Super Rugby – 2016 Season Preview – New Zealand Conference

The following is a team-by-team preview of the New Zealand Conference for the 2016 Super Rugby season. These details will be updated as more information becomes available. All new and departed players lists are sourced from Wikipedia.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out our Super Rugby 2016 futures tips.

New Competition Format

Due to the addition of three new teams, the regular and post season formats have been changed. There are now two regional groups: the Australasian Group, which consists of the five Australian and five New Zealand franchises, and the South African Group, which consists of six South African sides along with the Jaguares from Argentina and the Sunwolves from Japan.

There are now four conferences instead of three. The Australian and New Zealand conferences remain unchanged, while the South African conference has been split into two, named Africa 1 and Africa 2. The Africa 1 Conference consists of the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and Sunwolves, while Africa 2 consists of the Jaguares, Kings, Lions and Sharks.

Regular Season

The regular season will consist of 17 rounds. Each team will receive two byes so each side will play 15 games as opposed to 16 last year.

Each team’s schedule consists of:

– 6 intra-conference matches. In the four-team conferences, each team will play each other home and away. In the five-team conferences, each team will play two opponents home and away and once against the other two teams, one at home and one away.

– 9 inter-conference matches. Each team will play the other teams in their regional group once. They will also play against each team from one of the two conferences in the other group. For 2016, the teams in the Africa 1 Conference will play each team in the Australian Conference, while teams in Africa 2 will play each team from New Zealand.

Post Season

The top team in each of the four conferences will automatically qualify to host a quarter final as the #1-#4 seeds. They will be seeded order of competition points.

The next top three teams from the Australasian Group and the next best team from the South African group will qualify as the #5-#8 seeds. They too will be seeded in order of competition points.

The 1st seed will play the 8th seed, the 2nd seed will play the 7th seed, and so on.

The quarter final winners will progress to the semi-finals, where the highest seed to reach the semis will host the lowest seed, while the the second highest seed will host the third highest seed.

The winners of the semi-finals will progress to the final, which will be hosted by the highest-seeded semi-final winner.

Team-By-Team Previews

Click here to compare Super Rugby futures odds.



  • Futures Odds: 26.00 (Palmerbet)
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 0.3% (equates to fair odds of 333.33)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 8.1% (equates to fair odds of 12.35)
  • 2015 Season: Finished 14th overall (5th in the New Zealand conference)
    The Blues endurred their worst ever season in 2015. They were hit hard by injuries, ending the campaign with 12 players injured and another three playing in the U20 Championship. They finished the season with 20 points, 26 points fewer than the 4th placed Crusaders in the New Zealand conference.
  • Head Coach: Tana Umaga
  • Captain(s): Jerome Kaino
  • Internationally Capped Players: 10
  • Key Departures: Tony Woodcock (retired), Keven Mealamu (retired, Culum Retallick (Rebels), Hayden Triggs (Ireland), Luke Braid (France), Brendon O’Connor (England), Jimmy Cowan (Tasman), Jamison Gibson-Park (Hurricanes), Daniel Bowden (England), Simon Hickey (France), Pita Ahki (Hurricanes), Francis Saili (Ireland), Frank Halai (England), Charles Piutau (England)
  • Key New Players: Rene Ranger (France), Matt Duffie (Melbourne Storm), Quentin MacDonald (Chiefs), Tanerau Latimer (Japan), Rieko Ioane (Auckland), Male Sa’u (Japan)
  • Pre-season Results Blues 59-7 Rebels, Blues 40-12 Hurricanes, Blues 24-12 Chiefs
  • Causes for Optimism Blues fans will be cheering the coaching change, which sees Tana Umaga replace John Kirwan. The Blues also boast some exciting young talent, including Akira Ioane and his younger brother Rieko. Their midfield has been bolstered by the return of Rene Ranger after a stint playing in France. They also welcome back All Blacks forwards Patrick Tuipulotu and Steven Luatua from injury. The Blues put on strong offensive performances in pre-season.
  • Causes for Concern The Blues have lost a lot of experience in the forward pack during the offseason. They also lost some quality backs. Rieko and Akira Ioane are only available up until Round 10, after which time they will rejoin the New Zealand Sevens team. Quality teams tend to have high quality fly-halves and the Blues haven’t been strong in this department since the days of Carlos Spencer.
  • Summary The Blues have a reputation for being mercurial and hard to predict, and with a fair bit of player turnover during the off-season as well as a new coaching era beginning, nothing has changed this season! I’m (cautiously) expecting them to bounce back well from last season, and based on encouraging pre-season results, they have a genuine chance of making playoffs this year. It’s great to see Rene Ranger back in the team.




  • Futures Odds: 7.5 (Sportsbet)
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 5.2% (equates to fair odds of 19.23)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: 0.4% (equates to fair odds of 250)
  • 2015 Season: Finished 5th overall (3rd in the New Zealand conference)
    The Chiefs started 2015 strongly but finished the regular season with just two wins from their last six fixtures. They lost to the red-hot Highlanders in the qualifying finals.
  • Head Coach: Dave Rennie
  • Captain(s): Aaron Cruden & Sam Cane
  • Internationally Capped Players: 14
  • Key Departures: Ben Tameifuna (France), Quentin MacDonald (Blues), Michael Fitzgerald (England), Matt Symons (England), Ross Filipo (France), Liam Messam (Japan), Liam Squire (Highlanders), Hosea Gear (France), Bryce Heem (England), Tom Marshall (England), Tim Nanai-Williams (Japan), Marty McKenzie (Crusaders)
  • Key New Players: Nepo Laulala (Crusaders), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (injury), Glen Fisiiahi (NRL), Sam McNicol (Hurricanes)
  • Pre-season Results Chiefs 17-12 Waratahs, Blues 24-12 Chiefs
  • Causes for Optimism The Chiefs welcome back halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and fly-half Aaron Cruden from injury.
  • Causes for Concern The side has been hit by injuries before the season has started, with Mitchell Karpik and Nepo Laulala ruled out for the season with knee injuries. Dominic Bird will miss the first seven weeks due to a foot injury while Augustine Pulu is out for up to ten weeks with a broken arm.
  • Summary Most bookmakers have the Chiefs as the second favourite to win the title, but their early injury toll and tough schedule make them too short to back at the moment.




  • Futures Odds: 10.025 (Betfair)
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 15.2% (equates to fair odds of 6.58)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • 2015 Season: Finished 7th (6th highest points tally) overall (4th in the New Zealand conference)
    The Crusaders missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001 after they were hard done by the conference system. They finished with the 6th highest points tally but missed out on a playoff spot which went to the Stormers as the South African conference winners.
  • Head Coach: Todd Blackadder
  • Captain(s): Kieran Read
  • Internationally Capped Players: 13
  • Key Departures: Nepo Laulala (Chiefs), Dominic Bird (Chiefs), Richie McCaw (retired), Luke Whitelock (Highlanders), Billy Guyton (Blues), Willi Heinz (England), Dan Carter (France), Colin Slade (France), Tom Taylor (France), Nafi Tuitavake (North Harbour)
  • Key New Players: Marty McKenzie (Chiefs)
  • Pre-season Results Reds 3-31 Crusaders, Hurricanes 74-7 Crusaders
  • Causes for Optimism Despite the loss of experience, the Crusaders remain a well-coashed side with over a dozen players with international caps.
  • Causes for Concern The Crusaders have lost a large amount of experience during the off-season, with most of those players replaced by provisial players. The Crusaders were heavily reliant on Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo last season. They would be notably weaker if he were to get injured. Fullback Israel Dagg is unlikely to return from injury until April.
  • Summary With a new trio of fly-halves to go with the rest of the team reshuffle, the Crusaders will be in a period of rebuilding this year. Then again, given the depths of New Zealand rugby, who knows what will happen? The Crusaders have a reputation for being slow starters in the competition, which may be compounded by the new fly-halves on the roster who must adapt to playing Crusaders rugby.




  • Futures Odds: 10.00 (Luxbet)
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 17.1% (equates to fair odds of 5.85)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • 2015 Season: Finished 4th (2nd highest points tally) overall (2nd in the New Zealand conference)
    The Highlanders started last season at 41.00 odds to win the title, but they found good form at the right time to take out the title, beating the Waratahs and Hurricanes away from home to do so. They had a few bad results during the course of the season when their All Blacks were rested, but the Highlanders were able to mix it with the best when they were at full strength.
  • Head Coach: Jamie Joseph
  • Captain(s): Shane Christie & Ben Smith
  • Internationally Capped Players: 8
  • Key Departures: Ma’afu Fia (Wales), John Hardie (Scotland), Nasi Manu (Scotland)
  • Key New Players: Luke Whitelock (Crusaders), Liam Squire (Chiefs)
  • Pre-season Results Racing 92 45-38 Highlanders, Highlanders 40-35 Waratahs
  • Causes for Optimism The Highlanders have retained the nucleous of last year’s squad while most other New Zealand franchises have lost a lot of experience after a World Cup year. They started last season with just three capped All Blacks, compared to six this season.
  • Causes for Concern The Highlanders’ title win last year came durign a season in which other franchises were having to rotate their international players. This benefited the southern team because they had the fewest All Blacks in the rotation program. The Highlanders start this season knowing that coach Jamie Joseph will be departing at the end of the campaign. The Highlanders’ worst performances last season occurred when Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Smith were rested, which highlighted their reliance on those three players. They will have a big leadership hole to fill after the departure of veteran co-captain Nasi Manu.
  • Summary The Highlanders have been more than the sum of its parts in recent seasons. They won the 2015 Super Rugby campaign without a single All Black in their forward pack, with many of the forwards representing discards from other New Zealand franchises. Highlanders fans have every reason to be optimistic about this year. They just need to have another injury-free season because they don’t have a lot of depth.




  • Futures Odds: 7.5 (Luxbet)
  • Rugby Vision Title Winning Probability: 13.5% (equates to fair odds of 7.41)
  • Rugby Vision Wooden Spoon Probability: <0.1% (equates to fair odds of >1000.00)
  • 2015 Season: Finished 1st overall (1st in the New Zealand conference)
    The Hurricanes topped the regular season standings with a 14-2 record, which is a particularly strong finish by Super Rugby standards. They fell 14-21 to the in-form Highlanders in the final, with Ardie Savea out injured that week and Julian Savea missing a clear try opportunity.
  • Head Coach: Chris Boyd
  • Captain(s): Dane Coles
  • Internationally Capped Players: 10
  • Key Departures: Ben Franks (England), Jeremy Thrush (England), Chris Smylie (Italy), Rey Lee-Lo (Wales), Ma’a Nonu (France), Conrad Smith (France), Sam McNicol (Chiefs)
  • Key New Players: Pita Ahki (Blues), Ngani Laumape (NRL)
  • Pre-season Results Force 28-0 Hurricanes, Blues 40-12 Hurricanes, Hurricanes 74-7 Crusaders
  • Causes for Optimism Despite the loss of so many players, the Hurricanes still boast some dangerous backline players, including a fit again Cory Jane along with Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder. They have also retained Beauden Barrett while in the forwards Ardie Savea is one of the great up and comers of New Zealand rugby.
  • Causes for Concern The Hurricanes have lost a lot of experienced players during the offseason, with most of them replaced by provincial players. Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu alonge had over 250 Super Rugby caps between them while Jeremy Thrush had over 100 caps.
  • Summary While the Hurricanes have lost some highly expeirenced players during the off-season, they still retain a lethal backline. The Hurricanes were one of the few teams that travelled well last season, finishing with an undefeated record on foreign soil, which is a rare feat in Super Rugby. The big question is whether they can fill the leadership void left by their departed veterans. I would consider laying them (bet against) to win the title before the start of the season because they start the campaign with three tough road fixtures. After week 3 I would then look to hedge with a back bet at higher odds.


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