Sharks are a smart bet

Where you should put your money in Super Rugby this weekend, according to MARK KEOHANE.

For the first time this season I find myself agreeing with the online bookmakers in terms of who is going to win this weekend. The favourites are the Highlanders, Waratahs, Blues, Brumbies, Chiefs, Reds and Sharks. Of the seven matches, three of the favoured winning teams are playing away, so, if there is to be an upset it could come in the form of the Hurricanes, especially after they blew away the Cheetahs last weekend.

However, I'm going to give the Highlanders another chance to get it right. The bookies, including, have set the margin at three points, which effectively gives the Hurricanes a 3-0 start. It could be interesting!

Actually, now that the runners have settled into their stride – to use some betting jargon – we have a decent form line from which to offer predictions and this week I've found myself rather close to the bookies, which makes betting a daunting prospect. But I need to put my money where my mouth is and it's at Loftus, where the Sharks take on my beloved Bulls, where the value might lie. One can't allow the heart to rule the head in these situations and I fancy that by being smart in the betting market, Jake White's team will provide next week's spending money.

Here's my guide to the matches and suggested bets:

Highlanders vs Hurricanes
The bookies have set the spread at an effective 3-0 start for the Hurricanes. As I said, much depends on which teams pitch up because both have been inconsistent so far, although the Canes come off a big victory against the Cheetahs last week, while the Highlanders lost to the Force in an upset. But the Cheetahs have had to make the most tackles in the competition so far and their defence looks shaky, and they are not as strong as they were last season. For this reason I'm expecting the Highlanders to bounce back. Instead of the spread, I'll go with the 1.1 to 1 on offer for the Highlanders to be leading at half-time and full-time. R100 would result in a R210 return.

Waratahs vs Rebels
Despite being beaten last week by the Brumbies, the Waratahs will bounce back in Sydney and show why they are Australia's best side this year. The Rebels have shown stomach for a fight this season, but the Waratahs will prove too strong all around the park. But the bookies have set the spread at 13 points and I have them to win by 15, so there is no value at that in taking the double-your-money option on the Waratahs overturning an effective 0-13 start. It's too risky.

Blues vs Cheetahs
The Blues in Auckland against a shaky Cheetahs team, ordinarily I'd be supremely confident of cleaning up here. But, I toned down my margin of victory to 10 points before I looked at the bookies' spread. They have given the Cheetahs an effective 8-0 start, so, like the Waratahs match, it becomes tricky. I'm tempted to go with the Blues to win by more than eight and put a sizeable bet down on that in attempting to double my stake, but the travel factor from Johannesburg to Auckland in a week could take its toll. That is the big risk. Oh, not to worry, have a few rands on the Blues at the spread.

Brumbies vs Stormers
The best defence in the competition (the Stormers) got prised open alarmingly last week, although I suspect they'll again show a lot of resolve in Canberra. I can't see them beating the Brumbies, who themselves haven't been the same since Jake White left. But they'll be too creative for the Stormers. The bookies have set the spread at seven points – which is exactly what I reckon the margin will be between the two sides. Which makes taking a bet a lottery. You could even go for the Stormers and providing they don't lose by more than seven you'd be a winner. On that basis I'll watch the match and keep my money in my pocket.

Force vs Chiefs
The Force upset the applecart in beating the Highlanders last week and they'll be up for it against the Chiefs in Perth. The bookies have set the spread at seven (ie, the Force start 7-0 up) but I fancy the Chiefs' attacking approach will be too much for them and I've gone for them to win by 10. On that basis I'll also be backing them at even-money to overturn that 7-0 deficit and win.

Lions vs Reds
The Lions are certainly enjoying their return to Super Rugby and while they might suffer on the road, at Ellis Park they're giving their fans a good time. The Reds lost to the Sharks last week, but actually came alive in the second half and the 35-20 scoreline flattered the Sharks at the end. The Reds also botched two tries so it could have been a lot closer. The bookies here have the Reds to win by two and I'm going for them to win by five. A sneaky bet here could be the half-time/full-time double. are offering 5.75 to 1 on the Lions leading at half-time but the Reds winning. R100 would net a R675 return in that scenario.

Bulls vs Sharks
The bookies have given the Bulls a two-point start but the Sharks will win by more than that. I've got them to take it by seven, so these are the ways to make money in that scenario. 1.25 to 1, so R100 would see a return of R225 (that would be my bet of the week), a 1.1 to 1 bet (R210 for every R100) that the Sharks are leading at half-time and full-time and the double – the Sharks to win by more than five and lead at half-time and full-time – is 3.7 to 1. Which means that double would earn you a return of R470 for every R100.

Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix