Love the Green
You’ll read a lot of Super Rugby Previews this time of year but here is the definitive Super Rugby preview from Sportsfreak:
For a start you can discount any team from Australia or South Africa from winning Super Rugby. South Africa has opened the gates to selecting overseas based players for the Springboks with the resultant adverse impact on their Super Rugby teams immediately apparent.
The only exception to this could be the Sharks who have the best coach in world rugby (Jake White) running the cutter. White is the Sonny Bill Williams of Coaching – where he goes, his teams win, the most recent example being the remarkable achievement of the ACT Brumbies coming within 15 minutes of winning it all last year with a bargain basement team. The Cheetahs have slowly improved over the years and could prove difficult if home advantage for the playoffs is secured, however the travel factor is still heavily weighted against teams from the Republic winning the comp so this is unlikely.
Australian teams will again make up the numbers, while proving difficult at home (as they always do), however a general lack of depth when the inevitable injuries hit and paucity of quality coaches when the business end of the tournament comes around means no Aussie team will feature in the final.
Which leaves the Kiwi teams:
Again they will be fun to watch but the lack of a genuine world class 10 will bite and along with a lack of depth at lock means the Blues won’t get near the conference title and are only an outside chance of a Wildcard playoff spot. Benji Marshall will be cool to watch when the grounds are hard but wont be suited to the grind of the May/June period when experience and a long kicking game is needed. He’ll sell tickets though which is why JK bought him.
Our tip – Won’t make playoffs.
The hunters have become the hunted now, however a title three-peat still beckons for one of the great success stories of recent NZ Rugby. The addition of Robbie Fruean (cruelly cut from the Crusaders) will ensure midfield power continues however the loss of Craig Clarke will be a big gap to fill. The Wayne Smith/Dave Rennie combo is still this side’s greatest asset. Lot of depth in Hamilton these days too.
Our tip – beaten finalist.
Simply no evidence that 2014 will be any different to any of their previous 18 seasons for this, the strangest of all the NZ Franchises. Under Coach Mark Hammett the culture has been successfully re-engineered where the previous era of bad behaviour, ill discipline and player power have been erased, however Hammett’s Christchurch-based, conservative game plan is far too complex for the many of the Hurricanes to comprehend and implement on a consistent basis where there is no Ritchie McCaw or Dan Carter to fall back on. One also wonders what will happen should Conrad Smith become injured and if Beauden Barrett is going to become one of the many players who seem to save their best for the Black jersey these days. The one thing to watch closely will be Ardie Saveas progression from apprentice to master.
Our tip – mid table & battling the Highlanders for conference wooden spoon. Mark Hammett gone by lunchtime on Mad Monday (come in Tana).
If the Christchurch based franchise doesn’t win it all this year than the world will tip off its axis. Blessed with 2 of the best players in the world (Read, & McCaw), a host of All Blacks and enough depth for 2 teams really, if Coach Blackadder can’t extract a title this year then he should never be given charge of another team in New Zealand. Look for home ground to give them an unassailable advantage over the Chiefs throughout the playoffs and through into the final.
Our tip – Champs.
Will fight with the Hurricanes for bottom of the New Zealand conference. Only a question of whether Jamie Joseph (who’s old school methods are wearing thin on his young squad) ‘or Mark Hammett will become 2014’s sacrificial Pat Lam.
Our tip – bottom of NZ Conference – no chance.