The Super Rugby regular season is finally over and the playoffs are about to begin as there might be one side trying to defend their crown, another making their playoff debut and hope to claim a championship in it’s first try, and there will be a few more looking to dethrone the current champions. With a brand new, but very controversial playoff system, this will be an interesting first take. Let’s take a look at the matchups.
Crusaders vs Sharks
The Crusaders are the defending champions from last season and they look to repeat as they nabbed the number one seed in the tournament. They comfortably nabbed 14 wins out 16 matches played and were ahead of the table comfortably with 63 points (Hurricanes were the next closest with 51) as they clinched the New Zealand Conference with ease. With such a strong season, they are the favorites to win again as they scored the most tries and allowed the least during the season. They truly are the most complete team in the league. They do boast a lot of talent from the All-Blacks like Israel Dagg, Sam Whitelock, and Ryan Crotty. They even have some veterans in Owen Franks and Kieran Read which makes them very good.
Sharks had a disappointing campaign, but nonetheless they have a chance to prove themselves in their matchup with the Crusaders. While they might have snuck into the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record and 36 points in the table, they got a wild card spot on the last day of the regular season. They also have some talent on their squad like Robert du Preez, Ruan Botha, Curwin Bosch, and Tendai Mtawarira and could push the Crusaders. However, they have scored the third least amount of tries this season, which is a big concern. They never faced one another in the regular season.
James Rowe: Crusaders. They boast way more talent and they simply dominated all season. Sharks had high expectations, but stumbled into the playoffs.
Hurricanes vs Chiefs
The Hurricanes might have been the second best team (11-5-0, 51 points) in the league in terms of points in the table, but they were stuck in the same conference as the Crusaders which hurt their chances of getting a higher seed as they nabbed the four seed in the playoffs and they also limped their way into the playoffs as they have lost four of their last five contests. Despite making it to the semi-finals last year, they lost to the Lions and didn’t have a chance to defend their crown. Like the Crusaders, they boast a lot of talent as well as they have Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ben Lam, Ngani Laumape, Vince Aso, and Jordie Barrett.
There they will take on the Chiefs whom finished just behind the Hurricanes in the table as they went 11-5-0 and 49 points. They also unfortunately were affected by playing in the same conference as the Crusaders and Hurricanes as their chances for a higher seed were also affected like the Hurricanes as they earned the five seed in the playoffs. The Chiefs lost to the Crusaders in the semi-finals last season in the playoffs and would very much like to have a chance at them again if that is indeed who they would face in the next round if both teams win. They are also hot going into the playoffs as they have won their last three matches (and those wins were against three good teams in the Brumbies, Highlanders, and Hurricanes). The Chiefs were in the top five of scoring tries and conceding them, plus their pack is extremely good. With the likes of Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, and Damian McKenzie, this team is very good and could make for a very exciting match against the Hurricanes. Both teams split the season series 1-1, but the Chiefs have the momentum after they won 28-24 in the final week of the season against the Hurricanes, and also with the Hurricanes losing four out of their last five and with their only win against the Blues (who have struggled all season), this could get interesting.
James: Hurricanes. I like the Chiefs a lot, but I have got to give this one to the Hurricanes despite momentum being on the Chiefs’ side. I feel like the Hurricanes will come around and regroup to finally get back into form.
Lions vs Jaguares
Lions were the winners of the South African Conference (9-7-0, 46 points) as they got the two seed in these playoffs. The Lions made it all the way to the championship match against the Crusaders last year, but lost to them. They will hope to make it back and finally get that championship. If they want that to happen they will have to rely on Andries Coetzee, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Lionel Mapoe, Warren Whiteley, Malcolm Marx, and Rohan Janse van Rensburg to get back to where they were last year.
There they will face the Jaguares from Argentina (9-7-0, 38 points) who earned the seven seed in these playoffs. What’s remarkable is that they came out of nowhere this season and made the playoffs for the first time in their team’s short history. Led by Agustin Creevy, Nicolas Sanchez, Gonzalo Bertranou, Julian Montoya, Bautista Delguy, and Emiliano Boffelli (basically the majority of the Argentinian national side), they do matchup well with the Lions and could make an upset in this round. It has been a while since they both matched up as they played in Week 2 and 6, both sides each won a match in the season series. This may look to be an even matchup, but also one of the best ones in the playoffs.
James: Lions. I have many questions about the Lions ability as they took advantage of a controversial seeding system and they underachieved despite being very talented. While I think the Jaguares will put up a good fight, the Lions are more experienced and are more of a sound squad and will win.
Waratahs vs Highlanders
The Waratahs (9-6-1, 44 points) finished in first place in the Australian Conference and clinched the three seed in the playoffs as they are the only side from their conference to make the playoffs as the Rebels just fell short of the playoffs. However, that isn’t to say that this team isn’t all that good, in fact they are dangerous as they have scored the third most tries this season. They came back from a bad 2017 to make the playoffs and earn a high seed too. There is a ton of talent here as they have Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Rob Horne, Kurtley Beale, Rob Simmons and Michael Hooper. However, there is a concern with their defense, which has hurt them thus far this season.
They will be playing the Highlanders (10-6-0, 44 points) who placed fourth in the New Zealand Conference and also being screwed out of a higher seed in the playoffs. The Highlanders are returning to the playoffs after they they lost to the eventual champions Crusaders in the quarterfinals. They are led by Liam Squire, both Aaron and Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Rob Thompson and Teihorangi Walden as they have some exciting talent on their squad. They do tend to play defense a lot, but that could hurt them with the explosive offense that the Waratahs have. They only played each other once this season where the Waratahs won big 41-12.
James: Waratahs. I was torn here as I personally think the Highlanders are the better side, but the Waratahs have an offense that is hard to keep up with.