Hollywoodbets Sports Blog: Super Rugby - New Zealand Conference Preview

Super Rugby - New Zealand Conference Preview

The Crusaders celebrate winning the 2019 edition of Super Rugby

Darry Worthington runs the rule over how the New Zealand Super Rugby Conference is shaping up prior to the season kicking off on Friday the 31st of January.

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

The New Zealand Conference is likely to be the most hotly contested of the three groups with some big-name coaching and playing personnel switches seemingly levelling what has been a Conference dominated by the almighty Canterbury Crusaders.

To Win Tournament Outright
Crusaders 18/10
Chiefs 4/1
Hurricanes 7/1
Blues 12/1
Highlanders 14/1

To Win Conference Outright
Crusaders 7/10
Chiefs 28/10
Hurricanes 5/1
Blues 12/1
Highlanders 12/1

Crusaders
2019 Finish: Champions

Despite losing a number of seasoned veterans, Scott Robertson's charges head into this tournament as favourites with bookies.

While the likes of Keiran Read, Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks and Matt Todd have all moved on the Crusaders do have a number of colts in their stable with players such as Mitch Dunshea, Quinten Strange and Braydon Ennor who all ready to fill the aforementioned veterans' boots.

Sevu Reece of the Crusaders gets a pass away during the 2019 Super Rugby final against the Jaguares
Sevu Reece set last year's competition alight. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.

Player to Watch: Sevu Reece
Reece was a phenomenon during last year's Super Rugby campaign and had no hassles topping the try-scoring charts. He'll be aiming to repeat the does in 2020. 

Chiefs
2019 Finish: Beaten Quarter-Finalists

The Chiefs are under new management and there's a lot of hope out in Waikato that the return of Warren Gatland will see a revival in their fortunes.

Like most sides in the tournament, the Chiefs have lost a number of stalwarts with the biggest blow being the short-term loss of lock Brodie Retallick who is on a year-long sabbatical.

While they haven't managed to find a locking replacement for Rettalick, the Chiefs have gone a long way in replacing his experience by bringing in former All Blacks fly-half Arron Cruden. The pivots' know-how will be crucial to the Chiefs' cause. His return will also free up Damien McKenzie to play in his most effective role of fullback.

Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with ball in hand
Aaron Cruden's return to the Chiefs is seen as a major coup for the franchise. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.

Player to Watch: Aaron Cruden
The 2015 World Cup winner will be looking to put his poor time in France behind him when he takes to the field for the franchise he made his name at. He may have lost some of that crazy acceleration due to age and injuries but he still has one of the defects sets of hands in the game.

Hurricanes
2019 Finish: Beaten Semi-Finalists

Make no doubt about it, the Hurricanes are in a rebuilding phase. This may not be the case on the field but after losing two head coaches in two years you know 2020 is going to be an uphill battle for the men from Wellington.

New coach Jason Holland's job would have been made a lot easier hade the Canes not lost their catalyst, Beauden Barrett, to the Auckland Blues. The absence of Barrett has left the franchise rather short of talented fly-halves with the likes of Fletcher Smith and Jackson Garden-Bachop not even in the same school let alone class as the All Black.

Jordie Barrett of the Hurricanes runs with ball in hand against the Cell C Sharks
The other Barrett brother has some big boots to fill this season. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.

Player to Watch: Jordie Barrett
There's a bit of speculation doing the rounds that the youngest of the Barrett brothers may take over the number 10 jersey from his brother. This would actually be a rather smart move as the Canes need an X-factor player at 10 if they are to get their talented backline going.

Blues
2019 Finish: Conference Phase Exit
I have a love-hate relationship with the Auckland Blues. I really want them to succeed but every time I back them to do so they end up dropping the ball.

Once again, they head into Super Rugby with an immensely talented squad - particularly their back division - with off-season signing Beauden Barrett and English centre Joe Marchant strengthing the side greatly.

One would hope that after two years under coach Leon McDonald that the Blues will start taking on his never say die attitude and that they'll enjoy a positive season.

Rieko Ioane of the Blues score against the British and Irish Lions
With so much pace and power, Rieko Ioane will be key for the Blues this season. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports. 

Player to Watch: Rieko Ioane
like his brother Akira, Rieko has a massive point to prove this term having gone from All Black poster boy to squad player. He's a very versatile young man and could possibly revert to an outside centre berth this term.

Highlanders
2019 Finish: Beaten Quarter-Finalists

I don't hold much hope for this Highlanders side but not many people did when they won the tournament back in 2015.

Their squad is a rather workhorse looking one but they have made some shrewd acquisitions in the off-season bringing in Kris Kruidraini, Mitch Hunt and Michael Collins to supplement their backline. Despite this solid backline acquisitions, the Highlanders still look better up front where the likes of Jesse Parattee, Ash Dixon and Pari Pari Parkinson will form part of a solid-looking pack.

Waisake Naholo of the Highlanders
Waisake Naholo are gearing up for another big campaign. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.

Player to Watch: Mitch Hunt
The former Crusaders man struggled for game time with the reigning champions as he was behind All Black pivot Richie Mo'unga. It's no real surprise then that he has made the switch to the Highlanders where he will be able to show just how good a fly-half he is.

Verdict: Crusaders Conference to win the conference 7/10
While I think they may struggle in the knock-out phase this season, I can see the Crusaders topping the Conference. Also, Expect a big push from a Blues sides who will be determined to make a play-off berth this term.

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