Super Rugby: 2018 Season Preview
The 2018 Super Rugby season is the 23rd season of the tournament organized by SANZAAR between teams from Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. After two seasons in which 18 teams participated, the 2018 edition will revert to a 15-team competition, with the Cheetahs, Kings and Force dropped for this season.
The 15 participating teams are divided into three geographical conferences: the Australian Conference (consisting of four Australian teams and the Sunwolves), the New Zealand Conference (consisting of five New Zealand teams), and the South African Conference (consisting of four South African teams and the Jaguares).
In the group stages there are 18 rounds of matches, with each team playing 16 matches and having two rounds of byes, resulting in a total of 120 matches. Teams play eight interconference matches and eight cross-conference matches; they play all the other teams in their conference twice -- once at home and once away -- and play once against four of the teams in the other two conferences.
The top team in each conference qualifies for the quarterfinals, as do the next five teams with the best records across the three conferences, known as wild cards. The conference winners and best wild-card team will host the quarterfinals. The quarterfinal winners will progress to the semifinals, and those winners advance to the final.
The Crusaders, the perennial superpowers of Super Rugby, secured their eighth Super Rugby title last season with a 25-18 win over the Lions in Johannesburg. In 2017, 142 matches were played and a total of 978 tries were scored, the highest tries per game ratio in the tournament’s history (6.89 per game).
Tournaments outright odds
The New Zealand conference and the New Zealand game in general is the strongest in the competition, as evidenced by them having five of the six tournament favorites this year. The Hurricanes won 12 of their 15 regular-season matches last year and were the only team to beat the Crusaders, a 31-22 win in the final round of the regular season. They lost in Johannesburg in the semis, unable to repeat after winning the competition the year before.
The Hurricanes broke the try-scoring season record by amassing 97 -- 16 more than the record set by the Lions in 2016. They played an extremely entertaining and high-octane brand of rugby and managed to secure the second-best defensive record (points allowed and tries allowed) in the competition. Players such as Vaea Fifita and Ardie Savea showed they can mix it with the best, and the Wellingtonians have the best 9-10 combination of TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett in provincial rugby. Their vision and explosive speed created a number of opportunities for the key center pairing of Ngani Laumape (15 tries) and Vince Aso (14 tries), who led the competition. Fullback Jordie Barrett also had a phenomenal breakout season.
Wellington won the domestic Mitre 10 Championship, and a pipeline of great talent is now coming into the Hurricanes team, too.
Recommendation: I expect the Hurricanes to win the New Zealand Conference, secure a home final and win their second title in three seasons -- 3/1 outright and 15/8 New Zealand Conference (both with Bet365 at our green listed bookmakers).
Since the inception of the tournament, the Brumbies have been the most consistent and successful of the Australia franchises. If their squad stays relatively healthy, the Brumbies should have enough in their arsenal to win the Australian Conference again.
New Zealand Conference
The Hurricanes are well coached, have a great mix of youth and experience and are rife with test-match quality players. I expect the Hurricanes to win the New Zealand Conference, secure a home final and win their second title in three seasons.
South African Conference
The Lions have been the premier team in South Africa over the past three seasons and they will be eager to continue riding the wave that Johan Ackermann helped create for them. A few key losses in the off-season (including Ackermann as coach) will make things a lot more challenging this time around. Last year was their golden opportunity to secure a maiden Super Rugby title, and this year the franchise will lose more games than we have been accustomed to. They should still have enough quality and depth to make the playoffs, though, primarily due to a weak conference. The Sharks are still a work in progress, but I expect more consistent performances from them this season. They have a good blend of youth and experience and, if they remain fit, they could challenge for the conference trophy and should be backed at 100/30.