Previewing 2019 Super Rugby Season

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Arguably the best rugby league in the world, Super Rugby is back for it’s 24th season with 14 teams gunning for the Crusaders, the defending champions from 2018. While the Crusaders will be looked at as the favorites, any one of these teams can win as there is some of the best talent in the world here especially the ones who make up the All-Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks, and Pumas squads. With that being said, let’s take a look at each team.

New Zealand Conference

Blues

The Blues finished last in the conference and will look to improve as much as they can this year, however, there is some hope after they had some competitive games. Things cannot get as bad as 2018, but 2019 is a bit of a mystery. They have a superstar winger in Rieko Ioane as the main source of offense for them, but they also have the athletic and talented center Sonny Bill Williams who can come in support of Ioane. Legendary center Ma’a Nonu joins the squad for 2019 as he adds experience and should help make the offense better even if age has taken a toll on his talent. There is also a lot of talent in the packs with prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi leading the scrum, but will get a new partner in Karl Tu’inukuafe on the other side. Those two should be integral to a strong scrum with All Black Patrick Tuipulotu pushing behind them. However, they did lose Jerome Kaino as he is one of the best forwards in the game and that could hurt their pack. Loose forward Akira Ioane should be a player to watch on this squad.

Chiefs

It may seem like finishing third in their conference feels like an underachievement, however, they actually advanced to the playoffs, but lost in the quarterfinals. That being said, there is a lot of talent and they could make a deep run in the playoffs. They have some very talented players like lock Brodie Retallick and the versatile flyhalf-fullback Damian McKenzie. The Chiefs can score a lot, but they also have stout defense. They’re well-rounded. However, their depth will be tested as they lost back row forward Liam Messam, prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, and center Charlie Ngatai, plus they lost flanker Sam Cane to injury. Despite all that, there is a lot of talent here that can lead them to a playoff berth. One player to watch is scrumhalf Brad Weber.

Crusaders

The defending champions. What else can you describe them as as the Crusaders are the favorites to win it again. They have a target on their backs as they are seen as the best side in the entire competition and the team to beat. They are, after all, the most successful team in the league’s history with nine titles. Their strength has to be the forwards as they boast some of the best players in the world as there is 8 man Kieran Read, props Owen Franks and Joe Moody, hooker Codie Taylor, and locks Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett. In the backs, they are very strong too as they have flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, centers Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Jack Goodhue and fullback Israel Dagg. The only loss the team suffered was prop Wyatt Crockett. This team is too good and it will be very hard for any other squad to beat them. There’s a reason why they are the favorites. Two players to watch are winger Leicester Fainga’anuku and versatile back David Havili.

Highlanders

The Highlanders finished fourth in their conference and made the playoffs, but lost to the high scoring Waratahs side in the quarterfinals. That being said, there is some talent here that will likely lead them back to the playoffs. Their prized All Black Liam Squire leads their pack, but might not even into the team with Dillon Hunt, Luke Whitelock, Shannon Frizell, and Jackson Hemopo are competing for spots in the back row (with the later two being options in the second row). However, the offense has some weapons on it like scrumhalf Aaron Smith and fullback Ben Smith, but there is also the ultra-talented winger Waisake Naholo who is one of the best in the league. There will be some questions for this team though. Last season, the defense was not very strong and flyhalf Lima Sopoaga leaves a void at the 10 jersey. Some options to be the starting flyhalf are Bryn Gatland, Marty Banks, and Josh Ioane. While likely to win a lot of games, consistency will be the question. Winger Tevita Li is a player to watch for on this team.

Hurricanes

The Hurricanes finished in second place in the conference, but lost to the Crusaders in the semifinals. Their hope is to prove that they are better than their finish in 2019 as they have a very strong side. Just looking at the backs, scrumhalf TJ Perenara and flyhalf Beauden Barrett make up for one of the best pairs in all of rugby, especially Barrett who is a world class player. There are other such studs in the backs like versatile back Jordie Barrett, wingers Ben Lam and Nehe Milner-Skudder, and center Ngani Laumape. In the forwards, there is hooker Dane Coles, lock Liam Mitchell, flanker Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea, and prop Ben May. However, their pack lost a lot of talent like winger Julian Savea, flanker Brad Shields, and lock Michael Fatialofa, so there may be some concern there. Otherwise, there isn’t much to worry about this team as they should be a finals contender. A player to watch is back rower Gareth Evans.

Australia Conference

Brumbies

If it wasn’t for a five game losing streak, the Brumbies would have made the playoffs in 2018. There is some talent here and seem to be improving every year, but the hope is to make a stamp this season and make a deep run in the playoffs. Led by stud flanker David Pocock, but in the forwards, there is also props Scott Sio and James Slipper, lock Sam Carter, and loose forward Pete Samu. In the backs, there is fullback Tom Banks, who is a game-changer, center Tevita Kuridrani, and wingers Toni Pulu and Henry Speight. The flyhalf position will be a competition for the starting 10 jersey with the likes of Wharenui Hawera and Christian Lealiifano, though Lealiifano has the edge. One of the biggest reasons why they stay competitive is because they are a very sound defensive team, so keep an eye on that when watching their games. There is a lot of hope that this the year they make the playoffs. One player to watch for is center Irae Simone.

Rebels

The Rebels just barely missed out on a playoff spot finishing ninth overall in the table, but with having seemingly improved this offseason, there’s a good chance of making it this season. The biggest strength for this team is the attack from the backs as they boast talent, which are some players that are featured on the Wallabies such as fullback Dane Haylett-Petty, utility back Reece Hodge, flyhalves Matt Toomua and Quade Cooper, and scrumhalf Will Genia, plus some up-and-coming stud players like fullback Jake Maddocks and centers Tom English and Billy Meakes. The forwards, on the other hand, are not nearly as strong despite some quality players like lock Adam Coleman and hooker Jordan Uelese, but their scrum might have some issues this year. They have also lost the X-factor of Amanaki Mafi for a little bit while he is charged for assault. However, there is a good chance these guys make the playoffs. One player to watch for is back rower Isi Naisarani.

Reds

The Reds did not have a very good season as they finished in 13th place overall. Clearly they were not playoff material. However, if last season was bad, 2019 might be even worse as some key players have left as they might have taken a step back. Some of the players lost were prop James Slipper, lock Kane Douglas, flanker George Smith, flyhalf Quade Cooper (who coach Brad Thorn refused to play), and fullback Karmichael Hunt. Their defense struggles a lot and their inability to be consistent is what hurts the team the most. However, there is some quality players on the team such as flanker Scott Higginbotham and back Samu Kerevi, plus they added winger Sefa Naivalu and fullback Bryce Hegarty. Some other promising players featured on the squad are lock Izack Rodda and hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa. They also have the x-factor of Taniela Tupou at tighthead. While there is some good talent on this team, expect them to struggle mightily in 2019. One player to watch will be is winger Jordan Petaia.

Sunwolves

The only side from Japan, the Sunwolves were the worst team in the entire league in 2018 and there isn’t much hope for them in 2019. There really isn’t much of any facet of their game that is good, but if there is one to pick out is that they have the ability to score a lot of points. The most important player on the pitch will be flyhalf Hayden Parker, but another important player will also be flanker Michael Leitch who leads a promising back row in the forwards especially with the addition of loose forward Sean McMahon. There is some upside with this team, but the team will likely to struggle a lot in 2019. One player to watch will be prop Pauliasi Manu.

Waratahs

The Waratahs benefited from a bad conference to make the playoffs last season, but with some other teams in the same conference improving, the Waratahs will need to play a bit better. They managed to beat the Highlanders in the quarterfinals, but lost to the Lions in the semi-finals. What makes them a lethal side is the ability to score almost seemingly at will. In the backs, they boast some world class talent like fullback Israel Folau, center Kurtley Beale, flyhalf Bernard Foley, scrumhalf Nick Phipps, and then went on to add winger Adam Ashley-Cooper and fullback Karmichael Hunt during the offseason. To say they have a lot of fire power is an understatement. There is also some quality forwards on this side like prop Sekope Kepu, lock Rob Simmons, and flanker Michael Hooper. There wasn’t any significant loss during the offseason, though losing winger Taqele Naiyaravoro will hurt their offense a bit as he scores a lot. However, there was one particular issue the team had last year and it was their defense as it was arguably one of the worst in the entire league. If they want to win the conference again, the defense will need to get better, but expect them to compete for a playoff spot. One player to watch is flanker Jack Dempsey.

South Africa Conference

Bulls

The Bulls are not a very strong side despite having some talent on the team. They finished 12th on the table, but were definitely the worst from South Africa. With that being said, they do have some world class talent like lock Lood de Jager, flyhalf Handre Pollard, center Jesse Kriel, and 8 man Duane Vermeulen. The biggest strength for them is the offense as they scored the seventh most amount of tries of any team in the history of the league. Even the best defenses have the hardest time stopping their attack. Some of those players that contributed to the historical offense in 2018 and are returning to the team are hooker Schalk Brits, prop Trevor Nyakane, and winger Cornal Hendricks. However, their defense was terrible as they managed to let the second most amount of points in the league in 2018. While there is a likelihood that the team will improve, do not expect them to compete for a playoff spot. One player to watch is winger Rosko Specman.

Jaguares

The only team from Argentina in the competition, the Jaguares boast a lot of players for Argentina’s national side and it shows how good the country has come along on the international front. That being said, the team finished second in the conference and clinched the seven seed in the playoffs as they made the playoffs for the first time in their club’s history (albeit very short history as they first started playing in 2016). Despite making history, the team fell in the quarterfinals to the Lions. What makes them so successful is that they have a strong defense, including a formidable scrum, and on offense they run the ball well. There is some very good players on the team like hookers Agustin Creevy and Julian Montoya and center Jeronimo de la Fuente, but they did lose a very talented flyhalf in Nicolas Sanchez. The flyhalf void might be the biggest question mark for the team. Expect them to compete this season for one of the lower playoff spots, but also to be in almost every game because of their defense. Two players to watch are winger Bautista Delguy and flanker Pablo Matera.

Lions

The Lions are clearly the most talented side from South Africa as they even boast some of the starting players on South Africa’s national team. In 2018, they made a deep run to the finals only to lose to the Crusaders. The Lions have made the finals three seasons in a row, but nothing to show of it. That being said, they should be one of the top sides in the competition in 2019. The biggest part of why they are so successful is that they score a lot of tries (89 in 2018). However, they boast some world class players like hooker Malcolm Marx, loose forwards Warren Whiteley and Kwagga Smith, flyhalf Elton Jantjies, winger Aphiwe Dyantyi, and fullback Andries Coetzee. The team did lose some quality players like lock Franco Mostert, prop Ruan Dreyer, and flanker Jaco Kriel in the offseason. But even with their losses, this team should be expected to win the conference. A player to watch is lock Stephan Lewies.

Sharks

The Sharks clinched the final spot of the playoffs in 2018, but were subsequently knocked out in the first round. The hope in 2019 is that they are more improved and could push the Lions for the top spot in the conference or at least claim a better spot in the playoffs. One of their strength’s is their kicking which keeps them in many matches. Flyhalf Robert du Preez is one of the reasons why the team’s kicking is so good despite somewhat of an inept offense. They are also a very strong defensive team which is another good reason why they made the playoffs. The Sharks have a lot of strong players such as prop Tendai Mtawarira, lock Ruan Botha, center S’busiso Nkosi, and scrumhalf Louis Schreuder. This team is much improved and look to challenge the Lions for the top spot in the conference. One player to watch for is flyhalf Curwin Bosch.

Stormers

The Stormers had a very disappointing season in 2018 as they finished 11th in the table. While there is some upside on the team, the team should continue it’s struggles in 2019. However, the players on this team will look to push for a spot in the playoffs as they boast some talent here. In the forwards, that’s where the team’s strength lies as they have locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, flanker Siya Kolisi, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, and prop Stephen Kitshoff. That being said, while there is talent in this team, there is question marks about whether how inexperienced the squad is will hurt them a lot. The Stormers are on the rise, but there still needs some work to be done. A player to watch on this team is flyhalf Damian Willemse.

Predictions

James Rowe: There is a lot of good rugby here, but I think the winners of each conference will be pretty obvious as will some of the wild card spots. That being said, there will be a fight for the final two spots of the playoffs and that will be fun to watch.

New Zealand Conference Winner: Crusaders

Australia Conference Winner: Waratahs

South Africa Conference Winner: Lions

Wild Card Teams: Hurricanes, Highlanders, Chiefs, Jaguares, Rebels

Jeffrey Young: While defence is said to be optional and backs win the games I believe that it will come down to the forward packs this year with many of the stars being rested for the World Cup.

New Zealand Conference Winner: Crusaders

Australia Conference Winner: Waratahs

South Africa Conference: Lions

Wild Card Teams: Hurricanes, Brumbies, Jaguares, Rebels, Blues

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