Wed, Dec 20, 10:22am by Staff Writer
In 2018 Super Rugby will return to a 15-team format, although continuing with the three-conference system. The loss of three teams, one Australian and two South African, will be felt by fans of those sides but many will be happy to return to an easier to understand format. The season will get underway with an all South African Round on 17th February with the Kiwi and Australian teams in action for the first time a week later from 23rd February.
Reigning Super Rugby Champions, the Crusaders are once favoruites to once again secure the title. Historically they have had periods of dominance throughout Super Rugby and will be looking to do so under Scott Robinson. A long term injury to captain Kieran Read could well be a blow to their preparations but they showed last season the quality they have at their disposal. They are currently priced at $4.50.
The Lions will be hoping it will be third time lucky for them after losing the Final in the previous two seasons. Defeats to the Hurricanes in 2016 and the Crusaders last year will have hurt a side brimming with talent. They stand at $6 to challenge for the trophy as they should dominate the South African Conference again.
As expected the Kiwi sides dominate the proceedings after the Lions although they will face the extremely difficult task of negotiating the New Zealand Conference.
Standing on $6 alongside the Lions are the Hurricanes who will be looking to add to their tournament victory in 2016. Their squad for the upcoming season certainly has the look of potential champions having retained the services of arguably the world’s best player at the moment Beauden Barrett.
Despite a new coach after the departure of Dave Rennie to Glasgow, the Chiefs will be a threat to the Crusaders aspirations. Their season could hinge on the possible shift of Damien Mckenzie from full back to fly half. A necessary move with Aaron Cruden heading overseas to France. The Chiefs are priced at $6.50.
As with the Chiefs, it is in the coaches box where the most significant changes have occurred. Aaron Mauger returns to New Zealand after his stint with Leicester Tigers. If he can get the Highlanders attacking the way he did the Tigers then they look could at $7.
For so long the Blues have been the also rans of the New Zealand Conference. Something they will be hoping to change in 2018 with Tana Umaga in charge again. Their issue could be a lack of experience at fly half as they push to overcome a price of $12.
Elsewhere, the best priced Australian side are the Brumbies priced at $23. All of the Australian sides will be aiming to improve on a dismal 2017. They will need to arrest their alarming run of losses to Kiwi sides if they are to have any hope.
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