Where you should put your money in Super Rugby this weekend, according to MARK KEOHANE.
Chiefs vs Blues
The bookies have made the Chiefs strong favourites, to win by eight. But they have blown hot and cold in equal doses and don't look the force they have been in the past two seasons when they won the championship. The Blues have being enjoying a resurgence and are no longer the pushovers away from home that they've been in recent years. Being a New Zealand derby this is going to be a bruising battle. The bookies say the Chiefs by eight, but I think it will be closer, although they should win – by five.
Rebels vs Hurricanes
Here the Hurricanes are the bookies' favourites to win, and the Rebels start with an effective 2-0 advantage. They will be worth backing at that, as I'm expecting them to put up a strong showing in Melbourne. The Hurricanes have looked impressive this season but are never as good away from home as they are on their own paddock. The Australian franchise will be up for the physical contest and they will probably try to keep it fairly tight. The kicking contest will probably be key. I'm backing the Rebels to cause what will be considered an upset.
Highlanders vs Lions
The Lions were swept away by the Chiefs last weekend, losing by 30. That comes after the two shared a high-scoring draw in Johannesburg. Which goes to show how tough life can be on the road in Super Rugby. However, that 30-point margin flattered the Chiefs who were probably no better than 18 points on the day. The Highlanders return to New Zealand after beating the Sharks and losing to the Stormers. So, travel will be a factor. They should have enough in the tank to beat the Lions but it won't be the runaway victory that many are suggesting. I've got the Highlanders to take it by seven and the bookies have set the spread at 10. In this instance, you can back the Lions to 'win' on the scoreboard after those 10 points have been added to their tally after 80 minutes.
Brumbies vs Sharks
The way the bookies have structured their odds this week says that you can back the Sharks to 'win' and even if they lose by four points or less you will cash in. Jake White’s table-toppers take on his former side in Canberra so there will be no shortage of motivation for both sides. The bookies have installed the Brumbies as favourites, by four points. The Sharks have a testing time over the next two weeks, in Canberra and Christchurch, and they are likely to approach both matches differently. Against the Brumbies they will use their physicality to wear down the hosts, while they'll have to be smarter against the Crusaders. The fact the Brumbies are favourites by four means that the Sharks effectively start with a 4-0 lead. I think they're worth backing at even-money (double your money), given that advantage.
Cheetahs vs Force
You never really know what you’re going to get with the Cheetahs, and the Force open their South African leg with a tricky encounter in Bloemfontein. The Perth-based side are enjoying their best-ever run in the competition. They have won six of their nine games and have a match in hand over the Brumbies, who are leading the Australian conference. The Cheetahs, meanwhile, prop up the table, but they have it in them to put in a big one. Go with the Cheetahs to win, even after they've had three points taken off their final score.
Bulls vs Stormers
An injury-hit Stormers travel to Loftus on the back of a gutsy win over the Highlanders last week and the bookies have shown them plenty of respect by setting the even-money spread at five points in favour of the Bulls. The Stormers have struggled all season but interesting to note that their two wins, at Newlands, have been by one point over strong Kiwi sides in the Hurricanes and Highlanders. Which shows that in Cape Town they can still pull it out the bag when it counts. But at Loftus? The Stormers were hammered by the Lions in Johannesburg earlier in the season and then won the return in Cape Town. Pretoria is going to be a lonely place for them. Back the Bulls even after the Stormers have been given a 5-0 start.
Reds vs Crusaders
The Crusaders appear to be getting some momentum but again they won't have their best starting XV out on the park. Still, they should be able to put one across the Brisbane side, although the Reds won't lie down and allow themselves to be bullied as they have on a few occasions already this season. The bookies have set the handicap margin at six points in favour of the Reds – ie., they start 6-0 ahead – and I've got the Crusaders to win by five. So, in this regard it's not worth having a bet at the even-money spread.
In its flash pots, betflash.co.za is offering 6-1 – its favourite permutation – that there will be wins for the Chiefs, Hurricanes, Brumbies, Cheetahs and Bulls. I don't share that sentiment, which suggests that this weekend's round isn't as easy to call as last week, when we had a good return on investment.
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