Highlanders v Blues – Fri 5:35pm
A good quality New Zealand Derby to kick us off on Friday evening with the Highlanders taking on the Blues down in Dunedin. Finishing 4th and 5th in the NZ Conference last year both teams will look to extend their runs in 2018 and assure themselves of play-off rugby. The Blues look to be the big improver this season coming of an impressive run of trials and a dominant display in the Brisbane 10s. Head Coach Tana Umaga is back for 2018 and The Wolf expects to see several improvements in the Blues game plan structure.  Expect the Highlanders to engage in a tight and gritty affair with a plan to exploit the Blues forward pack and overall match fitness. The Highlanders are a different beast at home and won both encounters between the teams last season. Although the Blues look to have done everything right in the off season, The Wolf sees the Highlanders adapting the right game plan to expose the Blues in a tight contest.
Best Bet: Highlanders 1-12 ($2.75)
Value Bet:  HT/FT – Blues/Highlanders ($6.50)
Rebels v Reds – Fri 7:45pm
The Rebels were last season’s wooden spooners, winning just the one game while the Reds didn’t perform much better winning four out of a possible fifteen fixtures. The Australian public will be expecting to see an improvement on last year’s performances and a more exciting brand of rugby played across all Australian teams. In the Rebels The Wolf feels they will get this expansive style. They’ve recruited well in the off season, with the key signings of Will Genia and new captain Adam Coleman. These two players, along with Reece Hodge will provide great direction in 2018 which will result in a substantially better season. Unfortunately for the Reds The Wolf sees 2018 as another tough re-building season under Brad Thorn and taking on a resurgent Rebels away from home in Round 1 is too much of an ask.
Best Bet: Rebels -4.5 ($1.90)
Value Bet: Rebels 13+ ($3.30)
Sunwolves v Brumbies – Sat 3:15pm
The Brumbies start 2018 with a trip up to Tokyo to take on the ever improving Sunwolves. The Brumbies topped the Australian Conference last year earning themselves a play-off berth against the Hurricanes. Although being comprehensively beaten in the fixture, the Wolf feels there are plenty of positives for the Brumbies to take out of the 2017 Season. The Sunwolves are still in the building phase but did show some promise in 2017 beating both the Bulls and Blues at home. It’s hard to know what to expect in a team’s first appearance for the season, but The Wolf is going to draw his eyes back to the first game of last season for the Sunwolves. He’ll be sticking with what he knows and says the Brumbies will  be too good. They will start slow but stamp their authority in the second half.
Best Bet: Brumbies -17.5 Line ($1.90)
Value Bet: HT/FT – Sunwolves/Brumbies ($7.00)
Crusaders vs Chiefs – Sat 5:35pm
The Crusaders begin their title defence at home to the Chiefs, which shapes up to be the game of the round. Having gone through last season dropping only the one game it is clear to see why they are installed such short Favourites. Their defence was the hallmark of their success last season allowing on average 14 points a game in the highly competitive NZ Derbies. The Chiefs are no slouches, having maintained the majority of the same roster who went down willingly in the semi-finals of last season to the Crusaders. These NZ Derbies are always close and the Wolf can see a limited amount of points scored and a tightly contested fixture.
Best Bet: Either Team Win by Under 12.5 Points ($1.60)
Value Bet: Crusaders 1-12 Margin ($2.65)
Waratahs v Stormers – Sat 7:40pm
Expecting big things from the Waratahs this season and their trial form suggests that their up to it by touching up the Rebels 47-5 and competing strongly at the Brisbane 10s. Having been last season’s disappointment, The Wolf expects the Waratahs to turn it around this season and be a serious contender come finals time. The Stormers are coming off a strong Round 1 win against the Jaguares at home and looked like a good team in doing so. Young 5/8 Damian Willemse steered the team around well and looks like a Springbok of the future. The Wolf thinks the 8 point line is too big and the stats are there to back it up. The Waratahs only beat the line once as a home favourite all of last season!
Best Bet: Stormers +8.5 ($1.90)
Value Bet: Any Other Result – Triple Margin I ($2.55)
Lions v Jaguares – Sun 12:05am
The Lions kicked the season off with a win against a willing Sharks side taking the fixture 26-19. Whilst the Jaguares started the season in a hard fought clash with the Stormers at Newlands going down by 8 points. The Lions only regular season loss in 2017 came at the hands of Jaguares, but The Wolf doesn’t see it going that way in this fixture. The Lions look to have come back in fine order in 2018 and expect their home stadium to again be a nightmare for travelling teams. The way they moved the ball around last week was special and The Wolf expects more of the same on a fast Joburg track. This has the potential for a large score line in the Lions favour and you would be a brave person to tip against that.
Best Bet: Lions -15.5 ($1.90)
Value Bet: Winning Margin – Lions 30+ ($3.50)
Bulls v Hurricanes – Sun 2:15am
The last fixture of the round sees the Hurricanes travel across to play the Bulls in Pretoria. The Bulls 2017 season was one to forget winning only 4 out of a possibly 15, their worst season in over a decade.  The Hurricanes on the other hand have been exceptional, reaching the semi-finals last and champions the year before. They play an expansive brand of rugby which sees them score several tries. The current -13.5 on offer is not enough and the Hurricanes should sail past this line. The amount of strike power they possess should see them far too strong for the Bulls.
Best Bet: Hurricanes -13.5 ($1.90)
Value Bet: My Line Hurricanes -19.5 ($2.60)

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