Super Rugby Round 4 Preview

Some crazy results last week mean two of the competition’s favourites find themselves in the bottom five of the log, the Crusaders and Stormers sitting at 11th and 12th place respectively. The competition is still far from over and luck will only get you a few weeks worth of glory in the Super XV before the laws of logic return to make things right on the log. With many intriguing encounters on offer, this is a tough week for a tipster, but I'll do my best to get you through it unscathed.

Hurricanes vs Crusaders | Friday 08 March | Westpac Stadium | 08:35
One of the must-watch games of this weekend with both teams underachieving in the competition thus far. If both return to their top form this weekend it could turn out to be more brutal than a Bees Roux attack on a corrupt Metro cop.

To Win (80mins)
Hurricanes 31/20
Crusaders 11/20
Draw 29/1

Hurricanes  (+2.5) 11/10
Crusaders (-6.5) 11/10

Mark Hammett has made only one change to the side that lost to the Reds last weekend, Brad Shields moves to flank with All Black Victor Vito moving to the back of the scrum. Both Vito and Dane Coles will earn their 50th Super Rugby caps this weekend. The Hurricanes have had a wobbly start to the competition, losing at home to the Blues in their opening match followed by an unfortunate loss to the Reds last week due to a mixture of questionable refereeing and a lack of gas in the tank in the last quarter of the game.

Israel Dagg returns to his regular position at fullback for the Crusaders this weekend as one of only three changes to the side that suffered a humiliating 19-point defeat to the Blues in round three. The other two changes sees Johnny McNicholl returning from injury to join Tom Marshall on the wing, and  Dominic Bird starts at lock in place of the injured Luke Romano. Watch out for Dan Carter who will undoubtedly be looking to return to his game-changing self after a bit of a rusty start to his season.

VERDICT:  Crusaders (-6.5) 11/1
Despite the Crusaders being the clear favourites, in reality there is not much between these two teams at the moment. The ‘Canes have home ground advantage, but that counted very little when the Blues got hold of them in their opening game, so I don’t think it has much value here either. The Crusaders are known for their slow starts in Super Rugby, but the calibre of their line-up puts them ahead of the Wellington based side for me. Last weekend’s humiliation at the hands of the Blues may just be catalyst they needed to get back to their winning ways.

Rebels vs Reds | Friday 08 March | AAMI Park | 10:40
This kind of Australian derby generally graces my screen in its abbreviated highlight form but this game threatens to be a great display of backline brilliance, as two incredibly talented flyhalves attempt to outclass each other in an unofficial battle for the Wallaby number 10.

To Win (80mins)
Rebels 2/1
Reds 4/10
Draw 31/1

Rebels (+5.5) 1/1
Reds (-7.5) 11/10

The Rebels suffered a massive blow this week with the loss of Wallaby stalwart Kurtley Beale, who joins Cooper Vuna, Jason Woodward, Chris Thomson and captain Gareth Delve on the growing injury list. This gives youngster James O’Conner the opportunity to show he has more than just a hairdo to offer rugby union. He will captain the side from the pivotal flyhalf position but will be up against the aggressive Reds number 10 and part-time boxer, Quad Cooper. Alex Rokobaro returns from injury and appropriates the number 11 jersey from Rory Sidey, who will warm the bench.

The Reds bounced back from their opening round defeat against the Brumbies, coming into this game off consecutive wins over the Waratahs and the Hurricanes, but with both victories recorded at home a win this week may be a bit tougher than expected . Currently going through some injury problems at scrumhalf with Wallaby captain Will Genia out for at least another month and Ben Lucas undergoing tests regarding his fitness for Friday’s match there is a possibility that Will’s younger brother Nigel Genia may crack the nod.

VERDICT: Reds (-7.5) 11/10
The Rebels have shown some class this season but the Reds team has started to gel and shouldn’t encounter too many problems against one of the weaker franchises of the Australian conference. The Reds should take it by the -7.5 handicap.

Highlanders vs Cheetahs | Saturday 09 March | Rugby Park | 08:35
One of the games to miss this weekend, both teams were inhumanly put down by the Chiefs, the Highlanders by 14 points in the second round and the Cheetahs by a massive 42 points last week.

To Win (80mins)
Highlanders 1/8
Cheetahs 62/10
Draw 40/1

Highlanders  (-15.5) 1/1
Cheetahs (+13.5) 1/1

The Highlanders had a bye last weekend. This week will hopefully see the return of captain Andrew Hore, having served the suspension he received for his mixed martial arts style of play during the All Black game against Wales at the end of last year. They will be without influential number 8 Nasi Manu for most of the season after he dislocated a ligament in his foot during their opening game.

The Cheetahs will have battering ram Heinrich Brussow at their disposal this week after a long absence due to injury. He starts on the bench as Naka Drotske attempts to manage the big flanker’s return to Super Rugby carefully. Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen is slowly finding his form after his lengthy absence and could play a big part in this game as his side still searches for their first victory of the season.

VERDICT: Cheetahs (+13.5) 1/1
I know last week I called the Cheetahs to lose within a small margin and landed up with 42 points of egg on my face, but they can come back from that horrid performance and won’t have jetlag to worry about this week. I can’t see them allowing a repeat of last week, so I call the Highlanders to take it by between 7 and 10 points.

Brumbies vs Waratahs | Saturday 09 March | Canberra Stadium | 10:40
This should be a one-sided affair but it will be interesting to see if Jake White’s team can get back to their winning ways after a week off.

To Win (80mins)
Brumbies  9/20
Waratahs 7/4
Draw 34/1

Brumbies (-6.5) 1/1
Waratahs (+5.5) 1/1

The Waratahs have lost the services of number eight Wycliff Palu for their clash against the Brumbies, after he sustained a twisted ankle against the Rebels. Lopeti Timani is expected to replace him at the back of the scrum but no final decisions have been made. Pat McCutcheon returns after almost a year out of action due to an ankle injury, but it is unlikely he will be thrust straight back into the starting line-up and could get some game time from the bench.

The Brumbies have Wallaby legend George Smith back in their squad after his stint in Japan, but he is expected to play off the bench with David Pocock retaining his position on the flank for now. It is not yet clear if Jake White intends to team up Smith and Pocock on the field or if Smith’s position in the team is purely cover for the ex-Wallaby captain at openside flank.

VERDICT: Brumbies (-6.5)
Jake White’s side still looks the pick of the Aussie franchises and they shouldn’t have too much trouble at home this weekend when they take on the mediocre Waratahs. The Brumbies should take it by 10 points or so.

Stormers vs Chiefs | Saturday 09 March | Newlands | 17:05
The Stormers play in their first home game of the season when they take on reigning champions and New Zealand conference leaders the Chiefs, in one of the more interesting clashes of the weekend. The Stormers really need to secure their first win after suffering two narrow defeats to the Bulls and Sharks, while the Chiefs are in a much more comfortable situation with two wins from two matches.

To Win (80mins)
Stormers 9/10 
Chiefs 1/1
Draw 25/1

Stormers (-2.5) 11/10
Chiefs (+2.5) 7/10

According to Albert Einstein’s definition of Insanity (doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results), Allister Coetzee is an undeniably an insane man. He’s decided to retain the exact same starting line up that went down to the Sharks last week for this Saturday’s home battle against the Chiefs. The most worrying part of this decision is the retention of Elton Jantjies ahead of Peter Grant at flyhalf against a team whose game play is backline dominant, making the reliable Grant a much better pick in my opinion.

The Chiefs seem to have found the perfect mix of youth and experience that bodes well for their high-paced backline dominated game plan, which makes for exciting viewing. They smashed the Cheetahs by a mammoth 42 points last weekend, many of those coming in the last twenty minutes of the game, so the Stormers are going to have to play the full eighty minutes if they want to prevent a massacre.

VERDICT: Stormers 9/10
This should be a close one but I call the Stormers by 3 points. The Chiefs will be tired from their big trip over to SA while the Stormers will be looking to secure their first win of the season and will be boosted by the home ground advantage.

Kings vs Sharks | Saturday 09 March | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 19:10
A game that will put things in perspective for the competition newcomers, who surprised even themselves by winning their first ever Super Rugby game when they took on the Force two weeks ago. It will be a one-sided affair but still worthy of a watch to see just how big the gap is between the Kings and the other four South African franchises.

To Win (80 mins)
Kings 9/1
Sharks 1/12
Draw 40/1

Kings (+16.5) 1/1
Sharks (-18.5) 1/1

The Kings will be without regular captain Luke Watson after he took a knock in the throat last weekend, which sees him taking up a spot on the bench for the big clash with the Sharks. Lock Darron Nell will take over the captaincy from Watson this week, with Jacques Engelbrecht taking over Watson’s position in the side.

John Plumtree has decided to leave his team unchanged this weekend, making that three consecutive weeks with an unaltered 23 man squad. The biggest problem for the Sharks at the moment must be at hooker where neither Craig Burden nor Kyle Cooper have really put their hands up this season to make the position their own.

VERDICT: Kings (+16.5) 1/1
I have a funny feeling that the Sharks won’t cover the 18.5 ‘cap this weekend. Taking them on the outright offers little value, so I’m going with the Kings on the plus. Derbies always seem to turn out a little closer than you would expect them to.

Blues vs Bulls | Sunday 10 March | Eden Park | 05:05
Two teams take to the field on Sunday unbeaten in this year’s competition but only one team will leave the field with that same tag. How can this not be an interesting way to spend the wee hours of Sunday morning?

To Win (80mins)
Blues 3/10 
Bulls 11/4
Draw 31/1

Blues (-10.5) 1/1
Bulls (+8.5) 1/1

New Blues coach John Kirwan couldn’t be happier at this point of the competition, having not only secured two from two victories, but also four tries in both matches. This means that the Blues have secured maximum points in both of their first two clashes and will looking to extend that record in their third game of the season this Sunday. The Blues have a healthy record against the Bulls, winning 8 and drawing 1 of their last 13 meetings, with the average score between the two sides being 38-25 to the Blues.

Winger Bjorn Basson has been named in the 26 man touring squad that the Bulls have selected for their away leg of the tournament but won’t join the team until next week as he waits for the swelling to go down on his injured ankle before flying. Hencus van Wyk is the only uncapped player in the squad but it is not yet certain when the game-fit flanker will make his first appearance for the Pretoria side, as the starting line-up has not yet been announced.

VERDICT : Blues (-10.5) 1/1
The Bulls have a history of big defeats at the hands of the Blues, and looking at last week’s performance by the Bulls against the Force in Pretoria, I can’t see Sunday’s game going any other way. The Blues to take it by 12.

Written by @QuintenLetcher for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

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