Where you should put your money on the Vodacom Super Rugby matches this weekend, according to BRENTON CHELIN.
Vodacom Bulls vs Stormers
Everything about this one suggests a Bulls victory, and the bookies tend to agree. They've been installed as 5/10 favourites and, given that they went unbeaten at Loftus last season, it looks a solid enough bet. The Stormers will bring some confidence into the match on the back of their Currie Cup success, but this is Super Rugby. The Bulls will field 13 Springboks in their starting lineup to the Stormers' three. However, this is still a South African derby, so I'd err on the side of caution and stick with the outright.
Tip: Bulls to win @ 5/10
Sharks vs Cheetahs
There could be some money to be made here for those who act quick. With rain expected at Kings Park on Saturday, the 10 points on offer on the handicap seem a bit long. The difficult conditions should level the playing field for the overmatched Cheetahs, and although I don't expect a shock win, they could well finish within the 10-point margin. The Sharks struggled to put teams away last season, and despite talk of an attacking game plan, that has yet to materialise.
Tip: Cheetahs to finish within 10 points @ 9/10
Lions vs Hurricanes
This one could go either way, and that uncertainty has been reflected in the betting. The Lions can be found as long as 12/10, or as short as 8/10 depending on which bookmakers you're looking at, so I suggest shopping around to find the best price. As for the result, well the Canes have lost five of their last seven in South Africa and each of their last four opening matches. To start the season on the highveld is a tough ask, and I expect the Hurricanes to be sucking air during the second half.
Tip: Lions to win the second half @ 11/10
Crusaders vs Rebels
The Crusaders are traditionally slow starters, and lost their first two matches of the 2014 season before recovering to reach the final. They will begin their quest for an eighth title against the Rebels in Christchurch on Saturday, where they have been installed as overwhelming favourites. The betting seems to conflict with previous meetings between these two, which have tended to be close affairs. While I don't expect the Crusaders to go down at home, their pre-season form doesn't suggest they'll win comfortably.
Tip: Crusaders to win by 1-12 points @ 9/5
Brumbies vs Reds
Perennial contenders, the Brumbies will get their their campaign underway with a tough match against a Reds team seeking redemption. The side from Queensland endured a season to forget in 2014, but have shown signs of a turnaround during pre-season. The Brumbies won eight on the spin in Canberra last season, including a play-off victory over the Chiefs, and will be expected to continue that run here. The Reds, however, have enough about them to cause problems for Stephen Larkham's side, and we could be in for another tight contest.
Tip: Under 47 points to be scored @6/5
Blues vs Chiefs
The Chiefs failed to secure their third consecutive title in 2014, falling in the play-offs to the Brumbies. They will be hoping the return of Sonny Bill Williams will bring about another era of supremacy, starting with a win over the Blues on Saturday. The side from Auckland blew hot and cold last season, picking up seven wins to go with their nine losses. Among those defeats was an 11-8 loss to Chiefs – their seventh in succession. Such numbers cannot be ignored, making the Chiefs one of the bets of the weekend.
Tip: Chiefs to win @ 8/10
Waratahs vs Force
The Waratahs will get their title defence underway in Sydney against the Force on Sunday. The match should prove a good omen for the hosts, who ran out 43-21 victors in their opening fixture last season, albeit in the second round of matches. The Tahs have been made 11-point favourites here, and given the Force's opening day record – they have lost every one of their opening fixtures since their inclusion in the competition in 2006 – it seems a safe bet. Israel Folau got a hat-trick in the corresponding fixture last season, and I wouldn't bet against him getting on the scoresheet again.
Tip: Waratahs to win by 11 points or more @ 9/10
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images