The following are previews with betting tips for Round 6 of the 2019 Super Rugby season.
Friday, 22 March
Blues vs Highlanders
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Prior to their bye last week the Blues defeated the fast-improving Sunwolves 28-20 to move to 1-3 for the season. Winger Rieko Ioane was the star as he scored four tries after having not previously scored this season. The Blues have had arguably the toughest opening schedule of the campaign and can take positives from the fact that they pushed the Crusaders all the way in Week 1 and have their tour of South Africa and Argentina over and done with. Their next run of fixtures won’t see them leave New Zealand until May. In team news, Sonny Bill Williams isn’t participating this week.
The Highlanders’ fixture against the Crusaders last week was cancelled due to the Christchurch massacre. The week prior to that the Highlanders slumped to 2-2 for the season after they lost 22-25 to the Hurricanes in Wellington. They dominated large parts of the game and bested the Hurricanes’ set piece, but came undone by mistakes and late penalties, including one in the 81st minute. Apart from the notable departure of Lima Sopoaga, the Highlanders are almost the same team as last year, but they haven’t been able to find their rhythm this season. In team news, the Highlanders have named a strong squad for this clash. Marty Banks gets the start at fly-half with Josh Ioane starting from the bench.
Betting: the Highlanders have won 6 of the last 7 clashes between the two, including the last 4 straight, but they haven’t looked themselves this season. Since Week 1 of 2016 the Blues have gone 0-1-19 against domestic opponents, but there are signs that they are more competitive this season. I’m tipping a close match so I will back both the Blues 1-12 at 3.60 (bet365) and the Highlanders 1-12 at 2.80 (bet365).
Saturday, 23 March
Hurricanes vs Stormers
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Hamilton continues to be a luckless ground for the Hurricanes after they drew the struggling Chiefs 23-all last week. The Hurricanes have now won just one of their last ten fixtures at that venue. Both sides had opportunities to steal the win but errors undid their cause. The Hurricanes will be more than happy to return home, where they boast a 12-game winning streak. They haven’t been playing well so far this season, however, so improvement is required based on the Stormers’ promising showing last week.
The Stormers shredded the Jaguares 35-8 last week to move to 3-1 for the season. They were particularly dominant in the second half as they held the visitors scoreless. It was the Stormers’ most impressive performance of the season, so they obviously used the Round 4 bye to good effect after some insipid offensive performances prior to that. Despite their previous offensive struggles, the Cape Town side is undefeated since Round 1. The Stormers have no new injury concerns and have named all 23 squad members from last week’s clash in the touring squad. They now embark on a four-week tour of New Zealand and Australia. The Stormers went 0-5 on foreign soil last year, with even the Sunwolves beating them, so it’s no surprise to see them as the heavy underdogs this week.
Betting: the Stormers played well last week but I can’t overlook the Hurricanes’ strong form at home and the visitors’ 1-6 away record (both in the head-to-head and the line) over the last 12 months. I expect the Hurricanes to win, but given the Stormers have the 3rd best defensive record this season, I’m going to back the Stormers +23.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.36 (Sportsbet). They have never lost to the Hurricanes by a margin bigger than 23 points in the 10 years of data I have at hand and the Hurricanes have only had one strong performance out of five so far this season.
Waratahs vs Crusaders
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The Waratahs fell 13-19 to the Brumbies in Canberra last week to move to 2-2 for the season. Their forwards came off second best in the clash as the Brumbies used the rolling maul to good effect while two Waratahs’ forwards were yellow carded. They now take on the best forward pack in New Zealand so they have their work cut out for them.
The Crusaders’ fixture against the Highlanders was cancelled last week due to the Christchurch massacre. The week before that the Crusaders put on another classy performance as they thrashed the woeful Chiefs 57-28. They were ruthless on the counter attack as they ran in nine tries in that match. Their winning streak stands at 19 games. We’ve only had four rounds, but things are already looking ominous, with the Crusaders leading the competition in points scored, with their 35 points per game a full five points better than the next best team. For good measure they also have the 4th best defensive record. This has been achieved despite starting without All Blacks forwards Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock for the first five weeks.
Betting: the Crusaders have won their last 3 against the Waratahs but will be wary of how hard the Waratahs pushed them last season. The Crusaders won this fixture by 19 points in 2017, but the Waratahs have improved markedly since then, as evident by their 2-point loss in Christchurch a year later. Given the Waratahs have gone 3-0 at the line as the home underdog over the last 12 months while the Crusaders have yet to win an away game by more than 10 points this season, I will back the Waratahs +17.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.53 (Sportsbet).
Sunwolves vs Lions
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The Sunwolves led 21-5 at halftime but slipped to a 31-34 home defeat to the Reds last week to slide to 1-4 for the season. The refereeing in the second half didn’t help their cause, but they need to find a way to close out games when in a commanding position. The win-loss record is slightly harsh on the Japanese side given two of their four defeats came by 3 points or less. The news during the week is that the Sunwolves will be axed from the competition after 2020, with the push to the exit largely driven by the South African teams. The side will have a point to prove in the meantime.
The Lions pulled the rabbit out of the hat by coming back from 28 points down to defeat the Rebels 36-33 at home last week. The 20-1 penalty count in their favour has raised eyebrows, but the side must be applauded for the way in which they fought back. The Lions are now 3-2 for the season but their title credentials look flimsy based on their recent defensive performances, with their last three opponents scoring 30, 39 and 33 points.
Betting: this fixture is being played in Singapore, which isn’t as strong a “home” venue for the Sunwolves due to the less vociferous crowd. The Lions beat the Sunwolves 94-7 in 2017 but only just scraped past them 40-38 a year later. The Lions have gone 1-5 at the line as the away favourite over the last 12 months so I will back the Sunwolves +12.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.62 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 24 March
Bulls vs Chiefs
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Prior to their bye last week the Bulls extended their strong start to the season by defeating the Sharks 37-14 in Pretoria. Handre Pollard continues to be a point-scoring machine as he contributed 22 points through the boot. This was on the back of a 40-3 win over the Stormers and 30-12 win over the Lions. The Bulls enter this clash boasting the best defensive record in the competition along with the 3rd best offensive record. Only one opponent has scored more than 14 points against them this season.
The Chiefs held the Hurricanes to a 23-all draw in Hamilton last week, with a penalty miss by Damian McKenzie proving costly. Both sides had opportunities to win the game but came undone by mistakes. The Chiefs remain winless with a 0-1-4 record for the season. One positive from last week was the improved defensive performance, with the side conceding 23 points compared to the 43 points on average leading up to that game.
Betting: the Bulls have been playing the better rugby this season and they are at home at altitude and fresh off a bye. They are undefeated at home against the Chiefs over the last decade and the Chiefs last visited Pretoria in 2014, so this will be an unfamiliar venue for much of the touring squad. The Bulls have gone 5-1 as the away favourite over the last 12 months while the Chiefs have gone 1-4 as the away underdog, so I will back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.43 (Unibet). I was able to get them at 1.50 odds earlier in the week, but with some bookmakers offering odds as low as 1.38, it wouldn’t surprise me if they shorten further ahead of kick-off.
Sharks vs Rebels
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Prior to their bye last week the Sharks fell 14-37 to the Bulls in Pretoria to slide to 2-2 for the season after starting 2-0. Against the Bulls they were shut out 19-0 in the first half and were constantly playing catch up on the scoreboard. This was on the back of a listless performance against the Stormers so perhaps the bye came at a good time. In recent seasons the Sharks have been much more formidable at home than on the road, so with 4 of their next 5 fixtures being played in Durban, this is a crucial part of the season for them. In team news, centre Jeremy Ward has been suspended for five weeks for a dangerous tackle.
After mounting a come-from-behind win over the Brumbies two weeks ago, the Rebels blew a 28-point lead to fall 36-33 to the Lions in Johannesburg. They led 26-5 at halftime and scored 33 unanswered points at one stage but imploded in the second half. Ill-discipline was their undoing. A 47th minute yellow card (the first of two) turned the game and the Rebels conceded an eye-watering 20 penalties to 1, although many have pointed to the biased nature of refereeing in South Africa. It was, however, the second game running that the Rebels picked up two yellow cards. They’ll be gutted by the defeat but can take positives from their competitive performance.
Betting: the Rebels have yet to win on South African soil but they came awfully close last week and the last time they visited Durban they drew 9-9. Based on the opening lines of 1.58/2.40 I would have backed the Sharks, but the odds have since shifted to 1.43/2.85 with the line moving from 4.5 to 7.5. The Rebels have gone 5-2 at the line as the away underdog over the last 12 months and given the Sharks went 0-1-2 against Australian sides last year, if I were to be on this fixture I would take the Rebels +11.5 in the pick your own line market at 1.50 (Sportsbet).
Reds vs Brumbies
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After tailing by 5-21 at halftime the Reds kicked a late penalty to see off the Sunwolves 34-31 in Tokyo last week. The reserves bench came to the rescue as all three players introduced in the second half got on the score-sheet. It was the Reds’ first win of the season after a tough opening schedule. The side has shown a great work ethic but they are definitely still a work in progress.
The Brumbies dominated the Waratahs’ pack as they defeated them 19-13 last week to move to 2-3 for the season. They have been using the driving maul from line-outs to good effect this season.
The Brumbies now sit just two points behind the Rebels and one point ahead of the Waratahs in the congested Australian conference.
Betting: the Reds have won their last two home fixtures against the Brumbies while the visitors have gone 2-5 away from home over the last 12 months. The Reds have gone 5-2 at the line at home over the last year so I would back the Reds +3.5 at 1.95 (Neds).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Bulls in the head-to-head at 1.43 (Unibet)