Moneyball: The cost of Cruden's injury

By Michael Guerin

While Chiefs fans are reeling from the news Aaron Cruden will spend the next crucial phase of the competition in the stands, the defending champs' odds have barely budged. Photo / Getty Images.
While Chiefs fans are reeling from the news Aaron Cruden will spend the next crucial phase of the competition in the stands, the defending champs' odds have barely budged. Photo / Getty Images.

How important is a superstar first five to your chances of winning the Super15?

If you ask the money men, maybe not as important as fans may think.

While Chiefs fans are reeling from the news Aaron Cruden will spend the next crucial phase of the competition in the stands, the defending champs' odds have barely budged.

The Chiefs returned from their South African drawfest paying $3.50 to win the title for a third time and are still only $3.75, even though Cruden's injury could be costly.

Not only does it rule him out of their all-important clashes with the Crusaders and Brumbies in the next two weeks, but if he has no game time prior to the English test series, he is unlikely to start at least the first and probably second of those tests.

That means Cruden could face a return against one of the best, and most rugged, test teams in the world before being straight back into the final stages of the Super15, which for the Chiefs ends with three punishing local derbies.

As talented and committed as the Chiefs are, that doesn't leave a lot of room for error in the back end of the season.

While their incredible depth should get them home against the Rebels this weekend, the Chiefs could lose valuable positions in both the NZ conference (if they lose to Crusaders next week) and against the leading Aussie team the Brumbies, who they meet in Canberra in two weeks after the Brumbies have had a timely bye.

So the real impact of Cruden's injury on the Chief's chances of a threepeat may well be more evident in 15 days.

If they win two of their next three their $3.75 price is value, drop two of the next three and they go back into a murky pack and could struggle for a third straight home final, which usually decides the title.

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The Force hosting the Waratahs would usually be considered a good time to catch a movie by most NZ rugby fans but then again, it is not often they sit third equal and fifth on the competition table.

Saturday night's clash between the two Aussie teams is especially interesting as the Force have won four straight (unheard of) and the Waratahs are coming off a win in South Africa (rare).

But even more importantly it sees the return of perhaps the most dangerous back in the competition in Israel Folau, who leads the tryscoring table by two even though he has missed the last two games.

Folau's return boosts the Tahs in two ways --- defences are terrified of him but it also enables Kurtley Beale to return to second five where he has created a wealth of opportunities for those outside him, especially Folau, who follows him everywhere.

That should help offset the loss of dazzling winger Alofa Alofa but the Force are one of the fittest teams in the competition and have been extremely strong in the last 20 minutes of their matches.

That, coupled with the fact the Tahs have travelled from South Africa, suggests a closer game than the Waratah's first-round thrashing of the Force in Sydney.

So the Tahs to win by 12 or less paying $2.80 looks one of the week's better bets.

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