The Super Rugby 2014 season is the fourth with this 15-team format which involves teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, though a competition for teams from the Southern Hemisphere has now been running for 19 seasons. So, how has this season gone so far and which teams are on course to compete in the finals series and ultimately the grand final on 2nd August?
Don’t write the Crusaders off
The Crusaders have been one of the major teams throughout the various formats in Southern Hemisphere rugby union, having landed seven Super Rugby titles including three in a row in 1998, 99 and 2000. Through the decade between 1998 and 2008, the year of their last title, they won all seven of their titles and were indisputably the biggest team in the competition.
In the years since, they were runners-up in 2011 and reached the play-off finals in 2012 and last year. However, a dip in form this year threatened to derail their season. Losses to their Kiwi rivals Blues, Hurricanes and Chiefs left them struggling in the New Zealand conference, but their form picked up and they currently top the conference with nine wins from their 13 games.
In the overall Super Rugby table they sit third and look certain to qualify for the play-offs yet again. It is proof that the Crusaders should not be written off early in the season and remain among the favourites in the Betfair odds to win the Grand Final.
Reds in trouble
The team that beat the Crusaders in the 2011 final, the Queensland Reds, have been one of the dominant teams in the new 15 format, but are in danger of missing the play-offs this time. After winning in 2011 the Reds lost in a semi-final against the Sharks the year after and, last year, lost in the play-off qualifying round to the Crusaders. This year, missing out on the play-offs altogether looks likely unless there is a big improvement in their remaining games of the regular season. They are next to bottom of the Australian Conference with just four wins from their 13 games.
Hat-trick of wins looks unlikely for the Chiefs
The Chiefs, the Super Rugby champions of the last two years, look unlikely to make it three wins in a row in 2014. They are next to bottom of the New Zealand conference and, while they are still in with a chance of making the play-offs, their form going into the final weeks of the season isn’t promising, producing poor performances in defeats against the Hurricanes in Wellington and then against the Waratahs in New Plymouth where they were comprehensively outplayed, losing 33-17. That was a defeat against a team who were on an eight-game losing streak and any chances of the Chiefs extending their season look remote.
Pressure building on the Sharks
The Sharks still sit top of the Super Rugby table, but other teams are now breathing down their necks and, with the competition now having an international break until the end of June, the time off will give the table toppers a chance to regroup. The Sharks lost their last game, the Stormers claiming an unexpected 21-19 victory courtesy of a last minute drop goal. The Sharks now have just a two-point lead over the Waratahs and, having played a game more, that lead could be wiped out completely by the time the Sharks next play, against the Cheetahs on 5th July.