NEW YORK, NY – Yesterday we unleashed our 2015 Southern Hemisphere Player To Watch list. Now just like did for 2015 classes of USA, Canada and Europe. With the players now taken care, it is time for us to release our clubs (that is provinces and franchises), coaches and administrators watch-list.
Reds: The Reds are on the hot seat this year. They have spent big and brought in the likes of former Wallaby James O’Connor and former League and Aussie Rules star Karmicheal Hunt to bolster an already potent backline and added Japanese international Hendrik Tui and former All Black Adam Thompson to the forwards. On paper they are possibly the most complete team from 1-23. People normally say the whole it is a long season and injuries happen, but remember the winners of Australia’s National Rugby Championship (the level below Super Rugby) was Queensland City. So they have some of the best talent in the country in the wider training group. They seem primed to make the playoffs and at least the finals.
NSW Waratahs: Why would the defending Super Rugby Champion be on this list? Simple, their coach has added the title of Australia national team coach. Head Coach Michael Chieka, is in an incredibly tough spot and it is going to be a long season. How will the club handle him doing double duty and the growing responsibility on his assistants while the boss is distracted with National team issues? It would have been easier for the powers that be at the Waratahs to just have made a settlement agreement with the ARU, but they didn’t. Will the Super Rugby team suffer as a result?
Eastern Province Kings: The Eastern Province of South Africa has one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. If SA picked regions for teams like Australia did with its expansion franchise, EP would be one of the first picks. They kind of were following this formular – but it was part of the whole Southern Kings drama that didn’t end well. The SAFU restructed the Currie Cup Premier Division to get them into it, part politics part on the performance. The bombed incredibly in their first season and only one game. The pressure is on for them to get some wins and prove their legitimacy at the Premier Division level, especially as in 2016 they will be the sixth Super Rugby Franchise when Super Rugby expands to 18 teams.
Tasman Makos: Tasman is the youngest province of all the New Zealand Provinces that compete in the ITM Cup. It is the child of the merger of the Marlborough and Nelson Bay sub unions. They have not had it easy and been kicked about for a few season. Then in 2013, the won the lower division of the ITM Cup, the Championship, and were promoted to the top division, the Premiership. In 2014, their first year in the premiership, they made the Premiership final and losing by only four points. They are a feeder province into the Crusaders Super Rugby franchise, along with Canterbury. For a while it Canterbury carrying the franchises and national honors. It may seem though that the tide has turned.
South Africa – Johan Ackermann (Lions): Ackermann is one of the more promising coaching prospects in SA Rugby. He was coach of the Lions last season, after their year in exile, and they had a decent record of 7-9 which was impressive considering the challenge he had. He had a team made up of prospects and journeyman with most players put off by the lack of information about the franchises future. Regardless of all of this the one the pitch product beat a few teams they shouldn’t have, challenge the better ones and played with heart and a sense of togetherness. Most of that credit goes to Ackermann, so what he does for a second act is the question.
Australia –Richard Graham (Queensland Reds): We already mentioned the stacked line-up the Reds will have access to this season. So now the pressure is squarely on the should of Mr Graham. He had a solid year as the number two to Ewen McKenzie when the club won the Super Rugby title. However in his first season, being the head of the ship, the team sputtered. A huge part of that was injury to key players but there was a lot of anger Graham, whom many believe, is not up to the task. Well now he has one of the best teams on paper, lets see what he can do.
Australia – Michael Chieka (NSW Waratahs): Why is the 2013 Coach To Watch class member on the 2015 list? The same reason his club is on it. Chieka is doing double duty between club and country. He has given his Waratah assists more power so he can focus on the Wallabies from time to time. The concern is that a huge part of his success is the freedom he recieves for management, how that will work this year will be interesting. Especially as we have the 2015 RWC coming and Australia are in the group of death.
New Zealand – Colin Cooper (Taranaki): Cooper’s patriotism should not be challenged. He could leave for bigger money in Europe but after being let go by the Hurricanes, he took the step down to coach Taranaki, in the ITM Cup. In a few years at Taranaki, he lead them to their first ever NPC first divison/ITM Cup title. While doing that he also coached the NZ Maori who have remained undefeated under his watch. If he is not back in the Super Rugby mix after the 2015 RWC, he may head overseas.
Samoa Rugby Union: The situation in Samoa is just sad. The players play hard and with so much passion but that is not rewarded by the Union, which offers them no pay, travel expenses or any of the other things that even their fellow pacific island nations get right. The president of the country is the president of the Union and he refers to the players as spoiled children. It will get to a point where the players may have to risk their image and love of their fans and boycott a match. Nobody wants to see it but how else are they to get the SRU to the table?
Australia Rugby Union: The Michael Chieka situation is not a good one. We don’t know why the ARU didn’t negotiate a buyout. The NRC was a hit but can it grow in terms of TV coverage and attendance. Then their is the expected exodus of players and the quality of the new crop coming up. All of this while they still need to work a better TV deal and coverage of the Super Rugby games. It will be a busy year for them.
Japan Rugby Football Union: They are progressing in their on the field rugby product. The 7s team has become a core team in the 7 World Series. The 15s team enjoyed long winning streaks and possible the best tier 2 team in the game. They have won/been competitive in the Pacific Nations and Pacific Challenge. Their league is becoming more respected in rugby circles. They will be getting a Super Rugby team. They will be hosting the the 2019 RWC. All the signs are pointing to a huge year for the Japan Rugby in 2015.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.