The Super Rugby competition in recent years has been plagued by average performances at best outside of the top ranked teams as well as a terrible sense of predictability. For the last few years the predictability of who will make the play offs and who will win each weekend has led to despondence amongst fans and rightly so. A New Zealand monopoly on the win column and rather sloppy performances by the South African and Australian sides in years gone by will have this effect.
One might think I am going to talk about the Marvel inspired Super Hero Jerseys the South Africans play their derbies in. Alas, rest assured I do not intend to confuse anyone as much as those jerseys have done.
The 2018 competition however seems to be breathing life back into things. With the exception of a hard hitting Crusaders team, the other weekly outcomes are showing that play-off spots are truly up for grabs, little can beat big and that the Australians do still have some life in them.
One would have to do some digging to find a time where two New Zealand teams were on the bottom of the log. The Chiefs remain win-less after four rounds having lost to all of the Crusaders, Brumbies, Highlanders and Sun Wolves. The Blues recorded their first win after four rounds by beating the Sun Wolves at home which has lifted them on the log somewhat.
Whilst the Hurricanes were torn apart by a ruthless Crusaders team, the return of their star players has injected life into the team. With Ngani Laumape running riot at the moment they managed to edge the Highlanders this past weekend. The Crusaders at this point seem unstoppable and are likely, on present form to make this their tenth Super Rugby title.
In the Australian conference, things are definitely less predictable than previous years. The Rebels remain unbeaten after three rounds having beaten the Brumbies twice as well as the Highlanders. The Waratahs have also shown some vigour, narrowly losing to the Hurricanes before recording wins against the Sun Wolves and the Reds. Their backline is laden with International stars and with Israel Folau racking up tries they also have a shoe in the door for the play offs. The Reds do seem to be struggling at the moment but the Brumbies have shown some fight and could definitely upset the status quo in their conference.
With the South African conference a resurgent Bulls team has made quite an impression, after they demolished the Stormers at home, they went down the following week to the Jaguares in Argentina. They then returned home to claim comprehensive wins against both the Lions and the Sharks in successive weekends and now top the conference. The Sharks after starting off extremely well seem to have lost a bit of direction, however with the settled squad that they currently possess they should still be able to revive their campaign as their bye-weekend comes at the perfect time. The Stormers and Lions are a tough ones to call at the moment as they have shown glimpses of real power as well as weakness in terms of their focus and depth.
With the Sun Wolves having recorded their first win away from home, in New Zealand no less and the Jaguares looking less penalty prone and more fluid, you can be assured that there will be some more upsets as the season progresses. The Lions after appearing in the last three finals have now lost a lot of personnel and it will be interesting to see how they manage this going forward.
For the present moment the Crusaders seem set to steam roll their way to the final. Who will be sharing the field with them remains the mystery and for once there are more than a handful of teams that could make that step up.
So sit back, grab a beer and watch as some of the best players in the world battle it out this weekend.
Written by: Nicholas Halsey
Image credit: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix