Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand – Welcome to Dunedin!! We are here to meet up with our good friend Jed Thian, from the Alternative Rugby Commentary. I hope we didn’t get the dates mixed-up as to when he would be home? Oh well, if this is the wrong date, it would be a perfect time to try bungee jumping. In the meantime, while we wait for the Jedster, lets begin looking at the New Zealand conference in Super Rugby. This conference is without a doubt the hardest of the 3 conferences. The team that finishes last will likely have a better record than 5 of the other teams in the rest of the Super Rugby competition. Enough chit-chat, lets examine the sides.
Now, I am sure these predictions would have been a lot more useful a few weeks ago as the season was kicking off. However, the season is still young and lets not forget the Super 15 will have to deal with breaks for The Lions tour and the The Rugby Championship this year. Regardless of what these sides records are now, I am confident come the end of the season, I will be proven correct. So here we go.
1. Highlanders: These guys have made all the major off-season moves in terms of recruiting. They have brought in All Blacks Ma’a Nonu and Tony Woodcock and added retired All Black Brad Thorn. They are now the deepest and most talented side in the competition. Add in the fact that head coach Jamie Joseph is desperate to show everyone that he can coach a team to a title after his struggles with Wellington and The Hurricanes.
2. Crusaders: RWU friend Todd Blackadder, has had a rough start with Zac Guilford’s drinking problems, forcing Blackadder to kick him out for most of the season. World Cup winning flanker Richie McCaw will be taking a break from all rugby for the first half of the year in a bid to stay fresh for the 2015 World Cup. Sean Maitland has left New Zealand to play in and for Scotland. Despite all of this, the Crusaders are the best structured and most consistent franchise in the history of Super Rugby. They will find a way to grind out results and should overcome the competition and make the playoffs.
3. Chiefs: Last year’s champions have been dealt a midfield blow. They have lost their premier center combo with Sonny Bill Williams switching codes and joining the National Rugby League in Australia and Richard Kahui moving to Japan at the end of the season. The fear is more to do with Kahui’s constant injury status. If Kahui goes down and I expect he will, it will truly hurt their attack. Making matters worse is that first choice back-up Jackson Willison is now with the Blues. Fortunately they have maintained a quality, polished forwards unit. That unit will get them some victories, but with the lack of game changers in the center The Chiefs may struggle later in the season.
4. Hurricanes: The Babycanes proved last season that they have come of age. The problem for them is that everyone else got better. Beauden Barritt and Julian Savea were rewarded with deserved All Black call-ups. Now the pressure is on as they won’t be sneaking up on anyone. They will have to manage a much more arduous task without Captain Conrad Smith, who is taking an extended holiday in order to help him extend his career. Can head coach Mark Hammett continue to defy the critics and prove he can make them competitive. Not in this conference, but definitely in the middle of the table.
5. Blues: Another RWU friend, Sir John Kirwan, an Auckland native, has a massive reclamation project on his hands. He has begun by going very young and has brought in players like Bayden Kerr. He jettisoned young talent Gareth Anscombe believing Anscombe didn’t fit his style. The squad will be surprisingly led by Ali Williams, who will be aided by a trimmer and fitter looking Piri Weepu and Luke Braid. He also managed to retain future stars Charles Piutau and Francis Saili. This season will be full of growing pains and they will finish last in this conference.
Well that is it for me for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUp, @JunoirBlaber, @Declan Yeats, @Mathew Drew Turner and @Ebstide52, respectively. And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.