SUPER RUGBY: ROUND 5 PREVIEW

The action heats up in the fifth week of Super Rugby with the Chiefs back in action on Friday night against the Bulls.

The Crusaders will be looking to continue their domination of the NZ conference when they take on the Highlanders on Saturday and the Brumbies will be looking for redemption after they were shocked by the Rebels in Round Four.

The Queensland Reds approach their first overseas tour of 2018 with a touch of excitement, after Brad Thorn’s men surprised the Bulls at home. The Reds have an opportunity to continue their hot form against Jaguares in South America.

The Rebels close out the round on Sunday afternoon when they take on the Waratahs in the match of the round. The Rebels are enjoying their best start ever to the competition and Melbourne coach David Wessels will be looking to get the win against the Waratahs before giving any thought to a maiden finals appearance.

CHIEFS V BULLS
Bulls to cover the line (-18.5)

The Chiefs may have had the luxury of enjoying two byes across the opening rounds of the competition, but it’s done nothing to quell the growing injury list.

After a first round, 27-21 win over the Blues, the Chiefs head into the game with lock Brodie Retallick and fullback Marty McKenzie struggling for fitness heading into their first home game of 2018. The loss of a number of key front-rowers has meant that the Chiefs have had to call up Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao and Jeff Thwaites.

Bulls captain Burger Odendaal returns to the line-up for the South Africans after missing his last two Super Rugby clashes. He’ll be joined by Springbok’s prop Trevor Nyakane, who’ll be making his first start of the 2018 season.

The Bulls struggled to contain the enthusiasm of the Reds last week and coach John Mitchell knows his side will have their backs against the wall in the clash against the 2012/2013 champions.

The Chiefs will be tested with so many key players missing from their line-up this early in the competition, but they should be able to continue the dominance of the Kiwi sides, as the Bulls have struggled to put together a winning score away from Loftus Road.

HIGHLANDERS V CRUSADERS
Crusaders to win ($1.88)

The reigning Super Rugby Champions could potentially be without seven All-Blacks when the Crusaders take the field against the Highlanders this weekend. The loss of 700 games worth of Super Rugby experience would normally be a body blow for most sides, but with eight Super Rugby titles, the Crusaders have been the benchmark of the competition for good reason.

The Crusaders struggled last weekend against the Hurricanes at the Cake Tin, losing Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty in the opening minutes. Despite conceding three tries in the opening twenty minutes, the Crusaders still found a way to come back into the match, getting to within a try in the second half.

The Highlanders have shown a commitment to running the ball and Aaron Smith has been the catalyst for some exciting rugby. The Highlanders are in the third spot in the New Zealand Conference and they’re well placed to take advantage of the Crusader’s injury woes. Smith scored two tries in the win over the Stormers and could be a real threat if Crotty is on the sidelines.

The Highlanders lost the corresponding fixture to the Crusaders by three points last season, but you’d be hard-pressed to go against Scott Robinson’s men considering the electric form they’re in.

BRUMBIES V SHARKS
Brumbies to beat the line (+1.5)

Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has his heart in the right place with his commitment to playing running rugby, but based on the results so far, he simply doesn’t have the manpower to run the ball and get over the opposition gain line.

Widely tipped by experts to dominate the Australian Conference, the Brumbies have managed one win from their last three starts after being put to the sword by the Rebels last weekend in Melbourne. The first home game of the season against the Sharks gives the former champs to hit the reset button and go back to winning ugly to stay within striking distance of the Rebels at the top of the Australian Conference.

First-year coach Dan McKellar may be forced into a rethink of his tactics, with his side turning down easy penalties in pursuit of tries. Co-Captain Sam Carter will return to the line-up to face the Sharks and superstar David Pocock is on track to return in the grudge match with the Waratahs.

The Sharks bounced back from the 24-all draw with NSW to trounce the Sunwolves last round 50-22. The game against the Brumbies is the first on tour for the South Africans, with a game against the Rebels on the docket before heading across the Tasman.

The Brumbies have enough tactical nous to adjust their game plans and get a positive result against the Sharks in their first game on their Australian tour.

STORMERS V BLUES
Blues to beat the line (-1.5 points)

The Blues finally caught a break last week with an epic 38-35 come from behind win over the Lions at Ellis Park. The Blues have been unlucky at home in the first four rounds of the competition and Tana Umaga’s men finally caught a break against the 2017 runners-up.

The Blues were able to exert some real scoring pressure against the Lions, piling on four tires to get across the line with 18 seconds remaining on the clock.

Auckland won’t have any time to savour the moment as they move onto Cape Town to take on the Stormers. The Blues will be without prop Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo comes in as a replacement.

The Stormers are back home after failing to pick up any points on their tour of Australia and New Zealand. Having beaten the Blues in the corresponding fixture last year, the Stormers will need a win to keep the pressure on the Lions in the African conference. The Stormers will welcome back lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flanker Cobus Wiese for their second game at Newlands this season.

The Blues have a real opportunity to notch a vital win on the road to keep them in touch with the Hurricanes in the NZ Conference.

LIONS V SUNWOLVES
Lions to cover the line (-33.5 points)

Things don’t get any easier for the Japanese side as they take on a Lions side coming off a shock loss to the Blues at home. The Sunwolves have struggled in their short history and they’ll be looking for an improved performance against the ladder leading Lions.

The Sharks mauled the Sunwolves, putting on 50 points against the Japanese side who’ll be hard pressed to hold the line against one of the best attacks in the competition.

The Lions fell apart at the death against the Blues last week, after impressive wins against the Bulls and Sharks.

After the shock loss to Auckland, the South Africans will be looking to respond in style to one of the minnows of the competition. Barring a miracle, the Lions will be out to convert the pressure into points and start the match as justifiable favourites.

JAGUARES V REDS
Reds to win

Jaguares broke through for their first win of 2018 last weekend, shocking the Waratahs and ending their worst start to the competition since 2016. The Argentinian side answered their critiques in the best possible way by finishing over the top of NSW in a 38-28 victory.

Jaguares coach Mario Ledesma will be needing to utilise his inside knowledge of the Australian competition, with his side tackling the improving Queensland Reds this round. With their win over the Bulls at home last week, the Reds recorded back to back victories for the first time since 2014 and head on their first overseas tour of 2018 full of confidence.

The Reds won’t be able to sit back and rest on their laurels, as Jaguares have shown that they can put the points on the board at home. Brad Thorn will expect nothing less than a repeat performance and the Reds represent some real value from a betting perspective with another gritty win on the cards.

NSW WARATAHS V MELBOURNE REBELS
Rebels to win

After the performance of his side last week Darryl Gibson finds himself under the microscope, as they face a rampant Melbourne Rebels outfit that sits on top of the Australian Conference.

NSW were awful against the Jaguares last round and with the likes of Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley and Michael Hooper need to start showing some leadership on the field before the season goes pear-shaped.

The loss to Jaguares leaves the Waratahs in the third spot on the Australian Conference, nine points behind the Melbourne Rebels. The Rebels have the opportunity to sweep their Australian rivals with victory in Sydney this weekend and give them a real cushion with clashes against the Kiwi sides on the horizon.

The Rebels were brilliant with a comprehensive 33-10 victory in their last start against the Brumbies and on paper, they would head into this clash as surprising favourites. NSW are in serious danger of having their season implode and need to restore some order against the Melbourne outfit.

If Will Genia can get some quick service at the breakdown they should be able to extend their lead at the top of the Australian Conference.