The following are previews with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2020 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.
Futures tips are provided in our 2020 Super Rugby season preview.
Friday, 31 January
Blues vs. Chiefs
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The Blues ended last season on a 1-1-7 run but they will be buoyed by the return of up and coming fly-half Stephen Perofeta after he missed last season with injury. The departures of Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams take away some punch in midfield but the Blues will be lifted by the signing of Beauden Barrett when he joins the squad in April.
The Chiefs will be aiming to make the playoffs for the 9th consecutive season and with new coach Warren Gatland there seems to be a positive vibe around the club. They are without world class lock Brodie Retallick this season but they welcome back 2018 player of the year Damian McKenzie from injury, plus Sam Cane is back to full health after missing most of last season.
Betting: both sides have left some key players on the bench, most likely due to the early season All Blacks load management rules. The Blues won this fixture last year but the Chiefs won the 11 previous encounters. Given 9 of the Blues’ 10 home defeats over the last 12 months were by 1-12 points and the fact that 15 of the 19 most recent fixtures between the two were settled by 12 points or less, I would back both the Blues 1-12 at 3.60 (bet365) and the Chiefs 1-12 at 2.75 (bet365). When the total is published one stat to keep in mind is that the last six encounters between the two at Eden Park went under the total.
Brumbies vs. Reds
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The Brumbies stormed home on a 8-1 run last season but were no match for the Jaguares in their semi-final in Argentina. The Canberra side has a dominant home record but won’t be relishing the fact that this game will be played in hot weather, which will erode their home advantage over the Queenslanders.
The Reds have an incredibly young squad but they have been boosted by the arrivals of James O’Connor and Henry Speight. They will have to find a way to make do without Samu Kerevi, however. He was arguable their best player last season.
Betting: the Brumbies have gone 8-1 at home over the last 12 months as well as 8-1 at the line. The Canberra side has covered the line in 6 of their last 7 home meetings against the Reds and the Brumbies have won their last 5 straight home fixtures against the Queenslanders. Of the Brumbies’ last 7 home wins over the Reds, all seven were won by 13+ points, plus the Reds have gone 2-6 away from home over the last 12 months. With those stats in mind I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.41 (Sportsbet). I’ve opted for a more conservative bet due to the early season uncertainty that off-season player turnover brings. Also, this game will be played in hot conditions, which will suit the Reds.
Saturday, 1 February
Sharks vs. Bulls
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The Sharks will be aiming for their 5th consecutive playoff appearance under new head coach Sean Everitt. Despite the apparent consistency in performance the Sharks are actually a notoriously mercurial team. They’re as capable of losing to the worst as they are beating the best.
The Bulls have a new look this year after a huge clear out of players after the World Cup. One notable change is the arrival of veteran Morné Steyn to counter the departure of Handré Pollard.
Betting: all the stats point towards backing the visitors. The Bulls have gone 8-1-0 against the Sharks in their last nine meetings and they have covered the line in 5 of their last 6 visits to Cape Town. The issue, however, is the the player turnover for both sides muddies the waters. In the presence of uncertainty I prefer to back the underdog, which in this case are the Bulls. I would back the Bulls +4.5 at 1.90 (Sportsbet, Unibet).
Sunwolves vs. Rebels
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The Sunwolves have turned over about 30 players which isn’t surprising given the knowledge that this will be their final season. They failed to win a game after the news of their axing was released last season, which is ominous. The Sunwolves also failed to win a home game in 2019.
Much like in 2018, the Rebels made a promising start last season only to crash in the second half of the campaign. They fielded a second-string side and were mauled by the Reds in pre-season and their showing against the Brumbies didn’t inspire confidence. The Rebels certainly don’t look like title winners but this is one away fixture they will be heavy favourites to win.
Betting: the Rebels have a 5-0 record against the Sunwolves and they won this fixture 52-7 last year. Every Rebels win over the Japanese side was by 13+ and with the Sunwolves fielded a virtually new team this season, I would back the Rebels 13+ at 1.57 (bet365).
Crusaders vs. Waratahs
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The Crusaders’ bid to win a fourth consecutive title has been made harder by the exodus of key players after the World Cup. Among those who have gone are Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Sam Whitelock (sabbatical), Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Kieran Read, Tim Bateman and Ryan Crotty. Nevertheless the Crusaders remain the competition favourite, with their cause helped by the fact that coach Scott Robertson missed out on the All Blacks job.
The Waratahs start life under new head coach Rob Penney. Sekope Kepu, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Curtis Rona and Tolu Latu have departed, so like many teams the Waratahs will take on a new look this season, most notably in the halves. It will be interesting to see how well Michael Hooper fares now that he doesn’t have the captaincy burden.
Betting: I don’t have enough data on me to find when the Waratahs last beat the Crusaders in New Zealand, although they came agonisingly close in 2018 before beating an under-strength Crusaders outfit last year in Sydney. This is actually a good time to play the Crusaders given the All Blacks resting protocol, which limits players to 180 minutes of rugby in the first three rounds. This will likely result in some key players starting from the bench as we’ve already seen with the Blues and Chiefs team sheets. Given the likely benching of some key Crusaders and the fact that the Waratahs went 4-1 at the line as the away underdog last campaign, I will back the Waratahs +9.5 in the first half handicap at 1.89 (bet365). Note that this game is being played in Nelson, not Christchurch.
Sunday, 2 February
Stormers vs. Hurricanes
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The Stormers are on paper the strongest South African side after they retained 7 of the 9 Springboks from their squad that won the World Cup. This includes Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi. Under new coach John Dobson the Stormers will be looking to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The Hurricanes begin life without coach John Plumtree, who has joined the All Blacks, and Beauden Barrett, who will join the Blues in April after his sabbatical. They will also be without Ardie Savea for a fair portion of the season due to a knee injury, so this could be a year of regress after being consistently the second best team in New Zealand.
Betting: the Stormers have won their last three straight home games against the Hurricanes so if I were to bet on this game I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.75 (bet365, Unibet).
Jaguares vs. Lions
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The Jaguares had their best ever season last year by making it to the final. They have retained the bulk of last year’s squad while most of their conference rivals have incurred a net loss of talent and experience after the World Cup. The Jaguares finished the regular season last year on a 9-1 run so if they can find that form again they will be a real chance of winning this year’s title.
The Lions nose-dived last year following the departure of Franco Mostert and this year they have lost Malcolm Marx along with Kwagga Smith. To compound matters, Warren Whiteley and Cyle Brink will miss the entire season due to injury, so another year of regress might be on the cards. One piece of good news is at the time of writing they are trying to re-sign Jaco Kriel, who left for Gloucester after the 2018 season.
Betting: the Lions did the double over the Jaguares last season but that was in Rounds 1 & 4, before the Jaguares went on their 9-1 rampage. With the visitors looking weaker on paper this season, I expect the Jaguares will win, however their odds have crunched in from 1.47, which has eroded a lot of value. Nevertheless, given the Jaguares went 7-0 as the home favourite over the last 12 months I would back the Jaguares in the head-to-head at 1.33 (Betfair).
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Rebels 13+ at 1.57 (bet365)