Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Super Rugby Preview for the Northern Hemisphere supporter


Now that the Super Rugby season is upon us, we will be treated to a festival of fantastic rugby over the coming weeks. Super Rugby is historically the most entertaining Rugby competition in the world, despite what crowd attendances might suggest.

This is the second season with a full campaign, where not every team plays every other team. For all the skill that the Southern Hemisphere sides show, maybe this extended Super Rugby season contributed to fatigue in the November internationals?

And with more plans to expand, hopefully the skill level remains. One thing is for sure, while Rugby in general has shown a desire to improve, the powers that be usually realise mistakes eventually and fix any issues. Not playing every team seems ludicrous to me, as does the extending of the season, so hopefully things will be sorted sooner rather than later.

Anyway, I've compiled a preview of the Super Rugby teams, broken down into mini leagues based on their chances and what to expect from each team.

The top contenders in my view are:
  1. Crusaders
  2. Reds
  3. Stormers
In all likelihood, the winner will come from on of these three, and at the very least, these three teams will be in the playoffs. The way the competition is set up, it favours the top team from each country, and in my view this is the top teams in each country, with New Zealand being the hardest to judge.

Reds



Certainly the strongest of the Australian teams. Will Genia, the world's best scrumhalf, is out until at least round 5. That will be a huge blow to them, and they can't afford another bad start like last season where they got hammered by the Blues and the Force in consectutive gameweeks to fall behind. Only a late revival snuck them into the play-offs where they lost to defeated finalists the Sharks. The loss of Higginbotham will hurt, but given that all the returning injuries will act as new signings, they will no doubt improve on last year.

Easily recognisable names include Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Digby Ioane and James Horwill, who are backed up by Rod Davies, Luke Morahan, Liam Gill and Jake Schatz. This is a young settled side.

An exciting youngster to watch out for would be Chris Feauai-Sautia. He had a small number of cameos under huge excitement from Aussie crowds, and could be another star in the future.

Best XV:
15. Davies / Morahan, 14. Shipperley, 13. Fainga'a 12. Tapuai, 11. Ioane, 10. Cooper, 9. Genia, 1. Daley, 2. Fainga'a, 3. Slipper, 4. Simmons, 5. Horwill, 6. Schatz, 7. Gill, 8. Samo.

Stormers



Another team that lost in the playoffs to the Sharks, unlike the Reds, the Stormers had an awesome start to last year winning their first 6 matchs and finishing on top of a difficult South African conference, and finishing on top of the regular season log. They have strengthened well with the arrival of Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute and Pat Cilliers all on loan from the Lions, all three of which made their Springbok debuts in the last year. With only Quinn Roux of note leaving, this is a strong squad. Etzebeths injury for the first 2 months will be a blow considering his huge impact in the last 12 months, but they have enough quality across the squad to challenge.

Household names include Habana, Burger, de Villiers to name but three. Jantjies, Joe Pietersen, Elstadt, Siya  Kolisi and Steven Kitchoff are quality youngsters the Stormers need to perform to have a chance. These players would grace any NH team.

Best XV:

15. Pietersen, 14. Aplon, 13. de Jongh, 12. de Villiers, 11. Habana, 10. Jantjies, 9. Duvenage, 1. Cilliers, 2. Fourie, 3. Kitchoff, 4. Etzebeth, 5. Bekker, 6. Kolisi, 7. Burger, 8. Vermeulen

Crusaders



The most recognisable team of the Super Rugby competition from a NH point of view. They are always in the mix, and lost in the semi finals to the winner the Chiefs last year. They've lost Sean Maitland, Ben Franks and Zach Guildford, and probably Richie McCaw as well.

Interestingly, the fixture list has them not playing the Reds, which will suit both teams immeasurably.

There is a new influx of youngsters, which I admit I know nothing about, and outside of their starting XV they look thin, but knowing the Crusaders the youngsters will be the next McCaws and Carters. Matt Todd, Tyler Bleyendaal and Robbie Fruean are future household names.

Best XV:
15. Dagg, 14. Guildford / A Whitelock13. Fruean. 12. Crotty, 11. McNicholl, 10. Carter. 9. Ellis. 1. Crockett, 2. Flynn, 3. Franks, 4. Romano, 5. S Whitelock, 6. G Whitelock, 7. McCaw / Todd, 8. Read

Playoff Hopefuls/ Dark Horses:

4. Chiefs
5. Sharks
6. Bulls
7. Hurricanes
8. Highlanders
9. Waratahs
10. Brumbies

Chiefs



The defending champions nearly came out of nowhere last season to win. A big part of that was Sonny Bill Williams, who has returned to Rugby League via Japan and boxing. That is the main reason why I dont think they will have the same impact. That and the loss of Sona Taumalolo, one of their top try scorers from loosehead prop who was a relevation last year. They still have a string squad, and are in the playoff mix. Gareth Anscombe and Ross Filipo will improve them, and Tim Nanai-Williams and Sam Cane will be ones to watch out for. Aaron Cruden produces magic at this level and is well worth getting up early in the morning to watch.

Something else to watch out for is sub hooker Mahonri Schwalger who frequently knocks people out with ferocious hits as can be seen here

Best XV
15. Robinson, 14. Masaga, 13. Kahui, 12. Ngatai, 11. Nani-Williams, 10. Cruden. 9. Kerr-Barlow, 1. Afeauki, 2. Elliott, 3. Tameifuna, 4. Clarke, 5. Retallick, 6. Latimer, 7. Cane, 8. Messam.


Sharks

Another reason to watch Super Rugby this year


The Natal Sharks showed last year how you don't have to finish top of your conference to make the final. The defeated finalists will feel they have something to prove, and haven't brought too many players in. Butch James will provide some experience and help a still young Pat Lambie. While Franco van der Merwe will be there for the season bringing steel to the engine room of the second row. This is a quality team with some outstanding backrowers like Marcel Coetzee, Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowski keeping Willem Alberts out of the side.

This will be the biggest threat to the Stormers in the South African conference. All eyes will be on Marcell Coetzee to see if the 22 year old can back up an impressive 2012.

Best XV:
15. Viljoen, 14. JP Pieterson, 13. Joubert, 12. Steyn, 11. Mvovo, 10. Lambie, 9. McLeod, 1. "Beast" Mtwarira, 2. B. du Plessis, 3. J du Plessis, 4. van der Merwe, 5. Bresler, 6. Coetzee, 7. Daniel, 8. Kankowski

Bulls



The Bulls have lost outstanding flanker CJ Stander to Munster, and with Morne Steyn and Juandre Kruger announcing their intention to leave after this season, it seems that this is an important season for them. They will want a strong season to attract quality replacements. They still have a good side, and in Francois Hougaard, Bjorn Basson and Pierre Spies have world class players.

One to watch out for is 18 or 19 year old Handre Pollard. I've never heard so much about one player since Sonny Bill Williams. This kid is meant to be the real deal and a reason why the Bulls don't seem to unhappy with Morne Steyn leaving.

Best XV:
15. Kirchner, 14. Engelbrecht, 13. Olivier, 12. Pollard, 11. Basson, 10. Steyn, 9. Hougaard, 1. Greyling, 2. Ralepelle, 3. Kruger, 4. van der Merwe, 5. Kruger, 6. Stegmann, 7. Potgieter, 8. Spies

Hurricanes



The 'Canes are an exciting young team. As well as star young performers last year like Andre Taylor, Julian Savea, Beauden Barritt and TJ Peranara in the backs they have experience in Victor Vito and Conrad Smith. The loss of Cory Jane through injury will hurt them, but they've signed some exciting young talent in (from PlanetRugby) "Lock/loose forward Blade Thomson, who was part of New Zealand's 2010 IRB Junior World Championship-winning team and versatile James Marshall, who was Taranaki "Back of the Year" for 2012" They will be hoping for Ardie Savea to make as much of an impact in 2013 as his older brother Julian did in 2012.

Their fixture list is favourable with only two away games in South Africa, but being in the New Zealand conference with 4 strong teams, anything is possible.

Best XV:
15. Taylor, 14. Jane, 13. Smith, 12. Bateman, 11. Savea, 10. Barritt, 9 Peranara, 1. Franks, 2. Coles, 3. Toomaga-Allen, 4. Eaton, 5. Thrush, 6. Thomson, 7. Savea, 8. Vito

Highlanders



The Highlanders appeared very impressive last year before fizzling out towards the end, unknown starts like Kade Poki shown in 2011, before being injured last year and will hopefully return to dazzling form. Backing up the talents of Colin Slade, Aaron Smith and Hosea Gear will be new recruits Ma'a Nonu, Brad Thorn and Tony Woodcock. This should probably add some steel to the Highlanders and make sure there is no slip up in form.

Watch out for AB fringe players like Ben Smith and Tameti Ellison, and the outstanding Lima Sopoaga at sub outhalf.

Best XV:
15. Smith, 14. Poki, 13. Ellison, 12. Nonu, 11. Gear, 10. Slade, 9. Smith, 1. Woodcock, 2. Hore, 3. Fia, 4. Thorn, 5. Hoeata, 6. Dixon, 7. Hardie, 8. Manu

Waratahs



For the apparent strength that that 'Tahs have in their squad, they seem to underachieve most years. It's an exciting team down in Sydney with ex-Leinster coach Michael Cheika taking up the reins, and some exciting signings in Israel Folau and Michael Hooper, who had an outstanding 2012 for the Brumbies and the Wallabies. They have lost big names in Elsom, Dean Mumm and Chris Alcock, but appear stronger overall.

They will start the season with a number of injuries to Drew Mitchell and Berrick Barnes among others, but appear to have the depth to cope with it. They will be challenging the Brumbies for a crack at the Queensland Reds at the top of the Australian conference, with it being likely that only one of the Australian teams reaches the playoffs.

Tom Kingston is an exciting young winger/ outside centre worth keeping an eye on, and Israel Folau is a 22 year old code hopper, with a lot of hype surrounding them. A strong season for either mean that they could be "bolters" for the visit of the British and Irish Lions.

Best XV:
15. Foley, 14. Kingston, 13. Ashley-Cooper, 12. Carter, 11. Mitchell, 10. Barnes, 9. McKibbin; 1. Robinson, 2. Polata-Nau, 3. Kepu, 4. Douglas, 5. Timani, 6. Dennis, 7. Hooper. 8. Palu.

Brumbies



The ACT Brumbies nearly shocked everyone by taking last season by storm and narrowly missing out on the  playoffs with a defeat on the last day of the regular season. This squad of "nobodies" certainly made a name for themselves with Christian Lealilifano and Jesse Mogg in particular firing. Add to that the world class talent of David Pocock, the Brumbies will be hoping for more of the same. Stephen Moore is one of the best hookers in the world, and watch out for a return to rugby after 3 years for Clyde Rathbone.

Best XV:

15. Coleman, 14. Tomane, 13. Mogg, 12. McCabe, 11. Speight, 10. Lealilifano, 9. White, 1. Alexander, 2. Moore, 3. Murphy, 4. Fardy, 5. Oostheizen, 6. Vaea, 7. Pocock, 8. Mowen.

Improving / Outside Playoffs

11. Blues
12. Rebels
13. Cheetahs

Blues



It's fair to say that 2012 was a disaster for the Blues. After recruiting heavily they only won once in the first ten games and finished 12th. They have lost a number of All Blacks in Kaino, Nonu, Daniel Braid, Alby Mathewson, Munro, Rudi Wulf, Benson Stanley, Tony Woodcock and Isia Toeava.

Not many are expecting much from the Blues, who are the weakest of the NZ teams. However, Piri Weepu seems to be returning to form, and John Kirwan will take over, it can't be as bad as last year.

They still have some quality players, and will be looking to do better, and maybe be in the playoff mix. Perhaps a little soon for them though.

Best XV: Not going to lie this wasn't easy with so many departures, it would be something like:

15. Piutau, 14. Halai ,13. Ranger, 12. F. Saili 11. Moala10. Noakes 9. Weepu. 1. McCartney 2. Mealamu, 3. Faumina, 4. Boric 5. Williams, 6. Luatua 7. Braid, 8. P. Saili

Rebels



The Rebels are a team that are improving. 2012 didn't see much of Beale and O'Connor in tandem, and with both fit for the start of the season and new Wallaby recruit Scott Higginbotham joining, they are a much better side. The rest of the team now have a few years Super Rugby experience under their belts and will be better for it. Unfortunately there are still so many teams that are better than them, but I think we can expect a few more wins and more competitiveness than before from the Melbourne side.

Best XV:
15. Beale, 14. Vuna, 13. Inman, 12. Sidey, 11. Mitchell, 10. O'Connor, 9. Phipps; 1. Henderson, 2. Robinson, 3. Weeks, 4. Pyle, 5. Neville, 6. Higginbotham, 7. Saffy, 8. Delve, 

Cheetahs

The Cheetahs are one of the most exciting sides in Super Rugby to watch. They will never fail to entertain. The news that Juan Smith retired this week will be a blow, but considering he only played a handful of games for them in the last year, won't make too much difference

Heinrich Brussouw is the most known player, who has his own injury worries, but on his day some consider the best fetcher in the world. Ashley Johnson will be a big loss, but hopes are high for Johan Goosen(20), who was so impressive last year before an injury derailed the Cheetahs season. Willie Le Roux was electric last season as well.

Sarel Pretorious is back from a year with the Waratahs which promises to be very exciting. Expect them to claim scalps, and be very entertaining while doing it.

Best XV:
15. Smit, 14. Benjamin, 13. Ebersohn, 12. Sadie, 11. Le Roux, 10. Goosen, 9. Pretorious; 1. Oosthuizen, 2. Strauss, 3. Adriaanse, 4. Uys, 5. Landman, 6. Brussouw, 7. Viljoen, 8. van der Walt


Struggling:

14. Force



The Force have lost a world class player in David Pocock, which would be bad enough. Except that they lost one the year before as well in James O'Connor, and they haven't adequatedly replaced either. Not to mention the retirement of one Nathan Sharpe and this is a team who have lost most of their key men. This team reminds me of Italy a number of years ago, in that they have a strong pack capable of maintaining parity with the best teams, but have a backline of schoolboys.

Ben McCalman will feel like a new signing after being injured, and will need to step up to fill Pococks shoes in the backrow. Alby Mathewson, Hugh McMenamin, Chris Alcock and Sias Ebersohn are intelligent signings that will ensure that the Force will be competitive, and will be a distance away from the Kings at the bottom, but with too much quality lost, its 14th place for them it looks like.


Best XV:
15. Norton-Knight, 14. Cummins, 13. Stanley, 12. Hayward, 11. Stubbs, 10. Ebersohn, 9. Mathewson; 1. Cowan, 2. Charles, 3. Ma'afu, 4. McMenamin, 5. Wykes, 6. Hodgson, 7. Alcock, 8. McCalman.

Basement Dwellers:

15. Kings



The newest team in the competition. First off, I think it's wrong the way the SARU have treated the Golden Lions. They clearly had improved in the last number of years, and the way they destroyed the Kings in a recent warm up game shows that they are significantly the better team. The Lions were just about competitive in this competition, I don't think the Kings will be at all.

They have two ex fringe players from Toulouse at scrumhalf (Vergallo) and hooker (Lacombe) as well as the only recognisable names Luke Watson (ex Bath) ans Steven Sykes (ex Leinster), which seem to be their go to men. This is going to be one year in the big time before they lose the playoff to the Lions. Lucky to get two wins.

Best XV: Not even going to try.


Now you know everything, give this amazing fantasy league a try. It'll mean that you pay more attention and are more informed come Lions time.