New Su­per for­mat may be a slow burner

Taranaki Daily News - - Sport - Richard Knowler re­ports.

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.

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