2016 Super Rugby: New teams from Argentina and Japan join competition
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | February 20, 2016
While the Six Nations is dominating rugby union headlines in the Northern Hemisphere, south of the Equator this sport has another international competition, albeit at club level, about to get into full swing.
In 2016, 18 teams including new franchises in emergent nations Argentina and Japan, will compete for the Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby crown.
Running from late February until early August, sides from traditional rugby hotbeds South Africa, New Zealand and Australia comprise the majority of outfits involved in this Super 18 competition.
Ahead of the big kick-off on February 27th, Coral thus profile the teams entering this tournament and the betting on who will be crowned Super Rugby champions.
Auckland Blues (New Zealand)
We proceed alphabetically, and first up are 20/1 chances the Blues. Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino leads this team on the field, but they are now without retired prop Tony Woodcock.
Losing such an experienced forward is always problematic, but there are a couple of other names to look out for in Blues; Patrick Tito Tuipulotu at lock and Auckland-born Japan centre Male Sa’u.
ACT Brumbies (Canberra, Australia)
Canberra club Brumbies could well challenge for the Super Rugby crown at 8/1, because of a strong pack that contains Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore at hooker and prop Scott Sio, with back row operator David Pocock always willing to do the dirty work at breakdowns.
There are some notables among the Brumbies backs too, namely Australia duo Tevita Kuridrani (outside centre) and Matt Toouma (fly half or inside centre), plus Argentina international scrum half Argentina international Tomas Cubelli.
Pretoria Bulls (South Africa)
Our first South African side has a youth look at the back, with the Springboks’ future catered for abundantly in Pretoria. The Bulls are 18/1 shots for Super Rugby success, but perhaps should be shorter due to the presence of Proteas kicker Handre Pollard and full back Jesse Kriel.
Led by hooker Adriaan Strauss, though having lost Victor Matfield, another to watch is young centre Jan Serfontein, a late Springboks call-up to the Rugby World Cup last autumn who replaced Jean de Villiers. Serfontein has senior international tries against both England and Scotland already on his CV.
Central Cheetahs (Bloemfontein, South Africa)
Staying in South Africa, don’t expect the Cheetahs to challenge at 80/1. They are lacking high-profile names apart from Springbok lock Lood de Jager, but full back Willie le Roux has sought new pastures.
Waikato Chiefs (Hamilton, New Zealand)
Now we come to the 11/2 Super Rugby Grand Final favourites, although there are deeper-looking rosters than the Chiefs. Former All Blacks fly half Aaron Cruden, a 2011 Rugby World Cup winner, is joined by back row duo Sam Cane and Michael Letich of Japan as familiar faces.
Powerful centre and winger Sonny Bill Williams is their main try threat, and made headlines when giving away his World Cup winners’ medal to a young fan in the Twickenham crowd this past autumn. New Zealand-born Samoa wideman Tim Nanai-Williams has moved on, yet namesake Sonny has sharpened his reflexes by playing rugby sevens this winter.
Canterbury Crusaders (Christchurch, New Zealand)
While the Crusaders have been made 6/1 joint second-favourites, they have lost All Blacks legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, with the latter being lured by a swansong of playing European rugby. These men are leaders that everyone in New Zealand rugby look up to.
Much now depends on new captain Kieran Read (back row), Wyatt Crockett (prop) and Fiji fly half Ben Volavola. The jury is out on how the Christchurch club can fill the void left by the most high-profile of departures.
Western Force (Perth, Australia)
The Force simply aren’t fancied at an outside price of 100/1 to scoop this prize. Few, if any names, stand out frankly, though there is Wallabies utility forward Ben McCalman on the books.
Otago Highlanders (Dunedin, New Zealand)
And now on to the defending Super Rugby champions, who are 8/1 chances to successfully retain the crown. Bristling with All Blacks backs, skipper Ben Smith (full back) and namesake Aaron (scrum half) are joined by international teammates Malakai Fekitoa (centre) and Fijian-born Waisake Naholo (wing) in Dunedin.
Those Rugby World Cup winners apart, Highlanders fly half Lima Sopoga put more points (191) on the board in last year’s Super Rugby than any other player. Kicking 38 conversions, 31 penalties and four drop goals to go with two tries, Sopoga will want to carry on that form and establish himself in the New Zealand setup.
Wellington Hurricanes (New Zealand)
A price of 6/1 joint second-favourites makes perfect sense when you consider the firepower of this Wellington team does reflect their name. Wide duo Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder scored 14 Rugby World Cup tries between them for the All Blacks in the autumn.
Sensational Savea’s hat-trick that helped demolished France (above) will live long in the memory. There’s more New Zealand names to boot, with captain Dane Coles (hooker) and Beauden Barrett (fly half or full back).
Yet, there is a massive gap for the Hurricanes to plug in midfield as centre pair Ma’a Nonu (Toulon) and Conrad Smith (Pau) have now migrated to Europe. Youngsters Vince Asco and Pit Ahki, a new arrival, are charged with this tough task.
Los Jaguares (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Making their Super Rugby debut are Argentine outfit Los Jaguares and, unlike other Southern Hemisphere countries which possess several competing sides, there is a concentrated number here that regularly represent the Pumas.
A 12/1 price to win this tournament straight away is worthy of considerations, because the Jaguares have a dozen of the XV that started Argentina’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final win over Ireland, and five most on the roster were replacements that day.
Their squad reads like a who’s who of present Pumas players from front to back. Ramiro Herrera (prop), hooker duo Agustin Creevy and Julian Montoya, Tomas Lavanini (lock) and Pablo Matera are all familiar forwards.
Half back pair Martin Landajo and the impressive Nicolas Sanchez, meanwhile, join centres Juan Martin Hernandez and Mataias Moroni, winger Santiago Cordero and full back Joaquin Tuculet in a very strong-looking Jaguares lineup.
Southern Kings (Port Elizabeth, South Africa)
Sticking with new franchises, the Southern Kings may be trying to make rugby more high-profile in Port Elizabeth, but they lack a marquee name or any established talent, so are massive 250/1 outsiders for maiden Super Rugby success.
Emirates Lions (Johannesburg, South Africa)
It’s a similar story along the South African coast in Johannesburg. The Lions are 33/1, but should probably be longer with a sprinkling of players on the periphery of the Springboks squad.
Melbourne Rebels (Australia)
Rebels and Wallabies prop Toby Smith went to the Rugby World Cup, but was a fringe player for Michael Cheika just like teammates Sean McMahon (flanker) and hooker James Hanson.
Because of this, the men from Melbourne are 100/1 outsiders to win the Super Rugby Grand Final. All Blacks flanker Adam Thomson won the biggest prize in this sport back in 2011, yet there are no stellar names at the back for the Rebels.
Queensland Reds (Australia)
How will the Reds recovery from losing Wallabies half back do Will Genia and Quade Cooper, who have both moved to Europe? Fellow Rugby World Cup veterans James Slipper (prop) and Rob Simmons (lock) feature in a pack that also contains another Australian international, Kane Douglas.
Although Japan full back Ayumu Goromaru – the eye-catching match winner in that infamous victory over South Africa (see highlights of that above) – has been lured to Queensland, the Reds seem to be lacking at the back and are 25/1 to take the Super Rugby title.
Durban Sharks (South Africa)
Losing Springboks reserve fly half Pat Lambie for three months to a shoulder injury deprives 18/1 shots the Sharks of their skipper, yet they do retain star quality in winger JP Pietersen. Fellow South Africa international Willie le Roux joins him in attack at full back.
In forward areas, both Bismarck and Jannine du Plessis have switched to French Top 14 team Montpellier, but the Sharks can still called on the Beast, Tendai Mtawarira.
Cape Town Stormers (South Africa)
Rated most likely of the South African sides to be Super Rugby champions at 10/1, the Stormers should’ve had Eddie Jones in charge for this campaign, but he instead took on the England national team.
Experienced Springboks number eight Duane Vermeulen and centre Jean de Villiers have also moved to Europe, yet lock Eben Etzebeth and back row operator Schalk Burger give the Stormers’ forward line a strong look.
Sunwolves (Tokyo, Japan)
The third and final debutant team hail from Japan but, despite their Rugby World Cup exploits, the Brave Blossoms that play for the Sunwolves are 250/1 outsiders here. Winger Akihito Yamada, centre duo Harumichi Tatekawa and Yu Tamura, and hooker Takeshi Kizu are ones to watch.
NSW Waratahs (Sydney, Australia)
Finally, New South Wales outfit the Waratahs look tasty to take the Super Rugby crown at 8/1 despite the departure of tighthead prop Sekope Kepu and star winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, both to Bordeaux.
There is real quality throughout this Sydney side, with Will Skelton and Dean Mumm (Both lock), joining back row veteran Wycliff Palu and skipper Michael Hooper as Wallabies forwards of distinction.
Among their backs are scrum half Nick Phipps, Australia’s first-choice kicker Bernard Foley, flying full back Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale at centre (all four pictured above). Former All Blacks wing Zach Guildford, meanwhile, is charged with filling Ashley-Cooper’s boots.