After dealing previously with all things 2013, I decided to deal with the more immediate future and look at the SANZAR aka Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby season. 15 teams are broken down by country, with predictions from my crystal rugby ball. I also go the next step and predict the playoffs. If you are a betting man, I suggest you take my predictions to the bank. You will be rich soon.
New Zealand Conference
Blues – Full Disclosure: I am Huge Blues Fan, just so you know. This season begins with Pat Lam entering his 4th season as Coach of the side and with them continugly improving. Although they are not back to the Glory Days yet, I think the Blues are the likely Table toppers of this conference. Their already dangerous backline has added RWC champs Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu. The key will be the play of FH Micheal Hobbs.
Chiefs – I selected the Chiefs as one of Southern Hemisphere teams to watch in 2012. To the shock of some people I have picked them to finish second. Dave Rennie’s appointment as head coach with The additions of RWC winners Aaron Cruden And Sonny Bill Williams will make a difference in attack. I believe Rennie will tighten up the defense enough to earn them 2nd place in the conference.
Crusaders – A Coach gets three years to make his mark on a team. Usually it is when he is turning what was a bad team into a good team and you can see them really start to click. On a really good team or franchise, that is when his ability to continue the positives from the previous regime appear or he just proves he is riding the previous regime’s coattails. I have nothing against Todd Blackadder as a coach and do like Tyler Bleyandaal as a great young player but this is a year the Crusaders go backward. They will reload for 2013 however.
Highlanders – Great forward play for years has been a Highlander hallmark and it is likely this year will be no different. I just don’t think they have the backs to attack with any real threat. They won’t be pushovers though that much is guaranteed. Here’s to hoping, Jimmy Cowan finds the form that eluded him during the RWC.
Hurricanes – Honestly, the less said about the ‘Canes the better. An impressive coach, a loss of 5 quality All-Blacks and way too much youth and unproven players at this level. I recommend ‘Canes fans to keep away from sharp objects.
Queensland Reds – The defending champs have nearly everyone coming back. Quade Cooper will be back by mid-season and his deputy until then is solid, even if not spectacular. Great young backrow with Liam Gill there, another member of the RWU Class of 2012. I see them handly winning the Oz conference.
New South Wales Waratahs – The defending runners up in Oz took a big loss when they lost Kurtley Beale to Melbourne. However, they still possess the forwards Australia as a unit, a top notch coach, quality defense and the all important physicality to stay second in Oz.
ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Brumbies – The Brumbies are definition of medicore this year. New coach Jake White has his work cut out for him. He has forwards not as good as those at the Reds or Waratahs but better than the bottom 2 sides and his backs are only better than the Force’s. We will see where he and the Brumbies are in 3 years.
Melbourne Rebels – By addding James O’ Connor (JOC)and Kurtley Beale to their backline to go along with Danny Cipriani and Stirling Mortlock (past his best, but still solid at this level), the rebels have arguably the best backline in the whole of S15. The problem is their lack of quality, let alone depth in the forwards. Those housewives in the backs may end up doing a lot of standing around and looking pretty because if the forward husbands can’t earn their keep, everyone will go hunger; especially the fans.
Western Australia Force – The loss of JOC to a team not that deep is huge. They may win 3 games but I don’t see them winning more than that. I know it brief but I can’t think of a single danger man in any position on this squad. Not sure if they have player in any one position better than the other 4 teams.
South Africa Conference
Sharks – The Sharks possess stability in their coaching staff from last season. They also possess a good mixture of bright young talent and quality veterans. I expect Patrick Lambie to have a very good to great year for them.
Lions – The lions seemed primed for a big season. Head coach John Mitchell and RWU 2012 class member Elton Jantijeslead the lions to a Currie Cup title and seem to be ready to build on that this S15 season. Much like the Chiefs, I also predicted big things from this side, so I can’t run now.
Stormers – Gone is head coach Rassie Erasmus (the questions regarding his sudden departure are too long to list). As well as several seasoned campaigners. I don’t see Schalk Burger’s leadership being able to overcome that. I think Schalk is an immense player but I don’t believe he has the leadership skills ready to overcome suh a challenge.
Bulls – Lost head Coach Henyeke Meyer as well as their defensive coach, Jacques Nienaber, to the National team. Add to that the retirement of players like Victor Matfield and other veterans. These are huge holes for any team to fill and unfortunately, I just don’t think the young new players will be ready for primetime.
Cheetahs – The Cheetahs will not be an easy out but I just don’t see them having the horses for this race. They may surprise some people with a few wins but they will still be bottom. If any team is to be replaced by the new franchise the Spears, it may be the Cheetahs since they have not been competitive in a while.
- Blues & Reds will receive first Rd Byes
- 1st Round: Sharks v Chiefs – The Sharks will be too tough at home for the young and improving Chiefs. The trip and the Sharks defence will smother them
- 1st Round: Waratahs v Lions – Same as above; Not a lack of imagination on my part. It is just the story lines are similar.
- Minor Final 1: Blues v Waratahs – I go Blues here because I think it will be a tight match but the ability for a bit of individual brilliance from the Blues backline will be the difference.
- Minor Final 2: Reds v Sharks – Same as Above; Yet again, I just feel that the Red will be able to conjure something out of nothing against a team that will suffer from a tough first round game and the long journey over.
- Major Final: Blues v Reds – A High scoring entertaining final is guaranteed. My blues bias just will not let me see past the Blues ability to win this based on the talent they have on paper.
Just a quick tidbit for readers: Aussies being Aussies, they are the only country of the three that have the regions name in front of the franchise. This is because of how the teams are structured and created. I will save that explanation for another time but if you really want to know, ask in the comments and I will answer. I hope to read loads of questions in the comments. Until then talk to you later fans.