As part of SA Rugby magazine’s in-depth Super Rugby preview edition, MARIETTE ADAMS looks at the biggest threats to the Crusaders’ dominance … the Chiefs and Hurricanes.
The Chiefs will be hard-pressed to emulate their success of the past. After a heartbreaking quarter-final loss last season, all eyes will be on the Chiefs as they aim to go deeper into this season’s playoffs.
The Chiefs also failed to live up to their billing as Super Rugby entertainers last season, as they battled their way to a 7-2-7 regular-season record. They also conceded the second-most tries (59) and the third-most points in the competition and were fortunate to sneak into the knockout stages. But new boss Warren Gatland will want the Chiefs to do more than keep their heads above water. He’d want his team to compete for top honours in the New Zealand conference and with the quality of players available to him, there’s every reason to believe Gatland’s side can be a handful for any team that comes before them.
With Damian McKenzie, Aaron Cruden, Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown and Shaun Stevenson on deck, the Chiefs’ backline takes on a powerful look. But with the exception of Lienert-Brown, the midfield looks like a potential weak point because of all the inexperienced centres in the mix.
The Chiefs boasted the third-worst functioning lineout in 2019 and, with the departure of lineout maestro Brodie Retallick, it is going to require an extraordinary effort to improve at the set piece.
A fair bit of quality (backs and forwards) have left the side and it doesn’t look like they’ve broken even with their replacements.
In general, the Chiefs score at a healthy rate, while returning some impressive running- and kicking-metre numbers, as they do in terms of how often they reach the gainline or bust tackles. Even their offload numbers were the best in the competition last year. This is a team as dangerous as any when in possession.
That said, they simply won’t contend for top spot in the cut-throat New Zealand conference if they continue to give the ball away as much as they have done.
Cutting down on the errors and turnovers is a must for Gatland’s players and they have to improve defensively to reduce the high number of tries and points they concede, and the number of tackles they miss. However, the Chiefs should still be good enough to flex their muscles against the other two conferences and comfortably claim a finals berth, but finishing top in their home conference will be the aim.
For that to happen, Gatland has to bring the Chiefs up to the Crusaders and Hurricanes’ level of play.
Having bowed out in the semi-finals for the past three years in a row, the star-studded Wellington-based franchise will be aiming to reach the decider in 2020 in the hope of claiming a second Super Rugby title.
If there’s one team in 2019 who had a bone to pick with the Super Rugby conference system, it’s the Hurricanes.
Their 12-1-3 record was second to none in the entire competition, but the Crusaders pipped them to the summit of the New Zealand table because they accumulated more bonus points. Conference winners the Jaguares and Brumbies automatically finished higher on the overall ladder and relegated them to fourth.
They made it through the quarter-finals but came up against the eventual champion Crusaders in the final four, and they were, unsurprisingly, thoroughly outclassed.
It will be interesting to see how the Canes cope with a late shake-up to their coaching group, with Jason Holland replacing John Plumtree in the top job after the latter left to join the All Blacks. With away matches against the Stormers, Jaguares, Chiefs and Crusaders in the first half of the competition, the Hurricanes have a challenging start and will need to adjust in the absence of Beauden Barrett.
The Hurricanes have always been synonymous with top-tier backline players. And it’s no different this season, with the formidable TJ Perenara, utility back Jordie Barrett, intimidating midfielders Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso, and try-scoring machines Ben Lam and Wes Goosen all in the mix.
They have a large, mobile forward pack, boosted by highly rated new-signing Scott Scrafton and a fit Dane Coles. But despite boasting a squad bursting with talent, the Hurricanes are a little light at 10 after failing to find a suitable replacement for Barrett.
If any team can knock the Crusaders off their perch, it’s the Hurricanes, but it is going to be hard to pull off.