NEW YORK, NY – Welcome to our 2017 Super Rugby Preview. This will be the second season of the SANZAR aka Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby competition having 18 teams. We will break down the 18 teams 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 can click on the team name for a look of their roster, so I don’t have to list every roster member, in an attempt to keep the article brief. Teams are listed in order of projected finish in their conference.
Africa Conference 1
Stormers – The reigning champions of the AC1 conference, the Stormers look set to repeat as the conference winners. One of the keys to this will be the fact that they retained the vast majority of their players from last season. Considering the way French clubs sniff around South Africa, that is a very impressive feat. The kept the core of young talent in the forwards and backs, despite a few key losses so now it is a matter of the new guys step up and the young stalwarts stay the course.
Bulls – The Bulls have long been the ugly yet effective side in Super Rugby. They are not known for lots of width or enterprising play and they will be likely to do more of the same this season. After a year and a half out due to injury Handre Pollard is back and he adds a bit of flair to a backline that could definitely use it. It will be interesting to see if they can take it up a notch and challenge the Stormers to be the conference winner.
Cheetahs – The Cheetahs won the 2016 Currie Cup and have held on to almost all their players from the competition. They improved to 4 wins last year in Super Rugby and were in a lot of games they ended up losing. They are definitely a team on the upswing, how much they are is still to be determined. This year will give us a better picture but we still feel they are going to finish third in this conference, they are still a year off.
Sunwolves – This year the Sunwolves have been granted more preparation time in the pre-season than they got last year. This is a benefit as they will play a lot better and be more competitive. However, considering how bad they were last season, it is not a high bar. They will bring up the rear in this group and maybe the competition overall.
Africa Conference 2
Lions – The title runners-up from last season are back and they aim to finish what they started last season. They have kept 95% of last year’s squad together so they will be just as dangerous. Led by the halfback combo of Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantijes, the Lions will look to run the table. And unlike last season they will start the first team in every game instead of resting them with home field advantage at stake.
Sharks – The Sharks are in the middle of a transition. They have jettisoned some older players and have brought the young kids through. They came second in the conference last year and they will finish there again this year. The difference is they should be closer to Lions this season and they have a chance at the Top8 in the competition again. They will likely be even more dangerous than last year and could win a first round playoff match , this time around.
Jaguares – The key word for the Jaguares this season will be discipline. They were very dangerous side to face, their only problem was they could never keep all 15 mean on the field for a whole match. No matter who you are, you have to adjust to how the ref is calling the game, if you don’t, your team will end up playing with 13 men as what happened to the Boyos from Argentina last season.
Kings – Usually when people talk about contracting Super Rugby, you assume they mean the Jaguares and Sunwolves but for a lot of people the Kings are the perfect example of things gone wrong. They provincial union went bankrupt so they are propped up by the SARU and they can’t seem to win a game or hold on to players. The Union is corrupt beyond belief and with all of that going on off the field it is no wonder their on the field product is so sub-standard and they are expected to finish last.
New South Wales Waratahs – After a lackluster campaign last season the Waratahs will look to bounce back. They to alst season was losing head coach Michael Cheika to the Wallabies. Daryl Gibson became coach but he struggled to really make the team his own as key players under-performed in a major way. This looks like the year of the bounce back for the Waratahs.
ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Brumbies – The Brumbies won the conference last season then promptly went on to lose in their home playoff quarter-final. The Brumbies have lost a key players like David Pocock to the foreign coin, so it will be interesting how many of their quality youngsters steps up and fills the void. The kids will do well because the Brumbies develop players well but it will not be enough to see them win the conference again.
Queensland Reds – The Reds have a new head coach in Nick Stiles but have added experienced players in Quade Cooper, Scott Higginbotham, George Smith and Stephen Moore . The addition of that kind of veteran leadership should definitely improve the side. They maybe able to sneak up and shock the Waratahs and Brumbies, should all things click.
Melbourne Rebels – There were flashes last season of what could be. The Rebels even were top of the Aussie conference for a brief few hours then it all fell apart. This year they hope to keep it together for a longer amount of time. They are still a long ways away from being a dangerous side on a regular basis but they are slowly getting there.
Western Australia Force – The Force were Super Rugby’s real first dabble into expansion where they were trying to convert a major market into a rugby market. The team has had a few bright spots but they struggle overall. These struggles will continue as they have a rookie head coach in Dave Wessels, who has never coached or played at a higher level than Super Rugby assistant coach, so this will be a heck of a challenge. A challenge that doesn’t look to be in their favor.
New Zealand Conference
Chiefs – This is head coach David Rennie’s final season with the Chiefs. He will likely be giving his team the blow dryer treatment all season in the hope of winning it all. The Chiefs have retained most of the same players over the last couple of years and have made the playoffs in 5 straight including winning it 2012 & 2013. Expect them to do it all again this year.
Hurricanes – The Hurricanes are the defending champions so they should be favored to win it again. However, repeating as champions is a very difficult feat in Super Rugby. It is often a run of injuries or the loss of 50/50 calls and plays that lead to a spiral of things and the club falling short. This will be what denies the Hurricanes repeat champions status.
Blues – Full Disclosure: I am Huge Blues Fan, just so you know. They have been building under the leadership of Tana Umaga. They may have the most lethal backline in all of Super Rugby with Sonny Bill Williams, Rene Ranger, George Moala, Augustine Pulu and Rieko Ioane. The key will be can he get the forwards to do enough work to get them into the playoffs, and we believe they can.
Highlanders – The Highlanders know the pain of trying to repeat. They won in 2015 and got knocked out in the semi-finals last season. They have had turnover in the coaching department and it is because of that they are expected to struggle. New coach in Tony Brown, who was previously the assistant coach and the departure of a couple of first choice players make them on the outside looking in.
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. This will be the first year for Scott “Razor” Robertson who has been up and down in his time leading the U-20 Junior All Blacks, but has had success coaching the Canterbury province in the NPC. The New Zealand province is the most difficult and as such, I just see them struggling in their first year under a new coach making a big step up.
- 1st Round: Lions v Highlanders – The Lions will be tough for the visitors and like last year, it will be a runaway win.
- 1st Round: Chiefs v Brumbies – The Chiefs will be steaming thorugh the Brumbies as they function as a unit so much better than any other team.
- 1st Round: Stormers v Hurricanes – The Stormers are not that dominant a side to put away a fiery side like the Hurricanes away so expect a road win.
- 1st Round: Waratahs v Blues – The Blues will take the next big step to relevance with a shocking road win.
- Minor Final 1: Lions v Blues – The travel will be too much for the blues and with the Lions having home field they will cut through the Blues with ease.
- Minor Final 2: Chiefs v Hurricanes – This will be a massive clash but the Chiefs will want it just that little bit more and that will difference.
- Major Final: Lions v Chiefs – The Lions take the next big step and win it all. They will come out on fire and slowly pull away from the Chiefs at the end.
That’s all for now, please feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: @RugbyWrapUp, @Junoir Blaber, @MeetTheMatts, @Luke Bienstock, @Ronan Nelson, @Brian C Cole and @Declan Yeats.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.