Super Rugby 2019: New Zealand Conference Preview



With the Super Rugby season under a month away, our rugby writers have been hard at work coming up with in-depth content for you to take a look at before the tournament gets underway on February the 15th.

The 2019 Super Rugby season is just over the horizon, which is music to rugby punters ears. Not only does the tournament offer great money making value but it's also a lot easier on the eye than what has been dished up in the northern hemisphere's domestic leagues over the past five months.

The most entertaining of the conferences will undoubtedly be the New Zealand one, which contains more world-class talent than the rest of the globe combined.

Darry Worthington takes a look at how the New Zealand Conference is shaping up, below.

To Win Tournament Outright
Crusaders 3/1
Hurricanes 4/1
Chiefs 6/1
Highlanders 7/1
Blues 25/1

To Win Conference
Crusaders 11/10
Hurricanes 22/10
Chiefs 6/1
Highlanders 7/1
Blues 20/1

* To be added upon release

Crusaders
2018 Finish: Champions

The reigning champions head into this year as red-hot favourites to retain their title, with the men from New Zealand's South Island currently trading at 3/1 on the outright betting board.

The Crusaders may have a slightly tougher time of it this year as a lot of their senior statesmen will be forced into long rest periods due to the upcoming World Cup.

They do possess the squad depth to negotiate this, however, with talented youngsters such as Quentin Strange and Billy Harmon more than capable of stepping up for their veteran All Black colleagues, while young backs Brett Cameron and Ngane Punivai can cover in the centres should the inevitable occur and veteran Ryan Crotty breaks down with an injury.

Key Player: Richie Mo'unga
The talismanic pivot was the key cog in the Crusaders run to last year's championship. He will be seriously fired up this year with a World Cup on the horizon. If Mou'nga fires like he did last season, then the 'Saders could well make it a straight hat-trick of Super Rugby titles.

Crusaders Squad

Forwards

  • Props: Michael Alaalatoa, Harry Allan, Owen Franks, Oliver Jager, Joe Moody, Tim Perry
  • Hookers: Ben Funnell, Andrew Makalio, Codie Taylor
  • Locks: Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock
  • Loose forwards: Ethan Blackadder, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Mitchell Dunshea, Billy Harmon, Kieran Read, Tom Sanders, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd

Backs

  • Scrumhalves: Mitchell Drummond, Ereatara Enari, Bryn Hall
  • Flyhalves: Brett Cameron, Mitchell Hunt, Richie Mo’unga
  • Centres: Tim Bateman, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Ngane Punivai
  • Outside backs: George Bridge, Israel Dagg, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Leicester Faingaanuku, Will Jordan, Manasa Mataele
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Hurricanes
2018 Finish: Semi-Finals

Undoubtedly the most attractive of all the sides in Super Rugby, the Hurricanes will need to add some substance to their unrivalled flair if they are to wrestle the title off domestic foes, the Canterbury Crusaders.

The 'Canes may actually take a more pragmatic approach to their games this year as John Plumtree has taken over the head coach reigns. The former Sharks coach is a stickler for details and is likely to have focused on surring up his side's defence during the off-season.

In terms of personnel, the ''Canes have fortified their hooker position with All Black Dane Coles finally over his injuries rows and much-hyped youngster Asafo Aumua ready to step up to the plate after a solid Mitre 10 Cup season. This is good news for the men from Wellington who were lacking a bit of x-factor upfront last season.

Key Player: Ngane Lampe
Despite picking up a few injuries, the burly centre still had another fine Super Rugby campaign last season and was one of the most potent attacking players in the tournament.

His relationship with pivot Beauden Barrett has become telepathic and the duo is likely to produce more mesmerizing tries in this year's edition of Super Rugby.

Hurricanes Squad

Forwards

  • Hookers: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Ricky Riccitelli
  • Props: Fraser Armstrong, Chris Eves, Alex Fidow, Ben May, Toby Smith, Jeff To’omaga-Allen
  • Locks: James Blackwell, Geoff Cridge, Sam Lousi, Liam Mitchell, Isaia Walker-Leawere
  • Loose forwards: Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Gareth Evans, Vaea Fifita, Sam Henwood, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea

Backs

  • Scrumhalves: Finlay Christie, Richard Judd, TJ Perenara
  • Flyhalves: Beauden Barrett, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Fletcher Smith
  • Centres: Vince Aso, Wes Goosen, Ngani Laumape, Billy Proctor, Matt Proctor
  • Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Lam, Jonah Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, James Marshall, Salesi Rayas

________________________________________________________________

Chiefs
2018 Finish: Quarter-Finals

The Chiefs are an interesting enough prospect this year but more for entertainment value rather than as a real title contender. Yes, they have some great players, including All Blacks Damien McKenzie and Brodie Rettalick, but it just seems like a side in need of a backline Talisman. McKenzie is a hell of a player but he's a game breaker rather than a controller.

On top of this, the two aforementioned individuals will miss huge swaths of the campaign due to All Black rest periods. The Chiefs may well struggle when these two stalwarts are kicking back with their feet up watching the game rather than participating in it.

Player to Watch: Damien McKenzie
The Chiefs campaign could hinge on how well McKenzie's second season as first choice fly-half goes. The All Black was solid enough in the position last year but had a few iffy moments that saw him take the wrong option. If he can reign his exuberant instincts in then the Chiefs will be better for it.

Forwards

  • Props: Kane Hames, Aidan Ross, Reuben O’Neill, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Sosefo Kautai, Angus Ta’avao
  • Hookers: Nathan Harris, Liam Polwart, Samisoni Taukei’aho
  • Locks: Brodie Retallick, Tyler Ardron, Laghlan McWhannell, Michael Allardice, Fin Hoeata
  • Loose forwards: Mitchell Brown, Taleni Seu, Sam Cane, Mitchell Karpik, Lachlan Boshier, Luke Jacobson, Pita Gus Sowakula

Backs

  • Scrumhalves: Brad Weber, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Jonathan Taumateine
  • Flyhalves: Damian McKenzie, Tiaan Falcon, Jack Debreczeni
  • Centres: Alex Nankivell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tumua Manu, Bailyn Sullivan
  • Outside backs: Solomon Alaimalo, Sean Wainui, Ataata Moeakiola, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Marty McKenzie

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Highlanders
2018 Finish: Quarter-Finals

The 2015 Champions are the most cautious of the New Zealand sides and are heavily reliant on their kicking game, which has been pinpoint in recent years. But without the services of former All Black pivot, Lima Sopoa'ga, this game plan may not prove to be as effective as it was in the past.

With So'poaga now out of the picture, coach Aaron Mauger may opt for a more expansive approach particularly with the electric Josh Ioane being one of his options at 10. The Auckland born Ioane is coming into the tournament off a sensational Mitre 10 Cup campaign with Otago.

The Highlanders could well use a change in approach as they were outclassed in last year's quarter-finals by a Waratahs side who executed one of the greatest comebacks Super Rugby has seen.

Player to Watch: Josh Ioane
The Highlanders have a quality backline that has been somewhat underutilized over the past two seasons. Ioane is the type of player who can create space for the likes of outside backs Rob Thompson and Waisake Naholo. However, his coach will have to adapt their strategy if he is to get the best out of the talented Ioane.

Forwards

  • Hookers: Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Ray Niuia
  • Props: Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Tyrel Lomax, Sef Fa’agase
  • Locks: Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Paripari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Jack Whetton
  • Loose forwards: Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire, James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon

Backs

  • Scrumhalves: Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava
  • Flyhalves: Bryn Gatland, Josh Ioane, Marty Banks
  • Centres: Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Richard Buckman, Matt Faddes, Thomas Umaga-Jensen
  • Outside Backs: Waisake Naholo, Tevita Li, Tevita Nabura, Josh McKay, Ben Smith

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Blues
2018 Finish: Conference Phase Exit

I had sort of given up on this Blues side but the recent success Auckland had in the Mitre 10 Cup - they won last year's Premiership division -and some of the shrewd transfer business they've done has reignited my interest.

The Aucklanders have an extremely talented squad, which has quite a bit of depth to it now with Ma'a Nonu being added to the backline and Karl Tu'inukuafe bolstering up their front row. They also have some prodigious young talent who have sharpened their skills during last season's Mitre 10 Cup campaign in the form of New Zealand Under 20 graduates Harry Plumer and Jordan Trainor.

So the Blues certainly have the personnel to launch a real title tilt but do they have the character? Well, the appointment of Leon McDonald as head coach is certainly a step in the right direction with regards to this. The former All Black oversaw the revamp at Tasman that turned Canterbury's lesser domestic side into a real Mitre 10 Cup force. He was also part of the Crusaders coaching when the franchise won the 2017 Super Rugby tournament.

Player to Watch: Ma'a Nonu
If the return of Ma'a Nonu does not excite you then you are simply dead inside. The veteran endured a horrid time of it while trying to bulk up his pension fund with Toulon. He has since left the French club and will be looking to end his rugby career on a high note with a Blues side that may well surprise this term.

While Nonu will still be an asset on the field - he's one of the hardest trainers in the game and he certainly doesn't look like he's unfit judging by a few recent photos that were leaked during the Blues pre-season - it's his experience and off the field guidance that will make him so key to the Blues cause.

Forwards

  • Props: Alex Hodgman, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Sione Mafileo, Marcel Renata, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  • Hookers: Leni Apisai, Matt Moulds, James Parsons
  • Locks: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Josh Goodhue, Jacob Pierce, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu
  • Loose forwards: Jed Brown, Blake Gibson, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Hoskins Sotutu, Jimmy Tupou

Backs

  • Scrumhalves: Sam Nock, Augustine Pulu, Jonathan Ruru
  • Flyhalves: Otere Black, Stephen Perofeta, Harry Plummer
  • Centres: Levi Aumua, TJ Faiane, Ma’a Nonu, Tanielu Tele’a, Sonny Bill Williams
  • Outside Backs: Caleb Clarke, Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, Melani Nanai, Jordan Trainor


Verdict: Crusaders to Win Conference 11/10
The smart money will certainly be on the Crusaders topping the conference yet again. They have a very settled squad who know how to win on the road.

I do think we may actually see the Blues become a real force this season. Auckland's Mitre 10 Cup victory will give some of the younger players in this squad some real confidence heading into the tournament. I can see them taking second place in the conference this season.

Third spot is likely to go to the Hurricanes who, while amazing to watch, just don't seem to have enough grit about them.

This leaves the Chiefs and Highlanders to fight it out for fourth and fifth. And, to be honest, I have no idea which side will take the wooden spoon here.


Written by Darry Worthington for Hollywoodbets

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