The following are previews with betting tips for Round 4 of the 2020 Super Rugby season.
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 February
Crusaders vs. Highlanders
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The Crusaders beat the Blues 25-8 in Eden Park last week to move to 2-1 for the season. With the Blues dominating territory and possession, the win was secured on the back of the Cantabrians’ superiority at the set-piece and their brick-wall try-line defence that frustrated the hosts all evening. The Crusaders were far from perfect but they were clinical when it mattered while the Blues were wasteful.
The Highlanders stole victory away from the Brumbies with a converted try two minutes after the final hooter last week. The 23-22 win in Canberra wasn’t pretty but it was a positive step after the Highlanders’ disappointing 20-42 home defeat to the Sharks in their opening fixture. To their credit the Highlanders showed great poise and leadership at the death. They have now won 13 of their last 16 games against Australian opponents. In team news, winger Sio Tomkinson has been cited with a dangerous tackle and may miss this week.
Betting: the Crusaders are undefeated at home over the last 12 months and they’ve won their last five straight at home against the Highlanders. They also swatted aside their southern neighbours comfortably in pre-season. The Highlanders have gone 1-6 as the away underdog over the last 12 months and 2-5 at the line as the away underdog. Eight of the Crusaders’ last nine home wins over the Highlanders were by 13+ points and nine of their eleven home wins over all opponents over the last 12 months were by 13+ so I would back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.75 (bet365).
Saturday, 22 February
Rebels vs. Sharks
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The Rebels picked up their first win of the season by defeating the Waratahs 24-10 in wet conditions in Melbourne. The contest was close for 70 minutes before the hosts pulled away in the final 10 as the deserved winners. The victory ended a five-game losing streak for the Victorian side.
The Sharks suffered their first defeat of the season last week when they fell 22-38 to the Hurricanes in Wellington. There’s a lot to like about this young Sharks side. Their lack of experience may cost them in crucial moments from time to time, but they will surprise a few good teams this season.
Betting: the Rebels opened as 1.82 favourites but have quickly drifted to 2.05 underdogs. The Rebels have a 1-1-5 lifetime record against the Sharks and Australian teams are 0-6 against foreign opponents this season, so if I were to bet on this game I would back the Sharks in the head-to-head at 1.86 (Betfair).
Chiefs vs. Brumbies
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The Chiefs overcame the Sunwolves 43-17 in Tokyo last week to move to 3-0 for the season. Once again the Chiefs were at their best in the second half as they restricted the hosts to just 5 points after the break. Aaron Cruden, Anton Lienert-Brown and Sam Cane were rested last week and should all return for this clash. Warren Gatland has stated his intentions to rest Soloman Alaimalo, Lachlan Boshier and Brad Weber this week.
The Brumbies conceded a try two minutes after the final hooter to lose 22-23 at home to the Highlanders last week. They paid the price for poor game management at the death. The loss was their first of the season and it broke a ten-game winning streak at home. It continues the Brumbies’ unwanted streak of losing to playoff sides. Last season the Brumbies failed to win a single game against a side that made the playoffs.
Betting: the Brumbies’ failure to beat playoff bound teams makes me pessimistic about their chances against the Chiefs. Interestingly, the Chiefs won their four previous home fixtures against the Brumbies without covering the line once. Over the last 12 months the Chiefs have gone 1-4 at the line as the home favourite while the Brumbies have gone 5-2 at the line as the away underdog. I expect the home side will win this, but given their poor line record I will stay clear of the -13.5 line and instead back the Chiefs 1-12 at 3.10 (Sportsbet).
Reds vs. Sunwolves
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The Reds let a 12-point halftime lead slip as they fell 27-43 to the Jaguares in Argentina last week. They crumbled in the final quarter as Jaguares played forwards-dominant rugby. The Reds also weren’t helped by their third yellow card in two games. The defeat continues the Queenslanders’ poor away record. The Reds have won just 2 of their last 17 away fixtures. They are now 0-3 for the season but have yet to play at home, where they have fared much better. Reds fans can also take positives from their strong first half performance last week.
The Sunwolves fell 17-43 to the Chiefs in an entertaining contest in Tokyo last week. Following an unfortunately timed Bye in Round 2 the Japanese side are now 1-1 for the season. Thanks to their foreign imports, including Garth April, the Sunwolves aren’t quite the walkovers people had expected them to be this season. With 18,700 spectators last week, the Sunwolves are also continuing to draw larger crowds than many other franchises.
Betting: the Reds bring 1-8 form into this clash while the Sunwolves are even worse with 1-11 form. The Reds are back at home where they have gone 4-4 over the last 12 months and given they have a 3-0 home record against the Sunwolves, I will back the Reds in the head-to-head at 1.23 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 23 February
Stormers vs. Jaguares
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The Stormers edged the Lions 33-30 in a thrilling contest in Johannesburg to move to 3-0 for the season. It took a try in the 83rd minute to secure the win in a see-sawing contest. The result was crucial because away form has been the Stormers’ Achilles heel in previous seasons. This was only their second away win against a South African opponent in seven games.
The Jaguares are 2-1 for the season after they defeated the Reds 43-27 in Argentina last week. They fought back from a 12-point halftime deficit by scoring 31 points to 3 in the second half. Much of their success came down to the dominant performance of their forward pack. The Jaguares have now won 10 of their last 11 fixtures against Australian opponents, including their last seven straight.
Betting: this is the best game of the round because it features the two most likely South African conference winners. The Stormers have a 3-0 home record against the Jaguares so I would back the Stormers in the head-to-head at 1.62 (Sportsbet).
Bulls vs. Blues
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Prior to their bye last week the Bulls put in another blunt, error-ridden performance and lost 0-13 to the Stormers in Cape Town. The scoreline arguably flattered the Bulls, with the Stormers missing four kicks at goal. This loss was on the back of a poor defeat in Durban and with a tough game against the Jaguares coming up next week, this has suddenly become an important game to win. The Bulls have shown they are capable of racking up territory and possession. They just need to cut back on the ill-discipline and find a cutting edge when in promising positions. Easier said than done, I know!
The Blues fell 8-25 at home to the Crusaders last week to move to 1-2 for the season. They had plenty of territory and possession but, as has been the case in previous seasons, they lacked the cutting edge to cross the try line. The Blues’ set-piece also came off second best as they repeatedly lost line outs and conceded penalties at scrums to relieve pressure for the visitors. The error count was also far too high. All in all, they look like the same old Blues! The Aucklanders have now lost 26 of their last 29 domestic games, which goes a long way to explaining their constant presence at the foot of the New Zealand conference.
Betting: both sides have been strong in the territory and possession stats whilst being poor at scoring. Given the Blues have gone 1-7 way from home over the last 12 months I can’t back them at 1.75 in the head-to-head. At the same time I have little faith in the Bulls given their poor performances thus far this season, so I will sit this game out.
Best Bets of the Round
Back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.75 (bet365).