[img]/FrontpageNewsBannersandMisc/2011/superugbysplash.jpg[/img]NickDNZ previews the 2011 Super Rugby season.
Well, once again Super Rugby rolls around the corner, and the snazzy new name, an additional new team in the Melbourne Rebels and over complicated format ensures it will be a season that's exciting and hard to follow. With the Rugby World Cup just around the corner, it will be the last chance for any players to stake a claim in their respective countries jerseys. The preseason hype surrounding the favourites is about to be tested, and already teams are being delt some harsh blows with injuries. Before the competition has begun, we can take the time to look at the 15 teams, and rate their chances ahead of the long season.
South African Teams:
Bulls: Over the last few years, the Bulls have become very much one of the front runners in the competition. Their game style consisting of a strong forward pack and clinical young backline has seen them win three Super Rugby championships over the last four years, including last years championship beating the Stormers in the final. The team is steeped with Springbok forwards including recent Springbok captain Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Guthro Steenkamp, Gary Botha, Chilliboy Ralepelle, Dannie Rossouw, Flip van der Merwe, Dewald Potgieter and Pierre Spies whom collectively boast 296 test caps for South Africa.
The Bulls backline is also a star filled lineout, with 2009 Player of the Year nominee Fourie du Preez set to make his return to the Bulls after injury. With du Preez is Springbok incumbant fly half Morne Steyn, whom has one of the best 9-10 combos in recent years for both the Bulls and Springboks. The backline is also likely to include Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Akona Ndungane, Francois Hougaard, Zane Kirshner and Jaco van der Westhuyzen, all of whom have played for the Springboks.
The Bulls opperate largely from the set piece, with a strong scrummager in Steenkamp, and two Springbok hookers in Ralepelle and Gary Botha. Their lineout has long been one of the best in the competition with captain Victor Matfield considered by many to be the best lineout opperator in the world. Their forward pack is one of the strongest in the competition, and has ensured Morne Steyn with quick go forward ball over the last three seasons. The backline has been clinical and scored a record number of points in 2010. With new speedstar Bjorn Basson expected to make a big impact, and Fourie and Steyn driving the team around the park, the Bulls have to be considered one of the favorites going into the competition.
Best Forward: Victor Matfield
Best Back: Fourie du Preez Player to look our for: Bjorn Basson
Lions: Unlike the Bulls, the Lions have achieved the worst results out of any franchise over the last few seasons, finishing bottom of the table last season, and not winning a single game. Over the last few months John Mitchell has been trying to recruit some big names, however there has appeared to be some reluctance to join the struggling franchise.
The forward pack has received criticisms in recent years, of not having enough big game players to be able to compete at the highest level, and the backline while being able to score points as well as many of the franchises, they have not had a defense capable of maintaining a lead. This was epitomized in the Lions v Chiefs match last year, in which the team scored 65 points, but conceded 72. The Lions will be praying for a better season the last, and to try and pull off the turnaround they have exciting fly half of Elton Jantjies as well as the experiences and somewhat injury prone Pretorius. The other weapon in which the Lions will hope will be firing this season, is the super speedstar Tonderai Chavhanga whos career has stalled since 2007 due to injuries and poor form.
Best Forward: Franco van der Werwe
Best Back: Elton Jantjies
Player to look for: Tonderai Chavhanga
Much like the Lions, the Cheetahs have been a struggling franchise in recent years, finishing 10th last season. The Cheetahs have always had a strong enough forward pack, spear headed by the captain and Springbok Juan Smith, however the backline has struggled to fire for a long time. The Cheetahs have always been somewhat of a scrum factory, producing great props like Os du Randt, and this year is no exception, with the promising WP Nel. In the flankers, Juan Smith will likely be reunited with one of the best opensides in the game, Heinrich Brussow.
Despite losing Basson to the Bulls, Jongi Nokwe remains in the squad. The very quick wing has had limited time in the Springboks, however the period he has had has been promising, scoring four tries against Australia in 2008.
Best forward: Juan Smith
Best back: Jongi Nokwe
Player to look out for: Riaan Viljoen
Sharks: After a poor start last season, the Sharks just fell short of getting a spot in the semi finals, however the Sharks team has met success since, with the bulk of the team winning the Currie Cup. Traditionally a strong team to beat, the Sharks have 6 Springboks in their forward pack, four of whom are in the front row. In the backs the Sharks have 5 Springboks, with the highly rated Patrick Lambie making his Super Rugby debut.
Much like the Bulls, the Sharks has one of the best set pieces in the game, and have arguably the strongest scrum in the competition. John Smit, whom has 102 test caps to his name, is looking at his last super rugby season, and is under pressure for the starting hooker spot of the younger and more athletic Bismark du Plessis, so is likely to ulternate between all three tight forward positions, with Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira the other two Springbok props. In the loose forwards Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski and Keegan Daniel are all very capable ball runners, so we can expect to see a fast pace forward pack with some grunt from the tight five.
In the backs the Sharks have the prodigal Patrick Lambie and Potgieter running the show, Adi Jacobs in midfield with speed to burn in Pieterson, Mvovo and Odwa Ndungane out wide, and the experienced Stefan Terblanche at fullback.
Best forward: Bismarck du Plessis
Best back: Stefan Terblanche Player to look out for: Patrick Lambie
Stormers: Runner up in last years Super 14, the Stormers will be looking to improve on last season and take the title. The forward pack has got Springbok hard man Schalk Burger once again captaining, and Andries Bekker making his return to super rugby from injury. However, with a forward pack of only four, front running Springboks in CJ van der Linde, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger and Andries Bekker, the Stormers make up for it with a fast and exciting backline, full of depth.
The backline has the mixed form Springbok Ricky Januarie at scrum half and will be marshaled around the field by the impressive Peter Grant and a midfield in which there are three leading Springboks in Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Juan de Jongh. The Sharks also have South Africa's joint leading try scorer in Bryan Habana, who will be desperate to rediscover some form going into the Rugby World Cup, 2010 Springbok discovery Gio Aplon and at fullback the veteran Conrad Jantjes.
Best forward: Schalk Burger
Best back: Jaque Fourie
Player to look out for: Peter Grant
Brumbies: The only Australian team to have won a Super Rugby season in the last 10 years, the Brumbies look set to have another strong Super season, with some clever recruits in Henry Speight and Julian Salvie. Their forward pack is bolstered by Australian captain Rocky Elsom, veteran lock Mark Chisholm, Australia's incumbent hooker and prop Stephan Moore and Ben Robinson. The forward pack will be missing for for the first time in almost a decade, one of the great flankers, George Smith.
The backline will be run by Mat Giteau, whom will want to have a big season to grab a spot in the World Cup team ahead of Berrick Barnes. In the centres is Christian Lealiifano and younger brother of Geroge, Tyrone Smith. Henry Speight is likely to start on the wings for the Brumbies, and the versatile international Adam Ashley-Cooper will likely to play at fullback.
Best forward: Rocky Elsome
Best back: Adam Ashley Cooper
Player to watch: Tyrone Smith
Reds: After a decade of being ordinary, the Reds came alive last season finishing 5th overall. Despite having to fight to keep many of their players in the last two years, the Reds have now got a very young and talented core group of players, and many fans are expecting a repeat of their success from last season.
Despite the tight five not being considered one of the more powerful in the tornament, the Reds boast 6 internationals in Saia Faianga'a, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Guy Shepherdson, Radike Samo and captain James Horwill. In the loose forwards Scott Higgenbotham and Leroy Houston will want to push for a spot in the RWC.
The backline of the Reds is one of the most exciting in the competition, with the very young and talented international combo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper. In the midfield will be Anthony Faianga'a and Digby Ioane or Will Chambers, either of whom can play on the wing. In the other wing will be the standout speedster of last years super rugby, Rod Davies and Peter Hynes likely to be fullback.
Best forward: James Horwill
Best back: Will Genia
Player to look out for: Rod Davies
Western Force: The Force look right on course for another mediocre season, with the heavy recruiting of average players. Among the Force's better players is the young international sensations James O'Connor, Richard Brown and David Pocock, with the experienced Wallaby kingpin Nathan Sharpe leading the team, and the legendary Matt Dunning looking to work is way back into international contention.
However the signings of Willie Ripia and David Smith comes accross slightly discouraging attempts to get some x-factor, as David Smith is completely hit or miss, and Willie Ripia is just miss. The Western Force will have to work hard to try and stay near mid table, as upsets often come few and far between.
Best forward: David Pocock
Best Back: James O'Connor
Player to look our for: Matt Dunning
Waratahs: Phil Waugh will ead his team into another season of Super Rugby. Traditionally one of the better teams in the competition, the Waratahs have built a large core of senior players, who will look to dominate up front, while also having a backline that has real danger men in Kurtley Beale, Lachie Turner and Drew Mitchell. The flyhalf for the team will be Berrick Barnes whom will be pushing for a starting spot in the RWC and Sosene Anesi will continue playing for the Waratahs for a second season.
After making it into the semi finals last season, the Waratahs will look to push for a spot in the final. One of the better defensive teams in the competition, 2010 saw the Waratahs produced some fine running rugby last season and they have the forward runners in players like Wycliff Palu and Ben Robinson, to really have a very powerful attacking game to go with their defense.
Best forward: Phil Waugh
Best back: Kurtley Beale
Player to look out for: Cameron Jowitt
Rebels: For their first rugby season ever, there is already a lot of mixed expectations for this team of all sorts. Captained by Wallaby legend Stirling Mortlock with experienced players such as Greg Sommerville and Adam Freier, the Rebels are very much an unknown factor, however there are still fairly low expectations for this team, this season.
The Rebels have got a solid pack, with Freier, Sommerville, Kevin O'Neil and Gareth Delve have all played international rugby for Australia, New Zealand and Wales respectively, however how well they will perform in this team is still fairly unknown.
In the backs, the Rebels have the very highly hyped Danny Cipriani taking the reigns at fly half, while at centre is Cooper Vuna, who has scored in every preseason match, and Stirling Mortlock. The back three sees the return of Mark Gerrard and league convert Luke Rooney.
Best forward: Greg Sommerville
Best back: Stirling Mortlock
Player to look out for: Danny Cipriani/Cooper Vuna
New Zealand Teams
Blues: Traditionally a powerhouse in the tornament, the last half decade have seen the Blues slip to a mid table team, this season however, the Blues looks full of exciting young talent, but will have to work hard to finish top of the conference.
The Blues forward packs sees the return of All Black Ali Williams, after two years of injury. The Blues boast a tight five consisting of five All Blacks in Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu, John Afoa, Anthony Boric and Ali Williams, with Charlie Faumuina also looking very impressive at prop. In the loose forwards they have two All Blacks in Jerome Kaino and Daniel Braid whom will try to get the backup jersey of Richie McCaw. The Blues also hoast two big #8s in Peter Saili and Matthew Luamanu both who have been in top form in the ITM Cup.
The Blues backline has an all star cast, which should see Mathewson at 9, Luke McAlister and Stephen Brett share the 10 jersey, with Benson Stanley and Rene Ranger forming powerful mid field, and a back three of the inform Jared Payne, Isaia Toeava and Sherwin Stowers.
Best forward: Kevin Mealamu
Best back: Isaia Toeava
Player to look out for: Charlie Faumuina/Jared Payne
Crusaders: The Crusaders have won more titles then any other team, however a look at their current roster is provoking many fans to declare the Crusaders the early winners of the tornament. The Crusaders have been poaching the young and exciting talent from the other franchises over the last fews years, and 2011 is the year many are expecting to see the big pay off. The tight five has more depth then any other franchise, with All Blacks in Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Cory Flynn, Chris Jack, Brad Thron and Sam Whitelock all featuring in this team, with a likely four of those players being in the All Blacks WC team. In the loose forwards the lineup of stars doesn't slow down, with Matt Todd looking very promising and All Blacks in George Whitelock, Richie McCaw and Kieren Read, the latter of the two being NZ's highest rated two forwards last year winning IRB Player of the Year and NZ Player of the Year between them.
The Crusaders backline has two international halfbacks in Kahn Fotuali'i and Andy Ellis, while Daniel Carter will continue to increase his record of points in Super 14. Sonny Bill Williams will partner another giant centre in the inform Robert Fruean while the back three consist of Maitland, Guildford and the new recruit Israel Dagg.
Best forward: Richie McCaw
Best back: Daniel Carter
Player to look out for: Robert Fruean
Chiefs: The Chiefs main talking point leading into the season, is the signing of All Black legend Tana Umaga. The Waikato based team has got plenty of fire power in the backs, but it has been up front where they have traditionally struggled, and the more of same looks likely. With a modest front row of Nathan White and Sona Taumololo, the big tight five interest will come from Hika Elliot and Aled de Melmanche, both of who will be working hard for a spot in the All Blacks RWC squad. At lock the new acquisition of Isaac Ross will likely see a fast pair of locks with Hayden Triggs, however they will likely once again loose out on the grunt. In the loose forwards Liam Messam, Fritz Lee, Scott Waldrom, Tanerau Latimer and Colin Burke are all in contention for an All Black spot, although only Messam can really be considered a likely contender.
The Chiefs backline is once again exciting, with Stephen Donald flattering to deceive that he is a capable footballer, and Mike Delany also will try and get that back up AB jersey. A centre combo of Tana Umaga and Richard Kahui will be a very exciting prospect, and the Chiefs will once again look to counter attack with their back three being arguably the best in the tornament with Sivivatu, Masaga, Muliaina and the young and exciting up and comer Tim Nanai-Williams, whom Colin Meads recons is the best player in the country.
Best forward: Hika Elliot
Best back: Kahui
Player to look out for: Tim Nanai-Williams/Tana Umaga
Highlanders: After recruiting so well in the off season, their season seems to be getting harder and harder the longer we wait, with Colin Slade, Kurt Baker and Tom Donnelly already ruled out for half the tornement due to injury problems. The big question will be for the Highlanders, with no Colin Slade, who will be the fly half until his return, with all candidates either being too young or too old. The Highlanders will have a very hard few weeks until they've got many of their players back.
Having recruited 16 players, the team captained by Jamie Mackintosh will try and build on Southlands success in the NPC, by using their forwards to make the yards, and then using some of the talent they've been missing in players like Telusa Veainu and Kade Poki to finish off the opportunities. Luckily it's not all doom and gloom, as the squad is still looking better than last season, unfortunately it's going to be harder for them to win the matches in the conference format.
Best forward: Jason Rutledge
Best back: Jimmy Cowan
Player to look out for: Telusa Veainu
Hurricanes: The Hurricanes looks like they are going to have much of the same as previous years. Their backline is arguably the best in world rugby, with some of the best backline players in the world, however their forward pack will struggle to have the cohesion and grunt that is necessery to win the tornament.
The Hurricanes have a tight five of all All Blacks, however only Andrew Hore is a safe bet for the RWC squad. In the loose forwards it's much of the same, with Victor Vito being the only real contender for the RWC squad, with So'oialo looking on his last legs and Karl Lowe not in the tornemant will later.
The backline is the only hope, and with the names that are in it, it seems amazing they have not achieved a lot more. The entire campaign relies heavily on Aaron Cruden firing at this level, as the backline members which will eventually include Piri Weepu, Hosea Gear, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and IRB Jr Player of the Year Julian Savea. With a new coach in Mark Hammet, hopefully there will be more structure to this team, as apposed to the loose freestyle in which has seen the Canes be the least consistent team in the competition.
Best forward: Victor Vito
Best back: Conrad Smith
Player to look out for: Julian Savea
Click here for the full article