In a shortened round of Super Rugby, we'll see no South African sides, but there'll still be plenty to play for with the Waratahs. They travel to Hamilton knowing their play-off hopes are hanging by a thread.
Friday, June 2
Blues ($1.15) v Queensland Reds ($5.50), Eden Park, Auckland 5:35pm (AEST)
Key stat (Opta Stats)
The Blues have won their last 11 designated home games against sides from outside of New Zealand, including six wins against Australian opposition in that run.
Blues: Melani Nanai, Declan O'Donnell, Rene Ranger, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Piers Francis, Sam Nock, Steve Luatua, Kara Pryor, Jimmy Tupou, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons (captain), Alex Hadgman. Reserves: Hame Faiva, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Akira Ioane, Murphy Taramai, Billy Guyton, Stephen Perofeta, Jordan Trainor.
Reds: Sef Fa'agase, Andrew Ready, Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Tui, Hendrik Tui, George Smith, Scott Higginbotham, James Tuttle, Quade Cooper, Eto Nabuli, Duncan Paia'aua, Samu Kerevi, Chris Kuridrani, Karmichael Hunt Reserves: Alex Mafi, Kirwan Sanday, Sam Talakai, Kane Douglas, Adam Korczyk, Caleb Timu, Nick Frisby, Jake McIntyre
There is no Sonny Bill Williams for the Blues this week while Augustine Pulu, Blake Gibson, Matt Duffie and George Moala have also been omitted with niggling injuries. In come Declan O'Donnell, Rene Ranger, TJ Faiane, Sam Nock and Jimmy Tupou all coming into the starting side.
The Reds have made four changes to the starting side for this match. Hooker Andrew Ready returns in place of regular starter Stephen Moore, who has been rested. Tighthead prop Taniela Tupou has earned his second start of the year, replacing Sam Talakai, who shifts to the bench. Izack Rodda is back in the starting side to form an exciting lock partnership with Lukhan Tui. James Tuttle is picked ahead of Nick Frisby. Loose forward Caleb Timu is in line to make his Queensland and Super Rugby debut, while Kane Douglas returns to the match-day 23 as the reserve lock.
UBET verdict: While the Reds have won 4 of their last 6 against the Blues (and also grabbed a draw), their form last week against the Force will see them go in here as lengthy outsiders. The Blues were good in a 16-16 draw with the Chiefs, and while this game is in Samoa, the betting says they should win.
Tips: Greg Growden - Blues, Sam Bruce - Blues
Saturday, June 3
Crusaders ($1.33) v Highlanders ($3.35), AMI Stadium, Christchurch 12:35pm (AEST)
Key stat (Opta Stats)
Each of the last four games between the two have been decided by margins of eight points or fewer, with both teams sharing two wins apiece in that run.
Crusaders: David Havili; Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge; Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond; Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis; Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor,Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Jed Brown, Bryn Hall, Mitchell Hunt, Israel Dagg.
Highlanders: Ben Smith; Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Richard Buckman; Marty Banks, Aaron Smith; Luke Whitelock, James Lentjes, Gareth Evans; Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley; Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Aki Seiuli, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Joe Wheeler, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Lima Sopoaga, Matt Faddes
Head Coach Scott Robertson has made ten changes to the starting line-up with the entire front row has changed. Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks are starting, and Wyatt Crockett, Mike Alaalatoa and Ben Funnell sitting on the bench. The other changes see Luke Romano starting and Quinten Strange shifting to the reserves, while Matt Todd returns t number 7 in place of Pete Samu. In the backs, Mitchell Drummond starts at halfback, while George Bridge and Seta Tamanivalu take the wings, and Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue start in the midfield. Bryn Hall will cover halfback while Mitchell Hunt and Israel Dagg will cover the rest of the back line.
Head Coach Tony Brown has made just three changes to his side to face the Crusaders. Daniel Lienert-Brown has been reinstated to the front row, while Gareth Evans moves to the starting line-up and James Lentjes comes back on the openside following an elbow injury that side-lined him for three months. Rob Thompson comes in at second-five pushing utility back Richard Buckman to the left wing. While All Blacks Elliot Dixon, Lima Sopoaga and Matt Faddes returnto the bench.
UBET verdict: Two sides in form, should be a good clash. The Crusaders still undefeated, and the Highlanders have run into some terrific form after losing first 4 matches. The Highlanders have beaten the Crusaders in 2 of the last 3 meetings, and there has been some early money with UBET to say they can do it again.
Tips: Greg Growden - Crusaders, Sam Bruce - Crusaders
Chiefs ($2.05) v Waratahs ($5.75), FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton at 3:05PM (AEST)
Key stat (Opta Stats)
The Waratahs have won six of the last seven meetings between these sides including each of the last three in a row.
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie; Toni Pulu, Anton Leinert-Brown, Stephen Donald, James Lowe; Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Mitchell Brown; Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird; Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Kane Hames. Reserves: Liam Polwart, Siegried Fisi'ihoi, Atu Moli, Taleni Seu, Mitchell Karpik, Jonathan Taumateine, Tim Nanai-Williams, Solomon Alaimalo.
Waratahs: Israel Folau; Taqele Naiyaravoro, Rob Horne, David Horwitz, Cam Clark; Beranrd Foley, Jake Gordon; Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (c), Ned Hannigan; Will Skelton, Dean Mumm; Sekope Kepu, Tolu Late, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Damien Fitzpatrick, Paddy Ryan, Angus Taavao, David McDulling, Jed Holloway, Jack Dempsey, Matt Lucas, Bruce Hegarty.
The Chiefs have made two changes to their line-up with Stephen Donald marking his 100th appearance for the Chiefs when he runs out in the No.12 jersey. In the one other change to the starting 15, Toni Pulu comes in on the right wing for Tim Nanai-Williams, who goes to the bench. Included in the reserves is former NZ under-20 hooker Liam Polwart, who is in line to make his Super Rugby debut.
The Waratahs have been forced to make one change to their starting line-up with Nick Phipps unable to overcome an ankle injury from last week's loss to the Highlanders. Jake Gordon has moved into the starting role with Matt Lucas moving onto the bench. Jack Dempsey has also returned to the fold, making his return from injury from the bench.
UBET verdict: The Waratahs are another side who come into this game with a good record behind them against their opponent, but on current form face a forlorn task. The Waratahs have won 6 of the last 7 between the 2 sides, including the last 3. One thing of note, the Waratahs games this season against the Kiwi sides have averaged 68.5 points per game.
Tip: Greg Growden - Chiefs, Sam Bruce - Chiefs
Brumbies ($1.16) v Melbourne Rebels ($5.75), GIO Stadium, Canberra, 7:45pm (AEST)
Key stat (Opta Stats)
Henry Speight has scored three tries in his last two games against the Rebels, including a brace when these teams last met in Round 8 this season.
Brumbies: Tom Banks; henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Aidan Toua; Wharenui Hawera, Joe Powell; Jordan Smiler, Chris Alcock, Scott Fardy; Sam Carter, Rory Arnold; Allan Alaalatoa, Josh Mann-Ream Nic Mayhew. Reserves: Robbie Abel, Faalelei Sione, Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin, Tom Staniforth, Jarrad Buter, De Wet Roos, Andrew Muirhead, Nigel Ah Wong.
Rebels: Reece Hodge, Sefa Naivalu, Tom English, Mitch Inman, Marika Koroibete, Ben Volavola, Nic Stirzaker, Amanaki Mafi, Colby Fainga'a, Hugh Sinclair, Lopeti Timani, Steve Cummins, Tyrel Lomax, James Hanson, Toby Smith. Replacements: Siliva Siliva, Cruze Ah-Nau, Laurie Weeks, Culum Retallick, Will Miller, Ben Meehan, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jonah Placid.
Brumbies Head Coach Stephen Larkham has made one enforced change from his starting XV with Nic Mayhew coming into the team in place of the injured Ben Alexander, while he's made two changes on the bench with Nigel Ah Wong moving to the bench and Tom Staniforth replaces Blake Enever in the other change.
The Rebels welcome back Lopeti Timani to the pack, but that news is tempered by the injury to fellow Wallaby Sean McMahon. The back-rower's place has been taken by Hugh Sinclair while, in the backline, Ben Volavola starts at No.10, Mitch Inman wears the No.12 jersey and Reece Hodge switches to fullback.
UBET verdict: Last 4 games between these 2 sides have seen an average of only 36 points scored, so it could be a tight encounter, and gives a slight glimmer of hope to those who have taken the +15.5 line ($1.90) being given to the Rebels.
Tips: Greg Growden - Brumbies, Sam Bruce - Brumbies
Western Force ($7.00) v Hurricanes ($1.10), nib Stadium, Perth at 9:55PM (AEST)
Key stat (Opta Stats)
The Hurricanes have won nine of the 10 games between these sides, including the last eight in a row by an average margin of 17.5 points.
Force: Dane Haylett-Petty; James Verity-Amm, Curtis Rona, Bill Meakes, Alex Newsome; Peter Grant, Micharl Ruru; Isi Naisarani, Matt Hodgson, Ross Haylett-Petty; Adam Coleman, Matt Philip; Jermaine Ainsley, heath Tessmann, Francois van Wyk. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Pek Cowan, Tetera Faulkner, Richie Arnold, Richard Hardwick, Mitchell Short, Luke Burton, Marcel Brache.
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett; Cory Jane, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam' Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (c); Brad Shields, Callum Gibbins, Reed Prinsep; Vaea Fifita, Sam Lousi; Ben May, Ricky Riccitelli, Loni Uhila. Reserves: Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Mark Abbott, Ardie Savea, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Otere Black, Nehe Milner-Skudder.
The Western Force have made just one change to the starting XV to face the Hurricanes, with fullback Dane Haylett-Petty returning from injury for his 50th Super Rugby match. In the only other change to the 23, Marcel Brache moves to the bench, along with Wallaby squad members Tatafu Polota-Nau and Richard Hardwick.
Nehe Milner-Skudder will make his long-awaited return on Saturday as one of six changes to the Hurricanes. Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd has brought Beauden Barrett back in the No.10 jersey after being withdrawn against the Bulls as a precaution after reporting headaches in South Africa. Barrett takes over from Otere Black, while Cory Jane replaces injured Wes Goosen (shoulder) and Ben Lam substitutes Julian Savea. Callum Gibbins replaces Ardie Savea at openside, and Ben May takes over at tight head prop from Jeff To'omaga-Allen.
UBET verdict: The Canes have beaten the Force by an average of 25 points in their last 4 matchups, so hard to argue with the line of 20 points start even though the Force scored a terrific win over the Reds last week. They have travel to deal with but so do the Hurricanes who are returning from South Africa, but at least they have a 'shortish' leg as they only have to get to Perth.
Tips: Greg Growden - Hurricanes, Sam Bruce - Hurricanes
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