Written by @QuintenLetcher for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
The opening round of this season’s Super XV produced an incongruous set of results that saw what must surely be an unprecedented six out of seven fixtures going the way of the touring team. Proceedings got off to a particularly ominous start on Friday morning when a formidable Crusaders outfit were ravaged at home by the Rebels, setting a standard of odds-defying results that would follow through the entire weekend, ending off on Sunday with the Waratahs kicking their title-defending campaign off with a harrowing home loss to the Force. Only the Brumbies managed to sidestep the sorcery, claiming the only home win and an unassailable one at that, taking down a wretched Reds in the first Aussie derby of the season.
Chiefs vs Brumbies | Friday 20 February | Yarrow Stadium | 08:35
Two of the better performing sides from the opening round of clashes meet in New Plymouth to get the second round of action under way.
To Win (80mins)
Chiefs (-5.5) 9/10
Brumbies (+5.5) 9/10
The Chiefs picked up a hard fought 18-23 away victory over the Blues last week and with the addition of several big names to their squad for their first home appearance of the season they have a decent shot of advancing further up the consolidated table this week. A few changes to the backline sees Hosea Gear starting out wide while All Black Aaron Cruden takes over from Damian McKenzie at flyhalf. Liam Messam will skipper the side that has enough firepower in the forward pack to nonchalantly name the 2014 World Player of the Year, Brodie Retallick, on the bench this week. The Brumbies had a cracker of an opening game last Friday, scoring a mesmerising six tries in their 47-3 destruction of the Reds. They also set a high standard on defence having missed just eight tackles throughout the game, less than any other side from the first round. They have suffered a bit of blow with the loss of captain David Pocock who picked up an ankle injury last week, forcing Jarrad Butler to shift across to the side of the scrum this week, making space for Ita Vaea to make his first start at eighth-man since 2011.
VERDICT: Chiefs 9/20
This one is certain to go down to the wire but with the Chiefs packing a bit more bite this weekend with several returning stars in their ranks, and the Brumbies travelling without influential skipper Pocock, I’m going to back the Chiefs for a home win.
Rebels vs Waratahs | Friday 20 February | AAMI Park | 10:40
The Rebels return home after a logic-defying opening round victory over the Crusaders to meet a Waratahs side desperate to turn their campaign around after their wobbly start last week.
To Win (80mins)
Rebels (+5.5) 9/10
Waratahs (-5.5) 9/10
Some smart acquisitions over the off season seem to have paid off for the Rebels, who could deliver more of their giant-slaying antics as this competition goes on. Former Reds utility back Mike Harris is one of the value purchases made by the Rebels, with Harris outclassing his All Black counterpart Dan Carter for most of the game. The Rebels have made just a single change this week as Nic Stirzaker finds himself suspended for foul play, with Luke Burgess starting at nine. Michael Cheika’s side will be looking to put last week’s shock home defeat to the Force as far behind them as possible. The Waratahs were industrious on defence last week, managing a commendable 92% tackling success rate, but they’ll need to do more this week to retain possession and convert that into points. They have never before lost both of their two opening games, but this season has hardly been shy in delivering firsts so there is probably not as much comfort in that statistic as the Waratahs would like. They will be without Wycliff Palu this week, with Stephen Hoiles set to start at number eight in his absence.
VERDICT: Waratahs (-5.5) 9/10
I expect a huge effort from the Waratahs this Friday after last week’s debacle. If they can return to the form that won them the silverware last season they’ll have no problem clearing the handicap, no matter how improved this Rebel side appears to be.
Bulls vs Hurricanes| Friday 20 February | Loftus Versfeld | 19:10
The Bulls suffered a disconcerting defeat at their sacred Loftus last week and bouncing back will prove tough against an in-form Hurricanes side fresh off their win against the Lions.
To Win (80mins)
Bulls (-4.5) 9/10
Hurricanes (+4.5) 9/10
The Bulls will be without skipper Arno Botha for the next few weeks after suffering a pectoral injury during last week’s 17-29 defeat to the Stormers. Pierre Spies takes over as captain, while the front row is reshuffled following an injury to Werner Kruger. Former Cheetahs star Trevor Nyakane takes over at tighthead with Morne Mallet in at loosehead. Just one change to the backline sees Jesse Kriel taking over from Jurgen Visser at fullback. The Hurricanes got their South African tour off to a booming start with a 8-22 victory over the Lions at Ellis Park last week. All Black centre Ma’a Nonu earns his 145th Super Rugby cap this week as he makes his first start for the Hurricanes since returning from the Blues. His inclusion in the run on side only increases the ferocity of this powerful Hurricanes backline that includes the likes of Cory Jane, Beauden Barrett and Conrad Smith.
VERDICT: Hurricanes 7/4
This is the value bet of the weekend, with the Bulls listed as clear favourites despite the poor form they seem to have carried through with them from last year’s Currie Cup. The Hurricanes attack is going to be tough to contain, and with the home side still tinkering with their new attacking style I think it will be a while before the Bulls start winning this season.
Highlanders vs Crusaders | Saturday 21 February | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 08:35
The Highlanders play their first match of the season against a humbled Crusaders outfit.
To Win (80mins)
Highlanders (+3.5) 9/10
Crusaders (-3.5) 9/10
The Highlanders had a decent run in last season’s competition, finishing in sixth spot to book a place in the playoffs where they were narrowly edged out by the Sharks in Durban. Coach Jamie Joseph has seven uncapped players for Saturday’s clash, giving us little reason to back them against their hungry visitors this week. The Crusaders welcome back All Black Israel Dagg to the run on side this week, with Colin Slade shifting from fifteen to flyhalf to replace the injured Dan Carter, who seemed to hobble through most of last week’s clash with the Rebels. All in all there are five changes to the Crusaders this week, most upfront where Scott Barrett teams up with Luke Romano in the second row to make his first start at lock.
VERDICT: Crusaders (-3.5) 9/10
The Crusaders will be eager to make amends for last week’s fiasco, so expect the clinical attack and phenomenal finishing that has made them such a force in this competition over the years.
Reds vs Force | Saturday 21 February | Suncorp Stadium | 10:40
The Reds were so abysmal last week it is hard to believe they are capable of bouncing back this week when they meet the giant-slaying Force in Brisbane.
To Win (80mins)
Reds (-2.5) 9/10
Force (+2.5) 9/10
Coach Richard Graham has made four changes to his side following their traumatic opening round experience. Contentious playmaker James O’Connor and flanker Adam Thomson will make their first starts for the Reds, with the other two changes taking place on the bench with Tom Murday and Sam Johnson replacing Ed O’Donoghue and Duncan Paia’aua. The Force head into this clash full of confidence following last week’s win over reigning champions the Waratahs, but they have taken a bit of knock with the loss of a few key players. They will be without prop Pek Cowan, fullback Dane Haylett-Petty and skipper Matt Hodgson who are all out injured.
VERDICT: Force 13/10
The Force have become somewhat of a bogey side for the Queenslanders, having won four of the last five clashes between the two sides. And with the Force proving their attacking prowess last week by becoming the first side to run four tries past the Waratahs since June 2012 the Reds could be in for a world of hurt this week.
Stormers vs Blues | Saturday 21 February | Newlands | 17:05
The Stormers return home chuffed with their victory over the Bulls in Pretoria, raring to claim their first home win of the season against the bullish Blues.
To Win (80mins)
Stormers (-7.5) 9/10
Blues (+7.5) 9/10
Neither side has released team lists for Saturday’s clash, but injuries aside I wouldn’t expect too many changes to either side. The Stormers looked in great shape, outscoring the Bulls two tries to one up in the Highveld last week and they have certainly started to move away from their defensive style that has been practiced for eons. The Blues suffered a 18-23 defeat at home to the Chiefs last week and they will have to move mountains to bounce back against a resolute Stormers side. Things are likely to get worse for Sir John Kirwan before they get better.
VERDICT: Stormers (-7.5) 9/10
The Stormers have an impeccable home record, winning 21 of their last 25 appearances. Taking them on the handicap is a bit of a gamble but that is why we’re here, right?
Sharks vs Lions | Saturday 21 February | Kings Park | 19:10
Both sides emerged from the first round winless, so expect a brutal derby as they race for a first taste of victory.
To Win (80mins)
Sharks (-9.5) 9/10
Lions (+9.5) 9/10
The Sharks were denied a last minute try after several minutes of deliberation by the TMO against the Cheetahs last week, but they should never have let a match against the Cheetahs go down to the wire like that in the first place. They will be eager to make amends to their local support this week and welcome back skipper Bismarck du Plessis after a late withdrawal last Saturday due to a shoulder injury. There is some excitement around the inclusion of Lubabalo ‘Giant’ Mtyanda’s debut start for the coastal franchise this week, but they will be without several key players including ‘Beast’ Mtawarira and S’Bura Sithole. Johan Ackermann has made several changes for his side’s trip to the coast this week, all to the forward pack. Jacques van Rooyen starts at loosehead with Schalk van der Merwe falling to bench, while the loss of Jaco Kriel to injury sees Derick Minnie starting at openside flank with Warwick Tecklenburg starting on the blind side of the scrum.
VERDICT: Sharks (-9.5) 9/10
The Sharks won’t be forgiven if they lose two in a row at home and considering they have won all eight of their last eight home games against the Lions by twelve points or more I suspect they’ll have enough to clear the handicap here.
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