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Super Rugby: Round 5 (Saturday Preview)
We preview Saturday’s six Round 5 Super Rugby games, including the headline clash between the Cheetahs and Sharks.
The Six Nations may be over but rugby fans will still get their fix of over ball action this Saturday with six Super Rugby clashes set to go down. The pick of the round’s action sees the Sharks make the trip to Bloemfontein to take on an injury-ravaged Cheetahs outfit.
There’s plenty of cross-conference action on the go as well with the Blues hosting the Bulls, in the day’s opener, while the Jaguares and Reds will bring down the curtain on Round 5 when they lock horns at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani late on Saturday evening.
Blues v Bulls | Saturday 25 March | QBE Stadium | 08:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Blues 2/13 | Draw 28/1 | Bulls 4/1
Blues (-12.5) 9/10| Bulls (+12.5) 9/10
Another week and another patchy performance from Tana Umaga’s men, who seem unable to put in an 80-minute shift. Yes, the Crusaders did play like men possessed during that second-half comeback but the Blues were their own worst enemies; making a hash of some great opportunities to extend their 16 point half-time lead.
Last week’s Jekyll and Hyde performance would have frustrated Umaga to no end, but the All Black legend has shown faith in his players by only making one change - which may not even happen as Charlie Faumuina will have to pass a late fitness test to secure a spot in the run-on XV - from the side that went down 33-24 to the Crusaders.
The Bulls, despite beating the Sunwolves, were a lot more Jekyll than Hyde as they struggled to find any fluidity on attack. While there were mitigating to their poor showing – Renaldo Bothma’s red card being the prime factor – the Bulls still looked devoid of ideas at times.
Even more worrying for Nollis Marais is Handre Pollard’s poor form from the tee. The Bulls pivot was a conversion virtuoso before he sustained a long-term knee injury. Pollard has really struggled to recapture his rhythm since returning and almost looks like he’s trying to force the ball over through brute strength rather than timing. It’s still early doors in his comeback, however, and he’s a quality player who is more than capable of bouncing back from his poor start to the campaign.
One Springbok who is also on the comeback trail but managed to impress against the Japanese outfit was Jan Surffontein, who grabbed a brace of tries. He’s in for a much tougher test this weekend, however, as All Blacks, George Moala and Rieko Ioane are one of the most physical centre pairings in the entire tournament.
Verdict: Blues (-12.5) 9/10
I think we are about to witness a full 80-minute performance from the Blues, which is bad news for Marais' men. Get on the -12.5 handicap at 9/10.
Brumbies v Highlanders | Saturday 25 March | GIO Stadium | 10:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Brumbies 21/20 | Draw 22/1 | Highlanders 8/10
Brumbies | Highlanders
*Handicap to be added upon release
This is the toughest game of the round to call as the Brumbies have been extremely hit and miss and the Highlanders have more casualties than a hospital ward. The hosts will come into this one on a high, however, after they beat the Waratahs 28-18, while the Highlanders may be feeling the pressure after they coped a 26 point drumming from the rampant Hurricanes.
The Highlanders won both 2016 meetings between the sides; 23-10 in the round robin phase and 9-15 in the playoffs phase. The Brumbies also have a shocking recent record against New Zealand sides winning only two of their last 12 clashes with opposition from ‘The Land of The Long White Cloud’.
Both coaches have opted to make changes for this one with the exciting Patelesio Tomkinson set to make his Highlanders debut on the right wing and veteran Patrick Osbourne making a return on the opposite touchline. While on the Brumbies side of the spectrum there are starts for prop Nic Mayhew, flank Chris Alcock, tenacious wing James Dargaville, hooker Robbie Abel and lock Blake Enever.
Verdict: Brumbies 21/20
The return of Osbourne is a massive coup for the Highlanders but I don’t think it will be enough to see them to a win. My money is on the hosts edging it by the narrowest of margins. I will be wagering an extremely small stake on this one, however.
Sunwolves v Stormers | Saturday 25 March | Singapore National Stadium | 12:55
To Win (80 Mins)
Sunwolves 8/1 | Draw 35/1 | Stormers 1/33
Sunwolves (+24.5) 9/10 | Stormers (-24.5) 9/10
A weakened Stormers side will travel to Singapore to take on a Sunwolves outfit who also flew out of South Africa this week. The ‘Wolves put in some dogged displays while on tour of the 'Republic' going down to the Cheetahs by seven points in Round 3 and losing by 13 to the Bulls in Round 4. The Stormers had a Round 4 bye and come into Saturday’s game undefeated.
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As I alluded to in the above paragraph, the Stormers will field an understrength squad this week with Springbok lock pair, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit being rested. Form player SP Marais has also been left at home with Dilliyn Leyds set to take over the fullback role. The most exciting of Robbie Fleck’s changes sees Sevens star, Seabelo Senatla, get a start on the left wing.
Verdict: Sunwolves (+24.5) 9/10
I probably won’t be having a punt on this game as that handicap has me worried. The Western Cape-based franchise struggled against the Sunwolves in Singapore last year, and we may be in for a repeat display as this inexperienced Stormers side may struggle to adjust to the humid conditions that Singapore is notorious for. If you’re going to have a strike, my advice would be to have a go on the Sunwolves plus.
Kings v Lions | Saturday 25 March | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 15:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Kings 10/1 | Draw 40/1 | Lions 1/50
Kings (+26.5) 9/10 | Lions (-26.5) 9/10
It seems the axe looming over the Kings Super Rugby heads has provided the Nelson Mandela Bay-based franchise with the ideal motivation to up their game. While the Sharks were absolutely dire last week, the Kings must be praised for their dogged showing during that 19-17 defeat. Deon David’s men nearly managed to win the game via a penalty in the 77th-minute. Unfortunately, the ever reliable Lionel Cronje had an off night with the boot and pushed his kick wide.
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While the Kings were involved in trench warfare, the Lions were in full flow, running the Reds absolutely ragged in Johannesburg, which justified Johan Ackermann’s decision to send a second string side to Argentina the previous week.
Verdict: Lions (-26.5) 9/10
I reckon the Kings bubble is going to burst. The Lions put 35 points past them in Port Elizabeth last year, and I think we could see them amass an even bigger points total this time around. Get on the Lions -26.5 ASAP as it’s likely to drift out to the low thirties by the time kick-off rolls around.
Cheetahs v Sharks | Saturday 25 March | Toyota Stadium | 17:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 13/10 | Draw 22/1 | Sharks 13/20
Cheetahs (+3.5) 9/10 | Sharks (-3.5) 9/10
The Sharks will be looking to bounce back from last Saturday’s sub-par showing by getting a win over their bogey team, the Free State Cheetahs. The hosts for Saturday’s clash were the most recent side to fall victim to Jaguares in Buenos Aires as they went down by 27 points in front of vociferous crowd.
As I mentioned earlier, the Cheetahs have really been a thorn in the Sharks side. They have won three of their last six meetings against the Sharks, although they have lost the last two contests by 15 points or more. I wouldn’t really look too much into those statistics, however, as this current crop of Cheetahs are a lot more well-rounded a side than their 2015 and 2016 incarnations.
Verdict: Cheetahs 13/10
Both teams are missing key players for this one which makes this an even harder game to tip. I’m leaning towards the hosts here as they have been solid at home during recent South African derbies. It’s certainly not my banker for the weekend, but a R50 strike on the Cheetahs may reap a healthy dividend.
Jaguares v Reds | Saturday 25 March | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 23:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 1/8 | Draw 28/1 | Reds 9/2
Jaguares (-14.5) 9/10 | Reds (+14.5) 9/10
Make sure you’ve got your balaclava and black gloves on if you’re following this tip as you’re about to commit daylight robbery. The Jaguares to beat the Reds by 15 or more is an absolute steal as the visitors have covered more air miles in the past three weeks than Emelia Earhart did in the entirety of her career.
I’ll drop the poor comparisons there and move on to the nitty gritty. The Reds come into this one off the back of an absolute hiding from the Lions. The game saw Quade Cooper pick up a red card and a subsequent three-week ban. The Reds will also be without prop James Slipper for the remainder of the season, as the big man ruptured his Achilles during the defeat.
While the Reds were getting hammered, the Jaguares were dishing out a drubbing of their own as they beat a weakened Cheetahs side 41-14. That was the Argentines second successive home victory over South African opposition.
Verdict: Jaguares (-14.5) 9/10
This is the best value you’ll find all week. The Jaguares are a brilliant side at home. They are capable of running in tries from anywhere on the field. I reckon the Reds are in for a long and demoralising night out in Buenos Aires.