NZ Rugby World
They have come out just about where they would want to. The loss of TJ Perenara, Ben Lam and Kobus van Wyk will hurt them, but the arrival of Julian Savea offsets some of that as does the fact Ardie is long recovered from his knee surgery and likely to be in top form from the first game.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TACTICALLY?
The way they played to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch is probably the way they want to play all the time but can’t find the intensity they need to do so.
But as a rule they are going to want the ball to be moving and in the hands of Ngani Laumape, Peter Umaga-Jensen and Jordie Barrett.
They have damaging runners with power and a pack that can get around the field to recycle the ball.
GUT FEEL – RISERS OR FALLERS?
Probably about where they were last year. Good enough to trouble everyone but not always good enough to win all the games they should.
How much they improve this year depends on how well the likes of Barrett, Ardie Savea, Dane Coles lead and inspire. The Canes aren’t obviously stronger or weaker than they were last year so everything depends on their ability to play at the right intensity.
WHERE WILL THEY FINISH?
If they hadn’t lost TJ Perenara we would be backing them to make the final. Everyone underestimated them last year and they remain a quality side with weapons all over the park. But no Perenara hurts them and we are also a little sceptical as to whether they have the same finishing power without Ben Lam and Kobus van Wyk.