Tue, Jan 2, 9:19am by Staff Writer
With preseason in full swing, rugby fans are getting ready for another Super Rugby season to kick off in 2018. SANZAAR has cut three teams from the competition in a bid to make the format simpler. It is back down to 15 teams; however, the conference structure remains but there will be more local derbies on offer.
Scott Robertson’s Crusaders are favourites to retain the title that they secured in 2017 during an emphatic season for the men from Christchurch. Their performances suggest that they could be making a return to the franchises glory days in the 90’s and mid 00’s. The Crusaders stand at $4.50. Their preparations have been hit with the news that captain Kieran Read will undergo back surgery. He is expected to be out for up to four months, creating a new challenge for the Crusaders to deal with.
Beaten finalists in the last two seasons, the Lions will be hoping to go one better in 2018. With a new head coach in place, Swys de Bruin, following the departure of Johan Ackermann to Gloucester, the Lions look set to challenge the dominance of the Kiwi sides once again. Alongside a new coach, the return of imposing back rower Warren Whiteley from a long-term injury will be a major boost. The Lions are priced at $6.
The sides in the New Zealand Conference then dominate the prices to win the competition. Although the difficulty of reaching the Finals via the extremely tough Conference will hamper several of the teams.
Matching the Lions at $6 are the 2016 Champions, the Hurricanes who will be looking to compete for the title once again. With a deadly half back pairing in TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett, they are a real threat to all sides in the competition. Whilst they have also added some extra bulk up front with Wallaby prop Toby Smith and ITM Cup sensation Asafo Aumua at hooker.
The Chiefs will be looking to a new man in charge to inspire them back to winning ways in Super Rugby. With Dave Rennie heading overseas, Colin Cooper is the man charged with matching a price of $7. Although the loss of Aaron Cruden may well be felt more on the field. Damien McKenzie is expected to make the shift from full back to fly half, a position he slotted into a number of times in 2017. A change that could well make or break the Chiefs season.
Rounding out the Conference are the Highlanders ($7) and Blues ($12) who have both struggled to make an impact in the last two seasons. Aaron Mauger’s influence at the Highlanders as the new head coach will be an interesting development. Whilst the Blues are still in need of world class fly half before they can compete for Super Rugby honours again.
2017 was a dismal year for Australian Super Rugby sides with no wins over Kiwi opposition and the messy axing of the Western Force. Hopes of the Super Rugby title to Australian shores any time soon appear slender. The best priced side are the Brumbies at $23 followed by the Waratahs ($26), Rebels ($34) and Reds ($81). Although big coaching and personnel changes at the Reds and Rebels could see a surprise package in 2018.
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