The wait is finally over. Thirty two weeks after the dramatic Super Rugby final in Brisbane, the competition is finally back, and it’s set to be bigger and better than ever.
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Starting in Auckland, the scene of New Zealand’s recent Rugby World Cup success, the Blues take on last year’s finalists the Crusaders in a scintillating curtain raiser for this year’s competition. Marquee signing Ma’a Nonu will not be involved for the Blues after only just finishing his season in Japan, nor will Piri Weepu who starts from the bench with plenty of negative talk going around regarding his fitness. For the Crusaders, there is pressure on young Tyler Bleyendaal at flyhalf in the absence of Dan Carter, but there is class over the park for the Canterbury side, notably Kieran Read and Israel Dagg, so they should start with a win.
Prediction: Crusaders by 8
A young, rather anonymous looking Brumbies group led by Jake White then take on the Force in Canberra, who are learning how to live without their former talisman James O’Connor. They should dominate at the breakdown however with David Pocock and Ben McCalman, picking up an early away win.
Prediction: Force by 6
Then it’s over to Loftus, where a new look Bulls will take on the Sharks. The new faces include exciting prospect Johann Sadie at outside centre, but Morné Steyn’s boot will be relied on more than ever in this tight affair. As for the Sharks, Bismarck du Plessis will lead the side as they hope to emulate their Currie Cup success when the won in Pretoria last year. Close one, the Sharks to nick it.
Prediction: Sharks by 5
Next, the Chiefs take on the ever-improving Highlanders in Waikato. All eyes will be on Sonny Bill Williams in midfield, but the Highlanders have recruited well during the off-season and their pack led by Jamie Mackintosh, Andrew Hore and Adam Thomson should have the edge.
Prediction: Highlanders by 10
The defending champions the Reds face a tough start away to their fiercest rivals the Waratahs in Sydney. There is no Quade Cooper for the Reds while the Waratahs are sweating on Berrick Barnes’s fitness. The Reds’ pack enjoyed a stellar season last year but will be well matched against Rocky Elsom’s team. They should sneak it by a whisker though.
Prediction: Reds by 3
On to Cape Town, where the Stormers open their 2012 campaign against the Hurricanes. Give the extensive list of departures from the Wellington outfit during the off-season, the Stormers are definite favourites here. With real pace on both wings in the shape of Gio Aplon and Gerhard van den Heever, an expansive game plan should see the Stormers rack up a comfortable win against a Hurricanes side predicted to finish near the bottom of the log.
Prediction: Stormers by 13
Finally, Currie Cup champions the Lions face the Cheetahs in Johannesburg in the weekend’s final match. The home side will be looking to carry on the good form that saw them cruise past the Sharks in the final last October, founded on an exciting young trio of Josh Strauss, Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute. The Cheetahs have some bright stars of their own however in Ashley Johnson, Sias and Robert Ebersohn and Johan Goosen, not forgetting the skills of Heinrich Brüssow. Home advantage to decide this one.
Prediction: Lions by 7
by Ben Coles
This article was also published on Sport24.