Fixtures this week are as follows: All prices used are from Bet365, all times GMT
Friday 24th March
6.35am Crusaders v Force
The Crusaders have four wins from four matches as they prepare to host the Force in a Round 5 Super Rugby clash in Christchurch on Friday.
Round 4 saw the Crusaders pull off a stunning comeback win to maintain their 100% record in 2017. They were 21-5 down to the Blues and came back to win 33-24, covering a 5.5 point pre match handicap and denying the Blues even a losing bonus point. In Round 3 they left it even later away to the Reds, 20-7 behind at the interval and a converted try on 76 minutes and a penalty on the hooter saw them edge home 22-20. The Crusaders have won each of their last eight Super Rugby outings against Australian opposition.
The Force come off a bye to face opponents from outside of Australia for the first time this season. In the first three rounds they played derby matches with mixed results, losing away to the Waratahs and Brumbies by six and eight points respectively either side of a 26-19 home win over the Reds in Perth. The Force came have lost each of their last 11 meetings with New Zealand sides.
This should be a comfortable win for the Crusaders. Indeed the Force are 7/1 outright and 18 point handicap underdogs here and I would expect the New Zealand side to cover -18 at home at 10/11
8.45am Rebels v Waratahs
The Rebels have yet to earn a point this season but after suffering two hidings at home to the Blues (56-18) and away to the Hurricanes (71-6) they returned from a bye with a much improved performance last week. The unbeaten Chiefs did make a number of changes for last weeks game in Melbourne and still ran out winners 27-14 but the Rebels were very much in the game until the closing stages. In 2016 the Rebels won five of six Australian derby matches including a victory in their only meeting with the Waratahs in Sydney.
The Waratahs were favourites for last week’s derby against the Brumbies in Sydney but they went down 28-12, conceding four tries and scoring two. That was a third successive defeat as they also lost to the Lions and the Sharks in South Africa. Their only success and log points so far were earned in Round 1, a hard fought 19-13 home victory against the Force.
The Rebels at home are 9/4 outright and 7 point underdogs. Two disappointing sides in a local derby, and I will take the Rebels +7 at 10/11
Saturday 25th March
6.35am Blues v Bulls
The Blues became the latest team to experience the never say die attitude of the Crusaders in Christchurch last week. By half time they had scored three tries and led 21-5 but the hosts came storming back and a 33-24 win even denied the Blues a losing bonus point. In their only home fixture to date the Blues were edged out by the Highlanders at Eden Park and they also lost a local derby away to the Chiefs in Round 2. Those three defeats came after a Round 1 thumping of the Rebels in Melbourne (56-18), the Blues only win so far.
The Bulls came off a bye to notch their first win at home to the Sunwolves in Round 4 but for punters who had taken an early minus handicap it was painful watching. The final score of 34-21 fell well short of what most people predicted in terms of winning margin and a try count of 4 to 2 in the Bulls favour meant there was no bonus point. The Bulls had started the tournament with defeats in derby matches at the Stormers and the Cheetahs and they are already eight points behind the Stormers in Africa Conference 1.
The Bulls have won just one of their last 10 on New Zealand but the victory did come against the Blues at Eden Park in 2013.
The Blues are 10 point favourites here, and I think they should cover at 10/11
8.45am Brumbies v Highlanders
Although they started as underdogs the Brumbies beat the Waratahs 24-12 in Sydney last week, opening up a four point gap at the top of the Australian Conference in the process. That was a second win in a row after victory at home to the Force a week earlier. Whilst those results confirm the Brumbies continued dominance over local opponents after a clean sweep in Australian derby matches in 2016, they still have a lot to prove against overseas teams. Earlier this season the Sharks won here in Round 2 and the Brumbies started their campaign with a narrow defeat away to the Crusaders. Going back over the last 12 matches against New Zealand opponents (any venue) the Brumbies have lost ten and won just two.
The Highlanders have just one win and three defeats so far this season. All four of their games have been New Zealand derby matches and the only success came away to the Blues, 16-12 in Round 3. After a very competitive first 40 minutes away to the Hurricanes last week they faded as the game wore on and finished well beaten 41-15, conceding seven tries.
When visiting Australian sides in recent times the Highlanders came unstuck against the Rebels in Melbourne in 2016 but they have won five of their last six visits including a play off win over the Brumbies in Canberra last season.
The Highlanders are just 2 point favourites here, one of the bets of the weekend given the relative strength of the Australian and New Zealand conferences.
10.55am Sunwolves v Stormers
The Sunwolves return from South Africa where they earned a losing bonus point in a narrow defeat at the Cheetahs and covering the handicap in a 34-21 defeat at the Bulls. One home game staged in Singapore this season saw the Sunwolves go down 37-23 to the Kings, scoring three tries but conceding four in a game they would have targeted as a very realistic opportunity for a victory. The Sunwolves had started the season with a huge beating off the Hurricanes in Tokyo.
Although the Stormers have played one game fewer than the bulk of the teams this season they return to action in second spot in the combined South Africa group one point behind Los Jaguares. The Stormers started with home wins over the Bulls and Jaguares and then earned a first bonus point victory of the season away at the Kings before sitting out Round 4. They have scored 15 tries in their three outings so far and after this they will play three successive home games with the Cheetahs, Chiefs and then the Lions all due at Newlands.
The Stormers are 25 point favourites here at 10/11 and given their try scoring capability should cover the spread.
1.05pm Kings v Lions
The Kings were given around 30 points start on the handicap for last weeks visit to Durban and they led the Sharks 14-8 at half time and but for a combination of a yellow card late on and missed long range penalty, they could well have won the game. It was a big step up after a heavy home defeat to the Stormers in Round 3 and the Kings have rarely been competitive in local derby matches, losing all 17 they have contested since 2013.
The Lions gave the Reds a 44-14 beating in Johannesburg last week, a second bonus point win on home soil this season after the 55-36 victory over the Waratahs in Round 2. Their two away fixtures so far delivered a tense 28-25 win at the Cheetahs in Round 1 and they were beaten 36-24 by Los Jaguares in Buenos Aires in Round 3. The Lions are unbeaten in their last ten South African derby matches.
Again, this is expected to be a one sided match with the away team 24 point favourites. The Lions could cover but I would be wary of the Kings improved form. No bet
3.15pm Cheetahs v Sharks
The Cheetahs looked to be up against it when they headed to Buenos Aires to face an in-form Jaguares side last week and so it proved as they crashed 41-14. They started with three successive home games, a 28-25 defeat to the Lions, they were full value for a 34-28 victory over the Bulls and the 38-31 victory over the Sunwolves.
The Sharks dodged a bullet at home to the Kings last week, scraping home in a game they had started as 30 point favourites on the handicap. That was the first local derby of the season for the Sharks who started their campaign in Australia, losing narrowly to the Reds before beating the Brumbies. On their return to home soil they beat the Waratahs but none of those three victories this season were accompanied by a bonus point.
The unconvincing form so far this season by the sharks, and much improved home form by the Cheetahs, is reflected in them only being 5 point favourites here at 10/11. No bet for me
9.45pm Jaguares v Reds
Los Jaguares lead the way in Africa Conference 2, ahead of the Lions on points difference. They have faced South Africa opponents in each of the first four rounds and they come into this game having put together back to back home wins over the Lions (36-24) and the Cheetahs (41-14). This will be their first ever Super Rugby meeting with an Australian side and after disappointing many last season they look much more of threat in 2017.
The Reds were in South Africa last week where they were beaten 44-14 by the Lions, doing themselves no favours early in the second with one man sent to the bin swiftly followed by a red card. The Queenslanders have been stuck on one win since they edged out the Sharks in Brisbane in their opening game of the tournament. Travelling is becoming a major issue with the Reds having lost each of their last 10 Super Rugby away fixtures.
The Jaguares are 10 points favourites here. I expect them to cover comfortably and this is probably the best bet of the week