Super Rugby is an 18-team rugby union competition featuring teams from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Argentina. The new season begins on 23rd February and after 17 rounds of matches until 15th July four conference winners and four wildcard teams will progress to the finals series, which will consist of quarterfinals, semifinals and a final on 5 August.
The Hurricanes from Wellington beat the Golden Lions from Johannesburg in last year’s final.
The 18 participating teams are divided into two geographical groups, each consisting of two conferences: the Australasian Group, with five teams in the Australian Conference and five teams in the New Zealand Conference and the South African Group, with six South African teams, one Argentine team and one Japanese team split into two four-team conferences – an Africa 1 Conference and an Africa 2 Conference
Teams will play six intra-conference matches; in the four-team African Conferences, each team will play the other three teams in their conference at home and away, while in the five-team Australasian Conferences, each team will play two teams home and away and once against the other two teams (one at home and one away). The other nine matches will be a single round of matches against each team in the other conference in their group, as well as against each team from one of the conferences in the other group. For 2017, the teams in Africa 1 will play the teams in the New Zealand Conference, while the teams in Africa 2 will play the teams in the Australian Conference.
This is a key point as the current strength of the competition is the five New Zealand franchises, and teams from Africa 2 don’t play them until the knock-out stages. The top team in each of the four conferences will qualify for the quarterfinals. The next three highest-ranked teams in the Australasian Group and the next highest-ranked team in the South African group will also qualify to the quarterfinals as wildcards and this should mean that two sides from Africa 2 make the quarter-finals.
My focus from a betting perspective is the five New Zealand teams and “Africa 2”. The four shortest sides in the betting are from New Zealand and the top eight are the five New Zealand sides and three from South Africa as follows
Each way odds of 1/3 1-2 are available at most bookmakers.
Taking the New Zealand teams first:
While they can field quite a dangerous starting team, the depth doesn’t extend as far as that of their compatriots’.
They have the least experienced halves combination in the New Zealand conference and after losing Johnny McNicholl and Nemani Nadolo on the wing, the pressure will be on new recruit Digby Ioane to lift to his 2011 form.
The area that excites the most is the centres, where Ryan Crotty, Seta Tamanivalu and David Havili have a huge opportunity. New coach Scott Robertson will be praying for as few injuries as possible.
The New Zealand conference already gets touted for their impressive depth among the teams and with good reason – a few recent inclusions to the Blues pack has them fielding one of, if not the most, dangerous backline in the competition this year.
Bringing in players like Sonny Bill Williams and Augustine Pulu strengthens key areas and the continued improvement and use of Akira and Rieko Ioane will undoubtedly pay dividends if they can get firing.
The Chiefs will head into 2017 hurting after coming so close last year but positive and confident knowing they can improve their performance.
Key figures Aaron Cruden, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown and James Lowe will spearhead a relentless backline who will be intent on scoring.
Meanwhile, the forward pack, if able to keep Dominic Bird and Nepo Laulala healthy, will have a solid platform in order to orchestrate and demonstrate the flair that has made them so fun to watch.
The Hurricanes reached the final for the last two years and won the 2016 competition over an inspired Lions team.
The loss of players like Victor Vito, Willis Halaholo and James Marshall is a sizeable chink in the armour, but the coming season should see the healthy return of Nehe Milner-Skudder and James Broadhurst as well as a host of star-studded speedsters across both the forwards and backs.
The Highlanders are a team that excites. To see a team perform so strongly without the household names of other teams is impressive, but now that their whole squad has had exposure to the finals campaign of Super Rugby I think they might have the personnel to push for a second championship in three years.
Covering the losses of Ross Geldenhuys, Brendon Edmonds, and Fumiaka Tanaka isn’t a breeze, but they’ve retained the bulk of their squad as well as adding Tevita Li to the back line.
Then turning to Africa 2, the two main South African sides are the Sharks and the Lions – playing alongside the Southern Kings who returned to Super Rugby last year and os Jaguares from Argentina.
Not only is there a changing of the guard at coach with Robert du Preez stepping up from his role in the Currie Cup, but the backline will be exciting. Pat Lambie is set to enjoy a full season, Lukhanyo Am and Kobus van Wyk come in from rival teams and the French international Clement Poitrenaud hopefully cements a spot at fullback.
It’s a fairly young team, so expecting a lot now might be a stretch, but they look to be a team on the rise.
Can the Lions go one better in 2017? They’ve retained the bulk of their season-defining starting side from 2016.
The two problems that come to mind are that now there is absolutely no surprise factor when facing this side and perhaps the few Lions players who earned Springbok selection could do nothing to help their nation scrape together many wins.
Personnel like Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe didn’t take their chances as well as they could have and Jaco Kriel and Ruan Combrinck didn’t get the game time they deserved.
This will be another big year for this team and I think they have the nerve to push again.
One from New Zealand, one from Africa 2
b) Lions each way at 7-1 Sportingbet