Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
I have to say, I’m rather looking forward to Saturday’s four fixtures. Each game has it’s own intriguing dynamics and most of the competitors are evenly matched. Scratch that, upon further reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are all evenly matched. This means we should be in for some hotly contested affairs come kick off time.
The Sharks will be looking for redemption when they take on the Blues in the early kickoff. The Natalians were horrific against the Lions last week and if things don’t turn things around soon, coach, Gary Gold, may just become another dull footnote in the franchises’ tumultuous recent history.
The second game of the day sees the Waratahs and Brumbies go head to head in the battle of New South Wales. That fixture is followed by a clash between two of the tournament’s resurgent sides in the form of the Bulls and Reds.
The day closes out with what should be an epic derby between the impressive Lions and a well-organized Stormers outfit.
Blues v Sharks | Saturday 16 April | Eden Park | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Blues 5/10 | Draw 22/1 | Sharks 17/10
Blues (-5.5) 9/10 | Sharks (5.5) 9/10
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Natal side look so devoid of ideas on attack than the one that took to the Kings Park turf last Saturday. The strategy employed by the Sharks against the Lion last week was reminiscent of Chelsea football club under Jose Mourinho; defend, defend and defend some more.
While this tactic may reap rewards on a football pitch and on European rugby fields, it is ineffective when it comes to Super Rugby. The Lions illustrated this point by downing the Sharks in front of their home faithful.
The Natalians actually started the game off with a sweeping counterattack that almost saw them breach the Lions defensive line. It was the Lions who did all the attacking from then on in however.
The sad thing for Sharks supporters, myself included, is that we all know this side is capable of executing an attacking game plan. And while I completely understand that the coastal franchise needed to sure up their defensive for this tournament – which they have done thanks to defensive coach Omar Hendricks – it still doesn’t legislate for the constant kicking and one-off runners.
If the Sharks continue with this bland approach then they’re likely to be on the wrong end of some even bigger scorelines in the coming weeks.
While the Blues also suffered defeat in round 7, they looked a hell of a lot better than their opponents. Tana Umaga's side managed to take a surprise 20-10 lead early on in the second stanza in their derby with the Chiefs. They were unable to hold on to their advantage, however, eventually going down 29-23; which is no disgrace considering the Chiefs are the form team in the tournament.
Despite calls for Gary Gold to show some adventure and play Willie Le Roux at ten, the Sharks mentor has opted to go the conservative route and continue with Joe Pietersen in the pivot role for this weekend's clash. The only changes he’s made are to the forward pack with Philip van der Walt coming in at eight due to Daniel du Preez having to revert to the side of the scrum in place of the injured Marcel Coetzee.
On the Blues side of things, Tana Umaga has opted to make just two changes to his run-on side with Lolagi Visiania coming into the fullback berth and either Kara Pyror or Tanerau Latimer coming in for the injured Blake Gibson.
Verdict: Blues 5/10
The Blues have struggled in this fixture over the years – they’ve lost their last six encounters with the Sharks. However, with the Sharks' backline looking more like a brick wall than an attacking force, I reckon that losing streak will end this Saturday.
Waratahs v Brumbies | Saturday 16 April | Allianz Stadium | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs 13/10 | Draw 22/10 | Brumbies 13/20
Waratahs (+2.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (-2.5) 9/10
The first of two massive Saturday derbies see the Waratahs and Brumbies square off at Allianz Stadium. The hosts will be out for revenge after going down by 17 points in the reverse tie earlier this year while their opponents will be looking to get their title-chasing season back on track after a few miserable performances.
The two sides come into this one off the back of a much-needed byes. The break will have helped both sets of backroom staff regroup and plot how they will move forward after a slew of poor results.
The hosts have only won two of their five fixtures this term and have shipped 106 points while only scoring 103. This is a rather astonishing stat when you consider how good a defensive side the ‘Tahs were last season.
The Brumbies have also been guilty of some soft defending in recent weeks. Steve Larkham’s men have conceded 97 points in their last three games while only responding with 52 of their own.
Those are rather damning stats for two sides who both boast a plethora of seasoned internationals.
In terms of team news for this one, the Brumbies will be without two of their standout loosies Ita Vaea and talismanic flanker David Pocock. The latter is serving the final week of his suspension for a neck grab while the former has sadly had to retire from the sport due to a heart issue. Chris Smyler and Jarrad Butler will come into the starting XV in place of the duo.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has opted to do a bit of experimentation for this one and we could all be in for a treat if it comes off.
The Tahs will field Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau in the centres this week. Both players possess that coveted x-factor in spades. Their fledgling partnership could be just the tonic to lift what must be a rather downtrodden Waratahs locker room.
Verdict: Waratahs 13/10
The reason I'm backing the Waratahs is two-fold. Firstly they are guaranteed the ascendancy at the breakdown with Michael Hooper sure to take full advantage of Pocock's absence. Secondly, their new centre pairing of Folau and Beale excites the living daylights out of me. The duo are such good ball players that I reckon they’ll need no adjustment period and will simply hit the ground running.
Bulls v Reds | Saturday 16 April | Loftus Versfeld | 17:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Bulls 3/10| Draw 25/10 | Reds 28/10
Bulls (-9.5) 9/10 | Reds (+9.5) 9/10
Which game do you think took to me the longest to come up with a verdict for? if I'm being honest, all of them actually took a while – such is the unpredictability of this year’s tournament.
This fixture was the one that did my head in this week, however. Most of you are probably thinking that I’ve lost my mind and that the Bulls will canter to victory at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday. But hear me out before you get on the blower to the asylum.
My reason for thinking this one could be a much tighter affair than most pundits and fans think, is that the Reds got the morale boost of the decade last weekend.
Their 28-27 victory over the defending champions will have done wonders for this Queensland side. While they have shown improvement with each passing round, last week was by far and away, the best performance I’ve seen from them in some time.
Yes, they struggled a bit in the second-half but we all knew the Highlanders would come back into the game with that talented backline of theirs. Narrow victories also tend to build more cohesion and self-belief within a squad rather than an absolute none. So I expect this Reds team to look even more determined this weekend.
The Bulls also gave a good account of themselves last weekend, albeit, against much weaker opposition. Nollis Marais’ men traveled down to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for a clash with the Southern Kings, who I thought would offer a much stiffer challenge than they did.
While the Kings didn’t exactly just roll over and let the Bulls have it all their own way, the Eastern Province franchise's performance was a far cry from the resilient displays they put in on the back end of their New Zealand tour and against the Sunwolves a fortnight ago.
In terms of team news for this one, Nollis Marais has opted to make three changes for this one. Jamba Ulengo makes way for Bjorn Basson while Francois Brummer gets the nod at flyhalf ahead of Tian Schoeman. The third and final change to the Bulls run on XV is also in the backline with Rudy Paige returning to the starting scrumhalf berth having recovered from a knee injury.
The Reds have made just a solitary change for this one with Ben Matwijow coming in for Rob Simmons, who misses out due to a shoulder injury.
Verdict: Reds (+9.5) 9/10
I was hoping the Reds would have a much bigger price affixed to their names this week as 28/10 just isn't enough value for such a big risk. While I fancy the Queenslanders to get their first victory at Loftus since 2001, the sensible bet here is to back them on the +9.5 handicap at 9/10.
Lions v Stormers | Saturday 16 April | Emirates Airline Park | 19:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 7/10 | Draw 22/1 | Stormers 9/10
Lions (-2.5) 9/10 | Stormers (+2.5) 9/10
The headline clash of the weekend sees Joburg’s band of brothers take on Cape Town’s finest at Emirates Airline Park. After their impeccable display at Kings Park last week, the hosts will come into this one pumped up as anything.
The 15 point victory has seen Johan Ackerman’s side move up to first spot on Africa Conference Two and second spot on the Combined Africa Conference; five points behind the weekend's opposition.
The Stormers also come into this one off the back of an impressive showing. They took the poor old Sunwolves to task last week, running in six tries in their 46 – 19 victory. The man who was at the heart of this positive performance was young pivot, Jean Luc-du Plessis.
The son of former Springbok and Province stalwart, Carel du Plessis, had an absolute blinder. While his goal kicking was a bit off, his distribution and running game were faultless. He looks to have a cool head on his shoulders and the vision of a seasoned ten. He is going to need to display these two attributes again this week as he’s coming up against South Africa’s from pivot, Elton Jantjies.
Johan Ackermann has continued to implement his now customary late announcement policy. Having taken a look at their official website, it seems all those involved in last week’s historic victory will be available for this weekend's clash.
Robbie Fleck seems to be a lot more willing to announce his team at a reasonable time. The Stormers mentor has made four changes to his starting XV with Nic Groom slotting straight back into the starting scrumhalf berth having overcome a knee injury, while Bongi Mbonambi comes into the front row in place of Scarra Ntubeni who is struggling with a hamstring strain. The other two changes see JC Janse van Rensburg come in for Ollie Keeble, who drops to the bench while Nizaam Carr comes in on the side of the scrum.
Verdict: Lions 7/10
These two sides have been involved in some titanic clashes over the years and I expect Saturday’s game to be no different. The Stormers may have won four of the last Six Super Rugby matches played between the two sides but my money is on the Lions camp to get one over the men from the Western Cape.
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