Hurricanes v Crusaders
Wellington, tomorrow, 7.35pm
Referee: Craig Joubert
TAB: Hurricanes $2.90
You can't blame the Hurricanes' fan-base for an element of defeatism - the Hurricanes have won just four of 21 matches between the two, with two draws and an abandonment - but the TAB seem to have taken this to extremes.
Recent meetings have been relatively tight. In 2009 the Hurricanes won 30-24 in Christchurch, the following year they drew in Wellington, while last year saw a post-earthquake abandonment and a tight 16-9 Crusaders win in the capital.
You suspect the Crusaders will abandon their kickathon against a back three including Andre Taylor, the best broken-field runner in rugby at present, but they will continue with the twin-pivots of Tom Taylor and Dan Carter playing 10 and 12.
Like the TAB and most punters, you suspect the Crusaders might have a little too much tight-five grunt, but it shapes as a fascinating contest, particularly if it's fine. It will be Carter's 100th Super rugby match.
2. First-time caller
Unadulterated talkback-like opinion
"Here's one reason the rest of the rugby world thinks New Zealanders are, by and large, a conceited, thoroughly unlikeable bunch when it comes to all matters rugby.
"Delve deep into your imagination and put a Waratahs jersey on the Crusaders last Saturday night. Transport the game to the Sydney Football Stadium - now Allianz Stadium - and imagine how you would have felt if the Waratahs had put in 66 kicks in general play. Probably wouldn't have got past halftime, would you?
"Jeez, imagine the scorn you would have heaped on England if they'd scored 26 of 31 points via the kicking tee. Instead we had some of the finest rugby brains in the country wetting their pants about the Crusaders' performance (to be fair, that's par for the course).
"Pragmatic? Absolutely. An important win? You bet, perhaps even a season-defining victory.
"An advertisement for the sport? Pull the other one."
3. Stat attack
To give some context around the remarkable try-scoring exploits of Chiefs' prop Sona Taumalolo, who has six tries in seven games, he has scored close to a third of tries scored by all the props in the competition. The Brumbies, Crusaders, Force, Hurricanes, Rebels, Sharks and Stormers have yet to have a prop cross the line, while the Highlanders, Lions, Reds and Waratahs have had one five-pointer from their props. The Cheetahs are the next most prolific team, , with Coenie Oosthuizen and WP Nel both crossing twice.
4. Money ball
Herald betting analyst Michael Guerin searches for weekly gems.
No matter how much you adore the twin torsos (SBW and Kahui) or cow bells, backing the Chiefs has traditionally been sports betting's Russian roulette.
But the boys from The Tron are the great moneymakers of Super rugby.
For the last two weeks they have paid over the odds against weaker teams - Force and Cheetahs - and that trend continues against the Sharks on Sunday.
The pair are evenly matched at $1.87 by the TAB, which is a good bet as the Chiefs are settled in South Africa while the Sharks have had to trek home after a muddling Australasian tour.
Win on Sunday and the Chiefs have the NZ Conference at their mercy so they are worth backing.
Punt watch: The TAB is offering a happy hour between 3-5pm on Friday for first try-scorer on that night's game. They have picked the wrong player to boost the odds for two of the last four weeks and lost plenty. Worth a look for amusement value alone.
5. Garden of Eden
The All Blacks might have a scarcely believable record at Eden Park, but it's been a graveyard for the Blues and Warriors of late. The Blues haven't won a game on the park since June, while the Warriors have lost both matches they've played on the hallowed turf.
So this week the cursed ground welcomes the Kiwis, whose Eden Park record is nought from two.
Good luck then, chaps ...
6. Say what?
"I sit here with pride in where we are as a team as far as relationally - where the guys get on."
A curious line from a curious Pat Lam television interview this week.