RUGBY betting analyst Christian Murray (@wncomwncobutt) returns with his best bet from Friday morning's Super Rugby action.
Highlanders v Hurricanes | Friday 3rd April 2019, 07:35 | Sky Sports
Dunedin is the venue for the second meeting between these two franchises within the space of four weeks. Just like the first fixture, I’m expecting a feisty, physical and even contest but this time around I see the Highlanders coming out on top.
Coming off the back of a bye week, media reports have indicated that Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has used the time to read the riot act to his charges. The former All Black is getting a little frustrated with the amount of silly and costly errors his team are making that have seen the side lose games they could and should have won.
Mauger is hoping that putting his players on notice will sharpen minds, improve technique and stamp out the sloppy facets of their game that has hindered them so far this season.
He’s well within his right to vent his spleen. Two wins out of five is not the best return and he’ll feel even more aggrieved when he considers that with a bit more luck they could be the only unbeaten team in the tournament.
Turn the clock back to Week 2 against the in-form Rebels in Melbourne – the Highlanders without Aaron and Ben Smith had fought hard to get back within a score with seconds to play, only for Shannon Frizzell to knock on the ball after a rolling maul had breached the Rebels try line.
The Highlands also had the lion share of the territory and possession against the Hurricanes in Wellington, but failed to play in the right areas in a wind assisted second half. Meanwhile, leading 26-22 against the Blues with 15 minutes to go and they were undone by a Waisake Naholo yellow card and a strong Blues bench.
In every game this season you can point to simple errors by experienced and established players who should be doing better, whether it’s at the re-start, coughing up cheap penalties or butchering try scoring opportunities with errant passing. Either way I feel this match against the Hurricanes now takes on some significance as the Highlanders follow this game up with a trip to face the Crusaders, so they can’t afford to be halfway through the season with just two wins.
Turning point for the Highlanders
Mauger and his coaching team would have taken a lot from the first encounter and selections indicate that they will adopt a similar strategy to the one deployed in that game, but hopefully execute it a little better.
They know that the Hurricanes front five is a potential weakness and would have seen the damage a similarly strong and solid technical Stormers pack caused.
So expect the hosts to employ the same physical rush defence and forward dominated pick alongside a more accurate kicking game. With a superior set piece they'll play in the right areas, grind the Hurricanes pack down, then wait and exploit Hurricanes mistakes when trying to attack from deep.
The Highlanders desperately need a performance and a win to get some momentum back into their season. They may have a few injuries but the inclusion of Matt Faddes on the wing and Richard Buckman in the centre, I think the backline is more balanced defensively. With the focus on minimising those errors and mistakes I can see the Highlanders producing a much more consistent game of rugby which will be too much for the Hurricanes.
Therefore, I’ll back the Highlanders to win at 71/50 with Marathon.
Highlanders v Hurricanes – Highlanders to win (71/50 Marathon)