The first week of the Super XV play-offs went pretty much as expected, with both home sides winning. The most impressive showing came from Canterbury’s Crusaders, as they thumped a Queensland Reds side that was studded with Australian internationals by 38 points to 9. New Zealand captain Ritchie McCaw made his long awaited return for the Crusaders, coming off the bench in the second half, but in reality they hardly needed him.
The other match saw the top Australian side, ACT Brumbies, edge out the second South African team, the Cheetahs, in a thrilling 15-13 match which either side could have won and neither deserved to lose.
The Crusaders’ win sets up an all-New Zealand semi-final in Hamilton, where they take on the side that topped the conference stage of the competition, Waikato Chiefs. The two sides met twice in the regular season, with each winning their home leg. That could be a telling statistic, because although the Crusaders’ 43-15 win in round 19 was every bit as big a thumping as the scoreline suggests, it was in Canterbury rather than the Chiefs’ home fortress. Furthermore, it is fair to say that the Chiefs were on the wrong end of an awful lot of baffling decisions in that match, repeatedly penalized by a referee who saw problems with their defensive tactics that no-one else, referee, player or spectator, has found in the rest of the season.
Last weekend’s result has installed the Crusaders as favorite for this game, with a best price of 8/13 with Paddy Power. However, the Chiefs’ form over the season, plus the fact that they are playing at home, definitely makes them the better bet at 16/11 with Bwin. Neither of those are great odds, of course, but Betway will give you 7/1 on the Chiefs coming back from a halftime deficit to win - and even longer odds on them doing so after drawing at halftime - and this also looks a favorable option for your weekend sports picks.
Later on Saturday the Bulls, runner-up in the conference stage, host the Brumbies. Travel to South Africa is always tough because of the time it takes and the time difference involved, but the Brumbies could pull off a bit of an upset here. The Bulls were awful in their last conference game and one of the reasons for their badly disjointed play was that they had just come off a bye week. They also had a bye last weekend, whilst the Brumbies were able to run off some rust and reintegrate the players who had been away with Australia for the series against the British & Irish Lions. For that reason, a Brumbies win at 13/5 with Bet365 looks to be the most attractive option.
Looking at the overall picture, the Crusaders are currently 24/13 favorites with 888.com, with the Chiefs second at 23/10 through Sportingbet. Obviously, the better of those two bets is the second one and it is hard to see the Brumbies or Bulls winning this now. The best strategy here would be to bet on a Blues win if the Crusaders beat the Chiefs. The Bulls are 5/2 with Totesport and would have a home final if that occurred (and if they beat the Brumbies).
You can also bet on the final combination, and for the Chiefs v Brumbies game that I’m tipping to happen, Paddy Power will give you generous betting odds of 7/1.