Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
The start to the 2016 Super Rugby season is perfectly illustrated by Forest Gump’s analogy about life and chocolates; you just never know what you’re going to bloody get. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration on my behalf, but I mean, who would have foreseen the Lions beating what looked a solid Chiefs outfit, in Hamilton?
Anyway enough with the movie analogies, let’s get on to Friday’s action.
Friday 12 March
Blues v Hurricanes | Friday 12 March | Eden Park | 08:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Blues 7/10 | Draw 22/1 | Hurricanes 11/10
Blues (-2.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (+2.5) 9/10
We kick the weekend off in Auckland where the Blues will take on a struggling Hurricanes outfit. Both teams come into this one off the back of defeats, with the Blues going down to the Crusaders by 15 points and the Canes narrowly falling to the Highlanders in Otago.
The Hurricanes bounced back well from their opening round mauling at the hands of the Brumbies. Their scrum looked a lot more solid, as did their young centre pairing of Vince Aso and Ngania Laumape. The youngsters have been forced to fill some massive boots this term with the franchise's fabled pairing of Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu having headed for foreign shores. And whilst they looked well and truly out of their depth in the opener against the Brumbies, their performances last week were a lot more encouraging.
Blues rugby is definitely on the up this year. While they couldn’t manage back to back victories, they did have their moments in Canterbury last week. I do however think they could have done better had Ehia West been given a start. I waxed lyrical about Tana Umaga’s approach to team selection but his decision to keep West on the bench until the fading embers of the game came back to bite. The mercurial pivot got his backline going when he came on but it was too late for him to change the result.
West will return to the starting line-up for the Blues this week alongside powerhouse prop Charlie Faumuina and the human wrecking ball that is Akira Ioane. On the Canes side of things, Chris Boyd has opted to give a few of his players who are under an injury cloud a chance to prove their fitness. As it stands, Nehe Milner-Skudder is bracketed with Corey Jane while one of Dane Coles and Leni Apisai will start at hooker.
Verdict: Blues 7/10
This one could really go either way. I can see the Blues winning it but I'd avoid adding it to any multiples or putting more 30 rand on it.
Force v Brumbies | Friday 12 March | nib Stadium | 13:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Force 28/10 | Draw 28/1 | Brumbies 1/4
Force (+10.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (-10.5) 9/10
The second and final fixture on Friday will see current tournament favorites, the Brumbies, travel to Perth to take on the Western Force. While the hosts know they’re in for a massive test here, they will be somewhat buoyed by their 16 point victory over the Reds last weekend.
In an extremely dull affair – I honestly almost fell asleep in each of the halves, and if you missed the game consider yourself lucky – which saw more kicks than a football match, the Force showed that they are capable of playing a somewhat clinical brand of rugby. Their game management was spot on and after tiring the Reds out in the first stanza, the men from the West Coast of Australia then kicked it up a gear and started moving the ball around. Their patience worked a treat as they managed to score the only try of the game.
The Brumbies took on the Tahs last week in what was a true test of their title credentials. Steve Larkham’s men were given a real run for their money but managed to not only come out on top but also denied their conference rivals a losing bonus point. The Brumbies maul was once again on fire last week as was their scrum. They likely to target the Force’s pack this week, and I really can’t see the hosts stomping the Brumbies juggernaut.
In terms of team news, the Force have made a few changes to the side that defeated the Reds. Ben McCalman gets his first start of the season. He’s joined in the starting pack by Jermaine Ainsley and Mitch Tessman. The former comes into the tighthead berth while the latter will come in at hooker.
Steven Larkham is yet to announce his side at the time of writing but I suspect he may rotate his squad a bit.
Verdict: Brumbies (-10.5) 9/10
This Brumbies side just reeks of quality. I honestly cannot see the Force staying within the margin this Friday.
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