In our midweek post this week, The Offload thought we would try our hand and predict some final placings in each division of Super Rugby. Four rounds in, fourteen to go, we’ve seen some teams make bright starts to the season with some pre-season favourites languishing behind already. It’s an interesting dynamic, and hard to predict. But we’ll give it a shot.
First: Waratahs. A resurgent team this season, with a strong pack (including an all-Wallaby trio of loose forwards) and the biggest strike weapon presently in Australian rugby lurking in the backline. Israel Folau has scored five tries in a mere two matches, and is looking in menacing touch. While early in the season, the Waratahs defence has been outstanding. If they can maintain their current form outside New South Wales they will be a side hard to beat.
Second: Brumbies. While they don’t have the same star power or international calibre of some other clubs, similar to the Chiefs the Brumbies punch above their weight and have enough key players to inspire the team to hard-fought wins. Ben Mowen is absolutely key to the Brumbies chances, it must be said. Pat McCabe showing signs of spark would be encouraging for coach Larkham also. I’m backing the coach’s tactical nous to have the Brumbies finishing above the Reds at the end of the season.
New Zealand Conference
First: Chiefs. The Chiefs are a very impressive unit, and the resources that allowed them to win the last two Super Rugby seasons are largely still intact. In their matches so far, they’ve shown an All Black-esque aura of inevitability, where even if they aren’t playing well they will still end up on the winner’s ledger. Liam Messam will be as influential as ever, but the real reason the Chiefs will likely finish atop the conference is Aaron Cruden. The co-captaincy just affirms how important the playmaker is to their offence and tactics.
Second: Blues. John Kirwan’s side has arguably the most explosive side in the competition, and as long as they can keep their composure and make sure their defence keeps up with their intensive offence, they can go far in 2014. It has not been a good year for New Zealand sides so far, but the Blues have shown signs of true quality. Luke Braid has responded well to the captaincy, and if they can sort out their first-five dilemmas then Frank Halai, Ma’a Nonu and Charles Piatau stand by to be unleashed.
South African Conference
First: Sharks. Spearheaded by Springbok forwards and the all-round skills of Pat Lambie, the Sharks loom as the best side in the competition to date. They’ve scored the most points, and have conceded the least per game. Put together with their general record of relative strength away from home, and they look like serious contenders already for the finals. They’ll need to continue to innovate, and hope injury doesn’t bring a stop to the Du Plessis brother’s domination in the front row.
Second: Bulls. Not looking convincing for most of the season to date, the Bulls appeared to turn a page in their recent home demolition of the Blues. They looked to have an evolved game plan with strong emphasis on lateral running from their outside backs which breathed fresh air into a team that was looking a little too predictable in the competition. If they continue along this path, with new first-five Potgieter leading the way, we expect them to pip the other South African sides for second.