Rugby Union: A handicap double to suit Saturday

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RUGBY betting analyst Christian Murray (@wncomwncobutt) shares his thoughts on Saturday's action.

Blues v Stormers | Saturday 30th March 2019, 06:35 | Sky Sports

First up, we are off to Eden Park in Auckland where the Blues take on the Stormers.

I was very impressed with the Blues last week who got a gorilla off their back winning for the first time over New Zealand opposition in 20 attempts when they beat the Highlanders. That was a performance that didn’t go un-noticed.

Full credit to the Blues, especially the pack, as they beat the Highlanders at their own game. Dominating contact and collisions is a Highlanders staple but it was the Blues who did that last Friday. Tight forwards such as Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu and Tom ‘Ginger Monster’ Robinson shone, as the Blues' forwards finally gave Melani Nanai, Rieko Ioane and the rest of the backs a platform to play off.

That’s six tries for the feet footed Blues winger in his last two outings. As Waisake Naholo will testify, Reiko was at his scintillating best against the Highlanders. Mr Naholo will still be having nightmares about that first try for some time.

I was a bit sceptical when I saw the Blues team ahead of the clash. Leaving All Blacks’ Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu'inukuafe on the bench and going with a less experienced front row. As it turned out bringing these guys on around the 60 minunite mark was a tactical masterstroke as they changed the game in the Blues favour, shoring up the scrum and providing some much needed go forward at a critical time during the game.

It was Tuipulotu’s try with six minutes remaining that effectively won the match – he brought some serious heat when he came on and deserves his starting spot on Saturday.

The portents are not good for the Stormers, they have only won one of their last 11 matches on the road and haven’t won on New Zealand soil since 2013. They had chances against the Hurricanes last week but some dubious officiating, aimless kicking, defensive lapses and costly errors meant they came up short.

For all their forward dominance against a lightweight Hurricanes tight five, the South African franchise backs were still unable to provide any threat or creative spark to trouble the opposition or provide any other means than the rolling maul to cross the try line.

The misfiring and ineffective Stormers backline has been the story of their season so far. It’s also the main reason why they find themselves bottom of the pile in key attacking stats like total tries scored – a measly nine, seven of which have been scored by forwards. They are also last in meters made, defenders beaten and clean breaks.

That would be frustrating reading for any fan, but worse when you consider how dominant the pack has been in every game bar the defeat to the Bulls in Round 1.

So, for me, it can only be one outcome on Saturday. The Stormers pack will struggle to gain any parity against a more dynamic, powerful and physical forward outfit in the Blues. Jean-Luc du Plessis struggled with his kicking and to get his backs into the match with front foot ball, so I’m unsure how he’ll react when his pack are on the back foot.

The last players you want to kick aimlessly too at the moment are Ioane and Nanai and the Blues can win this by more than five.

Edinburgh v Munster | Saturday 30th March 2019, 12:45 | Channel Four

Due to work and shopping constraints, I spent just 90 minutes of my lunch getting a suitable Mother’s Day gift for the missus from the boy; I’m a little pushed to go into too much detail about the reasons why, but I noticed Coral are offering Edinburgh with a 10-point start at ½.

Personally, I think this will be an extremely tight contest as both sides play quite similar rugby. Many pundits are sitting on the fence and few are tipping either team. Ronan O’Gara has gone on record to say it’s a 50/50 affair. I’m the same.

Both sides are evenly matched and if I was going to side with anyone, it would be Munster, but only by one score, That’s because of their European pedigree, big game experience, solid defence (they’ve conceded fewest points and tries in the pool stages), impact off the bench and Tadgh Beirne. The guy is immense, enough said.

On the flip side though, you can also put a compelling case together that would point to an Edinburgh win. Good international experience throughout the side, pace and finishers out wide, a solid and well balanced back row, much improved set-piece, great offloading game and big ball carriers.

Let’s not forget Edinburgh did top a group that included Montpellier and Toulon. They also start as slight underdogs, which is a tag they’ll happily relish as it does heap more pressure on Munster. Add to that Edinburgh’s fine home record this season – one defeat against Cardiff Blues (which they led 17-3 at half time) – and the poor form of Munster’s Irish internationals in the Six nations (Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Chris Farrell) and it’s going to be very close.

Both teams are very solid defensively, so with it being quarter-final knockout rugby I can’t see it being a try fest. It’ll be tense and nervy. Neither team or players will want to make mistakes, so I can’t see much air being put on the ball. It’ll be a war of attrition.

Penalties will be kicked at goal – not into the corner – as points will need to be taken when offered. Also consider that three of the last four games between these two sides have been decided by six points, which includes the 20-16 win for Munster in the Pro 14 quarter-final last year. Edinburgh are much improved in personnel and quality of play since then.

So I’ll take Blues -5 and Edinburgh +10 on the handicap markets in a double at 15/8 with Coral.

Best Bets

Blues v Stormers – Blues -5 handicap

Edinburgh v Munster – Edinburgh +10 handicap

Back the double (15/8 Coral)

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