This weekend sees the return of Super Rugby, a competition that often saw the sport played in a way that no one had ever seen before. More recently the competition has fallen on hard times as over-expansion and the player drain towards the monied clubs of Europe take their toll. Here I look at each of the three conferences, make ridiculous predictions and sweeping statements about teams and players. Feel free to troll me when none of this comes to fruitition.
- Sunwolves (JPN)
With the return of David Pocock and Christian Lealiifano, the Brumbies will really hope to return to the force they were of old. While the team have shown moments of their ability in recent seasons, they need to step up and these two are type of players that can help them on such a charge. The Sunwolves up first will help the ACT build some momentum before sterner tests against the Reds and Rebels in following weeks. If they hold their own by that stage, they will be well placed to actually compete across the Tasman.
It would be unusual to write about this conference without touching on the cloud that hangs over it and the competition as a whole. The debacle surrounding the dissolution of the Western Force was handled in disgraceful fashion by the ARU. How the Union turned its back on rugby in Western Australia shows just how much disregard it holds for the growth of rugby at grassroots level. The Rebels were spared at the expense of the Force and a glut of rugby talent has moved to Melbourne including head coach Wessels who has the potential to (finally) turn them into contenders. This side have few excuses left so expect some big things from them this year.
Will the Waratahs show up this year along with the Reds – who knows? These teams have flattered to deceive far too often considering their history as Australia’s oldest sides. They both have some quality but tend to only show it within their own conference. For me, the men from NSW lack the hard edge to complete in much the same way Tah-Man failed in whatever it was exactly he was trying to achieve. Propping up this conference will be the Sunwolves who will score a phenomenal try in a game of little significance that they are trailing by quite a few scores.
New Zealand Conference:
It is hard to look beyond the land of he long white cloud for the winners of this competition and keep your eyes out for the early clash between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes in Week 4. Scott Robertson -along with Ronan O’Gara – will be hoping to avoid second season syndrome with his men from Canterbury but expect a strong challenge from Chris Boyd’s Hurricanes in his last season with a very talented side. If Laumape can replicate his form of last year and link up with both the Saveas and the Barretts, they will be hard to stop. The Blues were poor by their own standards last year and Head Coach Tana Umaga will be looking for significant improvement so keep an eye on how they go. Chiefs and Highlanders will take some beating but I fear it will the men from Otago who will struggle in this conference.
The British and Irish Lions perhaps showed a way to tame the NZ Super Rugby sides but it will be cold day in hell before we see this competition driven by defensive linespeed and effectiveness of tackle completion. In short, expect plenty of tries scored in unique and innovative ways especially once these teams get unleashed upon the other conferences.
South African Conference:
- Jaguares (ARG)
The Rainbow Nation has been in a state of political disarray the past few weeks and their rugby setup is in much the same pandemonium. Two of their teams “compete” in the Pro14 while the rest -Sharks, Stormers, Bulls and Lions – will be joined by Buenos Aires outfit the Jaguares in this conference.
The Lions have been the shining light for the Republic in recent years but have also been the bridesmaids the past two years. Can they go one step further this year? With the departure of their talismanic coach Ackermann to Gloucester, I fear they have missed their chance and so expect them to be competitive in the conference but struggle outside of it.
The Stormers will really miss Duane Vermeulen as he takes the long route home from Toulon via Japan. It is a shame as they could do with him to bolster their ranks despite the quality that Kolisi and Etzebeth provide.
The Sharks and Bulls have been tame the past few years and perhaps lack the same quality as consistently throughout their squads that both the Lions and Stormers seem to have. Expect these two to take lumps out of each other and the boys from Argentina but do little else. Speaking of the Jaguares, they will frustrate you to tears anytime you watch them this season. They play with an ambition that is somewhat beyond them and god help the team who they face if somehow it manages to click into place and they start running in the tries.
The Great White Predictions:
Aus: Brumbies to pip Rebels
NZ: Hurricanes to see off Crusaders
SA: Stormers on the rise while Lions fall away
Overall Winners: Hurricanes