Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Well, round 4 certainly didn’t disappoint. We saw some high-scoring thrillers – the Waratahs versus 'Canes game being the pick of the bunch. We also witnessed two draws, which I’m pretty sure has never happened in a round before.
Anyway, enough dwelling on the past, let’s focus on what looks like another intriguing Saturday of Super Rugby.
Chiefs v Force | Saturday 26 March | FMG Stadium Waikato | 08:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Chiefs 1/12 | Draw 30/1 | Force 13/2
Chiefs (-17.5) 9/10 | Force (+17.5) 9/10
The 'Tahs and 'Canes game may have taken “the best of the high-scoring thrillers “ accolade last week but the Chiefs fixture against the Jaguares was a close contender. The game was a narrow run affair from the first minute. Aaron Cruden and Nicolas Sanchez traded penalties inside the opening ten minutes before the game burst into life with three tries; two from the Chiefs and one from the hosts. Nicolas Sanchez kicked two further penalties after that try blitz, to ensure the Chiefs would enter the halftime break a point down.
The men from Waikato then took the lead early on in second stanza through the boot of Damian Mckenzie. Their advantage was further extend when winger James Lowe crossed the whitewash on the 52-minute mark. Much like the first stanza, there was a lull in the points scoring before all hell broke loose. The Argentines started the mayhem with a try on the 71-minute mark which saw them cut the Chiefs lead to just two points. The visitors then got a wake-up call of a lifetime when the Jaguares launched a counter from the kick off that saw them take the lead for the first time in the half. The try went unconverted but this was little comfort for the Chiefs as they now trailed by three points and there were only six minutes left on the clock. The men from Waikato demonstrated that never say die attitude that has been the hallmark of champions however, as they went on to score the match winning try after pivot Aaron Cruden put his half-back partner through for a five-pointer.
That 26-30 victory would have done this Chiefs side a world of good. While you can’t really call their second round defeat to the Lions in Hamilton an embarrassment, it must have wounded them. And while the wound would have started to close after their mauling of the Kings a fortnight ago, a defeat to the Argentines would have probably reopened it.
While the Chiefs' late show was quite the spectacle, the Force’s clash with the Canes was more subdued. Yes, the scoreline doesn’t support my last statement but those who were lucky enough to find a television set in the office will know exactly what I’m harping on about. The Force were actually good value for the majority of the game but the Hurricanes launched a late blitz that put a huge amount of gloss on what should have been a much tighter scoreline than 41-6.
In terms of team news for this one, Dave Rennie has made four changes to the Chiefs starting XV. Siate Tokolahi comes into the front row while Taleni Sau comes in for injured Josh Bardoul in the second row. The other two changes see Brad Webber come in at scrumhalf and Seta Tamanivalu come in for the impressive Anton Lienert-Brown at outside centre. Rennie's opposite number has also made minimal changes to his starting XV. The only two alterations to the run on Western Force side are Heath Tessmann who comes into the hooking berth and Brynard Stander who get’s a run on the side of the scrum.
Verdict: Chiefs Double Result 3/10
There’s not much value to be found here unless you’re willing to stick your neck out on one of the handicaps. While I fully expect the Chiefs to win this one, I can’t back them to clear the -17.5 margin with any real confidence. I recommend taking them on the Double Result. They should be able to win both halves and it offers a bit more value than the straight win.
Rebels v Highlanders |Saturday 26 March | AAMI Park | 10:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Rebels 18/10 | Draw 20/1 | Highlanders 9/20
Rebels (+5.5) 9/10 | Highlanders (-5.5) 9/10
The second fixture of the day will see a Melbourne Rebels outfit, fresh off the back of a 9-35 bonus point victory over the Sunwolves, take on the defending champions at AAMI Park. The hosts dodged a potential banana peel out in Tokyo last week with a clinical performance that has seen them move level on points with the Brumbies at the top of the Australian Conference.
The Highlanders are also sitting pretty in their conference after last weekend’s victory over the Waratahs. The result saw them move to the top of the New Zealand Conference for the majority of Saturday, but the Chiefs victory over the 'Jags saw Jamie Joseph’s side drop a solitary point behind their aforementioned conference rivals.
Both sides boast some of the tournament's form loosies, so we can expect an almighty battle at the breakdown this Saturday. The Highlanders do have the edge when it comes to the attacking side of the game, however. This advantage is mainly due to the two Smiths whose link up play has been sublime. The All Black duo’s ability to launch counter-attacks from misplaced opposition kicks and quick taps makes the Highlanders an extremely difficult team to defend against. Factor in the brute strength of Malakai Feikitoa and you’ve got a team that can break down opposition midfield as well as outflank defenses.
If the Rebels are to overcome their much-fancied opponents they’re going to need to ensure the game doesn’t become fractured. The Highlanders thrive on turnover ball and the Rebels will be well advised to keep it tight and not take too many unnecessary risks. They’re also going to need to ensure their defensive line is solid and not disjointed as the likes of Lima Sopo'aga and Rob Thompson are capable of threading through the smallest of gaps with a drop of the hips.
Verdict: Highlanders 9/20
My advice for this one is to avoid the handicap and take the Highlanders on a straight win. There may not be a lot of value there but I wouldn't muck about with the handicaps as this one could be a blowout or a tight affair.
Sunwolves v Bulls | Saturday 26 March | Singapore National Stadium | 12:55
To Win (80 Mins)
Sunwolves 6/1 | Draw 30/1 | Bulls 1/10
Sunwolves (+16.5) 9/10 | Bulls (-16.5) 9/10
After having a heavy defeat inflicted upon them last time out, the Sunwolves will make the short trip across the East and South China Seas to their second stadium in Singapore. While the hosts will come into this one off the back of a disheartening defeat, their opponents will make the trip from South Africa to South East Asia in a buoyant mood having snatched an unexpected late draw from their encounter with the Sharks last Friday.
The Bulls really didn’t deserve to win last week’s fixture as they were well a truly outclassed by their local rivals. I doubt that their head coach, Nollis Marais, will care about anything other than the two points his side managed to knick, however. He and his charges now have the ideal opportunity to continue the moment garnered from last week’s fixture when they come up against a Sunwolves side that is rife for the taking.
The new boys on the block were made to look a rather ordinary bunch by a Melbourne Rebels side who must have been feeling rather fatigued after racking up a staggering amount of air miles over a two-week period. The result has left the Wolves stranded at the bottom of Africa Conference 2 - four points behind the third placed Cheetahs.
The Rebels gave the rest of the Sunwolves opponents the ideal blueprint on how to overcome the Japanese franchise last week; keep the ball close and only spread it when you’ve earned the right to go wide – a rather simple strategy but it seems to work a treat. The Bulls have the forward pack to implement the strategy although they will be missing lock Grant Hattingh who picked up a groin injury against the Sharks. The Sunwolves will also be missing one of their locking stalwarts as Tim Bond has been handed a one-match ban for throwing caution to the wind when entering a ruck against the Rebels last week.
Verdict: Bulls (-16.5) 9/10
I’m going to stick my neck out here and back the Bulls to clear -16.5 margin. The Sunwolves pack has looked rather suspect and I can see the Bulls set piece dominance seeing them to a big win in Singapore.
Cheetahs v Brumbies | Saturday 26 March | Toyota Stadium | 15:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 28/10 | Draw 20/1 | Brumbies 2/7
Cheetahs (+9.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (-9.5) 9/10
Franco Smith’s Cheetahs will have to be weary this week as they are coming up against a Brumbies side who will looking to put a dismal final twenty minutes against the Stormers behind them. The visitors only have themselves to blame for last week’s loss and their mentor, Steven Larkham, will have told them as much.
While they struggled to assert their dominance on the game, the Brumbies were still in with a shout of snatching a late win, or at least, a losing bonus point, until the red mist descended over hooker Jash Mann-Rea. The Brumbies frontrower must have been auditioning for a bout with Sonny Bill-Williams, as that is the only reason I can think of for him laying into fellow front row club member Ollie Kebble. While front rower on front rower violence is always spectacular to witness, this was simply uncalled for and Mann-Rea thoroughly deserves his one week ban.
While the Brumbies were duking it out with the Stormers, the Cheetahs were being skinned alive by the Lions. Franco Smith’s men made the mistake of going to Emirates Airlines Park with a “run the ball at all cost” game plan. While the Cheetahs mantra of “we’ll try and score more five pointers than you in order to win the game” is commendable, it’s also a suicidal tactic to take into the Lions den. And in true Kamikaze spirit, the Cheetahs went down in a blaze of glory. That 39-22 defeat has seen the Cheetahs drop a point behind the second-placed Bulls on the Africa Conference 1 standings.
Franco Smith is yet to announce his matchday 23 although I expect he'll opt for consistency in a bid to bail his team out of the doldrums. While Smith has the luxury of being able to select from an fully fit squad, his opposite number has been forced to make a few changes. The first of which sees Ita Vaea return to the starting XV in place of stand in eight Jarrad Butler. The other change to the starting XV sees Robbie Coleman come in for flying winger Henry Speight who is set to miss the rest of the campaign due to a broken leg and national sevens commitments.
Verdict: Brumbies (-9.5) 9/10
The Brumbies will be fired up coming into this one and I can see them putting a big score over an exciting but porous Cheetahs unit.
Sharks v Crusaders | Saturday 26 March | Growthpoint Kings Park | 17:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 7/10 | Draw 20/1 | Crusaders 12/10
Sharks (-2.5) 9/10 | Crusaders (+2.5) 9/10
Todd Blackadder summed it up best when he stated that the Crusaders were in for an onslaught of 'up and unders' when their tour of South Africa commences later this week. The Crusaders' first port of call on their tour of the Republic will be the Shark Tank, a place that has seen a hell of a lot of kicking over the last few years.
The hosts for this encounter will be going all out to make up for last week’s capitulation in Pretoria. While most of blame has been laid at stand-in flyhalf Joe Pietersen’s feet - which is understandable given how horrendous his last minute shot at goal was – I do think that he should not have to shoulder the responsibility for the loss alone. Willie le Roux had an ideal opportunity to put his side 8 points clear on the 59-minute mark but instead of throwing a dummy and crossing the whitewash - for the second time in the game - the mercurial fullback elected to throw a lofted inside ball that found Paul Jordaan, but as the centre caught the ball he was hit by a Bulls defender and the ball was subsequently knocked on.
The Sharks will have to take all the opportunities presented to them this Saturday as the Crusaders are capable of suffocating opposition teams by dominating the possession stakes. The hosts are also going to have try slow the Crusaders ruck ball down, which is no easy feat when you consider how brilliant the 'Saders forwards are at cleaning out opposition defenders at the breakdown.
On top of all the aforementioned factors, the Sharks will also have to contend with a rejuvenated Crusaders side as Todd Blackadder was able to rest his stalwarts last week due to the quality - or lack their of - of their opposition.
Talisman Kieran Reed returns to the starting XV. He’s joined in the pack by front rowers Joe Moody and Codie Taylor as well as lock Sam Whitelock. In the backline, Ryan Crotty gets his first start of the year with David Havilli shifting to fullback. While Andy Ellis has been named as the starting nine. On the Natalians side of the coin. Gary Gold has opted to make three changes to his starting XV with Cobus Reinach coming in at scrumhalf, and Coenie Oosthuizen and Franco Marais returning to the starting front row.
Verdict: Crusaders 12/10
As much as it pains me to say this, I can see the Crusaders getting the better of the Sharks in Durban. The KZN-based franchise has produced some decent rugby thus far but they are yet to take on a team as clinical as this Crusaders unit is.
Jaguares v Stormers | Saturday 26 March | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 23:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 6/10 | Draw 25/1 | Stormers 5/4
Jaguares (-3.5) 9/10 | Stormers (+3.5) 9/10
So it seems I may owe the Stormers a bit of an apology. Last week I harped on about how they were one dimensional and their attack lacked inventiveness and then they go and beat the Brumbies by 20 points.
While it’s a fantastic result for the men from the Cape, I still think their attacking play was rather easy to read. Yes, they should be commended for running the ball from deep and trying to stretch play but the Brumbies were coping with it until Jash Mann-Rea got sent off. The Stormers were then awarded a rather dodgy try - which I suppose is justice for the decision that went against them when they played the Sharks a fortnight ago – that added a lot of gloss to final score.
The Capetonians now have the unenviable task of travelling to Argentina to take on a Jaguares who were full of running last week. Despite going down to the Chiefs, Augustin Creevy and co put in a magnificent display at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani. The South Americans ran in three spectacular tries and had it not been for a late Chiefs five-pointer, the Argentines would have claimed their second win of the campaign.
This game is going to be a rather intriguing affair. Both sides are solid at the set piece and while the Stormers have the better defensive system, the Jags' are superior on attack. The Argentines also have the better fly half of the two sides. Nicholas Sanchez's goal kicking may not have been out of the top draw last week, but it must be remembered that this is a man who topped the 2015 World Cup points scoring charts. His goal kicking prowess could well be the difference between the two sides this weekend.
Verdict: Jaguares (-3.5) 9/10
The Jags really impressed me last week and while their defensive system needs a bucket load of work, I think their attack and Sanchez’s ability with the boot will see them trump the Stormers by more than the -3.5 margin.
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