JON CARDINELLI rates the 15 teams after three rounds of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.
The Super Rugby conference system makes for confusing reading regarding the respective team standings in the tournament. While it’s still early days in the 2019 competition, SARugbymag.co.za’s chief writer has identified the form teams as well as the stragglers.
1. Crusaders (3-0)
The Crusaders have started slowly as per usual, and are yet to show the form that saw them win the 2017 and 2018 tournaments. That said, the absence of several All Blacks has done nothing to curb their winning momentum, and their streak currently stands at 18.
2. Sharks (2-1)
The Sharks made an early statement in this year’s tournament when they claimed five log points from the fixture in Singapore, and another full house in the second clash against a New Zealand side – the Blues – at home. They were poor in the recent game against the Stormers, though, and will be under pressure to bounce back against a rampant Bulls side at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
3. Hurricanes (2-1)
The return of Beauden Barrett and several other senior players have made all the difference for the John Plumtree-coached side. The Hurricanes have gathered some momentum with the 43-13 hammering of the Brumbies in Palmerston North and should be too strong for the Highlanders this Friday.
4. Rebels (2-0)
The Rebels look to be leading the Aussie resurgence. The addition of Quade Cooper to the backline roster has complemented the power up front. Dave Wessels’ side has already beaten the Brumbies in Canberra and the Highlanders at home. Another win against the Brumbies this Friday will strengthen the Rebels’ place at the top of the Australian conference.
5. Vodacom Bulls (2-1)
The Bulls were white-hot in their two matches on the highveld, and yet ice-cold in their away match against the Jaguares. When they’ve got it right up front, their halfbacks have taken excellent options to win territory and create scoring chances. While the team will have an opportunity to build some momentum in the coming weeks, the true test of the Bulls’ quality – and a measure of any progress – will be the tour to Australasia in late May.
6. Highlanders (2-1)
It’s a World Cup year, and New Zealand Rugby has taken steps to manage the All Blacks in the lead-up to the all-important tournament. While the Highlanders have been without a few key players in recent weeks, their defence and overall approach have been poor. They may struggle to live with the Hurricanes in Wellington this week.
7. Jaguares (2-1)
The Argentinian side appears to be missing the experience and tactical genius of flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez, who moved to Stade Français at the end of last season. That said, they have still managed to outplay a physical Bulls side and a star-studded Blues team at home. The coming game against the Lions in Johannesburg will show whether they have what it takes to push for a playoff place this year.
8. Stormers (2-1)
John Dobson is set to replace coach Robbie Fleck at the end of the campaign, and one would hope that significant changes are made across the board at the franchise. Despite the off-field dramas and on-field impotence – the Stormers have scored two tries in three games – the Cape side have fought hard to claim two important wins.
9. Lions (1-2)
The Lions made history when they beat the Jaguares – and beat them convincingly – in Buenos Aires in round one. Since then, the leading South African franchise of the past three seasons has looked light in the leadership and forward department – a consequence of so many senior heavies moving abroad at the end of 2018. The Lions will be under pressure to bounce back this weekend when they host the Jaguares. Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies will have vital roles to play.
10. Sunwolves (1-2)
The Sunwolves broke their duck overseas when they thumped the Chiefs in Hamilton in round three. That result came on the back of a narrow loss to the Waratahs in Tokyo. If not for the side’s heavy defeat to the Sharks in round one, we might be talking about the Sunwolves as playoff contenders. The composite team could claim another big victory in Auckland this week. The Sunwolves forwards will have a point to prove, however, when the team face the better sides later in the tournament.
11. Waratahs (1-1)
The Waratahs blew their chances of a win against the Hurricanes when Bernard Foley missed a late penalty attempt in round one. They were somewhat fortunate to sneak home in the match against the Sunwolves in Tokyo, and once again, questions are being asked about the quality of the Daryl Gibson-coached side. A loss against the Reds this Saturday will not help their playoff cause.
12. Brumbies (1-2)
The Brumbies were on fire in their 54-17 demolition of the Chiefs in round two. It was in that fixture where their powerful pack combined with a star-studded backline to telling effect. One has to take into account how poor the Chiefs have been in the first three rounds when assessing that Brumbies performance, though. The Hurricanes put things into perspective when they thumped the Brumbies 43-13 in Palmerston North.The Brumbies will head into their next clash against the Rebels as underdogs.
13. Reds (0-2)
It doesn’t get much tougher than two away matches in New Zealand at the start of the season. The Reds pushed the Highlanders close in Dunedin, but were ultimately outclassed in the latter stages. The Crusaders were missing a host of stars when they beat the Reds by 10 points in Christchurch recently.
14. Blues (0-3)
The new year has brought with it a new coach in Leon MacDonald. The Blues appear to have the same old problems, though. Their poor composure and accuracy were exposed in the narrow loss to the Crusaders, while they were outplayed in the tour fixtures in Durban and Buenos Aires. Their next fixture against the Sunwolves is a must-win.
15. Chiefs (0-3)
The perennial playoff contenders have been hopelessly out of sorts in the early rounds of the 2019 tournament. A loss at home to the Highlanders was followed by a humiliating 54-17 defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra. More pain was in the post for Colin Cooper’s side when they slumped to a historic loss to the Sunwolves in round three. One wouldn’t bet on the Chiefs to trouble the Crusaders this Saturday.
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