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Super Rugby Round 5 Preview

Written by @QuintenLetcher for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

Heading into the fifth week of this electrifying competition, we find a few of the stronger unions sitting in unfamiliar territory, the Crusaders, Stormers, Cheetahs and Hurricanes currently occupying the bottom four spots. A resilient Waratahs side will be more than eager to dive back into high-octane action this week, their week off in Round 4 having allowed Jake White’s opportunistic Sharks side to sneak into pole by securing a victory over the Lions. The Chiefs top the New Zealand conference, and head into the weekend’s action as the only unbeaten Kiwi side left in the competition. They kick off Round 5’s proceedings with an interesting home clash with the stumbling Stormers.

Chiefs vs Stormers | Friday 14 March | Waikato Stadium | 08:35
The Stormers got their tour off to a rocky start with a controversial defeat to the Crusaders last weekend, and things aren’t going to be getting any easier this Friday when they run out against the defending champions in Hamilton.

To Win (80mins)
Chiefs 1/4
Stormers 32/10
Draw 28/1

Chiefs (-8.5) 9/10
Stormers (+8.5) 9/10

The home side will be fresh following their bye in Round 4 and have shaken up the run on side with a couple of big names thrown in the mix. Gareth Anscombe returns at fullback, All Black Brodie Retallick beefs up the second row, and the dynamic Tom Marshall comes into the midfield. The Stormers have had to send injured forwards Scarra Ntubeni and Pat Cilliers back home, but have found adequate replacements in Tiaan Liebenberg and Brok Harris. Despite the injuries, the Stormers are still fielding an impressive side for this weekend’s brutal battle, with menacing flank Schalk Burger already back to impressive form following an incredibly long layoff with a series of injuries over the past few seasons. Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers collects his 100th cap for the Cape Town side, and will be hoping this milestone is one worth celebrating.

VERDICT:  Chiefs (-8.5) 9/10
The Chiefs have looked solid so far, and with the return of some key players and home ground advantage, their natural expansive style of rugby should see them pulling away from the struggling tourists. Chiefs by 10.

Rebels vs Crusaders | Friday 14 March | AAMI Park | 10:40
The Rebels will be looking to bounce back from last week’s surprise loss to the Force, but they’ll have a rough time of it with the Crusaders, infamous for their late starts in this competition and heading to Melbourne intent on clawing their way out of an uncomfortable fourteenth spot on the log.

To Win (80mins)
Rebels 26/10
Crusaders 1/3
Draw 28/1

Rebels (+7.5) 9/10
Crusaders (-7.5) 9/10

Rebels coach Tony McGahan has made a few changes to the side that suffered an unexpected hammering in Perth last week. Tom English returns from injury to start on the left wing, while the forward pack gets a facelift, with Luke Jones and Bryce Hegarty joining up in the second row behind front-rowers Toby Smith and Laurie Weeks. Tom Taylor shifts across to the midfield to make way for Colin Slade to start at pivot this week as Todd Blackadder continues to tinker with his underperforming Crusaders side, hoping to find the right combination to climb out of the hole they’ve managed to dig for themselves so far this season. Speedster Nafi Tuitavake makes a return to the run on side having recovered from a hamstring injury, but it’s one in and one out as the Crusaders will have to do without hooker Corey Flynn, who has been ruled out this week. Evasive All Black Israel Dagg returns to his preferred spot at fullback, but with Blackadder’s reactionary selection methods of late, it might not be for long.

VERDICT:  Crusaders (-7.5) 9/10
The Rebels battled to find any sort of rhythm out in the middle last week and while the Crusaders have hardly been hitting the mark lately, they could do a great deal more harm than the Force managed last week if McGahan’s charges pull off a repeat performance. The Crusaders are a far more potent side on paper, I’m just not sure if they’ve decided to join the competition yet. Still a -7.5 handicap seems doable, even in their current form. The Crusaders by 12.

Hurricanes v Cheetahs | Saturday 15 March | Westpac Stadium | 05:35
The Cheetahs continue on with their unrewarding tour of Australasia, and they’ll be investing all their energy this week trying to avoid trading places on the log with their underperforming opposition in Wellington this Saturday.

To Win (80mins)
Hurricanes 4/10
Cheetahs 9/4
Draw 25/1

Hurricanes (-7.5) 9/10
Cheetahs (+7.5) 9/10

Mark Hammett just can’t seem to find the winning formula this season, but if he has any intention of keeping his pay cheque, for the remainder of the competition he’ll need to do something special. A victory over the Cheetahs will help ease the mounting pressure from the Wellington locals, but if they give the Cheetahs anywhere near as much possession as they handed the Brumbies last week, then I don’t fancy we’ll be seeing much movement from them on the log. Cheetahs head coach Naka Drotske is having difficulty recreating the magic of 2013, despite having some explosive talent at his disposal. The evasive Raymond Rhule returns, and the nippy Willie le Roux makes his way back to fullback to make space for Cornal Hendricks in the run on side. They’ll need to step up their game considerably to try steal the win in Wellington from the desperate home side.

VERDICT: Cheetahs (+7.5) 9/10
The Cheetahs definitely have the side to take down the hobbling Hurricanes, but desperation and home ground advantage can make all the difference in close games. Still, I don’t see the Hurricanes pulling away by much if they do claim their first win of the season, so the +7.5 handicap seems a safe place to chuck your money. The Cheetahs by 3.

Highlanders vs Force | Saturday 15 March | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 08:35
The Highlanders return slightly fresher after their bye, and host a, perhaps erroneously, confident Western Force side searching for a repeat of their Round 4 performance that resulted in a shock defeat over the Rebels.

To Win (80mins)
Highlanders 3/10
Force 11/4
Draw 25/1

Highlanders (-8.5) 9/10
Force (+8.5) 9/10

Kurt Baker will start on the wing this week in the only change  to the homeside for this weekend’s clash. The Highlanders have shown a reasonable amount of promise so far this season, securing a victory over the Blues, and then managing to push the reigning champions uncomfortably close up in Hamilton, before sitting back and enjoying their week off in Round 4. The Force looked set for yet another forgettable season in the competition after suffering conclusive loses to the Brumbies and Waratahs, only to outplay the Rebels in almost every facet of the game a week later. Sure, the Rebels were hardly doing themselves any favours with their shoddy performance, but the Force showed they know exactly what to do when handed opportunities by their opponents.  The Highlanders will be far tougher, but anything is possible in this competition.

VERDICT: Highlanders (-8.5) 9/10
The Highlanders are a stronger unit overall, have home advantage, and return from a week off from the high-paced action. They should clean up by at least 10 points.

Brumbies v Waratahs | Saturday 15 March | Canberra Stadium | 10:40
With the Waratahs playing such phenomenal rugby at the moment, Saturday’s clash with last year’s losing finalists should be one of the more explosive games of the weekend.

To Win (80mins)
Brumbies 9/10
Waratahs 9/10
Draw 25/1

The Brumbies pulled off a hard-fought 29-21 victory over the Hurricanes last week, making it two from two away games this season, but they won’t be forgetting their opening clash home defeat to the Reds just a few weeks back. They have upped their game considerably since, and Stephen Larkham has a squad brimming with Wallabies to pick from, but then again so does Michael Cheika. Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis returns to the side of the scrum, replacing Stephen Hoiles in the starting XV. South African Jacques Potgieter retains his spot in the second row alongside Kane Douglas following his solid performance against the Reds. Kurtley Beale has managed to keep himself in line off the field so far this season, which seems to be having a positive impact on his form in the midfield.

VERDICT: Stay Away
The bookies can’t pick between them, and neither can I. Without handicaps out, it seems the bookies are reluctant to go either way in this game and I can’t see such a close encounter being worth the risk. Give this one a miss a this weekend and save yourself possible heartache.

Lions vs Blues | Saturday 15 March | Ellis Park | 15:00
The Lions have caught a few stronger sides off guard already this season, and with the Blues battling to find consistency they could find their South African trip going from bad to worse.

To Win (80mins)
Lions 17/10
Blues 5/10
Draw 25/1

Lions (+4.5) 9/10
Blues (-4.5) 9/10

Elton Jantjies finds himself on the bench this week as Johan Ackerman decides to go with a more reliable pivot in Marnitz Boshoff. In the forwards, Willie Britz will pack down on the side of the flank while in the front row Willie Wepener slots between the props. Coenie van Wyk will run on in the fifteen jersey while JW Jonker and Courtnall Skosan will start on the wings for the home side. Code switching Benji Marshall has finally cracked the nod for his first Blues start, he has been named at fullback, with Frank Halai and Charles Piutau completing the Blues’ back three. Chris Noakes comes in at pivot to team up with All Black Piri Weepu in the half-back combo for their second clash of their South African tour.

VERDICT: Blues (-4.5) 9/10
The Blues are undoubtedly a far superior side on paper, but then again so were the Cheetahs and and the Stormers in the first two rounds of the tournament. The threat of an upset at Ellis Park is a real one, but the Blues are fielding a dangerous side and will be looking to come back from their telling defeat against the Bulls last week. The Blues by 10

Sharks vs Reds | Saturday 15 March | Kings Park | 17:05
The explosive Queenslanders arrive in humid Durban this week for a colossal clash with the table-topping Sharks, not a bad game to wrap up the weekend’s action with.

To Win (80mins)
Sharks 1/4
Reds 33/10
Draw 30/1

Sharks (-9.5) 9/10
Reds (+9.5) 9/10

Jake White has made a few necessary changes to his side, with JP Pietersen coming straight back into the starting line-up having just returned from his stint overseas. Pat Lambie returns at pivot, with his temporary replacement Frans Steyn moving back to his preferred spot in the midfield. S’bura Sithole makes his Super Rugby debut teaming up with Steyn at centre. The Reds have spiced up their front row with James Slipper and Saia Fainga’a named in the run on side. The only other change for the visitors is in the backline, with Lachie Turner returning from injury to start out wide. The Reds haven’t pulled off a victory in Durban since back in 2004, but this game could end up being much closer than the bookies are willing to admit.

VERDICT: Sharks (-9.5) 9/10
The Reds have one of the more brutal backlines in the competition, but if they are denied the space to spread the ball, or better yet, possession itself, the wheels fall off pretty quickly. The Sharks have, up to now at least, looked the complete package. Jake White will also be looking to secure a resounding victory against his first Australian opposition since abandoning the Brumbies last season, so I’ll back the Sharks on the handicap. The Sharks by 12.

Think we’ve got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.

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