Written by @QuintenLetcher for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
With the Waratahs suffering their first loss of the season last Saturday, only the Sharks and Chiefs remain undefeated as we march on into the sixth round of clashes in this year’s Super Rugby competition. The Brumbies, following their hard-fought victory in Canberra in Round 5, move up into pole in the fiercely contested Australian conference. The Cheetahs and Stormers seem to have set up camp at the more depressing end of the overall standings and with away games lined up for this weekend against the Blues and Brumbies respectively, their chances of finding higher ground is unlikely, for now at least. Some interesting clashes lined up for us this week, but with the games becoming less and less predictable, throwing a few small bets on the underdogs could be a good way to make a profit.
Highlanders vs Hurricanes | Friday 21 March | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 08:35
A Kiwi derby kicks off a long weekend jam packed with electrifying Super Rugby action. Neither of these sides is having a particularly prosperous season to date, but with the Hurricanes pulling off a resounding 33-point victory over the Cheetahs last week the Highlanders will need to brace themselves for a storm heading into Dunedin this week.
To Win (80mins)
Highlanders (-2.5) 9/10
Hurricanes (+2.5) 9/10
The Highlanders started off the season full of promise with a victory over the Blues, followed by a narrow defeat to the reigning champs, the Chiefs. But the Otago based side had their campaign slightly derailed through a shock home defeat to the Force last weekend. The Highlanders are boosted this week by the return of former All Black Brad Thorn, who joins Joe Wheeler in the second row. With a backline packed with explosive talent such as Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, the home side shouldn’t have any problems getting points on the board. But they’ll have to keep a tidy defence against the team who managed to pump sixty points past the Cheetahs in Round 5. A recently rejuvenated Hurricanes outfit will be looking to build on that impressive showing, crossing the whitewash nine times and putting an end to their three match losing streak in the competition. That victory has taken the pressure off coach Mark Hammett for the time being, but a lot of work still lies ahead if they want to secure a spot in the playoffs.
VERDICT: Hurricanes 27/20
The Highlanders have had a more consistent season, but the resounding victory the Hurricanes pulled off last week will have given them a massive confidence boost. It’s likely to be a high scoring derby, I’m backing the Hurricanes to take it away from home.
Waratahs vs Rebels | Friday 21 March | Allianz Stadium | 10:40
The Waratahs suffered their first defeat of an otherwise impressive 2014 campaign last weekend, but should have no trouble getting back to winning ways when running out at home against the Rebels, seemingly without a cause.
To Win (80mins)
Waratahs (-12.5) 9/10
Rebels (+12.5) 9/10
Michael Cheika has made a few adjustments to the side that conceded their first defeat of the season last week, with Will Skelton and Sekope Kepu taking over from Wycliff Palu and Benn Robinson in the forwards. The backline remains unchanged, with Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps set to face their former side for the first time. The Rebels have managed only a single victory in the competition so far and will be hoping to cause an upset and move out of bottom spot on the Aussie log. They have lost Jason Woodward and Laurie Weeks through injury, giving Angus Roberts a start at fifteen, with Paul Alo-Emile taking over at prop for this week’s clash. The Rebels don’t exactly have a shining record against the Waratahs, having lost five of their six meetings, but a couple of those losses were closer than the Waratahs would have liked. The Rebels took the last clash 24-22 in Round 15 of last season’s competition.
VERDICT: Rebels (+12.5) 9/10
The Waratahs won’t exactly be sweating ahead of this game; they are unquestionably the stronger of the two sides. But the Rebels won’t be a pushover; they are known to up their game considerably against the stronger sides. The Waratahs by 7-12 points sounds about right.
Blues vs Cheetahs | Saturday 22 March | Eden Park | 08:35
The Blues return from a fruitless tour of South Africa, marred by a series of poor refereeing decisions against the tourists, to face a toothless Cheetahs outfit at Eden Park.
To Win (80mins)
Blues (-9.5) 9/10
Cheetahs (+9.5) 9/10
The Blues are a far better side than their recent results would have us believe, but it is still early enough in the tournament for them to turn things around. Sir John Kirwan has made six changes to his side as they return home to Eden Park following a forgettable South African tour. Simon Hickey’s impressive performance off the bench against the Lions last week sees him pipping Chris Noakes to the number ten jersey this week. Charles Piutau moves to fifteen in place of the experimental Benji Marshall, who falls to the bench. Jackson Willison takes over from Pita Ahki to team up in the midfield with George Moala. The Cheetahs wrap up their disastrous away leg against the Blues this week, their chances of ending on a high are not looking all that promising. Bouncing back from a 33-point defeat is going to require a bit of magic from Naka Drotske’s charges, and at the end of a gruelling tour I’m not sure they have the mental stamina left to swing things around at Eden Park. Adriaan Strauss earns his 50th cap as skipper for the Free State side. A few changes to the team sees Jean Cook starting on the flank, Hennie Daniller on the left wing and Ryno Benjamin at centre.
VERDICT: Blues (-9.5) 9/10
The Cheetahs will be dejected after a punishing away leg and will probably be more focused on returning home to rebuild than causing an upset in Auckland. The Blues, on the other hand, will be looking to prove their 2014 campaign can still be rescued. The Blues by an easy 15 points.
Brumbies vs Stormers | Saturday 22 March | Canberra Stadium | 10:40
The Stormers head into the Australian capital for their first of two games Down Under, but the road has not been kind to Allister Coetzee’s charges so far this season. They’ll need to dig deep to turn things around against a Brumbies side that seems to be on the up.
To Win (80mins)
Brumbies (-7.5) 9/10
Stormers (+7.5) 9/10
The Brumbies took control of the Australian conference last week by putting the resilient Waratahs to the sword, claiming their third straight victory this season. The only worry for the Brumbies is their growing injury list with David Pocock, Fotu Auelua, Clyde Rathbone and Christian Lealiifano just some of the big names out of contention at the moment. Tevita Kuridrani will be out of the mix this week as he returns to Fiji for a funeral. The Stormers have secured only one victory from their four clashes so far this season, and face stiff competition for the rest of their away tour, the Brumbies this week followed by the Reds in Queensland. Allister Coetzee has rung the changes following his side’s loss to the Chiefs in Round 5, with veteran Peter Grant making an unexpected return to pivot. Springbok side-stepper Juan de Jongh returns from injury, but will play off the bench.
VERDICT: Stormers (+7.5) 9/10
The Stormers should push the Brumbies closer than expected this weekend, but I can’t see them doing enough to pull off an upset. The Brumbies by 4-7 points.
Force vs Chiefs | Saturday 22 March | NIB Stadium | 13:00
The defending champions have every intention of leaving Perth the same way they entered it, undefeated.
To Win (80mins)
Force (+8.5) 9/10
Chiefs (-8.5) 9/10
The Force pulled off one of the bigger upsets of Round 5 by pulling the rug from under the Highlanders with a 31-29 victory. But the Chiefs won’t be standing for any of that nonsense. Wallaby flank Hugh McMeniman returns from injury, with Angus Cottrell shifting to the back of the scrum to replace suspended Ben McCalman. No other changes have been made to the side, with coach Michael Foley hoping consistency will reap some rewards this week. The Chiefs picked up a few injuries last week and will head off on their tour of Western Australia and South Africa without Charlie Ngatai, Robbie Fruean and James Lowe, but welcome back Ben Afeaki, Sam Cane and Augustine Pulu. The Chiefs have been blessed with a relatively easy away leg with the Force this week followed by the Bulls and Cheetahs away in South Africa. Their chances of claiming a third consecutive Super Rugby title are looking healthy at the moment.
VERDICT: Chiefs (-8.5) 9/10
The Chiefs know how to put points on the board so the -8.5 handicap shouldn’t stand in the way of a profit for the punter this week. The Chiefs by twelve at the least.
Lions vs Reds | Saturday 22 March | Ellis Park | 17:05
The Reds were perhaps a bit unlucky in their opening game of their South African leg. Despite looking the more dominant side down in Durbs, the Reds suffered a 15-point defeat to Jake White’s table-topping Sharks. The Lions will prove a far more manageable opposition for the visitors this week.
To Win (80mins)
Lions (+2.5) 9/10
Reds (-2.5) 9/10
The Lions came away with a controversial 39-36 home victory over the Blues last weekend, ending a two game losing streak. They have proved to be an inexplicably tricky opponent this season, despite having a side packed with relatively unknown players and having just returned from a year out of the competition. The Reds, bar a few hiccups along the way, have shown tremendous potential this year and could quite easily still walk away with title if things go their way from here on in. They will run out in Joburg without powerful Chris Feauai-Sautia and prop Ben Daley, who have been ruled out with injury. The Reds need Cooper to be at his best this week to prevent the Lions claiming another big scalp.
VERDICT: Reds (-2.5) 9/10
Quade Cooper should find things a bit easier up in the Highveld than he did down in the humid conditions of Durban. The Reds by 7-12 points.
Bulls vs Sharks | Saturday 22 March | Loftus Versfeld | 19:10
The Bulls will be grateful for the bye last week, with the ferocious coastal giants swimming inland looking for their fifth consecutive victory this season. The rest can only improve the home side’s chances of avoiding becoming chum in the water for yet another Sharks feeding frenzy.
To Win (80mins)
Bulls (+2.5) 9/10
Sharks (-2.5) 9/10
JP Pietersen runs out for his 100th game for the Sharks against arch rivals the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday. White has left the run on side unchanged, but has made two changes to the bench with Andre Esterhuizen and Tim Swiel both hoping to claim a debut for the Sharks. Dewald Potgieter returns straight into the action, starting at number eight this week for the Bulls as he arrives back from his stint in Japan. Sampie Mastriet takes over from Akona Ndungane on the wing, while Potgieter’s return comes at the expense of Bulls Currie Cup captain Jono Ross, who drops to the bench. The Bulls seem to be improving week after week, with their last clash against the Blues resulting in a resounding 38-22 victory.
VERDICT: Sharks (-2.5) 9/10
Whenever these two meet the game is going to be a photo finish, but the Sharks have built up too much momentum to let an inconsistent Bulls side throw a spanner in the works. The Sharks by five.
Think we’ve got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.