Super Rugby 2018 Preview: New Zealand

In just a couple of weeks, rugby’s most hipster competition returns. Super Rugby has changed formats so often, you’d need a psychologist to make sense of its identity. To help all you sensible rugby loving folk out, we’ll give you the rundown of each of the three conferences in a 1-per-week format. Last but not least: the New Zealand conference.

 

The Conference

The main reason New Zealand is last, is, well, it’s just that it’s bloody difficult to write something funny about good teams. It’s the same 5 sides as there’ve always been: the Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes. The winner of the conference automatically secures a home play-off. The others could possibly progress to the knockouts via a wild-card spot on the overall log. The Kiwis have been notoriously dominant in this competition of late, so getting 4 or even 5 qualifiers seems possible. These are your contenders.

 

 

The Crusaders, aka The Not So Urban Dance Squad

The men from Christchurch were as dominant as they’ve ever been last season. They lost just one match, against the Hurricanes on the last weekend of the regular season. The ‘Saders then steamrolled the opposition in the playoffs, showing power, pace and some sweet breakdancing moves. They’ve managed to keep the core of that championship team together, although injury will rule out the indomitable Kieran Read for the start of the season. The Crusaders will be looking to expand their already voluminous trophy cabinet, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Scott Robertson pick up his second title in as many seasons.

 

Key player: Richie Mo’unga. Everyone knows this pack will monster just about anyone they’ll play. It will then be up to Mo’unga to cause havoc with his plethora of skills, like a deadly, rugby mad octopus.

 

Spotter’s badge: Wyatt Crockett, who looks like a regular man, just oversized, continues to school opposition tightheads on the definition of the words “massive” and “good”.

 

 

The Hurricanes, aka The Ultimate Rugby Hipsters

Shit haircuts? Check. Hookers doing things no decent hooker should do? Check. Some infuriatingly mercurial handling that makes you lose track of the play? Double check. The ‘Canes have lost a lot of depth in the pack in the off season, but still boast some of the most dangerous backs in rugby. They also have two hookers who could probably play any position on the park. Everybody knows Dane Coles, but Asafo Aumua will not be standing in his shadow for long. The men from Wellington will always be scintillating to watch, but it remains to be seen if they have enough grit in the tight five to go all the way.

 

Key player: Ngani Laumape. Beauden Barrett might be World Player of the Year, but it’s his inside centre that creates the line breaks and draws in the defenders for his teammates to exploit. He also scores bucket loads of tries, which is always helpful.

 

Spotter’s badge: Nehe Milner-Skudder plays only 4 games because of injury, and still somehow manages to score at least 5 tries.

 

 

The Chiefs, aka The Litmus Test Of Kiwi Strength In Depth

The Chiefs have been there or there about in the mix for a good long while now, but this will be their most difficult season in years. They’ve lost several key players to overseas capital, including their half-back pairing of Kerr-Barlow and Cruden, try-scoring machine James Lowe and even the Manukau Mastodon Stephen Donald. Perhaps most importantly, coach Dave Rennie has left for Glasgow in order to build his resume before he inevitably takes over as All Blacks head coach in the near future. If they manage to impress despite all these losses, you may spank my ass and call me Charlie.

 

Key player: Brodie Retallick. Has there ever been a better player who looks like he doesn’t belong anywhere near a rugby pitch? One of the very best enforcers on the planet and he should be a shoe in for any World XV

 

Spotter’s badge: Tiaan Falcon does a falcon and the commentators will be talking about it for the entire season. Best hope it happens late in the year.

 

 

The Highlanders, aka The Ones With Celtic Envy

Last season the Highlanders were kind of lost in the middle. Not quite as good as some of the other Kiwi teams, but still much better than their antipodean neighbours. A lot of that will have come down to losing key players Naholo and Sopoaga to injury though. With the Chiefs going into what’s essentially a year to rebuild, the men from Otago will be looking to re-establish themselves as a top-3 team in the competition. With new head coach Aaron Mauger coming in, it will be a typically interesting (and rowdy) year in Dunedin.

 

Key player: Liam Squire. The strongest asset of the Highlanders has always been a no nonsense, hard as nails pack. No player encompasses those virtues more than Squire, who will look to solidify his position with the All Blacks by being his usual, terrifying self.

 

Spotter’s badge: Ben Smith is accidently manhandled by a steward, who thought Smith was just someone’s dad who’d stumbled onto the pitch.

 

 

The Blues, aka The Samoa Rugby Union With Decent Resources And Management

Tana Umaga enters his third season in charge of the Blues, who’ll be looking to break their disappointing record of not making the play-offs for 6 seasons in a row now. The Auckland based outfit have lost several senior players to overseas and other Kiwi clubs however. Charlie Faumuina in particular will leave a very, very big gap indeed. They still retain some potential game breakers in Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll move up to the level of the other New Zealand franchises.

 

Key player: Augustine Pulu. Otere Black, Stephen Perofeta and Bryn Gatland will all look to become the Blues’ first choice fly-half and they will need the experienced hand of their captain at 9 to have even a semblance of consistency this season.

 

Spotter’s badge: SBW somehow offloads the ball from his arse to Ioane, who runs to the moon and back, sidesteps a hoard of rabid Kiwis (a mixture of both birds and fans) and jumps over the line with a triple somersault to score the try of the season.

 

 

This year we’ll be running a fantasy pool for Super Rugby on Superbru! Fancy a bit of friendly, free week-by-week fun? You find us on Superbru by searching for our pool code: lotsdose. Something Funny’s Ardent Albatrosses look forward to receiving you at the Jaguardo Party Dome!

 

About MelleScholten

Dutch rugby fan, not a fan of Dutch rugby. Admittedly can be quite the arse when hungry.