NEW YORK, NY – After we named our 2014 Southern Hemisphere Rugby Players, we said we would be back with our 2014 Southern Hemisphere Clubs, Coaches & Administrator To Watch. This will complete our global predictions for 2014, be sure to see our picks for the USA, Canada and Europe.
Highlanders: Each team in New Zealand has a compelling story which would make them eligible for Club to Watch. However, considering how spectacular a dumpster fire the Highlander season was last year (after they spent all that money on big names), how will they do this year with most gone and a more hard-working, younger/low-profile team?
NSW Waratahs: They managed to have a solid season and finished third last season. They seem to have finally gotten their act together under 2013 Coach To Watch, Michael Chieka. You have to figure that with new additions like Kurtley Beale, they have a chance to make the playoffs.
The Lions: After a year in exile, they are back. However, they lost a good number of their players to other teams – mainly the Top14. So, the team will be young and inexperienced. They are heavily expected to end up as canon fodder, after making it back from relegation. But don’t expect them to go down quietly.
Tonga: They continue to be a threat on their day in 15s, despite being such a small nation. With qualification for the 7s world series coming up soon, will they be able to knock the likes of Portugal and Spain out and qualify for the tour.
Uruguay Rugby Union: They face the USA in a two-leg Rugby World Cup Qualification process, plus they will also be able to qualify for the 7s world series. Will they be able to make the jump in either 7s or 15s? Time will tell.
South Africa – Jake White (Sharks): The prodigal son returns. He took South Africa to a RWC title in 2007, took time off, resurfaced in Australia with the ACT Brumbies and in his second season he had them in the Super Rugby Final. He wanted the Australia head coach job, didn’t get it and promptly quit the Brumbies and returned to SA to coach the Sharks. He is hated in Australia but loved in SA. It is not a matter of will he repeat his magic – but more of how long it will take him?
Australia – Stephen Larkham (ACT Brumbies): In his playing days for the Brumbies and Australia, Larkham was a class individual on and off the pitch. This allowed him to take on the role of backs coach under the aforementioned Jake White. With White’s departure, he was fast-tracked and given an opportunity as head coach. How does essentially the same group of guys that made the final do under a rookie head coach? They’ll be buzzing at Ballymore.
Australia – Laurie Fisher (ACT Brumbies): The forwards coach under Jake White for the Brumbies, the ACT board didn’t want to appoint co-coaches, so they went with a European set-up and named Fisher, Director of Rugby. This allows Fisher to work on the development of players and be available as a resource for Larkham, as Fisher has more coaching experience than Larkham. How he does in this role and works with Larkham will be interesting.
New Zealand – Mark Hammett (Hurricanes): There was huge unrest in Hurricane country when Hammett was named the Hurricanes coach in 2011. His arrival forced the departure of Ma’a Nonu and Andrew Hore, among a couple of others, along with the arrival of younger talent. The Canes have not made playoffs in his tenure and have at best finished 3rd. He will now be in his 3rd and year and if the side doesn’t have a playoff finish, he may be gone.
South Africa Rugby Referees: Considering the number of international refs produced by SA, they are arguably the best referee society. With greater rotation, it will be interesting to see who else will come through the ranks like the young sensation Rasta Rasivhenge.
Fiji Rugby Union: They were here last year and they are here this year for two reasons: 1) How will they manage to keep the likes of Ben Ryan around. 2) Will they get their act together in so that the IRB can re-instate their funding. They are also still trying to host a leg of the 7s series.
South African Rugby Union: They keep threatening to leave SANZAR but they never do. They mismanaged the Lions and Kings franchise issues and they are still trying to sort out the current state of the Currie Cup.
Argentina Rugby Union: Argentina are looking to join Super Rugby in 2016 and as a result have stated they will not pick players not playing in Argentina for the national team. The potential future Super Rugby franchise is to be decided in the next couple of weeks at the SANZAR annual meeting. They will also not have a developmental side in the Vodacom Cup this year, as they look to focus on trying to host a 7s World Series leg and strengthening their domestic game.
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And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.