Here we go for another year of Super Rugby, with no break this year for June Internationals, meaning there are matches every week right through to the final in July.
With Rugby World Cup squad places up for grabs, the stakes are high and the Rugby will be entertaining as always – and as ever, it will probably be very hard to predict.
You can join our Predictor league on Superbru here and take me on over the course of the season.
Here are my Super Rugby predictions for Round 1 of 2019:
Chiefs v Highlanders
The Chiefs have won the last three meetings between these teams, and given that a home win is usually the safest option in Round 1, this is a relatively straightforward pick. In truth, the result could go either way, with the Chiefs missing a few key players, but it’s best to play it safe in game number 1. Chiefs by 6
Brumbies v Rebels
This could go either way too, and the recent history between these teams makes this a harder one to call, with the Rebels having won 3 of the last 4 matches, including both home and away last season. We should see Will Genia and Quade Cooper reunited at half-back for the Rebels, and there is enough firepower across the Rebels lineup to cause teams problems this year. A strong Brumbies side narrowly beat a much-weakened Waratahs team in pre-season, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and although they finished 2018 better than they started, they were mostly awful. Rebels by 2
Blues v Crusaders
The Crusaders have won their last 8 matches against the Blues, and the Auckland team’s record against other Kiwi sides is abysmal. They only won one match at Eden Park last season – against the lowly Reds – and whilst hopes are somewhat higher for 2019 after a couple of pre-season wins, backing the defending champions feels like the way to go here. They will be missing several All Blacks, but instinct says they’ll still win this one. Crusaders by 4
Waratahs v Hurricanes
The Tahs finished top of the Australian conference last season, and are the bookies’ favourites to do so again this year, but this is a tough opening fixture. It is being played in Manly rather than the Allianz Stadium in Sydney, the Tahs’ usual home, and a sensible rule of thumb is to always back the New Zealand team against the Australian team. Hurricanes by 8
Sunwolves v Sharks
Another rule of thumb is to never back the Sunwolves, which is generally wise as the Japanese franchise has managed just six wins in three Super Rugby seasons. There are a few ringers appearing in the Sunwolves squad this season, including Rene Ranger and Lappies Labuschagne, but I can’t see them improving enough to win their opening fixture in Singapore. Sharks by 16
Bulls v Stormers
The Stormers edged a high-scoring warm-up game in Cape Town last week, in which both teams fielded a strong lineup. Instinct says that home advantage tips the balance in favour of the Bulls, particularly as the Stormers failed to win a single away match in 2018 and the Bulls are usually tough to beat at Loftus. Bulls by 6
Jaguares v Lions
The Lions are yet to win in Buenos Aires, although they have historically rested players for their tour of Argentina. That’s not the case for Round 1 here, but with home advantage, a full pre-season and no travel weariness as yet, I’m backing the Jaguares for a narrow win here. Jaguares by 4
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James