Fixtures this weekend are as follows. All prices are Bet365
Highlanders v Rebels (Friday 31st March, 8.35am BST)
The Highlanders ground out a win away at the Brumbies last weekend, they came from behind, scoring two tries to one in an 18-13 victory and their record now stands at two wins and three defeats. The Highlanders now go in search of a first home win of the season after suffering defeats in the first two rounds when hosting the Chiefs and the Crusaders in New Zealand derby matches. The Highlanders have won their last five home fixtures against Australian sides and their next four matches this season are all home games.
The Rebels have played four matches so far and they are still looking for their first win. Last weekend they went down 32-25 at home to the Waratahs, a game where the Melbourne side failed to score in the second half after leading 25-6 at half time. The losing bonus point, the Rebels first point of the season will be scant.
At 1/33 outright the Highlanders are one of the biggest favourites of the weekend and -21 on the handicap. It is difficult to see the Rebels restricting the New Zealand side from covering.
Blues v Force (Saturday 1st April, 6.15am BST)
The Blues picked up full points in beating the Bulls 38-14 last week scoring six tries and recording their first win since they beat the Rebels 56-18 in Melbourne in round one. Three successive defeats to New Zealand opposition still leave the Blues with only the Highlanders beneath them in the New Zealand Conference. At home to Australian opposition, the Blues have won each of their last seven.
The Force came off a bye and paid a visit to the Crusaders in Christchurch last week where they were beaten 45-17. It leaves the Force with one win and three defeats against their name this season.
As with the Highlanders game, a tie where a New Zealand franchise hosts one of the weaker Australian sides and the Blues should cover -17 at 10/11 here.
Chiefs v Bulls (Saturday 1st April, 8.35am BST)
The Chiefs boast a 100% record this season, four wins from four with three bonus points banked in the process and they are two points behind NZ Conference leaders the Crusaders who have played one game more. After three successive local derby wins including home victories against the Blues and the Hurricanes they made a number of changes for a round four visit to the Rebels in Melbourne and now return from a bye week to face South African opposition for the first time in the current campaign.
Despite going into a half-time of last week’s clash with the Blues in Albany all square at 7-7, the Bulls ended up going down 38-14 and they remain stuck on five points. The gap to those teams currently in qualifying positions from the Africa region is already into double digits and the Bulls still have this match against a top New Zealand side plus home games later in the tournament against the Crusaders, Highlanders, and Hurricanes.
Again, a New Zealand side at home to weaker opposition. Chiefs -13 (only) at 10/11 here is one of the bets of the week.
Reds v Hurricanes (Saturday 1st April, 10.45am BST)
Since edging out the Sharks in Brisbane in round one the Reds have suffered four successive defeats, most recently 22-8 away to Los Jaguares.
The Hurricanes were on a bye last week and they come into this game with three bonus point wins and one defeat against their name, currently third best in the New Zealand Conference.
Quite a tough handicap this with the Hurricanes -14 as the away team but coming off that bye are likely to cover such is the gap between New Zealand teams and the rest.
Stormers v Cheetahs (Saturday 1st April, 3.05pm BST)
The Stormers are the only unbeaten side in the combined Africa group but they had to dodge a bullet in Singapore last week, seeing off the Sunwolves 44-31 with two late tries after having trailed for a substantial part of the game. It’s now four wins from four for the Stormers.
The Cheetahs were involved in a very watchable contest at home to the Sharks last weekend but they came away empty-handed after going down 38-30. Earlier South African derby matches saw the Cheetahs edged out at home by the Lions before they got the better of the Bulls in another home fixture. The Cheetahs have won two and lost 11 of their last 13 South African derby matches away from home.
The Stormers should cover -10 here.
Lions v Sharks (Saturday 1st April, 5.15pm BST)
The Lions picked up a bonus point win away at the Kings last weekend, coming away as 42-19 victors just failing to cover the points spread. The Lions currently top Africa Conference 2 although they have Los Jaguares just one point in arrears and in terms of South African derby form they are on a nine-game winning streak.
The Sharks dug deep to come from behind to beat the Cheetahs 38-30 in Bloemfontein last week, a significant improvement on their nervy 19-17 victory over the Kings in Durban a week earlier. It’s now four wins in a row with the Sharks only loss this season coming to the Reds in week one.
On a weekend full of fixtures that look one sided this should be a close one and that’s shown by prices of Lions 1/3 Sharks 5/2 and +/- 7 on the handicap. Not a betting heat for me.
Waratahs v Crusaders (Sunday 2nd April, 8.05am BST)
After three defeats in their first four matches, the Waratahs were under pressure to deliver away to the Rebels in Melbourne last weekend. At 26-5 down at half time another defeat looked likely but they won 32-25. This will be the Waratahs first engagement with a New Zealand side this season and in 2016 they lost four of five to NZ opponents.
The Crusaders made it five from five with a bonus point victory at home to the Force last weekend. The 28 point winning margin last weekend easily beat the handicap
The Crusaders -8 on the handicap is, along with the Chiefs -13 one of the two best bets of the weekend’s games.