Super Rugby 2014 Season Preview & Team Guide

With the first round of the 2014 Super Rugby competition set to kick off this weekend we preview all the teams as they prepare for action;

Super Rugby

Australian Conference

Brumbies

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2013 Season – Runners-up

Key Men – David Pocock, Matt Toomua, Stephen Moore, Christian Lealiifano and Jesse Mogg

A fantastic season last year resulted in the Brumbies making the final of the competition before eventually being beaten by the Chiefs. They will be hoping to go one better this year with a host of Wallabies in their squad including the likes of Pocock, Toomua, Mogg, Moore, Alexander, Fardy, Mowen, Tomane, Kuridrani, Lealiifano (anyway you get the picture). It’s hard not to see a Brumbies squad so jam-packed full of talent at least making the play-offs this year with the return of David Pocock and memories of last years Grand Final defeat spurring them on. It will be interesting to see if the Brumbies can maintain last seasons form in Super Rugby this time around without the influence of the now departed Jake White.

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 2014 Season Prediction – 4th

Melbourne Rebels

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2013 Season – 12th

Key Men – Scott Higginbotham, Max Lahiff, Luke Burgess and Tamati Ellison

The Rebels have seen Wallaby stars Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor depart in the off-season, however this has been seen as a positive step by many as they look to build a team culture. Led by Scott Higginbotham the Rebels are likely to continue their improvements this year and could cause a few upsets along the way.

The Rebels have become well known for playing entertaining rugby that results in them scoring lots of tries so they will be well worth a watch again this year. They are definitely an improving outfit with bags of potential and if they can score a few upsets they could well improve on last seasons finish. Unfortunately with other teams strengthening in the off-season just maintaining the 12th placed finish would be considered a triumph.

2014 Season Prediction -13th

New South Wales Warratahs

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2013 Season – 9th

Key Men – Michael Hooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau and Sekope Kepu

There’s no doubting that the Warratahs have a truly excellent group of players, the issue is that they continue to under-perform despite the hype and expectation that surrounds them each year. Last season was no different with a 9th place finish leaving many fans wondering what could of been given a squad pack full of Wallabies. Once again this year there will be a great deal of expectation on the Warratahs but whether or not they can live up to it this time around is yet to be seen.

The return of Kurtley Beale looks to have been an excellent move with the Wallaby displaying some excellent performances in pre-season whilst last years stand-out talent Israel Folau will be looking to pick up exactly where he left off. The Warratahs backline is packed full of exciting attacking talent whilst Michael Hooper has emerged as one of the World’s best opensides, if everything clicks into place there is no reason the Warratahs can’t be there or thereabouts come the end of season honours.

2014 Season Prediction – 5th

Queensland Reds

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2013 Season – 5th

Key Men – Quade Cooper, Will Genia, James Slipper, James Horwill and Liam Gill

Losing head coach Ewan Mackenzie to the Wallabies top job will be a blow to the Reds in 2014, however they have managed to retain the core of their 2011 title winning side. In James Horwill, Will Genia and the resurgent Quade Cooper the Reds will have a core leadership group who can help ensure that standards do not slip. The Reds have also managed to build more squad depth than in previous seasons which will stand them in good stead later in the year.

Given the strength of some of the other sides in the competition it is hard to envisage the Reds making the final this year, however if they can turn Suncorp into a fortress and grab a few wins on the road then there is no reason why they cannot make the play-offs. There success this season is likely to boil down to the half-back partnership of Quade and Genia and whether they are able to get their team moving in the right direction.

2014 Season Prediction – 7th

Western Force

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2013 Season – 13th

Key Men – Nick Cummins, Matt Hodgson, Luke Morahan and Ian Prior

Despite being home to the funniest man in rugby (Nick Cummins) the Western Force unfortunately don’t look like much of a force to be reckoned with again this season. Their failure to recruit any top quality players in the off-season whilst others build strongly could come back to haunt them as the year progresses. Whilst being more than capable of causing an upset the Force do seem to lack that ability to string together any kind of consistent victories.

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The Western Force will have to be able to win a number of games at home this season if they are hoping to improve on last seasons finish given that they have some difficult away trips this year. The focus for the Force this year should be on consolidating last year’s 13th place finish and looking to build again for 2015 by recruiting well as the current squad lacks real star quality in a number of positions.

2014 Season Prediction – 14th

New Zealand Conference Blues

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2013 Season – 10th

Key Men – Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino, Benji Marshall, Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau

Traditionally one of the strongest sides in Super Rugby, the Blues had a year they will want to forget in 2013. The return of Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino this season will be a welcome boost as long as both are able to get back to the top of their game quickly. With the likes of Faumuina, Luatua and Kaino in the pack the Blues should be strong at the breakdown whilst the presence of Piutau on the wing will ensure they have a constant attacking threat out wide.

The signing of Benji Marshall also represents an exciting time for the Blues as the talented league convert could be a big hit now it has been confirmed he will play at fly-half. Under the leadership of Sir John Kirwan this talented group of established All Blacks and rising young stars should do well, although the power of the tight 5 does remain a question mark, particularly in the scrum.

2014 Season Prediction – 6th

Chiefs

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2013 Season – Winners

Key Men – Aaron Cruden, Mils Muliaina, Liam Messam, Tim Nanai-Williams and Brodie Retallick

The Chiefs recorder their second consecutive Super Rugby title last year as they set the benchmark in the competition once again. The Chiefs have made some key acquisitions over the summer, most notably of which is experienced All Blacks full-back Mils Muliaina. A core of established All Blacks orchestrated by the talented Aaron Cruden at fly-half will ensure the Chiefs are once again there or thereabouts come the knock-out stages of the tournament.

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The loss of captain Craig Clarke and try-scoring machine Lelia Masaga will be a big loss but the likes of Muliaina, Fruean  and Marshall will help to more than compensate. The fact that the Chiefs have been able to retain the core of the double Championship winning side ensures there will be plenty of experience to help guide them to another Super Rugby title.

2014 Season Prediction – 3rd

Crusaders

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2013 Season – Semi-finalists

Key Men –  Kieran Reid, Sam Whitelock, Israel Dagg, Tom Taylor and Richie McCaw

The return of Richie McCaw to the Crusaders fold for the full 2014 season will represent a huge boost for his side although he is by no means guaranteed the number 7 shirt with Matt Todd’s impressive rise last season. This combined with having Colin Slade and Tom Taylor more than able to cover fly-half means that the Crusaders will remain strong even if talismanic All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are unavailable through injury or international call-ups (Dan Carter is on sabbatical this season).

This Crusaders side is packed full of World Class talent, many of whom are regular starters for the All Blacks, although as we have seen over the last couple of seasons, having a team packed full of All Blacks does not necessarily guarantee success. Whatever happens though the Crusaders will be there or thereabouts come the knock-out stages of Super Rugby in 2014.

2014 Season Prediction – 2nd

Highlanders

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2013 Season – 14th

Key Men – Brad Thorn, Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Fumiaki Tanaka

Last season was one that the Highlanders will want to forget as quickly as possible. Despite having a squad packed full of international talent and many people tipping them for the play-offs they failed to hit any kind of form and finished a lowly 14th out of 15. This season many of the big names have left for pastures new, although after last seasons dismal display few will be too disappointed.

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The club do however have a number of key All Blacks in the squad who they will be hoping can help lead some sort of resurgence in a side now based on teamwork and determination. The likes of Ben and Aaron Smith will both be huge for the Highlanders this year and could be key to their sides fortunes. Whatever happens, it is hard to envisage things going as badly for the Highlanders this year.

2014 Season Prediction – 11th

Hurricanes

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2013 Season – 11th

Key Men –  Ardie Savea, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Beauden Barrett and Cory Jane

The Hurricanes were another of the Kiwi sides that failed to fully fire last season in a year that saw them finish in the bottom third of the table. The availability of Cory Jane and Conrad Smith will be a huge boost to their backline as they look to make a strong start to the season. All Black winger Julian Saves will continue to pose a potent threat in attack whilst his younger brother Ardie is likely to be key in the back row.

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A skillful if lightweight pack mean the Hurricanes may struggle again this season but if the backline can click early on then they could be one to watch this year. Whatever happens this should be an interesting season for the Hurricanes with the core of All Blacks in the squad, led by returning captain Conrad Smith key to how they perform.

2014 Season Prediction – 8th

South African Conference

Bulls

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2013 Season – 2nd

Key Men – Victor Matfield, JJ Engelbrecht, Pierre Spies, Flip van der Merwe and Francois Hougaard

The Bulls have been hit by a number of key losses during the off-season which has resulted in the talismanic Victor Matfield coming out of retirement to bolster the pack. The team will be led by the monstrous Pierre Spies and will be hoping that their powerful pack can provide them with a solid platform to play off throughout the season. There is an exciting youthful group emerging within the Bulls such as Piet van Zyl, Handrè Pollard and Jan Serfontein who the coaching team will be hoping hit the ground running.

Unfortunately the loss of key players in the off-season is likely to be a big blow to overcome as it will take some of the younger players a while to really step-up. This should be a decent season for the Bulls but it is unlikely they will be challenging for honours this year, however they will definitely be one to watch in the future.

2014 Season Prediction – 12th

Cheetahs

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2013 Season – 6th

Key Men – Adriaan Strauss, Johan Goosen, Willie le Roux, Sarel Pretorius and Shaun Venter

In 2013 the Cheetahs had their best ever conference finish as they managed to force their way into the play-off stages of Super Rugby. Despite a couple of key losses they will be hoping to at least maintain that performance in 2014 and possible even go one better. They have an experienced squad who they have added well to in the off-season and should be serious contenders for at least another play-off place.

Squad depth is o8th concern although if they can avoid any serious injuries to key personnel they will be tough to beat all year. The Cheetahs will be tough up front as ever and with the like of Willie le Roux in the backline there are plenty of game changers in the team who can help them nick tight matches with a moment of magic whilst captain Adriaan Strauss will lead from the front.

2014 Season Prediction – 9th

Lions

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2013 Season – Promoted

Key Men – Willie Britz, Warren Whiteley, Stokkies Hanekom, Andries Coetzee and Elton Jantjies

The Lions are back in Super Rugby after a year out in the wilderness after being ousted by the Southern Kings. The Lions have recalled the players they loaned out during their year out of the top tier but have failed to recruit any high profile signings in the off-season. Unfortunately this leaves them looking a little short of fire-power and susceptible to being overrun, particularly against their fellow South African sides.

The squad however does remain settled with many of the players having been together for a number of years and therefore ensuring the team won’t need to spend too much time bedding in. Unfortunately though given that it is primarily the same squad that was relegated in 2012 it is hard to envisage them making much ground this time around.

2014 Season Prediction – Last

Sharks

Sharks

2013 Season – 8th

Key Men – Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Patrick Lambie, JP Pietersen and Jannie du Plessis

There is a huge buzz around the Sharks this season with Jake White joining in 2014 as Director of Rugby. White will be hoping to go one better than last season where he led the Brumbies to the final of Super Rugby only to lose out to the Chiefs in the final. With a settled side packed full of Springboks the Sharks look like a formidable outfit once again this season and should be expecting to compete for honours come the end of the season.

A powerful pack will provide the platform for the likes of Lambie and Pietersen to take the play to the opposition and do some serious damage. Although they fell short of expectation last season there will be plenty of expectation this year with such a strong squad and more than a smattering of internationals. If everything clicks for White’s team then expect them to be challenging for honours come the end of the season.

2014 Season Prediction – Winners

Stormers

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2013 Season – 7th

Key Men – Eben Etzebeth, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen, Jean de Villiers and Gio Aplon

The Stormers are once again going to be an incredibly difficult side to break down. They are notorious for their strength in defence and are as comfortable without the ball as they are with is as highlighted by the fact they have conceded the fewest tries in Super Rugby year-on-year since 2008. The one issue though is that their game plan is more about not losing a game rather than winning it which means they fail to fully utilise the attacking talent at their disposal.

Under the current coaching set-up it looks like little is likely to change on this front and as such the Stormers will continue to be tough to beat but are likely to lack the cutting edge that could see them pushing for honours. A number of Springboks in the squad will ensure there is plenty of experience in the ranks whilst Gio Aplon will provide some attacking threat, unfortunately though it’s likely to be another disappointing season for Stormers fans as the coaches fail to take advantage of the squad at their disposal.

2014 Season Prediction – 10th

Now here’s a little taster of some of the action you can expect;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NW06DrNoA8

Whose your pick for the Super Rugby title this year?

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