The following are previews with betting tips for the quarter-finals of the 2019 Super Rugby season.
Please note that to take advantage of odds before they possibly shorten, these previews are published before the team sheets are announced. Those who are more risk averse may prefer to wait for the squad lists before wagering.
Friday, 21 June
Crusaders vs Highlanders
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Prior to their bye last week the Crusaders bounced back from their shock defeat to the Chiefs in Fiji by smashing the Rebels 66-0 in Christchurch. Fly-half Richie Mo’unga in particular had a fantastic game and the side defended well. The win has put the rest of the competition on notice following a relatively poor run. In team news, prop Owen Franks is on track to return to the side after being out since April and hooker Codie Taylor could also return.
After fearing they had blown their chance of making the playoffs when they drew the Bulls a fortnight ago, the Highlanders squeaked into the finals with a bonus point 49-12 win over the under-strength Waratahs in Dunedin. The visitors were missing five Wallabies, not including Israel Folau, but the Highlanders did well to put the visitors to the sword in such emphatic fashion. My fear for the southerners, however, is they went 1-2-2 in the five games prior to that, which isn’t the ideal form to take into Christchurch. In team news, All Blacks fullback Ben Smith is expected to return this week after being sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring injury.
Betting: the Crusaders are unbeaten in their last 27 home fixtures and they have gone 21-0 at home in playoffs rugby. The Highlanders, meanwhile, have won fewer games than three sides that missed out on the playoffs. The Highlanders arguably wouldn’t have made the finals had their fixture against the Crusaders earlier in the season been cancelled and called a draw. I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.20 (Betfair). Of the Crusaders’ 12 home wins over the last 12 months, 11 were by 13+ points and of the Crusaders’ last 8 home wins over the Highlanders, 7 were by 13+, so for those looking for more risk I would back the Crusaders -12.5 at 1.88 (TopBetta).
Saturday, 22 June
Jaguares vs Chiefs
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The Jaguares secured the second overall seed by thrashing the Sunwolves 52-10 in Argentina. They now enter the playoffs in hot form. The Jaguares have won 9 of their last 10 matches, including the last 5 in a row. There is no getting around the fact that this is virtually a Test match side.
The Chiefs booked their place in the playoffs by crushing the Rebels 59-8 in Melbourne. After starting the season 0-1-4 thy have since gone 7-1-3. After an injury-plagued campaign, the Chiefs enter the playoffs in the best form of their season, with captain Sam Cane’s recent return from injury giving them a huge boost. The return of Brodie Retallick one week out from the playoffs has given them a further lift.
Betting: the Chiefs have won both of their previous visits to Argentina, including a 30-27 win in March. The Jaguares look the best they’ve ever been, however, with only the Hurricanes matching their 9-1 run to finish the season. All three previous meetings between the two were settled by 4 points or less, so I would back both the Jaguares 1-12 at 2.88 (Sportsbet) and the Chiefs 1-12 at 3.50 (bet365).
Hurricanes vs Bulls
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The Hurricanes fielded an under-strength side and came from 5-24 down to see off the Blues 29-24 last week to finish the season with an impressive 12-1-2 record. Had it not been for the conference system they would have been the second overall seed. Captain Dane Coles’ return from injury has given the side a welcome boost in recent weeks so they will head into the playoffs full of confidence. The side will also be relatively fresh given the Barrett brothers, along with Ngani Laumape, Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara were rested last week.
The Bulls booked their place in the playoffs with a dominant 48-27 win over the Lions in Pretoria last week. Handré Pollard contributed 18 points, which included a try and two assists, while Duane Vermeulen also impressed. The Bulls had only just returned home from a four-game tour of Australasia. The late tour scheduling may hurt them as they have had to cross the Indian Ocean for the third time in five weeks. This trip to New Zealand was delayed by a day, which has thrown their preparations off schedule. Burger Odendaal is in serious doubt for this clash and Schalk Brits will have to overcome a severe bout of the flu if he is to play. In better news, the Bulls have Jesse Kriel, Warrick Gelant and Rosko Specman recently back from injury.
Betting: the Bulls have won 2 of their 3 most recent visits to Wellington, but I am mindful that the hosts looked to have peaked at the right time. The Hurricanes have gone 7-1 as the home favourite over the last 12 months so I would back the Hurricanes in the head-to-head at 1.18 (Unibet).
Brumbies vs Sharks
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The Brumbies saw off the Reds 40-27 in Canberra last week to notch their 6th consecutive win. After starting the season 2-5 the Brumbies roared home with a 8-1 run to win the Australian conference by 14 points. They have been flying under the radar this season, which has suited them nicely. One improvement on the side compared to prior seasons is they have been more varied in their attacking approach. The Brumbies have used their backs to greater effect whilst still making good use of their driving maul. This has seen them rise from having the 12th best offensive stats in 2018 to the 6th best this year.
The Sharks secured the 6th seed with a last-gasp 12-9 win over the Stormers in Cape Town last week. They scored an 82nd minute try to steal a game that could have gone either way, but credit must go to the Sharks’ defence which kept the hosts tryless. Defence has been the Sharks’ strength all season. They boast the 2nd best defensive record this year, compared to the 14th best offensive stats. In team news, Tendai Mtawarira has not made the trip due to a knee injury, which is a major blow. Philip van der Walt and Jean-Luc du Preez have also been left at home. In better news, Craig Burden and Curwin Bosch have recovered from their respective injuries and are in the touring squad.
Betting: the Brumbies have won their last seven at home while the Sharks enter the finals having gone 2-1-3 in their last six games. The Sharks are a dangerous team, however, due to their mercurial nature. They are the only team since 2016 to avoid defeat in Christchurch. I’m backing the Brumbies nevertheless due to their strong home form and the fact that the Sharks are under-strength. I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.42 (TopBetta).
Best Bet of the Round
Back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.20 (Betfair)