JON CARDINELLI rates the 15 Super Rugby teams after the conference phase of the tournament.
The Super Rugby conference system makes for confusing reading regarding the respective teams’ standings in the tournament. SARugbymag.co.za’s chief writer believes that this is where they should rank at the end of the 2018 regular season.
*With regards to the 2017 rankings, bear in mind that 18 teams competed in last year’s Super Rugby tournament across four conferences.
1. Crusaders (14-2)
*2017 ranking: 2
The Crusaders won 17 and lost one over the course of their successful 2017 campaign. They have played the most balanced brand of rugby in 2018, and must be favourites to win the title given that they are in a position to host a quarter-final, semi-final and the decider itself.
2. Hurricanes (11-5)
2017 ranking: 3
The Hurricanes racked up some impressive attacking and defensive stats over the course of the regular season. If not for a poor run during the latter stages – four losses in their last five games – they may well have pipped the Crusaders for the New Zealand conference title and first place overall.
3. Chiefs (11-5)
2017 ranking: 4
The Chiefs have grown stronger as the season has progressed. Four wins in their last five games puts them well placed to challenge for a semi-final place, and possibly a shot at the title. They will certainly fancy their chances in the coming quarter-final against the Hurricanes after downing the same side this past Friday.
4. Highlanders (10-6)
2017 ranking: 5
The Highlanders are one of two teams – the other being the Hurricanes – to beat the Crusaders in 2018. They’ve been less successful in away matches against Kiwi opposition – and in the ‘home’ game against the Chiefs in Fiji. While the Highlanders have been better than most this year, they don’t strike one as title contenders.
5. Lions (9-7)
2017 ranking: 1
The Lions will host a quarter-final and possibly a semi-final despite their inconsistent showings across the conference stage, which perhaps highlights the weakness of the South African division. The current side hasn’t played with the same balance and composure as the class of 2017. The regular-season record confirms as much.
6. Waratahs (9-1-6)
2017 ranking: 16
The Waratahs have improved since 2017, and are deserved winners of the Australian conference. That said, they lost three out of four matches against New Zealand teams, and blew a big opportunity to finish second in the overall standings when they went down to the Brumbies in Sydney.
7. Jaguares (9-7)
2017 ranking: 10
The most-improved side of 2018. The Jaguares proved a different beast under new coach Mario Ledesma. They made history when they won all four of their matches in Australasia as well as all of their home matches against South African and Australian opposition. The Argentinians were in the running for the South African conference title until the final round of the regular season.
8. Sharks (7-1-8)
2017 ranking: 7
The Sharks will lament several narrow losses over the course of the regular season, especially the defeat to the Stormers at Newlands. That said, their record highlights a tendency to lose concentration at crucial stages of big matches. In the end, they needed a favour from the Highlanders – a win against the Rebels in the final round – to advance to the playoffs.
9. Rebels (7-9)
2017 ranking: 18
The Rebels certainly benefited from the ‘merger’ with the relegated Force, as well as the input of a new coach in Dave Wessels. The men from Melbourne scalped some big teams at the start of the season, but lost momentum in the latter stages. They had the Highlanders on the rack in their final conference stage game, but simply could not finish them off. That cost them a first appearance in the Super Rugby playoffs.
10. Brumbies (7-9)
2017 ranking: 9
The Brumbies finished third in the Australian conference on the back of some uninspiring performances and results. It’s hard to believe that they were at the top of the Aussie pile in 2017.
11. Stormers (6-10)
2017 ranking: 6
The Stormers lost all eight of their away matches this season, as well as a couple of games at home. Ultimately, they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
12. Bulls (6-10)
2017 ranking: 15
The Bulls finished the season with the South African conference wooden spoon. While they accumulated the same number of log points (29) and wins (six) as the Stormers, their inferior points-difference saw them coming last in the local division.
13. Reds (6-10)
2017 ranking: 14
The Reds were more physical and ultimately more competitive this season, and for that coach Brad Thorn must be lauded. However, until they develop their attack and learn to prevail in the tight contests, they will continue to languish near the bottom of the log.
14. Blues (4-12)
2017 ranking: 8
The Blues showed plenty of attacking intent this season, and yet their finishing – not to mention their defence, with 509 points conceded – let them down. They lost all their matches against New Zealand opposition in 2018. Their winless streak against other Kiwi sides has now stretched to 19 games.
15. Sunwolves (3-13)
2017 ranking: 17
The Sunwolves scored historic wins over the Reds, Stormers and Bulls in 2018. Their poor overall record, however – they leaked 664 points and 99 tries – earned them the tournament wooden spoon.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images