With Super Rugby now just days away, we preview each of the teams in the competition ahead of the 2015 season.
So much potential but fears over squad depth and an inexperienced backline are the stumbling blocks when talking up their play-off chances. Up front they have plenty of knowhow while in behind there’s excitement surrounding the backs, but it’s whether a perfect balance of the two can be struck to create success that is the big question. Full Blues preview here.
Still Australia’s most successful Super Rugby franchise, but the Brumbies now have the Waratahs snapping at their heels. They also coped well without Jake White, but there is more change on the coaching front this season and Stephen Larkham now has to prove he’s the man who can keep the Brumbies as contenders. Full Brumbies preview here.
There is no doubt that the Bulls have the ability to bounce back from what was their worst showing since Frans Ludeke took charge of the team in 2008, but even with that said, the team that boasts the biggest support base in South Africa knows all too well that it takes time to turn around a ship that has, in recent years, lost some of its most experienced hands.Full Bulls preview here.
On paper the South African franchise most likely to struggle, the Cheetahs come into 2015 having watched more of their highly talented players depart for pastures new. Any kind of success for this squad in 2015 seems unlikely, as they look for the next group of stars to show themselves. Full Cheetahs preview here.
Missing out on the treble last year, the Chiefs will be eyeing the summit once again inspired by the return of Sonny Bill Williams and with the IRB Player for the Year, Brodie Retallick, in their ranks. No one is writing the Chiefs off from winning the New Zealand Conference and being in contention for what would be a third title in four years. Full Chiefs preview here.
Close but no cigar for the men from Christchurch in 2014 but they seemed to have found their Super Rugby mojo once again, which is a warning sign for their rivals heading into the new season. They will be there or thereabouts come play-off time. Full Crusaders preview here.
A play-off spot last season and lots of high points along the way, both as a team and individually. Now the question is whether the Highlanders can build in 2015 and make the next step up as a team under head coach Jamie Joseph. Possibly the strongest bet to challenge New Zealand’s top duo, the Chiefs and Crusaders, this season. Full Highlanders preview here.
With a new coaching staff and bunch of new players, the Hurricanes are dark horses for a play-off berth. The question remains if their pack can provide the platform required for a deadly backline. Their fixture schedule is a very tough one, though. Full Hurricanes preview here.
A team galvanised by their exclusion from Super Rugby in 2013, the Lions will again be out to prove that they can pose a serious threat to some of the more realistic title contenders. Their expansive style of play has captured the imaginations of South African fans from all corners and more of the same will be expected from Johan Ackermann’s men this year. Full Lions preview here.
The Rebels have it all to do after a dismal showing in 2014 when they, once again, finished amongst the tournament’s basement dwellers. Critics of the Australian game constantly point out that they can do without a fifth Super Rugby team. As that country’s youngest franchise, the Rebels will look to improve on recent showings to silence the detractors. Full Rebels preview here.
Following a rough year in 2014 the Reds will be looking to a number of new faces combined with experienced stars to rally together and get them back into the playoffs. Richard Graham’s first year in charge was far from easy in the post-Ewen McKenzie era, with Reds fans likely to be less sympathetic this time around. Full Reds preview here.
There’s an air of expectancy in Durban, especially after impressive performances in 2012 and 2014 when they finished as runners-up and semi-finalists respectively. Gary Gold is the Sharks’ third director of rugby since 2012 and has big boots to fill following the abrupt departure of former Springboks coach Jake White during the off-season. Full Sharks preview here.
For the past few seasons there has been plenty of hype about the Stormers. Western Province’s Currie Cup triumph in 2014, the absence of regular skipper Jean de Villiers through injury and coach Allister Coetzee’s departure to Japan at the end of the season means the hype will be even greater during this year’s campaign. Full Stormers preview here.
How head coach Michael Cheika handles the dual responsibility of the Wallabies and Waratahs will likely play a big role in whether the ‘Tahs can retain their crown. However with the likes of Israel Folau and Michael Hooper in their team, they won’t be short of top-notch internationals to lead them. Full Waratahs preview here.
One of the surprise packages of last season, the Force will be looking to push on and close the gap with the Waratahs and the Brumbies at the top of the Australian conference. Lacking the big names of some of the other Australian franchises, they have nonetheless proved a tricky team to beat as they enter their tenth season of Super Rugby. Full Force preview here.