5.35pm (AEDT), Friday, March 24 @ AMI Stadium, Christchurch
The Teams: The Crusaders have made seven changes, with All Blacks Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano making their first starts, Scott Barrett moving from lock to loose forward, Matt Todd returning in the No.7, and Mitchell Drummond, Tim Bateman and Digby Ioane moving into the starting backline. The Force have also rung the changes, with Ben Daley replacing Pek Cowan, Tatafu Polota-Nau getting a start and flanker Isireli Naisarani making his run-on debut.
History: The teams have met 8 times, with the Crusaders winning 5, the Force 2, and 1 match drawn.
Form: The Crusaders are 4-0, beating the Brumbies, Highlanders, Reds and Blues in cliff-hangers so far. The Force beat the Reds at home in between gallant away losses to the Waratahs and Brumbies, before sitting out Round 4 with the bye.
Stats: Only 2 of the sides’ 8 games have been decided 13+ margins. The Crusaders are unbeaten in 3 previous home games against the Force. The Crusaders are 13-5 at home since the start of 2015. The Force have won just 4 of their last 19 Super Rugby games on the road.
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders will be happy with their unbeaten start, but they easily could have lost all of their games so far, forced to overturn deficits with late come-from-behind wins in the past three weeks. The Force have been better than expected, but just lack that overall class and firepower to get regular wins. Romano, Crockett and Todd should add some extra fizz to the Crusaders’ pack and drive the home side to a comfortable win – but a 20.5 line is a bit steep.
Crow’s Tip: Crusaders by 16-20 @ $5.00
7.45pm (AEDT), Friday, March 24 @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
The Teams: The Rebels are unchanged, but Bernard Foley returns in a massive boost for the Waratahs, who have also named Jake Gordon, Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan in the starting side, and moved Israel Folau back to fullback.
History: The Waratahs have won 9 games to the Rebels’ 2, but the Rebels scored a 21-17 upset in Sydney last year.
Form: After thrashings at the hands of the Blues and Hurricanes, the Rebels came out of the Round 3 bye with a much-improved showing in a 27-14 loss to the Chiefs. The Waratahs have lost 3 straight on the road to the Lions, Sharks and Brumbies after starting their season with a home win over the Force.
Stats: The Waratahs have a 4-1 away record against the Rebels. Six of the teams’ last 8 clashes have been decided by 1-12 margins. The Waratahs are 9-8 on the road since the start of 2015. The Rebels are 7-10 at home since the start of 2015.
Final Thoughts: Although a far better showing last week after their diabolical opening fortnight, the Rebels are still well off the pace. Fortunately, their opponents are equally beleaguered, coming into this derby off three extremely disappointing losses. But Foley’s return in huge, and Folau’s return to fullback should see a bit more of a familiar Waratahs rhythm return.
Crow’s Tip: Waratahs 1-12 @ $2.50
5.35pm (AEDT), Saturday, March 25 @ QBE Stadium, North Harbour
The Teams: The Blues have made just one change, with Charlie Faumuina to start at prop – if he passes a fitness test. Bulls flanker Renaldo Bothma was slapped with a four-match suspension.
History: The Blues have won 12 games to the Blues’ 7, with 1 drawn – including a win in their most recent clash, 23-18 at Eden Park in 2015.
Form: Since winning their first game against the Rebels, the Blues have gone down to the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders. The Bulls lost to the Stormers and Cheetahs before a Round 3 bye, before struggling to put away the lowly Sunwolves 34-21.
Stats: The Blues boast a 10-1 home record against the Bulls. Four of their last 5 encounters were decided by 1-12 margins. Both sides have scored at least 17 points in their last 14 clashes. The Blues are 9-8 at home since the start of 2015. The Bulls are 6-12 on the road since the start of 2015.
Final Thoughts: It’s been a rocky path for the Blues in 2017, but they haven’t been as poor in the past three weeks as many would have you believe – especially as some of their best cattle (Luatua, SBW) is on the sidelines. They were unlucky not to get the win in Christchurch, and shouldn’t have much trouble hosting a Bulls side that struggles on the road as has been poor so far this season.
Crow’s Tip: Blues 13+ @ $1.99
7.45pm (AEDT), Saturday, March 25 @ GIO Stadium, Canberra
The Teams: The Highlanders have named Patrick Osborne and Sio Tomkinson on the wings, with Tevita Li suspended and Richard Buckman replacing Rob Thompson in the No.12. Alex Ainley also comes into the starting pack. No major changes are expected for the Brumbies.
History: The Brumbies have won 12 games to the Highlanders’ 9. The Highlanders prevailed 23-10 in Invercargill and 16-9 in a Canberra finals match last year.
Form: The Brumbies are 2-2, rebounding from losses to the Crusaders and Sharks by downing the Force and Waratahs. The Highlanders are teetering at 1-3, with a win over the Blues their only success; they went down at home to the Chiefs and Crusaders in their first two games, and were belted by the Hurricanes in Wellington last week.
Stats: The Brumbies have won 7 of their last 10 against the Highlanders, but the Highlanders have won the last 2. The Brumbies have a 9-3 record against the Highlanders at home. The Brumbies are 12-7 at home since the start of 2015. The Highlanders are 16-6 on the road since the start of 2015.
Final Thoughts: The Brumbies have clawed their way back impressively with a pair of derby wins, but Australian sides playing each other is a bit of a false economy in 2017, and the visiting Highlanders represent a much tougher challenge. The Highlanders are struggling in the face of a heavy injury toll, but they are a proud side with plenty of class, and last week’s touch-up at the hands of the Hurricanes should be enough to spur them on to a pressure-relieving win.
Crow’s Tip: Highlanders 1-12 @ $2.60
9.55pm (AEDT), Saturday, March 25 @ Singapore National Stadium, Singapore
The Teams: The Stormers’ Springbok reps Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit were left at home, while Huw Jones, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Jano Vermaak, Cheslin Kolbe, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Steph de Wit, Leolin Zas and Scarra Ntubeni are all out injured.
History: The teams met twice last season, with the Stormers prevailing 46-19 at home before being held to a 17-all draw at home.
Form: The Sunwolves are 0-4, losing to the Hurricanes and Kings at home, and the Cheetahs and Bulls on the road. The Stormers won their first three against the Bulls, Jaguares and Kings before enjoying the Round 4 bye.
Stats: The Sunwolves are 1-1-8 at home in their Super Rugby history. The Stormers are 8-7-1 on the road since the start of 2015. The Stormers have won their last 7 regular-season games.
Final Thoughts: The Stormers will be on high alert after last year’s shock draw away to the Sunwolves, and even more so without their best players available for this long-haul trip. But expect the enthusiasm of the Stormers’ ring-ins to be enough to account for the Sunwolves, who undeniably overachieved with their plucky efforts in South Africa over the past fortnight and have to be a strong consideration against a big line.
Crow’s Tip: Sunwolves +21.5 @ $1.90
12.05am (AEDT), Sunday, March 26 @ Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
The Teams: Kings captain Schalk Ferrerira has been added to a long injury list at the franchise.
History: The Kings and Lions clashed for the first time in 2016, with the Lions winning 45-10 away and 57-21 at home.
Form: The Kings beat the Sunwolves away but have lost to the Jaguares and Stormers at home, before being edged out by the Sharks 19-17 in Durban in Round 4. The Lions are 3-1 after accounting for the Cheetahs, Waratahs and Reds, with a loss to the Jaguares in Argentina their only blip.
Stats: The Kings are 4-14 at home in their Super Rugby history. The Lions are 11-6 on the road since the start of 2015. The Lions have won their last 10 games on South African soil.
Final Thoughts: The Kings have been far better in 2017, and were desperately unlucky not to come away with a watershed upset of the Sharks last week after being fuelled by the news the franchise was unlikely to be included in next year’s comp. But that resolve can only last so long for a team lacking genuine world-class players and battling a big injury toll. The Lions rocketed back to form last week and have too many attacking weapons for the PE strugglers.
Crow’s Tip: Lions -25.5 @ $1.90
2.15am (AEDT), Sunday, March 26 @ Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
The Teams: No major changes are expected at this stage for either side.
History: The Sharks have won 10 games to the Cheetahs’ 7. The Sharks prevailed 26-10 at home last season.
Form: After narrowly going down to the Lions and beating the Bulls and Sunwovles, the Cheetahs were hammered 44-14 by the Jaguares in Round 4. The Sharks have been up and down, snaring great wins over the Brumbies and Waratahs to bounce back from a narrow loss to the Reds first up, but only just putting away the struggling Kings in Round 4.
Stats: The Cheetahs have managed 2 wins in their last 4 games against the Sharks. The Sharks boast a 5-2 away record against the Cheetahs. Five of the last 7 encounters were decided by 1-12 margins. The Cheetahs have won only 7 of their last 15 games at Free State Stadium. The Sharks are 7-11-1 on the road since the start of 2015.
Final Thoughts: It’s all unravelled a bit for the Cheetahs after a solid opening fortnight, barely getting over the Sunwolves before a highly disappointing trip to Argentina. The Sharks were caught napping by the Kings last week, and should be grateful they got out of their clash with the Kings with four points. Nevertheless, the visitors represent good value against a small line.
Crow’s Tip: Sharks -3 @ $1.90
8.40am (AEDT), Sunday, March 26 @ Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aries
The Teams: Jaguares linchpin Nicolas Sanchez will be available after missing last week with suspension. Jake McIntyre replaces the suspended Quade Cooper in the Reds’ No.10, while prop and captain James Slipper has been ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
History: First meeting.
Form: The Jaguares have made a solid 3-1 start, beating the Kings, Lions and Cheetahs; an away loss to the Stormers is their only defeat of the season. After their first-up win over the Sharks, the Reds have gone down to the Force, Crusaders and Lions in increasingly demoralising fashion.
Stats: The Jaguares are 5-4 at home in their Super Rugby history, with 3 of their losses coming by margins of 5 points or less. The Reds are 2-13 on the road since the start of 2015, with their last overseas win coming almost 2 years ago.
Final Thoughts: The Jaguares are developing into the formidable side – especially at home – most predicted than would be in their ultimately disappointing debut season, and are really taking strides towards a finals spot with their early-season form. As you would expect from a virtual Argentina Test side. The Reds, meanwhile, have hit the skids after a promising start. They may actually be better off with McIntyre in the No.10 instead of the erratic Cooper, but it’s a big adjustment for them to make on the run and the Jags will be too good here.
Crow’s Tip: Jaguares -14.5 @ $1.95