The Super Rugby has come to a close. I know that there has been a lot of talk about the format and some of the poor teams. However I have really enjoyed it and the rugby at times has been sublime. Here is my rankings and thoughts on how all the teams went.
The final tables
New Zealand - Hurricanes Q - Highlanders Q - Chiefs Q - Crusaders Q - Blues Australia - Brumbies Q - Waratahs - Rebels - Reds - Force Africa 1 - Stormers Q - Bulls - Cheetahs - Sunwolves Africa 2 - Lions Q - Sharks Q - Jaguares - Kings
So how did you predict the tables would turn out?
New Zealand - Highlanders - Hurricanes - Blues - Chiefs - Crusaders Australia - Brumbies - Waratahs - Rebels - Reds - Force Africa 1 - Stormers - Bulls - Cheetahs - Sunwolves Africa 2 - Lions - Jaguares - Sharks - Kings
I underestimated the Crusaders, Chiefs and Sharks as well as expecting the Australian conference as a whole to do better. I was overly optimistic for my Blues and along with everyone else for the Jaguares. But other than that the teams finished where I expected and for the right reasons as well I think.
New Zealand Conference
Hurricanes – Champions
The Hurricanes had a shocking start to the season losing their opening 2 games that included losing by 42 points to the Brumbies. They impressively turned things around and timed their run to the final perfectly. They are truly worthy champions with their last loss back on the 7th May away to the Sharks and then to go through the playoffs without conceding a try is amazing. Sure the foul weather in Wellington didn’t help visiting sides but that’s all part of rugby. Having survived the loss of Nonu and Smith, next season will see them lose both Vito and Jane as they move overseas. For now though they will just enjoy their first ever championship.
Highlanders – Semi Final
The Landers had another good season but in the end the travel, from having their tour after the June tests and playing away in the playoffs, proved too much. In some ways this was a season of what could have been even though they made the semi final. Of their 4 regular season losses 2 were by 1 point and 1 by 2 points. They could have gone undefeated. So another successful season even if they will be disappointed not to go back to back. Next season sees a coaching change that will last only 1 season, so we will see how they cope with that disruption and uncertainty.
Chiefs – Semi Final
The Chiefs season was characterised by some amazing counter attacking play. Mckenzie was at the heart of things and really exploded onto the Super Rugby scene. Perhaps they had trouble against some of the top defences when you consider that their losses were to the Landers twice, Canes & Lions. However they coped amazingly well with the loss of about 1/3 of their squad in the off-season and Rennie will be looking to challenging again next season.
Crusaders – Quarter final
The Crusaders had a surprisingly successful season as they lost so many experienced players in the off-season, including 3 fly-halves. I though that this was going to be a transition season for them. Perhaps they continued with the flat track bully image, losing all their games to the other 3 playoff NZ sides. On the flip side their only loss to a non-NZ side, was the Lions in the quarter-final. Next season sees the departure of Balckadder and Nadolo amongst others and so there will be a rebuilding effort. At least the incoming coach has been with the baby blacks recently and so knows the upcoming talent.
The Blues had a much improved season under Tana, with victories over the Highlanders and Sharks. More famously though over the top 2 Australian sides in the last 2 rounds of the season. They were too inconsistent and that was highlighted with the poor performance against the Lions in South Africa. There is plenty to work on but the feel good factor is back at Eden Park and you see that with the signings for next year including SBW. They were the last team in NZ but it’s not the disgrace that it is in other conferences and they were in the small group just outside of the playoffs, rather than an automatic win for other teams.
Brumbies – Quater Final
This was supposed to be the Brumbies year. They are losing talent at the end of this season and after a great start it fell apart. Off field issues including investigation into the selling of their pitching along with how the funds were used and the CEO charging players derailed their season. Once those things were sorted the Brumbies went into their shells and played a very limited game plan. Finally they stumbled over the line as the best Australian team and surprisingly very nearly beat the Highlanders. That would have been a travesty as they were the weaker side and the bad weather really levelled that game. Uncertainty over Larkhams role next season and the loss of players doesn’t look good.
The Waratahs only wins over playoff teams were against the Stormers and Chiefs. Supporters may point to the losing their last 2 games including to the Blues at the end of the season and so they were close. But in reality losing 4 of the first 6 games including twice to the Brumbies really made it up hill all the way. The story of their season has been the settling in o the coaching staff and Foley taking time to be ready for the season after playing in Japan. The flexible contracts may keep the players in Australia but it remains to be seen how much rugby their bodies can cope with.
Many people will say that with 7 wins like last year that they managed to maintain their level. But they gave up an extra 130 points from 1 less game this season and didn’t beat any playoff teams. In 2015 they registered their first overseas win against the Crusaders and beat the Brumbies in Canberra. They did have a decent start but fell away with only 2 wins in their last 7 games. However the most worrying thing is rumours of dressing room unrest with the coach who has brought this teams so far.
The Reds improved after the sacking of Graham but still only managed 3 wins and a draw. Whilst this season has been a write-off at least things are looking up. There is a new CEO in place and Stiles will be able to build on this season now he has the job full-time. There are also some good signings on the player side. There are still concerns over the administration side of things as the process to point Stiles was less than perfect. So there will be no counting of chickens but we should be positive about next season.
The Force only managed 2 wins all season and those were against Graham led Reds and the Sunwolves. They lost their coach during the International break amid an ARU takeover. It’s still unclear who will be the coach but Matt O’Connor is the obvious candidate. However without some serious thinking and a solid 5 year plan, you can’t see how the Force are going anywhere.
Africa 1 Conference
Stormers – Quarter Final
The Stormers toped their group quite easily but when they got to the playoffs they complained that they had not had the opportunity to play the NZ sides. Since they lost to the Sharks, Lions and Tahs you can’t help but think that they wouldn’t have gained anything from those games. The only playoff side they did beat were the Brumbies and that was at home. There has been talk about sacking the coach but that would be unfair as he was appointed at the last-minute due to Eddie Jones going to England and has little experience at this level. He will be better for the experience this season but with Koch and Burger on the way out will he be able to find suitable replacements?
Losing Pollard before the season had started was always going to make it a tough season for the Bulls. However you don’t expect to see a Bulls scrum going backwards in the wet and losing to Jaguares in Argentina, really ended their season. It was their away form that let them down, losing to the Tahs, Brumbies and Jags overseas. This has been a perennial problem for them and they really need to get some help sorting this out or every season will be an uphill battle.
Again the Cheetahs lost their best players to the Bulls in the off-season and you have to question the Bulls pipeline and academy process if they need to keep doing this. The Cheetahs did manage 4 wins but they were over the Sunwolves twice, Kings and Force at home. Back in 2013 they looked good and made the playoffs but since then they have just been poor. There are no green shoots and you can’t see how they will get back to that one-off year’s performance again with such player drain.
Before the season even began I wrote about the Sunwolves woes and they went on to only register 1 win over the Jags and a draw against the Stormers. Basically the administration behind the Sunwolves was inadequate and they didn’t know their players or coach until last-minute. Hammett did a decent job with the cards he was dealt but he is returning to NZ with the Highlanders next season. I don’t think next year’s coach has been announced but I hope they don’t leave it too long so that he can sort things out as early as possible.
Africa 2 Conference
Lions – Runners up
The Lions had a fabulous season building on a good one last year. This is also a team that should mainly stick together for a while and could grow even better. They played with a much more expansive style than any of the other South African teams and gained some serious scalps on the way to the final. They came up short in a cold wet Wellington but so have many other teams. The decision to rest players in round 17 will always be discussed but only Ackerman knows how tired his players were. They aren’t used to being called up to international action midseason for example. Still a great season for them.
I was lucky enough to chat to the Lions High Performance Manager back in April and he gave me a wonderful insight into the team.
Sharks – Quarter Final
The Sharks rescued a season where they lost 3 on the trot in March/April. Their problem was consistency, beating the Landers away but drawing with the Bulls and losing to the Blues. Probably the best of the rest which meant they lost to the top sides and aren’t quite there. They do need to grasp the new expansive style that is winning and become more potent with ball in hand. Losing Lambie late in the season didn’t help with their playoff campaign but I think the Canes would have been too much anyway. They are losing a few senior players in the off-season so it will be interesting how they cope with the transition.
People got over excited with Argentina’s RWC performance. The Jags were always going to have to learn how to travel as an organisation. e.g. how to fit training and rest around the flights. Also as they were the only side in their country so the travel was always going to be excessive. But you feel they were thinking of the Rugby Championship and next season, with the amount of rotation they used. I think that we will see a marked improvement next season from their experience this year. They did get a legitimate victory over the Bulls plus the weakened Lions still needed to be put away.
The Kings are a mess. The players and coaches weren’t getting paid at one point and they nearly went into liquidation just after the end of the season. They have a reprieve but the administration side needs cleaning up and they need to become professional. They are losing a host of players, so things aren’t going to get better any time soon. Next season will be another one of hard slog and I only hope the players and coaches know that they are going to get paid so that they can concentrate on the rugby.
The Super Rugby Format
There was a lot of talk about the Super Rugby format before, during and even after the tournament. Here is my view on the format and where I see it going over the next few years.
Don’t miss a post or video by signing up for the new weekly DrivingMaul newsletter.