Down the Blindside: Reiko regnites Blues hopes
The Crusaders will be intent on rebounding from their poor showing against the Waratahs with a clinical performance against the Hurricanes this weekend. The 2018 defending champions were underwhelming in Sydney after an emotional week and will welcome All-Blacks skipper Kieran Read to the line-up.
Quade Cooper returns to Suncorp Stadium for the first time since his fall from grace at Ballymore. The enigmatic Cooper has rediscovered his mojo and there’ll be no love lost between the playmaker and Reds mentor Brad Thorn.
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Round 7 Byes: Lions, Brumbies, Highlander
When & Where: Friday 29th March, 5.35PM, Westpac Stadium Wellington
Keep an eye on: Ben Lam
There’s no doubting that Lam loves the big occasions at the defending Super Rugby champions. The All Blacks flyer has scored five tries in as many appears against the Crusaders, including three in his last two games.
The Crusaders performance against the Waratahs would have raised a few eyebrows and Brett Robinson has reacted by including Kieran Read in his forward pack. This clash will come down to a battle between the All Black pivots with Richie Mo'ungaset to resume his battle against Beauden Barrett.
The Hurricanes have struggled to find their regular fluency in attack this season, with three of their four victories coming by six points or less. The home side will be without Dane Coles, through a calf injury but welcome back Ngani Laumapeand TJ Perenara to the starting fifteen. The Crusaders won their Round 2 clash 38-22 and I’m tipping a tight clash on a ground where the visitors have a 0-5 record.
Who Wins & Why?
The Crusaders have won their last three successive games against their local rivals, and have won their last ten local derbies dating back to Round 5, 2018 against the Highlanders. The Hurricanes have struggled for consistency this season and the return of Richie Mo'unga will give the visitors more direction in attack.
My heart says the Hurricanes are a different beast at home but the model agrees with me about sticking with the visitors. The model has a slight lean overall to the Crusaders in the H2H stakes, but a small value edge on the home team. Check out the model’s free match predictions here.
When & Where: Friday 29th March, 7.35PM, McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Keep an eye on: Jed Holloway
The towering lock has developed into an attacking weapon at the lineout for the Waratahs. Holloway has stolen five opposition lineout throws in 2019, two more than his nearest rival.
The Waratahs will be confident of consecutive wins after ending the Crusaders 19-match winning run in a 20-12 masterclass at the SCG. Waratahs coach Darryl Gibson has opted to rest Bernard Foley, instead starting Mack Mason in his place. Karmichael Hunt is set to start in the backline in place of Adam Ashley-Cooper. The Sunwolves were well beaten by the Lions last week in Singapore 37-24, with a poor set piece and discipline costing the doomed Japanese side.
The Sunwolves went down to the Waratahs by a point last time in Tokyo 31-30 but will find life tough against a confident home side in Newcastle.
Who Wins & Why?
The Waratahs have a perfect record against the visitors in their last five match-ups and should be untroubled here. In the match-up in Sydney in 2018 the Waratahs grabbed a record 77-25 win and a similar scoreline could be on the cards here.
The model has very little confidence in the Sunwolves recording their second win of the season. The Waratahs are winning 91% of simulations in the H2H stakes at time of publication. Take a look at the model’s free match predictions.
When & Where: Saturday 30th March, 5.35PM, Eden Park Auckland
Keep an Eye on: Reiko Ioane
The All Blacks speedster has reignited the Blues hopes in 2019 with another match-winning
performance last week against the Chiefs. Ioane bagged a double to take his tally to six tries in five appearances for the Blues, putting him at the top of the Super Rugby try-scoring ladder in 2019.
The Blues showed plenty of spirit last week at home to end a 20-match slump against Kiwi rivals with a 33-26 win over the Highlanders, with a Reiko Ioane brace proving to be the difference. The Stormers head to Auckland on the back of a 34-28 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington. The loss is their seventh in their last eight matches outside of South Africa. The Stormers haven’t played the Blues in Auckland since 2013, and the home side have the chance to grab their third win on the bounce for the first time since 2017.
Who Wins & Why?
The Stormers have won six of their last seven against the Blues, but have struggled for consistency on the road. The Blues were impressive last week against the Highlanders and their strong scrum should prove to be the difference in what should be an intriguing encounter.
The model has taken a liking to the try-scoring form of Reiko Ioane and is projecting the Blues at 40% to take home the 'little win.' Take a look at the model’s match predictions.
When & Where: Saturday 30th March, 7.45PM, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Keep an eye on: Samu Kerevi
Kerevi has been in solid form for the Reds in 2019 and leads the Super Rugby competition in both carries (66) and defenders beaten (24).
All eyes will be on Quade Cooper on his return to Suncorp Stadium as a Rebel. Cooper was banished from Suncorp by Reds mentor Brad Thorn, and he’ll be relishing the chance to prove him wrong this weekend. The Rebels travelled poorly in South Africa, losing 28-14 to the Sharks. The Reds have been growing in confidence under Thorn and backed that up with a comfortable 36-14 win over the Brumbies. The home side have won three of their last four at home after going 0-3 at the start of their 2019 campaign.
Who Wins & Why?
The Reds have won two of their last three clashes against the Rebels, including the corresponding match last year, 37-23. The Reds were impressive against the Brumbies last week and face a Rebels side that has dropped their last two matches.
Like the bookies, the Stats Insider model has the Rebels as slight favourites, but the visitors are fresh off a road trip to South Africa. The home side took their chances last week and at 46% in the H2H stakes (compared to the bookies 44%), the model says they’re a chance of pulling off an upset. See the model’s free match predictions here.
When & Where: Saturday 30th March, 11.05PM, Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Keep an eye on: Makazole Mapimpi
The Sharks forward has made an average gain of 9.6m per carry in Super Rugby 2019, the most of any player who has made at least 30 carries after six rounds.
The Sharks had no issues holding off an understrength Rebels side last round 28-14. The Sharks have performed admirably this season and have won seven of their last eight matches at home. The Bulls were on the wrong end of a hiding at the hands of the Chiefs, going down 56-20 last week at home. The Bulls have been one of the of more consistent sides in 2019 and their 7-1-0 record against the Sharks gives this author confidence that they’ll claim the win this weekend.
Who Wins & Why?
The Bulls have won their last three South African derbies and have had the wood on the Sharks going all the way back to 2014. The Bulls beat the Sharks 37-14 in round 4 with Handre Pollard booting 22 points on that day. Pollard will be the difference in what looms as a crucial clash for the African Conference.
There’s some value in the Sharks at home, with the Stats Insider model rating them a 63% chance, equating to a 4% edge on bookmakers prices. See the model’s match predictions here.
When & Where: Sunday 31st March, 8.40AM, José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Keep an eye on: Bautista Delguy
Delguy is one player who consistently represents some outstanding value in the try-scoring markets. The Argentine has been in excellent form over the first six rounds of Super Rugby, scoring five tries in his last six games on home soil.
Jaguares had a bye last weekend, after a 47-39 road loss to the Lions. The home side sits at 2-3 and win against the Chiefs this weekend will be vital in a tightly contested African Conference. The Chiefs were outstanding last week, rallying to a 56-20 win over the Bulls in South Africa. Damien McKenzie’s shift to fullback proved to be an inspiring move that opened up the visitor’s attack. The Chiefs may be resting a few of their key players this weekend in line with NZ Rugby’s World Cup policy and it will pay to keep an eye on the team sheet.
Who Wins & Why?
Jaguares have it all to play for this weekend, and the home side have proven to be tough to beat at home. I’m wary of the All Blacks rotation policy in a Rugby World Cup year, and this could prove to be a problem for the visitors who have struggled for consistency in 2019.
Jaguares are a different beast at home and I wouldn’t be reading too much into the Chiefs form just yet. There’s some minor value in the Stats Insider model’s projections, with the home side covering +2.5 point line in 53% of simulations. Take a look at the model’s free match predictions.
* DISCLAIMER: Stats Insider's match projections are dynamic and subject to change right up until kickoff. All predictions referenced in this piece are correct at time of publishing but it is always worth checking out the match pages throughout the weekend.
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