Thursday, 3 May 2012

Super Rugby Week 11 Preview

In an injury-ridden season of rugby, with a longer and more bruising schedule than ever before, this is the stage of the tournament where the longevity of teams are tested. With May being the final month in the lead-up to the Inbound Tours, the condition of players becomes paramount. Shrewd coaching and squad rotation will be key to getting through this month unscathed. Now, tips please.
  

Hurricanes vs Blues, Vodacom Super Rugby, Friday 4th May, 09:35

These two sides met in a close encounter in Week 5, where a converted Conrad Smith try snatched victory for the Hurricanes in the dying moments. However, the ‘Canes have lost two on the trot, succumbing to the table-topping Chiefs last weekend after they fell away following a good first half performance. The Hurricanes have named an unchanged line-up this week and will look to be getting back to winning ways against the Blues. New star fly-half Barrett will be one to watch, as well as Conrad Smith, who changed the game six weeks ago.

The Blues’ atrocious form this season continued against the Reds last week, as two early tries put them on the back foot and saw them chasing the game, leading to tactical errors in the wet conditions. That makes it eight losses from nine attempts for the Blues and the frustration of watching a good side under-perform week after week is beginning to wear a bit thin. Former Hurricane Ma’a Nonu gets the opportunity to face his old teammates this week, along with three other changes to the side that lost to the Reds. Young Michael Hobbs takes the number 10 jersey this week with Anscombe dropped from the squad, and Rene Ranger moves to the wing for the injured Wulf. Benson Stanley will start at centre and Chris Lowrey will start at flank, replacing Daniel Braid.

To Win (80mins)                                                                                   Handicap
Hurricanes 11/20                                                                                    Hurricanes (-4.5) 9/10
Blues 15/10                                                                                            Blues (+4.5) 9/10
Draw 25/1
                                                                                                                           
Although the ‘Canes have not looked to be the most dominant team of this year’s competition and are suffering from two straight losses, they are a tough team to beat in Wellington. The Blues are as unpredictable as the hosts, but this season they have looked hapless. Back the ‘Canes on the ‘cap.

Rebels vs Bulls, Vodacom Super Rugby, Friday 4th May, 11:40

The Rebels, fresh from their bye in Week 10, will be looking to put their poor season behind them when they face the Bulls at home this week. Rebels captain Stirling Mortlock makes his return to Super Rugby this week, and they will be hoping his extensive experience and leadership helps to pull the side together. Cipriani has packed his bags and returned to England, so the word is Kurtley Beale will make a move from full-back to fly-half. With O’Conner and Saffy also out due to injuries, the Rebels will definitely be reshuffling their line-up.

Also returning from their bye, the Bulls will be looking to stick with their winning ways as they go on tour. With 37 points, the Bulls lie fourth on the table only courtesy of the Brumbies heading up their conference, and are otherwise the rightful holders of the third spot. The Bulls make two changes to the team that beat the Brumbies, Flip Van der Merwe returns at lock after a groin injury, and Dean Greyling returns at prop. Willie Wepener also makes a return the squad following ‘infected facial nerves’, whatever that means.

Rebel Rouser: Mortlock returns from injury
to inspire 'sterling" performance

To Win (80mins)
Rebels 7/2
Bulls 1/5
Draw 33/1

Handicap
Rebels (+11.5) 9/10
Bulls (-11.5) 9/10

Although the Rebels have Mortlock back and are at home, they seem no match for the Bulls here. The Bulls travel well and are among the better South African teams abroad, so back them on the 'cap and count your money.

Chiefs vs Lions, Vodacom Super Rugby, Saturday 5th May, 09:35

The Chiefs haven’t lost a game since the opening round of the tournament and look likely to continue their winning streak at home to the Lions. They overpowered the Hurricanes in the second half last week, and prop Sona Taumalolo went over for yet another try to extend his extraordinary tally to seven from nine games and is now joint top try-scorer. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Tim Nanai-Williams will be out for three weeks and vice-captain Liam Messam looks doubtful to start against the Lions. Aaron Cruden has been quite a handful this season and is the third highest points-scorer in the competition. He and the table-topping Chiefs will be hungry for victory this weekend.

The Lions season reads poorly and coach John Mitchell’s frustration becomes even more palpable. After their seventh consecutive defeat in the competition, at home to the Brumbies last week, Mitchell blames poor defence and turnovers for the loss. It’s not going to get any easier from here for the Lions who begin their tour in Waikato this weekend. They will be without Butch James, who was cited for a shoulder charge at the breakdown and will be banned for four weeks. Additionally, Franco Van der Merwe, Ruan Botha, Grant Hattingh, Ross Cronje and Derick Minnie all start this weekend, as the Lions heavily rotate their personnel in an attempt to find winning ways.

Try Scoring Machine: Chiefs team-mates
get physical with Taumalolo
To Win (80mins)
Chiefs 1/16
Lions 8/1
Draw 40/1

Handicap
Chiefs (-18.5) 9/10
Lions (+18.5) 9/10

There doesn’t look to be much hope for the Lions. Their season has gone from bad to worse, and although the Chiefs will have to win by a considerable margin to win on the handicap, they are at home and they are in form. They are log leaders for Pete’s sake. Back them on the handicap cap and reap the rewards.


Brumbies vs Waratahs, Vodacom Super Rugby, Saturday 5th May, 11:40

The Brumbies successful Super Rugby campaign continued last week after dismantling the Lions in Johannesburg. They return to Canberra Stadium this week to take on the Waratahs in a heated Aussie derby. The Brumbies are top of the Australian conference and third on the table because of this, and at this stage of the tournament, cannot afford to lose any ground to the Waratahs. Try scoring has not been an issue for the Brumbies over the past few weeks, but against the Lions, far too many place kicks were missed, that in a tighter game, could’ve proved very costly.

The Waratahs’ season has been one of ups and downs, but they still have a slight window of opportunity when it comes to making the play-offs. It looks unlikely that it will come through surpassing the South African and New Zealand teams littering the top of the table, but through attempting to top the Australian conference. Although they are still battling with injuries, the ‘Tahs need victory here to keep their hopes alive.

To Win (80mins)
Brumbies 9/10
Waratahs 19/20
Draw 22/1

Handicap
Brumbies (-0.5) 9/10
Waratahs (+0.5) 9/10

This one is going to be a tight one, there’s no doubt about that. These Aussie derbies are usually pretty low-scoring affairs too, and it looks to me to be a battle of attrition. I like the look of the Brumbies for the outright win here, and think they will just sneak it past the Waratahs.

Sharks vs Highlanders, Vodacom Super Rugby, Saturday 5th May, 17:05

The Sharks return from their bye week still hopeful of a playoff spot, and it will be crunch time for them throughout the month of May. Although they are still in with a playoff chance, coach John Plumtree recognises that a host of massive errors cost them against the Chiefs, and they will need to maintain discipline if they are to get any further in the competition. They are still a tough team to beat, especially at home, and with the Beast, Kankowski and Ndungane all possibly back from injury, the Highlanders should be watching their backs.

The Highlanders have had a great season so far and sit fifth on the log, with seven wins from nine attempts. Although they left it very late for victory against the Cheetahs, and were handed it by virtue of a missed penalty, the Highlanders came back from 30-9 down to take the match in the dying minutes and showed tremendous character. They will however, be without James Haskell after his two hooks to Justin Downey found their mark and he was cited. It seems as though the Highlanders drinking ban is working in their favour…though Andrew Hore’s DT’s may be a problem on Saturday.

"He drinks a whiskey drink, he drinks a vodka drink,
he drinks a lager drink, he drinks a cider drink"

To Win (80mins)
Sharks 5/10
Highlanders 16/10
Draw 25/1

Handicap
Sharks (-5.5) 9/10
Highlanders (+5.5) 9/10

The Sharks have been involved in some close encounters this season (scratch the Hurricanes game) and could be sitting much further up the table if things had gone the right way for them. Then again, the Highlanders have also been involved in some last minute scraps, usually emerging victorious. At the risk of blasphemy, I like the Highlanders on the handicap here; I think this will be a close one. 

Cheetahs vs Force, Vodacom Super Rugby, Saturday 5th May, 19:10

The Cheetahs have had tough season, and last week summed it up, as they proceeded to lose the game from an immensely strong 21 point deficit. However, the Cheetahs, luck excluded, are still a good team and are never a team you can write-off, especially when playing in Bloemfontein. They’ve lost six of their nine matches in this campaign, and have now also lost the services of the competitions highest points scorer, Johan Goosen. His dislocated shoulder has made way for last week’s blooper award winner, Robert Ebersohn. After moaning about how little game-time he has seen, he then proceeded to miss a sitter that cost his team the match. As the Cheetahs luck will have it, he will start against the Force, as well as George Earle at lock.

The Force have had a tough few weeks. After reshuffling the coaching staff and musings about the future of Pocock at the franchise, they still have to focus on playing Super Rugby. The Force look well and truly out of playoff contention now, languishing towards the bottom of the table with only two wins. Pocock has stated that he will be putting his plans aside for now, for the better of the team, so the Force can focus on winning and finishing the season a lot better than they started.

To Win (80mins)
Cheetahs 7/20
Force 22/10
Draw 28/1

Handicap
Cheetahs (-7.5) 9/10
Force (+7.5) 9/10

The Cheetahs are a much stronger team at home than they are on the road, and most of last week’s game will tell you that. The Cheetahs meltdown granted the victory to their opponents, and the Highlanders are a good enough side to take the opportunity. I feel the Cheetahs are less likely to make the same mistakes two weeks in a row and I see them laying into the Force here. Back them on the handicap.

Crusaders vs Reds, Vodacom Super Rugby, Sunday 6th May, 07:10

The Crusaders traditionally start the Super Rugby season slow, and emerge as the team we either love or hate. This is no truer than in 2012, where the Crusaders are building momentum. After beating the Stormers, ‘Canes and ‘Tahs in recent weeks, they now host the Reds in a replay of last year’s final. The ‘Saders are seated nicely for a playoff spot, with 5 of their next matches being at home and a guaranteed 4 points from a bye in store. Carter will still play at inside-centre, with kicking-machine Tom Taylor starting a fly-half. McCaw is still likely to warm the bench this week, as his transition back into Super Rugby is a tentative process.

The Reds have had a pretty average season considering they are the defending champions, but they have done this with a long injury list. Things seem to be sloping upwards for the Reds, as they beat the Blues without any real concern last weekend. Two early tries solidified them an early lead, and although they dropped off a bit in the second half, still secured victory for the first time in Auckland. There has been confusion surrounding the future of scrum-half Will Genia, but that has now abated and he will be staying with the franchise next year.

To Win (80mins)
Crusaders 1/5
Reds 7/2
Draw 33/1

Handicap
Crusaders (-10.5) 9/10
Reds (+10.5) 9/10 

The Crusaders are in the middle of an upward-arc that will strike fear into the hearts of most sides who have to face them from here on out. They are also at home and have a wealth of experience at their disposal. The Reds, although looking improved, don’t seem to have what it takes to prevent an onslaught here. I’m going to suggest the Crusaders on the ‘cap here.


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3 comments:

  1. Hurricanes -4.5, Bulls Outright, Chiefs -18.5, Crusaders -10.5 the certainty bets for me this weekend. Too scared to dabble on the Sharks and Cheetahs - never know what could happen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Blues, Blues, Blues!!!!! to win the match outright
    Rebels without a chance
    Lions slaughtered and Reds on the 'cap

    ReplyDelete
  3. Im gonna say Blues (+4.5), Lions on the big plus. Cheetahs (-7.5) is risky but I like it.

    ReplyDelete