The super rugby kicks off in earnest with the Australian and New Zealand conference in action this weekend. With the off-season team cuts in Australia and South Africa, there’ll be some renewed interest to see how the season shapes-up. The Crusaders are the team to beat out of New Zealand and deservedly start near the top of the line.

The Lions ($6) will be looking to go one better this season and have the potential to end the domination of New Zealand club rugby teams. The Brumbies ($17) will start as favourites to top the Australian conference. The action commences, on Friday with the Highlanders tackling the Blues in New Zealand. The Rebels continue the derby theme taking on the Queensland Reds.

The tips for round two of the competition can be found below.

Highlanders v Blues
Blues to beat line (+6.5)

The Highlanders finished their 2017 season winning five of their last six games and were only stopped in their tracks by eventual champions the Crusaders. Traditionally slow starters to the competition, the Highlanders lost three of their first four NZ derbies in 2017.

The Highlanders got in their grove for the Blues with a trial win over the Crusaders (42-26). The Blues have struggled to make their mark against local opposition. The Blues won the second edition of the Super 10 competition in Brisbane but will face a more experienced line-up against the Highlanders. The Blues lost both their matches against the Highlanders last season.

The Auckland side hasn’t beaten the Highlanders since 2016 and may struggle to make a dent in 2018.

Melbourne Rebels v Queensland Reds
Rebels to win

The Rebels received a Christmas gift in the off season at the expense of the Western Force. The Melbourne franchise were the main beneficiaries of the Force’s demise.

Former Force coach David Wessels along with a number of key players made the journey across the Nullarbor. A coup for the Rebels was stealing the services of Wallabies half-back Will Genia. Genia a life-long Reds player has recovered from a back injury to face his former team.

Former All-Black Brad Thorn has inherited a team struggling to fulfil its potential. Thorn stamped his authority on the squad immediately by jettisoning Quade Cooper to club rugby.

Sunwolves v Brumbies
Sunwolves to beat line (+17.5)

Led by former Wallaby Steve Larkham, the Brumbies remain an early season favourite to advance from the Australian conference. The Brumbies will welcome back David Pocock from his 12-month sabbatical. The Brumbies recruitment in the off-season includes Chance Peni and James Verity-Amm. Both will provide some variety and firepower out wide for the Brumbies attack.

The Sunwolves have seen a major transformation in the off-season that includes former All-Blacks Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown taking on the coaching reins. There’s been a huge turnover of players in the squad with the additions of Lappies Labuschagne, Michael Leitch and Hayden Parker.

The Brumbies should be able to do enough to get the win but expect the Sunwolves to cause a few upsets this season.

Crusaders v Chiefs
Crusaders to win

The Crusaders will be feeling confident after another title in 2017. The eight-time champions have been able to keep the core of their championship-winning squad together for the 2018 campaign.

With injuries to All-Blacks Kieran Read, Israel Dagg, Owen Franks and Joe Moody the defending champs may struggle in the opening rounds of the competition. The Chiefs have lost a large core of players overseas including All-Blacks star Aaron Cruden and James Lowe. Colin Cooper takes over from David Rennie and is faced with the difficult task of making an impact in a tough NZ conference. The Crusaders will run riot against the Chiefs.

NSW Waratahs v Stormers
Stormers to win

The Waratahs have offset the loss of Rob Horne with the welcomed return of Kurtley Beale. Beale showed his importance to Australian rugby with a superb return in Australian colours. Beale will be joined at the Waratahs by Curtis Rona and Alex Newsome. Coach Darryl Gibson shrewdly picked up Rob Simmons from the Reds. The Stormers seem a little more settled with their line-up and should have enough in the tank to pick off the Waratahs for the upset.

Lions v Jaguares
Lions to win

The Jaguares will have their backs to the wall taking on the strongest team in the African Conference. Coach Mario Ledesma faces a baptism of fire with his side facing back to back fixtures in South Africa. Ledesma has placed his faith in the old coaching set-up, retaining many of the staff from the previous regime.

Pablo Matera takes over the captaincy from Agustin Creevy. The South Americans face a tall order to remain competitive in the competition with an extensive travel schedule not helping their chances. The Lions will be wanting to make a statement against one of the weaker sides in the competition. The Jaguares were able to notch a 36-24 win in 2017 so they know what it takes to win against one of the best domestic sides in the competition.

The Lions will be too strong for an underdone South American side.

Bulls v Hurricanes
Hurricanes to win

The Hurricanes will be looking to unleash some of the most exciting young talents in the country on the Bulls. Asafo Aimia headlines a group of forwards that have come through the Kiwi under-20’s side. The Bulls have tasked former All-Black coach John Mitchell with the tough assignment of getting the Bulls off the bottom of the table. It will be hard work for a Bull’s side that has lost several key players. The Hurricanes will take the points against the former All-Blacks coach.