It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt arrives in the Planet Rugby prediction hot-seat to give his calls. Let us get into some Currie Cup.
South Africa's top six teams are set to battle it out for glory over the next few months as the Golden Lions hope to recapture their morale of 2011.
Remember you can contact Russ with all your comments and questions on Twitter - @rpetty80.
The 73rd season of the competition sees a slight reformat, featuring a six team Premier Division with sides playing each other twice. The top four teams will go into the semi-finals, while the bottom side plays a two-legged tie against the top side of the First Division to decide who gets a place in the 2013 season. With the tournament starting this week, the inevitable discussion about who will be crowned champion in October has begun. The bookies are having trouble splitting Western Province (3.75 with Sporting Bet), Natal Sharks (4.0 Sky Bet) and Blue Bulls (4.5 Sky Bet), but I am going to ignore these favourites and go hunting for a bit of a value with a team that has been overlooked by the odds compilers. The Free State Cheetahs won the title from 2005-07 and were runners-up in 2009. They are available at 7's to win the Final and there are a couple of reasons why I am interested in them at this price.
The first place to start is with the history books. Not including this year, there have been seven South African Super Rugby finalists, of which four reached a Currie Cup final the same year, with two going on to win it. The Blue Bulls are the only team to win both titles in the same year (2009). There have been eleven losing Super Rugby semi-finalists, with three of them reaching the Currie Cup final and one winning it. The alternative way of looking at it, is that of the last sixteen Currie Cup final winners, only three were teams that reached a Super Rugby semi-final or further in same year. Those stats may encourage you to go looking at the teams that weren't involved in the latter stages of the Super Rugby tournament. Next I did a bit of research into the win percentages of the 6 Premier Division teams when they've played each other, going back over the last five seasons (so excluding games against Leopards, Falcons etc) the Sharks have the best record with a 69% win ratio in that period while the Griquas have just a 22% ratio. The rest of the teams are pretty similar, with Cheetahs having 55%, the Bulls 52%, WP 50% and the Lions 47%.
A check of the number of international players each team is losing has also nudged the Cheetahs to the fore. The Blue Bulls have eleven members of their squad in the South Africa camp, while the Sharks have ten. Western Province have five and the Lions two, with the Cheetahs contributing the fewest players with just one. So the Cheetahs will have a settled squad throughout the tournament (strengthened by the impressive Johan Goosen's return soon), have a decent enough record in recent seasons and will be fresher than their rivals. I also like the look of the 'name the finalists' markets, with Cheetahs versus Sharks at 15's and at the same price, Cheetahs versus WP (both with Sporting Bet) being the stand outs.
Taking a look at the opening fixtures, the bookies have been very slow in putting up prices, so I have tried to identify some betting angles for when the markets eventually appear. The Blue Bulls have won eight of the last ten games against the Griquas, but the last four games have seen a winning margin of 5 points or less - so there may be value taking the Griquas with the 12 points handicap at Sporting Bet. It's also the case that those last four games have been very high scoring, with the total points scored ranging from 77-92 points. The side from Kimberley have Willie le Roux at full-back, who scored seven tries and made assists for a further seven scores for the Cheetahs this season, so it will be interesting to see how he fares. I have a feeling that the Griquas are going to be underestimated for this match so may get tempted into a small bet on them picking up an upset win, they are currently rated at 4.75 but am hoping for a bigger price before getting involved.
The troubled Lions have three wins and a draw in their last five against the Cheetahs and with eight of the previous eleven games having a margin of 7 points or less, it's usually a close contest. The game is being refereed by Marius Jonker which usually means plenty of points, with six of his eight Super Rugby games having more than 63 points scored. Jonker averaged a card a game this season and having shown nine in the last eight Lions games he has been in charge of, it wouldn't be a shock to see a player sent to the sin bin in this clash. Raymond Rhule is an exciting prospect on the wing and definitely one to watch when considering potential try-scorers. The Cheetahs are best priced at 2.5 with Sky Bet and are being given a 4 point handicap with the same firm - both of those look to be great value.
The remaining game, between WP and the Sharks is one that leans towards low scoring, with eight of the last eleven games going under 45 points. Having reliably been informed that there is going to be wet weather and howling winds, I'm even more convinced that this will be a tight affair. The home side are being deemed big favourites for this, so I am not expecting the 1.83 for a WP win (Sporting Bet) to last long, though the same can be said for the handicap lines with Sky Bet offering a very generous 5 point headstart for the Sharks.