Super Rugby 2015: Round 3 Preview

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

Things have certainly settled down a bit in the competition with last week delivering a far more conventional set of results than the ones dished up in the logic-defying opening round. The Stormers, Hurricanes and Chiefs all made it two from two last week to finish up on eight points apiece, but a superior points difference allows the South Africans an early lead on the consolidated table. Both of last year’s finalists, the Crusaders and Waratahs, managed to steer their campaigns away from precariously rocky starts with hard-fought victories over the Highlanders and Rebels, while things only seemed to get worse for the Bulls, Blues and Lions who have all set up camp at the wrong end of the table as they head into the third round of action still searching for their first taste of victory.

Highlanders vs Reds | Friday 27 February | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 08:35
The Reds head for Dunedin looking to extend their run of dominance over the Highlanders to five consecutive wins.

To Win (80mins)
Highlanders 7/20
Reds 24/10
Draw 25/1

Highlanders (-7.5) 9/10
Reds (+7.5) 9/10

The Highlanders joined the party a week late, kicking their 2015 campaign off with a disappointing home loss to the Crusaders last Saturday. They looked understandably rusty for most of the first forty and only really started to put pressure on the Crusaders after the break, but whether that was down to a marked improvement from the Highlanders or a loss of momentum by the Crusaders as subs were made is hard to say. It will certainly become a lot clearer when they host the Reds this week, with the Queenslanders arriving hungry for a second consecutive victory this season to help suppress flashbacks of that harrowing 47-3 defeat they suffered at the hands of the Brumbies in Round 1. James O’Connor will make his Queensland debut this week after pulling out at the last minute against the Force, so if things go according to plan we could see a more dynamic attack from the Reds this week.

VERDICT: Reds (+7.5) 9/10
I expect the Highlanders to pick up their first win of the season this week against their injury-stricken visitors, but with the past six encounters between these two being decided by seven points or less, the Reds on the handicap seems a safe enough bet.

Force vs Hurricanes | Friday 27 February | nib Stadium | 13:00 Having conquered South Africa over the first two rounds, the ‘Canes confidently head for western Australia this week hoping to continue their fine form on the road.

To Win (80mins)
Force 12/10
Hurricanes 7/10
Draw 22/1

Force (+2.5) 9/10
Hurricanes (-2.5) 9/10

The Force come into this match off the back of a disappointing 18-6 loss to the Reds as they failed to carry through any of the electrifying energy they delivered in their opening round victory over the Waratahs. The Force were worryingly overwhelmed by the Reds at the breakdowns and set pieces and unless they show marked improvements in those areas this week their first home appearance for the season is going to be a regrettable one. They welcome back comedian “Honey Badger” Cummins this week which will certainly add a bit of sting to their backline. The Hurricanes have managed to overcome their decidedly daunting fixture list thus far and feel confident enough this week to rest skipper Conrad Smith, with Dane Coles set to lead the side out this Friday. They welcome back All Black Victor Vito who picks up his first start of the season as he joins Ardie Savea and Brad Shields in the loose trio.

VERDICT: Hurricanes (-2.5) 9/10
The Hurricanes have picked up too much momentum for the Force to thwart their aims of heading into a Round 4 bye undefeated.

Cheetahs vs Blues | Friday 27 February | Free State Stadium | 19:10
The Blues head for the Highveld this week desperate to turn their dreadful campaign around.

To Win (80mins)
Cheetahs 6/10
Blues 15/10
Draw 22/1

Cheetahs (-3.5) 9/10
Blues (+3.5) 9/10

The Cheetahs kicked off the season with a powerful performance in Durban to pick up a bonus point victory over the Sharks, but the bye last week could prevent them from carrying that momentum into their first home clash of the season. They have added a bit of spark to their backline with the inclusion of Springbok Cornal Hendricks in the starting line-up this week. The Blues will be throwing everything they have at this game to fight their way up from the bottom of the table and the inclusion of All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Patrick Tuipulotu in the run on side this week could give them the little extra they need to pick up their first win.

VERDICT: Blues 15/10
The Blues have never lost all three of their first clashes in this competition and the Cheetahs victory in Durban was courtesy of a dismal performance from the Sharks. The Blues need this win desperately and they have the talent to pull it off.

Chiefs vs Crusaders | Saturday 28 February | Waikato Stadium | 08:35
A sensational start to your Saturday sees these two Kiwi powerhouses go toe-to-toe in Hamilton.

To Win (80mins)
Chiefs 5/10
Crusaders 7/4
Draw 22/1

Chiefs (-4.5) 9/10
Crusaders (+4.5) 9/10

The Chiefs have done well to come away with wins in their last two clashes against some of their more formidable foes, but none are really as formidable as their arch-enemy the Crusaders. Canterbury looked a lot more competitive last week against the Highlanders than they did a week before. Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made several changes to his side ahead of this colossal clash, seeing the return of Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Cane and Ben Tameifuna for duty. Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder was a tad more conservative with his changes, making just three with Tom Taylor starting at fifteen, Jordan Taufua coming into the loose forwards, and Nepu Laulala filling in for the suspended Owen Franks.

VERDICT: Chiefs (-4.5) 9/10
Despite the victory last week the Crusaders were still far from their best and the Chiefs have an unforgiving attack that is always a little more lethal in Hamilton.

Rebels vs Brumbies | Saturday 28 February | AAMI Park | 10:40
The Rebels will hope to pull off a repeat of last season’s shock antics when they tamed the mighty Brumbies in Melbourne.

To Win (80mins)
Rebels 21/10
Brumbies 4/10
Draw 25/1

Rebels (+6.5) 9/10
Brumbies (-6.5) 9/10

The Rebels made a massive statement in the opening round by collecting a win on the road against the Crusaders, but they were brought crashing back to earth last week where they were simply outclassed at home by a more determined Waratahs side. Coach Tony McGahan has made just a single change to the Rebels this week with the return of Nic Stirzaker to scrumhalf. The Brumbies got things off to a roaring start against the Reds in the opening round where they secured a whopping 44-point victory, but a lack of composure in the dying minutes last week saw the Chiefs sneaking a last-gasp penalty to clinch the game 19-17. They will be a tougher unit for the loss and will take comfort in their impressive record against the Rebels, having lost just one of their last seven clashes against them.

VERDICT: Brumbies (-6.5) 9/10
The Brumbies have shown in their first two outings that they have the ability to go all the way this season, but they’ll know to do that there is absolutely no room for error in these weaker Aussie derbies.

Bulls vs Sharks | Saturday 28 February | Loftus Versfeld |17:05
The Bulls will attempt to avoid an unprecedented third consecutive home defeat this weekend when they host the rejuvenated Sharks in the capital.

To Win (80mins)
Bulls 1/1
Sharks 17/20
Draw 22/1

The Bulls have made a dismal start to the season with two home losses in a row, the first time they’ve suffered such horrors since 2008. The Bulls are not anywhere near as intimidating at the breakdowns or set peices as they once were, but I suppose when you have a 37-year-old in the second row there is hardly going to be an abundance of pace or physicality. The Sharks bounced back from their opening round loss to the Cheetahs with a more convincing performance against the Lions last week. They have made just two changes to their side for the trip to Pretoria, with Ryan Kankowski taking over from Tera Mtembu at the back of the scrum while in the backline Andre Esterhuizen takes over from Heimar Williams at inside centre.

VERDICT: Bulls 1/1
The Bulls are the only South African side in the competition to hold a positive win/loss record against the Sharks, having won thirteen and lost nine, and they’ll be willing to do anything this week to end the humiliating run they’ve endured so far this season. Should be a close one but I think the Bulls will take it by a nose.

Lions vs Stormers | Saturday 28 February | Emirates Airlines Park | 19:10
The lacklustre Lions host the table-topping Stormers in the final clash of the weekend.

To Win (80mins)
Lions 7/4
Stormers 5/10
Draw 22/1

Lions (+4.5) 9/10
Stormers (-4.5) 9/10

The Lions have taken a firm grip of last spot having suffered two telling defeats in a row that has left them with a -31 points difference. They have enjoyed good form against the Capetonians in the past two clashes between the two at Ellis Park, but they would need to deliver a far stronger performance than we’ve seen from them so far this season to pose a real threat to the competition’s frontrunners. The visitors took a significant blow to their forward pack with the loss of flanker Rynhardt Elstadt who broke his leg last weekend, but there is some good news as Springbok loose forward Schalk Burger is expected to make a return from Japan as early as next week.

VERDICT: Stormers (-4.5) 9/10
The Stormers are going to be a tough side to beat this season and with the Lions far from the ferocious form that saw them dominating most of the Currie Cup, all the signs indicate a resounding Stormers victory this week.

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