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Super Rugby 2017: Round 4 Preview (Friday)
We preview Friday’s three Round 4 Super Rugby games including the Crusaders versus Blues clash.
It may be early doors in the season but things are already looking rather dire for two of the sides who will be in action this Friday, with both the Rebels and Bulls yet to register a win. The former has a tricky home tie against the Chiefs, while the later will face a Sunwolves side, who performed admirably on South African shores last week.
While those two games offer up some fantastic value, the pick of Friday’s action is undoubtedly the all-Kiwi affair between the Crusaders and Blues which will get the day’s proceedings underway.
Crusaders v Blues | Friday 17 March | AMI Stadium | 08:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 1/3 | Draw 22/1 | Blues 21/10
Crusaders (-6.5) 9/10 | Blues (+6.5) 9/10
Is there any better way to get a round of Super Rugby going than with a New Zealand Derby? Perhaps a cross-conference clash between the Lions and the Hurricanes would be an adequate substitute but that’s not going to happen until at least the quarter-final stage of this year’s tournament.
While we should be in for an absolute spectacle at AMI Park this Friday morning, some of the gloss has been rubbed off the affair with All Blacks Israel Dagg and Seta Tamanivalu set to miss out for the Crusaders. The duo picked up injuries during the first half of last week’s 20-22 victory over the Reds. The former’s leg injury is said to be a lot more severe than the latter’s and some reports coming out of New Zealand indicate that Dagg may be out for up to six weeks.
Blues coach, Tana Umaga, isn’t facing as many injury concerns as his counterpart with the Blues only likely to be missing Steven Luatua, who serves the first week of his four-week ban for a dangerous tackle on Tim Nanai-Williams.
The Crusaders have won the last five games between the sides, with their most recent victory being last year’s 21-26 win in Auckland. The average total points for these matches tend to be between the 41 and 50 point mark, while the average tries per game – over the last five games – sits at 4.4.
Verdict: Blues (+6.5) 9/10
They let me down last week in typical Blues fashion but I feel they may just be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat here. The absence of Dagg is a massive blow for the Crusaders. The All Black is such an assured figure at the back and his ability to launch counter-attacks will be sorely missed by the hosts. I think the Blues could just edge this one but the sensible option is to take them on the plus.
Rebels v Chiefs | Friday 17 March | AAMI Park | 10:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Rebels 8/1 | Draw 33/1 | Chiefs 1/50
Rebels (+23.5) 9/10 | Chiefs (-23.5) 9/10
So we head from AMI Park to AAMI – you’ve got to love stadium naming rights – for our second clash of the day which sees the hapless Rebels take on the Chiefs. The hosts did enjoy a bye last week, which will hopefully have given Tony McGahan and his coaching team some time to sort out the defensive frailties that saw his side ship 103 points in the opening two rounds.
While the Rebels have been atrocious on defence, the Chiefs have been nothing short of immaculate. The 2013 champions have only conceded 68 points in their opening three games. It’s an astonishing stat considering all three of their opening matches were against domestic rivals.
Like the Crusaders, the Chiefs have also been hard hit by injuries with both James Lowe and Tim Nanai-Williams ruled out of Saturday’s contest. The men from Waikato will also be without Japanese international Michael Leitch, who serves a one-week ban for a high tackle on Hurricanes hooker, Ricky Riccitelli.
The Rebels have enjoyed some positive injury news this week with veteran prop Laurie Weeks overcoming a tight hamstring. The big man is likely to return to the starting front row. If he does, he will become the most capped Rebel in the franchise’s history.
Verdict: Chiefs (-23.5) 9/10
Things are looking awfully gloomy for the Rebels with SANZAAR threatening to wield the axe on one of the Australian franchises. I fully expect the chiefs to turn those gloomy skies into a scene from the Lord of The Rings this Friday – welcome to Mordor lads – by trotting up a massive victory.
Bulls v Sunwolves | Friday 17 March | Loftus Versveld | 19:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Bulls N/A | Draw 45/1 | Sunwolves 18/1
Bulls (-32.5) 9/10 | Sunwolves (+32.5) 9/10
The Bulls and Sunwolves will bring the curtain down on Friday’s action at Loftus. The hosts, like the Rebels, enjoyed a bye last week. The break couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the men from Pretoria who headed into it after successive defeats to the Stormers and Cheetahs.
Unlike their opponents, the Sunwolves were in action last week. And boy, did they put in a performance. Before we get into last week’s display against the Cheetahs, some context needs to be set. When the two sides met in Bloemfontein last year, the Cheetahs ran riot, putting 92 points on the board. Many pundits, myself included, were expecting a similar result this time around. The Sunwolves had other ideas, however, as they put in arguably their best performance in Super Rugby, losing by just eight points to the Currie Cup champions.
Our full preview
Whether the ‘Wolves can replicate that showing this weekend is up for debate. The Bulls will know that they can ill-afford to take Japan’s finest lightly, having witnessed the Cheetahs just manage to avoid defeat.
The Bulls will welcome back a whole host of stalwarts this weekend including Warrick Gelant. The flying fullback will be reunited with Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismael. This back three was spectacular during the 2015 Currie Cup and if they pick up from where they left off, then the Bulls may have a lethal counterattacking weapon to torment the Sunwolves backs.
Verdict: Bulls (-32.5) 9/10
I was hoping the bookmakers would react after what occurred at the Free State Stadium last Saturday. And they’ve done just that by lowering the minus handicap. As such, I will be having my biggest strike of the round on the Bulls.