Our rugby scribe takes a look at Saturdays six round 16 Super Rugby fixtures including the game between the Waratahs and Hurricanes.
A whole host of permutations will come into play this weekend as Super Rugby edges ever closer to its knockout phase. The Crusaders will be looking to make up the ground they lost to the Chiefs last week when they take on the Rebels in the day’s opening game.
Saturday’s second fixture could play a huge role in determining two of the quarter-finalists while the third match could decide whether the Stormers have a home semi-final – if they advance that far – or not.
The Bulls will then try and make a play for the final Africa Conference quarter-final berth when they take on the Sunwolves in the fourth fixture of the day.
Regardless of how many points the Bulls put over the Sunwolves, their fate is likely to be determined by the day’s fifth clash between the Sharks and Cheetahs. If the Free Staters do manage to oust the Sharks, the Bulls may well find themselves back in the running for the knockout phase of the tournament.
The final match of the round will see the Jaguares take on a Highlanders outfit who will be desperate to claim a full five-point haul in a bid to put pressure on the Chiefs and Crusaders who are currently ahead of the men from Otago on the New Zealand Conference standings.
Crusaders v Rebels | Saturday 9 July | AMI Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 1/16 | Draw 40/1 | Rebels 7/1
Crusaders (-18.5) 9/10 | Rebels (+18.5) 9/10
This game could well end in a total score line in excess of 62 points. The reasons for this are that the Crusaders need to win this game by three clear cut tries to secure a bonus point and the Rebels, despite having some brilliant defenders in their loose trio, are as defensively porous as a fishing net.
Both sides come into this one off the back of disappointing defeats, with the Crusaders going down by 10 points to the Chiefs and the Rebels being run ragged by a Stormers side that finally produced some of that fabled attacking rugby that Robbie Fleck had promised at the start of the season.
The Rebels are currently on a horrific run, losing four of their last five fixtures. Their set piece looks abysmal and their backline lacks composure on defesnse. The Crusaders, on the other hand, have one of the most potent packs in the tournament and their backline, despite misfiring against the Chiefs last week, is capable of running in a bucket load of tries when the need arises.
Verdict: Crusaders (-18.5) 9/10
The Rebels poor run of form looks set to continue this weekend with the Crusaders almost certain to bounce from last week’s loss with an emphatic victory. Back Todd Blackadder’s men on the -18.5 handicap at 9/10.
Waratahs v Hurricanes | Saturday 9 July | Allianz Stadium | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs 7/10 | Draw 20/1 | Hurricanes 12/10
Waratahs (-2.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (+2.5) 9/10
We don’t have to wait as long as we did last weekend for the pick of Saturday’s action with the mid-morning match between the Waratahs and Hurricanes stealing the limelight this week.
Both sides have quality backs who love nothing more than to run the ball when given a chance. They are also both desperate to secure five point-hauls as the Waratahs are looking to leapfrog the Brumbies – who are likely to have taken five points off the Reds by the time this one kicks off – into top position on the Australian Conference standings and the Hurricanes are looking to take full advantage of any slip ups from the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
The Waratahs have won the last two encounters between the sides with the ‘Canes last victory coming back in 2013 out in Wellington. The Canes did manage a victory out in Sydney in 2012 which should give them a bit of a morale boost heading into this one. Fixtures between these two sides tend to be packed with tries with the last three games seeing seven or more five-pointers.
Keep an eye out for Hurricanes utility forward Vaea Fifita this week, the Canes bruiser was in magnificent form against the Blues last time out.
Verdict: Waratahs (-2.5) 9/10
I fancy the Tahs here. They’ve got a midfield capable of punching holes in the Hurricanes defensive line and a loose trio who run immaculate support lines.
Force v Stormers | Saturday 9 July | nib Stadium | 13:55
To Win (80 Mins)
Force 7/2 | Draw 25/1 | Stormers 1/5
Force (+9.5) 9/10| Stormers (-9.5) 9/10
One has to ask why the Stormers have left it so late to produce the clinical brand of rugby that they displayed last weekend. Yes, there were a few defensive frailties on show during the opening half of their 57-31 drubbing of the Rebels, but the way in which they turned on the style in the second stanza would have brought a massive smile to coach Robbie Fleck’s face.
The Stormers only need two points from their last two games to assure themselves a home quarter-final but I doubt they’ll just play for the win here as they’ll want to continue to build on the momentum from last week’s display. They will be without dynamic loosie, Nizaam Carr, but with young gun Sikhumbuzo Notshe ready to step in, they shouldn’t have too much trouble filling Carr’s boots.
While the Western Force managed to put in a decent showing out in the Free State last week, it wasn’t enough to beat the Cheetahs. Despite going down by 30 points to 29, the Force will take some heart from the game and especially the performance of recently capped Wallaby Dane Haylett-Petty. The diminutive utility back was in brilliant form and ran in two sublime tries. He will need to fire this weekend if his side are to have any chance of winning this one.
Verdict: Stormers (-9.5) 9/10
I can’t see the Force mustering any real fight here as they are coming off the back of a long distance flight back home. Get on a resurgent Stormers to clear the handicap at 9/10.
Bulls v Sunwolves | Saturday 9 July | Loftus Versveld | 17:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Bulls 1/100| Draw 50/1 | Sunwolves 12/1
Bulls (-29.5) 9/10 | Sunwolves (+29.5) 9/10
The Bulls continued participation in the tournament is dangling by a thread. They will have to put a big score over the Sunwolves this Saturday and hope that the Sharks slip up against the Cheetahs at home, as the Natalians are unlikely to lose their final fixture of the conference stage against the Sunwolves.
This should be a cut and dry fixture for the Bulls especially with the Sunwolves form in South Africa this season. The Japanese franchise were hammered by the Cheetahs and Stormers back in April and also went down to the Kings in the same month.
In terms of team news, it looks as if Nollis Marais will shift Jesse Kriel to the fullback berth and pair Burger Odendaal with Dries Swanepoel in the midfield. The duo were fantastic during last year’s Currie Cup and I reckon they’ll give the Bulls some much-needed attacking potency.
Verdict: Bulls (-29.5) 9/10
This is too low a handicap to not back the Bulls. Get your bet on! Get your bet on now!
Sharks v Cheetahs | Saturday 9 July | Growthpoint Kings Park | 19:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 1/5 | Draw 25/1 | Cheetahs 7/2
Sharks (-9.5) 9/10 | Cheetahs (+9.5) 9/10
Ever get that strange feeling you are about to witness a massive upset? Well, that is the feeling I get when I look at the Sharks injury list.
The Natalians will enter this game without one of their first-choice centres as well as their first choice flyhalf.
With Lambie out, Garth April will continue in the ten role while JP Pietersen comes into the outside-centre berth. Other changes to the Sharks’ backline see former Varsity Cup star Rhyno Smith handed a start at fifteen.
Cheetahs head coach, Franco Smith, has also made a few changes to his matchday 23 with Shaun Venter coming in for Tian Meyer at nine and Luan de Bruin being replaced by Charles Marais on the bench.
The Cheetahs have historically been a bit of a bogey side for the Sharks with men from the Free State winning three of the last five games played between the two sides.
Verdict: Cheetahs (+9.5) 9/10
I have a sneaky suspicion that the Sharks will struggle to put this Cheetahs side to bed on Saturday evening. While I think the Cheetahs may just win it, the safer option here is to back them on the plus at 9/10.
Jaguares v Highlanders | Saturday 9 July | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 23:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 19/10 | Draw 25/1 | Highlanders 4/10
Jaguares (+6.5) 9/10 | Highlanders (-6.5) 9/10
Our final game of round 16 sees the Highlanders make their first trip to Buenos Aires to take on a Jaguares side who will be in confident mood having outplayed the Bulls late last Saturday evening.
While the Jaguares have endured a rather subdued Super Rugby debut season – last week’s 29-11 victory over the Bulls was only their third win of the season – they are capable of giving this Highlanders side a real run for their money. They’ve performed admirably against New Zealand opposition this term – remember that narrow 30-26 defeat to the Chiefs back in round four?
The men from Argentina seem to relish the odds being stacked against them, and the odds will certainly be in favour of the Highlanders this week with all of their All Blacks set to make a return to the starting XV.
Verdict: Highlanders (-6.5) 9/10
The Highlanders really need a full point haul here if they are to put any pressure on the Crusaders and Chiefs. I expect an Aaron Smith inspired performance to spur the Highlanders on to a large victory.