My first month Super Rugby report card

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Before Super Rugby kicked off, predictions were made and justifications put forward to back up said predictions.

    Of most sides, and particularly the Australian sides, I made references to the first five rounds being the sample size to determine how good or otherwise each side is going.

    But four rounds now behind us, I don’t really think we need to wait another week. It’s pretty obvious that some predictions are well off already, and therefore, we can already put the line through some teams.

    So, to recap…

    After a first glance at all the squads back in mid-February, I put these guestimations forward:

    Conference guesses
    AFRICA 1: Bulls, Stormers, Sunwolves, Cheetahs
    AFRICA 2: Lions, Jaguares, Sharks, Kings
    NEW ZEALAND: Hurricanes, Highlanders, Chiefs, Crusaders, Blues
    AUSTRALIA: Reds, Waratahs, Rebels, Brumbies, Force

    Africa 1
    It already looks like it’s the Stormers’ conference to lose. We still won’t know about them properly until they tour New Zealand, but they’ve started the season better than I expected and the off-season consolidation has worked very well.

    The Bulls on the other hand, have been underwhelming and I think they’re in for a hard time in New Zealand starting this weekend coming. They’ve been very hot and cold and Handre Pollard, even coming back from serious injury, has been the poster boy for their consistent inconsistency.

    The Cheetahs are having more moments than I thought they would, but it’s the opposite for the Sunwolves. The Cheetahs are a big chance of knocking off the Sharks this weekend, but I’m really not sure when the Moondogs’ first win will come.

    Africa 2
    It’s pleasantly surprising to see how tight this conference already is. After four rounds, the Jaguares, Lions, and Sharks all have three wins, and are separated by just one competition point, and 17 points for-and-against. I’m still happy with the finishing order I put forward, but it’s going to be a whole lot tighter than appeared would be the case six weeks ago.

    The Lions will give the competition a very good shake this season. They won’t go through unbeaten from here, but there’s also not that many games that jump out as games they will definitely lose. In the Force-Rebels-Brumbies, they’ve got very favourable Australian tour, and a top two finish looks very, very likely.

    The Jaguares and the Sharks will battle out for second in this conference, but the Jaguares look well ahead already. On two games’ evidence, I’m not sure who can beat them at home, and they’re good enough to win games on tour as well – if they can hold their discipline. The Sharks look a bit too Patrick Lambie-dependent suddenly, and none of the concerns I had about them pre-season have been resolved.

    The Kings won’t get anywhere near the playoffs, that’s no surprise, but they are definitely a better team than I suspect most of us thought would be the case. They’ve effectively started from scratch, but have stumbled upon a team of hard-working, honest toilers. And a sharp-shooting goal-kicker in former Shark and Jake White Brumby, Lionel Cronje! I think they’ll get a big scalp somewhere in the next month.

    New Zealand
    Even knowing what I know now, there probably isn’t much to change about the New Zealand prediction. I’d swap the Crusaders and the Highlanders, but the rest would stay as is. And that might be rough on the Chiefs, keeping them at third, but they haven’t quite shaken that feeling I have that the bubble will burst at some point.

    The Crusaders, too, have started a whole lot better then I expected, but on reflection it’s not that surprising at all. For years now the Crusaders have lost players, pulled the lever, cranked the wheel in the factory, and out pops yet another ready-made replacement.

    The Highlanders look vulnerable at the moment, and the worry with them will be that if they lose too many more games, they won’t be able to make up the lost ground. They’ve had a shocking start to the season injury-wise, and I’m not sure they’ve got the depth as the teams above them in the conference.

    And the Hurricanes and Blues will finish where I had them from the start. The Blues are a better side than last year, and worryingly, so are the Hurricanes, but where the Hurricanes already look well-drilled and well-oiled, the Blues look their very up-and-down best (or worst, depending on your perspective).

    Mitch Hunt Crusaders Super Rugby Union 2017

    If there’s one thing in the Australian conference I’m pleased about, it’s that it is going to be as tight in 2017 as I thought it might be. And I’m actually more pleased for the fact that the two teams playing the best rugby so far are the teams I had finishing fourth and fifth.

    I didn’t think the Brumbies would get anywhere near finishing as conference champion, but that now looks very real. If they can keep showing the weekly glimpse of improved attack as they have across four games, then they’d deserve to be part of the playoff discussions.

    And I’m confident the Force won’t finish fifth in the conference now. To be fair, I wrote at the time that I thought it was harsh ranking them at fifth, and I’m pleased that’s proved to be the case already. There’s a lot to like about the Force, and this mini-tour of New Zealand is a really good challenge. Ryan Louwrens and Jonno Lance have started well in the halves, the pack is working well despite some injuries, and Curtis Rona and Chance Peni already present biggest right-edge defence in Australia.

    The Reds were terrible in Johannesburg, there’s no doubt about that, but that doesn’t erase the good showings in the matches before the Ellis Park thumping. How they now cope without Quade Cooper and James Slipper will be the big test for the young blokes, but if they embrace the challenge and not shy away from it, there’s plenty of time to set up a successful season.

    Reds Super Rugby player Quade Cooper

    There’s plenty of time for the Waratahs too, and they should be able to do just that with the talent available. But they’ve looked flat for most of the opening month, to the point where I’m not even sure if they can beat the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday night, especially if Bernard Foley remains in the ‘civvies’.

    A team that strong shouldn’t be fourth in the conference, and it will be interesting to see if Darryl Gibson follows through with his threat to swing the axe this week. I wonder if it will extend to some big names?

    And that just leaves the Rebels. I can’t really work why a team in which a large chunk of players who have been together now for several years can be playing like they just met in February, and nor am I sure that they’re capable of making the improvements they so desperately need.

    So to finish this exercise, I’ll say this: the Rebels will not finish anywhere near the playoffs this season as I hoped they might.

    And though I absolutely look forward to them proving me wrong, it’s worth noting that after three games this season, the Rebels have a larger negative points differential and have scored fewer while conceding more tries than the Kings had managed this time last season.

    And they were playing their first games together.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (60)

    • March 21st 2017 @ 7:28am
      Jock Cornet said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      Brett the Nero of rugby. Super rugby iS fine and the aus conferences are sweet. Crowds are down, no one is watching rugby is virtually dead in this country but all is super according to Brett. Our conference could not beat the sun wolves or jaguars but keep your head in the sand.

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 8:48am
        Brett McKay said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        Ah Jock… why just let everyone think you’re the master of ranting before reading, when you can comment first up and remove all doubt!

        Great contribution, as it always is Jock, thanks for taking the time once again…

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 9:54am
          Nobrain said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          With Major and Cornet you have full hands?

          • Columnist

            March 21st 2017 @ 10:39am
            Brett McKay said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

            Nah, not really mate. The common element of these kinds is that they don’t really have anything to say. They just like seeing their rants published in text…

          • March 21st 2017 @ 1:57pm
            Major said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

            Hi guys, Im flattered a got a mention Nobrain
            Brett…thats why I never read your pre-season prediction pieces because you are never right..

            • Columnist

              March 21st 2017 @ 2:50pm
              Brett McKay said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

              Meh, few pre-season predictions are…

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 4:56pm
                Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

                Brett, I might not always agree with you on the state of Australian rugby, but your capacity to remain cautiously optimistic in the face of such depressing results is a trait (skill?) I wish I possessed.

                Good article, hope you’re right about the Lions topping Africa 2, but they’ll have some stiff competition the way that the Jaguares are playing – two really exciting teams that make the competition better to watch. I hope that they both make the finals.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 6:37pm
              moaman said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:37pm | ! Report

              How would you possibly know if you never read them?

        • March 21st 2017 @ 4:42pm
          Redsfan1 said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

          Brett, did you actually keep a straight face when writing about the Australian Conference? Reminds me of Hitler saying that the war coukd still be won from his bunker in 1945…

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 4:42pm
        Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

        Jock, you predicted the Tahs would beat the Reds by 30.

        The Tahs couldn’t beat a team of no one but Donald Ducks or even Dean Mumms and Nick Phippss, let alone by 30. Talking about keeping their head in the sand.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 6:33pm
          Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

          Joking Jock, I love you. Never change. At least you tell it how you see it rather than couching your words with an ‘everything’s fine’. What I’d do to see you have a discussion with Maroon Kev about rugby while drunk in a bar.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 7:43am
      JRVJ said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      I’m a Jags fan, so I am more familiar with the SA conference.

      Right now, there seems to be a big drop off between the Lions, Jags and Stormers and the rest (I see the Bulls and Sharks as the “middle class” in the conference, the Kings as a slight surprise and the Swolves as the ugly ducklings).

      In some ways it’s a pity that the Africa 2 teams don’t play the Kiwis, as it would have been a good way to measure their abilities. In any case, I would strongly suspect the Jags and Lions go through to the playoffs due to not having to play the NZ franchises. The Stormers should also get in.

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 8:51am
        Brett McKay said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

        Yeah, I tend to agree with that, JRVJ. O current form, I suspect whoever of the Lions and Jags doesn’t top Africa 1 will take the African Group wildcard spot, and the Stormers will go through as Africa 1 champs..

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 9:01am
        Nobrain said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        I am not so sure about that, Jaguares played two games at home against two SA teams taht did not show up at full capacity. Jaguares real test will start when they travel back to SA . Lions will win all their regular games at home, Jaguares should donthe same and pick some other games on the road which imo is going to be dificult.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 9:28am
          Rugby Tragic said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          Yep Nobes but home games are the bankers if one is to proceed deeper into the competition. I think the Jaguares learnt a lot from their first year in the competition.

          Year one, they promised much but delivered little. With that behind them, while many have adopted the ‘wait and see mantra’, I think they will be there at the business end.

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2017 @ 9:51am
            Nobrain said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

            Year one Jaguares played all the NZ teams, the same ones that are rulling the competition. They had no chance like anybody else, The Lions have the best home field advantage imo.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 10:25am
              Rugby Tragic said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

              It might have been a baptism of fire but I think that introduction will stand in them in good stead over time.

              Yes Lions will possible top the whole preliminaries but we will see. I don’t know if the loss in Argentina will come back to haunt them, only time will tell.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 4:44pm
                Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

                If the Lions top the whole thing then perhaps they might be able to win it this year with a home final.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 10:51am
          JRVJ said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          Nobes, we’ve had this discussion in Spanish, but sure, let’s have it out again in English.

          There’s a path for the Jags wherein I could see them winning anything from 9 to 12 games this regular season.

          Mind you, it’s not certain, a lot of luck would be involved, but I can make the argument, especially once the Jags have their full roster back (your news flash about Jules Montoya’s thumb injury is certainly not good).

          But in any case, let’s see how they do against the Reds, as the Jags have not played any Aussie SR team.

          And while the Pumas had proven to be very competitive against the Boks during the last 5 years (especially in Argentina), the Rosario 2014 win notwithstanding, they really haven’t managed to figure out the Wallabies.

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2017 @ 11:20am
            Nobrain said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

            I know , but it is good to have it here in english for others to understand. By the way, Julian Montoya is getting surgery next week and will be around six weeks out. As you know, the Jaguares do not have natural hooker because Bosh is gone. Nobody to replace Creevy now. They plan to use Tejerizo, but , who will feed the ball to the line.?

            • March 21st 2017 @ 11:25am
              JRVJ said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

              6 weeks? Well, that sucks (though I suppose that having your bye week soon will help).

              The one problem that I foresee is that Creevy is going to be run into the ground during the upcoming South Africa 3-game tour.

              Not having Facundo Bosch is a pity, but ultimately, this means somebody else is going to get minutes (look at how Bertranou seems to be blossoming now that he has gotten some solid starting minutes). Though again, my concern is that Creevy is going to be run into the ground (once Julian Montoya comes back, one would hope that he will start more than a few games).

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 11:17am
        Charging Rhino said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

        Sharks will beat the Jaguares and Stormers mate. I’m not so sure they’ll beat the Lions though….

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 4:40pm
          Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

          The Jaguares look very good, mate, it’ll be close!

      • March 21st 2017 @ 8:29pm
        Cooper said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

        I agree on the Jags making the finals along with the Lions largely because of not touring NZ. Hard to say where the Stormers will be end up until they finish their NZ leg. I think the winner of Africa 2 conference will go a long way to wining the comp due to the travel component.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 7:56am
      Daveski said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      Was another sobering weekend of Australian rugby but can always rely on Jock Cornet for a few laughs.

      Anyway in light of the paucity of Australian highlights ( Henry Speight not withstanding) this is what caught my eye on the weekend:

      The ability of Argentine rugby to produce fast footed wingers, great to see there’s still a role for wingers that don’t quite have the build of a Savea or Nabuli.

      Andries Coetzee at the back for the Lions unloading old school torpedoes

      Speaking of physiques, check out the rig on Cheetahs reserve hooker Joseph Dweba. Until now nomadic tighthead, craft beer brewer and YouTube blogger extraordinaire Brian Mujati was the “front rower who looks most like a bodybuilder” but I think Dweba might be the new man!

      Hopefully Aus rugby will pick up so I’m not so focused on admiring Sth African muscle tone and kicking techniques next weekend.

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 8:52am
        Brett McKay said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

        ..and so say all of us Daveski!

      • Roar Rookie

        March 21st 2017 @ 1:01pm
        Shane D said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

        A player I think is looking improved this year is Tevita Kuridrani. Seems to be playing that straight hard running at the holes game again.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 9:13am
      SaKiwiRoo said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett for good analysis in your report card. Always enjoy your contributions.

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2017 @ 9:22am
      Machooka said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      Not much here to take issue with Brett… so good balanced read.

      Apropos to some out of tune trumpeting from a certain cornet, I think the Aussie Conf is the most difficult one to read at the mo. Tight as you say, and probably will remain this way.

      In saying that if my Tahs and those REDs kick into gear then it’s surely it’s gonna be the case for the duration of the comp… it’s just an issue of who will claim/wants top spot!?!

      • March 21st 2017 @ 9:32am
        Rugby Tragic said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

        The Aussie conference IS a bit of a lottery at the moment Chook.. I think the contenders will need to put their hands up within the next couple of rounds.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 10:13am
          Machooka said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

          And an end to IS eh Tragic!?! 🙂

    • March 21st 2017 @ 9:31am
      scottd said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      Well Brett, I think it is a little early to predict but only because the Force haven’t played a team outside Australia yet so it might be a bit flattering to them. This weekend will test them and so I reckon you should have held off for another week.

      However, having said that i do seem to remember that in your original article I did state that the Brumbies were likely to be 2nd behind the Tahs and I got trolled for it by some one (I’m not mentioning names but you know who you are…). I also offered a word of caution about the Reds new (old) recruits and whilst they haven’t all broken down yet it is telling that they aren’t really making the sort of impact that others (not me) predicted. I remind you that i said by the mid point of the season 3 out of 4 wouldn’t make the run on side or would be broken down and I think we are already at that point.
      I also made some comments about the Rebels which I stand by. They have been total rubbish and despite coming close last week I think the score flattered them. Their opponents weren’t switched on and did underestimate them. Nobody else will make that mistake (except the force who they always play well against).

      And speaking of the Force, they may not be top of the Australian conference but they are certainly playing the type of attractive and winning rugby that wins games and they finally have the backs to deliver what they tried to do last year. Well done, hopefully not too late!!!

      And the Tah’s? A totally bamboozling team that should be much better based on their talent. I have no idea what is going on there….. and neither do they.

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