Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
The midway point of the 2016 Super Rugby season is fast approaching and we’ve finally got past the muggy summer conditions associated with the first two months of the tournament. This means that we are likely to see far less handling errors in the coming weeks. The milder temperatures will hopefully equate to more try scoring opportunities being converted and a decrease in the amount of scrums being set.
The Crusaders and Jaguares will be the first teams to test this theory when they square off at AMI Stadium in Friday’s early kickoff. That game is followed by what should be an intriguing match between the Rebels and Hurricanes. Friday concludes with a clash between the Cheetahs and the Sunwolves in Bloemfontein.
Crusaders v Jaguares | Friday 15 April | AMI Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 3/20| Draw 33/1| Jaguares 9/2
Crusaders (-13.5) 9/10 | Jaguares (+13.5) 9/10
The Crusaders narrowly avoided the same fate that befell the Highlanders last week by scraping past a resurgent Australian franchise.
Trailing by 19 to 13 with only two minutes remaining, the Crusaders laid siege to the Force’s tryline and were eventually rewarded for their dogged determination when flanker Jordan Taufua barged over from close range.
The 'Saders fate then lay in the hands of young Richie Mo’unga. The pivot stepped up and cooly slotted the conversion to hand Todd Blackadder's men their fifth consecutive victory.
The Jaguares form is a lot less impressive that of their opponents. Paul Perez’s side experienced their heaviest loss of the season last week going down to the Hurricanes by 40 points to 22. This was their fifth straight loss and has seen them drop nine points behind the second-placed Sharks on the Africa Conference 2 standings.
Perez has opted to call in the reinforcements for the final leg of his side’s tour of New Zealand. Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Tetaz Chapparro will make their returns this week with both players slotting straight into the starting frontrow.
Another player who has just joined the Argentinian touring party is Matias Alemmanno. The big lock comes into the second row in place of Tomas Lavanini while his fellow returnees Juan Leguizamon and Facundo Isa come into the backrow in place of Pablo Matera and Leonardo Senatore.
In the backline, Gonzalo Bertanou replaces Martin Landajo while Juan Martin Hernadez comes into the flyhalf berth in place of the overworked Nicolas Sanchez.
The three other changes made by Perez see Matias Morini come in on the right wing, Juan Tuculet return to the fullback berth, and Jeronimo de la Fuente come into the centres.
On the hosts' side of the coin, there’s a return for the injury-plagued Israel Dagg who will don the number 15 jumper this Friday. Other changes to the run-on side see Joe Moody come into the frontrow while Scott Barrett also comes into the engine room. Barrett will partner Luke Romano in the second row.
There are two further changes to the Crusaders' starting line up; both of which are in the backline. Andy Ellis comes into the scrumhalf berth while Kieron Fonotia gets a start at outside centre.
Verdict: Crusaders (-13.5) 9/10
I still can't see them the Argentines troubling the Crusaders despite the cavalry being called in. Back the hosts to clear the -14.5 margin at 9/10.
Rebels v Hurricanes | Friday 15 April | AAMI Park | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Rebels 14/10 | Draw 22/1 | Hurricanes 6/10
Rebels (+4.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (-4.5) 9/10
The Rebels are enjoying their best season in Super Rugby yet. They are currently level on points with the Brumbies at the summit of the Australian Conference and sit three points off the quarter-final places on the combined Australasian Conference.
Key to the Melbourne-based franchise's solid start to the season has been their loose trio of former All Black Adam Thompson, and Australian flankers, Sean McMahon and Jordy Reid.
While Reid hasn’t been a fixture in the side this term, he has been involved in recent weeks. He seems to have added a balance to the trio that wasn’t evident when Thompson was playing on the flank and Lopeti Timani was the starting eight.
The Hurricanes have also enjoyed a decent start to the season. While they are far from the all-conquering menace they were last season, they are starting to recapture some of that form. This upswing in fortunes has coincided with them finding more balance in centres department.
Vince Aso and Ngani Laumape were handed the reigns at the beginning of the season but struggled to make an impact. Chris Boyd subsequently opted to shift things around, using utility back Matt Proctor and Southland stalwart Willis Halholo instead of Aso, whose been playing the role of impact player.
Interestingly enough, though, Chris Boyd has opted for a centre pairing of Matt Proctor and Vince Aso for this fixture. Aso will come in for Laumape at inside-centre while Proctor takes over from Willis Haalholo. Proctor’s switch to the outside-centre berth means that former Rebels man, Jason Woodward, comes in at fullback with Corey Jane shifting to the right wing.
In the forward pack, Vaea Fifita comes into the second row in place of Blade Thompson who is out with a bruised knee.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan is yet to announce his side at the time of writing, but they are coming off the back of the bye so any players who were suffering small scale injuries should be available to take part, which means we are likely to see a full strength Rebels side turn out at AAMI Park.
Verdict: Rebels (+4.5) 9/10
A lot of people are writing the Rebels' chances of winning this one off but I think that may be a grave mistake. The men from Melbourne have claimed some big scalps this season – most notably the Waratahs – and I really think they will give this Hurricanes side a good run for their money. The safe option here is to back the Rebels on the plus but for those of you who are in search of a higher return, the Rebels to beat the Canes at 14/10 is certainly worth a flutter.
Cheetahs v Sunwolves | Friday 15 April | Toyota Stadium | 19:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 1/9 | Draw 33/1 | Sunwolves 11/2
Cheetahs (-17.5) 9/10 | Sunwolves (+17.5) 9/10
Two of this season’s struggling sides will go head to head at the Toyota Stadium this Friday evening in a clash that could prove to be quite the spectacle.
While I can’t tell you this game is going to match up to the quality of say a clash between the Brumbies and Hurricanes, it’s sure to contain a few long range tries as both sides like to spread the ball.
Not only did the total combined scoreline pass the 60 point mark when the sides met in Singapore last month, but both teams managed to score four tries a piece.
The game itself was a tale of two halves with the Sunwolves dominating the first stanza and the Cheetahs bossing the second. The Free State side’s second half heroics would ensure the edged out their Japanese opponents, albeit by the narrowest of margins.
That narrow defeat has been the closest the Sunwolves have come to tasting victory in their debut campaign. They currently sit at the foot of Africa Conference 1 and are the only side yet to register a win in this year’s competition.
Verdict: Cheetahs (-17.5) 9/10
I reckon the Sunwolves' losing streak will continue this weekend. While they have shown flashes of brilliance on attack, their defensive line is just too porous. The Cheetahs generally lift their game in front of their home faithful and I can see them putting a big score on the board at the Toyota Stadium this Friday.
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