Super Rugby – 2015 Season Preview – New Zealand Conference

The following is a preview of the New Zealand Conference for the 2015 Super Rugby season. Futures market betting tips are also provided.

Once again the New Zealand showed the most depth last year, with four teams finishing inside the top seven. This is usually to the top seed’s detriment because they regularly lose points to high quality domestic opponents. The Crusaders missed out on another title by a whisker last year and with the bulk of their squad retained, they will once again be one of the favourites to win the title. Only three points separated 2nd from 4th in this conference last year and there’s little to suggest much separates the sides this season.

Team Previews

Below are team-by-team previews for 2015. These details will be updated as more information becomes available. 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
  • 2014 Season: 5th in the New Zealand conference, 10th overall
  • 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 4th
  • 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 10th
  • New Players: Josh Bekhuis (Highlanders), Culum Retallick (Bay of Plenty), Joe Edwards (Auckland), Jimmy Cowan (England), Daniel Bowden (England), Hamish Northcott (Manawatu), Ben Lam (Auckland), Akira Ioane (NZ Rugby Sevens)/li>
  • Departed Players: Tom McCartney (Ireland), Tom Donnelly (France), Liaki Moli (released), Jordan Manihera (North Harbour), Peter Saili (France), Piri Weepu (England), Chris Noakes (England), Ma’a Nonu (Hurricanes), Jackson Willison (France)
  • Current Squad:
    Backs: Charles Piutau, Lolagi Visinia, Tevita Li, Ben Lam, Frank Halai, George Moala, Hamish Northcott, Pita Ahki, Francis Saili, Dan Bowden, Ihaia West, Simon Hickey, Jimmy Cowan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Bryn Hall.
    Forwards: Akira Ioane, Joe Edwards, Luke Braid, Brendon O’Connor, Jerome Kaino (capt), Steven Luatua, Hayden Triggs, Patrick Tuipulotu, Josh Bekhuis, Culum Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tony Woodcock, Sam Prattley, Keven Mealamu, James Parsons.
  • Injury Concerns:
    • Hooker Keven Mealamu will miss the first few weeks to rest his calves. He aims to join the squad when they return from South Africa.
    • Fly-half Daniel Bowden will miss at least Round 1 due to a foot injury
  • Comments: the Blues lost some handy players during the off-season, which isn’t ideal given their 5th placed finish in the New Zealand conference last year. Having said that, some of their new signings are highly experienced and their poor finish was more due to playing style than a lack of squad quality. There’s no question the Blues under-performed in 2014. They possess plenty of talent but can they overcome their inconsistency and poor away form? The Blues have a backline that’s capable of tearing teams apart, but critics have highlighted their lack of structure under coach John Kirwan. A lot will ride on whether young fly-half Ihaia West can continue his impressive development because the Blues haven’t had a world class fly-half since Carlos Spencer.
  • 2015 Prediction: the Blue were consistently inconsistent last season, never losing or winning more than two games in a row. Every year I wonder if they can turn it around and every year it turns out they can’t. Will this year be any different? My gut says no. They won’t be helped by the looming World Cup, with veterans like the 35-year old Keven Mealamu nursing his way through the season so that he can peak later in the year. I expect the Blues will finish 3rd or 4th in the New Zealand conference. They’ll be in the playoff hunt but I predict they’ll just miss out.



  • 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.
  • 2014 Season: 2nd in the New Zealand conference, 5th overall. Lost in the Qualifying Finals.
  • 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 8th
  • 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 8th
  • New Players: Mitchell Graham (Taranaki), Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury), Quentin MacDonald (Ireland), Michael Allardice (Hawke’s Bay), Johan Bardoul (Waikato), Sean Polwart (Auckland), Michael Leitch (Japan), Seta Tamanivalu (Taranaki), Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters), Hosea Gear (Japan), Bryce Heem (Tasman), Damian McKenzie (Waikato)
  • Departed Players: Ben Afeaki (wider training group), Josh Hohneck (Highlanders), Mahonri Schwalger (retired), Nick Crosswell (Wales), Ross Filipo (retired), Tanerau Latimer (Japan), Kane Thompson (England), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Robbie Fruean (Crusaders), Jordan Payne (Waikato), Dwayne Sweeney (Japan), Asaeli Tikoirotuma (England), Gareth Anscombe (Wales), Mils Muliaina (Ireland)
  • Current Squad:
    Backs: Tim Nanai-Williams, Tom Marshall, Hosea Gear, James Lowe, Bryce Heem, Anton Lienert-Brown, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, Sonny Bill Williams, Andrew Horrell, Aaron Cruden (co-capt), Damian McKenzie, Augustine Pulu, Brad Weber.
    Forwards: Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Sean Polwart, Liam Messam (co-capt), Tevita Koloamatangi, Michael Leitch, Johan Bardoul, Brodie Retallick, Matt Symons, Michael Allardice, Mike Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Mitchell Graham, Jamie MacIntosh, Pauliasi Manu, Nathan Harris, Rhys Marshall, Quentin MacDonald.
  • Injury Concerns:
    • Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is out for the season (ACL)
    • Hooker Nathan Harris is out for the season (ankle)
  • Comments: they do get Sonny Bill Williams back this year and they’ve done brilliantly to sign Hosea Gear, but the Chiefs lost some experienced players in the off-season and they’ll be without Tawera Kerr-Barlow for the campaign. They have replenished their stocks primarily from New Zealand domestic rugby, so it will be interesting to see how the young up and comers (some of whom like Seta Tamanivalu look very promising) fill the boots of the departed veterans. Fly-half Aaron Cruden will need to have a strong season if he is to retain the All Blacks No. 10 jersey for the World Cup.
  • 2015 Prediction: the Chiefs are one of the favourites for the title and with the Crusaders and Blues looking to nurse their ageing All Blacks through the season, the Chiefs stand a realistic chance of topping the conference. They are also helped out by the schedule, with their byes nicely placed near the second half of the season. The Chiefs also avoid playing the Waratahs this year. I can’t help but think their loss of experience and Kerr-Barlow’s injury will hurt them, however. I expect the Chiefs to finish 1st or 2nd in the New Zealand conference. They stand a good chance of making the playoffs for a 4th consecutive year.



  • 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.
  • 2014 Season: 1st in the New Zealand conference, 2nd overall. Lost in the Grand Final.
  • 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 2nd
  • 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 3rd
  • New Players: Ged Robinson (Highlanders), Robbie Fruean (Chiefs), Jone Macilai (Northland)
  • Departed Players: Daniel Lienert-Brown (released), Corey Flynn (France), George Whitelock (Japan), Tyler Bleyendaal (Ireland), Rey Lee-Lo (Hurricanes), Adam Whitelock (France)
  • Current Squad:
    Backs: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Nemani Nadolo, Jone Macilai, Robbie Fruean, Kieran Fonotia, Tom Taylor, Dan Carter, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Mitchell Drummond.
    Forwards: Kieran Read (capt), Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Ben Funnell, Codie Taylor, Ged Robinson.
  • Injury Concerns & Absentees:
    • Halfback Willi Heinz suffered a bad leg fracture in pre-season which has ruled him out for the year.
    • Halfback Andy Ellis is playing in Japan and will miss the start of the season
    • Winger Jone Macilai broke his arm in pre-season.
    • Israel Dagg will miss Round 1
    • Kieran Read won’t join the squad until Round 5
    • Sam Whitelock won’t join the squad until Round 5
    • Nemani Nadolo has just finished his season in Japan and will likely miss at least Round 1
  • Comments: like the Waratahs, the Crusaders have retained the nucleus of their squad from last year’s Grand Final, with hooker Corey Flynn the biggest departure. The Crusaders have Dan Carter in the squad for the entire season this year after he took a sabbatical for most of the 2014, however he may have a battle for the No. 10 jersey given how impressive Colin Slade has been. The Crusaders also have the devastating winger Nemani Nadolo back for the majority of the season after he joined part way through their campaign last year. Unfortunately the Crusaders may be set for yet another trademark slow start after losing all of their pre-season games. With the squad at their disposal I expect them to finish strongly, however.
  • 2015 Prediction: despite their poor pre-season results the Crusaders are one of the main contenders to win the title. With the Chiefs undergoing a transition with numerous player changes the Crusaders should be at or near the top of the New Zealand conference. My main concern though is I do expect them to start the season slowly due to the number of All Blacks being rested at the start of the season. The Crusaders will also be under instruction to keep their All Blacks fit and fresh for the World Cup, which may be to their detriment. I expect the Crusaders to finish 1st or 2nd in the New Zealand conference and go deep into the playoffs as they peak near the end of the season. A lot will come down to how slowly they start, however.



  • Futures Market Odds:
  • 2012 Season: 4th in the New Zealand conference, 9th overall
  • 2013 Season: 5th in the New Zealand conference, 14th overall
  • 2014 Season: 3rd in the New Zealand conference, 6th overall. Lost in the Qualifying Finals.
  • 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 5th
  • 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 12th
  • New Players: Brendon Edmonds (Hurricanes), Ross Geldenhuys (Tasman), Josh Hohneck (Chiefs), Pingi Tala’apitaga (Bay of Plenty), Ash Dixon (Hurricanes), Alex Ainley (Tasman), Mark Reddish (Hurricanes), Dan Pryor (Northland), Marty Banks (Hurricanes), Waisake Naholo (Taranaki)
  • Departed Players: Matías Díaz (released), Chris King (France), JP Koen (released), Sam Anderson-Heather (wider training group), Brayden Mitchell (released), Ged Robinson (Crusaders), Josh Bekhuis (Blues), Jarrad Hoeata (Wales), Brad Thorn (England), TJ Ioane (England), Phil Burleigh (Scotland), Winston Stanley (released)
  • Current Squad:
    Backs: Ben Smith (co-capt), Trent Renata, Kurt Baker, Patrick Osborne, Waisake Naholo, Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Jason Emery, Shaun Treeby, Marty Banks, Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker, Aaron Smith, Fumiaki Tanaka.
    Forwards: Nasi Manu (co-capt), Gareth Evans, Shane Christie, John Hardie, Dan Pryor, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Mark Reddish, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Ross Geldenhuys, Josh Hohneck, Brendon Edmonds, Kane Hames, Ma’afu Fia, Pingi Tala’apitaga, Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon.
  • Injury Concerns: none that I’m aware of
  • Comments: like the Chiefs, the Highlanders will have a new look this year after losing numerous players during the off-season. They’ve replenished their stocks using players from other New Zealand franchises and from domestic rugby, so they’ll be plenty of names we haven’t heard of in the squad – but what else is new? The Highlanders tend to be more than the sum of their parts,
  • 2015 Prediction: given the player turnover I doubt the Highlanders can repeat their playoff reaching performance of last year. I expect them to finish 5th in the New Zealand conference (not many points behind their rivals, though) and miss out on the playoffs, finishing somewhere mid-table.



  • Futures Market Odds:
  • 2012 Season: 3rd in the New Zealand conference, 8th overall
  • 2013 Season: 4th in the New Zealand conference, 11th overall
  • 2014 Season: 4th in the New Zealand conference, 7th overall
  • 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 3rd
  • 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 6th
  • New Players: Geoff Cridge (Hawke’s Bay), Christian Lloyd (Wellington), Callum Gibbins (Manawatu), Iopu Iopu-Aso (Taranaki), Vince Aso (Auckland), Willis Halaholo (Southland), Rey Lee-Lo (Crusaders), Ma’a Nonu (Blues), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Manawatu), Jason Woodward (Rebels)
  • Departed Players: Ash Dixon (Highlanders), Mark Reddish (Highlanders), Jack Lam (England), Faifili Levave (Japan), Marty Banks (Highlanders), Tim Bateman (Japan), Hadleigh Parkes (Wales), Cardiff Vaega (released), Alapati Leiua (England), Andre Taylor (Japan)
  • Current Squad:
    Backs: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Jason Woodward, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Vince Aso, Conrad Smith (capt), Reynold Lee-Lo, Ma’a Nonu, Willis Halaholo, Beauden Barrett, James Marshall, TJ Perenara, Chris Smylie.
    Forwards: Victor Vito, Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Callum Gibbins, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Brad Shields, Mark Abbott, Jeremy Thrush, James Broadhurst, Christian Lloyd, Geoffrey Cridge, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Chris Eves, Ben Franks, Ben May, Reggie Goodes, Dane Coles, Motu Matu’u.
  • Injury Concerns and Absentees:
    • Ma’a Nonu will miss Round 1 to remain at home for his child’s birth.
    • Prop John Schwalger will miss most of the season (ill health)
    • Jeremy Thrush has a calf injury and is expected back in four to six weeks
    • Nehe Milner-Skudder will miss Round 1 due to a knee injury
  • Comments: this will be the Hurricanes’ first season under new coach Chris Boyd, following the departure of Mark Hammett. Boyd has been the Wellington head coach since 2011 and head coach of the NZ U20’s side since 2012. He has been joined by John Plumtree – a former head coach of the Sharks, who has signed on as the assistant coach. After missing out on the playoffs by one point last yeear, the Hurricanes lost numerous players during the off-season and while the likes of Nonu and Woodward are great acquisitions, most of the replacements have come from domestic New Zealand ranks, which will make the Hurricanes somewhat of an unknown quantity this season. Keep an eye out for Nehe Milner-Skudder, who had an impressive ITM Cup campaign last year. He has received a fair bit of press in New Zealand. It will be interesting to see him battle for the fullback position with Woodward.
  • 2015 Prediction: the Hurricanes have always been a mercurial side, but the coaching changes and player turnover make them even more unpredictable than usual. Because it’s the Hurricanes this really is only a guess, but I predict they’ll finish 3rd or 4th in the New Zealand conference and either just make or just miss out on a playoff spot.


Futures Market Betting Tips

It’s worth noting that while most bookmakers have the Crusaders as third favourites, Pinnacle Sports – a bookmaker with a reputation for having the sharpest odds due to not banning winners – have installed the Crusaders as 4.21 favourites, followed by the Waratahs at 4.87 and the Chiefs at 5.60.

The Crusaders are laden with All Blacks and should be title contenders, however given they’re starting the season with many All Blacks sidelined and Nemani Nadolo rested I wouldn’t be surprised if they started slowly. They have some tricky away fixtures early in the season followed by a bye in Round 4, which will see them slip further down the table. My recommendation is wait until Round 4 is completed then back the Crusaders to win the Super Rugby title and/or the New Zealand conference. You should get better value than the 5.50 (title) and 2.85 (conference) odds available now.

Keep an eye on new Chiefs signing Hosea Gear (23.00 with Sportsbet) for the top try scorer market. He was devastating when he last played Super Rugby for the Highlanders in 2013 – ending joint 2nd for tries scored that year. Now he’s with the Chiefs he might get even more opportunities to cross the try line. Another name to look out for is Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo (9.00 with Centrebet), who was the joint top try scorer last year despite only joining the Crusaders part way through the season. He will miss Round 1 but will be with the squad for longer than last year.

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