The following are previews with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2019 Super Rugby season.
If you have not done so already, be sure to check out our Super Rugby season preview, which contains futures betting tips.
Friday, 15 February
Chiefs vs Highlanders
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The Chiefs faded in the second half of last season, going 6-4 after starting 5-1, but they were hampered by a bad run of injuries. In the off-season they incurred a large net loss of experience with Liam Messam, Tim Nanai-Williams and Charlie Ngatai among those departing. After a bad run of injuries last year this season hasn’t started much better, with co-captain Sam Cane likely to miss the entire season with a neck injury and Tiaan Falcon ruled out for the season with an Achilles tendon injury. The Chiefs will feature four debutants this week, including highly rated Sevens player Etene Nanai-Seturo. Orbyn Leger will debut at fly-half in place of the injured Damian McKenzie.
The Highlanders have maintained the nucleus of last season’s side with one key omission: fly-half Lima Sopoaga. Josh Ioane has been given the No. 10 jersey this week but he may not be their first-choice fly-half for the season, given the number of key players rested from either the starting line-up or matchday squad. Ioane will partner Kayne Hammington in the halves, with All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith starting from the bench. With Waisake Naholo being rested and Tevita Nabura ruled out for the season with a torn ACL, Tevita Li and Matt Faddes have been named on the wings.
Betting: the Chiefs started as -2.5 favourites but their poor pre-season showing against the Blues and Damian McKenzie’s absence has contributed to them drifting to +1.5 underdogs. Both sides will be starting with new halves combinations, which muddies the waters. All five of the previous meetings between the two at FMG Stadium have gone under the total, while 7 of the Highlanders’ 9 away fixtures last season went under, so I would be inclined to back under the total when it is published.
Brumbies vs Rebels
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The Brumbies had a 2018 season to forget but they did finish the campaign by winning 4 of the last 5 fixtures, so they will be hoping to carry that form into this season. They had the 4th best defence in the competition last year but defensive coach Peter Ryan has departed, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep their defensive standards up. The Brumbies have named a strong squad for this clash, with 11 of the starting XV having international experience. James Slipper, signed from the Reds, starts at prop this week.
Bolstered by the acquisition of Western Force players, the Rebels were the competition’s most improved side last season, going from 1 win in 2017 to 7 wins in 2018. The squad has been further strengthened this off-season with over a half a dozen players added who have Super Rugby experience. The most notable new additions are Isi Naisarani from the Brumbies and Quade Cooper from the Reds, while the biggest departure is Amanaki Mafi. Will Genia will link up with his old partner Cooper this week, with the two players named as the halves. Adam Coleman and Reece Hodge aren’t at full fitness and have been left out of the squad.
Betting: the Reds did the double over the Brumbies last season but they finished the season with 3 consecutive losses while the Brumbies stormed home with 4 wins from 5.
I don’t have a strong opinion on any of the key markets for this clash so I will sit this one out.
Saturday, 16 February
Blues vs Crusaders
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The Blues begin life with Leon MacDonald at the helm after Tana Umaga was demoted to assistant coach. Despite the failings of recent years there has been a good vibe around the side this off-season. Auckland won the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup and the Blues have enjoyed pre-season wins over the Chiefs and Hurricanes. Much has been made of the singing of Ma’a Nonu, but Karl Tu’inukuafe could prove to be their best acquisition as they look to bolster their pack. Fly-half Otere Black is back to full fitness after missing last season with a knee injury, which is welcome news.
The Crusaders will be aiming to achieve a three-peat this season and with the squad at their disposal, you would have to be bold to bet against them. They haven’t lost any significant names during the off-season short of veteran Wyatt Crockett, who struggled to make the match-day squad near the end of the campaign. At the same time they have secured promising Tasman outside back Leicester Faingaanuku. The Crusaders boast the best forward pack in New Zealand and they had both the best offensive and defensive records last season. Over the past two years the Crusaders have lost just three games in total. The icing on the cake is that fly-half Richie Mo’unga has been looking better all the time. The only issues are that Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Codie Taylor will be out for the first four rounds or so, and this is a World Cup year, so they will have to rest key players at times during the season. The last time Super Rugby coincided with a World Cup year the Crusaders finished 4th in the New Zealand conference and failed to make the playoffs!
Betting: the Crusaders bring a 15-game winning streak into this clash while the Blues have lost 5 of their last 6 fixtures. You have to back to Round 1 of 2016 for the last time the Blues defeated a Kiwi side, so I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.38 (Unibet).
Waratahs vs Hurricanes
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The Waratahs improved markedly last season, finishing with 9 wins compared to 4 the year before. They were decent against Kiwi teams in 2018, winning twice with two of their three defeats coming by 3 points or less. They boast a high powered offence, which scored the second most points in the competition last season, but if the Waratahs are to become title contenders they must sort out their defence, which was ranked 10th last year with 28 points conceded per game. After starting with a 5-1-1 record, the Waratahs went 4-5 for the rest of the season, which is a concern. They will have to do without Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro, who has departed after scoring 15 tries for them last season.
The Hurricanes begin life under new head coach John Plumtree, who is their former assistant coach. They welcome back All Blacks hooker and team captain Dane Coles from injury, but some departing players including Brad Shields leave them looking a little light in the locks and loose forwards. This isn’t helped by Sam Lousi’s chest injury, which will keep him out for the medium to long term. In team news, All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett will miss this clash due to being rested.
Betting: the Hurricanes bring a five-game losing streak away from home into this clash. The last time they visited Sydney was during their 2016 title-winning season, which they won by 11 points. On paper they have regressed since then while the Waratahs have strengthened, so I would back the Waratahs +8.5 at 1.83 (Ladbrokes, Betstar, Bookmaker).
Sunwolves vs Sharks
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The Sunwolves are more of a Barbarians team than a Japanese side now that they’ve signed eight Kiwis to bolster their already heavy foreign contingent. They had a poor 3-13 record last season, but the silver lining is they went 3-4 in the second half of the season after a 0-9 start. The problem for the Sunwolves is with so many new squad members each year, they always start each season slowly. The club has yet to win a game prior to Round 7 in any given year. If the Sunwolves are to have any chance of avoiding the wooden spoon they need to shore up their defence, which conceded an eye-watering 99 tries last season – 33 more than any other team.
The Sharks were notoriously inconsistent last season, which much of their form coming down to location. They only lost one home fixture but only won once away from Durban. Unlike the Sunwolves they have had relatively little player turnover during the off-season, so will be fielding a settled side.
Betting: despite their poor 2018 season, the Sunwolves actually bring a three-game home winning streak into this fixture while the Sharks bring a 5-game away losing streak into this clash. What scares me off backing the Sunwolves, however, is their terrible record early in the season. With so much uncertainty over the new-look Sunwolves squad and the short odds on the Sharks, I will sit this one out.
Sunday, 17 February
Bulls vs Stormers
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The Bulls made some improvements in 2018, finishing 12th compared to 15th the season before, but that’s of small consolation to their fans given the side’s past successes. They have made some promising acquisitions in the off-season, bringing in veterans Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Britz along with a trio of speedsters from the South Africa sevens side. Another piece of good news is Lood de Jager is back to full fitness after missing the end of last season with injury. The Bulls begin life under new coach Pote Human following the departure of John Mitchell after just one year. If the Bulls are to push for a playoff spot they (like a number of South African teams) must improve their away form. The Bulls won just one away fixture last season.
The Stormers regressed badly last season, finishing with a 6-10 record compared to 10-5 the season before. They were particularly bad on the road, where they failed to win a single game. Much of their situation was due to their listless offence, which scored fewer tries than any other side in the competition. A lot of the blame for last season was directed at head coach Robbie Fleck, and he is still at the helm. There have been some off-field distractions in pre-season relating to a board power struggle within the Western Province Rugby Football Union, which isn’t helping matters. There is some good news, however. The Stormers welcome back world-class lock Eben Etzebeth from injury and they have recruited new faces from the Western Province side that finished 2nd in the Currie Cup last year.
Betting: the Stormers bring an 8-game losing streak away from home into this clash while the Bulls went 3-1 as the home favourite last season. I would back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.67 (Sportsbet).
Jaguares vs Lions
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The Jaguares made the playoffs for the first time last season, with only bonus points separating them from the Lions at the top of the South African conference. The Jaguares finished on a 7-2 run after a 2-5 start to the campaign, which also bodes well. One big issue, however, is the departure of fly-half Nicolas Sanchez. No other fly-half had any significant minutes last season and Juan Martin Hernandez has retired. The second issue is that head coach Mario Ledesma has departed and new coach Gonzalo Quesada has never coached outside of France. If these two issues turn out to be minor then the Jaguares could actually win the South African conference, but their lack of succession management for Sanchez could turn out to be a major problem. Only time will tell.
The Lions made their third successive final last season, but it was on the back of a 9-7 regular season campaign, compared to 14-1 the year before. In Swys de Bruin’s first season in charge they slipped from conceding 19 points per game in 2017 to 27 in 2018, which was the key contributor to their regression. The Lions have since lost some big names during the off-season, most notably Franco Mostert and Jaco Kriel. The good news is they have retained the services of hooker Malcolm Marx, who is one of the best players in the competition. The Lions have never tasted victory in Argentina but in two of their three matches they brought over second-string squads. This time round they have opted to field a strong squad, featuring eight Springboks in the starting XV and another one on the bench.
Betting: this fixture could have huge implications for the South African conference given the two sides finished 1st and 2nd in the South African conference last year. The Jaguares will sorely miss Nicolas Sanchez, while the Lions will be weaker for Franco Mostert’s departure. Given the Jaguares bring a three-game winning streak into this clash and the Lions lost by double digits even when bringing over a strong squad last season, I would back the Jaguares +3.5 at 1.90 (Unibet).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.38 (Unibet)