Pack down with tips for all seven matches of the 2020 Super Rugby season’s seventh round, featuring daunting Kiwi assignments for the Reds and Waratahs.
History: Played 5: Brumbies 5 V Sunwolves 0
Last meeting: Round 16, 2019: Brumbies 42 d Sunwolves 19 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Sunwolves started with a hiss and a roar, beating the Rebels in Yokohama. Even their 26-point loss to the hot Chiefs wasn’t too bad. But their last two outings have seen the doomed Japanese outfit concede more than 60 points two weeks in a row in losses to the Reds and Hurricanes. Compounding matters, the coronavirus outbreak has forced their next two home games to Australian venues.
The 3-1 Brumbies comfortably lead a poorly-performing Australian Conference. They bounced back from a disappointing last-minute loss to the Highlanders at home with an unlikely 26-14 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton despite illness severely disrupting their line-up and preparations. The Brumbies had the bye last weekend.
The Brumbies are 5-0 against the Sunwolves, including two wins by 23-plus last season.
The Sunwolves do have a knack for giving teams a fright when least expected, but on the surface this should be another cricket score. Get down on the fairly modest line in this one.
17:05 (AEDT), Fri 6th Mar @ Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
History: Played 25: Crusaders 19 V Reds 6
Last meeting: Round 3, 2019: Crusaders 22 d Reds 12 at Suncorp Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders’ quest for four straight title has got off to a solid start, with only a loss to the Chiefs against their name. Since then, they have put away the Blues (25-8) and Highlanders (33-13) comprehensively as Generation Next comes to the fore. David Havili has been rested this week, with George Bridge slotting in at fullback.
The Reds have won only one of their five games. They crushed the Sunwolves 64-5 but were unable to keep the momentum going, crashing 33-23 to the Sharks at home in Round 5. The Queenslanders’ task has been made harder by the injury absence of James O’Connor and Izack Rodda.
The Crusaders have won seven straight against the Reds since their loss in the 2011 Super Rugby final, but the last two clashes have been hard-fought: a 22-20 eclipse in 2017 and a 22-12 battle last year.
With two of their best players missing, the Reds are no chance here. The Crusaders – despite the customary post-World Cup exodus – are brimming with firepower and class. Expect them to put on a show at home.
19:15 (AEDT), Fri 6th Mar @ WIN Stadium, Wollongong
History: Played 21: Waratahs 13 V Chiefs 8
Last meeting: Round 15, 2018: Chiefs 39 d Waratahs 27 at FMG Stadium Waikato
Final Thoughts: The second part of the impromptu Wollongong double-header sees the struggling Waratahs host the hotshot Chiefs.
After losing their first three games in dismal fashion, the Waratahs got off the mark in Round 5 with a 29-17 home win over the Lions. Michael Hooper was in sensational form, playing a key hand in four of their five tries. Skipper Rob Simmons is out this week, which will see Kurtley Beale with the (c) next to his name.
The Chiefs’ season so far has travelled the opposite path. They banked three strong wins to kick-start their campaign, before crashing unexpectedly to the Brumbies at home. The Chiefs had the bye to regroup last week. Meanwhile, they are without five All Blacks for this road trip: Damian McKenzie (enforced rest), Atu Moli (illness), Angus Ta’avao (quad), Nepo Laulala (knee) and Luke Jacobson (hamstring).
The Waratahs have won six of their last nine against the Chiefs, but the Chiefs racked up wins by double-digit margins in the teams’ last two meetings. The ’Tahs boast an 8-3 home record against the Chiefs.
Despite their absentees, the depleted Chiefs should still take the points. But the Waratahs shape as a decent bet with a start after last week’s confidence-boosting showing.
17:05 (AEDT), Sat 7th Mar @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
History: Played 32: Hurricanes 17 V Blues 13 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 18, 2019: Hurricanes 29 d Blues 24 at Westpac Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Hurricanes have built nicely since their dreadful Round 1 loss to the Stormers. They edged the Jaguares in Buenos Aries, beat the Sharks at home by 16 with a second-half surge, and obliterated the Sunwolves 62-15 in Napier last weekend.
The 3-2 Blues look to be building towards something, returning from South Africa with wins over the Bulls (23-21) and Stormers (33-14) under their belt. But winning against their fellow Kiwi sides remains their bugbear and accounts for their only two losses so far. Beauden Barrett is still a week away from his Blues debut – denying a blockbuster match-up against his former team – but Otere Black is filling in just fine at present.
The Hurricanes have won 10 of their last 11 against the Blues, but last season’s two matches were tight: the ’Canes won 22-12 in Auckland and 29-24 in Wellington. The Blues boast a 7-1-7 away record against Hurricanes, but they have not won in Wellington since 2013.
This shapes as another derby the Hurricanes are going to have to grind out – as emphasised by the relatively skinny line. But the travel-weary Blues will come up just short again.
19:15 (AEDT), Sat 7th Mar @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
History: Played 5: Lions 5 V Rebels 0
Last meeting: Round 5, 2019: Lions 36 d Rebels 33 at Emirate Airlines Park
Final Thoughts: Rebels aren’t exactly back on track, but their season looks a lot more promising than it did after losses to the Sunwolves and Brumbies in the opening fortnight. The Melbourne outfit chalked up upsets over the Waratahs and Highlanders either side of a home loss to the Sharks in the past three rounds.
The 1-4 Lions are on the ropes, coming out of the bye with a 29-17 loss to the Waratahs in Sydney. Flanker Marnus Schoeman scored their only two tries, but the Lions’ attack largely failed to fire.
The Lions are 5-0 against the Rebels, including a 47-10 rout in their last visit to Melbourne in 2017 and a nail-biting 36-33 home victory last season.
The Lions are on the downturn, but the Rebels can’t be trusted to cover this line.
00:05 (AEDT), Sun 8th Mar @ Kings Park, Durban
History: Played 8: Sharks 5 V Jaguares 3
Last meeting: Round 17, 2019: Jaguares 34 d Sharks 7 at Jose Amalfitani Stadium
Final Thoughts: It’s still early days, but this could be a critical showdown in the South African Conference title race.
The Sharks are 4-1, leaving from their fortnight in Australia with double-digit wins over the Rebels and Reds in the bank. The 3-2 Jaguares have been solid so far in 2020 and responded to their 17-7 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town with a 39-24 victory at the Bulls’ expense in Pretoria.
The Sharks boast a 5-3 record against the Jaguares, but the Argentine outfit wrested control of the rivalry last season. They romped to a 51-17 win in Durban and carved out a similarly emphatic 34-7 victory in Buenos Aries.
The Sharks are unquestionably better this season than they were last year, but the Jaguares aren’t far off their 2019 runner-up form and are irresistible value as underdogs.
02:15 (AEDT), Sun 8th Mar @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
History: Played 22: Highlanders 15 V Bulls 6 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 17, 2019: 24-all draw at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Final Thoughts: Two teams with perilously low stocks close out Round 5.
The Bulls are winless from four outings, including a last-minute loss to the Blues and a 15-point home defeat to the Jaguares in the last fortnight.
The 1-3 Highlanders’ away win over Brumbies has been overshadowed by disappointing home losses to the Sharks and Rebels. They lost skipper James Lentjies to a horrific leg break in the latter, further depleting already threadbare stocks.
The teams have split their meetings at Lotfus Versfeld six apiece, with one draw. The teams also drew last season in Dunedin.
As sketchy as the Highlanders’ form has been, the Bulls have been worse and don’t provide a great deal of value as favourites.