The following are previews with betting tips for Round 4 of the 2018 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 9 March
Highlanders v Stormers
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Prior to their bye last week the Highlanders got their campaign off to a positive start with a 41-34 win over the Blues in a seesawing game in Dunedin. It was a great spectacle for the neutral, with Aaron Smith showing why he’s the best scrum-half in the competition, but I’m sure the Highlanders will want to tidy up their defence.
The Stormers slumped to 1-2 for the season after losing 28-45 to the rampant Crusaders last week. They were blown away 7-31 in the first half but showed great character to claw their way to 21-31 at the 55-minute mark before the Crusaders pulled away in the final 17 minutes.
Betting: the Highlanders should be too strong at home, especially with the Stormers under-strength at the moment. Over the last 12 months, 5 of the Highlanders’ 7 home wins were by 8+ points while 5 of the Stormers’ 6 away defeats were by 8+ points, so I would back the Highlanders -7.5 at 1.40 (Sportsbet).
Rebels v Brumbies
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The Rebels continued their dream start to the 2018 season by defeating the Sunwolves 37-17 in Tokyo. The influx of Force players along with Force head coach Dave Wessels has made the side a class above the one from last year. Even more positive is the fact that the Rebels still have plenty of room for improvement, with the side kicking away possession too often last week. The Rebels sit top of the Australian conference with maximum points from their first two fixtures. This week provides a great chance to distance themselves from a key conference rival. The Rebels have a welcome selection dilemma this week, with Marika Koroibete expected to be fit from a knee injury.
After escaping Tokyo with a come-from-behind win, the Brumbies slumped to a 10-18 defeat to the Reds in Brisbane last week. They were outmatched at the set-piece and while they were the only side to score any tries on the night, the Reds’ defence largely contained the Brumbies’ attack. The Brumbies were also guilty of coughing up possession too often and committed too many infringements. Poor goal kicking was also a factor, which cost them a bonus point.
Betting: the Rebels’ solitary win last season came in this very fixture and they’re vastly improved since then. The Brumbies, meanwhile, have had a poor start to the season. I would back the Rebels in the head-to-head at 1.67 (Ladbrokes).
Saturday, 10 March
Hurricanes v Crusaders
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After leading by 12 to 6 at the half last week, the Hurricanes pulled away in the second spell to thrash the Jaguares 34-9 in Argentina. Much of the win came down to a poor Jaguares’ performance, it must be said. The Hurricanes will need to find a lot of improvement if they are to see off the Crusaders this week. The good news is they have no new injury concerns. Hooker Asafo Aumua is available for selection after missing the overseas tour.
The Crusaders sit top of the New Zealand conference with maximum points claimed from their first two fixtures. They saw off the Stormers 45-28 last week, although at times it looked like the scoreline would be much more lopsided. Much like the week before, the Stormers were very much in the game at the 60-minute mark before the Crusaders pulled away in the final quarter. Last week’s win came at a cost, with fly-half Richie Mo’unga fracturing his jaw. He joins Kieran Read, Israel Dagg and Owen Franks on the sidelines. Mo’unga’s absence is a blow, because he’s been one of their star players over the last two weeks. Either Mitchell Hunt and Mike Delany will get the start in his absence.
Betting: this is the highlight of the round. The Hurricanes have lost only once at home over the last 12 months while the Crusaders have only lost once on the road. Of the last 7 clashes between the two in Wellington, only 1 was settled by 13+ points, and that was 6 years ago, so I would back both the Hurricanes 1-12 at 3.25 (Ladbrokes) and the Crusaders 1-12 at 3.50 (Ladbrokes)
Reds v Bulls
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The Reds bounced back from their demoralising Round 1 defeat to the Rebels by seeing off the Brumbies 18-10 at home. They failed to score a try and picked up a yellow card, but the Reds defended valiantly to secure the win. It wasn’t a pretty game, with both teams making numerous errors and committing too many infringements, but the Reds can take positives from their physical defensive performance and strong set-pieces.
The Bulls paid the price for ill-discipline as they fell 35-49 to the Lions at home to move to 1-1 for the season. The scores were level at 21-21 in the 50-minute mark, but two yellow cards in quick succession saw the Bulls fall out of the contest while down to 13 men. Another key to the defeat was the fact that they came off second best at the set-piece and they didn’t have sufficient answers to the Lions’ driving maul. The scoreline actually flattered the Pretoria side, who scored two very late tries to add some respectability to the scoreboard.
Betting: historically the home side has dominated this fixture, with every clash won by the host dating back to 2010. The Bulls have been more competitive in Queensland than the Reds have been in Pretoria, however, with the Reds having not won by double digits for over 8 years. Neither side is exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment, so I don’t see either team blowing the other away. I would back both the Reds 1-12 at 3.20 (Ladbrokes) and the Bulls 1-12 at 3.50 (Ladbrokes).
Sunday, 11 March
Sharks v Sunwolves
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The Sharks remain winless after drawing the Waratahs 24-24 at home in a poor quality game last week. Both sides made too many handling mistakes to go with errant passing and set-piece errors, so it’s clear the Sharks have a lot of work to do if they are to make a push for the playoffs.
After looking competitive early on in the contest, with the scores locked at 10-all at halftime, the Sunwolves fell away badly last week to lose 17-37 at home to the Rebels. The defeat came at a cost, with centre Timothy Lafaele, winger Akihito Yamada and fly-half Hayden Parker leaving the field with head knocks in the first half, followed by lock Sam Wykes with a head injury in the second half.
Betting: the line opened at -17.5 but has since blown out to -24.5, with punters staying well clear of the Sunwolves. The last time they visited Durban they only lost by 11 points, however the Sunwolves’ injuries are a concern. I’m not sure who will be available for them, so at this stage I have no recommended bet.
Lions v Blues
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The Lions remain at the top of the table after a convincing bonus point 49-35 win over the ill-disciplined Bulls in Pretoria. The Lions are known for their back line flair, but much of their victory came down to their pack dominance in the set-piece and their driving maul. The Lions, along with the Crusaders, look to be the teams to beat at the moment.
Last week the Blues squandered a number of chances as they fell 21-27 at home to the severely depleted Chiefs. With some of the individual talent within the squad, Blues are an incredibly dangerous side, but too often they let themselves down with poor finishing as they remain less than the sum of their parts. The defeat extended their winless run against Kiwi sides to two years. To add insult to injury, captain Augustine Pulu has been ruled out for six weeks with a foot injury. Furthermore, the team had to delay their trip to South Africa for 24 hours due to an engineering problem with the plane.
Betting: the Lions should be too clinical and precise for the mercurial Blues. I would back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.34 (William Hill).
Jaguares v Waratahs
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The Jaguares put in a dreadful performance in their 9-34 defeat to the Hurricanes last week. They were only down 6-12 at the break but were blown away in the second half as they failed to string phases together or put the Hurricanes under any sustained pressure. The Jaguares also managed to butcher every one of their scoring opportunities. The good news is they finally managed to go 80 minutes without conceding a card!
Bernard Foley slotted a late sideline conversion to give the Waratahs a deserved 24-24 draw with the Sharks in Durban last week. It was a poor quality game, littered with handling mistakes, errant passing and set-piece errors, but two points from a fixture in South Africa is always a good result. The Waratahs have received a possible blow, with Kurtley Beale in doubt due to a rib injury.
Betting: this has the potential to be a poor quality game. The Jaguares should have the better of the Waratahs’ scrum, but can they build upon that without shooting themselves in the foot? The only previous meeting between the two sides was won by the Jaguares 40-27 in Sydney. Given they’ve have a full week at home while the Waratahs have had to make the trip over, I would back the Jaguares +10.5 at 1.40 (Sportsbet). The Waratahs haven’t won an away game by more than 8 points over the last 12 months.
Best Bets of the Round