The first action in Round 2 of Super Rugby 2018 sees the Highlanders clash with the Blues in Dunedin on Friday
Highlanders v Blues, Friday 23rd February, Dunedin, KO 06:35am (GMT)
The Highlanders made it to the first round of play offs in 2017 where they lost 17-0 away to the Crusaders, the eventual winners of the tournament. They were slowly out of the blocks losing 3 of their first 4 matches, all of which were NZ derbies. Thereafter they embarked on a 9 match winning streak and
they finished up with a regular season record of 11 wins and 4 defeats.
Their NZ derby record in 2017 comprised of 2 wins and 5 defeats. The 2 wins came home and away to their opponents here and 3 of the defeats came at the hands of the Crusaders. They scored an average of 17 points in the derby games and conceded an average of 24.
Last week the Highlanders tuned up for their season opener with a 42-26 win (HT 28-19) over the Crusaders at Waimumu
The Blues finished below all their New Zealand rivals in 2017. They still managed to win 7 games, losing another 7 and drawing 1 but they missed out on a play off place. Last season’s NZ derby record comprised of 5 defeats and a draw at home to the Chiefs and there were no more than 7 points in it of 5 of those 6 games.
Looking further back one alarming stat for Blues fans is the record away from home in NZ derby matches. The Blues have lost each of their last 17 and you have to back to February 2013 for their last win away at NZ opposition.
In their most recent prep for the new season the Blues went down 26-14 to the Hurricanes. The Blues fielded 2 different sides and the first half line up contained the bulk of their big guns and they led 14-12 at the break. Prior to that the Blues won the Brisbane 10’s and they beat the Chiefs 45-19 back on 2nd Feb although how much you read into that is debatable as the personnel on view here will be very different.
Outright prices here are the Highlanders 4/9, Blues 2/1 and the Highlanders are -6 points at 10/11 on the handicap. I like the Highlanders -6.
Rebels v Reds, Friday 23rd February, Melbourne, KO 8:45am (GMT)
The Rebels had a miserable campaign in 2017, they had to wait until Round 8 for a first win (19-17) at home to the Brumbies, they drew with the Sharks in Durban a week later and all 13 of their other matches ended in defeat. Their Australian derby record in 2017 comprised of 1 win and 5 defeats and at home they won 1 and lost 2 and all 3 of those derby matches in Melbourne were settled by no more than 7 points.
Adam Coleman and Will Genia are among the new arrivals in the squad and the Rebels most recent pre-season game saw them use the bulk of the squad in a 47-5 defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney although they only trailed 7-5 at half time when they rang the changes.
The Reds 2017 campaign comprised of 4 wins and 11 defeats and they quickly fell out of the race for a playoff place. They did make a winning start at home to the Sharks (28-26) but didn’t return to the winners enclosure until Round 8.
In Australian derby matches the Reds won 2 of 6 including victory in Melbourne in Round 12, their only victory away from home in 2017.
Flyhalf Jono Lance and fullback Aidan Toua have rejoined the club and in their most recent prep for the new season the Reds edged out a visiting Fiji Warriors side
Outright odds here are Rebels 8/13, Reds 15/8 and Rebels -5 on the handicap 10/11. I am going to take a chance on the Reds at 15/8 here as its unclear which of the sides will be able to turn round a poor 2017 in this new season..