Super Rugby 2018 Season Preview with Futures Betting Tips

Introduction

The following is a team-by-team preview for the 2018 Super Rugby season. Betting resources and futures betting tips are also provided. These details will be updated as more information becomes available. New and departed players lists are sourced from Wikipedia.

New Competition Format

Following the axing of the Force, Cheetahs and Kings, the competition features 15 teams this season. The sides are organised into three conferences, each consisting of five teams. The Australian Conference features the four Australian franchises and the Sunwolves, the New Zealand Conference consists of the five Kiwi franchises and the South African Conference consists of the four South African teams and the Jaguares.

During the regular season each side will play 16 games and receive effectively 3 byes due to the fact that there are two rounds that exclude certain conferences. The teams play home and away against each opponent in their conference for a total of 8 fixtures. The remaining 8 fixtures are against sides in the other two conferences, with each side playing four of the five teams in each of the other conferences.

The winner of each conference automatically qualifies for the quarterfinals, along with the five teams with the next best records. Conference winners are given a top three seeding for the quarterfinals, regardless of how many points they have accrued compared to the other quarter-finalists.

The biggest beneficiary of the new conference format is Australia, who get the Sunwolves added to their conference at the expense of the Force. The biggest loser is New Zealand, due to the increased number of fixtures against domestic opponents this season.

Season Schedule

Round 1 commences on the 17th of February and consists of just the South African conference. Round 16 at the beginning of June will feature just the Australian and New Zealand conferences. There will be almost a month off between Round 16 and Round 17 due to the mid-year rugby union internationals. The regular season concludes in mid July with the quarterfinals taking place a week later and the semi-finals the week after that. The final will be played on the 4th of August.

Super Rugby Betting Resources

On Australia Sports Betting
On Australia Sports Tipping
  • The Interactive Super Rugby Form Guide enables you to filter each team’s form by home/away and strength of opponent.
  • Super Rugby match centres are available for every fixture. Each match centre provides bookmaker odds, member tipping tallies, form guides and in-depth performance guides for the game.
  • The Super Rugby line betting table ranks each team based on how frequently they have covered the line this season. Figures are shown for home, away and all fixtures.
  • The Super Rugby predictability index ranks each team based on the predictability of their score lines as measured by the accuracy of pre-game bookmaker lines. Figures are shown for home, away and all fixtures.
  • The Super Rugby betting value index ranks each team based on their betting value in the head-to-head market. The data can be filtered by date.
  • The Super Rugby home-field advantage analysis compares each team’s winning records at home versus away. League averages and medians are also provided. The data can be filtered by date.
  • The Super Rugby Elo ratings tool enables you to calculate the Elo ratings of each team using the parameters of your choosing.

Super Rugby 2018 Futures Betting Tips

Compare the latest Super Rugby odds

Back the Brumbies at 3.00 (Sportsbet) to win the Australian conference. It’s possible that any of the Brumbies, Rebels or Waratahs could win the conference, but given the Brumbies’ ascendancy in the Australian conference in recent seasons, those odds are good value. The Rebels have the squad to be much improved this season, but it may take a while for the new squad to gel, which will give the Brumbies a head start. The Waratahs have the capacity to be competitive, but it’s hard to overlook their 4-11 record last season and the nature in which they’ve regressed since Michael Cheika’s departure.

Back the Crusaders at 3.25 (William Hill) and the Hurricanes at 3.00 (William Hill) to win the New Zealand conference. The Chiefs finished with an impressive 12-1-2 record last season but with coach Dave Rennie departing along with key backs (Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden and James Lowe), I expect they will struggle to replicate that feat. The Crusaders and Hurricanes, meanwhile, both look primed to have a great season. The Highlanders have a strong starting XV, but injuries are a fact of life in Super Rugby, and I expect their decrease in depth following key departures in the off-season will make it difficult to keep pace with the Crusaders and Hurricanes. Until the Blues can put together a winning record I’m happy to bet against them.

Back the Lions at 1.60 (William Hill) and Sharks at 7.50 (William Hill) to win the South African conference. While the Stormers did top the Africa 2 conference last season with a 10-5 record, it was a conference featuring the 4-11 Bulls, 4-11 Cheetahs and 2-13 Sunwolves. Against sides with a winning record they went 1-5 during the regular season. The Stormers also start the season with a lengthy injury list, which isn’t ideal given they commence a tour of Australia and New Zealand in Round 2. Of the two picks the Sharks are the better value given how short the Lions are.

Back the Crusaders at 4.75 (William Hill) and the Hurricanes at 4.68 (Pinnacle) to win the Super Rugby title. With the Chiefs and Highlanders possibly taking a backward step this season, these two sides look well placed to push for the 2018 title. I can’t recommend an Australian team given they collectively failed to win a single game against a New Zealand opponent last season and the South African conference looks highly competitive, which will cause the sides to drop enough points to lose the critical first overall seed. While the Lions dominated with a 14-1 record in 2017, they didn’t have to play a single New Zealand side during the regular season and will have to play against four this campaign. Travelling overseas during the playoffs is incredibly difficult, especially when you consider that the Crusaders have never lost a home playoff game. The Crusaders are also the only side to ever win a playoff final outside their own country.

If you’re looking for trading opportunities in the conference or title winner markets, you might want to delay before backing the Hurricanes until after Round 5 due to their tough opening schedule. You could actually lay them now on Betfair and then look to back them after Round 5, hopefully at longer odds. In contrast, 6 of the Lions’ first 8 fixtures are at home, so you could back them now and then look to lay at hopefully shorter odds after Round 8.

For the top try scorer market there are numerous candidates. Given they scored an eye-watering 89 tries last season the likes of Ngani Laumape at 19.00 (Sportsbet) and Vince Aso at 23.00 (Sportsbet) immediately come to mind. Given it’s hard to see the Crusaders taking a backward step I also like Seta Tamanivalu at 23.00 (Sportsbet). Israel Folau at 23.00 (Sportsbet) is also worth considering. My only concern is that the Waratahs might not make the playoffs, which could deny him up to three additional games to score tries. One upside for Folau, however, is he will only face New Zealand opponents four times, while the Kiwi teams each play eight domestic fixtures. The Reds, Rebels and Sunwolves were ranked 14th, 17th and 18th in defence last season and the Waratahs will play each of them twice. The Waratahs offence should also receive a lift with the return of Kurtley Beale, which should give Folou more scoring opportunities.

Team-By-Team Previews

Australian Conference

Brumbies

Brumbies

  • Futures Odds: 20.00 (Betfair) to win the title and 3.00 (Sportsbet) to win the Australian conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 3.2% (equates to fair odds of 31.25)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 67% (equates to fair odds of 1.49)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 0.2% (equates to fair odds of 500)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 4th (7th highest points tally) overall (1st in the Australian conference) with a 10-0-5 regular season record. Lost at home in the quarter-finals to the Highlanders.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 4th (9th highest points tally) overall (1st in the Australian conference) with a 6-0-9 regular season record. Lost at home in the quarter-finals to the Hurricanes.
  • 2017 Stats: 17th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 41 tries. In terms of points conceded the Brumbies had the 5th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Dan McKellar
  • Captain(s): Sam Carter and Christian Lealiifano
  • Key Departures: Saia Fainga’a (London Irish), Tom Staniforth (Waratahs), Chris Alcock (Kamaishi Seawaves), Scott Fardy (Leinster), Jarrad Butler (Connacht), Tomás Cubelli (Jaguares), Anthony Fainga’a (Kintetsu Liners)
  • Key Arrivals: Richie Arnold (Force), Lachlan McCaffrey (Leicester Tigers), Isi Naisarani (Force), Matt Lucas (Force), Chance Peni (Force),
  • Forwards: Robbie Abel, Allan Alaalatoa, Ben Alexander, Richie Arnold, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Tom Cusack, Blake Enever, Mees Erasmus, Folau Fainga’a, Lolo Fakaosilea, Ben Hyne, Les Makin, Joshua Mann-Rea, Nic Mayhew, Lachlan McCaffrey, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Scott Sio, Darcy Swain, Rob Valetini
  • Backs: Tom Banks, James Dargaville, Kyle Godwin, Mack Hansen, Wharenui Hawera, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Ryan Lonergan, Matt Lucas, Andy Muirhead, Chance Peni, Joe Powell, Andrew Smith, Henry Speight, Lausii Taliauli, James Verity-Amm
  • Injuries & Suspensions: David Pocock will miss at least the first four rounds due to a knee injury.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Brumbies 50-19 Rebels, Brumbies 26-38 Chiefs
  • Causes for Optimism: Playmaker Christian Lealiifano returns fit and sharp from an off-season stint playing in Ireland while David Pocock returns from his year-long sabbatical. With the new competition structure the Australian sides play 4 Kiwi teams rather than 5 during the regular season.
  • Causes for Concern: This is Dan McKellar’s first coaching role at the Super Rugby level following Stephen Larkham’s departure. David Pocock will miss the start of the season due to injury. The Brumbies were ranked 17th last season in points scored.
  • Summary: With a balanced squad with good depth, the Brumbies look well placed to be at or near the top the Australian conference once again. Last year’s defence was solid, but they desperately need to improve on their offence, which might happen now they have a new coach. Brumbies fans will be hoping that David Pocock has a good year following is break from rugby. He could be key to their chances. Like many Australian franchises, the Brumbies will be aiming to win fans back this season. A total of 9,771 people watched them lose their home quarter-final to the Hurricanes.


 

Rebels

Rebels

  • Futures Odds: 59.41 (Pinnacle) to win the title and 4.00 (Sportsbet) to win the Australian conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 2.2% (equates to fair odds of 45.45)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 26.9% (equates to fair odds of 3.72)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 12th overall (3rd in the Australian conference) with a 7-0-8 regular season record.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 18th overall (5th in the Australian conference) with a 1-1-13 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 18th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 23 tries. In terms of points conceded the Rebels had the 17th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: David Wessels
  • Captain(s): Adam Coleman
  • Key Departures: Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders), Toby Smith (Hurricanes), James Hanson (Gloucester), Patrick Leafa (Vannes), Steve Cummins (Scarlets), Dominic Day (Saracens), Culum Retallick (Bay of Plenty), Sean McMahon (Suntory Sungoliath), Jake Schatz (London Irish), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Hurricnaes), Ben Volavola (North Harbour), Mitch Inman (Oyonnax)
  • Key Arrivals: Jermaine Ainsley (Force), Ben Daley (Force), Tetera Faulkner (Force), Sam Talakai (Reds), Anaru Rangi (Force), Adam Coleman (Force), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs), Matt Philip (Force), Richard Hardwick (Force), Ross Haylett-Petty (Force), Will Genia (Stade Français), Michael Ruru (Force), David Horwitz (Waratahs), Bill Meakes (Force), Henry Hutchison (Australia Sevens), Dane Haylett-Petty (Force)
  • Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley, Adam Coleman, Ben Daley, Colby Fainga’a, Tetera Faulkner, Esei Ha’angana, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Trevor Hosea, Sam Jeffries, Rob Leota, Amanaki Mafi, Tom Moloney, Geoff Parling, Matt Philip, Anaru Rangi, Jordy Reid, Fereti Sa’aga, Sam Talakai, Lopeti Timani, Alex Toolis, Jordan Uelese, Laurie Weeks
  • Backs: Tayler Adams, Jack Debreczeni, Tom English, Pama Fou, Will Genia, Harrison Goddard, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, David Horwitz, Henry Hutchison, Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks, Jack McGregor, Bill Meakes, Sefa Naivalu, Hunter Paisami, Michael Ruru, Dom Shipperley, Nic Stirzaker, Sione Tuipulotu, Semisi Tupou
  • Injuries & Suspensions:
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Brumbies 50-19 Rebels, Waratahs 47-5 Rebels
  • Causes for Optimism: Have received a huge influx of players from the Force, including their new captain Adam Coleman. The squad is a lot deeper as a result. The Rebels have also recruited former Force head coach, David Wessels, which should lift the club. They’ve also added experience with the recruiting of Will Genia and Geoff Parling. With the new competition structure the Australian sides play 4 Kiwi teams rather than 5 during the regular season.
  • Causes for Concern: Scored only 23 tries during their horror 2017 season. To put that number into perspective, the Sharks had the second lowest number with 38. Young prospect Tyrel Lomax has and moved to the Highlanders, while Toby Smith and Jackson Garden-Bachop have left for the Hurricanes.
  • Summary: Well placed to be the most improved side from last year, but it might take a while for the high number of new signings to settle in and establish combinations. It might also take the Rebels a while to determine what their best starting XV is. They will want to start quickly, however, with winnable fixtures against the Reds and Sunwolves early on.


 

Reds

Reds

  • Futures Odds: 67.00 (Sportsbet) to win the title and 9.00 (Sportsbet) to win the Australian conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 0.2% (equates to fair odds of 500)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 12.6% (equates to fair odds of 7.94)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 6.2% (equates to fair odds of 16.13)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 15th overall (4th in the Australian conference) with a 3-1-11 regular season record.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 14th overall (3rd in the Australian conference) with a 4-0-11 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 14th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 46 tries. In terms of points conceded the Reds had the 14th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Brad Thorn
  • Captain(s): Scott Higginbotham
  • Key Departures: Sam Talakai (Rebels), Stephen Moore (retired), Rob Simmons (Waratahs), Nick Frisby (Bordeaux), Jake McIntyre (Agen), Quade Cooper (released)
  • Key Arrivals: Jono Lance (Force), Ben Lucas (Toyota Verblitz)
  • Forwards: Angus Blyth, Kane Douglas, Sef Fa’agase, Michael Gunn, Reece Hewat, Scott Higginbotham, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Adam Korczyk, Alex Mafi, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Andrew Ready, Izack Rodda, Angus Scott-Young, James Slipper, George Smith, JP Smith, Caleb Timu, Lukhan Tui, Taniela Tupou, Markus Vanzati, Liam Wright
  • Backs: Filipo Daugunu, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Lachlan Maranta, Tate McDermott, Eto Nabuli, Duncan Paia’aua, Izaia Perese, Moses Sorovi, Hamish Stewart, James Tuttle
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Karmichael Hunt’s future is uncertain. He is due to face court on February 19.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens):
  • Causes for Optimism: Might find a spark under new coach Brad Thorn. Jono Lance is a great signing. Have a youthful squad but with some experienced campaigners mixed in to provide leadership. Have a softer schedule than last season. With the new competition structure the Australian sides play 4 Kiwi teams rather than 5 during the regular season.
  • Causes for Concern: Have to bounce back from a terribly disappointing season that started with so much optimism. Squad depth looks weaker than the Rebels now that so many Force players followed their coach to Melbourne. Haven’t had a great pre-season. George Smith picked up an injury to go with his arrest in Japan and Karmichael Hunt was charged with drugs possession. The depature of Rob Simmons to the Waratahs doesn’t help.
  • Summary: After a strong run from 2011-13 in which they finished 1st, 3rd and 5th, the Reds have since finished 13th, 13th, 15th and 14th. It would be hard to do worse than last season, but they might struggle to keep pace with the Rebels, who have been highly active in the transfer market. Fourth place in the Australian conference wouldn’t surprise me. The question is whether they can find a way to turn pressure and possession into points, something they struggled badly with in 2017.


 

Sunwolves

Sunwolves

  • Futures Odds: 501.00 (Sportsbet) to win the title and 126.00 (Sportsbet) to win the Australian conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 1% (equates to fair odds of 100)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 44.4% (equates to fair odds of 2.25)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 18th overall (4th in the Australian conference) with a 1-1-13 regular season record.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 17th overall (4th in the Australian conference) with a 2-0-13 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 15th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 41 tries. In terms of points conceded the Sunwolves had the 18th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Jamie Joseph
  • Captain(s): Willie Britz and Yutaka Nagare
  • Key Departures: Heiichiro Ito (Yamaha Júbilo), Masataka Mikami (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Yasuo Yamaji (Canon Eagles), Koki Yamamoto (Yamaha Júbilo), Takeshi Kizu (Kobelco Steelers), Naohiro Kotaki (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Liaki Moli (Hino Red Dolphins), Hitoshi Ono (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Kotaro Yatabe (Panasonic Wild Knights), Shokei Kin (NTT Communications Shining Arcs), Shuhei Matsuhashi (Ricoh Black Rams), Yuhimaru Mimura (Yamaha Júbilo), Kaito Shigeno (Toyota Verblitz), Yuki Yatomi (Yamaha Júbilo), Derek Carpenter (Suntory Sungoliath), Ryohei Yamanaka (Kobelco Steelers), Teruya Goto (NEC Green Rockets), Rikiya Matsuda (Panasonic Wild Knights), Yasutaka Sasakura (Panasonic Wild Knights), JJ Taulagi (England Newton Abbot RFC), Riaan Viljoen (NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes)
  • Key Arrivals: Craig Millar (Highlanders), Ruan Smith (Toyota Verblitz), Hencus van Wyk (Lions), Grant Hattingh (Kubota Spears), Lappies Labuschagné (Kubota Spears), Michael Leitch (Chiefs), Hayden Parker (Highlanders), Jason Emery (Highlanders), Gerhard van den Heever (Yamaha Júbilo), Robbie Robinson (from Ricoh Black Rams)
  • Forwards: Asaeli Ai Valu, Takuma Asahara, Jaba Bregvadze, Willie Britz, Grant Hattingh, Uwe Helu, Kazuki Himeno, Takeshi Hino, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki, Shintaro Ishihara, Koo Ji-won, Lappies Labuschagné, Michael Leitch, Shinya Makabe, Craig Millar, James Moore, Yusuke Niwai, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Ed Quirk, Atsushi Sakate, Ruan Smith, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Wimpie van der Walt, Hencus van Wyk, Sam Wykes
  • Backs: Jason Emery, Kenki Fukuoka, Timothy Lafaele, Lomano Lemeki, Michael Little, Kotaro Matsushima, Daishi Murata, Yutaka Nagare, Ryoto Nakamura, Ryuji Noguchi, Hayden Parker, Robbie Robinson, Hosea Saumaki, Yu Tamura, Fumiaki Tanaka, Harumichi Tatekawa, Sione Teaupa, Will Tupou, Keisuke Uchida, Gerhard van den Heever, Akihito Yamada
  • Injuries & Suspensions:
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens):
  • Causes for Optimism: Have acquired highly rated head coach Jamie Joseph, who won the Super Rugby title at the helm of the Highlanders. The Sunwolves have brought in numerous international players, many from New Zealand and South Africa, who have previous Super Rugby experience.
  • Causes for Concern: Once again have undergone a huch amount of player turnover during the off-season. Have a much tougher travel schedule than any other Australian conference side. Have to overcome the short break between the Japanese Top League and Super Rugby seasons, which greatly hinders pre-season preparations.
  • Summary: With so many new players and a new head coach, it might take the Sunwolves some time to settle in. That combined with their compromised pre-season preparations means they will likely struggle early on. With a high quality head coach and numerous international acquisitions, however, the Sunwolves are well placed to improve upon last season.


 

Waratahs

Waratahs

  • Futures Odds: 20.47 (Pinnacle) to win the title and 3.00 (William Hill) to win the Australian conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 0.4% (equates to fair odds of 250)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 17.2% (equates to fair odds of 5.81)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 3.9% (equates to fair odds of 25.64)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 10th overall (2nd in the Australian conference) with a 8-0-7 regular season record.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 16th overall (4th in the Australian conference) with a 4-0-11 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 9th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 52 tries. In terms of points conceded the Waratahs had the 15th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Daryl Gibson
  • Captain(s): Michael Hooper
  • Key Departures: Dean Mumm (retired), Will Skelton (Saracens), Matt Lucas (Brumbies), Rob Horne (Northampton Saints), David Horwitz (Rebels), Reece Robinson (Sydney Roosters)
  • Key Arrivals: Rob Simmons (Reds), Tom Staniforth (Brumbies), Kurtley Beale (Wasps), Alex Newsome (Force), Curtis Rona (Force)
  • Forwards: Jack Dempsey, Damien Fitzpatrick, Ned Hanigan, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Maclean Jones, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Ryan McCauley, Kelly Meafua, Will Miller, Nick Palmer, Hugh Roach, Tom Robertson, Paddy Ryan, Matt Sandell, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Lachlan Swinton, Shambeckler Vui, Cody Walker, Michael Wells, Brad Wilkin
  • Backs: Kurtley Beale, Cameron Clark, Lalakai Foketi, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Bryce Hegarty, Andrew Kellaway, Mack Mason, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Alex Newsome, Nick Phipps, Curtis Rona, Irae Simon
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Flanker Ned Hanigan picked up a knee injury in pre-season
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Highlanders 55-29 Waratahs, Waratahs 47-5 Rebels
  • Causes for Optimism: Have Kurtley Beale back. The Waratahs sorely missed his absence when looking for attacking flair last season. With the new competition structure the Australian sides play 4 Kiwi teams rather than 5 during the regular season.
  • Causes for Concern: Have regressed over the last two seasons under coach Daryl Gibson. They went from semi-finalists in 2015 to 10th place in 2016 and then 16th place in 2017 with a 4-11 record.
  • Summary: This might be the last chance Daryl Gibson has to prove he’s the man for the job following two disappointing seasons since his appointment. You get the feeling the side has been less than the sum of its parts in the last two years. Their defence was their undoing last season, so it’s key that they make improvements on that front.


 

New Zealand Conference

Blues

Blues

  • Futures Odds: 17.00 (William Hill) to win the title and 12.00 (Sportsbet) to win the New Zealand conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 0.5% (equates to fair odds of 200)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 0.4% (equates to fair odds of 250)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 3.7% (equates to fair odds of 27.03)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 11th overall (5th in the New Zealand conference) with a 8-1-6 regular season record.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 9th (8th highest points tally) overall (5th in the New Zealand conference) with a 7-1-7 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 13th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 55 tries. In terms of points conceded the Blues had the 12th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Tana Umaga
  • Captain(s): Augustine Pulu
  • Key Departures: Charlie Faumuina (Toulouse), Steve Luatua (Bristol), Piers Francis (Northamton Saints), Ihaia West (Hurricanes), Rene Ranger (La Rochelle)
  • Key Arrivals: Leni Apisai (Hurricanes), Otere Black (Hurricanes), Daniel Kirkpatrick (Albi)
  • Forwards: Leni Apisai, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Blake Gibson, Josh Goodhue, Alex Hodgman, Akira Ioane, Jerome Kaino, Sione Mafileo, Pauliasi Manu, Matt Moulds, Dalton Papali’i, James Parsons, Glenn Preston, Kara Pryor, Isaac Salmon, Scott Scrafton, Mike Tamoaieta, Murphy Taramai, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou, Ofa Tu’ungafas
  • Backs: Otere Black, Caleb Clarke, Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, T. J. Faiane, Bryn Gatland, Rieko Ioane, Matty Johnson, Daniel Kirkpatrick, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Sam Nock, Stephen Perofeta, Augustine Pulu, Jonathan Ruru, Jordan Trainor, Tamati Tua, Sonny Bill Williams
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Dalton Papali’i will miss the first six rounds with a fractured hand.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Chiefs 19-45 Blues, Hurricanes 26-14 Blues
  • Causes for Optimism: Enter the tournament with momentum having won the Brisbane Tens warm-up tournament. Boast a lot of individual talent within the squad.
  • Causes for Concern: Failed to win any domestic fixture last season and they will have to play every New Zealand franchise twice this year, meaning eight intra-conference matches compared to six in the previous two seasons. Have a tough fixture list to start the season: Highlanders (A), Chiefs (H), Lions (A), Stormers(A).
  • Summary: The Blues have been the only disappointing franchise in New Zealand over the last few seasons, but with the talent within the squad they arguably have the cattle to get off the foot of the conference. Given the side is used to failure my concern, however, is they will lose confidence if they don’t get through their tough opening fixtures well.


 

Chiefs

Chiefs

  • Futures Odds: 8.60 (Betfair) to win the title and 5.50 (Sportsbet) to win the New Zealand conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 8.8% (equates to fair odds of 11.36)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 12% (equates to fair odds of 8.33)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 6th (5th highest points tally) overall (3rd in the New Zealand conference) with a 11-0-4 regular season record. Lost away to the Hurricanes in the semi-finals.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 6th (4th highest points tally) overall (3rd in the New Zealand conference) with a 12-1-2 regular season record. Lost in the semi-finals to the Crusaders.
  • 2017 Stats: 7th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 55 tries. In terms of points conceded the Chiefs had the 3rd best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Colin Cooper
  • Captain(s): Sam Cane and Charlie Ngatai
  • Key Departures: Siegfried Fisiihoi (Stade Français), Hika Elliot (Oyonnax), Tom Sanders (Crusaders), Michael Leitch (Sunwolves), Finlay Christie (Hurricanes), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (La Rochelle), Aaron Cruden (Montpellier), Stephen Donald (Counties Manukau), James Lowe (Leinster)
  • Key Arrivals: Tyler Ardron (Ospreys), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Hurricanes), Marty McKenzie (Crusaders)
  • Forwards: Michael Allardice, Tyler Ardron, Dominic Bird, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Mitchell Graham, Kane Hames, Nathan Harris, Fin Hoeata, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Karpik, Sefo Kautai, Nepo Laulala, Liam Messam, Atunaisa Moli, Liam Polwart, Brodie Retallick, Aidan Ross, Taleni Seu, Samisoni Taukei’aho
  • Backs: Solomon Alaimalo, Levi Aumua, Johnny Fa’auli, Tiaan Falcon, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Marty McKenzie, Sam McNicol, Tim Nanai-Williams, Alex Nankivell, Charlie Ngatai, Toni Pulu, Shaun Stevenson, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Jonathan Taumateine, Regan Verney, Brad Weber
  • Injuries & Suspensions:
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Chiefs 19-45 Blues, Brumbies 26-38 Chiefs
  • Causes for Optimism: New head coach Colin Cooper is vastly experienced, having previously coached Taranaki (11 yrs), the Hurricanes (8 yrs), New Zealand under-21s and the Māori All Blacks. Halfback Brad Weber is fit again after missing all of last season with a broken leg.
  • Causes for Concern: Coach Dave Rennie has departed. The Chiefs won both of their two titles under his tenure. The backs will have a new look following the overseas departures of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden and James Lowe. They will have to play every New Zealand franchise twice this year, meaning eight intra-conference matches compared to six in the previous two seasons.
  • Summary: The Chiefs have finished 3rd in the New Zealand conference for the last three straight years. Following the departures of some big names, I don’t see them cracking the top two this year, but you never know with all of the New Zealand franchises taking in new recruits from the talent-laden domestic ranks.


 

Crusaders

Crusaders

  • Futures Odds: 4.75 (William Hill) to win the title and 3.25 (William Hill) to win the New Zealand conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 26% (equates to fair odds of 3.85)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 41.3% (equates to fair odds of 2.42)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 7th (6th highest points tally) overall (4th in the New Zealand conference) with a 11-0-4 regular season record. Lost away to the Lions in the quarter-finals.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 2nd overall (1st in the New Zealand conference) with a 14-0-1 regular season record. Super Rugby Champions.
  • 2017 Stats: 3rd ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 77 tries. In terms of points conceded the Crusaders had the 1st best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Scott Robertson
  • Captain(s): Sam Whitelock
  • Key Departures: Marty McKenzie (Chiefs), Digby Ioane (Panasonic Wild Knights)
  • Key Arrivals: Tom Sanders (Chiefs)
  • Forwards: Michael Alaalatoa, Scott Barrett, Ethan Blackadder, Wyatt Crockett, Mitchell Dunshea, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Billy Harmon, Oliver Jager, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Peter Samu, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Sam Whitelock
  • Backs: Tim Bateman, George Bridge, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Mike Delany, Mitchell Drummond, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Bryn Hall, David Havili, Mitchell Hunt, Will Jordan, Jone Macilai-Tori, Manasa Mataele, Richie Mo’unga, Jack Stratton, Seta Tamanivalu
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Kieran Read is out until mid-April with a back injury.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Crusaders 22-43 Hurricanes, Highlanders 42-26 Crusaders
  • Causes for Optimism: Will have good continuity from last year given the modest turnover of players during the off-season, particularly in the forwards. A number of their new recruits are from the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup winning side Canterbury, with a couple more from runners-up Tasman. They won 8 out of 9 away fixtures last year to complement their perfect home record. The Crusaders boast the best forward pack in New Zealand. Their opening fixture against the Hurricanes comes off the back of the Hurricanes’ tour of South Africa and Argentina, which could give them a jump over their main rivals for the New Zealand conference.
  • Causes for Concern: Only 2 of the previous 11 winners have gone on to win successive titles. All Blacks captain Kieran Read will miss half of the season to undergo surgery on his back. They will have to play every New Zealand franchise twice this year, meaning eight intra-conference matches compared to six in the previous two seasons. On paper the Crusaders have an inferior backline to the Hurricanes.
  • Summary: The Crusaders will once again be one of the teams to beat this year. They will be aiming to win their 9th Super Rugby title while no other franchise has won more than three times. With the number of senior players sticking around you get the impression they believe they have a great chance of winning back to back titles.


 

Highlanders

Highlanders

  • Futures Odds: 9.00 (Sportsbet) to win the title and 6.50 (Sportsbet) to win the New Zealand conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 8.3% (equates to fair odds of 12.05)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 10.2% (equates to fair odds of 9.8)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 0.1% (equates to fair odds of 1000)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 5th (3rd highest points tally) overall (2nd in the New Zealand conference) with a 11-0-4 regular season record. Lost away to the Lions in the semi-finals.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 7th (5th highest points tally) overall (4th in the New Zealand conference) with a 11-0-4 regular season record. Lost in the quarter-finals to the Crusaders.
  • 2017 Stats: 5th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 62 tries. In terms of points conceded the Highlanders had the 6th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Aaron Mauger
  • Captain(s): Ash Dixon and Ben Smith
  • Key Departures: Siua Halanukonuka (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Millar (Sunwolves), Joe Wheeler (Suntory Sungoliath), Gareth Evans (Hurricanes), Marty Banks (Benetton), Hayden Parker (Sunwolves), Malakai Fekitoa (Toulon), Patrick Osborne (Kubota Spears), Jason Emery (Sunwolves)
  • Key Arrivals: Tyrel Lomax (Rebels)
  • Forwards: Alex Ainley, Liam Coltman, Josh Dickson, Ash Dixon, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Dillon Hunt, James Lentjes, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Tyrel Lomax, Guy Millar, Pari Pari Parkinson, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Dan Pryor, Aki Seiuli, Liam Squire, Siate Tokolahi, Kalolo Tuiloma, Luke Whitelock
  • Backs: Richard Buckman, Matt Faddes, Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Tevita Li, Josh McKay, Tevita Nabura, Waisake Naholo, Josh Renton, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Fletcher Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Teihorangi Walden
  • Injuries & Suspensions:
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Highlanders 55-29 Waratahs, Highlanders 42-26 Crusaders
  • Causes for Optimism: Still boast good quality throughout the side and they’ve signed seven players from the talent-laden domestic competition. All Blacks fullback Ben Smith should be fit and fresh following his break from rugby. The Highlanders have signed up and coming Australian prospect Tyrel Lomax from the Rebels.
  • Causes for Concern: Start the season with their third head coach in as many years following the departures of Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown. New Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger was sacked from his previous coaching role with Leicester Tigers. The Highlanders’ first choice for the vacant position was assistant coach Scott McLeod, but he was picked up by the All Blacks as their new defence coach. The squad will have notably less depth and experience in the backs following the departures of some experienced campaigners. Malakai Fekitoa’s departure in particular is a big loss. He was immense for them last season. They will have to play every New Zealand franchise twice this year, meaning eight intra-conference matches compared to six in the previous two seasons. The timing of their byes is unfortunate, with both out of the way by Round 8, giving them an eight-week run of games until the international break.
  • Summary: The Highlanders still boast a high quality starting XV, but due to the departures of some experience campaigners they will need to avoid a lengthy injury list if they are to push for the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how new coach Aaron Mauger goes in the footsteps of Joseph & Brown.


 

Hurricanes

Hurricanes

  • Futures Odds: 4.68 (Pinnacle) to win the title and 3.00 (William Hill) to win the New Zealand conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 22.7% (equates to fair odds of 4.41)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 36.1% (equates to fair odds of 2.77)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 1st overall (1st in the New Zealand conference) with a 11-0-4 regular season record. Super Rugby Champions.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 5th (3rd highest points tally) overall (2nd in the New Zealand conference) with a 12-0-3 regular season record. Lost in the semi-finals to the Lions.
  • 2017 Stats: 1st ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 89 tries. In terms of points conceded the Hurricanes had the 4th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Chris Boyd
  • Captain(s): Dane Coles
  • Key Departures: Loni Uhila (Clermont), Leni Apisai (Blues), Mark Abbott (Coca-Cola Red Sparks), James Broadhurst (retired), Callum Gibbins (Glasgow Warriors), Toa Halafihi (Lyon), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs), Otere Black (Blues), Pita Ahki (Connacht), Cory Jane (Toshiba Brave Lupus)
  • Key Arrivals: Toby Smith (Rebels), Murray Douglas (Rebels), Gareth Evans (Highlanders), Finlay Christie (Chiefs), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Rebels), Ihaia West (Blues)
  • Forwards: Asafo Aumua, James Blackwell, Dane Coles, Murray Douglas, Gareth Evans, Chris Eves, Michael Fatialofa, Alex Fidow, Vaea Fifita, Reggie Goodes, Sam Henwood, Sam Lousi, Ben May, Reed Prinsep, Ricky Riccitelli, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Toby Smith, Blade Thomson, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Isaia Walker-Leawere
  • Backs: Vince Aso, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Jamie Booth, Finlay Christie, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, Ngani Laumape, Jonah Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, TJ Perenara, Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Peter Umaga-Jensen, TJ Va’a, Ihaia West
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Jordie Barrett is out with a shoulder injury and is due back in Round 3.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Crusaders 22-43 Hurricanes, Hurricanes 26-14 Blues
  • Causes for Optimism: Six of their new signings are from other Super Rugby franchises. Boast an abundance of talent, particularly in the backs. Signed hooker Asafo Aumua from Wellington during the off-season. Aumua was a revelation for New Zealand in the U20 Championship.
  • Causes for Concern: Regularly put weaker teams to the sword last season, amassing an eye-watering 89 tries along the way, but the Hurricanes often lacked the edge to beat the top sides, falling to the Chiefs, Crusaders and Lions. They will have to play every New Zealand franchise twice this year, meaning eight intra-conference matches compared to six in the previous two seasons. The Hurricanes have a tricky series of fixtures to open the season, with a trip to the high altitude Loftus Versfeld to take on the Bulls in Round 2, followed by a trip to Argentina in Round 3, followed by a home fixture against the Crusaders in Round 4.
  • Summary: The Hurricanes boast arguably the best backline in the competition. They look well placed to be at least the 2nd best side in New Zealand this season. I would be surprised if they failed to make the playoffs.


 

South African Conference

Bulls

Bulls

  • Futures Odds: 41.00 (Sportsbet) to win the title and 15.00 (Sportsbet) to win the South African conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 0.2% (equates to fair odds of 500)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 0.9% (equates to fair odds of 111.11)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 7.2% (equates to fair odds of 13.89)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 9th overall (2nd in the Africa 1 conference) with a 9-1-5 regular season record.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 15th overall (3rd in the Africa 1 conference) with a 4-0-11 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 13th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 39 tries. In terms of points conceded the Bulls had the 12th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: John Mitchell
  • Captain(s): Nic de Jager, Burger Odendaal
  • Key Departures: Jacobie Adriaanse (Lions), Arno Botha (London Irish), Piet van Zyl (London Irish), Tian Schoeman (Bordeaux), Jan Serfontein (Montpellier)
  • Key Arrivals: Frans van Wyk (Stormers), Tim Agaba (South Africa Sevens), Marnitz Boshoff (Connacht)
  • Forwards: Tim Agaba, Matthys Basson, Lood de Jager, Nic de Jager, Aston Fortuin, Lizo Gqoboka, Jason Jenkins, Jannes Kirsten, Hanro Liebenberg, Edgar Marutlulle, Trevor Nyakane, Pierre Schoeman, Roelof Smit, RG Snyman, Hendré Stassen, Ruan Steenkamp, Adriaan Strauss, Ruben van Heerden, Conraad van Vuuren, Frans van Wyk, Jaco Visagie
  • Backs: Marnitz Boshoff, Francois Brummer, Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, JT Jackson, Johnny Kôtze, Jesse Kriel, Manie Libbok, Duncan Matthews, Burger Odendaal, Embrose Papier, Handré Pollard, Divan Rossouw, Jade Stighling, Jamba Ulengo, Ivan van Zyl, André Warner
  • Injuries & Suspensions:
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Lions 66-22 Bulls, Sharks 31-14 Bulls, Stormers 26-26 Bulls, Bulls 21-12 Jaguares
  • Causes for Optimism: New coach John Mitchell has a vast amount of coaching experience. He’s previously managed the Chiefs, Force, Lions and the All Blacks. The squad boasts some high quality individual talent in the likes of Warrick Gelant and Handre Pollard.
  • Causes for Concern: Finished 15th with a 4-11 record last year and have lost some experienced campaigners in the offseason. Start the season with a tough schedule, which may put them on the back foot for the rest of the season.
  • Summary: The Bulls are the only South African side to win a Super Rugby title – a feat they’ve achieved three times. Since their last win in 2010 they’ve been in decline, however, with the side going south particularly from 2014 onwards. After three seasons of finishing 9th the Bulls slumped to 15th overall last season, so it’s fair to say the only way from here is up. Much will come down to John Mitchell’s ability to tap into the side’s potential. The first order of business will be to turn the high altitude stadium Loftus Versfeld back into the fortress it once was. Last year they only won 3 of 8 home fixtures which was a major contributor to their decline. The Bulls’ home form will be put to the test right off the bat, with the Hurricanes and Lions visiting in Rounds 2 & 3.


 

Jaguares

Jaguares

  • Futures Odds: 101.00 (Sportsbet) to win the title and 26.00 (Sportsbet) to win the South African conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 0.3% (equates to fair odds of 333.33)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 1.2% (equates to fair odds of 83.33)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 6.3% (equates to fair odds of 15.87)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 13th overall (3rd in the Africa 2 conference) with a 4-0-11 regular season record.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 10th overall (3rd in the Africa 2 conference) with a 7-0-8 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 8th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 49 tries. In terms of points conceded the Jaguares had the 8th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Mario Ledesma
  • Captain(s): Pablo Matera
  • Key Departures: Facundo Gigena (Leicester Tigers), Ramiro Herrera (Stade Français), Lucas Noguera Paz (Bath), Santiago Cordero (Exeter Chiefs)
  • Key Arrivals: Tomás Cubelli (Brumbies)
  • Forwards: Matías Alemanno, Felipe Arregui, Franco Brarda, Rodrigo Bruni, Agustín Creevy, Javier Díaz, Diego Fortuny, Santiago García Botta, Marcos Kremer, Tomás Lavanini, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Nicolás Leiva, Tomás Lezana, Benjamín Macome, Pablo Matera, Santiago Montagner, Julián Montoya, Javier Ortega Desio, Guido Petti Pagadizábal, Enrique Pieretto, Leonardo Senatore, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Juan Pablo Zeiss
  • Backs: Santiago Álvarez, Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli, Sebastián Cancelliere, Tomás Cubelli, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Bautista Delguy, Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, Bautista Ezcurra, Felipe Ezcurra, Santiago González Iglesias, Juan Martín Hernández, Martín Landajo, Matías Moroni, Ramiro Moyano, Matías Orlando, Nicolás Sánchez, Joaquín Tuculet
  • Injuries & Suspensions:
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Bulls 21-12 Jagures
  • Causes for Optimism: Will have great continuity in the squad following very little player turnover during the off-season. Tomas Cubelli is a great signing. New coach Mario Ledesma might help provide additional spark. They won’t be starting with the same injury headaches as they did last year.
  • Causes for Concern: As the only side from Argentina, they once again face a horrific travel schedule.
  • Summary: The Jaguares’ 7-8 record last year is a solid improvement over their 4-11 record in 2016. The challenge for them is to overcome the horrific travel schedule and cut back on costly ill-discipline. Another key is to turn their home stadium into a fortress and improve upon their 4-4 home record from last season.


 

Lions

Lions

  • Futures Odds: 6.80 (Betfair) to win the title and 1.60 (William Hill) to win the South African conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 25.2% (equates to fair odds of 3.97)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 81.6% (equates to fair odds of 1.23)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 2nd overall (1st in the Africa 2 conference) with a 11-0-4 regular season record. Lost away to the Hurricanes in the final.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 1st overall (1st in the Africa 2 conference) with a 14-0-1 regular season record. Lost at home in the final to the Crusaders.
  • 2017 Stats: 2nd ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 81 tries. In terms of points conceded the Lions had the 2nd best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Swys de Bruin
  • Captain(s): Warren Whiteley
  • Key Departures: Hencus van Wyk (Sunwolves), Akker van der Merwe (Sharks), Ruan Ackermann (Gloucester), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks), Jaco van der Walt (Edinburgh)
  • Key Arrivals: Jacobie Adriaanse (Bulls)
  • Forwards: Jacobie Adriaanse, Cyle Brink, Robbie Coetzee, Hacjivah Dayimani, Ruan Dreyer, Willie Engelbrecht, Lourens Erasmus, Andries Ferreira, Corné Fourie, Rhyno Herbst, Johannes Jonker, Jaco Kriel, Robert Kruger, Malcolm Marx, Len Massyn, Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie, Marnus Schoeman, Sti Sithole, Dylan Smith, Kwagga Smith, Jacques van Rooyen, Warren Whiteley
  • Backs: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Ross Cronjé, Ashlon Davids, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Elton Jantjies, Sylvian Mahuza, Lionel Mapoe, Christiaan Meyer, Howard Mnisi, Shaun Reynolds, Courtnall Skosan, Dillon Smit, Madosh Tambwe, Harold Vorster
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Winger Courtnall Skosan injured his knee in training and is expected back in April.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Lions 66-22 Bulls
  • Causes for Optimism: Are coming off their best ever season where they finished 1st in the overall standings with a 14-1 record. Six of their first eight fixtures are at home, which should provide their campaign with a good start.
  • Causes for Concern: Former assistant coach Swys de Bruin takes over following the departure of head coach Johan Ackermann, under whom the Lions blossomed. A number of top players have missed much of their pre-season preparation due to commitments at Japanese clubs. Flanker Ruan Ackermann and scrum-half Faf de Klerk have departed. Have a poorly timed bye after the June break.
  • Summary: The Lions will have to shake off the disappointment of losing a home final to the Crusaders, a rare occurance in Super Rugby. The departure of their coach and some influential players is a concern, but they certainly have the squad to remain highly competitive. Replicating last year’s 14-1 record will be a tough ask, however.


 

Sharks

Sharks

  • Futures Odds: 26.00 (Sportsbet) to win the title and 7.50 (William Hill) to win the South African conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 2.2% (equates to fair odds of 45.45)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 8.7% (equates to fair odds of 11.49)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 0.6% (equates to fair odds of 166.67)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 8th overall (2nd in the Africa 2 conference) with a 9-1-5 regular season record. Lost away to the Hurricanes in the quarter-finals.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 8th (7th highest points tally) overall (2nd in the Africa 2 conference) with a 9-1-5 regular season record.
  • 2017 Stats: 12th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 38 tries. In terms of points conceded the Sharks had the 7th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Robert du Preez
  • Captain(s): Ruan Botha
  • Key Departures: Lourens Adriaanse (Pau), Etienne Oosthuizen (Lyon), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints), Patrick Lambie (Racing 92), Odwa Ndungane (etired)
  • Key Arrivals: Ross Geldenhuys (Kings), Mzamo Majola (Kings), Akker van der Merwe (Lions), Tyler Paul (Kings), Louis Schreuder (Kings), Robert du Preez (Stormers)
  • Forwards: Hyron Andrews, Ruan Botha, Keegan Daniel, Jean Droste, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Thomas du Toit, Ross Geldenhuys, Gideon Koegelenberg, Stephan Lewies, Mzamo Majola, Franco Marais, Khuta Mchunu, John-Hubert Meyer, Tendai Mtawarira, Tera Mtembu, Coenie Oosthuizen, Tyler Paul, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Juan Schoeman, Akker van der Merwe, Philip van der Walt, Kerron van Vuuren, Jacques Vermeulen, Wian Vosloo
  • Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Garth April, Tristan Blewett, Curwin Bosch, Michael Claassens, Johan Deysel, Robert du Preez, André Esterhuizen, Marius Louw, Makazole Mapimpi, Lwazi Mvovo, S’busiso Nkosi, Louis Schreuder, Rhyno Smith, Kobus van Wyk, Jeremy Ward, Grant Williams, Courtney Winnaar, Cameron Wright, Leolin Zas
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Scrumhalf Louis Schreuder (4-6 weeks) and centre Jeremy Ward (8 weeks) are sidelined due to injuries sustained in pre-season. Flanker Jean-Luc du Preez is due back from an ankle injury sometime in March. Coenie Oosthuizen is expected to miss the entire Super Rugby season after sustaining a knee injury during the Springboks’ game against Ireland last November.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): Sharks 31-14 Bulls, Sharks 31-14 Racing 92
  • Causes for Optimism: Have over a dozen capped Springboks in the squad and have signed some quality backs in fly-half Rob du Preez, utility back Leolin Zas and winger Makazole Mapimpi. Curwin Bosch was a revelation for them last season after Pat Lambie got injured.
  • Causes for Concern: Have undergone a fair bit of player turnover during the offseason, with long-term fly-half Pat Lambie and halfback Cobus Reinach among the departures. Have a number of injury concerns at the start of the season.
  • Summary: The South African conference looks very competitive so it’s hard to know where the Sharks will end up. On paper you would expect them to improve upon last year given they’ve signed some quality backs to complement their strong forward pack. Anything from 1st to 3rd in the conference wouldn’t suprise me.


 

Stormers

Stormers

  • Futures Odds: 23.00 (Sportsbet) to win the title and 5.50 (Sportsbet) to win the South African conference
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 2% (equates to fair odds of 50)
  • Rugby Vision Conference Winning Probability: 7.8% (equates to fair odds of 12.82)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 0.6% (equates to fair odds of 166.67)
  • 2016 Season: Finished 3rd (4th highest points tally) overall (1st in the Africa 1 conference) with a 10-1-4 regular season record. Lost at home to the Chiefs in the quarter-finals.
  • 2017 Season: Finished 3rd (6th highest points tally) overall (1st in the Africa 1 conference) with a 10-0-5 regular season record. Lost at home in the quarter-finals to the Chiefs.
  • 2017 Stats: 4th ranked offence in terms of points scored, with 64 tries. In terms of points conceded the Stormers had the 11th best defence in the competition.
  • Head Coach: Robbie Fleck
  • Captain(s): Siya Kolisi
  • Key Departures: Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors), Frans van Wyk (Bulls), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse), Robert du Preez (Sharks), Juan de Jongh (Wasps), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Bjorn Basson (Oyonnax), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)
  • Key Arrivals: Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux), Scarra Ntubeni (return from injury), JJ Engelbrecht (Toyota Industries Shuttles), Sergeal Petersen (Cheetahs), Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs)
  • Forwards: Juarno Augustus, Nizaam Carr, Jaco Coetzee, Jan de Klerk, Stephan de Wit, Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Neethling Fouché, JC Janse van Rensburg, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Salmaan Moerat, Dean Muir, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Scarra Ntubeni, Caylib Oosthuizen, Carlü Sadie, Ramone Samuels, JD Schickerling, Kobus van Dyk, Chris van Zyl, Alistair Vermaak, Cobus Wiese, Eduard Zandberg
  • Backs: Craig Barry, Damian de Allende, Paul de Wet, Daniël du Plessis, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Dewaldt Duvenage, JJ Engelbrecht, Dan Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, SP Marais, Sergeal Petersen, Justin Phillips, Raymond Rhule, Seabelo Senatla, Joshua Stander, Jano Vermaak, EW Viljoen, George Whitehead, Damian Willemse
  • Injuries & Suspensions: Lock Pieter-Steph du Toit will miss the start of the campaign due to a back injury while fellow lock Eben Etzebeth is recovering from shoulder and back injuries and isn’t due back until at least May. Fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis is out until at least Round 4 with a hip injury. Tighthead prop Frans Malherbe is sidelined until May while fellow tighthead Michael Kumbirai is recovering from a back injury.
  • Pre-season Results (excl. Brisbane Tens): SWD Eagles 0 -77 Stormers, Stormers 26-26 Bulls
  • Causes for Optimism: Have been South Africa’s most consistent team over the last few years, winning their conference in the last three straight seasons.
  • Causes for Concern: Have injury headaches before the season has even started, particularly in the tighthead prop position. Have a dreadful 1-8 record in the playoffs, with their sole win coming in 2010. Their usually much vaunted defence was poor last season (ranked 11th in points conceded). Have a poor record against New Zealand sides in recent seasons, particularly away from home. Lack depth in the fly-half position.
  • Summary: With the Lions and Sharks in the same conference it will be hard for the Stormers to win their 4th consecutive conference title. The Stormers almost always put the weaker sides away last season but struggled badly against the tournament contenders. Unless they can turn this around their awful playoff record will continue, but with that being said they may struggle to make the playoffs this year. It will be interesting to see how they navigate the early rounds with so many pre-season injuries.


 

 

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