Super Rugby stats guru Paul Neazor offers his tips for the weekend’s games.
A couple of curly results – who saw the Rebels win over the Brumbies coming?! – set the Oracle’s tipping record back slightly last weekend. 4/7 brings his season record to 47/63 or 75%. What does this week have in store o mighty Oracle?
Hurricanes vs Brumbies (Napier)
The Brumbies have a historical advantage over the Hurricanes including a number of wins in New Zealand, but… that was then, this is now. On 2017 form there’s a world of difference between the two sides and it’s hard to see how it can be bridged. The Brumbies have one weapon – a penalty kicked into the corner and a rolling maul from the lineout. The Hurricanes have good maul defence and attacking plays they can unleash whenever the mood takes them. Two weeks ago the Brumbies backs got a chance to run and looked quite good, but that was neglected at Melbourne – at some cost – while the Hurricanes have been running at high speed from everywhere. I can’t find a single reason to say the Brumbies can win, so I won’t. The Hurricanes should win by plenty.
Waratahs vs Kings (Sydney)
Normally you would say the Waratahs will win by a street, tick the 13+ box and move on. But so far in 2017 the Waratahs have been ordinary, dropping into deep holes in most matches (they haven’t held a halftime lead all year) and then recovering often because they are allowed to by coasting opposition. The Kings are somewhat similar but they have at least had a couple of halftime leads. Both teams suffer from leaky defence and an inability to score points until it is too late, so whichever team makes the better start might well take this game out. But I also fancy the Waratahs believe they can win this one while they didn’t think that against the Crusaders and Hurricanes, so I’ll have the home side, and it may be by 10-15 points.
Lions vs Jaguares (Johannesburg)
These matches tend to go to the home side – the Lions have lost twice in Buenos Aires (though they have not yet taken a full-strength team over) while the Jaguares got tanned at Ellis Park last year. Given the way the two sides have played in the last fortnight a similar result looks on the cards. The Lions have been playing quick, aggressive football and the Jaguares on tour are looking like the pedestrian outfit they were 12 months ago. The visitors – a test-strength outfit – have the potential to trouble the Lions but I can’t see it happening at present. The Lions should win comfortably.
Highlanders vs Sunwolves (Invercargill)
Unless a biblical rain pours down or some other weather nightmare unleashes on Invercargill, the Sunwolves are in for another long evening. So far they’ve run into two New Zealand sides and given up two half-tons, and the Highlanders are quite capable of making it three-from-three. Their rugby is improving on a weekly basis and they’re now getting back to something like top form, with players starting to leave the MASH tent and get back on the paddock. If the Sunwolves kick all their possession away again this week, it could be a really bad day. I suspect it may be anyway, with the Highlanders almost unbackable favourites to win by plenty.
Crusaders vs Stormers (Christchurch)
I’m interested in the early odds for this game, which have the Crusaders as very short favourites and the Stormers being offered at a 12.5-point start. The Crusaders might be unbeaten so far and playing at home but their opponents have included four Australian teams and the Sunwolves. My feeling is they’re not as good as their table position suggests. The forwards are good, no question, but the backs can be east-west and the goal-kicking hit and miss. The Stormers went down by a surprising margin at Cape Town to the Lions, who played very well and at high speed to claim a 13-point win. The visiting forwards will be a good match for the home pack and the backs are also fairly slick, so I’m expecting a much tighter game than the bookies apparently are. Having said that, I think I’ll still run with a Crusaders win by one score.
Force vs Chiefs (Perth)
The only thing that gives me pause here is the Chiefs’ iffy record at Perth – they’re not alone among New Zealand teams in that respect. But they’d have to have six blokes sent off to fall short this time, because they are just better across the board than the Force, who have the added pressure of uncertainty over all their futures. Legal action and all the rest has its place, but that place can’t be inside a player’s head. You could see in Matt Hodgson’s post-match interview a fortnight ago what it’s doing to these guys, and Hodgson is as tough as they come. The Chiefs are playing fairly well – they took an unexpected bonus point off the Cheetahs last week without Damian McKenzie contributing a whole lot, and he doesn’t often have two grey-man games in a row. The visitors should win by a wide margin.
Bulls vs Cheetahs (Pretoria)
This has the potential to be an interesting match – it’s quite possible that it will be the closest of the week – and both teams have a lot to play for. The Bulls are 2-0 at home, having played a long run of away games to start. With the Stormers now in New Zealand they need to run the next three games to give themselves any shot at the conference title. The Cheetahs, like the Force, are battling uncertainty over 2018. They are more certain to be cut and it has to impact on players’ psyche. Handre Pollard is slowly working into form and, as the best player on either side, he could run this match if his forwards continue to deliver good ball. An element of payback will go into the Bulls’ preparation this week, and I think they’ll be good enough to claim an important win.
Sharks vs Rebels (Durban)
The Rebels have all the good feelings from a worthy (if somewhat unexpected) first win of the season to buoy them across the Indian Ocean, but the Sharks are proving a gnarly, aggressive mob to play against in 2017 and they’re not in the habit of giving anything away. They certainly won’t be as profligate as the Brumbies off the tee; no team has kicked more penalty goals or points (28 and 106, as opposed to the Rebels’ 13 and 49). The Sharks are nearly 80% off the tee this season while the Rebels are below 60%. Throw in the du Preez twins, the big tight five, Curwin Bosch’s 60m punts and Andre Esterhuizen in the midfield, and the Sharks have more threats than the Rebels have shown the ability to contain. Melbourne’s finest will be a nuisance and a bigger one the longer they stay close, but that should be all. The home side should win this match with a degree of comfort.
Watch the every match of Super Rugby streaming live on rugbypass.com, home of the best online rugby coverage including news, highlights, previews & reviews, live scores, and more!