• Neal Hoogwerf

Super Rugby Preview: Week 2

Highlanders vs Sharks

We get our first sight of a new look Highlanders side on Friday. I am not optimistic about the Highlanders’ chances this season and I expect them to be fighting for the wooden spoon of the NZ conference. On the other hand, The Sharks ran out eventual winners against a depleted Bulls side in tricky conditions last Friday. They are generally a good side to back on the road and beat the Highlanders 15-14 in their last meeting in Dunedin in 2016. To add to this, the Sharks have won 9 out of the last 12 meetings between these sides. The Sharks have performed well on the road having covered the handicap in 7 of their last 10 games in New Zealand. A handicap of 8.5 just seems too big.

Best Bet: Sharks +8.5

Brumbies vs Rebels

The Brumbies overturned a 7-17 deficit to run out eventual 27-24 winners against a youthful Reds side. The Brumbies will be looking to overcome their recent struggles against the Rebels, having lost the last 4 fixtures. The Wallaby-ridden Rebels were stunned in Japan and looked awful in their opening fixture of the season. While the Sunwolves are competitive in Japan, a side pushing for higher honours can’t afford to drop points in such a fixture. The Rebels will be looking to get their season going in Canberra and I am expecting a much improved showing from Dave Wessel’s men. The Rebels have covered the handicap in 3 of their last 4 outings against the Brumbies and should have enough quality to continue this run on the weekend. Expect big performances from Matt Toomua and Isa Naisarani.

Best Bet: Rebels +6.5

Chiefs vs Crusaders

A mouth-watering encounter awaits as the Chiefs host tournament favourites, the Crusaders in Hamilton. The Chiefs, fresh off a remarkable second half turnaround against the Blues, will be looking to state their title credentials at home and improve on their record against the Crusaders which currently stands as 6 losses from the last 7 fixtures. Boosted by the return of mercurial pivot Aaron Cruden, the Chiefs are bound to produce good passages of play against the defending champions. It is due to this form that I am backing the home side to cover the spread in this game. History however, suggests otherwise as the Crusaders have covered the handicap 5 out of the last 6 times when these two sides have set.

Best Bet: Chiefs +5.5

Waratahs vs Blues

Following disappointing results from these sides in round 1, the Blues’ camp has been hit by the news that star outside back, Rieko Ioane has a fractured hand and is unavailable for the near future. I have tipped the ‘Tahs to struggle this season and despite the emotional roller-coaster that the Blues promise their supporters, they are bound to click at some point. The Blues have beaten the ‘Tahs in the last four fixtures but have failed to cover the handicap in both fixtures they played in Australia last year. You never know what you will get from a Blues outfit, but they should get the business done against a weak ‘Tahs side.

Best Bet: Blues to win @ 0.75

Lions vs Reds

A tricky fixture awaits a Lions team when they host the Reds in Johannesburg on Saturday. The Lions will be looking to draw a line under their Buenos Aires hammering and the Reds will take confidence from a near upset victory in Canberra. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Reds cause an upset here however altitude is always a factor when playing on the highveld and teams often run out of steam late on. I originally tipped a Lions victory at 7/10, but that price has subsequently dropped. The Reds haven’t beaten the Lions in Johannesburg since 2011. This is the toughest handicap to call of the weekend but I’m going to lean to the home side.

Best Bet: Lions -5.5

Stormers vs Bulls

The performance of the opening round goes to the Stormers dismantling of the Hurricanes at Newlands on Saturday. The mood will be buzzing in the Cape camp and they will be hoping to treat their supporters to a similar showing against their country rivals. The Bulls were in the game for 75 minutes against the Sharks before a bit of Sanele Nohamba brilliance put the nail in the coffin for the visiting side. The Stormers have won their last 8 fixtures against the Bulls at Newlands and you have to go back to 2011 when the Pretoria based side were last victorious in Cape territory. This being said however, South African derbies are traditionally close affairs and I think the Bulls will be looking to target a Stormers side missing influential captain, Siya Kolisi.

Best Bet: Bulls +10.5

Jaguares vs Hurricanes

As dominant as the Jaguares were last Saturday, it was against a shadow of the Lions side that competed in consecutive Super Rugby finals in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The Jaguares scored 28 unanswered second half points to run out eventual 38-8 winners. On the contrary, I don’t think I have ever seen the Hurricanes being kept scoreless in a rugby fixture. As uninspiring as the ‘Canes were in Cape Town, I think an inevitable bounce back is on the cards. The Jaguares traditionally struggle against NZ opposition, covering the handicap only twice in the last 7 games that they have hosted NZ opposition. The Hurricanes have covered four of their last five games on the road and I expect them to continue this record on the weekend.

Best Bet: Hurricanes +6.5

All bets can be found at:

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