Gary Lemke

Hosts by 9 and 7, say bookies

The Reds and Cheetahs might get closer in their qualifying play-offs than people think, writes GARY LEMKE.

In 1996 the Crusaders were handed their biggest-ever Super Rugby defeat – a 52-16 shellacking at Ballymore. The landscape was so much different then. The Reds topped the Super 12 table, but lost at home to the Sharks in the semi-final, before the Blues won the final by a 24-point margin. But for the Crusaders it was their nadir. They finished bottom of the table with only two victories.

That's another lesson, that in the world of franchise rugby you have to enjoy the moment and not take success for granted.

However, we fast forward to 2013 and it's the Crusaders who are the favourites to progress to the semi-finals next week.

Yet, they have never really enjoyed themselves against their Queensland opponents. Even the last time these two teams met at Christchurch, in 2012, Tom Taylor's 76th-minute penalty took the final score from 12-11 to 15-11 for the seven-time champions.

I'm not saying the Reds are the Crusaders' bogey team, but given their history and the fact they're in with a shout of reaching the semi-finals, they won't die wondering.

And in the other match, the last time the Brumbies hosted the Cheetahs was early on in the 2012 competition and Christian Lealiifano's penalty on the hooter lifted the Canberra side to a 24-23 victory.

The bookies, for this weekend's round of play-offs, have set the handicap for even money (effectively double your stake as a return) at a nine-point start for the Reds and a seven-point start for the Cheetahs.

With a 9-0 and 7-0 advantage for the visiting teams, both hosts are under a bit of pressure, considering that next week – providing they are successful here – they will be the ones travelling.

It puts a different dynamic on the game and while I can see the Crusaders and Brumbies coming through, the Reds and the Cheetahs will let them know they've been in a game.

In fact, I'm going to suggest backing both of them on the handicap to 'win', given the start they have.

R50 on each of them and a R50 double (where you'd receive a R200 return on the handicap).

Amount spent: R450. Return: R700
Season so far: R2,477 (profit)

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