Rugby Union: A Super Rugby double for Saturday

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RUGBY betting analyst Christian Murray (@wncomwncobutt) returns with his best bet from Saturday's Super Rugby action.

Highlanders v Chiefs | Saturday 4th May 2019, 08:35 | Sky Sports

Having run the rule over Week 12’s fixtures in Super Rugby I’ve found a very tempting double that should appeal. First up, it’s yet another Kiwi inter conference derby between the Highlanders and the Chiefs under the roof at the impressive Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

What a difference two weeks makes in the tightly-contested world that is the chase for the play-offs. A fortnight ago, the Highlanders season was on the brink of collapse – they found themselves with the second-worst points haul in the competition after only two wins after nine weeks. A loss to the Blues and chances of making the playoffs were slim to none.

Fast forward a fortnight and after two consecutive victories the Highlanders now find themselves firmly ensconced in the play-off positions. Their second half performance against the Blues could well have been the turning point in their season. I’m not sure what Aaron Mauger said at half time but boy did it have an effect.

Last week, and no doubt buoyed by that second half showing, they were rampant against the Sunwolves. The handling errors and poor decision-making that had hamstrung the early part of the campaign was long forgotten. The Highlanders really clicked as an attacking force and at every audacious offload stuck. They finally delivered a performance.

People will say, it’s only the Sunwolves, but this was their first shut out at home since joining the tournament and let’s not forget it was the same Sunwolves team that led the Hurricanes 23-10 at half time the week before.

What I liked about the Highlanders was the result was born on superb defence. The Sunwolves had 65% possession and territory in the first half, but the Highlanders’ pressure and physicality meant they Sunwolves turned over the ball time and again, which the Highlanders capitalised on.

Now they welcome a broken and dispirited Chiefs to Dunedin, whose season – after a brief resurgence – lies in tatters after consecutive home defeats. With the exception of a 10 minute period, they were woeful against the Hurricanes last week, with and without the ball. Defensively they were nothing short of embarrassing, gifting the Hurricanes tries in the opening 10 minutes, the second week in a row slow starts have cost.

This is a Chiefs side who have now conceded 340 points and shipped 43 tries so far – that’s an average of 34 points and 4.30 tries per-game. That comfortably trumps their previous worse season of 2002 where they leaked on average 3.82 tries.

I heard that All Blacks defensive supremo Scott McLeod was seen at the training ground at Waikato on Tuesday giving his Chiefs counterpart Neil Barnes a hand. God knows he could do with the help. They are missing Brodie Retalick again this week, who carry’s the can for the defensive organising in midfield and around the ruck, and they are playing three of the same four at the back who defensively were all at sea against the Hurricanes.

Due to injuries, the Chiefs are also forced to play Marty McKenzie at outside half – he showed again last week why he struggles to keep his place in the Southland Stags in the Mitre 10, let alone cut it at Super Rugby level.

In comparison, the Highlanders welcome back Ben Smith at full-back with Matt Faddes moving back to his more accustomed position on the wing. The back row and returning Luke Whitelock in particular were so impressive last week that the superb Shannon Frizzell can only find a place warming the bench, scary that.

This is the final New Zealand franchise match up for the Highlanders in the league stages and looking at the comparative run-in’s, Mauger probably knows that a win here will support their cause of gaining a top four play-off spot with home field advantage in the first round of knock out games.

On current form you can’t look past the Highlanders for the win. What with the well documented Chiefs defensive issues and the Highlanders renewed offensive confidence, I can see this being a very similar game to the Chiefs-Hurricanes last week. So for me, I’m happy to take the Highlanders HT-FT.

Bulls v Waratahs | Saturday 4th May 2019, 14:05 | Sky Sports

My second game in focus sees the Bulls take on the Waratahs on the Highveld at Loftus Versfeld. Last season, the Waratahs returned an average of 34 points and 3.50 tries per-game – in 2019 and after a home loss to an OK Sharks team, they are only averaging 23.4 points and 1.50 tries.

So what’s gone wrong? That’s quite easy to answer – the loss of wing Taqele Naiyaravoro, who scored 15 tries last season. His inclusion papered over a few Waratah deficiencies that are now becoming obvious since his departure. One of these is the distinct lack of ball carriers that can break the gain line and make the hard yards.

Last season with Tagele in the team, and Isreal Folau to a certain extent, it didn’t matter. Quick ball was what did – ideally from a turnover – fling it wide and you could get Tagele in a bit of space, one-on-one with an opposition player. He’d use them as a front door mat and make yards, but was still strong enough to offload when tackled.

Now due to the paucity of big ball carriers, the Waratahs are still being forced to play a similar style without the Tagele-inspired outcome.

The Sharks last weekend were too big and physical upfront and in midfield for the Tahs, whose forwards were fairly ineffective. The only time they had any success was from turnovers or winning the aerial battle. They didn’t help themselves by having Jed Holloway sent off and Jack Dempsey yellow carded, which meant they played 10 minutes with 13 players, but not having a powerful outlet on the wing and playing a similar style is hurting their season.

The Waratahs have also lost what good forwards they did have in the likes hooker Tolu Latu, prop Rory O’Connor and flanker Jack Dempsey before the start of this South Africa tour. Now with Holloway being out for three matches due to suspension, they have some serious forward deficiencies ahead of Saturday’s game.

The Bulls season has stuttered a little having lost three of their last five games and they also have a few injury issues of their own with Jesse Kriel out alongside lock Eli Snyman and flanker Tim Agaba. With a very difficult run in (they have tours to Australia and New Zealand coming up) this has turned into a must-win game to get they’re season back on track.

The Bulls would have taken a lot from the Sharks performance against the Waratahs and will likely adopt a similar game plan. They are as big and physical as the Sharks and with the Waratahs injuries I see the Bulls coming out on top.

Not that this will be a high-scoring game. One area the Waratahs have improved over last season has been the defence. Now coached by Welshman Steve Tandy (I played against him once), if you discount the horror showing against the Sunwolves, they’ve been pretty miserly with regards to tries against.

The Waratahs don’t shirk their defensive responsibilities. One player who of course typifies this is Michael Hooper – top of the tackle count charts with 185 in Super Rugby at the moment, 40 more than the player in second place.

Add to this the Bulls misfiring back line, which was again on show against the Stormers last week, and for me it’s going to come down to the 10’s where Hendre Pollard the Bulls five-eighth will probably get the better of his opposite number Bernard Foley from the kicking tee. So I’m happy to take the Bulls by 1-12.

Best Bets

Highlanders v Chiefs – Highlanders-Highlanders

Bulls v Waratahs – Bulls to win by 1-12 points

Back the double (5/2 Betfair)

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