Their opponents this time, the Blues, have an excellent record against them, having won nine and only lost four of their 14 fixtures. They squeezed home 23-21 against them last time, 11 months ago in Auckland.
The Bulls have lost skipper Victor Matfield with a shoulder injury and while the Blues have their own injury problems it is likely that their own skipper Keven Mealamu will play despite the after-effects of a calf strain.
The Bulls were poor in the first half against the Reds last week while the Blues piled 17 straight points on the Force in Perth. Blues coach Pat Lam has benched Tony Woodcock which either means he’s badly misguided or he has a master plan he’s not letting anyone else in on. Either way, the Blues could do well in this one and I think taking them with a 17.5 points start is one of the bets of the weekend.
The Force have beaten the Cheetahs in all their three meetings, and should continue that record in Perth. They led by 11 points against the Blues at one stage last weekend before slipping away, and John Mitchell has brought in five new faces in the wake of that defeat.
Matt Giteau looked good at times against the Blues and he should be good enough to dictate things against the visitors, who will be without Springboks winger Jonge Nokwe and centre Corne Uys. I’m taking the Force in this one in match odds betting.
Injuries could well have a bearing on the Waratahs v Chiefs clash in Sydney. The home side are at full strength while the Chiefs have lost influential skipper Mils Muliaina and powerful back row forward Sione Lauaki. Those losses may be too much to bear, and I’m with the Waratahs in match odds betting here.
The Stormers beat the Reds by 18 points when the two teams met 11 months ago in Brisbane, and so have to be the selection this round at Newlands. Though skipper Jean de Villiers remains in doubt after suffering whiplash against the Sharks, the Stormers could be a team to follow this year. I’ll take them in handicap betting with the Reds getting a 6.5 points start.
With the Hurricanes so heavily favoured against the Highlanders in Wellington it’s more about how many they will win by as to who will come out on top. The ‘Canes have lost skipper Rodney So’oialo to suspension, but the Highlanders have lost two of their three All Blacks with captain Jimmy Cowan and vice-captain Jamie Mackintosh ruled out. It should be worth backing the Hurricanes giving a 7.5 points start.
The Crusaders are tough to back against, but again it’s injuries that come into play in their match in Canberra against the Brumbies. They have lost Richie McCaw, Leon McDonald and Brad Thorn, so it will be very tough for them against an inexperienced and unchanged Brumbies outfit.
The Brumbies conceded five tries against the Highlanders, which is worrying for those tempted to punt on them here, but they managed to win the match and that’s something they should do again, albeit probably a close one. I’m taking the Brumbies in match odds betting.
The Lions find themselves second in the table after week one, having beaten the Cheetahs 34-28 at home. But the Sharks were more impressive in their 20-15 win at the Stormers and should be backed in match odds betting.