Super Rugby 2017: Round 1 Preview (Saturday)

We preview Saturday’s Super Rugby action which includes two South African derbies. 

Rugby fans will experience their first ‘Super Saturday’ of the year with six Super Rugby games and two Six Nations games set to go down. While we're likely to see a few one-sided Super Rugby affairs during the day, there are two cracking South African derbies which should go down to the wire.

Sunwolves v Hurricanes | Saturday 25 February | Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium | 06:15

To Win (80 Mins)
Sunwolves 12/1 | Draw 35/1 | Hurricanes 1/100 
Sunwolves (+28.5) 17/20 | Hurricanes (-28.5) 17/20This is likely to be the most one-sided of the Round 1 fixtures despite Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd handing out two Super Rugby debuts. This will actually be the first time these two sides lock horns as the Sunwolves missed out on playing the New Zealand sides in 2016 due to the conference draw.

The Japanese-franchise had a bit of a mare last season as they only managed a solitary win on their way to collecting the 2016 wooden spoon. Things aren’t likely to get much better for Japan’s Super Rugby representative as they’ve lost quite a few players during the off-season, including mercurial fly-half, Tusi Pisi.

The Hurricanes, on the other hand, have kept the core of their side together and have added some quality players to their squad. One of their off-season signings was the youngest of Barrett brothers, Jordie. The All Black under-20 star will make his debut for his new franchise at fullback, while brother Beauden is set to play off the bench along with hooking phenom Dane Coles.

Verdict: Hurricanes (-28.5) 17/20
The Hurricanes may have gotten their 2016 campaign off to a slow start but I honestly can’t see a similar thing occurring this year. My money is on the men from Wellington putting at least 35 points between themselves and the Sunwolves.

Crusaders v Brumbies | Saturday 25 February | AMI Stadium | 08:35

To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 1/10 | Draw 28/1 | Brumbies 5/1
Crusaders (-14.5) 17/20 | Brumbies (+14.5) 17/20
Saturday’s second fixture pits two of the competition’s most successful sides against one another. Both teams will have high aspirations this season but the Crusaders look the more likely of the two to challenge as the Brumbies have lost a handful of their senior stars.

The Crusaders tend to start their campaigns off rather slowly, but with the Brumbies fielding an inexperienced side, I can’t really see that being the case this year. While the visitors will be rife for the taking, the Crusaders will look to wear their opponent’s tight-five down before launching an all-out assault on the Brumbies backs. So we’re likely to see a slightly subdued first half with the floodgates opening up in the second stanza.

In terms of team news for this one, the Brumbies have immediately opted to bring new signing, Kyle Godwin, into the starting XV. The former Western Force man will don the number 12 jersey this week, and he will be tasked with getting this backline going. The Crusaders have also opted to immediately bring in some new blood with former Blues man, Bryn Hall, cracking the nod at nine.

Verdict: Crusaders (-14.5) 17/20
While the absence of Kieran Read does take away some of the Crusaders’ set piece power, I can still see them dominating their opposition. A solid set piece will give the ‘Saders the perfect platform to release their dangerous outside, who will inevitably work their way across the whitewash.

Waratahs v Western Force | Saturday 25 February | Allianz Stadium | 10:45

To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs 1/8 | Draw 25/1 | Force 5/1
Waratahs (-14.5) 17/20 | Force (+14.5) 17/20
We set sail across the Tasman for our next game which sees the Waratahs take on the Western Force. The hosts come into this one as strong favourites which is completely justified when you look at their talented squad which features Wallabies Michael Hooper, Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu and Will Skelton. While the aforementioned quartet will all get starts this week, the ’Tahs will be missing one of their Wallaby’s, with Bernard Foley ruled out with a slight concussion. The pivot’s place in the starting XV is taken by former Rebels man, Bryce Hegarty.

The Force also have a quality international in their side in the form of Dane Haylett-Petty. The utility back was by far the Force’s best player last season, and he will once again be tasked with sparking the Force’s counter-attacks. Unfortunately for the men from Western Australia, Haylett-Petty is one of the few quality players in their ranks, with the majority of their side being made up of journeymen and youngsters.

Verdict: Waratahs (-14.5) 17/20
The ‘Tahs are simply a class above their opponents. Their key players have enjoyed solid preseason showings and they’ll want to lay down a marker early in the comp. I can see them doing just this by putting a large score over the Force.

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Cheetahs v Lions | Saturday 25 February | Toyota Stadium | 15:05

To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 32/10 | Draw 22/1 | Lions 2/9
Cheetahs (+10.5) 17/20 | Lions (-10.5) 17/20
The first of the two Round 1 South African derbies see the reigning Currie Cup champions take on Super Rugby’s most recent beaten finalists. Both sides come into this one with slightly weakened squads with the hosts missing talismanic skipper Francois Venter and the visitors without Springbok winger, Ruan Combrink.

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These are South Africa’s two most attacking sides, so we should be in for a rather high-scoring game at the Toyota Stadium. While both sides will be keen to display their attacking wares, the outcome of this game may come down to who makes the least mistakes on defence rather than who dominates the attacking statistics.

Verdict: Cheetahs (+10.5) 17/20 
The Lions may have dominated this fixture in the past but they’re coming up against a much-improved Cheetahs side this time around. To be brutally honest, I quite fancy the hosts to win it. The sensible option here, however, is to take the Cheetahs on what looks to be an extremely kind plus handicap.

Kings v Jaguares | Saturday 25 February | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 17:15

To Win (80 Mins)
Kings 17/4 | Draw 25/1 | Jaguares 1/6
Kings (+14.5) 17/20 | Jaguares (-14.5) 17/20
So what does 2017 hold in store for the Kings? Another year of absolute maulings. Yeah, the men from Nelson Mandela Bay have had a much better build up towards this year’s competition than they did in 2017, but you simply cannot field a side compromising of journeymen and youngsters and expect to do alright in Super Rugby.

The Jaguares also endured a less than impressive campaign last year but 2016 was more of an orientation exercise for the South Americans, who now better understand the intricacies of the tournament. They will be desperate to kick on this year, and while they have lost key man Isa Facundo, they still have a talented enough squad to make the play-offs.

Verdict: Jaguares (-14.5) 17/20
Ironically enough, one of the Kings two 2016 victories came against the Jaguares at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The Jags showed little respect for the laws on that day and had three men in the bin during the latter parts of the game. I think the Argentines would have shined up on their discipline and they shouldn’t fall into the same trap this time around. Get on the away side to clear the cap at 17/20. 

Stormers v Bulls | Saturday 25 February | DHL Newlands | 19:30

To Win (80 Mins)
Stormers 5/10 | Draw 20/1 | Bulls 16/10
Stormers (-4.5) 17/20 | Bulls (+4.5) 17/20
We close out the opening round with the always confrontational north v south derby. This will be a repeat of last year’s opener which saw the Stormers run out 33-9 victors at Newlands. Things have changed dramatically for both sides since that day, however, with the Bulls welcoming back kingpin pivot Handre Pollard and the Stormers losing veteran flanker Schalk Burger, who has headed to Saracens to finish for the twilight years of his playing career.

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Burger won’t be the only Stormers veteran to miss out on this one with both Juan de Jongh and Scarra Ntubeni both on the long-term injury list. The hosts will also be without talented young centre Huw Jones who is currently on national duty with Scotland.

The Bulls, on the other hand, are welcoming back stalwarts Handre Pollard, Roelof Smit and Warrick Gelant. On top of this, the men from Pretoria will also have new recruits Edgar Marutule and Johnny Kotze to call upon.

Verdict: Bulls 16/10
It’s a bit left field but my money is on the Bulls. Pollard will bring his prodigious kicking game to the party this Saturday which could see the Bulls sneak what is likely to be a war of attrition.

Written by
Darry Worthington

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