It’s almost time for the tournament of tournaments, the most exciting clash of strengths and wills since, well, the last time Super Rugby took to the field. Here’s what you need to know t get yourself in super-shape.
By Ben Karpinski*
The year has got off to a flying start, and as we work on our careers, family and new beginnings, who’s got time to mess around with the basics? It’s almost Super Rugby season, so here’s what you need to know about this year’s tournament.
The format is long winded, and the conference system is rather confusing, but worry not. I will simplify things for you, giving you all you need to know from a South African perspective.
The conference system
The 6 South African teams are split in two conferences, Africa 1 and Africa 2.
Africa 1: (1) Bulls, (2) Cheetahs, (3) Stormers and (4) Sunwolves (Japan)
Africa 2: (1) Lions, (2) Sharks, (3) Kings and (4) Jaguares (Argentina)
Every team plays 15 matches. They play the other 3 teams in their immediate conference, both home and away. They then play the teams in the other African conference once, either home or away. The remaining 5 matches will then be against the teams in one of the Australasian Conferences, either home or away.
This is where it gets a little tricky.
Australia Conference: (1) Brumbies (2) Force (3) Rebels (4) Reds (5) Waratahs
New Zealand Conference: (1) Blues (2) Chiefs (3) Crusaders (4) Highlanders (5) Hurricanes
Take the Stormers, for example. They will have home and away games against fellow Africa 1 Conference teams Bulls, Cheetahs and Sunwolves. They then play the Lions, Sharks, Kings and Jaguares either home or away.
Last year they played against the Australia Conference, so this year they will play against the New Zealand Conference.
The international break:
Every team gets two bye weeks during regulation play. The month of June will see all the teams take a break as Test matches take place. SA are hosting France this year.
After the 15 regulation matches, each conference winner automatically hosts a quarter-final at home.
The next highest team on the overall log from the Africa Group, and the next top 3 highest from the Australasian Group will be pitted against the conference winners according to seeding. Winners of those matches will go into the semi-finals, with home ground advantage given to the winning teams that ranked highest on the log prior to the playoffs. Same applying to the teams that win through to the final.
The South African Teams:
Stormers, Bulls and Cheetahs all playing the strong New Zealand conference this year, so the playoff hopefuls to most likely come from the Lions and Sharks.
The Bulls haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, and are still rebuilding after losing much of their senior talent in recent years. Loads of potential here, and an exciting young squad with much to learn this year.
Players to watch: Handre Pollard (flyhalf and captain), Lood De Jager (lock, new signing), RG Snyman (lock), Jesse Kriel (fullback, centre) and Jamba Ulengo (wing)
2013 aside, current Currie Cup champions don’t have much to shout about as a SuperRugby team. They have strengthened their defense finally though with a new coaching team, so should offer a greater showing than last year.
Players to watch: Ox Nche (prop), Uzair Cassie (loose forward), Francois Venter (centre and captain), Clayton Blommetjies (fullback)
Woefully out of their depth in this tournament, with a shortage of resources needed to compete and win against local rivals, let alone the overseas talent. Try as they may, they are an average provincial team trying to play against the best in professional franchise rugby.
SA’s best team learned a great deal from their journey to the final last year, and now with added experience, composure and a fair amount of belief, 2017 could be even better. They won’t play a New Zealand team until the playoffs which means they have a brilliant chance to top the log and set up home based playoff rugby. But they may not be hardened enough as a result for the Kiwi challenge when that time comes.
Players to watch: Jaco Kriel (flank), Warren Whiteley (8th man and captain), Elton Jantjies (flyhalf), Rohan Janse van Rensburg
New coach, and a new beginning for the Sharks who also have a more favorable fixture list this year. Everything points to a better campaign this time round than in 2016, and if they can add greater intelligence to their physicality, a realistic shot at progressing in the playoffs await.
Players to watch: Tendai Mtawarira (prop), Jean-Luc Du Preez (loose-forward), Pat Lambie (flyhalf and captain), Curwin Bosch (fullback)
Robbie Fleck took charge of a transitioning squad last year, and though to a man they should be a better team this year, the mammoth task of taking on the New Zealand conference makes playoff rugby unlikely. It’s difficult to see the Stormers being anything more than the 3rd best South African team this year, despite a wonderful team on paper. But by embracing the underdog tag, they could surprise everyone, including themselves.
Players to watch: Pieter-Steph du Toit (lock), Nizaam Carr (loose forward), Damian DeAllende (centre), Seabelo Senatla (wing)
So now we are all set for Super Rugby. We can look forward to the big games, and continue to enjoy the new year and all that is brings on and off the rugby field.
- Ben is a freelance sports writer, MC and offers sports related content campaigns for brands. He is also the sports guy on Gareth Cliff’s morning show on CliffCentral.com where he gets the freedom to air his sporting views and ‘insights’.