Vodacom Super Rugby
S15 odds preview - Week 1
Cape Town - The odds suggest that the Crusaders and Reds might have been earmarked by Bet.co.za
as pre-season Super Rugby favourites, but they will also be the sides to make money on in Round 1 of the 2012 tournament.
Both the Crusaders and the Reds - finalists in 2011 - will be playing local derbies away from home in this weekend's first round of action and their respective hosts, the Blues and the Waratahs, have been installed as pre-game favourites.
The Crusaders (2/1 favourites to win the 2012 Super Rugby title) are without iconic Rugby World Cup winners Richie McCaw and Dan Carter - and will be for some time during the initial stages of the 2012 Super Rugby - but at 1/4 they are worth a flutter against the Blues (65/10) in Auckland, where the 2011 World Cup final was played.
The Crusaders, however, still boast the likes of the Franks brothers, the Whitelocks, Kieran Read and one of the star performers at RWC 2011, Israel Dagg, whilst they have won six of their last 10 Super Rugby encounters against the Blues.
In Auckland-based fixtures, however, the Blues hold the edge, winning 24-22 last year, 34-25 in 2007 and 21-17 in 2003. Interestingly enough, the Crusaders have won twice in Auckland in the last few years - 15-13 in 2009 and 41-19 in 2005.
The men in Red & Black should not be written off and could earn you some money away from home with the price Bet.co.za
has given them.
The Reds travel to Sydney without influential playmaker Quade Cooper who is out with a long-term knee injury, but the Waratahs have been battling something of an injury-crisis of their own.
Lock Dan Vickerman (tibia), captain Rocky Elsom (hamstring) and wings Drew Mitchell (ankle) and Lachie Turner (hamstring injury) are all out injured and utility backs Adam Ashley-Cooper (leg) and Berrick Barnes (groin) are in doubt.
Elsewhere in Australia, all eyes will be on the Jake White-coached Brumbies (6/10) and they have rightly been rated as favourites against the Western Force (14/10), who are sure to battle this year. The Rebels, the fifth Aussie side, have a first-round bye but they should cause a few shocks given their off-season signings in the shape of Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor.
At 13/10, the Reds are good value - but, incredibly, the defending champions have won just three of their last ten encounters against the Waratahs - the last win being in Brisbane in 2011.
In terms of Reds Super Rugby wins in Sydney one has to track back all the way to 2003 - when the Queenslanders won 35-23.
In South African Super Rugby action, the Stormers are favourites - at home - at 1/5 against the Hurricanes (7/2), whilst visitors, the Sharks (11/10), against the Bulls (75/10) and the Cheetahs (135/100), against the Lions (6/10) in Johannesburg could make you money in the SA Conference.
The Sharks broke Bulls hearts last year with a stunning 26-23 triumph at Loftus Versfeld and with four wins out of six in Pretoria - since 2002 - the men from Durban clearly do not mind playing the Bulls in their kraal.
Amazingly, given the Sharks' record in Pretoria, the Bulls - now living life in the post Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana era - have an incredible record themselves in Durban - having lost just twice there since 2001. Super Rugby fixtures - Week 1: Friday, February 24:
Blues v Crusaders, Auckland - 08.35
Brumbies v Force, Canberra - 10:40
Bulls v Sharks, Pretoria - 19:10 Saturday, February 25:
Chiefs v Highlanders, Hamilton - 08.35
Waratahs v Reds, Sydney - 10:40
Stormers v Hurricanes, Cape Town - 17:05
Lions v Cheetahs, Johannesburg - 19:10