The following are previews with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa 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. In some great news, crowds will be in attendance for these games.
Saturday, 13 June
Highlanders vs. Chiefs
View a detailed form guide for Highlanders vs. Chiefs
Given the exodus of 15 players during the off-season, including the majority of their All Blacks, I was pessimistic about the Highlanders’ prospects this year so their 1-4 start to the campaign came as no surprise. Despite the recent signing of former All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder I expect they will finish with the wooden spoon in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Prior to the Covid-19 disruption the Chiefs were on track to make the playoffs for the 9th consecutive season with a 4-2 record. They lost Brodie Retallick during the 2019/20 off-season but the signing of coach Warren Gatland and the return of Damian McKenzie to full fitness gives them a genuine chance of winning Super Rugby Aotearoa. A positive sign is they defeated the Crusaders and it took an 84th minute penalty to see them lose 24-27 to the Hurricanes just prior to Covid-19. In team news, prop Atu Moli is out for the season with a hip injury, while fellow prop Angus Ta’avao is also out, along with winger Sam McNicol.
Betting: the Highlanders bring 1-5 form into this fixture while the Chiefs have gone 4-2. Honours have been very even between the two in recent seasons, but this Highlanders squad isn’t on the same level as previous years. Despite the injuries, I would back the Chiefs in the head-to-head at 1.32 (Sportsbet).
UPDATE (12 June): given the Chiefs’ arduous travel schedule on game day (6:30 AM bus from Hamilton to Auckland then a flight to Dunedin), coach Warren Gatland has opted for a conservative team selection that omits Sam Cane, who has a minor lower back issue.
Sunday, 14 June
Blues vs. Hurricanes
View a detailed form guide for Blues vs. Hurricanes
The Blues ended the 2019 season on a 1-1-7 run but started the 2020 season with an impressive 5-2 start. They have been further boosted by the additions of Beauden Barrett (who wasn’t due to start until April) and the shock signing of Dan Carter on a short-term deal as a player-mentor. The Carter deal is in part due to fly-half Stephen Perofeta’s injury issues. The Blues won their fourth consecutive game prior to the break when they thrashed the listless Lions 43-10 in Auckland. It was a complete display, with the their defensive efficiency matching their attacking quality. The Blues finally appear to be a force again after so many years at the foot of the New Zealand conference.
The Hurricanes upset the Chiefs 27-24 prior to the Covid-19 disruption with an 84th minute penalty conversion to break the deadlock. The Hurricanes were 4-2 when the season was disrupted, which in the competitive New Zealand conference was only good enough for 4th place in the domestic table. They now take on a Blues side that will be fielding their former best player, but the Hurricanes might be boosted for this clash by the injury return of Ardie Savea. In other team news, Jordie Barrett will miss this clash due to a shoulder injury.
Betting: both sides bring 4-1 form into this clash. The last team to beat the Hurricanes was the Blues in Round 6 by a 15-24 scoreline in Wellington. This ended a nine-game winning streak for the Hurricanes over the Auckland side. Given the addition of Beauden Barrett, who has turned heads with his strong fitness in the build up to this clash, I would back the Blues in the head-to-head at 1.54 (Unibet).
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