The 2015 Super Rugby season is set to kickoff from the 13th of February with three exciting fixtures on opening day. This will be the fifth playing of the tournament in its current format, which features 15 teams from three different countries: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. This provides it’s own challenges especially for the organizers who have to plan fixtures accordingly given the various time zones involved.
For those of you unfamiliar with Super Rugby, the event has been organized as such that there are five teams from each country that are placed in the same conference, making three groups of five teams. Each team plays the other four teams in their conference twice and also plays four teams from the other two conferences, home and away fixtures, making for a total of 16 games during the conference regular season. At the conclusion of the regular season, the winners of each conference advance along with the remaining top three point scoring teams from across all three conferences.
A series of knockout matches then take place depending on where the remaining clubs finished during the regular season. For the final, the location is determined by the team that had the best record from the regular season out of the two that are remaining.
After last year’s thrilling final, the defending champions are the New South Wales Waratahs from Australia. The Waratahs topped both the Australian Conference and the overall standings during the regular season in 2014 and went on to defeat fellow Australian team, the Brumbies, in the semi-final and the Crusaders from New Zealand in the final.
2015 will see coach Michael Cheika split his time between the Waratahs and the Australian national team, which could lead to a lack of focus on the team in comparison to last year. If the team happens to lose a couple of matches early on, expect Cheika to come under scrutiny from fans and the media. If this does happen, how will the team respond on the field?
In a little bit of a rebuilding mode, the biggest loss from 2014 for the Waratahs is none other than Kane Douglas. However the team has gone on to successfully sign Sam Lousi to make up for their loss. Questions for sure are on how Lousi will adapt his game to his new surroundings.
Despite two other departures, the core of the squad is the same as last year and the away fixtures look to be good especially in comparison to the majority of the other teams. However, a run of ten games straight at the end of the season could put a strain on the team and this may result in the Waratahs, who are 4/1 with「Bet Victor」, just falling short come the finals.
The other team from the Australian Conference who have the ability to mount a challenge in 2015 are the Brumbies who last made it to the final in 2013. Semi-finalists in 2014, the Brumbies will be looking to go one better this year to make the final, and they certainly have the talent within their team to do so. Without the strength of a deep roster, which some of the other teams in the competition have, the Brumbies will need to avoid injuries. In addition, the start to the season will be crucial for them to have a fighting chance with six matches in a row, four of which are away. If they can come through this early stretch in a strong position, the Brumbies have the potential to go all the way to the final.「Bet Victor」seems to agree pricing them at 8/1 to win it.
Moving on to the New Zealand Conference, the biggest challenge could come from the one and only Crusaders who will be looking to go one better than in 2014 when they finished runners-up by just one point in an exhilarating final.
【2014 Super Rugby Final Highlights】
Since 2009, the Crusaders have lost in the knockout stages to the eventual winner of the tournament each and every year, which is why especially with their strong squad this time around that they are one of the favorites to win it in 2015. However, the loss of Corey Flynn and George Whitelock could be costly as other players on the team are expected to be managed with care as the World Cup looms in September. This factor alone could be enough to see the Crusaders finish just short again in 2015.
The other top contender from the New Zealand Conference is the Chiefs. Super Rugby champions in both 2012 and 2013, the Chiefs have a strengthened group in preparation for the 2015 season with the big name signing of Sonny Bill Williams coupled with the addition of Seta Tamanivalum and Damian McKenzie. If the Chiefs can make a good start in the early rounds then they will be nearly impossible to stop for the remainder of the season. Realizing this, it’s of little surprise to see both the Chiefs and the Crusaders listed as favorites with sportsbook「Bet Victor」.
The third and final conference features teams from South Africa, and the 2014 semi-finalists, the Sharks. The Sharks, 7/1 odds to win Super Rugby 2015 with「Bet Victor」, are the most likely team to progress the furthest in the competition from within this conference and will be aiming to match their great start of 2014, which saw them rise to the top of the South African conference.
However the Sharks know that the pressure is on for them to avoid another drop in form that plagued them towards the end of the tournament in 2014 and new coach, Gary Gold, will want to eradicate the injuries that were also suffered last year. Having said that, the bulk of the 2014 squad is still there and the Sharks should come out on top in their conference. The key will be how many bonus points they can pick up plus the landing of a favorable draw in the knockout stages. The performances of Patrick Lambie and Francois Steyn, the latter of which was the Shark’s top points scorer in 2014, could go some way to dictating how well the team performs in 2015.
【Francois Steyn Highlights】
Two other sides that could pose a threat to the teams already mentioned above are the Bulls and the Hurricanes. Both teams have made good additions since the conclusion of the 2014 season and are well equipped to beat any team on their day. The question remains about whether either team can perform at their highest level, consistently enough, to really create problems for the favorites. The Bulls are 14/1 and the Hurricanes 16/1 at bookmaker「Bet Victor」.
In terms of the final, it is difficult to look beyond the Chiefs and the Brumbies as the two teams poised to make it through to the 4th of July showdown. The Sharks and the Waratahs will put up a good fight but will struggle to get beyond the semi-finals leaving the New Zealand and Australian teams to battle it out in the final as they did in 2013. With little to separate the two sides, the Chiefs have just a slight edge based on their recent experience of getting over the finish line, therefore it is highly probable that they will do so again in 2015.
Are you ready for an exciting five months of Super Rugby? Let the fixtures commence!
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