Super Rugby – 2014 Season Preview – New Zealand Conference

The following is a preview of the New Zealand Conference for the 2014 Super Rugby season.

Futures Market Tip

The Blues finished the 2013 season with six consecutive losses. They have shown uninspiring pre-season form and with the Crusaders and Chiefs looking strong, I would initially lay the Blues to make the finals at 2.70 with Betfair (i.e. bet that the Blues won’t make the finals). I expect them to improve as Benji Marshall adjusts to Union, so you may want to hedge that bet later on in the season if the back odds exceed 2.70. I would also lay the Hurricanes (3.75) and Highlanders (8.20). If you’re looking at the conference winner market I would back both the Crusaders (2.50) and Chiefs (2.50). If I had to choose only one of those two sides I would take the Chiefs given Carter’s lengthy absence this season.

Below are team-by-team previews for 2014. These details will be updated as more information becomes available.

Note: all new and departed players lists are sourced from Wikipedia.


  • Futures Market Odds:
  • 2012 Season: 5th in the New Zealand conference, 12th overall
  • 2013 Season: 3rd in the New Zealand conference, 10th overall
  • New Players: Tony Woodcock (Highlanders), Tom Donnelly (Crusaders), Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), Jerome Kaino (Japan), Pita Ahki (North Harbour), Ma’a Nonu (Highlanders), Benji Marshall (NRL – Wests Tigers), Hayden Triggs (Japan)
  • Departed Players: Tim Perry (Crusaders), Quentin MacDonald (released), Anthony Boric (Japan), Ronald Raaymakers (released), Ali Williams (France), Culum Retallick (injured), Rene Ranger (France), Waisake Naholo (NZ Sevens), Marty McKenzie (NZ Sevens)
  • Current Squad (announced Oct 29):
    Forwards : Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu , James Parsons , Charlie Faumuina , Sam Prattley , Angus Ta’avao , Ofa Tu’ungafasi ,Tony Woodcock , Tom Donnelly , Liaki Moli , Culum Retallick , Hayden Triggs , Patrick Tuipulotu , Kane Barrett , Luke Braid , Jerome Kaino , Steven Luatua , Brendon O’Connor , Peter Saili
    Backs : Jamison Gibson-Park , Bryn Hall , Piri Weepu, Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes , Pita Ahki , Ma’a Nonu , Francis Saili , Jackson Willison , Frank Halai , Benji Marshall ,George Moala , Charles Piutau , Lolagi Visinia
    Wider Training Group Joe Edwards , Simon Hickey , Tevita Li , Tom Murday , Albert Nikoro
  • Injury Concerns: lock Culum Retallick is out for six months after rupturing his ACL in December, Ma’a Nonu will miss the opening few rounds due to an ankle injury. Veterans Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock are being rested for the first round.
  • Comments: much like the Waratahs in Australia, the Blues are regarded as New Zealand’s fastest improving side after under-performing in recent years. They have every reason to be optimistic, with John Kirwan now in his second year as head coach and the acquisitions of All Blacks veterans Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock, Tom Donnelly and Ma’a Nonu. There will be a lot of intrigue over how well Benji Marshall can adapt to rugby union after starring in the NRL. It’s a shame to see the mercurial Rene Ranger leave Super Rugby. The Blues will be hoping his replacement in Ma’a Nonu can show better form than he did in his ill-fated spell with the Highlanders last year.
  • 2014 Prediction:: I expect the Blues to further close the gap on the Chiefs and Crusaders, but their pre-season form showed signs that they still blow hot and cold. I expect the Blues to finish third in the New Zealand conference.


  • Futures Market Odds:
  • 2012 Season: 1st in the New Zealand conference, 2nd overall. Won the Grand Final.
  • 2013 Season: 1st in the New Zealand conference, 1st overall. Won the Grand Final.
  • New Players: Jamie Mackintosh (Highlanders), Matt Symons (Canterbury), Liam Squire (Tasman), Kane Thompson (Japan), Robbie Fruean (Crusaders), James Lowe (Tasman), Tom Marshall (Crusaders), Mils Muliaina (Japan), Ihaia West (as injury cover) (Hawke’s Bay)
  • Departed Players: Toby Smith (Rebels), Craig Clarke (Ireland), Romana Graham (UK), Fritz Lee (France), Brendon Leonard (Italy), Richard Kahui (Japan), Lelia Masaga (Japan), Patrick Osborne (Highlanders)
  • Current Squad: (announced Oct 29):
    Ben Afeaki, Bundee Aki , Gareth Anscombe, Sam Cane , Nick Crosswell , Aaron Cruden , Hikawera Elliot, Ross Filipo , Mike Fitzgerald, Robbie Fruean, Josh Hohneck, Andrew Horrell , Tawera Kerr-Barlow , Tanerau Latimer , James Lowe, Jamie Mackintosh, Pauliasi Manu, Rhys Marshall , Tom Marshall, Liam Messam , Mils Muliaina, Tim Nanai-Williams , Charlie Ngatai , Augustine Pulu , Brodie Retallick, Robbie Robinson , Mahonri Schwalger , Liam Squire, Matthew Symons, Ben Tameifuna , Kane Thompson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma
    Wider Training Group: Carl Axtens, Nick Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tevita Kolomatangi, Brad Weber
  • Injury Concerns: hooker Hika Elliot has a neck injury which may end his rugby career. Gareth Anscombe is out until at least March due to shoulder surgery. Tom Marshall (thumb) and Robbie Robinson (hip) are also injured.
  • Comments: the two-time reigning champions have a genuine chance of completing the three-peat. They picked up some handy players in the off-season to strengthen an already intimidating cast of backs, however among the departures was captain Craig Clarke. They will start the season with injuries to key backs, which may hurt their chances of winning the NZ conference. Their defence was pretty average last season so they will again have to score plenty of points to pick up wins. It will be interesting to see if other sides can stifle the Chiefs’ counterattack, which was lethal last year.
  • 2014 Prediction:: first or second in the New Zealand conference


  • Futures Market Odds:
  • 2012 Season: 2nd in the New Zealand conference, 4th overall. Lost in the Semi-finals.
  • 2013 Season: 2nd in the New Zealand conference, 4th overall. Lost in the Semi-finals.
  • New Players: Tim Perry (Blues), Mitchell Drummond (Canterbury), Colin Slade (Highlanders), Rey Lee-Lo (Hurricanes), Nemani Nadolo (Japan)
  • Departed Players: Tom Donnelly (Blues), Shane Christie (Highlanders), Robbie Fruean (Chiefs), Tom Marshall (Chiefs)
  • Current Squad: (announced Oct 29):
    Dominic Bird , Tyler Bleyendaal , Daniel Carter , Wyatt Crockett , Ryan Crotty , Israel Dagg , Mitchell Drummond , Andy Ellis , Corey Flynn , Owen Franks , Ben Funnell , Zac Guildford , Willi Heinz , Nepo Laulala , Rey Lee-Lo ,Richie McCaw , Johnny McNicholl , Joe Moody , Nemani Nadolo , Tim Perry , Kieran Read , Luke Romano , Colin Slade , Jordan Taufua , Codie Taylor , Tom Taylor, Matt Todd , Jimmy Tupou, Adam Whitelock , George Whitelock , Luke Whitelock , Sam Whitelock
    Wider Training Group: Jed Brown , Kieron Fonotia , Mike Kainga , Rob Thompson, Nafi Tuitavake
  • Injury Concerns: Dan Carter is on sabbatical until after the June Test window
  • Comments: the Crusaders are always competitive, but they will have their hands full this season given the strength of the Chiefs and the improving Blues. They will be without the services of Dan Carter for the majority of the season, but have drafted in Colin Slade as cover. Their opening games are against the Chiefs and Blues, which is actually a good thing given the Chiefs will start the season with numerous injuries and the Blues are playing with a rugby league convert at fly-half who is still adjusting to union. Keep an eye out for the Crusaders’ new winger, Fijian Nemani Nadolo. He’s around 1.95m tall and weighs in at 130kg. His presence adds further depth to an abundance of talent on the wing.
  • 2014 Prediction:: the Crusaders are always competitive, so you’d have to be bold to rule them out of a playoff spot. I expect them to finish first or second in the New Zealand conference. Be aware that they are traditionally slow starters in Super Rugby, so you may get better value backing them in the futures market later in the season.


  • Futures Market Odds:
  • 2012 Season: 4th in the New Zealand conference, 9th overall
  • 2013 Season: 5th in the New Zealand conference, 14th overall
  • New Players: Matías Díaz (Argentina), Kane Hames (Bay of Plenty), Tom Franklin (Otago), Shane Christie (Crusaders), Gareth Evans (Otago), Willie Ripia (Bay of Plenty), Malakai Fekitoa (Blues), Winston Stanley (Force), Patrick Osborne (Chiefs), Kurt Baker (Taranaki)
  • Departed Players: Jamie Mackintosh (Chiefs), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Andrew Hore (retired), Jason Rutledge (released), Tim Boys (released), Jake Paringatai (released), Colin Slade (Crusaders), Tamati Ellison (Rebels), Ma’a Nonu (Blues), Hosea Gear (France), Kade Poki (Japan), Buxton Popoali’i (withdrawn)
  • Current Squad (announced 29 Oct):
    Forwards : Josh Bekhuis, Shane Christie, Liam Coltman, Matias Diaz, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Ma’afu Fia, Tom Franklin, Kane Hames, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, TJ Ioane, Chris King, Nasi Manu, Brayden Mitchell, Brad Thorn and Joe Wheeler.
    Backs: Kurt Baker, Phil Burleigh, Jason Emery, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Willie Ripia, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Winston Stanley, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby and Frae Wilson.
    Wider Training Group
    Lee Allan, Richard Buckman, Craig Millar, Trent Renata and Ged Robinson.
  • Injury Concerns: outside back Buxton Popoali’i has withdrawn from the squad to focus on his recovery from a heart condition. No. 8 Nasi Manu is recovering from a pectoral muscle injury and may miss the start of the season.
  • Comments: after making some high profile acquisitions last year the Highlanders had high hopes for 2013. What transpired, however, was an unmitigated disaster, with the side picking up just three wins. Given the exodus of All Blacks over the off-season the Highlanders are on paper the weakest side in the New Zealand conference. Despite the exodus of players, head coach Jamie Joseph will be fighting to retain his job if they have a repeat of last season. Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga and Ben Smith will need to have big seasons given the departures of Slade, Ellison, Nonu, Gear, Poki and Popoali’i.
  • 2014 Prediction:: given the strength of the New Zealand conference, the Highlanders will likely finish 5th in the country.


  • Futures Market Odds:
  • 2012 Season: 3rd in the New Zealand conference, 8th overall
  • 2013 Season: 4th in the New Zealand conference, 11th overall
  • New Players: Mark Abbott (Hawke’s Bay), Marty Banks (Tasman), Hadleigh Parkes (Kings), Cardiff Vaega (Southland)
  • Departed Players: Ben May (Japan), Jason Eaton (Japan), Karl Lowe (Japan), Tusi Pisi (Japan), Rey Lee-Lo (Crusaders)
  • Current Squad (announced 29 Oct):
    Foreards : Mark Abbott , James Broadhurst, Dane Coles , Ash Dixon , Ben Franks , Reggie Goodes, Jack Lam , Faifili Levave , Motu Matu’u , Mark Reddish, Ardie Savea , John Schwalger , Brad Shields , Eric Sione, Blade Thomson , Jeremy Thrush , Jeffery Toomaga-Allen , Victor Vito
    Backs : Beauden Barrett, Marty Banks , Tim Bateman, Cory Jane, Alapati Leiua, James Marshall , Hadleigh Parkes, TJ Perenara, Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith , Chris Smylie , Andre Taylor , Cardiff Vaega
    Wider Training Group: Chris Eves ,Callum Gibbins, Adam Hill ,Billy Guyton,Nehe Milner-Skudder
  • Injury Concerns: Brad Shields and Victor Vito are out for six to eight weeks. Matt Proctor will miss the first two weeks with an ankle injury while Tim Bateman will miss the first two to four weeks with a knee injury.
  • Comments: the Hurricanes took a major backward step last season, scoring 16 fewer points than they did the year before. They welcome back All Blacks winger Cory Jane after he missed last season with injury, however there’s little in the 2014 squad list to suggest they are in league with the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues. In all, they retained 26 of the 32-man squad so one would expect good continuity from last year.
  • 2014 Prediction:: with Beauden Barrett pulling the strings at fly-half, I think the Hurricanes have the edge over the Highlanders, so I think they’ll avoid the conference’s wooden spoon. I predict the Hurricanes will finish 4th in the conference.
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