Super Rugby 2017: Round 3 Preview (Saturday)


Our rugby scribe previews all of Saturday’s Round 3 Super Rugby action. 

We’ve got a humdinger of a Saturday on our hands this week with the Blues taking on the Highlanders, the Reds and Crusaders doing battle in a cross-Tasman Derby, the Kings and Stormers going head-to-head in an all-South African affair and the Sharks playing host to the Waratahs.

There’s also a game between the Cheetahs and Sunwolves which could possibly see a new scoring record set, while the round closes out with the Lions taking on the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

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Blues v Highlanders | Saturday 11 March | Eden Park | 08:35

To Win (80 Mins)
Blues 7/10 | Draw 22/1 | Highlanders 11/10
Blues (-2.5) 9/10 | Highlanders (+2.5) 9/10
This should be an epic encounter with both teams desperate to bounce back from Round 2 defeats. The hosts, despite a brave second half performance, were soundly beaten by a clinical Chiefs team last Friday. The Highlanders, on the other hand, let a 14 point half-time lead slip to gift the Crusaders their second victory of the season.

Both coaches have opted to switch things up for this one with Tana Umaga naming no less than six All Blacks in the starting line-up. There are returns for big Charlie Faumuina, Jerome Kaino and lock Patrick Tuipolotu, while George Moala and Rene Ranger come into the starting backline.

Umaga’s opposite number has made a few major changes himself with Gareth Evans and Luke Whitelock coming into the loose trio.

Verdict: Blues 7/10
I just feel home ground advantage will see the hosts to victory. They put in a decent display during last week’s second half and they did edge last year’s meeting in Auckland, beating the Highlanders by two points in a high-scoring thriller.

Reds v Crusaders | Saturday 11 March | Suncorp Stadium | 10:45

To Win (80 Mins)
Reds 28/10 | Draw 25/1 | Crusaders 1/4
Reds (+9.5) 9/10 | Crusaders (-9.5) 9/10
We hop across the Tasman for our next fixture, which sees what should be an extremely fired-up Crusaders side take on a dejected Reds outfit. The hosts come into this one off the back of a disappointing 26-19 defeat to the Force while the visitors recorded one of the greatest comebacks the competition has ever seen, as they edged out the Highlanders 27-30. The victory was made all the more impressive as the Crusaders managed to do it without first choice fly-half Richie Mo'unga. The young pivot will once again miss out, with Mitchell Hunt retaining the fly-half jersey.

The other change to the ‘Saders backline for Saturday sees former Wallaby Digby Ioane get a first start for the franchise. The winger was part of the 2011 Reds team that won the tournament and he’d like nothing more than to make an impression at his old stomping ground.

The Reds have also opted to switch things up for this one with Izack Rodda coming into the starting second row and Izaia Perese to get a go on the wing. The final change for the Queenslanders sees Hendrik Tui given a start at blindside flank.

Verdict: Crusaders (-9.5) 9/10
The ‘Saders have put some huge scores over the reds in recent times, and despite the Reds looking a lot better than recent incarnations, I still can’t see them competing for the full 80. Get on the 'Saders to clear the cap at 9/10. 

Kings v Stormers | Saturday 11 March | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 15:05

To Win (80 Mins)
Kings 17/2 | Draw 33/1 | Stormers 1/50
Kings (+20.5) 9/10 | Stormers (-20.5) 9/10
The Stormers make the trip up the coast for a date with the Kings. The visitors are strong favourites and have a -20 handicap affixed to their names. Both sides come into this one off the back of victories with the Kings beating the Sunwolves 23-17 and the Stormers overcoming a dogged Jaguares side by seven points.

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Stormers mentor, Robbie Fleck, has made a swathe of changes for this one with Bjorn Basson, Dan du Plessis and Daniel du Preez coming into the starting backline. The Kings have also switched things around with former Province man Chris Cloete getting a start on the flank and Ricky Schroeder starting at nine.

Verdict: Stormers (-20.5) 9/10
My money is on a late show from the Stormers seeing them clear the handicap.

Cheetahs v Sunwolves | Saturday 11 March | Toyota Stadium | 17:15

To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 1/100 | Draw 40/1| Sunwolves 16/1
Cheetahs (-40.5) 9/10 | Sunwolves (+40.5) 9/10
I’m not going to go into too much detail here as I think the Free Staters will have wrapped this one up by the time the first half whistle is blown. Franco Smith’s side were mightily impressive against the Bulls last week with their first half blitz securing them a 34-28 victory.

The last time these two sides met in Free State ended in a blowout for the hosts, who ran out 92-12 victors.

Verdict: Cheetahs (-40.5) 9/10
It may be one of the biggest handicaps we’ve seen this year but I fully expect the Cheetahs to clear it. 

Sharks v Waratahs | Saturday 11 March | Kings Park | 19:30

To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 9/20 | Draw 22/1 | Waratahs 33/20
Sharks (-5.5) 9/10 | Waratahs (+5.5) 9/10
The Sharks will be looking to make home ground advantage pay off when they take on the Waratahs at Kings Park. The hosts closed out their tour of Australia with a last minute victory over the Brumbies while the visitors got their tour of South Africa off to a poor start as they were hammered by the Lions.

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The last two matches between the sides have seen blowouts for the hosts with the Waratahs winning the 2015 contest by 15 points and the Sharks winning the 2014 contest by 22 points. The trend could well continue this week with the Sharks sure to be in buoyant mood after last week’s victory.

Verdict: Sharks (-5.5) 9/10
Journeymen lock Dave McDuling is making a return to one of his old stomping grounds this week but I can’t see a happy homecoming for the Waratahs lock. Get on the sharks to clear the cap at 9/10. 

Jaguares v Lions | Saturday 11 March | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 21:40

To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 9/10 | Draw 22/1 | | Lions 9/10
The Lions will return to the scene of Johan Ackermann’s greatest faux pas this Saturday as they travel to Buenos Aires to take on the Jaguares. The Lions mentor will once again be without his Springbok stars with Elton Janjties, Franco Mostert, Lionel Mapoe and Rohan Janse van Rensburg all missing out for various reasons. The Jaguares, on the other hand, will virtually be at full strength.

This will be the third Super Rugby meeting between the two sides, with the Lions winning the first encounter 52-24 and the Jaguares winning the second 34-22.

Verdict: Jaguares 9/10
The Argentines are a much tougher prospect on home soil than they are on the road. My money is on them making home ground advantage payoff here. 

Written by Darry Worthington for!

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