Round 2 of Super Rugby Aotearoa is upon us and the matches this week see the Chiefs hosting the Highlanders in Hamilton and the Crusaders taking on the Hurricanes in Canberra. This means the Blues have the week off.
Here is a look at the two games in Round 2:
Chiefs vs Highlanders
Friday, March 5 – FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
The sad part of this contest is that the increased alert levels for Covid-19 in Hamilton mean that the Chiefs’ first Super Rugby game of 2021 will be played behind closed doors. This will need to be a different Chiefs outfit as last season they went the entirety of Super Rugby Aotearoa without winning a game, with Warren Gatland on sabbatical to coach the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa (probably) it will be down to interim head coach Clayton McMillan to turn their fortunes around.
The Chiefs have named a strong-looking 23 for this contest. One big decision that McMillan has made is putting Bryn Gatland in the No. 10 jersey with the son of the coach – Warren that is – tasked with leading the side at pivot. He is one of four debutants, the others being prop Sione Mafileo, flanker Samipeni Finau, winter Jonah Lowe, and reserve scrum-half Xavier Roe. This means that Damian McKenzie is back at fullback, the role where he always looked best suited.
The Highlanders have swung a major surprise as Aaron Smith – the best halfback in the world – starts on the bench in Hamilton. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by Folau Fakatava, a player that the Highlanders have high hopes for somewhere down the line. The Highlanders are looking to bounce back from a Round 1 defeat at the hands of the Crusaders and they will look to the leadership of first-five Josh Ioane, with Mitchell Hunt dropping fullback and Solomon Alaimalo coming off of the bench.
Crusaders vs. Hurricanes
Sunday, March 6 – Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
The Christchurch clash between the Crusaders and Hurricanes also looked at one point like fans would not be present in the stadium. New Zealand Rugby has changed that narrative, however, by pushing the game back from Saturday to Sunday, in theory allowing fans into the stadium as long as the Covid alert level doesn’t last beyond its original one-week implementation.
The Crusaders are the white-hot favorites to win here at 0.17, while the Hurricanes actually offer outstanding value at 4.25 with BetXChange. The spread is 13.5 points at 0.90 and after going down 31-16 to the Blues last weekend – along with the Crusaders beating the Highlanders – it really feels like the ‘Canes are being undervalued here. That 4.25 price is certainly worth it as a shot to nothing – pending team announcements – but the spread feels very much in favor of the Hurricanes as this is a team that can score points against the “grind them down” mentality of the Crusaders.