Super 15 - Round 1
A few 'off the cuff' margin picks without knowing the final teams, or odds at this stage.
Obviously subject to change ahead of the weekend, but I thought it would be good to start generating some discussion.
Round 1 (home team listed first)
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Both teams disappointing last season but the expectation on Wellington was far higher. Wellington started the year well, but faded miserably. They'll be keen to atone and start 2011 with a big win. Otago lost chief playmaker Israel Dagg to Canterbury and I don't think they have the weapons to bother Welly. New signing Colin Slade is also sidelined with a broken jaw. Nothing going right for Otago and a ball hasn't even been kicked.
Hurricanes by 13+
Rebels v Waratahs
The second game of the round will be a very interesting affair. Melbourne has been waiting for this moment for years and obviously we have no form line to go from. The home crowd will be a huge factor in the tight confines of AAMI Park and there's no love lost between these two traditional state rivals. I'm expecting the Waratahs to have a bit more cohesion and class when it matters though. I don't expect Melbourne to be blown away and in fact, won't be surprised if they shade it (but that's just the bias talking). 'Tahs in a close one.
Waratahs by 1-12
Brumbies v Chiefs
Instinct and distant memory told me that the Brumbies played well below expectation at home last season, but after going through results, they posted some decent scores. But in saying that, the only teams they blew out of the water were the hapless Cheetahs (61-15), Highlanders (31-3) and Reds (32-12) - which was a big result. The corresponding match against Waikato finished 30-23 in the Brumbies' favour and I expect a similar margin this weekend. Of the ACT's seven home games in 2010, only the three I previously mentioned finished with a margin greater than 11 points.
Brumbies by 1-12
Blues v Crusaders
On paper, this is probably the match of the round. The Blues would be an elite side if they could find a level of consistency. But as long as they keep up their run of hot and cold, they'll struggle to make a serious title run. Will this be the year? The Crusaders come to town minus Richie McCaw who will sit out with a stress fracture. Despite this, I think Canterbury has too much experience and class for Auckland. A lot will depend on how Dagg and SBW gel with the existing side, but expect them to be close to the top again.
Crusaders by 1-12
Sharks v Cheetahs
Admittedly I haven't followed many of the South African teams in the off-season. But I do know the Cheetahs won this corresponding match last year. Will they win on the weekend? Doubtful, but I fancy they will hold their own before being overpowered.
Sharks by 1-12
Lions v Bulls
Whatever the books set the O/U line at, it won't be high enough. The Bulls have huge defensive deficiencies, but also have the mentality and skill to disregard that and simply outscore their opponents. John Mitchell takes charge for his first S15 game as senior coach of the Lions, but they won't have the intensity to match their neighbours.
Bulls to beat Lions by 13+
Reds v Force
The Reds were arguably the surprise packet of the 2010 S14 season. Led by Quade Cooper, Queensland played an exciting yet accountable style of rugby and will be looking to build on that this season. I don't expect the Force will be easy to knock over, but I can't see them winning at Suncorp in week one. They'll be in the game all the way, but the Reds simply have too many playmakers and game-breakers.
Reds to beat Force by 1-12