Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Okay, so Friday’s two Super Rugby fixtures may not be out of the top draw but they’ll still give us an excuse to avoid a couple hours of work.
The first fixture of the day sees the Highlanders, who are coming off the back of a much-needed bye, host a Sharks side in absolute turmoil. We then head across the Tasman for what should prove to be an intriguing contest between an unpredictable Rebels squad and a Cheetahs side fresh off the back of a massive victory over the Sunwolves.
Highlanders v Sharks | Friday 22 April | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders 1/5 | Draw 33/1 | Sharks 32/10
Highlanders (-10.5) 9/10 | Sharks (+10.5) 9/10
The Sharks may only be one game deep into their tour of New Zealand but the trip is already looking like a massive waste of time. Last weekend’s opposition were probably the easiest they will face on this ill-fated tour. And while the Natalians led for the majority of the game they still ended up going down by five points.
Excuse my negative outlook, but it’s hard times for us Sharks supporters. It’s likely to get even harder this Friday with Gary Gold’s men taking on the defending champions at ‘Fortress Forsyth’.
To make matters worse for the visitors, the Highlanders will come into this one a rejuvenated outfit having enjoyed a bye last week.
The week’s break came at the ideal time for Jamie Joseph’s side who suffered a humbling defeat the week prior. As embarrassing as the 28-27 defeat to the Reds was, it must be remembered that the Highlanders were without talismanic fullback Ben Smith.
Smith along with his namesake scrumhalf, Aaron Smith, are the heartbeat of this Highlanders team. When the duo link up, it’s one of the most mesmerizing sights in Union. We could be in for some of that dazzling link up play as Ben Smith has been declared fit to play having recovered from a concussion.
Other changes to the Highlanders run on 15 sees Ash Dixon return to the hooking berth, he’s joined in the front row by Josh Honeck while Tom Franklin comes into the second row. There’s also a change to the loose trio with Elliot Dixon linking up with Shane Christie and Liam Squires.
While the Highlanders have welcomed some returning stalwarts, the Sharks have lost some of their key men. Outside centre Paul Jordaan is out with an injury niggle. His absence sees JP Pietersen shift in from the wing with Odwa Ndugane coming to fill his vacated slot. The biggest surprise change sees youngster Garth April come in for Joe Pietersen at fly half.
In the forward pack, impressive young loosie Daniel du Preez has also been ruled out with a slight strain. His spot in the run on XV is taken by veteran Keegan Daniel.
There are also some changes to the Sharks bench with Chilli Ralepelle set to make his debut for the coastal franchise at some point in the second stanza. He’s joined on the pine by forgotten man of Sharks rugby Jean Deysel, who has been turning out for the Sharks XV during the Currie Cup qualifiers.
Verdict: Highlanders (-10.5) 9/10
I’m not even going to bother with a statistical breakdown to motivate my verdict here. Simply put, the sharks will be hard pressed to avoid a 30 point drubbing here. Back the Highlanders to clear the -10.5 margin with confidence.
Rebels v Cheetahs | Friday 22 April | AAMI Park | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Rebels 4/10 | Draw 28/1 | Cheetahs 31/20
Rebels (-5.5) 8/10 | Cheetahs (+5.5) 9/10
The Rebels have well and truly flattered to deceive thus far. Having defeated the Waratahs in round six, I really thought they would been in with a shout of beating the Highlanders.
In hindsight however, I realise that this was probably my biggest faux paux of the season thus far. A quick look at their other results illustrates this; they opened their campaign with a decent six point away victory over the Western Force. They followed that up with a 20 point away defeat to the Bulls, but then bounced back with victories over the Reds and Sunwolves before they were downed by the Highlanders in round five.
None of the Rebels victories have come against any of the of the sides currently occupying a quarter-final position. Thankfully for Tony McGahan’s men, they’re taking on a side that’s as close to the playoff spots as Sunderland are to winning the Premier League.
The Cheetahs may be sitting in a lowly position on Africa Conference two and the Combined Africa Conference, but they will certainly come into this one with their tails up after last week’s demolition of the Sunwolves.
Franco Smith side registered their second victory of the season in thrilling style last Friday downing the hapless Sunwolves by 92 points to 17. That 75 point victory has seen the Cheetahs move their conference points tally up to 12; 11 points off Africa 2’s second placed team, the Bulls.
The Cheetahs have actually had the upper hand in these fixtures over the years, winning three of the four encounters played between the two sides. These games also tend to be high scoring affairs with all of the previous four fixtures seeing a total points tally in excess of 48
Verdict: Rebels (-5.5) 9/10
If the margin was around the +10.5 mark my money would be firmly on the Cheetahs. It’s nowhere near that, however, and I really can’t see Free State based franchise staying within in such a narrow margin away from home.
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