It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give you his calls. We give you some Super Rugby.
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Hurricanes vs Stormers
The Stormers established a pattern last season of gaining an early lead and then grinding out opposition. This year they've continued the trend of making a decent start to games - having scored the first points, first try and reached ten points before the opposition in 5/7 games. However rather than holding on, in 2013 they have been outscored in the second-half and conceded the last points in five matches. Whilst they won 13/16 away games from 2011-2012, this season they've lost their three trips - all to conference rivals too. The Hurricanes have won 5/8 matches. Like the Stormers, they are strong in the first-half - scoring first and leading at half-time in 5/8 matches and winning race to ten points in 6/8 games. The Wellington side have also been ahead at the break in their last nine home ties. They also share a second-half vulnerability with this opposition, having been outscored in the second-half and conceded the last points in five games. Of the 22 tries leaked so far, fourteen have come after the break. The 'Canes have won five of their last six games and the last four matches at home but lost four of their last five meetings with Stormers. The return of Victor Vito and Beauden Barrett to the fly-half spot is a boost for the hosts, but they will miss the threat that Julian Savea offers. It's two inconsistent teams meeting, but the visitors have only conceded nine tries so far and I am backing that mean defence to frustrate the Hurricanes in Palmerston North and will be taking the Stormers +3 points available.
Reds vs Blues
The Reds have won an impressive 11/12 games against New Zealand opposition and eight in a row at home. Since losing to the Blues in 2010, they have won 23/28 home games by an average score of 26-18. Australian teams have won 7/9 games against Kiwi sides this season - already matching the 7/20 wins from last year. The Reds have won the last three games against the Blues and 7/9 clashes at home by an average score of 31-20. They regularly got early tries last season and not much has changed in 2013, with the first try scored in 6/9 games and 6/20 tries occurring in the opening quarter. An improving Blues side have won 4/7 games by an average score of 27-20. However, they've only beaten Australians once on the last seven trips across the Tasman and have lost eleven of the last fourteen away games against all opposition. Sir John Kirwan has called this opposition the 'best side in the competition' and there is a sense they may be facing the Queenslanders at the wrong time, given the frustration displayed after the draw with the Brumbies. It may well be that whilst the visitors are the fresher of the two teams, their bye actually interrupted momentum whilst the Reds, despite not winning, played a game last round at a high intensity level. The Reds -5 appeals and that may well be as high as -7 or -8 by kick-off.
Chiefs vs Sharks
A rematch of the 2012 final was always going to spark interest, but with both teams suffering consecutive losses there is added pressure for this clash. The last time Chiefs lost three in a row was the middle of the 2011 season. Their average score in the opening four games was 39-23 and that has dropped to 21-20 recently. Dave Rennie has expressed his displeasure with the performance last week, calling it 'bloody frustrating' and suggesting a few fringe squad members had played themselves out of contention. The champions have won the last four matches against the Sharks by an average score of 22-11 and four of the last five at home by 28-14. The visitors have lost five of their last six trips to New Zealand sides and haven't scored a try in their last three matches. They have suffered a number of injuries to key players so calls to leave Ryan Kankowski at home, bench Keegan Daniel and Marcell Coetzee and draft in Derick Minnie are interesting. It may be that the games against the Highlanders and Force are being targeted but it seems that all is not well in the Sharks camp, even taking into account the quality of players absent. The returns of the experienced Craig Clarke and Mahonri Schwalger are timely for the hosts and the currently toothless Sharks may be facing a backlash. I'm happy to take the -9 for the Chiefs currently available.
A Gio Aplon / Rod Davies anytime try scorer double pays 9.4 while a Conrad Smith, Ben Tapuai and Rob Ebersohn treble is 35.0. Meanwhile, backing the Stormers +9, Reds -3, Chiefs -4, Brumbies -6, Bulls -3, Cheetahs -8 and Crusaders -16 pays at 16.6.
Chiefs, Cheetahs and Crusaders by a 13+ margin. Bulls, Stormers and Brumbies by 1-12.