SUPER RUGBY: ROUND 4 PREVIEW

Round Four action of Super Rugby starts on Friday night with the Highlanders doing battle with the Stormers and the Rebels taking on the Brumbies in the Australian derby.

The Rebels are riding their best start to the competition in eight years and have a real shot of upsetting their more fancied rivals for top spot in the Australian conference.

The Hurricanes will take on the Crusaders for bragging rights in New Zealand and the Reds round out the Saturday action with a clash against the Bulls in Brisbane. Reds coach Brad Thorn will be buoyed by the performance of his young side after their upset win over the Brumbies.

Things don’t get any easier for the winless Blues who come up against the undefeated Lions in their first outing on tour in South Africa.

HIGHLANDERS V STORMERS
Highlanders to win

The Highlanders had the bye last round, after winning their opening clash against the Blues in Auckland. The Stormers are struggling to play some good football away from home and were trounced by the Crusaders in Christchurch 45-28.

The Highlanders have an imposing record at home against South African teams, winning seven of their last eight fixtures. The Highlanders played some champagne rugby in their opening win against the Blues running in four tries against Tana Umaga’s men in Auckland.

After their opening round win against Jaguares, the Stormers have picked up five points from their opening three matches. The South Africans have struggled in New Zealand losing their nine fixtures to the Kiwis.

The Highlanders will be hard to stop and should continue their dominance over a Stormers side that can’t seem to find any rhythm on the road.

Rebels v Brumbies
Rebels to cover the line (-2.5)

The Rebels are enjoying life under new coach David Wessels with their best start to the competition in the last eight years, winning their opening two fixtures. Melbourne will be looking to extend their run after the Brumbies were surprised by a young Reds side in Brisbane.

The Rebels have a six-day turnaround from their last clash with the Sunwolves in Tokyo, while the Brumbies will be sweating on injuries to key members of their forward pack. The Brumbies have been left frustrated by injuries to the backrow duo of Lolo Fakaosilea and Lachlan McCaffrey. Wallaby David Pocock is still recovering from a knee injury and will be on the sidelines for another two weeks.

The Brumbies struggled to maintain possession in the loss to the Reds, despite scoring the only two tries of the game.

A bonus point win against the Brumbies would give the Rebels a real jolt in confidence before taking on the powerful New Zealand sides. The Rebels got the jump on the Brumbies in the corresponding fixture last year and there’s some real value in the market that they could repeat the dose.

Hurricanes v Crusaders
Crusaders to win

The 2016 champions were able to notch their first win of the competition against Jaguares in Buenos Aires. Stung by finishing on the wrong end of an upset to the Bulls, the Hurricanes found some form, running in five tries against the South Americans.

The Crusaders sounded an ominous warning to the competition that they won’t let their crown go without a fight. The Canterbury side were ruthless in their demolition of the Stormers, with a 31-7 lead by halftime.

The Hurricanes would have taken note of how the Stormers got on top of the Crusaders in the second half by finishing the match 45-23. In 2017 the Hurricanes were the only team who were able to get the better of the Crusaders 31-22, knocking the Crusaders off top spot in the NZ Conference.

The Crusaders will be without Joe Moody and Owen Franks and haven’t won in Wellington since 2012. Canterbury will have their hands full in trying to contain All-Blacks five-eighth Beauden Barrett and the clash represents a potential preview of the final.

Queensland Reds v Bulls
Bulls to beat the line (+2.5)

After a shocker in the opening round, the Reds surprised the competition with an upset win over the Brumbies. In only his second game as head coach, Brad Thorn’s faith in Queensland’s youngsters was justified as they dominated their Australian Conference rivals.

After starting the competition with a 2-point upset over the Hurricanes, the Bulls were brought back to the earth by the Lions last week at home.

Under former All-Black coach John Mitchell, the Bulls have given their fans some hope with some impressive performances over the opening three rounds of the competition. The Bulls were undone against the Lions last week, with poor discipline leading to a second-half penalty try.

The Reds won’t be able to rest on their laurels as the Bulls have proved to be more than capable of playing some strong running rugby. Fly-half Marnitz Boshoff looms as a key man for the South African side. If Boshoff can convert pressure into points, then Brad Thorn’s men may struggle to keep pace for the full eighty minutes.

Sharks v Sunwolves
Sharks to win

The Sharks will be disappointed to fall short to the Waratahs at home last week and the clash with the Sunwolves gives them the chance to make up ground on their local rivals. The Sharks are in danger of losing ground on their local rivals, with a loss and a draw putting them eleven points off the pace against the Lions the top of the table.

The Sharks host the Japanese side that couldn’t contain a rampant Melbourne last week in Tokyo.

The Sunwolves may have undergone an off-season transformation but have struggled to convert the off-season promise into on-field results. The Sunwolves will struggle this week in South Africa as they come up against a Sharks side hungry for redemption.

Lions v Blues
Lions to win

The Lions have had the perfect start to try and end the monopoly of New Zealand rugby’s monopoly over the Super Rugby title. The South African side has purred to three wins from as many starts without really getting out of second gear in 2018.

The Blues represent their toughest test of the season, with Tana Umaga’s men winless so far in 2018. Despite their poor start to the season, the Blues have been reinvigorated under Umaga, playing an exciting brand of rugby. The Blues were able to tame the Lions in their last meeting 22-16.

The Blues will be without Augustine Pulu for their two games in South Africa, the Blues skipper has succumbed to a foot injury. The Auckland side will welcome back Sonny Bill Williams to their line-up as they bid to become the first side to cause an upset against the Lions in Johannesburg.

Jaguares v NSW Waratahs
Jaguares to beat the line (+4.5)

The Waratahs were lucky to share the spoils with the Stormers in a 24-all draw last round. New South Wales coach Darryl Gibson knows that on current form his side would be hard-pressed to challenge the dominance of the Kiwi sides in the competition.

The Waratahs boast an international quality backline and a loss to the South Americans this week would be unacceptable, with the depth of talent at their disposal. The Waratah’s may have lost some size in the forward pack and they’ll need to find a way to lay a platform so that their speed-men out wide can apply some scoring pressure.  If the Waratahs can play to their potential then they should be able to get over the line for a much needed win.