The following is a preview with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2022 Super Rugby season.
To take advantage of odds before they possibly shorten, these previews are often published before the team sheets are announced. Those who are more risk-averse may prefer to wait for the squad lists before wagering.
Be sure to check out our team-by-team Super Rugby Pacific season preview with betting tips.
Friday, 18 February
Waratahs vs. Fijian Drua
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The only way is up for the Waratahs after they lost every single game last season. The returns of Michael Hooper and Jed Holloway, plus the addition of Welsh veteran Jamie Roberts adds much needed experience to the squad, however Hooper isn’t expected to appear until Round 6. The Waratahs performed far better defensively in pre-season, which will give fans cause for optimism.
The Fijian Drua have experience playing in Australia, but not in Super Rugby. They are expected to struggle this season but their win over the Rebels in pre-season will have given them a confidence boost.
Betting: the Waratahs defeated the Brumbies and Reds in pre-season and, yes, it was only pre-season, but their improved defensive structures were the biggest takeaway. The Drua are a huge unknown so rather than back the Waratahs at the -10.5 line, I will simply take them in the head-to-head at 1.25 (BlueBet).
Saturday, 19 February
Chiefs vs. Highlanders
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The Chiefs have lost talisman Damian McKenzie but they do welcome back All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick and they managed to poach fly-half Josh Ioane from the Highlanders. Co-captain Sam Cane is also back after missing much of last season with injury. If they can avoid too many injuries I expect the Chiefs will make a run to at least the semi-finals.
The Highlanders have benefited from the covid bubble, with their first two ‘away’ games both located in Otago. There will be no crowds, however. As perennial over-achievers, the Highlanders made the Trans-Tasman final last year despite losing eight players to season-ending injuries and having only three active All Blacks in the squad. The Highlanders limp into this game with injury headaches already. Three players have been ruled out for most or all of the season, including including Pari Pari Parkinson. Billy Harmon is also out until at least April, plus Rory van Vugt and Christian Lio-Willie suffered a broken wrist and hand, respectively, in pre-season.
Betting: the Chiefs are firm favourites however they’ve only won one of their previous five games against the Highlanders. Seventeen of the last 23 wins between the two were by 1-12 points and five of the last six meetings were won by 1-3 points or drawn. I would back both the Chiefs 1-12 at 2.75 (Unibet) and the Highlanders 1-12 at 3.60 (Unibet).
Crusaders vs. Hurricanes
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The Crusaders have been one of the most dominant teams in professional sport. They won the Super Rugby title in 2017, 2018 and 2019, before winning Super Rugby Aotearoa in both 2020 and 2021. They failed to win Super Rugby Trans-Tasman but they did go 5-0 in that competition. The Crusaders are under-strength for the start of this competition. Ethan Blackadder, Jack Goodhue and Cullen Grace are injured, plus All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo’unga will miss the first three rounds as part of a contractual agreement. The Crusaders also have to fill the shoes of departing prop Michael Alaalatoa. Despite those absences they do have the luxury of naming eight All Blacks in the starting line-up, with three more to come off the bench, and they throw in star Argentinian loose forward Pablo Matera for good measure.
The Hurricanes finished last in Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2021 and they begin this season with prop Owen Franks, lock Isaia Walker-Leawere and returning All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara out with medium to long-term injuries. They also have to contend with the departure of Ngani Laumape to France.
Betting: the Crusaders have won eight of the last nine games against the Hurricanes. Both sides are under-strength but I will side with the Crusaders given their superior squad depth. I would back the Crusaders in the head-to-head at 1.29 (BlueBet).
Reds vs. Rebels
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The Reds won Super Rugby Australia last season. This continues their upward trajectory after they finished 4th in the conference in 2019 and 2nd in 2020. They’ve had relatively little turnover in the squad during the off-season, which is plus, however the squad’s pre-season preparations have been hampered by two covid outbreaks.
The Rebels have been in decline in recent seasons. They finished 4th in the conference in 2021, compared to 3rd in 2020 and 2nd in 2019. They now have to contend with the departures of winger Markia Koroibete and No.8 Isi Naisarani to Japan. In better news, Matt To’omua has overcome the lingering concussion symptoms that plagued him last season and Matt Philip returns following a stint overseas.
Betting: I would normally be bullish on the Reds but I’m concerned by the impact of their two covid outbreaks. The Reds have won four straight against the Rebels and their last win was by 25 points. The Rebels have gone 0-9 as the underdog over the last 12 months while the Reds have gone 4-0 as the home favourite. Those stats flip, however, when you look at the line. The Reds have gone 0-4 at the line as the home favourite over the last 12 months while the Rebels went 7-0 at the line away from home. Given the likelihood of the Reds winning but not covering the -12.5 line, I would back the Reds 1-12 at 2.80 (Unibet).
Sunday, 20 February
Brumbies vs. Force
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The Brumbies have been Australia’s most consistent franchise in recent years, finishing no worse than 2nd in the conference since 2019. They have had relatively little turnover in the squad during the off season and they welcome back Jesse Mogg back from France along with former Wallabies winger Chris Feauai-Sautia.
The Force went 4-4 in Super Rugby Australia last season compared to 0-8 the season before, but there’s a risk they will regress this season. The experienced international quartet of Kearney, Cubelli, Lezana and Miotti have departed, along with Kuridrani. Timani also departed just days before their season opener after he refused the Covid-19 vaccine.
Betting: the Brumbies have won 12 straight against the Force and 9 straight against them at home. The Brumbies went 6-1 as the favourite over the last 12 months while the Force went 1-6 as the away underdog. The Force went 5-2 at the line away from home over the last 12 months so I will stay clear of that market. I would back the Brumbies in the head-to-head at 1.23 (Unibet).
Best Bets of the Round