Lions offensive shift, Chiefs to continue winless streak

Round 6 of the Super Rugby season kicks off with the Blues hoping to turn around their dreadful form slump against their conference rivals when they clash with the Highlanders, while the Hurricanes will be intent on launching an assault on the visiting Stormers in Wellington to close out the doubleheader. 

Expect the Crusaders to play with some emotion when they walk onto the SCG on Saturday to take on the Waratahs. The home side have failed to fire across the opening rounds and another poor performance could result in a few Sydney based Wallabies missing the plane for the World Cup.

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Bye: Jaguares

Blues vs Highlanders

When & Where: Friday 22nd March, 5.35PM, Eden Park Auckland

Keep an eye on: Rieko Ioane
Ioane is in a serious purple patch over the last four games at the famous Auckland Stadium, scoring seven tries in his last four games at Eden Park, adding three try assists in that time.

Match Comment
The Blues were finally able to get a win on the board in 2019, with a Round 4 win over the Sunwolves at Eden Park. Reiko Ioane starred for the Blues in their last outing at Eden Park, with four tries. Ioane has seven tries in his last four matches at Eden Park and will be the point of attack for a home side set to be missing Sonny Bill Williams

The Highlanders have been unlucky, just losing to the Hurricanes 25-22 before the cancellation of their clash against the Crusaders under tragic circumstances, last round.

Who Wins & Why?
The Blues have a dismal record against local opponents, losing 20 matches against their Conference rivals. Their last win over Kiwi opposition was in the opening round of 2016 against the Highlanders. The Highlanders have won six of their last seven matches against the Blues and should be too organised in attack for the home side. Keep an eye on Shannon Frizell for the Highlanders, with the All Blacks flanker crossing for four tries in his last three matches.

Betting Value
The Stats Insider model leans slightly to the Highlanders straight up, projecting victory in 52% of 10,00 match simulations at time of writing, although the value lies with the home side compared to bookmakers odds. The visitors are well rested and might just be too strong at Eden Park. See the model’s full match predictions.

Hurricanes vs Stormers

When & Where: Friday 23rd March, 5.35PM, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Keep an eye on: Wes Goosen
The Hurricanes forward has averaged 11.5m per carry this season; the highest of any player with more than 10 carries across the opening five rounds of the 2019 Super Rugby season.

Match Comment
The Hurricanes were emotionally drained in a 23-all draw with the Chiefs last weekend, expect them to bounce back with a vengeance against the Stormers. The South Africans have been travelling nicely at home and were impressive in a 35-8 win over Jaguares. 

The Stormers have struggled outside of South Africa and face a real test of their credentials with the long trip to Wellington. Despite their strong results, the home side have a value edge identified by the model in what could be a one-sided contest.

Who Wins & Why?
The Stormers have lost their last eight Super Rugby matches outside of South Africa, conceding an average of 40 points in that period. The Hurricanes won their last outing against the Stormers in Wellington 41-20, and I’m predicting a similar result in what will be an emotional weekend in New Zealand.

Betting Value
The Hurricanes look close to unbeatable at home, and the Stats Insider model still has some value on them with a 4% edge on bookmakers straight up with a 55% probability of nabbing a 'Big Win' (13+). Check out the model’s match predictions.

Waratahs vs Crusaders

When & Where: Saturday 23rd March, 7.45PM, Sydney Cricket Ground

Keep an eye on: Israel Folau
The Wallabies speedster is one try away from joining Doug Howlett as the most prolific try scorer in Super Rugby history. Like the rest of Australian Rugby, Folau has had a tough time against the Super Rugby Champions, crossing the try line just once in his last six matches against them.

Match Comment
The Crusaders Round 5 match-up against the Highlanders was cancelled due to the terror attacks in Christchurch, and they’ll be intent on letting their rugby do the talking this weekend. The defending Super Rugby champions have been clinical in defence of their 2018 title and are overwhelming favourites against an inconsistent home side. 

The Waratahs were beaten 19-13 by the Brumbies in a physical clash in Canberra, and a loss here will hurt their Super Rugby Finals aspirations. The home side have made all the right noises off the field this week, but I’m tipping a one-sided affair on Saturday at the SCG.

Who Wins & Why?
The numbers are clearly stacked in favour of the visitors; the Waratahs have won one of their last 12 matches against Kiwi opposition. The Crusaders have won 14 of their last 16 matches against the Waratahs and have been victorious in their last 15 consecutive matches against Australian opposition. 

The Crusaders have been flawless in their title defence and I can’t fault their form heading into Saturday’s clash in Sydney.

Betting Value
The model and I are in agreement, projecting the Crusaders as a 54% probability of covering their -9.5 point spread (at time of publishing) following 10,000 match simulations. Take a look at the model’s match predictions.

Sunwolves vs Lions

When & Where: Saturday 23rd March, 9.55PM, Singapore National Stadium, Singapore

Keep an eye on: Hayden Parker
The Sunwolves No.10 has been deadly with the boot, burying his last 24 consecutive shots on goal. Parker has been successful with 62 of his last 63 conversion attempts and could be the difference in a tight match.

Match Comment
There’ll be plenty of enthusiasm amongst the Sunwolves this weekend when they clash with the Lions in Singapore. SANZAR took the drastic step to cut the Sunwolves adrift from Super Rugby in 2020, and they’ll be hopeful of going out with a bang. The Japanese side have shown plenty of improvement in 2019 and were unlucky to go down to the Reds last weekend 31-28 in Tokyo.

The Lions have made a slow start to the 2019 season, but were able to record a 36-33 win over the Rebels at home in Round 5. The Lions have only won one of their last five games outside of South Africa, but have a real chance of claiming back to back away wins for the first time since 2017.

Who Wins & Why?
The Lions have scored 83 points in their last two matches at home and their attack is clearly starting to shift out of second gear. The visitors have a 100% record against the Sunwolves, including a 94-7 demolition at the same venue in 2017.

Betting Value
Stats Insider predicts that the Lions will have no issues disposing of the Sunwolves this weekend. The model has the Lions winning at an overwhelming 72% of simulations in the H2H stakes, but also has the Sunwolves to be strong enough to cover the line. See the model’s match predictions here

Bulls vs Chiefs

When & Where: Sunday 24th March, 12.05AM, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Keep an Eye on: Handre Pollard
Pollard remains the leading point scorer by some distance after the opening five rounds of the season. Pollard’s 74 points put him well ahead of Hayden Parker (46 points) in second place on the Super Rugby points scoring ladder.

Match Comment
Five rounds into the 2019 season, the Chiefs remain without a win. The visitors improved last weekend to record a 23-all draw with the Hurricanes, but face a tough task against the Bulls at home.

The Bulls have been the form side of the South African Conference with strong wins over the Sharks and Lions in the last two weeks. The Chiefs are struggling with some consistency across the backline, with Damien McKenzie struggling to ignite his side. The Bulls have won eight of their last ten matches against the Chiefs at home, and expect them to get off to a fast start after enjoying a bye last weekend.

Who Wins & Why?
The Bulls have won their last two matches off the back of some tight defence, keeping the Lions and Sharks scoreless in their opening halves. They have an outstanding record against the Chiefs in Pretoria, and should have little trouble helping the visitors to a record seventh consecutive loss.

Betting Value
The Stats Insider model thinks this could be a tight affair, with an 11% edge on the Chiefs covering the +7.5 line. Check out the model’s match predictions here.

Sharks vs Rebels

When & Where: Sunday 24th March, 2.55AM, Jonsson Kings Park, Durban

Keep an eye on: Armand van der Merwe
The Sharks hooker was in career-best form in his last outing against the Bulls in Round 4, recording 13 successful lineout throws. Armand Van der Merwe has also developed into an attacking weapon, scoring four tries in his last six Super Rugby outings.

Match Comment
After winning their opening three matches, the Rebels will have been disappointed to fall short against the Lions 36-33. The visitors were right in the contest, leading 33-5 up until halftime but were smashed 20-1 in the penalty count. 

The Sharks will be feeling the pressure after consecutive losses to the Storm and the Bulls. Quade Cooper continues to build his case for a Wallaby recall and I’m backing him to help the Rebels to an upset win.

Who Wins & Why?
The Rebels recorded a 9-9 draw the last time they travelled to Durban to face the Sharks in 2017. The visitors were not far away from a major breakthrough last weekend, and I’m tipping them to find their first win in South Africa.

Betting Value
The Sharks are certainly favoured to win straight up, and the Stats Insider model agrees with the bookmakers in that regard with an 8% edge on the home team. The model can also see some small value in the Rebels to cover the +9.5 point line after it's 10,000 match simulations. Take a look at the model’s match predictions.

Reds vs Brumbies

When & Where: Sunday 24th March, 4.05PM, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Keep an eye on: Rory Arnold
The Wallaby lock has won more lineouts than any other player in the competition. His combination with Sam Carter is sure to provide the Reds forwards with plenty of headaches on Sunday afternoon.

Match Comment
The Brumbies stunned the Waratahs in Round 5, pulling off a 19-13 win against their more fancied rivals in Canberra. The Canberra franchise have boasted the best attack of any side in the Australian Conference, averaging 27 points per game across the opening five rounds.

The Reds have a had a tough start in 2019, but were able to make a breakthrough last week, recording a 34-31 win over the Sunwolves in Japan. The home side remain a work in progress and may struggle in front of their home fans if the Brumbies get off to a fast start.

Who Wins & Why?
Each of the last five games has been won by the home side, with the Reds winning the last two matches at Suncorp. The Brumbies will be confident after their gritty win against the Waratahs and expect them to put on some points against an enthusiastic Reds side.

Betting Value
The Reds were far from convincing last weekend against the Sunwolves and the Brumbies know how to get across the try line. Take a look here at the model’s match predictions.

Daniel Gardner

Dan’s claim to fame was once being mistaken for David Beckham while living in South Korea. The ex U/8 most improved football prodigy now spends his days solving the mysteries of Wallaby selections and debating the quota of WA players in the Australian cricket team.

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