The dawn of a new Super Era

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Eighteen teams split into two groups - Australasia and South African.

The Australasian group will then be split into two conferences:

Australia, comprising of the five Australian teams, namely: Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs and Western Force; and New Zealand, comprising of the five New Zealand teams, namely: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes

The South African group will be split into two conferences:

Africa 1, comprising of four teams, namely the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and the Sunwolves of Japan; and Africa 2, comprising of four teams, namely the Kings, Lions, Sharks and Jaguares of Argentina.

Format:

Teams will play six matches within their own Conference, five against an Australasian Conference, four against a South African Conference

For example:

The Bulls will play six matches (three home and three away) in their own conference (Africa 1); they will also play five matches against the teams in the Australian conference (some home, some away) and; they will play four matches against the teams in the other Africa 2 conference (two home and two away).

The Hurricanes will play six matches in the New Zealand conference, every team once, but two twice; then they’ll face every team in the Australian conference once (home or away) and; they’ll also face all the teams (four) in one of the South African groups - either Africa 1 or Africa 2 - two home and two away. This year the Hurricanes will face the teams in Africa 2; next year it will be the teams in Africa 1.

That’s 15 matches in total (eight home/ seven away or vice-versa) over 17 rounds with two byes. The quarter-final line-up will be determined as follows:

The four teams with the most log points from the four conferences after the regular season; that is the winners of the Australia, New Zealand, Africa 1 and Africa 2 conferences will be seeded 1 to 4. Seeds five to 8 will be so-called wildcards and they’ll be determined by the next best four teams pointswise, but one must come from the South African Group and three from the Australasian group.

Note: The SA teams will play either the Australian or New Zealand conferences on a rotational basis

Africa 1 conference

Bulls Cheetahs Stormers Sunwolves

The aim of the two pools in the South African conference may have been to ease the number of local derbies being played but it is the Africa 1 pool that will still keep the intrigue and emotions that come with a north v south derb The Stormers and Bulls find themselves in the same pool and will kick-off their Super Rugby campaign against each other down at Newlands and, by all means, it will be the duel that could ultimately determine who goes through to the play-offs.

The overwhelming favourites are the Stormers as they have retained a great number of their players from last year and even though they will start the season with a new coach in Robbie Fleck, it won’t feel like much of a change as Fleck has been serving as assistant coach for many years.

The Bulls, on the other hand, have undergone a major overhaul of their coaching and playing personnel but will still be able to put out a formidable team that promises to be as mighty and dominant as the teams of 2007, 2009 and 2010 if they manage to stay together.

But for now the Bulls will have to endure some growing pains. This season will present itself as the perfect platform for many of their youngsters to make a name for themselves and they could just surprise many by fighting for top honours in the conference.

The Cheetahs have, unfortunately, always lacked the legs to make it until the end of the competition and with a relatively young and inexperienced squad, many predict the same this year.

What the Cheetahs often lack in resources on and off the field they make up for it with their heart and skill and some big scalps could find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

New entrants the Sunwolves have already created a lot of hype and expectation, more so amongst their followers after the heroics of the Brave Blossoms at last year’s World Cup.

But Super Rugby is a far cry from the World Cup and they will require a foreign sustainability in their week-toweek preparation beyond what they are normally accustomed to.

They lack the experience needed within their ranks to withstand the intensity of this tournament and their mental fortitude will be severely tested week after week.

The Stormers are likely to take this pool but will need to keep an eye on the Bulls.

Africa 2 conference

Lions Sharks Kings Jaguares

The favourites, by some margin, to dominate the Africa 2 conference are the Lions and Sharks, who will both fancy their chances of winning the group and advancing to the play-offs.

They will be joined in the conference by two of tVata Ngobeni and Jacques van der Westhuyzen assess the new season of Super Rugby and find few surprises in the expanded 18-team tournament.he newcomers to Super Rugby this year - the Jaguares of Argentina and the Southern Kings, from Port Elizabeth, although the Kings did feature in the 2013 competition after replacing the relegated Lions.

The Africa 2 conference will be contested between the four teams in the conference, against the teams in the other southern Africa group - the conference called Africa 1, which comprises the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and Sunwolves of Japan - and against the New Zealand conference, in the Australasia group.

All the teams in the conference will play each other twice (home and away); they will also face the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and Sunwolves once (either home or away), and tackle the New Zealand teams - the Blues, Crusaders, Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes - once. Next year the Africa 2 conference will face the Australian teams, and not the New Zealand teams.

The Lions, after their strong showing last year and because they dominated the Currie Cup competition, probably just edge the Sharks in the favourites department, but they start with a tricky three-match away trip against the Sunwolves, Chiefs and Highlanders.

Eight of their 15 matches are at home, though, including those against the Crusaders, Stormers and Hurricanes, and Ellis Park has become a fortress for the Lions in recent years.

Gary Gold’s Sharks will be desperate to make up for a poor showing last year.

But they’ll have their work cut out for them with captain Pat Lambie ruled out for several months, while they’re away to the Blues, Highlanders and Chiefs, and also travel for clashes against the Stormers and Bulls. Much is expected of the Jaguares - a side packed with Argentina Test stars - but they will quickly have to learn about the week-in and week-out rigours of Super Rugby, and a few key injuries early on could scupper their chances very quickly.

They will, however, always be tough to beat at home, in Beunos Aires.

The team that seems to be most up against it are the Kings.

They don’t have much depth, many players will experience this standard of rugby for the first time, and coach Deon Davids will also have to learn quickly.

They’re up against the Sharks and Chiefs at home first up - a demanding start - and then travel to New Zealand for clashes with the Crusaders and Hurricanes.

Our prediction is that the Lions will win the conference, followed by the Sharks, Jaguares and Kings.

Australia conference

Brumbies Rebels Reds Waratahs Western Force

It will be another bruising slog for supremacy in this conference between last year’s conference winners the Waratahs and the Brumbies.

Both the ‘Tahs and the Brumbies carry within their squads the bulk of the Australian national team and judging by the strides they made in last year’s competition, it will come as no surprise when they are the last two teams standing in their conference.

The big money should be on the Brumbies catapulting to top spot due to the brand of rugby they have adopted which has seen them come desperately close to winning the tournament. The Waratahs, meanwhile, have the pedigree but seem to have run out of ideas on how to continue evolving in the competition.

In Melbourne, the Rebels will continue to surprise all as their growth has been impressive and all they will need to do is to build on their 10th place finish in the overall standings. There is room for them in Super Rugby’s top table but they will need to be consistent as this tournament is all about the ability of a team to keep on winning.

Unfortunately, for the Queensland Reds, who won the competition not so long ago, it will be a matter of starting afresh and being patient - they have the players to be competitive but will need to confront the lack of fight they showed last season.

The less said about the Western Force, the better. For now they are just making up the numbers and could be the king makers in the Australian Conference with a couple of shock victories against the bigger teams at crucial times.

New Zealand conference

Blues Chiefs Crusaders Highlanders Hurricanes

There’s every chance the New Zealand conference will be the most fiercely contested with any one of the former Super Rugby champions, the Highlanders, the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Crusaders, good enough to win it.

The only team unlikely to challenge for a quarter-final spot will be the Blues.

Besides facing each other, either home or away and against all the teams once, and two twice, the New Zealand teams have been drawn to face the sides in the Africa 2 conference (Lions, Jaguares, Kings and Sharks), once, home or away, as well as all five of the Australian teams, home or away.

The standard and intensity of the New Zealand teams’ matches should be extremely high, because not only will they be up against each other, but also the Australian teams, and those clashes are always high-octane affairs.

They also won’t be too concerned about the Africa 2 conference, which includes the Jaguares and Kings.

After their successes last year - three teams in the play-offs and the national team winning the World Cup - expect the New Zealand sides to be right up there again.

The Star

Original source: The dawn of a new Super Era

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