The following are previews with betting tips for Round 15 of the 2018 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 25 May
Crusaders v Hurricanes
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The Crusaders picked up their 8th consecutive win last week as they saw off the Blues 32-24 in a bruising encounter in Auckland. The damage was done in the first half as the Crusaders led 29-12 at the break, but they only managed to add 3 points to their tally in the second spell, despite dominating territory. Of concern is their disciplinary record, with Owen Franks joining Joe Moody on the suspended list. The suspensions mean the Crusaders will be without three All Blacks props this weekend because Tim Perry is out for at least four weeks with a hamstring injury. The Crusaders will also be without Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty due to head knocks, while Manasa Mataele has a hamstring problem.
Perhaps with one eye on their upcoming fixtures, the Hurricanes put in an listless defensive performance and only just saw off the struggling Reds 38-34 in Wellington last week. The win extended their winning streak to 10 games, but having won their previous 4 fixtures by comfortable margins, the hard-fought win might have served as a wake-up call regarding any complacency. No doubt the Hurricanes will up their intensity this week as this fixture has huge implications for the New Zealand conference. Try scoring machine Ben Lam missed out on All Blacks selection midweek and will likely have a point to prove against a side that has 10 players called up for the series against France. With Vince Aso ruled out for the rest of the season and Matt Proctor currently sidelined, the Hurricanes are short in the centres, so Jordie Barrett might get the No.13 jersey this week.
Betting: with both sides bringing long winning streaks into this fixture and with only 1 point separating them in the standings, this is a mouth-watering clash. It’s just a shame that neither side is at full strength. A win is more vital for the Crusaders because the Hurricanes have a game in hand, but any ascendancy the Crusaders might have in the forwards has been decimated by injuries and suspensions. I will side with the Hurricanes 1-12 at 3.25 (bet365). Ten of the last 13 meetings between the two have been settled by 12 points or less.
Rebels v Sunwolves
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Prior to their bye last week the Rebels fought back from 21-3 down to beat the Brumbies 27-24 in Canberra. They were second best for 60 minutes but scored 3 quick tries between the 61st and 65th minutes to steal the win and move to 5-6 for the season. The Brumbies have been poor all year, but nevertheless the Rebels will be pleased to have returned to winning ways after their thrashing against the Crusaders. They will also be pleased to have found a way to win without Will Genia. Reece Hodge gets the start at fly-half this week with the out of sorts Jack Debreczeni dropped from the matchday 23. Dane Haylett-Petty, Sefa Naivalu, Ben Daley and Jordan Uelese all return this week, while Genia remains sidelined.
The Sunwolves picked up their first ever back-to-back wins as they saw off the Stormers 26-23 in Hong Kong last week to improve to 2-9 for the season. Kiwi-born Hayden Parker continues to shine as his late drop goal sealed the win. This was on the back of his 12 from 12 kicking performance the week before. After letting games get blown out in the final quarter earlier in the season, the Sunwolves have finished the stronger of the two sides in both of their wins, which is an indicator of their improved fitness.
Betting: the line opened as tight as +9.5 after the Sunwolves win, but it has since blown out to +24.5. With the Sunwolves showing good signs of improvement, I expect they’ll keep the Rebels honest. I would back the Sunwolves +24.5 at 1.90 (Ladbrokes, William Hill).
Saturday, 26 May
Jaguares v Sharks
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The Jaguares picked up their 5th consecutive win last week as they thrashed the Bulls 54-24. Only 10 points separated the two sides at the break but the Jaguares pulled away in the second spell for a convincing victory. Their 4 previous wins were all by 7 points or less, so the 30-point margin really put an exclamation point on the resurgence of a side that was 1-4 earlier in the season.
The Sharks picked up a critical 28-24 win over the under-strength Chiefs last week to keep pace with the Jaguares in the battle for the final two playoff spots. They are now 3-1 for the season against Kiwi opponents, with their solitary loss a 1-point defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington, so the Sharks will be a dangerous side if they can make the playoffs. Their final four fixtures are all against conference opponents so their destiny is in their own hands.
Betting: the Sharks have won all four of their previous fixtures against the Jaguares, but three of those wins were by 5 points or less. With the Sharks having gone 1-6 away from home over the last 12 months, I would back the Jaguares in the head-to-head at 1.45 (William Hill).
Chiefs v Waratahs
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The Chiefs fielded a depleted squad last week, missing Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown, and fell 24-28 to the Sharks in Durban. Their last six fixtures have alternated between wins and defeats, and while the Chiefs should still make the playoffs, their patchy record will need to improve if they are to avoid playing a first or second seed in the first round.
The Waratahs thrashed the Highlanders 41-12 last week in Sydney to end Australia’s 40-game losing streak to New Zealand sides. The win also ended the Waratahs’ own 9-game losing streak to Kiwi opponents. The Highlanders shot themselves in the foot by conceding both a red card and a yellow card in the first half, but credit to the Waratahs for bouncing back from last week’s heart-breaking defeat to the Crusaders. They were patient in build-up play and clinical with their finishing. The Waratahs now enjoy a 6-point lead at the top of the Australian conference and looking at the rest of their schedule, this week is arguably their last remaining tough fixture. Their final four fixtures are all against Australian opposition, so the Waratahs’ destiny is firmly in their own hands.
Betting: the Waratahs have won 5 of their last 7 fixtures against the Chiefs and while the home side has gone 5-1 in the head-to-head at home over the last 12 months, they’ve gone 1-5 at the line. The Waratahs, meanwhile, have gone 4-0 at the line as the away underdog. I would back the Waratahs +10.5 at 1.90 (Ladbrokes, William Hill).
Reds v Highlanders
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The Reds bounced back from their terrible performance against the Sunwolves by putting in strong display against the Hurricanes, which saw them lose 34-38 in Wellington. Every time it looked like the Hurricanes might pull away the Reds bounced back with a try of their own. While they didn’t get the win it was a hugely improved performance from the one two weeks ago, which will give them belief heading into this fixture. The Reds are 4-7 for the season, but have only played 4 home games so far. At Suncorp Stadium the Reds are 3-1. They will be without James Slipper for the rest of the season after he was stood down from all forms of rugby for two months for twice breaching Rugby Australia’s illicit drugs policy.
The Highlanders’ away form continues to be a problem after they were comfortably beaten 41-12 in Sydney last week. In the away fixture before that they lost 38-12 to the Sharks. A common theme away from Dunedin is the Highlanders’ lack of territory and possession. Against weaker sides they do enough with it to win, but they’ve been found seriously wanting against better opposition. What really hurt the Highlanders last week, however, was ill-discipline, as they received both a red card and a yellow card. The Highlanders are now 5-0 at home and 2-4 away from Dunedin. In team news, All Blacks Ben Smith, Luke Whitelock, Shannon Frizell and Liam Coltman are being rested this week, while winger Tevita Nabura has returned to New Zealand and will likely face a multi-week ban for foul play committed last week. Regular No.9 Aaron Smith has been rotated to the bench with Kayne Hammington getting the start. Head coach Aaron Mauger is away for family reasons so assistant Mark Hammett will manage the side in his absence.
Betting: the Reds have gone 4-1 at the line at home over the last 12 months while the Highlanders have gone 2-6 in both the head-to-head and the line away from home. The Highlanders have lost each of their last 4 visits to Brisbane and with their 2-4 away record this season and absentees in the ranks, I will side with the Reds at the line. I would back the Reds +12.5 at 1.89 (bet365).
Bulls v Brumbies
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The Bulls have won just 1 of their last 4 games after they were comprehensively beaten 24-54 by the Jaguares in Argentina last week. They did their best to hang on until half time, but had few answers in the second spell as the Jaguares racked up 7 tries and a bonus point. The Bulls lie 10th in the overall standings and 4 points off a playoff spot, so they are at risk of falling out of playoff contention quickly if they can’t turn things around.
The Brumbies slumped to a 5th consecutive defeat last week as they lost 24-42 to the Lions in Johannesburg. They had few answers to the home side’s pack and their use of the driving maul, but the real killers were the yellow and red cards for ill-discipline. The Canberra side now languishes in 4th place in the Australian conference and 12 points adrift of a playoff spot, so it hasn’t been a successful debut for coach Dan McKellar following Stephen Larkham’s departure. The Brumbies will be without lock Rory Arnold due to a three-week suspension for a dangerous tackle.
Betting: the Bulls have won 3 of their last 4 home fixtures against the Brumbies and with the visitors having gone 2-6 away from home over the last 12 months, I would back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.33 (bet365).
Sunday, 27 May
Stormers v Lions
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The Stormers continue to be a Jekyll and Hyde team home and away after they fell 23-26 to the lowly Sunwolves in Hong Kong last week. They are now 5-1 at home and 0-7 away from Cape Town this season. They led at halftime and only relinquished that lead in the 65th minute, so the Stormers will be disappointed to have not seen off an opponent that has a reputation for fading late in games.
The Lions bounced back from their 1-3 Australian tour with a 42-24 win over the Brumbies in Johannesburg last week. They employed the driving maul to great effect, scoring three tries from the attacking move. They enjoy a 7-point lead at the top of the South African conference, but must be wary of the Jaguares and Sharks, who both have a game in hand.
Betting: the Lions are undefeated in their last 4 fixtures against the Stormers, so I would back the Lions in the head-to-head at 1.58 (Ladbrokes).
Best Bet of the Round