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Super Rugby: New Zealand Preview

TRF_Ezequiel

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With the 2013 Super Rugby season to start soon, TRF_darwin, TRF_nickdnz and TRF_Ezequiel are trying to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the 15 teams. Today, TRF_nickdnz takes care of the New Zealand conference.

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2012 Record: 4 Wins, 12 losses (32 Points) - 12th Overall
2012 marked the worse finish in the Blues franchise history, finishing last in the New Zealand conference and 12th overall, despite high hopes at the beginning of the season. The results of the season at least in part can be attributed to a large number of injuries to experienced and world class players such as Isaia Toeava, Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock and Ali Williams. Despite this, the biggest concern for the Blues franchise was the disorganization of team selection as well as the remaining players not performing to their usual standard, most notably All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu who entered the season over weight and out of form. The Blues only managed to score 359 points last season, highlighting uncreative attack as well as basic errors.

This poor finish has resulted in the dismissal of head coach Pat Lam, who has since found a position as head coach of Irish team Connacht. Pat Lam's replacement as head coach is the recently knighted Sir John Kirwan, who will look to bring youth and enthusiasm into the three time Super Rugby winners. The makeup of the team is considerably different than last years, with many of the high profile players joining other franchises, and Kirwan looking to create a side to build upon. With expectations of improvement of New Zealand's largest franchise high, Kirwan and the team will have their work cut out for them going into this season. One of the big positives for the Blues is the signing of another recently knighted, 2011 Rugby World Cup winning coach Sir Graham Henry, who will hopefully improve the Blues defence as defense coach and technical advisor.
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Additions / losses:

The Blues turnover of players this season means the squad will go into the season with a largely unsettled lineup. Major losses to the team include All Blacks Daniel Braid (released), Ma'a Nonu (to Highlanders), Tony Woodcock (to Highlanders), Jerome Kaino (to Toyota Verblitz), Isaia Toeava (to Cannon Eagles), Rudi Wulf (to Toulon), Benson Stanley (to Clermont), Alby Mathewson (to Western Force), as well as first choice fly half Gareth Ansombe, who was originally left out of the Blues squad and subsequently joined the Chiefs despite later being offered a position in the squad. The loss of eight All Blacks and a turnover of 24 players in a squad of 32 means that the Blues will have a fresh start, but will have to work quickly to settle as a squad in order to get off to a decent start - and the loss of so many All Blacks and experienced players makes this a very difficult task.

In terms of new players, the Blues have been busily recruiting in the off season and the squad will feature many new names to Super Rugby. Of the experienced players, Callum Retallick will join the squad from the Highlanders, and depending on the fitness of Anthony Boric may well start. Another Highlanders player in Chris Noakes will join the squad as a fly half, and will battle out for the starting position with Super Rugby debutant Baden Kerr from Counties Manuaku. Several young players from last years New Zealand U20 squad will join the squad such as promising young prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi and U20's captain Bryn Hall.

Strengths:

- New coaching staff.
- Exciting possibilities in midfield and back three.
- Improved fitness from starting halfback.
- Solid line-out

Weaknesses:

- Lack of depth in all positions
- Lack of tested players.
- New captain without leadership experience.
- Untested and inexperienced 1st 5/8ths.
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2013 Squad
Props: Charlie Faumuina, Tom McCartney, Tim Perry, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi
Hookers: Keven Mealamu, Quentin McDonald, James Parsons
Locks: Ali Williams (c), Anthony Boric, Cullum Retallick, Ronald Raaymakers, Liaki Moli
Loose forwards: Luke Braid, Peter Saili, Brendan O'Connor, Kane Barrett, Steve Luatua
Halfbacks: Piri Weepu, Jamison Gibson-Park, Bryn Hall
First-five eighths: Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes
Centres: Rene Ranger, Jackson Willison, Francis Saili, Malakai Fekitoa
Wingers: Frank Halai, Waisake Naholo, George Moala
Fullbacks: Charles Piutau, Marty McKenzie

Top XV: 1. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Ali Williams (c), 5. Anthony Boric, 6. Steve Luatua, 7. Luke Braid, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Baden Kerr, 11. Frank Halai, 12. Francis Saili, 13. Rene Ranger, 14. Waisake Naholo, 15. Charles Piutau

The bottom line:

With a largely unsettled squad full of Super Rugby rookies, it is unlikely the Blues envision themselves making the playoffs this season. Most likely their goal will be to finish better than last season and to develop their squad for the future. A concern for the Blues will be depth as well as inexperience in key positions, and for this reason it is unlikely that the Blues will deliver anything more promising than a step in the right direction this season. Predicted finish: 12th

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2012 Record: 12 wins, 4 losses (64 points) - 2nd Overall (Super Rugby champions).

2012 marked the most successful year for the Waikato based franchise, winning Super Rugby for the first time their history. A hard working forward pack and an exciting and dynamic back-line, resulted in the Chiefs winning a home final against the Sharks 37-6, at Waikato Stadium. While several factors contributed towards the teams success, it was evident that the work by newly appointed coach Dave Renee was crucial in turning the underachieving franchise into a winning team. Employing a fast paced running game and tight defense - courtesy in part of former All Blacks World Cup winning backs coach Wayne Smith - saw the Chiefs franchise winning 12 of their 16 games.

Several key players from last season have left the franchise, most notably Tongan international prop Sona Taumalolo and All Black inside center Sonny Bill Williams. Despite these losses, the bulk of the squad has remained intact with the same coaching staff, and captains in Craig Clarke and Liam Messam. The Chiefs will certainly be looking to repeat last seasons performance and win the competition. Because of the caliber of the team and coaches, not making the playoffs would be an unlikely, bitter disappointment.
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Additions / losses:

As previously mentioned - the two major losses for the Chiefs are Sonny Bill Williams and Sona Taumalolo. Sona Taumalolo's form last season was terrific, with the dynamic front rower scoring 9 tries last season alone, having a knack for finishing tries near the opposition line, while at times showing rare speed and athleticism for a big man. His scrumming ability also came on in leaps and bounds last season, combining with Ben Tamiafuna to form a formidable scrum. Fortunately the Chiefs are reasonably well stocked in the front row department, with Tameifuna, Ben Afeaki and Toby Smith all very capable props. The loss of Sonny Bill Williams has many Chiefs fans predicting a considerably less successful season. The charismatic and much hyped Sonny Bill Williams will be returning to the NRL after a stint playing in Japan. Sonny Bill Williams played a key role last season with the Chiefs, being used to gain meters in the midfield while opening gaps for team mates. He ran the most meters of any player with ball in hand last season, so the Chiefs may have difficulty finding a proficient replacement.

The additions to the side are less likely to inspire excitement to the Chiefs fans in comparison to the two losses, however Dave Renee has clearly been looking to build depth in key positions. Bundee Aki (in from Counties Manukau) and Charlie Ngatai (from Hurricanes) have been brought in to try and fill the hole in the midfield left by Sonny Bill Williams. Bundee Aki has had a very successful season with Counties Manukau, playing an important role in their promotion from the Championship to the Premiership of the ITM Cup. He plays a different type of game than SBW, relying on quick footwork rather than pure strength. Ngatai moves to the Chiefs after several seasons at the Hurricanes where he was largely kept on the bench or injured. Ngatai is a reasonably well rounded inside center who can also play at fullback. In the forwards, the Chiefs look to hard working utility forwards in former All Black Ross Filipo and Highlander Nick Crosswell - both capable at either lock or loose forwards. The highest profile signing is arguably former Blues fly half Gareth Anscombe - who was a shock omission from the Blues side. The young play-maker is a very capable goal kicker and is growing more and more capable at running a game. His involvement maybe crucial to the Chiefs success, with star play-maker Aaron Cruden having to play every game last season.

Strengths:

-
Depth in most positions - largely settled squad from last season
- Good half back pairing
- Dangerous back three
- Hard working forward pack
- Good coaching team

Weaknesses
- Unsettled midfield
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2013 Squad:

Props:
Ben Afeaki, Josh Hohneck, Solomona Sakilia, Toby Smith, Ben Tameifuna
Hookers: Hikawera Elliot, Mahonri Schwalger, Rhys Marshall
Locks:
Craig Clarke (c), Brodie Retallick, Romana Graham, Michael Fitzgerald, Ross Filipo
Loose forwards: Liam Messam (c), Fritz Lee, Nick Crosswell, Tanerau Latimer, Sam Cane
Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brendan Leonard, Augustine Palu
First-five eights: Aaron Cruden, Gareth Anscombe
Centres: Richard Kahui, Bundee Aki, Charlie Ngatai
Wingers: Lelia Masaga, Patrick Osborne, Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Fullbacks: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell

Top XV:

1. Toby Smith, 2. Hikawera Elliot, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Craig Clarke (c), 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam (c), 7. Sam Cane, 8. Nick Crosswell, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Tim Nanai-Williams, 12. Andrew Horrell, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Robbie Robinson

The bottom line:

Expectations from the Chiefs are likely to be very high this season. It is difficult to target any real weakness areas in the current squad, however the loss of Sonny Bill Williams will certainly ask more from the rest of the squad to continue from their form last season. The team has retained the bulk of their competition winning squad, so the team certainly have the capacity to win the competition - whether or not they can do so is yet to be seen. Predicted finish: 1st

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2012 Season: 10 wins, 6 losses (57 points) - 8th Overall

Despite only finishing one place higher last season than the previous, there is enthusiasm among Hurricanes fans that this seasons team will make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Last season started with most Hurricanes fans baying for the blood of new coach Mark Hammett, after he fired captain Andrew Hore and star center Ma'a Nonu. Regardless Mark Hammett eventually won the hearts and minds of New Zealand's capital, by delivering a season which saw young and inexperienced talent put on occasional moments of brilliance - finishing the season in strong form and only one win away from making the playoffs. With such a young group starting their second season the reason for optimism is well placed - however in arguably the most competitive conference a spot in the semi-final is far from guaranteed.

An important area the Hurricanes will look to improve on is their work over the ball and retaining field possession. Despite the good results last season, much of the Hurricanes 489 points (the most of any team in 2012), came off the back of counter attacking from long range. Improving possession will be crucial if they plan to make the playoffs this season. Another area which they are looking to improve on is in the scrum - an area which at times looked like a problem area for the Hurricanes, however the form of Jeffery Toomaga-Allen in the ITM Cup as well as the addition of Crusaders prop Ben Franks should go some way towards helping.
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Additions / losses:

Unlike the previous season, which saw the Hurricanes lose 11 All Blacks, the Hurricanes have kept a majority of their squad intact with no losses to the regular starting team. Taranaki prop Michael Bent discovered he's actually Irish and thus left the side to pursue an international career with Ireland and Leinster. The loss of Jayden Hayward and Charlie Ngatai somewhat slims the depth of the Hurricanes midfield. As usual the biggest losses in the Hurricanes signings usually occur because a lack of talent identification, with several promising young players missing out on contracts despite belonging to the region - and thus sign with the Highlanders. The other possible loss comes in the form of All Black winger Cory Jane. While still contracted with the squad, it is looking likely that injury to his ACL will keep him out for the 2013 season. This loss may significantly damage the Hurricanes chances, as their back three was a vital part of the Hurricanes success last season.

The major addition to the Hurricanes franchise comes in the form of Ben Franks. The All Black props left the Crusaders in order to get more regular game time and to specialize at loose-head. The 28 year old will offer invaluable experience to a young front row, and should help to turn the Hurricanes scrum into a weapon rather than a liability. The other exciting addition to the Hurricanes comes in the way of Ardie Savea. The 19 year old loose forward joins the squad after an impressive season with Wellington in the ITM Cup. Younger brother of Hurricanes and All Blacks winger Julian Savea, Ardie Savea is unlikely to get significant game-time - however will likely be used as a developing player. James Marshall takes the place of Daniel Kirkpatrick, with his versatility in covering fly half, inside center and fullback to an effective degree being a real asset.

Strengths:

- Good 8, 9, 10 pairing.
- Exciting outside backs
- Improved scrum
- Effective and creative midfield

Weaknesses:

- Still lack in significant depth
- Possible season ending injury to Cory Jane
- Forward pack still possibly lacking grunt
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2013 Squad:

Props:
Ben Franks, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Reggie Goodes, Ben May, Eric Sione
Hookers: Dane Coles, Motu Matu'u
Locks: Jason Eaton, James Broadhurst, Jeremy Thrush, Mark Reddish
Loose forwards: Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Karl Lowe, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Ardie Savea, Blade Thomson
Halfbacks: TJ Perenara, Chris Smylie, Samisoni Fisilau
First-five eighths: Beauden Barrett, James Marshall, Tusi Pisi
Centres: Conrad Smith (c), Tim Bateman, Rey Lee-lo, Alapati Leiua
Wingers: Julian Savea, Cory Jane, Matt Proctor
Fullbacks: Andre Taylor

Top XV:

1. Ben Franks, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Jason Eaton, 6. Brad Shields, 7. Karl Lowe, 8. Victor Vito, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Beuaden Barrett, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Tim Bateman, 13. Conrad Smith, 14. Cory Jane (injured)/Alapati Leiua, 15. Andre Taylor

The bottom line:

The Hurricanes have a lot of potential going into this season, looking to build on last seasons form. To improve from last season, it is vital that the Hurricanes gain parity in the forwards as their back-line has proven to be extremely effective. The outside backs will likely suffer with the loss of Cory Jane, however there is still plenty of finishing ability in Julian Savea and Andre Taylor, though the Hurricanes may look to bring in an effective replacement for the right winger. Providing they build on from how they finished last season - a playoff spot looks like a reasonable possibility. Predicted finish: 6th


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2012 Season: 11 wins, 5 losses (61 points) - 4th Overall

The 2012 season concluded another frustrating run of near misses for the Crusaders. Traditionally the perennial favourites, the Crusaders have won Super Rugby in its various forms seven times since its foundation in 1996, making the playoffs fourteen times in seventeen years. Regardless, the Crusaders have failed to win the competition since 2008, when Robbie Deans was coach. It is a display of the expectations on this team when current coach Todd Blackadder is the least successful Crusaders coach in history, despite taking his team to three semi-finals and a final. The Crusaders won't feel too upset with their last season, only losing to the Chiefs 20-17 in the semi-final, however frustration is bound to set in with their failure to win the competition, despite their roster of some of the worlds most successful players.

A challenge for the Crusaders in the upcoming season will be playing without regular Crusaders and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who will miss most or all of the season on sabbatical. Regardless they should be up to the task with Matt Todd proving a very capable replacement.
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Additions / losses:

The Crusaders have not quite come of unscathed in terms of losses. The loss of Ben Franks to the Hurricanes means the prop rotation system they have used to good effect may no longer be as effective, and the loss of Quentin McDonald to the Blues further hurts their tight forward ranks. In the outside backs the Crusaders will likely miss Sean Maitland, with the former New Zealand Maori speedster moving to Glasgow to join the Glasgow Warriors and the Scotland international team. The other omission comes in Zac Guildford's withdrawal from the squad. The Hawke's Bay winger has voluntarily taken time out from rugby in order to overcome alcohol related issues.

The Crusaders have picked up some promising young talent however. Dominic Bird joins their squad after a good ITM Cup. Bird is a hard working twenty one year old lock, who at 6'9'' has looked effective in the lineouts. Their looseforwards will be further enhanced by Jordan Taufua and Jimmy Tupou, both dangerous ball carries from the recent New Zealand U20 team. Kurt Baker joins the squad after the loss of Zac Guildford, however until fully recovered from injury will be replaced by Canterbury and former Highlanders winger Telusa Veaniu who performed well for Canterbury in the recent ITM Cup. The final addition to the squad is winger Johnny McNicholl. The 22 year old winger is likely to take over the right wing spot after a very impressive ITM Cup for Canterbury, showing good workrate, vision and try scoring ability.

Strengths:

- World class players in several positions.
- Extremely strong starting forward pack
- Great depth at lock and loose forwards
- Continually make the playoffs

Weaknesses:

- Lack of depth in the front row and outside backs
- Richie McCaw out for most or all of season
- Inability to win playoffs since 2008.
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2013 Squad:

Props:
Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Nepu Laulala
Hookers: Cory Flynn, Cody Tyler, Ben Funnell
Locks: Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Tom Donnelly, Dominic Bird
Loose forwards: Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou, Shane Christie
Halfbacks: Andy Ellis, Willie Heinz, Jeremy Su'a
First-five eighths: Daniel Carter, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Taylor
Centres: Ryan Crotty, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock
Wingers: Johnny McNicholl, Telusa Veainu, Kurt Baker, Zac Guildford (may return in the season)
Fullbacks: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall

Top XV:
1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Cory Flynn, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Sam Whitelock, 5. Luke Romano, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Richie McCaw, 8. Kieran Read (c), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Daniel Carter, 11. Telusa Veainu, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Johnny McNicholl, 15. Israel Dagg

The bottom line:
Although the Crusaders will be desperate to win this years competition the squad looks less settled this season than in previous years, with areas such as the front row, halfback and outside backs all looking exceptionally low on depth compared to previous seasons. That said, it is always a mistake to rule out the most successful team in the competition, particularly with the caliber of players that still remain in the squad. Predicted finish: 5th

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2012 Season: 9 wins, 7 losses (50 points) - 9th Overall

The 2012 season for the Highlanders was a mixed one. Finishing one place below their previous position at 8th, the Dunedin based franchise suffered from much of the same issues which have prevented them from becoming a regular force in the competition. The combative, forward oriented style Jamie Joseph has enforced has proved effective for two seasons now - however the style of play often result in injuries and fatigue in the squad, which the Highlanders tend not to have the depth to maintain.

Another issue that the Highlanders suffered from is creativity in the back-line. The injuries to both first choice first-five Colin Slade and second choice Lima Sopoaga, resulted in a lack of creativity in the back-line, and a tendency to use backs as forwards to make meters, or simply passing from one side of the field to another without making in roads. The issues in depth, as well as the lack of creativity in the back-line, Jamie Joseph has looked to fix for 2013 - continuing to recruit several high profile players from other franchises. Because of these high profile signings, Highlanders fans are optimistic of making the playoffs, with one of the strongest Super Rugby squads on paper.
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Additions / losses

The Highlanders have lost several players from last season, most notably former captain Jimmy Cowan who has signed with Gloucester. Long time servant of Highlanders and Southland Jason Rutledge was released by the Highlanders, likely looking for a younger replacement. By all signs so far Adam Thomson and the Highlanders have failed to reach terms, with the All Blacks flanker seeming to take time off rugby to 'consider his options'. Nick Crosswell, who played an important role in the last two Highlanders campaigns has joined the Chiefs, while James Haskell has returned to England to rejoin the London Wasps. Finally both Kurt Baker and Telusa Veainu have joined the Crusaders have missing out on Highlanders contracts this season.

Despite the big names that have left the Highlanders, there are several notable additions to the squad. Long time Blues and New Zealand servant Tony Woodcock joins the squad to bolster the front row. The move may well signify the Highlanders regular captain Jamie Mackintosh, spending significant time on the sideline. Another big name signing is that of All Blacks and former Hurricanes and Blues star Ma'a Nonu, which will hopefully bringing in some creativity and x-factor to the Highlanders often static midfield. Another All Black signed is indestructible legend Brad Thorn, who at 38 will overtake Tana Umaga's record as the oldest player to play in Super Rugby. Brad Thorn has recently spent time at Japanese club Fukuoka Sanix Blues as well as winning the 2012 Heineken Cup with Leinster. Jason Emery, New Zealand's U20 player of the year in 2012, has also been picked up. Emery is a creative and exciting center, who despite only being 19 may well see significant game time with the pre-season injury to Tamati Ellison. The final exciting signing is Fumiaki Tanaka. The Japanese scrumhalf played a big role in Otago's ITM Cup campaign and has gained a cult following in New Zealand - he will be one of the first two Japanese players to play in Super Rugby.

Strengths:

- Some big name signings in traditionally problem areas.
- Extremely exciting possible back-line
- Good second row depth

Weaknesses:

- Still lack depth in loose forwards and outside backs
- Very breakable players in key positions
- Very average loose forwards
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2013 Squad:

Props
: Tony Woodcock, Jamie Mackintosh, Chris King, Ma'afu Fia
Hookers: Andrew Hore, Liam Coltman, Brayden Mitchell
Locks: Brad Thorn, Josh Bekhuis, Jarrad Hoeata, Joe Wheeler
Loose forwards: Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, Jake Paringatai
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Fumiaki Tanaka
First-five eighths: Colin Slade, Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker
Centres: Ma'a Nonu, Tamati Ellison, Jason Emery, Shaun Treeby, Phil Burleigh
Wingers: Hosea Gear, Declan O'Donnell, Kade Poki, Buxton Popoali'i
Fullbacks: Ben Smith, Trent Renata

Top XV:
1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Andrew Hore, 3. Chris King, 4. Brad Thorn, 5. Josh Bekhuis, 6. Jarrad Hoeata, 7. John Hardie, 8. Nasi Manu, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Colin Slade, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Tamati Ellison, 14. Buxton Popoali'i, 15. Ben Smith

The bottom line:

The Highlander will look to improve upon their previous season. With some big name signings in Tony Woodcock, Ma'a Nonu and Brad Thorn, the team seem to be well equipped in world class talent to make it to the knockout stages. What will be required however is learning from previous seasons mistakes, particularly in regards to back-line creativity and squad injury and fatigue. At preseason stage the Highlanders have already suffered several injuries, so managing the squads fitness and health will be vital to their success. A lack of depth and general mixture will make the loose forwards a problem area, where last season it was a strength. Predicted finish: 7th
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Darwin

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Great preview Nick.

One of the big concerns I have about the Canes this season is their backline depth. They are going to have to hope that there top lineup stays fit the whole season, as I'm not convinced the likes of Smylie, Fisilau, Pisi, Marshall, Lee-lo, whoever replaces Jane (Buckman?) are good enough to be regular starters at Super Rugby level. My other major concern is the lack of a quality back-up goal-kicker. If Barrett is off the field they are going to have to rely on Pisi (who is a bit inconsistent), Taylor (who kicks only very occasionally), or Perenara (who hasn't kicked for a year or so, and is just coming back from a serious leg injury...).
 
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Larksea

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Good read.

Ben smith is so good that picture of him just side stepped me...

Looking forward to Seeing Colin Slade make a comeback. If he has a good run with injuries and kicks well for goal the highlanders are sure to make the playoffs.

I think Ben Franks is a massive signing for the hurricanes, not just because of his on field ability but his off field ability as well. He is really hard working and articulate and that will lift the squad and forward pack in particular.

I can't imagine the blues having another bad season with Henry in the coaching box. Sure on paper they don't shine and lack proven performers in many positions but they are just destined to punch above their weight and have more motivation and more to prove than any other team.

few Major issues with the chiefs,
No SBW - basically by far the best 12 in the whole competition last year by a country mile. leading the meter and offload stats and proving to be a superb defender. Impossible to replace
Slow recovery/later return of Richard Kahui - he becomes so important without SBW - he set the standard for defense up till his injury last year.
Ben Tameifuna is basically a sure thing to have 2nd season blues. He's had off field problems and fittness issues. Looks out of shape, he played a very important role for the chiefs last year. Basically being a major factor in a scrum that was almost impossible to put on the back foot. Afeaki is great around the field but I dont think he can be as big a stone wall as Tamei was in 2012.

last note: I want to see Toby Smith prove me right, I recon if he can have an injury free season he will be an All Black. This guy ticks all the boxes.

Dont really have an opiion on the crusaders, you expect them to make the playoffs and at that stage be favorites then it just comes down to wanting it more.
 

nickdnz

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Great preview Nick.

One of the big concerns I have about the Canes this season is their backline depth. They are going to have to hope that there top lineup stays fit the whole season, as I'm not convinced the likes of Smylie, Fisilau, Pisi, Marshall, Lee-lo, whoever replaces Jane (Buckman?) are good enough to be regular starters at Super Rugby level. My other major concern is the lack of a quality back-up goal-kicker. If Barrett is off the field they are going to have to rely on Pisi (who is a bit inconsistent), Taylor (who kicks only very occasionally), or Perenara (who hasn't kicked for a year or so, and is just coming back from a serious leg injury...).

The Jane replacement is an obvious issue. Like you've mentioned, he's very important in getting the other back three firing. Buckman would be probably my last choice to replace Jane. He looked very good for Hawkes Bay two seasons ago, but last season he was considerably more quiet comparred to Gillies Kaka on the other wing. Most importantly though he was terrible when he was used last season in Super Rugby, especially in defense. I'd go for Proctor as my first choice, then Leiua who I actually prefer at centre, in part cause I still don't feel he has especially good pace for a winger.

Goal kicker I'm less concerned with. Andre Taylor has been doing very well in taking the kicks pre season. He's got a very sizeable boot as well.
 

Darwin

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Good read.

Ben smith is so good that picture of him just side stepped me...
TRF_Darwin likes this.

Looking forward to Seeing Colin Slade make a comeback. If he has a good run with injuries and kicks well for goal the highlanders are sure to make the playoffs.
It will be very interesting to see how he goes. The Highlanders need a quality 10 to lead them to the playoffs, and a fully fit Slade would certainly fit that bill. I'm still not convinced about his or Sopoaga's goal-kicking though - our best goal-kicker is again out third choice 10 (Hayden Parker). It will be interesting to see who out of Sopoaga and Slade wins the 10 jersey throughout the season. I actually think Sopoaga might actually be a better fit at 10 as he possess the ability to unleash the quality outside backs the Highlanders now possess. I get the feeling we may see quite a bit of Slade at fullback throughout the season (with Sopoaga at 10 and Smith at centre).

few Major issues with the chiefs,
No SBW - basically by far the best 12 in the whole competition last year by a country mile. leading the meter and offload stats and proving to be a superb defender. Impossible to replace
Slow recovery/later return of Richard Kahui - he becomes so important without SBW - he set the standard for defense up till his injury last year.
As you mention the loss of SBW is massive for the Chiefs. A Horrell/Kahui midfield would be pretty good, but not at the same level as a SBW/Kahui midfield. I'm actually picking Ngatai to have a big season with the Chiefs. He burst onto the scene a couple of seasons ago with the Under 20's but hasn't really developed since. His weight has been a bit of an issue, but he looked much slimmer for Wellington last season, and was playing much better too (though largely at fullback). Another intriguing option I have heard mentioned is Tim Nanai-Williams in the midfield. I'm not convinced about it myself, but he would certainly bring another dimension to the Chiefs attack with his distribution skills and elusiveness, though I do think his lack of physicality would be an issue.

Ben Tameifuna is basically a sure thing to have 2nd season blues. He's had off field problems and fittness issues. Looks out of shape, he played a very important role for the chiefs last year. Basically being a major factor in a scrum that was almost impossible to put on the back foot. Afeaki is great around the field but I dont think he can be as big a stone wall as Tamei was in 2012.
If Tameifuna is in the same shape he was in for Hawkes Bay last season he won't have second season blues. He won't even get on the field, as he won't fit through the changing room door! If he does get through the door the game will be over before he gets on the pitch. I really hope he has been working hard in the off-season, as he has serious potential. I think Ben Afeaki may actually be a better fit for the Chiefs this season in any case. I have always thought that front-rows work better if the props are similar heights (though have no evidence to back this up what-so-ever...). With a tall prop like Smith starting at LH the scrum may actually function better with Afeaki at TH, rather than the shorter Tameifuna (even though Tameifuna is a better scrummager).

last note: I want to see Toby Smith prove me right, I recon if he can have an injury free season he will be an All Black. This guy ticks all the boxes.
I'm hoping for a big season from Toby Smith too. As you say he has a lot of potential, and we could do with another quality LH prop (I'm still not 100% convinced with Crockett at test level, though he is doing the job). We also need as many Smith's in the AB's as possible, as it is a good tactic to confuse the oppostion.

The Jane replacement is an obvious issue. Like you've mentioned, he's very important in getting the other back three firing. Buckman would be probably my last choice to replace Jane. He looked very good for Hawkes Bay two seasons ago, but last season he was considerably more quiet comparred to Gillies Kaka on the other wing. Most importantly though he was terrible when he was used last season in Super Rugby, especially in defense. I'd go for Proctor as my first choice, then Leiua who I actually prefer at centre, in part cause I still don't feel he has especially good pace for a winger.

I tend to agree on Buckman. He is a solid player at ITM level who tries really hard, but looked out of his depth at Super Rugby level, with his lack of pace particularly evident. I actually think he is much better in the midfield, but for some reason he seems to be seen as an outside back (he is a handy goal-kicker though). Kaka is a frustrating player - brilliant one minute, completely dire the next. He could a very good Super Rugby player, but he makes so many silly errors, and has a shocking work-rate. Like you I would pick Proctor out of the choices available. He isn't the finished product yet, but he has a lot of potential, and really backs himself (which you really want from your wings). Leiua stepped it up during the ITM Cup so could be handy too. One player who I was surprised they didn't give more attention was Jason Woodward, who is now with the Rebels. He isn't exactly a star, but he covers wing and fullback, knows his way to the try line, and is a very good goal-kicker...

Goal kicker I'm less concerned with. Andre Taylor has been doing very well in taking the kicks pre season. He's got a very sizeable boot as well.
Good to hear Taylor has been doing a bit of kicking. I have always thought he was a good goalkicker - I have been surprised how little he has been used in the past.
 
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nickdnz

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I tend to agree on Buckman. He is a solid player at ITM level who tries really hard, but looked out of his depth at Super Rugby level, with his lack of pace particularly evident. I actually think he is much better in the midfield, but for some reason he seems to be seen as an outside back (he is a handy goal-kicker though). Kaka is a frustrating player - brilliant one minute, completely dire the next. He could a very good Super Rugby player, but he makes so many silly errors, and has a shocking work-rate. Like you I would pick Proctor out of the choices available. He isn't the finished product yet, but he has a lot of potential, and really backs himself (which you really want from your wings). Leiua stepped it up during the ITM Cup so could be handy too. One player who I was surprised they didn't give more attention was Jason Woodward, who is now with the Rebels. He isn't exactly a star, but he covers wing and fullback, knows his way to the try line, and is a very good goal-kicker...

Good to hear Taylor has been doing a bit of kicking. I have always thought he was a good goalkicker - I have been surprised how little he has been used in the past.

Jason Woodward I'd have loved to have stayed. Rebels got a good player there. I prefer him at fullback than wing, however with Taylor there I think he would have done a good job on the right wing. As you say, not really an x-factor player, however he is extremely safe and proficient.
 

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I think Afeaki is a better player than Tameifuna, in all facets of the game, personally.
 

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I think Afeaki is a better player than Tameifuna, in all facets of the game, personally.

I think Tameifuna is a better scrummager, but that is about it. I have seldom seen him moved at scrum-time, which is probably not surprising given how short (~1.8m) and err... solid (140+kgs) he is. I have seen Afeaki struggle a bit at scrum time over the years (shorter LH props seem to be able to get under him and drive him up), though I do think his scrummaging has improved a lot in recent seasons. Apart from that I would agree that Afeaki is better in almost all other facets (particularly in terms of work-rate), though Tameifuna does have a beautiful passing game for a prop forward when he uses it!
 

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Afeaki is better around the park than Tameifuna for sure but you simply can not overrate the job Tameifuna did for the chiefs last year, his ability to simply brick wall a scrum had positive benefits for the chiefs that went basically right across the park and surely the huge lift in Taumalolo's scrum game last year had a LOT to do with the fact the tight head side of the scrum was rock solid most of the time allowing him to manipulate his side as needed.

From what I've seen so far though as far as off season from Tameifuna is that he's way behind where he should be, Afeaki will have to start as the frontline tighthead. They need to lash Tameifuna's hands to an Exercycle and bar him from entering the local pie shop and hope he can start contributing at some point. If he's 140+kg he needs to get down to 130 asap.
 
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Very good summary. So hyped up for the new season, can't wait
 

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http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/8308340/Super-Rugby-2013s-breakout-XV

Good one I reckon. Would love to see more of Ardie Savea this season. :D

Personally I'm not sure Ardie Savea is quite ready for Super Rugby yet, but it hard not to be excited by his potential. He is incredibly dynamic, but does need to fill-out a bit (hopefully without losing his explosiveness). He is still only 19, so has plenty of time. I think Jack Lam would be my first choice 7 for the Canes - I quite like Lowe too, but he has struggled a bit over recent season with injury. Initially I would look at using Savea on the bench, as he could be devastating against a tiring defense!
 

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Personally I'm not sure Ardie Savea is quite ready for Super Rugby yet, but it hard not to be excited by his potential. He is incredibly dynamic, but does need to fill-out a bit (hopefully without losing his explosiveness). He is still only 19, so has plenty of time. I think Jack Lam would be my first choice 7 for the Canes - I quite like Lowe too, but he has struggled a bit over recent season with injury. Initially I would look at using Savea on the bench, as he could be devastating against a tiring defense!
True.

I still remember watching some games and seeing Lam ALL OVER the field and making plays. The dude was unheralded as it got.
 

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I'm still not convinced by Savea. He's a fantastic athlete, no doubt, but I don't see him as a particularly effective 7. I think he's more suited to the wing, like his brother, or even number 8.
 

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Correct me if i'm wrong, but it looks like the Crusaders are taking a bit of a dip??

and that the young up-and-coming would rather go to the other teams who play a bit more exciting rugby than the uncompromising Saders?
 

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Correct me if i'm wrong, but it looks like the Crusaders are taking a bit of a dip??

and that the young up-and-coming would rather go to the other teams who play a bit more exciting rugby than the uncompromising Saders?

I don't think so. They still brought in a couple of recent U20 players from outside the area. The only reason players would not want to go to the Crusaders is because of the earthquakes and the fact that they currently have a pretty cemented starting lineup in place, whereas a team like the Highlanders still had a lot of open positions,
 

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Correct me if i'm wrong, but it looks like the Crusaders are taking a bit of a dip??

and that the young up-and-coming would rather go to the other teams who play a bit more exciting rugby than the uncompromising Saders?

Personally I don't think the Crusaders have taken too much of a dip - indeed I would be surprised if they aren't competing for the ***le again this season (indeed I still see them as favourites...). The big problem the Crusaders have is that they have had probably better sides over the last couple of seasons, but have failed to get over the final hurdle/s and actually win the ***le. It will probably be harder without McCaw for most of the season, and Carter getting ever more injury prone.

The Crusaders propping stocks are looking a bit thin this season, which could be a bit of a concern. Apart from that I can't see many weaknesses. I would say the Crusaders are stillprobably still getting at least as much young talent as any other franchise, though mainly in the forwards. The likes of Nepo Laulala, Dom Bird, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Jordan Taufua, and Johnny McNicholl are all very promising young players who will form the backbone of the Crusaders (and quite possibly even the All Blacks) in the future. I'm predicting McNicholl will make a big impact this season, but the likes of Bird, Tupou, Whitelock and Taufua may have to wait a season or two to really stamp their mark on Super Rugby due to the depth the Crusaders have in their locks/loosies.
 

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Personally I don't think the Crusaders have taken too much of a dip - indeed I would be surprised if they aren't competing for the ***le again this season (indeed I still see them as favourites...). The big problem the Crusaders have is that they have had probably better sides over the last couple of seasons, but have failed to get over the final hurdle/s and actually win the ***le. It will probably be harder without McCaw for most of the season, and Carter getting ever more injury prone.

The Crusaders propping stocks are looking a bit thin this season, which could be a bit of a concern. Apart from that I can't see many weaknesses. I would say the Crusaders are stillprobably still getting at least as much young talent as any other franchise, though mainly in the forwards. The likes of Nepo Laulala, Dom Bird, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Jordan Taufua, and Johnny McNicholl are all very promising young players who will form the backbone of the Crusaders (and quite possibly even the All Blacks) in the future. I'm predicting McNicholl will make a big impact this season, but the likes of Bird, Tupou, Whitelock and Taufua may have to wait a season or two to really stamp their mark on Super Rugby due to the depth the Crusaders have in their locks/loosies.

to me they look a bit thin at prop and scrumhalf. Andy Ellis is a bit of a muppet IMO and it doesn't like his back-ups are better than him.

But thanx for the replies... makes a bit more sense now...
 

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to me they look a bit thin at prop and scrumhalf. Andy Ellis is a bit of a muppet IMO and it doesn't like his back-ups are better than him.

But thanx for the replies... makes a bit more sense now...

I think Ellis is a bit better at Super Rugby level than you are giving him credit for. Indeed I think he has been one of the best 9's in Super Rugby over the last two years. He does look like a bit of a muppet though. He is an excellent support runner, has a very good tactical kicking game, and though his passing can be a bit laboured at times he actually gets the ball out to the backs quicker than most other 9's in NZ rugby, as he gets to the breakdown very quickly and doesn't ****-around once he gets there (cough.... Piri Weepu....cough). He does struggle a bit on defense, and can be pressured by aggressive opposition 9's (I remember Kerr-Barlow giving him a very hard time one match last season). Personally I would have had him in the AB's last season backing up Aaron Smith.

The players behind him are unproven at Super Rugby level though. Heinz has been pretty solid in his cameos thus thus far, but I'm not convinced he will ever be much more than a backup at Super Rugby level. I'm not a big fan of Su'a - he has some talent, but tries to do far too much himself (and has no experience at Super Rugby level).
 

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didn't know where else to post this... second best new zealand team showing how professional they are
 
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