New Super format may be a slow burner
Sanzaar has hardly given Super Rugby the chance to start with an almighty bang. It’s more like a whimper. Just two games are scheduled for the first round this weekend and neither involve a team from New Zealand. Here is an idea of what to expect from the opening round. 1. Any New Zealanders on deck?
Nope. And no Aussies, either. It’s difficult to jive and jump with joy ahead of Super Rugby’s grand opening for 2018, an event ringfenced for just two games from the South African conference.
The action begins with the Stormers playing the Jaguares in Cape Town, and the Lions welcoming the Sharks in Johannesburg. Not the most intoxicating way to start a competition. Both matches are scheduled for Sunday morning, and that’s all we get.
2. So what on earth are the Kiwis and Ockers up to?
Training, memorising game plans and wolfing down their fill of carbohydrates until week two. When that starts it really will be worth uncapping the home brew.
Seven games will be played from Friday to Sunday, starting with the Highlanders against the Blues in Dunedin.
3. What is the best game this weekend?
The Lions-Sharks match at Ellis
Park. It would pay for the Lions players not to dwell on what happened when they last had an outing at their home ground. Easier said than done, because suffering a 25-17 defeat to the Crusaders in the final at a stacked Ellis Park last year prevented the Lions breaking their Super Rugby title duck.
It’s a new dawn (of sorts) for the Lions, with Swys de Bruin now the head coach. He worked as an assistant for previous boss Johan Ackermann who has since departed to work at English club Gloucester.
4. Is there much enthusiasm for the Stormers v Jaguares?
There should be some in the Western Cape. Both teams will be seeking improvements from 2017.
The Stormers were bowled by the Chiefs in their quarterfinal at Newlands last year, a 17-11 loss in a drab game. The Jaguares were a disappointment. They never got close to making the playoffs, winning just seven games.
5. Has dumping the Cheetahs, Kings and Force made the format easier to understand?
Sort of. Although there are now only 15 teams left following the expulsion of the outfits from Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth and Perth, we still don’t have a ‘‘pure’’ structure where every team meets during the regular season.
Instead each side must play eight home-and-away derbies in their conference, as well as eight crossover games against four teams from the other two conferences.
The three conference winners, and the next best performing team, will host quarterfinals. The remaining four ‘‘wildcard’’ places will be allocated to those sides who have accumulated the most competition points.