An action-packed week of rugby reaches its peak this Saturday with four Super Rugby games, day one of the Hong Kong Sevens, and two European Champions Cup quarter-finals taking place. While the European ties and the Hong Kong Sevens tournament are great spectacles, they still don’t hold a candle to this weekend’s Super Rugby fixtures.
The first fixture of the day sees the Hurricanes take on a second-string Jaguares outfit at Westpac Stadium, that game is followed by a clash between the resurgent Reds and the defending champions. We then turn our attention to two local derbies, the first of which will see the Sharks take on the Lions at Kings Park while the second South African derby between the Kings and the Bulls will close out the day.
Hurricanes v Jaguares | Saturday 9 April | Westpac Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 1/6 | Draw 25/1 | Jaguares 4/1
Hurricanes (-12.5) 9/10 | Jaguares (+12.5) 9/10
Our first port of call this Saturday is Wellington, and more specifically, the Westpac Stadium where the Hurricanes will lock horns with a severely depleted Jaguares squad. The hosts come into this one off the back of a well-deserved by. Conversly, their opponents have been on a bit of a marathon tour that has seen them travel from South Africa back to Argentina and then on to New Zealand.
The Jaguares got their tour of New Zealand off to losing start last week when they went down by 8 points to the Blues. The defeat was not unexpected as Jaguares head coach, Raul Perez, elected to leave the majority of his stalwarts at home and take a youthful touring party to the ‘land of the long white cloud’.
Last weekend’s defeat to the Blues has left the Jags in a rather precarious position. They haven’t won since the opening round of the tournament and are now only three points clear of the bottom placed Southern Kings on the Africa Conference 2 log.
The Hurricanes are also in a less than ideal position in their conference but they have been on a good run of form of late and have a game in hand over the conference topping Waikato Chiefs and the second placed Highlanders.
As I mentioned above, the 'Canes form has picked up over the last few rounds. Having suffered back to back defeats in the opening two rounds, last year’s runners up have turned things around by winning there last three fixtures. The victories may have come against the some of the competitions struggling sides in the form of the Blues Kings, and Force, but at the end of the day it’s not who you pick your points up against that counts.
In terms of team news for this one, the Canes will welcome back Julian Savea. The flying winger was struggling for form during the first few rounds and was subsequently dropped from the match day 23. The man known in rugby circles as ‘The Bus’ will comes back into the starting XV in place of Jason Woodward who reverts to the fullback role with regular 15, James Marshall ruled out due to concussion. In the pack, prop Reg Goodes comes in for Chris Eves, while Vitor Vito and Brad Shields return to the starting loose trio.
On the Jags side of things, playmaker Nicolas Sanchez returns to the flyhalf berth in place of Santiago Gonzalez Igelasias who shifts to inside centre.
Verdict: Hurricanes (-12.5) 9/10
I’m expecting a big second half performance to see the ‘Canes past the 12.5 margin.
Reds v Highlanders | Saturday 9 April | Suncorp Stadium | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Reds 5/2 | Draw 25/1 | Highlanders 2/7
Reds (+9.5) 9/10 | Highlanders (-9.5) 9/10
The Highlanders come to Brisbane off the back of a mediocore showing against the Western Force. One could argue that the Force put in a great display but I’m of the opinion that the Highlanders looked a bit jaded.
The men from Otago are yet to have a bye this term and it seems to be taking a toll on them. They looked rather lethargic against the Force last week but managed to win the game by 12 points.
Jamie Joseph’s men will not only have to overcome fatigue this week but also the loss of Ben Smith. The talismanic fullback sustained a concussion in last week’s fixture and will miss the clash with the Reds. His place in the run on fifteen will be taken by Matt Faddes who moves from the wing to fullback. Faddes vacant berth will be taken by Jack Wilson. There is some good news for the Highladers squad however, with Lima So’panga retuning from injury.
Brisabane’s finest enjoyed a weekend off last week and will be rearing to go. While they are yet to get a win under their belts this term, they have improved with each passing round. Their last outing saw them run go down to the Waratahs by just two points in an extremely scrappy affair.
Verdict: Highlanders 2/7
I would honestly avoid the handicap market here and go for a straight Highlanders victory. It may not offer the best return but it’s the safest option.
Sharks v Lions | Saturday 9 April | Growthpoint Kings Park | 17:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 5/10 | Draw 22/1 | Lions 16/10
Sharks (-4.5) 9/10 | Lions (+4.5) 9/10
This local derby pits Africa Conference 2’s leaders, the Sharks, against the conference’s second placed team, the Lions. Both teams suffered defeat at the hands of the Crusaders in their last outings with the Sharks going down by five points to Todd Blackadder’s men in round five and the Lions losing by six points to the ‘Saders at Emirates Airline Park last Friday.
There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between these two local rivals. Both teams have registered three wins this season and they have both garnered a losing bonus point and winning bonus point from their five fixtures. The Sharks however, sit atop Africa Conference Two due to their round 4 draw with the Bulls.
The team news coming out of the Sharks camp for this one is that Daniel du Preez will come into the starting XV in place of the injured Philip van der Walt. Du Preez’s place on the banch will be taken by veteran loosie Keegan Daniel. On the Lions side of things, Johan Ackerman has once again opted to leave his team announcement late but I expect him to announce a very similar matchday 23 to the one that took on the Crusaders last week.
Verdict: Lions 16/10
I fancy the Lions to take this one. My reason for this is that they have some huge impact players that can come on in the final twenty minutes of a game and up the tempo dramatically. For those brave enough, the double result – with the Sharks to lead and halftime and the Lions to pull it back and win the game – offers fantastic value at 15/2. My bet for this one though will be the Lions on a straight win.
Kings v Bulls | Saturday 9 April | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 19:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Kings 5/1 | Draw 33/1 | Bulls 1/10
Kings (+14.5) 9/10 | Bulls (-14.5) 9/10
The Kings are another side that seems to be improving with each passing round. They managed to grab their first victory of the season beating the fellow wooden spoon contenders, the Sunwolves, by five points.
That victory would have done the Kings a world of good and I expect them to be fired up and rearing to get another victory under their belts when they host an injury hit Bulls outfit this Saturday.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bulls have been hit by some devastating injury blows in recent weeks. They have lost Warrick Gellant and Burger Odendaal to long term injuries in the past fortnight. Their absences have dictated a massive overhaul in the backline with Jesse Kriel returning to outside centre and former Kings and Sharks man SP Marais filling the vacant 15 jumper. They will also be without scrumhalf Rudy Paige who is struggling with a hamstring strain. The Springbok nine’s place in the side will be taken by Piet Van Zyl.
The Kings matchday squad is yet to be announced at the time of writing but I expect it to be unchanged for this weekend’s clash.
Verdict: Kings (+14.5) 9/10
The Bulls haven’t really hit the heights many were predicting this term and athough I think they will win this one, I can’t see them cantering to victory.