With the Super Rugby season kicking off this Friday, below is a season preview along with tips for round 1. Fantasy Rugby fans should note that the Fox Sports Super Rugby Fantasy deadline is Friday, 5:20 PM AEDT.
Premiership Winner Market
Conference Winner Markets
The conference system has arguably benefited the Red and Waratahs most, because one could make the case that Australia is the weakest conference and you play each team in your conference twice. The Force, Brumbies and Rebels finished 12th, 13th and 15th, respectively, last season.
Below are some notes and comments on each team from domestic and international perspectives. Some team forms are easier to assess than others, because some played Super Rugby opponents pre-season, while others played lower level domestic teams and international sides. There’s been a substantial amount of player turnover this year, which means it will take a few rounds of rugby to really establish where everyone’s at.
- Last year: finished 2nd in the NZ conference and 4th in the overall standings with a 10-1-5 record. Beat the Waratahs in the qualifying finals, then lost to the Reds in the semifinals.
- Pre-season: 3-0-0 record. Feb 4th: Blues 36-22 Hurricanes, Feb 11th: Rebels 21-31 Blues, Feb 17th: Blues 29-12 Highlanders
- Squad: Gareth Anscombe, Anthony Boric, Daniel Braid, Luke Braid, Charlie Faumuina, Michael Hobbs, Jerome Kaino, Chris Lowery, Tevita Mailau, Pauliasi Manu, Alby Mathewson, Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu, Bradley Mika, George Moala, Liaki Moli, Lachie Munro, Ma’a Nonu, Filo Paulo, David Raikuna, Rene Ranger, Peter Saili, Benson Stanley, Sherwin Stowers, Angus Ta’avao, Isaia Toeava, Piri Weepu, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Rudi Wulf.
- Squad changes:
- In: Ma’a Nonu, Rudi Wulf, Piri Weepu, Michael Hobbs, Pauliasi Manu, Angus Ta’avao, Gareth Anscombe, George Moala, David Raikuna.
- Out: John Afoa, Stephen Brett, Luke McAlister, Winston Stanley, Joe Rokocoko, Jared Payne, Chris Smylie, James King, Kurtis Haiu, Mathew Luamanu.
- Fox Sports: “Guilty of losing games they should have won and so on, but with a pack boasting plenty of All Blacks and a classy backline, they should emulate last year’s effort and maybe even go on to contest the final.” Conference prediction: 2nd.
- Super XV: Prediction “The Blues should definitely emulate their 2011 performance and go on to make the play-offs. They will certainly rival the Crusaders for top spot in the New Zealand conference.”
- TVNZ verdict: “The Blues haven’t had a world class first-five since Carlos Spencer and until they either find or produce one, it’s hard to see them returning to the winners’ circle. There or thereabouts again.” Conference prediction: 2nd, Overall prediction: 5th.
- Last year: finished 5th in the NZ conference and 10th in the overall standings with a 6-1-9 record.
- Pre-season: 2-0-1 record. Feb 3rd: Rebels 0-36 Chiefs, Feb 11th: Highlanders 36-38 Chiefs, Feb 17th: Chiefs 19-23 Hurricanes
- Squad: Ben Afeaki, Alex Bradley, Sam Cane, Craig Clarke, Shane Cleaver, Aaron Cruden, Hikawera Elliot, Michael Fitzgerald, Romana Graham, Andrew Horrell, Richard Kahui, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tanerau Latimer, Fritz Lee, Brendon Leonard, Lelia Masaga, Liam Messam, Tim Nanai-Williams, Maritino Nemani, Declan O’Donnell, Brodie Retallick, Robbie Robinson, Mahonri Schwalger, Toby Smith, Ben Tameifuna, Sona Taumalolo, Kane Thompson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Scott Waldrom, Jackson Willison, Sonny Bill Williams, Piers Francis, Josh Hohneck, Rory Grice, Ronald Raaymakers, Philip Burleigh, Augustine Pulu, Marcel Cummings-Toones.
- Squad changes:
- In: Alex Bradley, Shane Cleaver, Aaron Cruden, Mike Fitzgerald, Andrew Horrell, Maritino Nemani, Declan O’Donnell, Brodie Retallick, Robbie Robinson, Mahonri Schwalger, Ben Tameifuna, Kane Thompson, Aseli Tikoirotuma, Sonny Bill Williams.
- Out: Colin Bourke, Mike Delany, Aled de Malmanche, Stephen Donald, Ben May, Taniela Moa, Mils Muliaina, Daniel Perrin, Culum Retallick, Isaac Ross, Stephen Setephano, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dwayne Sweeney, Hayden Triggs, Save Tokula, Taiasina Tuifua, Tana Umaga, Matt Vant Leven, Nick White.
- Fox Sports: “With a new coach in Dave Rennie on board for 2012, and with the addition of All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams and Aaron Cruden, Chiefs fans have cause for optimism. Their backline looks to be among the strongest in the competition, and the backrow isn’t short on talent, either. If their tight five can find some consistency at set piece, and the likes of Richard Kahui and Lelia Masaga can stay injury free out wide, Rennie’s first season in charge might be one to remember.” Conference prediction: 3rd.
- TVNZ verdict: “A new coach and a new first five should reinvigorate the Chiefs. Three derby games against playoff contenders – the Highlanders, Blues and Crusaders – will set the tone for their season: emerge unscathed and they’re on the way to a top half finish.” Conference prediction: 4th, Overall prediction: 8th.
- Last year: finished 4th in the NZ conference and 9th in the overall standings with a 5-2-9 record.
- Pre-season: 1-0-2 record. Feb 4th: Blues 36-22 Hurricanes, Feb 11th: Hurricanes 8-19 Crusaders, Feb 17th: Chiefs 19-23 Hurricanes
- Squad: Beauden Barrett, Tim Bateman, Michael Bent, James Broadhurst, Richard Buckman, Dane Coles, Chris Eaton, Jason Eaton, Reggie Goodes, David Hall, Jayden Hayward, Cory Jane, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Jack Lam, Alapati Leiua, Faifili Levave, Karl Lowe, Motu Matu’u, Ben May, Tristan Moran, Charlie Ngatai, TJ Perenara, Tusi Pisi, Mark Reddish, Julian Savea, Brad Shields, Conrad Smith, Chris Smylie, Andre Taylor, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, Victor Vito.
- Squad changes:
- In: Tim Bateman, Reggie Goodes, David Hall, Motu Matu’u, Ben May, Tristan Moran, TJ Perenara, Tusi Pisi, Brad Shields, Chris Smylie, Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen.
- Out: Laurence Corlett, Aaron Cruden, Jacob Ellison, Bryn Evans, Hosea Gear, Andrew Hore, Tyson Keats, Serge Lilo, Ma’a Nonu, Anthony Perenise, John Schwalger, Rodney So’oialo, Neemia Tialata, Piri Weepu.
- Fox Sports: “Player unrest led to the off-season departures of All Blacks Ma’a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Andrew Hore, Aaron Cruden and Hosea Gear, meaning this year’s Hurricanes will carry a distinctive new look… They finish with three tough games against the Waratahs, Crusaders and Chiefs and only one of them is in Wellington. I believe they’ll fail to live up to their name in this rebuilding year, and run out of puff late in the season.” Conference prediction: 5th.
- Super XV: Prediction “Bottom half of the table.”
- TVNZ verdict: “Impossible to know how the Canes will fare this season. They will either soar or tank. On paper, they might struggle, but if Hammett can install his successful Crusaders ethos in a young and willing team they may cause a few surprises. They probably need another year to mount a serious title challenge.” Conference prediction: 5th, Overall prediction: 11th.
- Last year: finished 1st in the NZ conference and 3rd in the overall standings with a 11-1-4 record. Lost to the reds 13-18 in the grand final.
- Pre-season: 3-0-0 record. 3rd Feb: Crusaders 47-19 Highlanders, 11th Feb: Crusaders 19-8 Hurricanes, 18th Feb: Rebels 14-19 Crusaders
- Squad: Nicholas Barrett, Tyler Bleyendaal, Daniel Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Tom Donnelly, Andy Ellis, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Robbie Fruean, Ben Funnell, Zac Guildford, Willi Heinz, Ross Kennedy, Quentin MacDonald, Sean Maitland, Tom Marshall, Richie McCaw, Patrick Osborne, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Tom Taylor, Matt Todd, Joe Wheeler, Adam Whitelock, George Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock.
- Squad changes:
- In: Tom Donnelly, Ben Funnell, Ross Kennedy, Patrick Osborne, Tom Taylor, Luke Whitelock.
- Out: Matt Berquist, Kahn Fotuali’i, David Hall, Chris Jack, Andrew Olorenshaw, Jonathan Poff, Brad Thorn, Sonny Bill Williams.
- Fox Sports: “The Crusaders have always been and always will be title contenders, but they just don’t seem to have the look of a championship-winning team this year.” Conference prediction: 1st.
- Super XV: Prediction “The play-offs at the very least.”
- TVNZ verdict: “Of all the New Zealand teams, the Crusaders are most likely to suffer a post-World Cup hangover but they’ve shown in previous years the absence of key players in early rounds hasn’t been enough to stall their season. Expect another charge toward the final this year where they they will be hoping to go one better.” Conference prediction: 1st, Overall prediction: 1st.
- Last year: finished 3rd in the NZ conference and 8th in the overall standings with an 8-0-8 record.
- Pre-season: 0-0-3 record. Feb 3rd: Crusaders 47-19 Highlanders, Feb 11th: Highlanders 36-38 Chiefs, Feb 17th: Blues 29-12 Highlanders
- Squad: Aaron Smith, Adam Thomson, Andrew hore, Ben Smith, Bronson Murray, Calum Retallick, Chris King, Chris Noakes, Colin Slade, Doug Tietjens, Elliot Dixon, Hosea Gear, James Haskell, Jamie Macintosh, Jared Hoeata, Jason Rutledge, Jimmy Cowan, John Hardie, Josh Bekuis, Kade Poki, Kendrick Lynn, Kurt Baker, Lima Sopoaga, Ma’afau Fia Smith, Nasi Manu, Nick Crosswell, Shaun Treeby, Siale Piutau, Tamati Ellison, Telusa Veainu.
- Squad changes:
- In: Tamati Ellison, Ma’afu Fia, Hosea Gear, James Haskell, Andrew Hore, Chris Noakes, Culum Retallick, Doug Tietjens.
- Out: Ben Atiga, Halani Aulika, Tony Brown, Tom Donnelly, Brayden Mitchell, James Paterson, Robbie Robinson, Sean Romans, Matt Saunders, Mahonri Schwalger, Alando Soakai, David Te Moana, Joe Tuineau.
- Fox Sports: “With only a few new additions to their squad, most-notably England backrower James Haskell and All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore, the Highlanders will field a relatively familiar side in 2012. Coach Jamie Joseph made significant strides in his first season in charge and with fewer injuries this time around, the Highlanders will be looking to go one better than last year and make the play-offs… The draw hasn’t been all that kind to them, especially the back end. They face the Bulls, Blues, Crusaders, Chiefs and Queensland Reds in the run to the play-offs, before a bye in the final week of the regular season.” Conference prediction: 4th.
- TVNZ verdict: “Coach Jamie Joseph has already acknowledged that how his players deal with the very unfamiliar pressure of expectation will determine their fate this year. Playmaker Colin Slade could well take the Highlanders beyond the round robin for the first time in a decade, provided he stays injury free.” Conference prediction: 3rd, Overall prediction: 6th.
- Last year: finished 2nd in the Australian conference and 5th in the overall standings with a 10-0-6 record. Lost to the Blues in the qualifying finals.
- Pre-season: 2-0-0 record. Feb 10th: Waratahs 83-5 Samoa, Feb 17th: Waratahs 52-0 Tonga
- Squad: Chris Alcock, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Tom Carter, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Rocky Elsom, Damien Fitzpatrick, Bernard Foley, Daniel Halangahu, Rob Horne, Brackin Karauria-Henry, Sekope Kepu, Tom Kingston, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbin, Drew Mitchell, Dean Mumm, Atieli Pakalani, Wycliff Palu, Greg Peterson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sarel Pretorius, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Sitaleki Timani, Lachie Turner, John Ulugia, Dan Vickerman.
- Squad changes:
- In: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rocky Elsom, Bernard Foley, Greg Peterson, Sarel Pretorius, Dan Vickerman.
- Out: Sosene Anesi, Al Baxter, Luke Burgess, Ryan Cross, Josh Holmes, Cam Jowitt, Locky McCaffrey, Ben Mowen, Pat O’Connor, Phil Waugh.
- Fox Sports: “It’s the same-old story every year – they fly out of the gates with a couple of big wins then, somehow, drop a game they’re at shorter odds to win than the pride of the Victorian beluga industry. So, despite introducing a former Wallabies hooker as coach and a former Wallabies skipper as captain, I’m expecting very little will change at Moore Park.” Conference prediction: 2nd.
- Super XV: Prediction “Almost certain to make the play-offs and could well top the Australian conference.”
- TVNZ verdict: “They are easily the best chance to knock the Reds off their perch in the Australian conference, however they have already been affected by injury with Elsom and Mitchell both set for spells on the sideline.” Conference prediction: 2nd, Overall prediction: 7th.
- Last year: the defending champions finished 1st in the Australian conference and 1st in the overall standings with a 13-0-3 record. They beat the Crusaders 18-13 in the grand final.
- Pre-season: 2-0-0 record. Feb 11th: Reds 27-20 Brumbies, Feb 16th: Western Force 10-40 Reds
- Squad: Quade Cooper, Ben Daley, Rod Davies, Anthony Fainga’a, Saia Fainga’a, Will Genia, Liam Gill, James Hanson, Michael Harris, Scott Higginbotham, Greg Holmes, James Horwill, Van Humphries, Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, David McDuling, Luke Morahan, Ed Quirk, Beau Robinson, Radike Samo, Jake Schatz, Guy Shepherdson, Dom Shipperley, Rob Simmons, Chris Feauai-Sautia, James Slipper, Ben Tapuai, Aidan Toua, Adam Wallace-Harrison.
- Squad changes:
- In: Chris Feauai-Sautia, David McDuling.
- Out: Will Chambers, Leroy Houston, Kimani Sitauti, Lei Tomiki.
- Fox Sports: “They’ve managed to hold onto most of last year’s squad and have added a couple of very talented youngsters. More than half of the playing roster are Wallabies, and I reckon they can help the Reds go back to back.” Conference prediction: 1st.
- Super XV: Prediction “The Reds should definitely make the play-offs and will be hoping to top the Australian conference.”
- TVNZ verdict: “Lock this side in as playoff certainties. Whether they can become the first Australian side to win back-to-back titles remains to be seen, but they’re bound to be in the running when we get to the business end of the season.” Conference prediction: 1st, Overall prediction: 2nd.
- Last year: finished 4th in the Australian conference and 13th in the overall standings with a 4-1-11 record.
- Pre-season: 1-0-1 record. Feb 4th: Brumbies 25-0 Western Force, Feb 11th: Reds 27-20 Brumbies
- Squad: Fotu Auelua, Ben Alexander, Sam Carter, Tom Cox, Robbie Coleman, Ben Hand, Cam Crawford, Ruaidhri Murphy, Michael Hooper, Peter Kimlin, Christian Lealiifano, Pat McCabe, Stephen Moore, Dan Plamer, Jono Owen, Siliva Siliva, Ben Mowen, Jesse Mogg, Andrew Smith, Henry Speight, Matt Toomua, Ita Vaea, Ian Prior, Joseph Tomane, Kimani Sitauti, Tevita Kuridrani, Anthony Hegarty, Leon Power, Dylan Sigg, Scott Sio, Zack Holmes, Scott Fardy, Colby Faingaa, Nic White, Jerry Yanuyanutawa.
- Squad changes:
- In: Fotu Auelua, Tom Cox, Scott Fardy, Zack Holmes, Tevita Kuridrani, Ruaidhri Murphy, Jesse Mogg, Ben Mowen, Leon Power, Siliva Siliva, Scott Sio, Joseph Tomane.
- Out: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Mitchell Chapman, Mark Chisholm, Huia Edmonds, Rocky Elsom, Francis Fainifo, Matt Giteau, Stephen Hoiles, Salesi Ma’afu, Patrick Phibbs, Julian Salvi, Tyrone Smith, Ed Stubbs, Josh Valentine.
- Fox Sports: “They might be the most successful Aussie team in the 16 years of professional Super Rugby, but the Brumbies have a mountain to climb this year if they’re to reach the play-offs for the first time since 2004.” Conference prediction: 5th.
- TVNZ verdict: “2012 should be a season too soon for the men from the Australian capital, but they should improve as the year goes on and White’s influence comes into play.” Conference prediction: 5th, Overall prediction: 14th.
Western Force (AUS)
- Last year: finished 3rd in the Australian conference and 12th in the overall standings with a 5-2-9 record.
- Pre-season: 0-0-2 record. Feb 4th: Brumbies 25-0 Western Force, Feb 16th: Western Force 10-40 Reds
- Squad: Alfie Mafi. Ben McCalman. Ben Seymour. Ben Whittaker. Brett Sheehan. Cameron Shepherd. David Pocock (c). Gene Fairbanks. James Stannard. Jordan Rapana. Justin Turner. Kieran Longbottom. Lachlan McCaffrey. Matt Hodgson. Napolioni Nalaga. Nathan Charles. Nathan Sharpe. Nick Cummins. Patrick Dellit. Pekahou Cowan. Phoenix Battye. Richard Brown. Rory Sidey. Salesi Ma’afu. Sam Wykes. Tetera Faulkner. Toby Lynn. Will Tupou. Willie Ripia. Winston Stanley.
- Squad changes:
- In: Toby Lynn, Salesi Ma’afu, Napolioni Nalaga, Jordan Rapana, Winston Stanley.
- Out: Willie Ripia, David Smith, James O’Connor, Tim Fairbrother, Matt Dunning, Tom Hockings, Tevita Metuisela, Mitch Inman, Jono Jenkins, Mark Swanepoel, Matt Brandon, Brian Sefanaia.
- Fox Sports: “At the time of writing they don’t yet have a fly half (apart from Stannard) to replace Ripia, and this could prove to be their Achilles heel throughout the season.” Conference prediction: 3rd.
- TVNZ verdict: Without a quality playmaker the Force are going to struggle to challenge the top two teams in the Australian conference. They look set to battle the Rebels for third best team in the lucky country.” Conference prediction: 3rd, Overall prediction: 11th.
Melbourne Rebels (AUS)
- Last year: finished 5th in the Australian conference and 15th in the overall standings with a 3-0-13 record.
- Pre-season: 0-0-3 record. Feb 3rd: Rebels 0-36 Chiefs, Feb 11th: Rebels 21-31 Blues, Feb 18th: Rebels 14-19 Crusaders
- Squad: Paul Alo-Emile, Kurtley Beale, Rodney Blake, Adam Byrnes, Alister Campbell, Danny Cipriani, Tom Chamberlain, Tim Davidson, Gareth Delve, Adam Freier, Mark Gerrard, Nic Henderson, James Hilgendorf, Julian Huxley, Mitch Inman, Lloyd Johansson, Luke Jones, James King, Richard Kingi, Michael Lipman, Lachlan Mitchell, Stirling Mortlock, James O’Connor, Nick Phipps, Hugh Pyle, Ged Robinson, Jarrod Saffy, Heath Tessmann, Cooper Vuna, Laurie Weeks.
- Squad changes:
- In: Paul Alo-Emile, Kurtley Beale, Mitch Inman, Lloyd Johannson, James King, James O’Connor.
- Out: Peter Betham, Hoani Macdonald, Sam Cordingley, Kevin O’Neill, Greg Somerville, Luke Rooney, Jp du Plessis, Afusipa Taumoepeau.
- Fox Sports: “A semi-final spot would certainly be a surprise and they’ll need to steal a few victories on the road to hit that jackpot. Sadly, I don’t think they’ll manage that and will therefore finish the season how most people finish a holiday in Vegas – empty-handed.” Conference prediction: 5th.
- Super XV: Prediction “Will avoid a second consecutive wooden spoon finish but will still end in the bottom five.”
- TVNZ verdict: “Expect to see some improvement from the Rebels, but don’t get carried away and pick them to make the playoffs.” Conference prediction: 4th, Overall prediction: 13th.
- Last year: finished 4th in the South African conference and 11th in the overall standings with a 5-0-11 record.
- Pre-season: 2-0-2 record. Jan 31st: Cheetahs 38-7 Griffons, Feb 4th: Stormers 14-22 Cheetahs, Feb 10th: Bulls 33-29 Cheetahs, Feb 11th: Bulls 39-16 Cheetahs
- Squad: Lourens Adriannse, Ryno Barnes, Ryno Benjamin, Heinrich Brussow, Hennie Daniller, Tewis De Bruyn, Robert Ebersohn, Sias Ebersohn, Barry Geel, Johan Goosen, Rocco Jansen, Cameron Jacobs, Ashley Johnson, Pieter Labuschagne, Willie le Roux, Wilmaure Louw, Martin Muller, WP Nel, Dusty Noble, Trever Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Davon Raubenheimer, Juan Smit, Philip Snyman, Adriaan Strauss, Andries Staruss, Francois Uys, Marcel Van der Merwe, Philip Van der Walt, Izak Van der Westhuizen, Piet Van Zyl, walti Vermeulen, Rudi Vogt,Johan Wessels.
- Squad changes:
- In: Johan Goosen, Rocco Jansen, Cameron Jacobs, Pieter Labuschagne, Willie le Roux, Dusty Noble, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Piet van Zyl, Rudi Vogt.
- Out: Skipper Badenhorst, Philip Buger, Kobus Calldo, Leon Karemaker, Pieter Myburg, Jongi Nokwe, Naas Olivier, Sarel Pretorius, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Louis Strydom, Corne Uys, Frans Viljoen, Riaan Viljoen.
- Fox Sports: “2012 is sure to bring new challenges; most-notably how they cope without the departed Sarel Pretorius. While another shock road victory may prove a stretch, teams travelling to Bloemfontein will face a fierce challenge… I loved watching the men from Bloemfontein play their attacking style at times last year, but once again the Australasian road trip will be their Achilles heel.” Conference prediction: 5th.
- Super XV: Prediction “Bottom five.”
- TVNZ verdict: “The Cheetahs were the second best attacking team in Super Rugby last year but if they want to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history they need to add some defensive steel.” Conference prediction: 3rd, Overall prediction: 8th.
- Last year: finished 5th in the South African conference and 14th in the overall standings with a 3-1-12 record.
- Pre-season: 1-0-1 record. Jan 27th: Stormers 28-6 Lions, Feb 14th: Southern Kings 0-88 Lions
- Squad: Jacobie Adriaanse, Michael Bondesio, Martin Bezuidenhout, Patric Cilliers, Ross Cronje, Dylan des Fountain, Stephan Greeff, Cobus Grobbelaar, Alwyn Hollenbach, Butch James, JC Janse van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies, James Kamana, Michael Killian, Jaco Kriel, Doppues la Grange, Bandies Maku, Lionel Mape, Derick Minnie, Whestley Moolman, Waylon Murray, Michael Rhodes, Hendrik Roodt, Joshua strauss, Jaco Taute, CJ van der Linde, Franco can der Merww, Wikus van Heerden, Deon van Rensburg, Warren Whiteley.
- Squad changes:
- In: Ross Cronje, Stephan Greeff, Whestley Moolman, Hendrik Roodt, CJ van der Linde.
- Out: Jannie Boshoff, Renaldo Bothma, David Bulbring, Tonderai Chavhanga, David de Villiers, George Earle, Joubert Engelbrecht, Burton Francis, Ross Geldenhuys, Trevor Hall, Rory Kockott, Edgar Marutlulle, Andre Pretorius, Jano Vermaak.
- Fox Sports: “With a young squad, the bulk of whom clinched the 2011 Currie Cup, Mitchell certainly has enough raw talent to work with. But, with the uncertainty surrounding the franchise’s financial stability and rumours persisting about the introduction of Southern Kings in 2013, off-field issues could once again affect their on-field performance… No disrespect to aging Springboks Butch James and CJ van der Linde, but there are an acute lack of international stars and playmakers in the squad, and it will take another two or more seasons for the talented youngsters to dominate.” Conference prediction: 4th.
- TVNZ verdict: “The Lions could very well win the most open Conference in Super Rugby but a betting man would say it’s a season too soon.” Conference prediction: 5th, Overall prediction: 14th.
- Last year: finished 1st in the South African conference and 2nd in the overall standings with a 12-0-4 record. Given a bye in the qualifying finals, then lost at home to the Crusaders in the semi-finals.
- Pre-season: 3-0-1 record. Jan 21st: Boland 14-45 Stormers, Jan 27th: Stormers 28-6 Lions, Feb 4th: Stormers 14-22 Cheetahs, Feb 11th: Stormers 38-13 Southern Kings
- Squad: Gio Aplon, Andries Bekker, Wicus Blaauw, Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr, Deon Carstens, Demetri Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, JP du Plessis, Dewaldt Duvenage, Rynhardt Elstadt, Eben Etzebeth, Nick Fenton-Wells, Deon Fourie, Peter Grant, Nic Groom, Bryan Habana, Brok Harris, Yaya Hartzenberg, Adrian Jacobs, Reuben Johannes, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Nick Koster, Tiaan Liebenberg, Hilton Lobberts, Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni, Joe Pietersen, Danie Poolman, Quinn Roux, Louis Schreuder, De Kock Steenkamp, Gary van Aswegen, Gerhard van den Heever, Duane Vermeulen.
- Squad changes:
- In: Nizaam Caar, Deon Carstens, Demetri Catrakilis, JP du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Yaya Hartzenberg, Adrian Jacobs, Hilton Lobberts, Joe Pietersen, Gerhard van den Heever.
- Out: Schalk Brits, Lionel Cronje, JJ Engelbrecht, Adriaan Fondse, Jaque Fourie, Conrad Jantjes, Ricky Januarie, JC Kritzinger, Francois Louw, Piter Louw, Ethienne Reynecke, Earl Rose, Johaan Sadie, Anton van Zyl, Tim Whitehead.
- Fox Sports: “Expect Schalk Burger and his team to make a late charge, and while they’ve lost a strike weapon in Springbok Jaque Fourie, they’ve gained flying winger Gerhard van den Heever from the Bulls. They’ve been in the semis the last two years and they should be there again in 2012.” Conference prediction: 1st.
- TVNZ verdict: “This could easily be the year of the Stormers but a tough road trip which sees them visit the Highlanders, Crusaders, Reds and Force in successive weeks, may see them struggling to win their Conference.” Conference prediction: 2nd, Overall prediction: 4th.
- Last year: finished 3rd in the South African conference and 7th in the overall standings with a 10-0-6 record.
- Pre-season: 3-0-0 record. Feb 4th: Bulls 16-12 Southern Kings, Feb 10th: Bulls 33-29 Cheetahs, Feb 11th: Bulls 39-16 Cheetahs
- Squad: Daniel Adongo, Bjorn Basson, Arno Botha, Lionel Cronje, Rossouw de Klerk, JJ Engelbrecht, Louis Fouche, Dean Greyling, Cornell Hess, Francois Hougaard, Zane Kirchner, Frik Kirsten, Juandre Kruger, Werner Kruger, Sampie Mastriet, Bongi Mbonambi, Akona Ndungane, Wynand Olivier, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Johann Sadie, Ruan Snyman, Pierre Spies, CJ Stander, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Deon Stegmann, Dawie Steyn, Morne Steyn, Flip van der Merwe, Francois Venter, Jano Vermaak, Jurgern Visser, Willie Wepener.
- Squad changes:
- In: Daniel Adongo, Ulrich Beyers, Clayton Blommetjies, Arno Botha, Robbie Coetzee, Jean Cook, Lionel Cronje, JJ Engelbrecht, Louis Fouche, Cornell Hess, Adri Jacobs, LB Lusaseni, Sampie Mastriet, Bongi Mbonambi, Morne Mellett, Franco Mostert, Jacques Potgieter, Jono Ross, Johann Sadie, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Dawie Steyn, Warwick Tecklenburg, Francois Venter, Jano Vermaak, Jurgen Visser, Willie Wepener.
- Out: Bakkies Botha, Gary Botha, Francois Brummer, Stephen Dippenaar, Fourie du Preez, Dustin Kinka, Derick Kuun, Victor Matfield, Jaco Pretorius, Danie Russouw, Gurthro Steenkamp, Gerhard van den Heever, Jaco van der Westhuyzen, Stefan Watermeyer.
- Fox Sports: “You get the feeling the Bulls might be entering somewhat of a rebuilding phase after missing out on the semi-finals last season. The departure of skipper Victor Matfield and fellow legends Bakkies Botha, Fourie du Preez, Danie Russouw and Gurthro Steenkamp leaves the three-time champions low on experience.” Conference prediction: 3rd.
- TVNZ verdict: “The Bulls start with their first 10 matches in Africa and if they are labouring any hopes of making the post season, they will need to get off to a flyer.” Conference prediction: 4th, Overall prediction: 10th.
- Last year: finished 2nd in the South African conference and 6th in the overall standings with a 10-1-5 record. Lost to the Crusaders in the qualifying finals.
- Pre-season: 2-0-0 record. Feb 10th: Sharks 62-0 Boland, Feb 17th: Sharks 38-13 Kings
- Squad: Willem Alberts, Meyer Bosman, Jacques Botes, Anton Bresler, Craig Burden, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Alistair Hargreaves, Wiehahn Herbst, Conrad Hoffmann, Marius Joubert, Ryan Kankowski, Patrick Lambie, Louis Ludik, Jandre Marais, Charl Mcleod, Frederic Michalak, Tendai Mtawarira, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Ross Skeate, Eugene van Staden, Riaan Viljoen, Tim Whitehead.
- Squad changes:
- In: Marius Joubert, Riaan Viljoen, Tim Whitehead.
- Out: Ross Cronje, Adrian Jacobs Gerhard Mostert, John Smit, Riaan Swanepoel, Steven Sykes, Stefan Terblanche, Eugene van Staden.
- Fox Sports: “The 2012 version of the Sharks will have a pretty familiar look to the side that reached the 2011 play-offs. They’ve lost their way on occasions in recent years and failed to live up to their potential.” Conference prediction: 2nd.
- Super XV: Prediction “The Sharks should make the play-offs and will definitely compete to top the South African conference.”
- TVNZ verdict: “Like the Stormers, the Sharks tend to run out puff when the stakes are at their highest.” Conference prediction: 1st, Overall prediction: 3rd.
Round 1 Betting
Luxbet is offering the following promotion in the first round: “Back a team in the Head to Head market in any Super Rugby Match in Round 1 (Super Rugby Fixtures 24th-26th February) and if your selected team score 3 tries, and go on to lose the match, we’ll give you a Bonus Bet equal to your stake up to $100. (Applicable to your 1st bet on each match only).” This may come in handy for a fixture like the Chiefs v Highlanders. The preseason result between the two sides was Highlanders 36-38 Chiefs.
Sportsbet also have a promotion to mark the start of the season: “Place a bet on Head to Head Market in the Waratahs vs Reds match. If your team is leading at half time but lose the match, you’ll get your cash back. The Refund offer will equal the value of the Members bet stake to a maximum refund of $100 cash.” Learn more..
Blues v Crusaders
5:35 PM AEDT
The Blues won the opening round fixture 24–22 against the Crusaders last year, and this one should be another tight contest. The Crusaders, it must be said, don’t look as strong on paper as they did last year. Apart from the departing Chris Jack, Brad Thorn and Sonny Bill Williams, the Crusaders will also start the season without Richie McCaw and Dan Carter due to injury. Ma’a Nonu has finished his contractual obligations in Japan and may appear for the Blues as a replacement.
Tip: Blues (1-12)
TVNZ Prediction: Blues by 8
Brumbies v Force
7:40 PM AEDT
The Brumbies are in a rebuilding phase after losing so many players last year. Most pundits are picking them to come last in the Australian conference, however their pre-season form suggests they may be a bit more competitive than that.
Tip: Brumbies (1-12)
TVNZ Prediction: Force by 6
Bulls v Sharks
4:10 AM AEDT
The Bulls have lost a number of senior players during the off-season. The Sharks have a quality squad and their season was impacted by a harsh travel schedule last year. They will back themselves to win here.
Tip: Sharks (1-12)
TVNZ Prediction: Sharks by 3
Chiefs v Highlanders
5:35 PM AEDT
The Chiefs picked up Aaron Cruden (Hurricanes) and Sonny Bill Williams (Crusaders) during the off-season, and they will have aspirations of finishing at least third in the NZ conference. The Highlanders play simple, but effective rugby, and can be hard to break down at times. The Chiefs beat the Highlanders 38-36 pre-season, so I’ll pick the Chiefs again here.
Tip: Chiefs (1-12)
TVNZ Prediction: Chiefs by 14
Waratahs v Reds
7:40 PM AEDT
The Waratahs are the favourites to win this one, however they do have injury concerns. Drew Mitchell’s injury and the loss of the Waratahs other winger Lachie Turner is expected to force new Waratahs coach into playing youngsters Tom Kingston and Brackin Karauria-Henry against the Reds duo of Digby Ioane and Rod Davies. The Reds will be without Quade Cooper for the first half of the season.
Tip: Reds (1-12)
TVNZ Prediction: Waratahs by 2
Stormers v Hurricanes
2:05 AM AEDT
The Hurricanes have had a major clear out over the off-season, so it will be a year of rebuilding for them. The Stormers have a fantastic defence, and if they can score more points this year they could dominate the competition. I don’t fancy the Hurricanes’ chances in Cape Town, but I don’t expect them to get blown away.
Tip: Stormers (1-12)
TVNZ Prediction: Stormers by 16
Lions v Cheetahs
4:10 AM AEDT
The Lions will be hoping their winning Currie Cup form continues into the Super Rugby competition. The Cheetahs have been a handful for the Stormers and Bulls pre-season, so this could be a tight one.
Tip: Lions (1-12)
TVNZ Prediction: Lions by 10