at full strength for this clash. Co-captain Sam Cane has joined the touring squad but is not expected to be fit until next week at the earliest. Brad Weber, Mitchell Graham, Nathan Harris, James Tucker, Glen Fisiiahi, Chase Tiatia, Charlie Ngatai, Tim Nanai-Williams, Liam Polwart, Michael Allardice and Nepo Laulala were all unavailable for selection. Centre Jonathan Faauli has received a four-week suspension for a dangerous tackle.
Betting: both teams are unbeaten but the Stormers have faced much weaker sides, with the Jaguares their only previous opponent in the top half of the table. The Stormers have a strong home record but their last home defeat came at the hands of the Chiefs, who thrashed them 60-21 in the playoffs last season, which was their second consecutive win in Cape Town. The upside for the Stormers, however, is the Chiefs’ lengthy injury list. Nevertheless the Chiefs come into this fixture battle-hardened, having faced the likes of the Highlanders and Hurricanes already, so I would back the Chiefs in the head-to-head at 1.61 (Unibet).
Force v Kings
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The Force fell 15-24 to the Blues at Eden Park last week. They led 8-0 at the 30-minute mark but the game turned on its head following Isi Naisarani’s yellow card, with the Blues scoring two tries in his absence and were in control from that point onward. Despite losing, the Force were more competitive than expected, which will give them confidence heading into a very winnable fixture.
Prior to their bye last week the Kings were brushed aside 42-19 by the Lions at home to sink to 1-4 for the season. They did well to stop the scoreline from becoming embarrassing after trailing by 23 points at the half, but you could argue the Lions went into first gear once the game was beyond doubt. The South African franchises have a 4-1 record against Australian teams this year, which will give the Kings hope that they can pick up points in their three-game tour of Australia. They will be without centre Waylon Murray this week after he injured his hamstring in training.
Betting: the Force are 1-4 at the line at home over the last 12 months while the Kings are 5-2 at the line away from home. I would back the Kings +17.5 at 1.91 (Ladbrokes).