The rugby season is starting in January. Yes that’s right, January. This is far too early and I could write an article about how the saturation of rugby in New Zealand is actually killing rugby in New Zealand, but no-one wants doom and gloom in summer. However I’m here to talk about fantasy rugby – specifically Fantasy Rugby Draft. If you’re not into fantasy, you may still want to keep reading as we’ll go through my thoughts on which players will thrive and which will struggle this season.
Fantasy Rugby Draft (fantasyrugbydraft.com) is the only fantasy game that keeps my interest for the whole season (apologies to my three Fantasy Premier League teams I entered and promptly forgot about/couldn’t be bothered maintaining). Part of the reason it’s so appealing is that I usually win my league (winning is rare for a Hurricanes and Tottenham fan).
For those that haven’t heard of it, the basic premise is you play in leagues of 8 or 10 (public or private), and each league only has one of each player. So for example, if I pick Beauden Barrett, no-one else can have him. The way the players are selected is your traditional American-style snake draft. This is usually the most enjoyable part of the season as each member in the league is assigned a draft spot (1-8 or 10) which reverses each round to ensure fairness and you take turns to select players. Once your team has been drafted, you compete head to head against the other members of your league, with the top 4 going to playoffs at the end of the season. You can change up your players through trading, or getting new ones on the waiver wire or free agency.
Remember there is effectively a Salary Cap, and it’s actually enforced. No Saracens situation here.
Now last year I wrote an article on who to pick and who to avoid, and it screwed me a little, as people took my favourite, lesser-known, players just to annoy me. Then of course, they went and did well. However, I still won the league, so I guess that adds some credibility to my picks below.
With the World Cup out of the way, the NZ teams will have their full complement of All Blacks back on deck for the whole season (with the obvious exceptions of Brodie Retallick and Beauden Barrett). Starting with the Blues and I’m going out on a limb early by saying Rieko Ioane is not a top round draft pick. Yes midfielders will be like gold dust this year, but he struggled through most of 2019, and a reclassification as a midfielder lessens his value (unless he ends up back on the wing). Once to watch is Matt Duffie, who might finally get an extended run at fullback. Avoid all the fly-halves in the draft – too much uncertainty. When to pick up Barrett will be a huge question – some might sit on him for the first part of the season just to nab him when he does return.
For the Chiefs, I love the idea of grabbing Damian McKenzie as high as possible. He’s likely to be back to his best position at fullback, with Aaron Cruden running the cutter. Anton Lienert-Brown is another must have, while I would avoid the loose forwards at this stage – too much uncertainty and while they have some good players in there, they’re not fantasy point scoring players.
Onto my beloved Hurricanes. The loss of Ardie Savea for a good chunk of the season is big. He won me the title last year. Du’Plessis Kirifi is a very good (and under the radar) choice, while Vaea Fifita should go well. In the backs, Laumape is the must pick with Jordie Barrett close behind. I would avoid the others for now as there’s still too much uncertainty about who and where. A punt on Chase Tiatia could really pay off, as he would be a big scorer.
The Crusaders? I like their backs. Now Barrett is out for a good chunk of the season, and McKenzie is listed as an outside back, expect Mo’unga to be the first picked all day. Sevu Reece, George Bridge, David Havili, Will Jordan and Braydon Ennor are all great picks too. Imagine if Manasa Mataele came good again as well?
Down in Highlander territory, there isn’t too much that stands out. Josh Ioane starting in a pre-season game at #12 is interesting, but not worth burning a high fly-half selection on. I would be very interested in Josh McKay at fullback with his explosive pace, and could take a punt on Tima Faingaanuku. There’s usually some under-valued midfielder options to be found here as well.
The usual top pick, Israel Folau, is gone. Along with other favourites David Pocock and Samu Kerevi. Which leaves the Brumbies front row (think repetitive driving mauls). If you pick a FR early, it should be this FR. I’ve always been a big fan of Reece Hodge, but he tends to only score fantasy points against other Australian teams. Others to watch are Thomas Banks at the Brumbies, Jack Maddocks at the Rebels, and the usual high scoring Kurtley Beale and Michael Hooper at the Waratahs. Filipo Daugunu at the Reds was on that list until he got himself suspended for the first month or so. If I’m brutally honest, I would avoid most Australian players as I think their Super Rugby teams will struggle this year. Having said that, goal kicking players who are not fly-halfs are like gold, so I’m going for Bryce Hegarty early.
South Africa & Argentina
Onto South Africa and the Fantasy Rugby Draft staff are finally onto the secret of my success – Curwin Bosch. He’s ranked in the top 10 for the first time and rightly so in my opinion. The only big let down for me is that he’s now a fly-half and not an outside back. I like the look of Warrick Gelant, and Rosko Speckman at the Bulls – they usually are good point scorers. Damian Willemse is a good fly half choice at the Stormers, and Dillyn Leyds would be a good outside back choice. Sebastian Cancelliere would be my first shout at the Jaguares. Wandisile Simelane will be one to watch – he could score huge this season. Any starting player for the Sprinkboks is definitely worth a shout – winning the Rugby World Cup can only help. South Africa is likely where I’ll find my FR and my lock too.
My #1 pick? It has to be Richie Mo’unga, and then dive into the midfielders.
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