Angus Watt gets stuck into a large portion of Super Rugby, in search for tasty morsels of betting value...
"My tip for the competition is the Crusaders. Call me unoriginal; call me boring, but they represent that best value at 16/5 and should be favourites."
You might have thought that 'The Sun Always Shines on TV' was a song about an unfulfilled life without any happy endings. What you may not know about Norwegian pop legends, A-Ha, is that they were in fact massive Super Rugby fans. Regardless of how dank it was at 7am on a Saturday morning in Oslo, Harket et al could always tune into the rugby and enjoy the early evening sun Down Under with their breakfast herring. It's a song celebrating the joys of southern-hemisphere climate and the egg-shaped ball.
And what a lot of egg-shaped ball action we should look forward to. Our waiters at Sky Sports promise to deliver a waistband-swelling five-course meal every Saturday. The hungrier of you will be treated to the five games every Saturday: the 04:15 aperitif, starter at 06:35, main at 08:45, before a bit of desert at 13:05, all in time for coffee at 15:15. What a feast!
Keen for the tournament to retain its title as 'the hardest competition to follow in sport', the organisers have decided to mix things up a bit. In brief, we wave goodbye to the Western Force, Southern Kings and Cheetahs and welcome some new laws. These new rules closely mirror those introduced in the Northern Hemisphere and are geared towards player safety and encouraging attacking play.
Of the 15 teams that remain, I'm confident that we can discount ten. The Australian and South African teams (Lions excluded) are still struggling and I see no surprise package this year. Within the remaining cohort, we have five of the last six winners.
Little confidence in the Highlanders
First up, we have the Highlanders at 8/1. The side from Otago have only managed one Super Rugby win but that did come just three years ago. Aaron Mauger replaces Jamie Joseph as coach which many are touting as an exciting switch-up. Mauger's managerial career has been brief and not particularly successful. His previous role was supporting the Head Coach at Leicester Tigers which, in light of recent performance, doesn't fill you with confidence. He needs to prove himself as a backs coach before he can take a Head of role. They have some wonderful players in the Smith brothers but I think they lack the depth.
Too many away fixtures rules out the Chiefs
Next on the list, we have the Chiefs at a distinctly unenticing 13/2. The alliteratively-named Coach Colin Cooper arrives at the helm after a couple of disappointing years. Much will rest of whether golden-boy Damien McKenzie can dictate pace and direction in tight games from 10. In truth, regardless of how McKenzie performs, CCC has a tough assignment with only five of their 13 games played at home. I'm happy to draw a line through the Hamilton side.
South African's best may offer early tournament value
Hmmm, 5/1 seems a chunky price for a team who have made the last two finals. If you choose to back the Lions, you must make a couple of leaps of faith: they are another Super Rugby club with a new head coach as Johan Ackermann leaves his post to Swys de Bruin (try saying that after a couple of guinnesses). They've also failed to strengthen their squad - in fact, a key loss is Ackermann's son, Ruan, who has followed his dad to Gloucester. This said, the Lions remain the best team in South Africa and begin the campaign with a few easy home games so might be a back-to-lay.
And now the favourites...
So, we're down to two favourites, the Hurricanes (3/1) and the reigning champions the Crusaders (16/5). The 'Canes are undoubtedly the most exciting side in the competition. Last year, they broke the Super Rugby try scoring record, with ease, scoring 97 touchdowns (vs 81 by Lions in 2016). I'm expecting similar brilliance from the men in yellow this year with the Barrett brothers, Brad and Jordie, set to light up the tournament again. However, I will not be backing the Canes. There were defensive question marks around the side throughout last year and their cavalier style of play can come back to bite them in tight games. The schedulers haven't been kind to them, however, with six clashes against New Zealand opposition.
Crusaders can carry all before them
My tip for the competition is the Crusaders. Call me unoriginal; call me boring, but they represent that best value at 16/5 and should be favourites. There has been very little change in the off-season in Christchurch so they'll be hoping to build on their incredibly successful 2017 campaign. Such was their domination last year that they only lost one game in the whole campaign. Their style, blending a devastating power, off-loading game with pragmatism (when required) was a winning combination and I expect them only to get better. If there is any truth in the old adage 'forwards win matches, backs decide by how much', then they should have the edge over the Canes since they have a near-fully All Black pack.