The following are previews with betting tips for Round 2 of the 2018 Super Rugby season. Only the South African conference featured in Round 1, so this is effectively the first round for the Australian and New Zealand conferences.
If you have not done so already, be sure to check out the 2018 Super Rugby season preview, which provides team-by-team previews and futures betting tips.
Friday, 23 February
Highlanders v Blues
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With Aaron Mauger now at the helm, the Highlanders start the season with their third head coach in as many years following the departures of Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown. They’ve lost some handy players during the off-season too, including Marty Banks, Malakai Fekitoa and Patrick Osborne. While their starting XV is still formidable, I’m not convinced the Highlanders have sufficient depth within the squad to replicate their 11-4 record from the last two seasons.
The Blues enter the season with momentum having won the Brisbane Tens warm-up tournament. They boast a lot of individual talent within the squad but will have to find a way to beat their compatriots after failing to win a single fixture against Kiwi opposition last year. With the Highlanders on paper looking weaker than in previous seasons, they will see this is a genuine opportunity to amend that statistic.
Betting: the Highlanders have won their last five home fixtures against the Blues, but the winning margins were 3, 10, 8, 6, and 4 points. I would back ‘Either Team Under 12.5 Points’ in the Tri-Bets 12.5 market at 1.61 (CrownBet). For those looking for more risk, I would back the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.90 (Ladbrokes).
Rebels v Reds
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The Rebels come into this campaign on the back of a dreadful season that saw them finish rock bottom of the overall standings with a 1-1-13 record, a far cry from their 7-8 record the previous year. They have genuine cause for optimism, however, courtesy of the scrapped Force. The Rebels have brought in over ten Force players along with their head coach, David Wessels. The Rebels have also signed Will Genia from Stade Français and David Horwitz from the Waratahs. It’s just a question of how quickly the new faces can settle in and how fast Wessels can establish what his best starting XV is. They were comfortably beaten by the Brumbies and Waratahs in pre-season, but it’s always hard to read too much into those results.
After a poor 3-1-11 season in 2016 there was a buzz of optimism around the Reds at the beginning of last year, but all they could manage was a 4-11 record. They start life under new head coach Brad Thorn and have signed Jono Lance from the Force, but the side has had a few unwelcome distractions during the off-season and with so many Force players going to the Rebels, the Reds might find themselves as the weakest of the four Australian franchises this year. The question is whether they can find a way to turn pressure and possession into points this season, something they struggled badly with in 2017. They also leaked 32 points per game in 2017, with their tackling leaving much to be desired.
Betting: previous data is less reliable given how many new faces are in the Rebels squad. Perhaps the Force’s data would be more relevant! The Rebels went 1-7 at home last season, however the Reds went 1-7 on the road. The Rebels (not surprisingly) failed to win by 13+ points last season, while the Reds never won by 13+ on the road. If I had to bet on this game I would back ‘Either Team Under 12.5 Points’ in the Tri-Bets 12.5 market at 1.55 (CrownBet.
Saturday, 24 February
Sunwolves v Brumbies
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The Sunwolves managed to avoid the wooden spoon last season, with their 2 wins enough to top the Rebels. Once again they’ve been badly hampered in pre-season by the short turnaround from the Japanese Top League, so I have fears for how they’ll go this week. There are causes for optimism for the rest of the season, however. The Sunwolves have recruited former Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph and have brought in numerous Kiwi and South African players with Super Rugby experience, including Ruan Smith, Grant Hattingh, Lappies Labuschagné, Michael Leitch, Hayden Parker, Jason Emery, Gerhard van den Heever and Robbie Robinson.
The Brumbies topped the Australian conference last season, but only with a 6-9 record, compared to 10-5 the season before. The primary cause of their struggles was their listless offence, which was ranked 17th out of 18 teams last year. Perhaps new head coach Dan McKellar can turn this around following the departure of Stephen Larkham. The reason the Brumbies still managed to top the Australian conference was because their defence was easily the best in the country. Brumbies fans will welcome the fact that Christian Lealiifano returns fit and sharp from an off-season stint in Ireland, while David Pocock will return from his year-long sabbatical once he completes his recovery from a knee surgery. Pocock is due back in mid-March at the earliest.
Betting: the timing of this fixture is perfect for the Brumbies because of the lack of pre-season preparation for the Sunwolves. This time last year the Sunwolves suffered a 17-83 home mauling the hands of the Hurricanes. It’s hard to read too much into the Sunwolves’ previous stats given the huge influx of new players, but based on their struggles at the onset of last season, the Brumbies should win this comfortably. I would back the Brumbies 13+ at 1.57 (Ladbrokes).
Crusaders v Chiefs
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Last year the Crusaders won their eighth Super Rugby title, while no other side has won more than three. The fact that so many veterans have chosen to stay on suggests they feel the club has a great chance of going back to back. The forward pack, arguably the best in New Zealand, is virtually unchanged from last season, which will make the rest of the competition wince. The only downsides for the Cantabrians are they will have to play 8 domestic fixtures instead of 6 this year and they will be without Kieran Read for half of the season after he underwent surgery on his back.
Following the departures of head coach Dave Rennie, scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow and fly-half Aaron Cruden, the Chiefs have a new look and feel to them this year. Winger James Lowe has also departed after scoring 11 tries last season. The good news is new head coach Colin Cooper is vastly experienced and scrum-half Brad Weber returns after missing all of last season with a broken leg. You never know with all of the New Zealand franchises taking in new recruits from the talent-laden domestic ranks, but I’m tipping the Chiefs to finish 3rd in the New Zealand conference.
Betting: the Chiefs have won 4 of the last 6 clashes but the Crusaders have won the last 2. The Crusaders went 9-0 at home last season and 7-2 at the line, so I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.37 (Palmerbet, Unibet). The Crusaders are known for being slow starters each season, so if I were to bet in the margin market I would take the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.88 (Ladbrokes).
Waratahs v Stormers
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Like every Australian franchise, the Waratahs had a season to forget in 2017, finishing with a 4-11 record having gone 8-7 the year before. They’ve been less than the sum of their parts under Daryl Gibson, with the side regressing in each of the two years he’s been at the helm. The good news is Kurtley Beale is back this year. The Waratahs sorely missed his partnership with Bernard Foley last season. While their offence did slump in 2017, finishing 9th best in the competition, it was the Waratahs’ defence that was their undoing. After conceding 21 points per game in 2016, the Waratahs conceded an eye-watering 35 points per game in 2017. For them to have any chance of being competitive they need to get that sorted out.
The Stormers got their campaign off to a winning start last week with a 28-20 home win over the Jaguares. They took advantage of a Jaguares yellow card in the first half and led 22-6 early in the second before a yellow card swung the momentum swing the other way. The Stormers are traveling with a depleted touring squad, with hooker Bongi Mbonambi, lock Eben Etzebeth, tighthead prop Frans Malherbe, tighthead prop Michael Kumbirai and fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis out with injury.
Betting: the Stormers went 4-0 as the away favourite and 0-4 as the away underdog last season, but given how bad the Waratahs were at the end of last year it’s hard to take them at such short odds. The Stormers won their previous visit to Sydney and have won their last 4 fixtures in Australia, but I am concerned about their depleted forward pack, which was exposed against the Jaguares’ scrum last week. If I were to bet on this fixture I would back the Stormers +12.5 at 1.53 (Sportsbet). You have to go a long way back for the last time the Waratahs beat them by a bigger margin than that.
Lions v Jaguares
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The Lions got their campaign off to a positive start with a 26-19 win over the Sharks last week. The two sides were evenly matched in most departments except for the scrum, which the Lions dominated, and that proved to be the difference. It wasn’t a complete performance for the Johannesburg side, however. Their lineouts need work and they lost too much ball in contact, but early season niggles can be expected.
The Jaguares fell 20-28 to the Stormers in Cape Town last week, with a first half yellow card to fullback Joaquin Tuculet proving costly as the Stormers built a 22-6 lead. The Jaguares fought back well in the second half, however, and can take positives from that. They just need to sort out their ill-discipline, with the yellow card continuing last season’s trend of conceding at least one card per game.
Betting: all four meetings between the two have been won by the host side, however the Lions rested key players in both visits to Argentina. The Lions should win this but their head-to-head odds (1.10 to 1.14) are awfully short. The Lions’ winning margin in the Jaguares’ first season was 18 points but the margin last year was just 3 points. I would back the Jaguares +20.5 at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 25 February
Bulls v Hurricanes
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The Bulls received an unfortunately timed bye last week so this will be their first fixture of the campaign. They begin life under new head coach John Mitchell, who will aim to turn things around following the Bulls’ dismal 4-11 season, just one year after finishing with a 9-1-5 record. The high altitude Loftus Versfeld isn’t the fortress it used to be. The Bulls only won 3 out of 8 at home last season.
The Hurricanes were a try scoring machine last year and with the squad at their disposal in 2018, there’s little to suggest anything will change. The Hurricanes boast arguably the best backline in the competition and they’ve signed six players from other Super Rugby franchises along with rising star hooker Asafo Aumua from Wellington. Aumua was a revelation for New Zealand in the U20 Championship.
Betting: the Hurricanes have won their last three against the Bulls, including their two visits to Loftus Versfeld. The Bulls seemed to perform as expected at home last year, going 3-1 as the home favourite and 0-4 as the home underdog. All five of the Hurricanes’ away wins over foreign opposition last year were by 13+ points, but their away win over the Bulls was by just 14 points, so I’m on the fence regarding the 1-12/13+ market, which is in line with the 12.5-13.5 line. The bookmakers appear to have the odds for this fixture well set, so I have no recommended bet.
Best Bet of the Round
In the Highlanders v Blues fixture, back ‘Either Team Under 12.5 Points’ in the Tri-Bets 12.5 market at 1.61 (CrownBet)