The last few weeks of the regular season and the play-off line-up is becoming clearer. Games this week are as follows:
All times are BST, all prices are from green listed bookmakers.
Friday 26th May
8.35am Blues v Chiefs
The Blues return from South Africa where they lost to the Stormers (30-22) last week. The Blues finished that game with 14 men and their overall record now comprises of six wins and six defeats, the worst of the New Zealand franchises. The gap to the fourth-placed Highlanders now stands at 10 points. Five earlier losses this season all came in New Zealand derby matches and going further back the Blues have won just one of their last 21 against NZ opposition.
The Chiefs were in Fiji last weekend where they lost to the Crusaders (34-21) and they are now 11 points off the top of the table. The Chiefs had won all three of their NZ derby matches prior to last week and that includes the first meeting with the Blues in Hamilton back in Round 2.
The Chiefs should cover -4 here at 10/11 or 4/7 outright in Bet365 is perfectly acceptable too.
10.45am Reds v Force
The Reds beat the Rebels 29-24 in Melbourne in Round 12 and they sat out last weekend. They return to action in third place in the Australian Conference, three points behind the Waratahs and seven shy of the Brumbies and all of those contenders have four matches remaining in the regular season. The Reds have this game and another home fixture against the Brumbies to come but they also have to go to New Zealand to face the Blues and the Highlanders.
The Force were brushed aside by the Highlanders in Perth last weekend, shipping eight unanswered tries in a 55-6 hiding. That was a big let down after a fine win away to Jaguares in Round 12 and they come into this game three points behind the Reds in the Australian Conference. The Force were underdogs for the first meeting with the Reds this season, a game they won 26-19 in Perth back in Round 2.
The Reds at home are 4/9 favourites here, and -6 on the handicap at 10/11. Coming off a bye, they should be supported on both lines.
Saturday 27th May
6.15am Sunwolves v Cheetahs
The Sunwolves were beaten 38-17 by the Sharks in their second home in Singapore last weekend, failing to stay within the 12 point handicap. They have one win this season, a 21-20 victory over the Bulls in Round 7.
The Cheetahs are on their way back from New Zealand where they conceded a total of 17 tries in defeats to the Blues (50-32) and the Hurricanes (61-7). They haven’t won since Round 3 their only other victory came in a home game against the Bulls a week earlier. The nearest the Cheetahs have been to an away win this season came against the Bulls in Round 9 when they lost 20-14.
Not a hugely appetizing betting proposition this game, at Sunwolves 23/20 Cheetahs 8/11 and +/-2 points on the handicap in Will Hill. Modest preference for the Cheetahs -2, but no more than that.
8.35am Highlanders v Waratahs
Although the Highlanders are fourth best in the New Zealand Conference they have closed the gap on the Chiefs and the Hurricanes to just two points. The Highlanders face the league leading Crusaders in Christchurch next week before they finish the regular season at home to the Reds. Last weekend they thumped the Force (55-6) in Perth
The Waratahs kept their hopes of topping the Australian Conference alive with a bonus point win at home to the Rebels last weekend. They still need to bridge a four point gap to the Brumbies and these next two rounds are tough with a visit to the Chiefs coming up after this.
The Highlanders are quoted -17 on the point spread at 10/11 in Bet365 and I don’t see why they wouldn’t cover.
10.45am Rebels vCrusaders
The Rebels have one win (home to the Brumbies), one draw (away to the Sharks) and a couple of losing bonus points (home to the Waratahs and the Reds) this season. They have already met the other four New Zealand sides and they were beaten of sight in three of the four games and lost by 13 points in the fourth.
The Crusaders are threatening to go through the whole of the regular season with a 100% record. After this, they have two tough tests at home to the Highlanders and away to the Hurricanes and last week’s 31-24 win over the Chiefs in Suva was a big test that they passed.
Such is the disparity in these two teams that the Crusaders should comfortably cover-25 at 10/11
2.05pm Bulls v Hurricanes
Last week’s 51-14 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg saw the Bulls fall 15 points behind the Stormers in Africa Conference 1. All four earlier matches against New Zealand sides ended in defeat. The Bulls have won just three matches all season and only the Cheetahs and Sunwolves have fewer points in the combined South Africa group.
The Hurricanes beat the Cheetahs 61-7 in Wellington last week but they are still 11 points adrift of the Crusaders and they have just the one game in hand. After this they take on the Force in Perth and following the internationals they have home games against the Chiefs and the Crusaders.
The Hurricanes are another New Zealand side that should cover the handicap this week,-16 at 10/11.
4.15pm Sharks v Stormers
The Sharks have three remaining matches, all home fixtures and they kept themselves on course for the playoffs with a couple of late scores to see off the Sunwolves 38-17 in Singapore last week.
The Stormers record comprises of six wins from six at the start of the campaign which were followed by four defeats and they returned to the winning ways last weekend, seeing off the Blues 30-22 at Newlands.
A close game in prospect here, outright prices are Sharks 7/10 Stormers 6/5 and -2/+2 on the handicap. A no bet game for me, too close to call.
10.40pm Jaguares v Brumbies
A season which started promisingly with four wins and one narrow defeat is ending tamely for the Jagaures. They have lost five of their subsequent six outings including home games against the Sharks and the Force. After looking play off contenders they return from a bye having fallen 14 points behind the Sharks who are occupying the third play off place from the South African groups.
The Brumbies ended a four game losing streak when they beat the Kings in Port Elizabeth last weekend to maintain a four point lead at the top of the Australian Conference. Victory here would be a giant step towards the play offs with a home game against the struggling Rebels next.
The Jaguares are 1-2 outright and 5 point handicap favourites at 10/11.Tentatively I like the Brumbies +5 here for small stakes.
Sunday 28th May
1.30pm Lions v Kings
The Lions are sure to finish best of the South African Group franchises having won nine out of their ten matches, their conference having the huge advantage of avoiding the New Zealand teams in the round robin stages. The Lions have another home game to come with the Sunwolves due here following the internationals and then they pay a visit to the Sharks. The Lions haven’t lost a South African derby since Round 12 of the 2015 campaign and last week they hammered the Bulls 51-14 in Johannesburg easily covering a 14.5 point handicap.
The Kings three match winning streak came to an end at home to the Brumbies in Port Elizabeth last weekend. Their only derby away from home this season came at the Sharks back in Round 4 and they threatened a surprise before going down 19-17. When these teams met in Round 5 the Kings nearly remained within a 25 point handicap although the Lions eased off after taking a 23 point lead into the half time interval.
Here the Lions are -20at 10/11. I would be confident that they cover this line.