The following are previews with betting tips for Round 12 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 12 May
Blues v Cheetahs
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The Blues won their first game in Sydney since 2003 last week when they saw off the Waratahs 40-33 after shooting out to a 26-0 halftime lead. The win extends the Blues’ lopsided records of 12-1-1 against foreign opponents and 0-10 against Kiwi franchises. The Blues are regarded as being an unpredictable side, but over the past 12 months bookmakers have had the measure of them. Over that time the Blue have gone 7-1 when installed as the favourite and 1-7 when installed as the underdog. Sonny Bill Williams has suffered a concussion and won’t play this week while Patrick Tuipulotu returns from a back injury that has kept him out since Round 6.
The Cheetahs suffered a heart-breaking 41-45 defeat to the Highlanders last week. Both sides scored six tries and one penalty, but the two missed conversions by Fred Zeilinga proved to be the difference. Much like their game against the Chiefs, the Cheetahs enjoyed a healthy lead in the second half but their weak defence proved again to be their undoing. The Cheetahs led by 17 points with four minutes to play but conceded 21 points in those dying minutes! The Cheetahs have conceded 37 points per game this season, which is the biggest contributor to their 2-8 record and 7-game losing streak. Their attack-minded nature makes for good viewing but the approach simply isn’t working.
Betting: the Cheetahs have played three Kiwi teams at home so far this season and all three put 40+ points on the board against them. This has the potential to be a blowout for the Blues, who have already beaten the Rebels by 38 points and the Bulls by 24 points at home. I would back the Blues -14.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Brumbies v Lions
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Prior to their bye last week, in a stark illustration of the gulf between the Australian and New Zealand conferences, the Australian table-topping Brumbies fell 12-18 at home to the 5th placed Blues in Canberra. The Brumbies have now lost their last nine straight games against Kiwi opposition. With the exception of the 56 points conceded against the Hurricanes, the Brumbies continue to be stingy in defence but their weakness is their inability to put points on the board. It’s telling that they weren’t able to score a try at home against a Blues outfit that has an average defensive record.
The Lions thrashed the Rebels 47-10 in Melbourne last week to win their second consecutive game in Australia and their 7th straight in the competition. Despite their winning streak, the Lions hadn’t been at their best offensively in the weeks prior, so they will be pleased by their six-try haul in Melbourne. Like many South African sides, the Lions use a driving maul as a weapon but they also show good willingness to keep the ball in and and attack from deep. While the Cheetahs also show good attacking endeavor, the Lions back it up with good structures in defence. At the moment they look like the only side capable of preventing a New Zealand competition winner. The Lions have made five rotational changes for this clash, including a new front row.
Betting: the Brumbies are on a seven-game losing streak against overseas opponents and apart from a good second half performance against the Reds in Round 7, I haven’t seen enough to warrant backing them against this quality Lions side. The Brumbies are 0-3 as the home underdog over the last 12 months while the Lions are 4-0 as the away favourite. I would back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.57 (Sportsbet).
Saturday, 13 May
Crusaders v Hurricanes
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The Crusaders broke a five-game losing streak in Pretoria in style as they pummeled the Bulls 62-24 last week. Incredibly, they completed their ten-try haul without the services of suspended Sam Whitelock or injured Kieran Read. The scoreline could have been much worse. The Crusaders reached the 50-point mark in 53 minutes then went into cruise control. To put the 62 points into context, it is the most the Crusaders have ever scored on the road and the most the Bulls have ever conceded in 130 Super Rugby home games. The Crusaders have now scored over 40 points in their last six straight games. They are 10-0 for the season and the only negative I can come up is they will have to shake off the travel fatigue after playing two games at altitude in South Africa.
The Hurricanes moved to 8-1 for the season after they saw off the Stormers 41-22 last week. The scores were actually 27-22 at the 73 minute mark before the Hurricanes found another gear. They continue to be a try scoring machine, outscoring the Stormers 7 tries to 1. Six of their eight wins have come with bonus points, which is a mark of how strong the Hurricanes have been offensively. Beauden Barrett continues to have a sublime year. Four of the Hurricanes’ seven tries came from his kick-passes. They now take on the Crusaders in a clash that will go a long way towards determining the first overall seed.
Betting: this is the best game we’ve had in weeks. The Crusaders are 7-1 at home over the last 12 months while the Hurricanes are 5-1 on the road. In favour of the Hurricanes, they’ve won 4 of their last 5 against the Crusaders and should be fresher given the Crusaders’ overseas travels. In Beauden Barrett the Hurricanes have the form player of the competition while Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read are absent for the Crusaders. The Crusaders, however, have been playing with far more consistent cohesion than the Hurricanes and the Hurricanes pack doesn’t look as strong without Dane Coles. Looking at prior matches, the Crusaders have been getting out of the gates pretty quickly, while the Hurricanes have flourished late in games. I would back the Crusaders to lead at halftime at 1.94 (Marathonbet).
Rebels v Reds
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The injury-hit Rebels returned from their bruising tour of South Africa and were thrashed 10-47 by the Lions in Melbourne last week. I previously wrote that when it goes wrong for the Rebels, it tends to go very wrong. For the second straight week they conceded over 40 points while failing to score more than 10. Persistent injuries have disrupted their ability to build backline combinations and it shows in their offensive stats. The Rebels have only managed to score one try in their last three games. They let themselves down with poor execution too often. The kicking game in particular last week was poor.
The Reds fell 17-46 to the Chiefs last week to slide to 2-8 for the season. The one thing you can give the Reds credit for is they are showing intent to play. They started really well in New Plymouth, showing positive intent early on but came undone by unforced errors, some bad decision making – particularly with kicking, poor discipline and bad tackling. The mindset is good, but execution continues to let them down.
Betting: the performance guides for the Rebels and Reds are dreadful, with a sea of red for both sides. I’m leaning slightly towards the Reds to win this, but the bookmakers have installed them as 4.5 favourites, which has eliminated any value. The last two meetings between the two were settled by 3 points or less, so I will tentatively take both the Rebels 1-12 at 3.75 (bet365) and the Reds 1-12 at 3.00 (bet365).
Bulls v Highlanders
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The Bulls have a proud record at fortress Loftus in Pretoria, but that was shattered last week as they were thrashed 62-24 by the Crusaders. The visitors reached the 50-point mark in 53 minutes then went into cruise control, which prevented a much more embarrassing scoreline. The Bulls’ forwards-dominated, one-dimensional approach simply doesn’t work against Kiwi sides these days, with the Chiefs, Blues and Crusaders all putting them to the sword. What will hurt the Bulls most is the fact that their defeat last week was built on the back of a dominant forwards display by the Crusaders. They will have to regroup quickly because the Highlanders are also lethal on offence, having passed the 40-point mark in 4 of their last 5 games.
The Highlanders started their three-game overseas tour with a thrilling 45-41 win over the Cheetahs. In an incredible comeback, the Highlanders were down by 17 points with 4 minutes to play but scored 21 points in those final minutes to steal the win. Both sides scored six tries and one penalty, but Marty Banks made all six conversions while Fred Zeilinga missed two. In one sour note, loose forward Liam Squire suffered a broken thumb and will be out for six weeks. The Highlanders are now 7-3 for the season and are on a six-game winning streak. Incredibly, that’s only good enough to sit 4th in the New Zealand conference.
Betting: long-term history suggests the Bulls +12.5 is a no-brainer, but the same could be said last week before they were thrashed by the Crusaders. The Highlanders have been in sublime form, but they had to play a get out of jail card to see off the Cheetahs last week. If I had to bet on this fixture I would back the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.10 (bet365).
Sunday, 14 May
Kings v Sharks
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The bye for the Kings may have come at a bad time. Prior to last week the side enjoyed their first back-to-back wins since rejoining Super Rugby, defeating the Waratahs 26-24 in Sydney before returning home and thrashing the Rebels 44-3 in Port Elizabeth. There seems to be a fantastic vibe within the squad despite their looming axing from the competition. The Kings have received a blow, with loosehead prop Justin Forwood ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
The Sharks evidently overcame any jet lag from their trip to Argentina as they defeated the Force 37-12 in an ugly game last week to move to 7-1-2 for the season. The Sharks are now undefeated in their last 9 in Durban. Teenage fly-half Curwin Bosch contiues to be a revelation in the absence of injured Pat Lambie. The Sharks currently sit 10 points behind the Lions in the Africa 2 conference and 8 points ahead of the Jaguares in the race for the 3rd African playoff spot, so the side looks destined for the 7th or 8th seed the way things are going.
Betting: the Sharks only beat the Kings by 2 points in Durban in March. The Sharks haven’t won by 13+ away from home over the last 12 months, so I would back the Kings +14.5 at 1.87 (Unibet).
Jaguares v Force
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The Jaguares trailed the Sunwolves for most of the match last week but prevailed 46-39 to keep their playoff hopes alive. It was the result they wanted but cracks are beginning to appear in the Jaguares’ reputation for being a tough team to visit. The Force will be only the second ever Australian opponent for the Jaguares. They previously defeated the Reds 22-8 at home in Round 5.
The Force started their two-game overseas tour with a limp 12-37 defeat to the Sharks last week. It was the Force’s 7th defeat of the season but only the 2nd by a 10+ margin. Prior to the game they had talked up the opportunity to close in on the Brumbies who had a bye, but they fell well short with a low quality display, in what is to be fair, a poorly refereed game.
Betting: the Jaguares are 6-1 as the home favourite over the last 12 months while the Force are 0-8 away from home. There aren’t any clear trends at the line, so I will simply back the Jaguares in the head-to-head at 1.20 (Mad Bookie).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.57 (Sportsbet)