Super Rugby: Weekend Matches
Highlanders vs. Stormers (Friday, 6:35 a.m. GMT)
The Highlanders have played one match so far, a 41-34 home win over the Blues in Round 2. They were 24-17 down at the break before hitting back in the second half, taking control when the Blues had a man sin-binned on 54 minutes. The Highlanders were 6.5-point favorites on the handicap for that match and the winning start was in contrast to 2017 when they lost three of their first four matches, all of which were NZ derbies.
The Stormers were beaten 45-28 by the Crusaders in Christchurch in Round 3, and their record now comprises one win and two defeats. The damage was done early in Christchurch with the Crusaders going into a 26-0 lead in the first 20 minutes, and it was 31-7 at halftime. The Stormers kept going and scored four tries in total (conceding seven), and by the end they had the gap to where the early handicap had been set.
After starting their campaign with a 28-20 home win over the Jagaures, the Stormers lost their first tour match 34-27 to the Waratahs in Sydney and they come into this game with five points from three matches.
The Highlanders are 14-point favorites here, and the line looks about right.
Rebels vs. Brumbies (Friday, 8:45 a.m. GMT)
The Rebels recorded back-to-back wins when they beat the Sunwolves 37-17 away from home in Round 3. The Rebels scored six tries to two in Tokyo to earn a second bonus point victory which sees them atop the Australian Conference, four points clear of the Waratahs. They also covered the handicap by some distance for the second successive week following their 45-19 victory over the 14-man Reds in Melbourne in Round 2.
The Brumbies started as favorites for their visit to the Reds in Round 3 but they came unstuck, going down 18-10 in Brisbane. The Brumbies scored the only two tries of the game but it wasn’t enough and their record is now 1-1. The victory came away to the Sunwolves in Round 2 with the Brumbies overturning a halftime deficit of 19-15 to run out winners 32-25.
The Rebels are 2-point handicap favorites here at 10/11, and in their form against stuttering opponents they should cover.
Hurricanes vs. Crusaders (Saturday, 6:35 a.m. GMT)
This will be the first home game of the season for the Hurricanes, who lost their opening match 21-19 to the Bulls at Loftus before putting in a much-improved display to beat the Jaguares 34-9 in Buenos Aires last weekend, scoring five unanswered tries against the Argentines, earning themselves a bonus point and easily covering a handicap that had been set at around 13.5 points.
The Crusaders have one local derby under their belts already, a 45-23 home win over the Chiefs in Round 2 in Christchurch. They led for most of the game but it was close at halftime (19-17), and only in the final 10 minutes did they make the game safe in terms of the scoreboard when three of their seven tries were chalked up.
Last weekend the Crusaders beat the Stormers 45-28 to make it two wins from two. Last season’s defeat to the Hurricames in Wellington cost the Crusaders the top spot at the end of the regular season, but that was their only defeat in 2017. However, I expect the Crusaders to win here, 6/5 outright or +1 on the handicap at 10/11.
Reds vs. Bulls (Saturday, 8:45 a.m. GMT)
The Reds put a nightmare start to the tournament behind them when they won their first home fixture of the season last week, coming through a derby encounter with the Brumbies 18-10. The Reds didn’t score a try in that game. In Round 2 the Reds lost 45-19 away to the Rebels, with Higginbotham picking up a red card on 10 minutes.
The Bulls' three-match tour starts here, after which they head to New Zealand to face the Chiefs and the Crusaders. They were beaten 49-35 by the Lions last week in a game where they had attracted support on a +10.5 handicap. The Bulls scored four tries and conceded seven last week and the key passage of the game came in the second half when they picked up two yellow cards in quick succession after drawing level, and the Lions took full advantage.
The Reds are -2 on the handicap here, and I like the Bulls to win outright (11/10) and cover.
Sharks vs. Sunwolves (Saturday, 1:05 p.m. GMT)
For many bettors the Sharks were a big letdown at home to the Waratahs last week. The game finished in a 24-24 draw with both teams scoring three tries, and the manner in which the Sharks conceded was a real comedy of errors for those who were on the minus 5.5 handicap.
The Sharks had started their campaign away at the Lions in Round 1 and were beaten 26-19.
Two previous meetings with the Sunwolves have seen the Sharks win by margins of 11 points (in Durban) and 21 points (in Singapore).
The Sunwolves travel for the first time this season after losing both their matches so far. Tokyo was the venue for a 32-25 defeat to the Brumbies and also for last week’s 37-17 defeat to the Rebels. The Sunwolves conceded five tries in both of those matches whilst they managed three of their own against the Brumbies and two against the Rebels. They easily stayed within the handicap in the Brumbies game but that wasn’t the case last week.
The Sunwolves have lost all nine of their Super Rugby visits to South Africa by an average score of 53-19.
The Sharks are chalked up at -23 here, which looks too high to back with confidence given their questionable form. No bet.
Lions vs. Blues (Saturday, 3:15 p.m. GMT)
The Lions made it three wins from three when they came away from the Bulls with a 49-35 bonus point victory last week. They scored seven tries and covered the minus handicap last week and that was also the case in their most recent home game in Round 2 when they saw off the Jaguares 47-27 (six tries to three). The Lions had started their campaign with a 26-19 home win over the Sharks and they now take aim at New Zealand opposition for the first time since losing the 2017 final to the Crusaders.
The Blues have played two matches so far -- both were New Zealand derby matches -- and they finished on the losing side on each occasion. In their opening match of the tournament they lost to the Highlanders (41-34) in Dunedin, and last week they attracted betting support to beat the Chiefs in Auckland and when the visitors were hit by late-injury withdrawals it seemed an ideal opportunity for the Blues to chalk up a win. It didn’t pan out that way as the Chiefs came through 27-21 to leave the Blues with just two losing bonus points for their efforts so far.
The Lions can be supported at -8 at 10/11 here.