Super Rugby 2012: Team-by-Team Guide

Bored of sleep-inducing 6-3 results in the rain? Then fear not, for Super Rugby begins next Friday. Here is all you need to know about each team in the competition:

Auckland BluesAuckland Blues rugby team logo.png

Coach: Pat Lam

Ground: Eden Park

Players In:
Ma’a Nonu, Rudi Wulf, Piri Weepu, Michael Hobbs, Pauliasi Manu, Angus Ta’avao, Gareth Anscombe, George Moala, David Raikuna

Players Out:
John Afoa, Stephen Brett, Luke McAlister, Winston Stanley, Joe Rokocoko, Jared Payne, Chris Smylie, James King

Strengths:
Plenty of change at the Blues over the off-season means that the core of their side is rather different to last year’s campaign. They have capitalised on the meltdown at the Hurricanes, bringing in Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu, although where the latter plays is yet to be decided. Bringing back Rudi Wulf compensates for the loss of Joe Rokocoko in the backs.

Upfront, their pack includes plenty of All Blacks who were successful at the Rugby World Cup, including captain Keven Mealamu, the talismanic Jerome Kaino and Ali Williams. If they can create a secure set-piece, then the Blues could finally fulfil their potential.

Weaknesses:
For too long the Blues have struggled to be consistent. The pack might be solid, but there is no clearcut option at fly-half, despite Weepu’s ability to slot in there.

One to watch:
Sherwin Stowers is an exceptionally quick part of the Blues back three, who given an inch of space will cause real problems for any defensive line.

Last Season: 4th

Prediction:
With a new core to their back play this year, we won’t really know how far the Blues are going to go in this year’s championship until after the first couple of rounds. Having said that, there is plenty of potential in Auckland, so expect them to be around the playoffs. 7th


ACT BrumbiesBrumbies Rugby logo.svg

Coach: Jake White

Ground: Canberra Stadium

Players In:
Ben Mowen, Ian Prior, Siliva Siliva, Kimani Sitauti, Joseph Tamone

Players Out:
Huia Edmonds, Salesi Ma’afu, Mark Chisholm, Mitchell Chapman, Julian Salvi, Rocky Elsom, Patrick Phibbs, Josh Valentine, Matt Giteau, Tyrone Smith, Francis Fainifo, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stephen Hoiles.

Strengths:
Focusing on who the Brumbies actually have left from last season, Pat McCabe is crucial. Having played the Rugby World Cup with half a shoulder, his development over the last 12 months was very exciting to watch for anyone involved in Australia rugby. Now a key part of the Test team, McCabe will be one of the senior figures from a Brumbies shorn of superstar names this season. The side have a new captain in recruit Ben Mowen, whilst Ben Alexander continues to prop up the scrum.

Weaknesses:
When Ben Mowen talked about his side being nicknamed “the no-name Brumbies”, he wasn’t wrong. The number of departures from Canberra truly is staggering. There are immediate doubts about the amount of quality in the back row alongside Mowen, the back three, and also at fly-half where Christian Lealifano and Matt Toomua have never really made the 10 shirt their own.

One to watch:
Joe Tomane is another new recruit, after having spent a couple of years playing in the NRL with the Gold Coast Titans. Born in Wellington, the former Australian Schoolboys international racked up over 100 points with the boot for the Titans and Melbourne Storm during his three years playing league, and played alongside James O’Connor at representative level.

Last Season: 13th

Prediction:
If the Brumbies finished as low as 13th last year with that much quality in their side, then without it they are going to struggle further. Scrapping at the bottom. 14th


Vodacom Bulls BullsRugbyClubLogo.png

Coach: Frans Ludeke

Ground: Loftus Versfeld

Players In:
Lionel Cronjé, JJ Engelbrecht, Jacques Potgeiter, Johann Sadie, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Jano Vermaak, Willie Wepener

Players Out:
Bakkies Botha, Gary Botha, Fourie du Preez, Derick Kuün, Victor Matfield, Jaco Pretorius, Danie Roussouw, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Gerhard van der Heever

Strengths:
The Bulls have had world class talent in certain positions, and now that those players have moved on, it’s time for the replacements to shine. Losing Bakkies Botha & Victor Matfield should hurt, but bringing in Flip Van Der Merwe and former Northampton lock Juandré Kruger more than compensates. The same goes for Francois Hougaard coming in for Fourie du Preez at scrum-half. Morné Steyn continues at 10, whilst the exciting young duo of Johann Sadie and JJ Englebrecht have joined over the summer.

Weaknesses:
Last year an aging Bulls side failed to pick up consistent results, and endured surprise losses to the Western Force and the Highlanders, and being nilled by the Crusaders. With so many new faces, the pressure is on the young talent to perform.

One to watch:
A recruit from the Stormers over the summer, centre Johann Sadie has been touted by SA Rugby Magazine as one of the key players for the Springboks ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. This kid is quick, and you can see how good he is right here.

Last Season: 7th

Prediction:
After last year’s disappointment, Frans Ludeke will want his new look side to bounce back this season. If Sadie, Hougaard and Englebrecht can get going quickly, the Bulls should make the semi-finals. 3rd.


Central CheetahsLogo Cheetahs Rugby.svg

Coach: Naka Drotske

Ground: Free State Stadium

Players In:
Marnitz Boschoff, Jacques Coetzee, Willie le Roux

Players Out:
Skipper Badenhorst, Naas Olivier, Frans Viljoen, Riaan Viljoen, Louis Strydom, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Sarel Pretorious

Strengths:
Their youth. The emergence last year of Sias and Robert Ebersohn was one of the major positives for Naka Drotske’s team. This time around, Sias will find himself competing with the very exciting Johan Goosen for the 10 jersey. Their back row is also outstanding, featuring Heinrick Brüssow, Juan Smith and Ashley Johnson.

Weaknesses:
Sarel Pretorius was a revelation at scrum-half last year for the Cheetahs, as he tore up defences with his pace around the fringes. Now he has gone to Australia, the side have lost one of their focal points in attack. Elsewhere, the second row lacks any big names.

One to watch:
This should be Johan Goosen’s breakthrough season in Super Rugby, after impressing in last year’s Currie Cup, in which he scored 98 points sharing the kicking duties with Sias Ebersohn.

Last Season: 11th

Prediction:
After surprising many last year with wins over the Crusaders and Waratahs, the Cheetahs are a team on the up, and should finish in the top 10. 10th


Waikato ChiefsWaikatoChiefsLogo.png

Coach: Dave Rennie

Ground: Waikato Stadium

Players In:
Aaron Cruden, Robbie Robinson, Kane Thompson, Mo Schwalger, Sonny Bill Williams

Players Out:
Mike Delany, Aled de Malmanche, Stephen Donald, Ben May, Mils Muliaina, Issac Ross, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dwayne Sweeney, Hayden Triggs, Tana Umaga, Nathan White

Strengths:
Hard to look past Sonny Bill Williams. The former Crusader’s time in Rugby Union might be limited, but the Chiefs now have a superstar on their roster and will make the most of him. Aaron Cruden is another fine signing during the off-season, mixing with other names in the squad including Leila Masaga, Richard Kahui and Liam Messam.

Weaknesses:
The Chiefs’ squad may have been freshened up, but they have lost a lot of experience in Stephen Donald, Mils Muliaina, Issac Ross and Aled de Malmanche.

One to watch:
The rapid Tim Nanai-Williams gets better with every season, and is one of those flyers who you cannot give an inch of space.

Last Season: 10th

Prediction:
The Cruden-Williams combination in midfield should give the Chiefs enough front-foot ball to release their flyers out wide. What’s essential is creating the platform up front, where they might have problems. 9th


Canterbury CrusadersCanterbury crusaders.jpg

Coach: Todd Blackadder

Ground: Rugby League Park

Players In:
Tom Donnelly, Ross Kennedy, Luke Whitelock

Players Out:
Matt Berquist, Kahn Fotuali’i, Chris Jack, Jonathan Poff, Brad Thorn, Sonny Bill Williams

Strengths:
The Crusaders strongest areas are without doubt in the back row, and in the back three. Despite Richie McCaw not being fit again until April, Mat Todd emerged at openside flanker during his absence last season, and will pair up with Kieran Read and one the four Whitelock brothers in the squad, George. In the back three, Zac Guildford and Israel Dagg both shone at the World Cup, along with the impressive Sean Maitland, who scored four tries in one match against the Brumbies last year, and twice at Twickenham finishing the season with 9.

Weaknesses:
Dan Carter will not be available till March, and with Matt Berquist now at Leinster the only official option on the roster at 10 is the 21 year old New Zealand Under 20 international Tyler Bleyendaal. Otherwise, they have solid experience everywhere else.

One to watch:
Robbie Fruean was unlucky to miss out on selection for the Rugby World Cup last year, after enjoying a breakthrough season in a Crusaders shirt alongside Sonny Bill Williams. His partner may have now left, but Fruean will form a lethal partnership with Ryan Crotty in midfield, and has pace to burn if he finds some space.

Last Season: Runners-Up

Prediction:
Difficult. The Crusaders came so close last year but have a weaker squad this time around. Given their pedigree, you would expect them to be in the top 6 come the end of the season, but whether they have enough this year to win the competition is another question. 2nd


Western ForceWestern Force logo.svg

Coach: Richard Graham

Ground: NIB Stadium

Players In:
Salesi Ma’afu, Toby Lynn, Napolioni Nalaga, Winston Stanley

Players Out:
Mark Bartholomeusz, Matt Dunning, Tim Fairbrother, Mitch Inman, James O’Connor, Willie Ripia, David Smith

Strengths:
One of the strongest back rows in the championship in Matt Hodgson, David Pocock, Ben McCalman and Richard Brown. Nathan Sharpe will run a competent lineout unit, whilst bringing Ma’afu helps shore up the scrum. Out in the backs, Cameron Shepherd’s experience will be essential.

Weaknesses:
Fly-half. With James O’Connor now with the Rebels and Ripia sacked after his off-field discrepancies, the Force are without an established figure in the 10 shirt. James Stannard is by trade a scrum-half but has been playing there, whilst Kyle Godwin and Ben Seymour are still developing.

One to watch:
Former Clermont winger Napolioni Nalaga has made the move south after a fairly acrimonious exit from French rugby. The powerful Fijian score plenty of memorable tries in the Heineken Cup and Top 14, so expect him today the same against easier defence in Super Rugby.

Last Season: 13th

Prediction:
Two successive finishes in 13th, and without their talisman, it’s surely going to be the same again for the Force. Or even worse. 13th


Otago Highlanders Highlanders NZ rugby union team logo.svg

Coach: Jamie Joseph

Ground: Forsyth Barr Stadium

Players In:
Hosea Gear, Andrew Hore, Tamati Ellison, Culum Retallick, James Haskell

Players Out:
Robbie Robinson, Mo Schwalger, Tom Donnelly

Strengths:
The Highlanders have made some very impressive off-season signings, not least the former Hurricanes duo of Hosea Gear and Andrew Hore, along with England and former Wasps flanker James Haskell. The men from Dunedin were one of the surprise packages of the 2011 season, finishing comfortably in mid-table and pulling off some notable wins over the Bulls and Crusaders. They are very strong at half-back with Jimmy Cowan and Colin Slade.

Weaknesses:
Running through the roster, not too many. They are a little light in the front five despite having Hore, Jarrod Hoeata and captain Jamie Mackintosh, and in the centres they lack a powerful gamebreaker, but otherwise the Highlanders look good.

One to watch:
Ben Smith is one the more underrated stars of Super Rugby, and last season he continued to put in a series of excellent shifts from full back.

Last Season: 8th

Prediction:
With the injection of Hosea Gear’s class on the wing and Hore’s leadership, the Highlanders should improve on last year’s finish. 7th


Wellington HurricanesWellington Hurricanes logo.png

Coach: Mark Hammett

Ground: Westpac Stadium

Players In:
Ben May, David Hall, Tusi Pisi, Chris Smylie

Players Out:
Aaron Cruden, Bryn Evans, Andrew Hore, Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Rodney So’oialo, John Schwalger, Piri Weepu, Jacob Ellison

Strengths:
Whoever hasn’t abandoned the Mark Hammett ship. Cory Jane and Conrad Smith will take a lot of responsibility in the backs, whilst Victor Vito is the star name upfront in the pack. Jason Eaton and Jeremy Thrush form an effective lineout pairing. What everyone in Wellington must hope for is for many of the new unknown names who have come in to spring some surprises.

Weaknesses:
Another alarming list of departures leaves the Hurricanes a bit exposed in certain areas, including the centres, half-back, the back row and on the wings. To lose that much talent in one summer is almost as bad as the Brumbies, and that is saying something.

One to watch:
Cory Jane is the only real full back in the squad, but spent the Rugby World Cup on the right wing with Israel Dagg in the 15 shirt. Very talented with excellent pace and strength, Jane along with captain Conrad Smith will have to be a real talisman this season.

Last Season: 9th

Prediction:
If the Hurricanes can break into the top 10 this year, then it would be a surprise. Based on the brutal number of departures, it could be their worst finish since 2004. 15th.


The LionsLions rugby logo 2007.png

Coach: John Mitchell

Ground: Ellis Park

Players In:
CJ Van Der Linde, Guy & Ross Cronje, Stephan Greefe

Players Out:
Rory Kockott, André Pretorius, Jano Vermaak

Strengths:
Riding on the back of Currie Cup success, the investment in the Lions appears to be finally paying off. Putting the financial scrutiny around their backing to one side, they demolished the Sharks in the Currie Cup final with a side featuring a few star names and plenty of young exciting talent. The latter group includes players such Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute, Josh Strauss and Michael Rhodes. They have a committed, hard-working pack, with plenty of pace outwide.

Weaknesses:
Hard to pinpoint, because if the Lions keep the form they showed in the Currie Cup going then they will be strong in all areas. Losing Doppies la Grange in the centre would be a blow however, whilst Jantjies must now step up the plate after an up and down debut season last year.

One to watch:
Hard to pick between Josh Strauss and Jaco Taute for this one. The latter is an outstanding prospect at full back, but Strauss is now shorn of the beard the made him an iconic figure in South African rugby this season. Another year of stellar performances could see him involved in the summer tests.

Last Season: 14th

Prediction:
This year we could see something special from John Mitchell’s team, but they must be consistent and pick up results away from home. 11th


Melbourne Rebels

Coach: Rod Macqueen

Ground: AAMI Park

Players In:
Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Mitch Inman, Lloyd Johansson

Players Out:
Sam Cordingley, Greg Somerville, Luke Rooney, Kevin O’Neill

Strengths:
Mainly in their backline. The Rebels acquisitions of Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor have shown real ambition, and now they must decide where they plan to play them. Combining them with Stirling Mortlock, Mark Gerrard and Julian Huxley will create an all Wallaby backline, whilst Danny Cipriani has made it to a second season and impressed with his defence in the warm-up matches.

Weaknesses:
The tight five. The Rebels may have splashed cash on the backs, but the platform doesn’t look solid enough, an area of real concern last year. With Greg Somerville retired the onus is on Lawrie Weeks and Rodney ‘Rodzilla’ Blake to keep things controlled up front. Each opposing team will be looking to attack the Rebels at the scrum and lineout.

One to watch:
How can we not pick Danny Cipriani? Rumoured to be returning to England with London Irish or London Wasps, Cipriani showed some impressive tackling in the pre-season games. If he can score more tries like this one against the Sharks, then he will have an excellent season.

Last Season: 15th

Prediction:
If the Rebels can create a stronger set-piece, and put what allegedly is a much improved defence into action, then this year they will do far better. 12th


Queensland RedsQLD reds logo.svg

Coach: Ewen McKenzie

Ground: Suncorp Stadium

Players In:
Jono Lance, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Aidan Toua

Players Out:
Will Chambers, Leroy Houston, Ian Prior, Lei Tomiki

Strengths:
Having retained nearly all of the matchday 22 from last season, the Reds are in a very strong position to retain their Super Rugby title. Last year ran so smoothly thanks to the influence of Will Genia, whilst the scrum was rarely outperformed and the lineout led by Wallaby captain James Horwill was superb. Out wide, the pace of Digby Ioane and Rod ‘Rocket’ Davies wowed fans across the globe. And they’re all back to do it again.

Weaknesses:
One star who we didn’t mentioned in the Strengths; Quade Cooper. The talisman is not due back till Round 7 after rupturing his ACL during the Third Place Playoff at the RWC. The top points scorer in 2011, the Reds will have to manage losing him early on with either Mike Harris or Ben Lucas filling in.

One to watch:
The Beau Robinson story was one of the most re-told last season, as the openside flanker went from working a bar and playing part-time in Queensland to starting for the Reds and winning the Super Rugby title. Essential to the Reds work at the breakdown.

Last Season: Champions

Prediction:
It’s fair to say Queensland surprised everyone with their results last year, as they were predicted to be near to the playoffs but not quite good enough to seriously contend. With a squad which has now tasted success at this level all retained, there is little stopping them from doing it again. Champions


The SharksSharksRugbyClubLogo.png

Coach: John Plumtree

Ground: ABSA Stadium

Players In:
Marius Joubert, Tim Whitehead, Riaan Viljoen

Players Out:
Gerhard Mostert, John Smit, Stefan Terblance, Jacques-Louis Potgeiter

Strengths:
Plenty. A very strong pack from Tendai Mtwarira through to Ryan Kankowski, the Sharks have enough power in the forwards to put their backs in the right areas. With Frédéric Michalak and Patrick Lambie sharing the kicking duties and JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo running down the wings, the Sharks are a very strong attacking force. Their back row has exceptional strength in depth with Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel all competing for places.

Weaknesses:
The Durban based outfit are operating with two relatively young scrum-halves in Charl McLeod and Conrad Hoffman, who whilst bright prospects for the future are not quite established at this level.

One to watch:
A breakthrough year for Patrick Lambie saw him travel to the Rugby World Cup with South Africa. An excellent goal-kicker, comfortable at either fly-half or full back, Lambie is one of the key men for his country moving forward.

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: The Sharks are desperate to get back to the knockout stages of Super Rugby to avenge their final loss of 2007, and this year they have an outside chance. 4th


DHL StormersLogo Stormers Rugby.svg

Coach: Allister Coetzee

Ground: Newlands

Players In:
Gerhard van der Heever, JP Du Plessis, Joe Pietersen, Deon Carstens

Players Out:
CJ Van der Line, Anton Van Zyl, Francois Louw, Ricky Januarie, Johann Sadie, JJ Engelbrecht, Tim Whitehead, Adriaan Fondsee, Conrad Jantjies, Jaque Fourie

Strengths:
Despite a big departure list, the Stormers have retained an excellent squad of experienced and young talent. There are exciting threats on the wings though with Gio Aplon and speedster Gerhard van der Heever, whilst the Stormers’ pack is still strong despite the loss of many star names.

Weaknesses:
The back row will miss Francois Louw, whilst a decision needs to be made about who should start at 10 between Demetri Catrakilis, Peter Grant and Gary van Aswegen, with all being competent options but yet to make the jersey their own.

One to watch:
Joe Pietersen has returned to the Western Cape after a stint with Bayonne, and really impressed during his last season of Super Rugby in 2010. A full back with good speed and a howitzer of a boot, many Stormers fans will be happy to see him back in the shirt.

Last Season: 3rd

Prediction:
The aim will be to finish in the top three once more, but given the resurgence of the Bulls and the top two teams from last year staying the same, the Stormers may have to settle for a spot in the qualifying spots. 5th


HSBC WaratahsWaratahs logo.svg

Coach: Michael Foley

Ground: Sydney Football Stadium

Players In:
Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rocky Elsom, Sarel Pretorious

Players Out:
Kurtley Beale, Al Baxter, Sonese Anesi, Luke Burgess, Ryan Cross, Ben Mowen, Phil Waugh

Strengths:
After a frustrating and disappointing season in 2011, the Waratahs will be hoping for things to turn out far better this time round. Plenty of familiar names in New South Wales have moved on to new clubs or hung up the boots, but bringing in international stars in Adam Ashley-Cooper and new captain Rocky Elsom will help. Sarel Pretorius as previously mentioned was one of the stars of last season for the Cheetahs, and the South African will be the starting scrum-half. Elsewhere, Berrick Barnes will control the game from 10, with Wyclif Palu bursting off the base of the scrum.

Weaknesses:
Seeing guys like Phil Waugh and Al Baxter retire is never easy, and the ‘Tahs will need Pat McCutcheon to flourish to contest the breakdown. Losing Lachie Turner for the season before it’s even begun is also a cruel blow, forcing the selection of the inconsistent Aka Pakalani.

One to watch:
2011 was a great year for Rob Horne breaking into the Wallaby setup for the Rugby World Cup, as well as producing some eye-catching displays in Super Rugby. He has the perfect balance with centre partner Tom Carter, and will need to get the Wallabies on the front foot in midfield to make use of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell.

Last Season: 5th

Prediction:
About the same again for the Waratahs this season, though choosing from 3rd to 6th place could be decided by just a couple of points. 6th

by Ben Coles

7 thoughts on “Super Rugby 2012: Team-by-Team Guide

  1. My top four teams for the season is the sharks,the blues,the reds and a chance of the chiefs or the stormers. Gonna be a great battle this year but I say sharks and blues in the finals

  2. Super Rugby could do the “Hask” quite well. His ball carrying, defence and breakdown work are excellent, he works hard around the park, only his handling skills let him down. A James Haskell that can nip sneaky offloads out the tackle after a big carry? Brings even more competition to an english back-row already overflowing with talent and potential. He would have to work hard on his attitude to get there though, can’t see any England head coach looking past Robshaw or Wood for attitude and leadership. Finally starting to see some of the intense competition for test places that the big southern hemisphere teams benefit from. NZ seemed to have test level fly-halves rolling off a manufacturing belt at the world cup. Never seen a team use four different tens that all looked at least competent at test level.

    1. Would be nice if he could get some game time at number 8 to improve his skills there.

      Currently he doesn’t have the nous, but with a long list of good blind-sides available to England, he’s unlikely to sneak in there.

      We could do with some more competition at 8. Outside Narraway and Morgan there seem to be no proper 8s being picked for England. Tom Guest would be a consideration but he can’t get ahead of Easter (who was dumped a little prematurely in my eyes) for Quins

  3. Danny Cipriani as player to watch for the Rebels? He was benched numerous times last season and now James O’Connor, the incumbent wallabies five-eigth (who comprehensively outclassed him in the barbarians match) is in the same squad. This year the Rebels will showcase the Beale/O’Connor show. If Cipriani can’t get the ball to them, he’ll be benched then bounced.

    The Tahs disappointed last season? They’re the perennial underachievers with an admin structure as frustrating as the RFU. This year, the Tahs have promised not to kick the ball away in attack. They’ve got the best scrum in Australian Rugby and with Barnes calling the shots, they’re a real chance as long as they can play with some adventure. But that’s said of them every year.

    The Brumbies could not have disappointed more last year, but hopefully the toxic culture left with Giteau. Jake White is a bloody good coach. I think they’ll step up a gear this year. Remember that there were no stars in the Reds team two years ago…

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