All matches previewed for this weekend. Prices are courtesy of Bet365.
Hurricanes v Brumbies (Friday 21st April, 8.35 am)
Napier is the venue for the first action in Round 9 of Super Rugby as the Hurricanes clash with the Brumbies on Friday.
The Hurricanes have a record of six wins and one defeat but that is only good enough for third place in the New Zealand Conference, a point shy of the Chiefs and three adrift of the Crusaders. They worked hard to see off the Blues (28-24) in Auckland last week and now take on Australian opposition for the fourth time this season, having won the three previous encounters
The Brumbies became the Rebels first victims of the season in Melbourne last weekend when they lost 19-17 in a game where they were chalked up as 9.5 point favourites. They remain top of the Australian Conference with a record of three wins and four defeats. Two of those losses came against New Zealand opposition, 17-13 away to the Crusaders in Round 1 and 18-13 at home to the Highlanders in Round 5.
The Hurricanes at home are 17 point favourites here. Such is the superiority of the New Zealand franchises over their Australian counterparts that I would expect them to cover the double digit spread.
Waratahs v Kings (Friday 21st April, 10.45am)
The Waratahs come off a bye and they are currently nine points behind the Brumbies in the Australian conference table. They have won just two of their seven outings this season, local derby matches at home to the Force (19-13) in Round 1 and away at the Rebels (32-25) in Round 5. Three of their next four outings are home fixtures and they need to find form if they are to threaten the play offs.
This is the third game on tour for the Kings and in the two previous weeks, we have seen plenty of points around. Last week the Kings went down 47-34 to the Reds in Brisbane, a game where they scored five tries and conceded seven and they just scraped home on the +15 point handicap. In Round 7 the Kings were beaten 46-41 at the Force in Perth, scoring six tries and conceding the same number and the pre-match handicap in that game also saw the Kings start as 15.5 points underdogs. The Kings have won just the once this season, 37-23 away at the Sunwolves in Round 2
I will be taking the Kings with a 21 point start here at 10/11.
Lions v Los Jaguares (Friday 21st April, 6pm)
The Lions excellent bonus point win away to the previously unbeaten Stormers last week saw them go top of the South African group and their record this season now comprises of six wins and one defeat. That sole loss came away to Jaguares in Buenos Aires in Round 3 where the Lions were missing a few regular starters. The Lions also lost to Jaguares in Buenos Aires at the end of the 2016 regular season but the one head to head at Ellis Park last year saw the Lions run in eight tries to two in a convincing win. At home in the current campaign, the Lions have won all three of their matches.
Jagaures were slight favourites in the early betting on many books for last week's visit to the Bulls but they went down 26-13 and they are now nine points adrift of the Lions. In Round 7 Jagaures lost 18-13 to the Sharks in Durban and in Round 2 they finished strongly but came up short against the Stormers (32-25) in Cape Town. One away win this season came at the Kings but since they entered Super Rugby Jaguares have lost six of eight on South Africa soil and are a far stronger team at home in Argentina
As such, I expect the Lions to cover-11 at 10/11 with green listed bookmaker.
Highlanders v Sunwolves (Saturday 22nd April 6.15am)
The Highlanders are fourth of five in the New Zealand Conference but they are on a three-match winning streak having completed wins away to the Brumbies (18-13) and at home to the Rebels (51-12) and the Blues (26-20). After sitting out Round 8 they now come up against the Sunwolves for the first time.
The Sunwolves have had their moments this season, not least the 21-20 win over the Bulls in Tokyo in round 7. However, a gulf in class has been evident in two meetings against New Zealand opposition earlier this season which saw the Sunwolves go down 83-17 to the Canes in Tokyo in Round 1 and last week they lost 50-3 to the Crusaders in Christchurch. The pre-match handicap for last week’s game in Christchurch was 37.5 points and the writing was on the wall at a half time with the Sunwolves trailing 29-3.
Here the handicap is +-39 points. No bet for me, Highlanders probably cover but the quote is tight
Crusaders v Stormers (Saturday 22nd April 8.35am )
The Crusaders are now the only team with a 100% record this season. They were not extended to continue their winning streak at home to the Sunwolves last week when they chalked up a third successive bonus point win to go two points clear of the Chiefs at the top of the New Zealand Conference. They covered a hefty handicap last week and they also obliged for minus backers in home wins over the Force and the Blues earlier in the season. The closest contest in terms of the scoreboard in a home game came in Round 1, a 17-13 win over the Brumbies. They have an awesome record at home to South African sides, only one team has won there since 2001.
The Stormers will also face the Highlanders and the Hurricanes on tour and they arrive in New Zealand on the back of losing their own 100% record, going down to the Lions at Newlands last weekend. The Stormers are now second in the South Africa Group, two points behind the Lions and although they have a healthy advantage over other sides in the Conference, this tour is likely to be crucial to their playoff aspirations.
I would expect the Crusaders to cover-14 at 10/11.
Force v Chiefs (Saturday 22nd April 10.45am)
The Force have won two of their six matches this season and both were home games. After going through the whole of 2016 without a win in front of their own supporters they opened their account in the current campaign against the Reds (26-19) in Round 2 and two weeks ago they dug deep to win a high-scoring encounter against the Kings (46-41). The quality of the opposition they face on Saturday is more than one notch up from their two earlier victims.
The Chiefs are on the way back from South Africa where they suffered a first defeat of the season at the Stormers (34-26) and then came from 24-0 down to beat the Cheetahs (41-27). They finished last week in the second spot in the New Zealand Conference, two points behind the Crusaders
I would expect the Chiefs to cover-14at 10/11.
Bulls v Cheetahs (Saturday 22nd April 4.15pm)
After coming under heavy criticism for their start to the Super Rugby season the Bulls pulled off a much-needed win (26-13) at home to Jaguares last week. It was solid rather than spectacular in difficult conditions. This is just the third home game of the campaign for the Bulls.
At one stage the Cheetahs were 24-0 up at home to the Chiefs last weekend but they were overhauled and eventually lost by some distance, 41-27. That leaves the Cheetahs with the same record as the Bulls, two wins and five defeats from seven games so far.
The quote here is Bulls -7. No bet, neither team has shown enough consistency to back them confidently.
Sharks v Rebels (Saturday 22nd April 6.30pm)
The Sharks come off a bye and are in third place in the South African Group, six points behind the Lions and four shy of the Stormers. After starting with a loss away at the Reds (28-26) the Sharks only other defeat came in controversial fashion away at the Lions (34-29) in a full-blooded encounter. The Sharks have won all three home games so far.
The Rebels opened their win account at the sixth time of asking when they edged out Australian Conference leaders the Brumbies (19-17) in Melbourne last week. Their two away fixtures so far delivered severe beatings in New Zealand at the Hurricanes (71-6) in Round 2 and the Highlanders (51-12) in Round 6.
The handicap here has the Sharks -15.N bet for me, I would be tempted to suggest the Sharks would cover but +/-15 is too tight.