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Super Rugby 2017: Round 4 (Saturday)
We preview Saturday’s five Round 4 Super Rugby fixtures, which includes a clash between the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
The next few months of Super Rugby are going to be a nerve-wracking affair for the more unglamorous competitors with SANZAAR wanting to trim some of the excess fat which has made the tournament unpalatable for rugby fans.
Unfortunately, it looks like two South African delicacies will be taken off the 2017 Super Rugby meal plan with the Kings and Cheetahs being touted to fall away. Both sides are in action this week and will have points to prove with a SANZAAR branded axe hovering over their respective heads.
Whether, these two sides can make an impression this week is up for debate – especially where the Kings are concerned – as they both face tricky assignments with the Cheetahs travelling to Argentina and the Kings heading to Durban to take on an impressive Sharks side.
Hurricanes v Highlanders | Saturday 18 March | Westpac Stadium | 08:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 23/100 | Draw 25/1 | Highlanders 28/10
Hurricanes (-9.5) 9/10 | Highlanders (+9.5) 9/10
Saturday’s opening game sees the Hurricanes and Highlanders go toe-to-toe at the Westpac. The hosts come into this one off the back of a 26-18 defeat while the visitors managed to grab their first win of the season in Round 3 as they saw off the Blues in Auckland.
The New Zealand Conference sides have been hard hit by injuries over the past fortnight and both of these sides will be missing a few All Blacks. The ‘Canes will be without the fleet-footed Nehe Milner-Skudder – who is replaced by Jordie Barrett - while the Highlanders will be missing Waisake Naholo and Lima Sopoaga. There is a silver lining for the Highlanders, however, with talismanic fullback, Ben Smith set to return after recovering from a serious concussion.
The last three games between the two sides have seen the total points margin remain under the 49 point mark. I would be wary of backing a low scoring spread market, however, as both teams are lethal with ball in hand. The Highlanders have only managed to win one of their last three assignments out in Wellington. The victory came in the 2015 Super Rugby Finals (14-21).
Verdict: Hurricanes (-9.5) 9/10
The cap is a rather large one considering the last three games between the sides have been won seven points or less. I just think the Highlanders are going to struggle to score as many tries as they usually do with finishing machine Waisake Naholo out of action. As such, my money is on the ‘Canes taking it by 10 points or more.
Waratahs v Brumbies | Saturday 18 March | Allianz Stadium | 10:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs 11/20 | Draw 22/1 | Brumbies 14/10
Waratahs (-4.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (+4.5) 9/10
We move on from an all-Kiwi affair to an Australian derby, which will see the Waratahs and Brumbies lock horns out in New South Wales. On paper, these two sides are the cream of the Australian crop and should really produce a decent 80-minutes of rugby. Australian rugby is in a sad state, however, and this may turn out to be an absolute snore fest rather than a captivating spectacle.
While the Waratahs will have home ground advantage this week, the amount of air miles they’ve put in over the past fortnight must be taken into consideration. Daryl Gibson’s men have just come off the back of an arduous tour of South Africa which saw them lose to both the Lions (55-36) and the Sharks (37-14).
While the ‘Tahs have been out on safari, the Brumbies have remained in ‘The Land Down Under’ where they managed to get their first win of the year. The 25-17 victory over the Force was never really secure with the Western Australians putting in an immense shift and the Brumbies lineout functioning as well as a bucket full of holes. The Brumbies will have to shore up that area of their game if they are to spring a surprise this Saturday.
In terms of team news, the Waratahs may welcome back Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley, with the pivot having just recovered from a bout of concussion. He is currently bracketed with Bryce Hegarty on the Brumbies team sheet. If he does return, it will be a massive coup for the hosts who have struggled to exit their 22 when Hegarty has been fielded at ten. The Brumbies will also welcome back a Wallaby incumbent this week, with flanker Scott Fardy returning from a rest period. Fardy is one of the three changes Steve Larkham has made to his run on XV, with winger Nigel Ah Wong and Fardy's fellow loosie, Lolo Fakaosilea, both coming in.
Verdict: Waratahs (-4.5) 9/10
I wrote the Brumbies off at the beginning of the season and then thought there may be a bit more to them after they performed so admirably against the Crusaders in Round 1. Three weeks later, I feel my original prognosis was spot on. My money is on the ‘Tahs winning by a try or more.
Lions v Reds | Saturday 18 March | Emirates Airline Park | 17:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 1/5 | Draw 28/1 | Reds 33/10
Lions (-10.5) 9/10 | Reds (+10.5) 9/10
Our first cross-conference game of the day sees last year’s defeated finalists host the Reds. The visitors have been handed a rather horrid start to their tour of South Africa as they take on a Lions side who have made their home ground an absolute fortress. There is a slight ray of hope for Queensland’s finest as a few members of the Lions matchday 23 have just made a long-haul flight back from Argentina.
Speaking of that trip to Argentina, Johan Ackermann has once again been placed under the microscope after opting to leave four of his stalwarts at home. I do feel sorry for the man, as there were plenty of mitigating circumstances that forced his hand. Even if these external influences weren’t at play, I would still back Ackermann’s decision to leave a few of his big guns at home, despite his side going down by 12 points to Los Jaguares.
With Springboks Elton Janjties, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Franco Mostert and Lionel Mapoe all fresh having missed last week’s trip to Argentina, the Lions could run riot this Saturday.
Verdict: Lions (-10.5) 9/10
The Lions star men are well rested and ready to go and I expect them to make a huge difference this weekend. The Reds illustrated their mental frailties in their last minute loss to the Crusaders last Saturday and I suspect they may carry that mental baggage with them for the remainder of the tournament. Get on a big Lions win at 9/10.
Sharks v Kings | Saturday 18 March | Kings Park | 19:30
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks N/A | Draw 33/1 | Kings 16/1
Sharks (-33.5) 9/10 | Kings (+33.5) 9/10
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet as the only result I can see is the Sharks clearing the cap. The hosts were in great touch against the ‘Tahs last Saturday with a stellar performance from youngster Curwin Bosch, who scored 27 points, seeing the Natalians secure their second victory of the season.
The Kings, while gutsy, were unable to contain the Stormers for the full 80, ultimately going down by 31 points. That margin of defeat is likely to be significantly higher this week as the Sharks are starting to click as an attacking unit.
Verdict: Sharks (-33.5) 9/10
Too big a handicap? Not in the slightest. You could add an extra 16 points to the cap and I’d still bite your hand off to take it.
Jaguares v Cheetahs | Saturday 18 March | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 21:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 2/9 | Draw 30/1 | Cheetahs 28/10
Jaguares (-13.5) 9/10 | Cheetahs (+13.5) 9/10
For the second week in a row, the Jaguares will take on South African opposition in their own backyard with the Cheetahs coming to town for what should be an exciting catfight. While both teams have electrifying backlines, the most tantalising clash will be between the two packs which both contain some hard as nails rugby players.
The ‘Jags were decent value last week as they ran out 36-24 victors against a Lions ‘B’ side. The Cheetahs also managed to secure a Round 3 win but they were forced to fight for it as the Sunwolves put in one of their most impressive performances yet. While Cheetahs mentor, Franco Smith, will be extremely annoyed with his side’s lacklustre display, he will also be grateful to have avoided a potential banana peel. Things don’t get any easier for the Free Staters as, after making an almost 24-hour flight to Buenos Aires, they have to take on the ‘Jags in the cauldron-like atmosphere the Estadio Jose Amalfitani is fast becoming famous for.
Our Full Preview
In terms of team news, the Jaguares will be without talismanic fly-half Nicolas Sanchez, who has copped a one-week ban for a dangerous challenge while attempting to field a chip and chase.
Verdict: Cheetahs (+13.5) 9/10
The loss of Sanchez is a massive blow for the ‘Jags. He generally scores between 13 and 20 points per game, and his ability to organise the backs will be sorely missed. While I think the hosts will still claim the win here, I don't reckon it will be as emphatic as it would have been had Sanchez taken to the field.