The Bulls have usurped the Chiefs as the favourites to win the Super Rugby title after renewed enthusiasm over their chances, writes GARY LEMKE.
The Bulls are now as short as 23-10 to win the competition (ie, every R10 invested would see a return of R33), while the Chiefs have eased out to 5-2 (R35 for every R10) and the Crusaders – having dismantled the Chiefs last week – are now third-favourites at 33-10 (R43 for every R10 put on).
Before we get to the play-offs and the various permutations, there is another round of fixtures.
Crusaders vs Hurricanes
There were shades of the old Crusaders last week when they clicked to put away a disappointing Chiefs. Again at home, they will be impossible to beat as one gets the feeling that the Hurricanes, knowing their fate, have already taken their collective eyes off the ball. Expect the Crusaders to continue gathering momentum. The bookies have given the Hurricanes a 14-0 start on the even-money (double-your-stake) handicap. R50 on the Crusaders overcoming that to win going away. Potential return R100.
Rebels vs Highlanders
The Highlanders have had a far better second half to the season compared to the way they stumbled through most of their campaign. They hauled themselves off the bottom rung of the ladder for the first time this season last week and will be looking to build on that result. They could yet end third from bottom. On the handicap the Highlanders start with a 2-0 lead in Melbourne. R50 on them capitalising on that. Potential return R100.
Blues vs Chiefs
The Blues have travelled back from South Africa and they'll come up against a Chiefs side chastened by their experience against the Crusaders last week. Also, bear in mind the Chiefs side will want a victory to ensure they finish second on the table, at worst, which will give them a home semi-final. The bookies have given the Blues an 8-0 start on the handicap. I'd be surprised if the Chiefs can't win by more than that. R50 would result in a R100 return.
Waratahs vs Reds
A full-blooded Australian derby. The Reds are in the play-offs and the Waratahs have nothing to gain whether they win or lose this final league encounter, so logic suggests that the Reds will be too good for their rivals in Sydney. The bookies differ though and have installed the hosts as favourites, with a two-point start. Given that, I'm expecting the Reds to be able to do the job. R50 on the Reds at the handicap. Potential return R100.
Force vs Brumbies
As in the above, another Australian derby and one in which only one team will be going further in the competition. Jake White's team arrive in Perth on the back of lowering the British & Irish Lions' colours – no matter that it was a weakened midweek Lions side; the scorebook doesn't tell you that. The Brumbies could well be travelling to Pretoria to meet the Bulls and that would be a juicy affair. First things first. They should beat the Force but the handicap is 9-0 in favour of the Force. In Perth they could well hold on at that advantage. R50 on the Force to 'win'. Potential return R100.
Sharks vs Kings
Back in March, in Port Elizabeth, the Sharks ground out a 21-12 victory over the Kings after leading 12-3 at half-time. This came before we really knew how competitive the newcomers would be, and they have continued to perform admirably and with spirit throughout the season. The bookies have given the Kings a 23-0 start in Durban and if the Sharks were to run this down and win by more than 23 points it would, in Super Rugby terms, be considered a bit of a hiding. It would be a disappointing way for the Kings to finish their campaign and leave them at the foot of the table, but that may well be the final outcome. R50 on the Sharks at the handicap. Potential return R100.
Stormers vs Bulls
The big South African derby of the weekend and at the handicap the Stormers get only a 2-0 lead. They have the capability, especially at Newlands, to keep things that close but I reckon there will come a stage when the Bulls will breach what is considered a watertight defence. One try might be all that separates the teams, but that's all it takes. And in Morné Steyn the Bulls have a flyhalf kicking with extreme confidence once again. Take the Bulls to beat the 2-0 deficit and win. R50 would result in a R100 return.
Wins on the handicap for the Crusaders, Blues and Bulls. Would result in a R300 return.
Wins on the handicap for the Highlanders and the Sharks. Would result in a R200 return.
Amount spent: R400
Season so far: R2,227 (profit)
‘Marx like a No 8 playing hooker’
What former Bok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the Super Rugby quarter-finals involving South African teams.
More Lions can boost Boks
Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Malcolm Marx and Courtnall Skosan would all be fully deserving of Springbok call-ups for the Rugby Championship, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions marry brains with brawn
The Lions will be genuine title contenders following a quarter-final performance that exuded as much intensity as it did intelligence, writes JON CARDINELLI.