Super 15 Rugby (aka Super Rugby) kicks off tomorrow with a new format. With the inclusion of the new Melbourne Rebels, each participating country now has five sides. The league has been split into three conferences, one for each country. Teams within each conference will play each other twice, home and away. Each side will also play four out of the five teams from the other pools once. The finals series will now feature six teams instead of four. The top team in each conference along with the three next teams with the highest total number of points will qualify. The top two ranked teams will receive a first round bye in the playoffs.
The conference system will have a huge impact on futures betting, because now each country is guaranteed at least one playoff team. Based on the bookmaker odds, one would expect the Crusaders, Bulls and Waratahs to top their respective conferences. Interestingly, there is a huge gap in the odds. The Chiefs are at 21.00 odds to win the title, while the Cheetahs, Force, Highlanders, Lions and Rebels all languish at 81.00 odds.
Below are some comments on each team from domestic and international perspectives.
- TVNZ: “Their lack of a genuine world class first five will continue to hold them back and reduce them to an outside chance of a semi-final berth.”
Conference prediction: 3rd; Overall prediction: 8th
- The Roar: “The frustrated Auckland fans were not happy when their team came in seventh place last season, and a repeat performance will be unacceptable. In fact, I am inclined to think that if the highly credentialed men from Auckland do not make the finals series in 2011, that the loud noise you will hear from across the Tasman just before the World Cup commences will be the sound of the door hitting coach Pat Lam’s backside, on the way out of the Blues’ front office for the last time.” Conference prediction: 3rd
- TVNZ: “As ever, the magic ingredient for the Chiefs will be consistency: if they can string a series of good performances together, and win all their home games, a semi-final spot is a possibility.”
Conference prediction: 4th; Overall prediction: 10th
- The Roar: “Watch out for Scott Waldrom as a player to lift his profile. He is a solid contributor and has been for a while but could be ready to make the next step to the top of his game this year. Also, Tana Umaga is back in southern hemisphere rugby this year. Is he past it or going to become a solid mid-field presence in a team known for fluctuation?” Conference prediction: 4th
- TVNZ: “Last year, a final round capitulation in Sydney cost them a semi-final spot but if Cruden fires they’ll fancy their chances of going one better this time around.”
Conference prediction: 2nd; Overall prediction: 5th
- The Roar: “The boys from windy Wellington quite simply are capable of anything if they can get their act together – and get the required luck with injuries. If these guys can make the finals series then look out. ” Conference prediction: 2nd
- TVNZ: “Carter, Reid and McCaw (when fit) should lead the Crusaders to their eighth Super Rugby title.”
Conference prediction: 1st; Overall prediction: 1st
- The Roar: “The Crusader juggernaut keeps rolling along, and with the likes of the Franks brothers up front, Chris Jack returning, Kieren Read, the elusive Corey Flynn, along with Carter, McCaw and company, the Canterbury team is again a class act. This fine rugby organisation only experiences two types of Super Rugby season – very good and great. So the real question is: which one will it be for the Crusaders in 2011?” Conference prediction: 1st
- TVNZ: “The Conference system should suit some teams but not the Highlanders, they lost to all four New Zealand teams last season.”
Conference prediction: 5th; Overall prediction: 13th
- The Roar: “This year isn’t going to be the Highlanders year, but there are building blocks to make into solid foundations. The rugby world is used to watching them lose, but I don’t think it will be that way forever. If they could find a few larger than life players and manage to keep them in their squad for a few years, a losing 2011 could quickly become a distant memory.” Conference prediction: 5th
- TVNZ: “Should top the Australian conference and are an outside chance for the titles if they can hold their composure through the playoffs.”
Conference prediction: 1st; Overall prediction: 3rd
- The Roar: “The Waratahs, the perennial under-achievers, have arguably the best playing roster in Australia, but they have had that before. This team should be the first Super Rugby champions and will probably be in first place in the Australian conference. The problem that I see, however, is their captain … Phil Waugh is one of the toughest players I have seen. I am not doubting his courage, tenacity or playing ability, however he is not the leader to win the tournament. ” Conference prediction: 1st
- TVNZ: “Despite their attacking flair, the lack of a quality forward pack could hurt the Queenslanders. Don’t be surprised to see them miss the playoffs for a 10th season in a row – but only just.”
Conference prediction: 2nd; Overall prediction: 7th
- The Roar: “This team is looking good. They remind me of the Brumbies teams of the 2000 and 2004 vintage. Good forwards, world-class backs and the confidence to back themselves.” Conference prediction: 2nd
- TVNZ: “They are still a strong enough side to be considered contenders to top their conference, but are more likely to end up third best in that race.”
Conference prediction: 3rd; Overall prediction: 9th
- The Roar: “As much as it pains me to admit it, I can’t see this team doing any better than the last few seasons… I think they will be finishing with the Force and may even compete for the wooden spoon in the Australian conference.” Conference prediction: 4th
- TVNZ: “The Force shouldn’t lose their conference thanks to the arrival of the Rebels, but don’t hold out too much hope of a playoff appearance.” Conference prediction: 4th; Overall prediction: 12th
- The Roar: “Continually cruelled by a shortage of depth in playing roster, this year I fear will be more of the same. They have some quality players in the starting team, and if all fit can threaten any team in the competition… Unfortunately though, I fell they may be holding up the Australian conference table.” Conference prediction: 5th
- TVNZ: “It would be a big ask to expect results from the franchise’s first season. If they manage to stay off the bottom of the ladder and upset a couple of big name sides, the campaign would be viewed as a success.” Conference prediction: 5th; Overall prediction: 14th
- The Roar: “They have a tonne of experience led by one of the hardest running players in Mortlock and some outstanding talent” Conference prediction: 3rd
- TVNZ: “The Cheetah will harbour real hopes of making the playoffs for the very first time but it may be one season too soon.” Conference prediction: 4th; Overall prediction: 11th
- The Roar: “Touring schedule is actually fairly linear for a change with Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Dunedin in the mix. Mid season bye will also help but lets be honest there wont be a game, bar the Lions at home, where they might scale the heights of being favourites. They have a good set piece pack but will find themselves behind the gain line and out of ideas and out of discipline against teams with solid forwards.” Conference prediction: 5th
- TVNZ: “Expect improvements and possibly even a win or two but these pussy cats will do well to avoid the wooden spoon.” Conference prediction: 5th; Overall prediction: 15th
- The Roar: “They play the Brumbies, Tahs, Highlanders and Hurricanes away in a bit of a disjointed tour through the last half of the season. They will need to be off to a flyer before this, in order to have the confidence and momentum required. I think this year will be one season too soon for their young squad. They will, however, ruin a few other teams chances along the way.” Conference prediction: 4th
- TVNZ: “The Stormers start with their first 10 matches in South Africa and with momentum behind them will be hard to stop.” Conference prediction: 2nd; Overall prediction: 4th
- The Roar: “The key this year will be dominating the local conferences and collecting points away. The Stormers I feel can do the latter but I predict the local conference will be hotly contested and the Stormers probably missing out to another coastal outfit. They should garner points on the road though with a fairly kind tour (if there is such a thing) Chiefs, Blues, Brumbies and Rebels.”Conference prediction: 3rd
- TVNZ: “Almost impossible to beat at home but the Bulls need to evolve. The kick-chase game they favour is going out of fashion – fast – and may be exposed against the multi-skilled New Zealand teams.” Conference prediction: 1st; Overall prediction: 2nd
- The Roar: “Fortress Loftus. It may be a dynasty but the emperor/s are aging. I expect them to still win their home games and this will see them through to the finals but unless the new blou bloeds stepup to take the load off the incumbents then the Bulls could struggle through a tough tour to the Canes, Saders, Reds and Force. They will need every point they can get for that all important home advantage but I feel they will miss out. ” Conference prediction: 2nd
- TVNZ: “It’s all about Lambie. If he can step up without the guidance of Rory Kockott and Ruan Pienaar, the Sharks could go deep into the playoffs.” Conference prediction: 3rd; Overall prediction: 6th
- The Roar: “Unless a major injury crisis kicks in then I cant see the Sharks dropping early games like last season. Domestically, they are very strong and have the wood over the other leading candidates the Stormers and to a lesser degree the Bulls. They also tour well, but will need results from their early season jaunt to the Force, Rebels, Chiefs and Crusaders.” Conference prediction: 1st
Round 1 Betting
Hurricanes vs Highlanders
The Highlanders suffered three losses to the other NZ teams pre-season, however they were competitive in every game. They have a new coach and 14 new players, which makes their performance this season hard to predict. Having said that, they are a very inexperienced side, especially in the backs, so I don’t see them pushing for a playoff spot. The Hurricanes will also feature a number of new signings, but their lethal backline should prove the difference between the two sides. I back the Hurricanes to win by 1-12 points.
Rebels vs Waratahs
The Waratahs will be keen to start the Rebels’ first season off on the wrong foot with an away victory here. History doesn’t favour the new sides in this competition, and with a virtually full strength Waratahs line up available, I back the Waratahs to win.
Blues vs Crusaders
This is a great fixture given the decorated histories the two sides have in this competition. As is typically the case, the Crusaders XV features 10 past or present All Blacks, including Dan Carter. However, Richie McCaw, Sonny Bill Williams and Zac Guildford won’t be playing. It’s hard to pick a winner here, so I would back both teams to win by 1-12.
Brumbies vs Chiefs
Matt Giteau will captain a Brumbies side against a dynamic Chiefs backline that includes Tana Umaga. The Chiefs will be hurt by the absence of Lauaki and I think the bookmakers have the odds spot on here. Most pundits are backing the Brumbies to win, but I find first round games notoriously difficult to predict. My inclination is to stay on the sideline, but if I had to bet, I would back the Brumbies to win by 1-12.
Sharks vs Cheetahs
The Sharks are heavy favourites here. The Cheetahs are sweating on the fitness of their captain Juan Smith, while JP Pieterson is under an injury cloud for the Sharks. The Sharks have a good home form, and if Juan Smith doesn’t play, I would back the Sharks to win by 13+.
Lions vs Bulls
This fixture sees last year’s winners play the wooden spoon recipients in what is expected to be a very one sided contest, despite the fact that the Lions are at home. To compound the Lions’ woes, the Bulls line up will feature Zane Kirchner and Victor Matfield, who are both back from injury. I back the Bulls to win by 13+.
Reds vs Force
The Reds looked vastly improved last year, and I expect their improvement to continue this year. The Reds XV features 12 Wallabies, with 10 due to start against the Force. The Force do have some quality players, but their squad lacks depth, which will hurt them as the season goes on. I expect the Reds to come out on top here, and would back them in a head to head bet.