October 1 2014, updated 10:38pm

How the Super 14 sides shape up for 2009

BY DAVID LONG
Last updated 14:19 08/02/2009

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There's no Robbie Deans to guarantee New Zealand another Super 14 title this year so the scramble is on as teams prepare to oust the Crusaders as champions. But in Todd Blackadder they have a formidable replacement coach to steer the franchise into the most balanced championship of the decade. David Long previews the much-anticipated Super 14.

BLUES:

It's a case of something old, something new and something borrowed for the Blues this season. Out goes the disappointing David Nucifora who continued the trend of underachievement at the franchise in comes new coach Pat Lam with Shane Howarth as his assistant.

They will bring a freshness to the Blues campaign and should have no problems in getting the best out of their charges. Lam is regarded as a players' coach and he knows the right buttons to press to get the best out of his troops.

On the playing front, Blues fans welcome back Ali Williams from his brief stint with the Crusaders and will be glad to have the (borrowed) services of Josh Blackie from Japan club side Kobe Steel once his season winds up over there.

The loss of Nick Evans and Isa Nacewa to overseas contracts is a blow but in Jimmy Gopperth and Tasesa Lavea the coaches have brought in two under-rated first-fives with points to prove.

If the Blues can remain relatively injury-free it could be a bumper season for them. But if they have a number of their stars on the sideline, this could be a rebuilding year.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

The son of NZRU chairman Jock, Michael Hobbs has been making steady progress for the past couple of years and had an impressive campaign for Wellington in last year's Air New Zealand Cup.

IN

Josh Blackie (Kobe, Japan), Charlie Faumuina, Jimmy Gopperth (Hurricanes), Michael Hobbs (draft), Tasesa Lavea (Chiefs), Chris Lowrey, Tevita Mailau, Rene Ranger, Chris Smylie (Hurricanes), Ali Williams (Crusaders), Jay Williams (Chiefs), Paul Williams (Highlanders).

OUT

Ben Atiga, Daniel Braid (Reds), Bryn Evans (Hurricanes), Nick Evans (Harlequins, England), Troy Flavell (Mitsubishi, Japan), Danny Lee, Bronson Murray (Crusaders), Isa Nacewa (Leinster, Ireland), George Pisi, David Smith (Hurricanes) Nick White, Nick Williams (Munster, Ireland).

TAB odds: $8

Predicted finish: seventh.

 

CHIEFS:

THE perennial slow starters face an uphill battle at the beginning of this campaign with away games against both of last year's finalists (Crusaders and Waratahs) in the first two weeks.

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If they can come out of that with at least one win, the signs will be promising for 2009.

The Chiefs' backline is one of the best in the competition, as is their backrow and the locks can hold their own, particularly if Kevin O'Neill can recapture his form from last year.

But the real test for the side will be the front row. Ben Castle, Simms Davison and Tom Willis have all moved on and although coach Ian Foster has been able to pick up promising hooker Hika Elliot in the draft from Hawke's Bay, there are plenty of question marks about how the front row will go.

Elliot will likely have stiff competition from Aled de Malmanche for the No 2 jersey with the versatile front-rower finally settling on one position.

If the "fatties" perform then fans of the Chiefs will see their side in the semifinals for just the second time.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Jackson Willison is unlikely to crack the starting team at the beginning of the season but it won't be long before the midfield back's talents get rewarded. His deft sidestep will cause defences problems.

IN

Colin Bourke, Mark Burman, Craig Clarke (Hurricanes), Mike Delany (Highlanders), Hika Elliot (Hurricanes), Serge Lilo, James McGougan, Toby Morland (Highlanders), Joe Savage, Sona Taumalolo (draft), Jackson Willison, James Wilson (Highlanders).

OUT

Ben Castle (Western Force), Simms Davison (Clermont, France), Jono Gibbes (retired), Tom Harding, Hayden Hopgood (Toyota, Japan), Tasesa Lavea (Blues), Faifili Levave (Hurricanes), Jamie Nutbrown (Ospreys, Wales), Kristian Ormsby (Sale, England), Viliame Waqaseduadua, Craig West, Tom Willis (Newport-Gwent Dragons).

TAB odds: $14

Predicted finish: losing semifinalists, fourth.

 

HURRICANES:

It's been said too many times in the past but this really could be the Hurricanes' year. Colin Cooper has chipped away at improving his team each season and on paper this is his best squad yet.

Piri Weepu is playing the best rugby of his career, outside him Willie Ripia has huge potential at first-five and Ma'a Nonu continues to go from strength to strength.

Ripia's understudy will be Dan Kirkpatrick who showed during last year's Air New Zealand Cup that he, too, is a player with a great future.

The acquisition of wing David Smith from Auckland was a canny move and he adds to the team's already impressive strike-power.

Jerry Collins will certainly be missed but the time is right for Victor Vito to enter the Super 14 stage.

Not only is there talent throughout the Hurricanes team but there is plenty of depth in the squad. With other teams weaker than in previous years, if the Hurricanes don't win the Super 14 this season the players will only have themselves to blame.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Victor Vito's qualities have been recognised for a long while at sevens and provincial level and the powerful loose forward should have no problem taking the next step up. If he does he could be a bolter for the All Blacks.

IN

Josh Bradnock, Dane Coles, Bryn Evans (Blues), Jason Kawau (draft), Dan Kirkpatrick, Faifili Levave (Chiefs), Karl Lowe, Api Naikatini, David Smith (Blues), Victor Vito.

OUT

Craig Clarke (Chiefs), Jerry Collins (Toulon, France), Jimmy Gopperth (Blues), Michael Johnson, Chris Masoe (Castres, France), Shannon Paku (Montauban, France), Tane Tu'ipulotu (Newcastle, England), Bernie Upton, Thomas Waldrom (Crusaders).

TAB odds: $5.50

Predicted finish: winners.

 

 CRUSADERS:

It was never going to be easy for any coach to replace local legend Robbie Deans but to do so without Dan Carter and Ali Williams makes the job a heck of a lot harder.

But the Crusaders don't rebuild, they reload.

Todd Blackadder returning to the franchise he helped turn into a powerhouse completes the circle and if anyone knows how to instil the Crusaders' winning culture on the new players it's the former All Blacks' captain along with his assistants, Daryl Gibson and Mark Hammett.

A lot of pressure this season will fall on the shoulders of first-five Stephen Brett.

His career has stalled due to a horrendous run of injuries in 2008 but with Carter out of the picture Brett finally has the chance to show he has what it takes.

Andy Ellis will also need a big season with the battle for the All Blacks' halfback spots hotting up.

It would be a big ask for the Crusaders to defend their title but, as everyone knows, you can never write off the red `n' black machine.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Colin Slade was one of the finds of last year's Air New Zealand Cup. He is the latest first-five off the Canterbury production line and looks set to have a great future.

IN

Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks, Jason Macdonald (Highlanders), Bronson Murray (Blues), Jared Payne, Jonathan Poff, Isaac Ross (Highlanders), Colin Slade, Thomas Waldrom (Hurricanes), Adam Whitelock.

OUT

Dan Carter (Perpignan, France), Hamish Gard, Scott Hamilton (Leicester, England), Campbell Johnstone (Biarritz, France), Ti'i Paulo (injured), Caleb Ralph (Sanix, Japan), Greg Somerville (Gloucester, England), Reuben Thorne (Yamaha, Japan), Mose Tuiali'i (Yamaha, Japan), Ali Williams (Blues).

TAB odds: $4

Predicted finish: fifth.

 

HIGHLANDERS:

For the first time in ages you can look at the backs the Highlanders have at the start of a season and NOT wonder why they've bothered entering the Super 14.

This season, though, second-year coach Glenn Moore and his new assistant Peter Russell have shunned the diminishing talent pool in Otago rugby and made some astute selections through the draft system.

In Taranaki's Jayden Hayward he's picked up a centre who's got future All Black written all over him. Hayward showed during last year's Air New Zealand Cup that he is a player with real class and it's unlikely he'll be found out at the next level.

Israel Dagg is also another quality draft pick and let's hope Daniel Bowden will have learnt from his Super experiences last year and his talent will shine through.

It may be a leap too far to expect the Highlanders to be title challengers but at long last it looks like the dark days of rugby in the deep south are finally over.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Young Jayden Hayward could form a great midfield backs combination with centre Jason Shoemark. Hayward has work to do at reading the game but definitely has the x-factor about him.

IN

Josh Bekhuis, Matt Berquist (draft), Israel Dagg (draft), Jayden Hayward, Kendrick Lynn, George Naoupu (draft), Anthony Perenise (draft), Sean Romans, Jason Rutledge, Jason Shoemark (draft), Ben Smith.

OUT

Aaron Bancroft, Keith Cameron (retired) , Mike Delany (Chiefs), Jason Macdonald (Crusaders), Hoani MacDonald (Newport Gwent Dragons, Wales), Toby Morland (Chiefs), Craig Newby (Leicester, England), Isaac Ross (Crusaders), Niva Ta'auso (Connacht, Ireland), Ezra Taylor (Reds), Paul Williams (Blues), James Wilson (Chiefs).

TAB odds: $60

Predicted finish: 10th.

 

 BRUMBIES:

There is a simple formula when working out the Brumbies' chances of winning games when Stirling Mortlock plays they'll probably win.

For too long this side has been built around the talents of the injury-prone Wallabies captain.

On paper the Brumbies should be more than a one-player team and under new coach Andy Friend who resigned from Harlequins to take up the position they may have found the right fit.

Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stephen Moore, Mark Chisholm, Gene Fairbanks, Mark Gerrard, Stephen Hoiles and George Smith are all outstanding players and surely if they're pushed in the right direction the Brumbies can return to their title-winning ways.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Matt Toomua follows Julian Salvi to be just the second player signed by the Brumbies straight out of school. Born in Melbourne, Toomua is a pacy first-five who is a handy goal kicker.

IN

Ben Alexander, Ben Hand (Calvisano, Italy), Shawn Mackay, Alfi Mafi (Waratahs), Stephen Moore (Reds), James Stannard (Force), Afusipa Taumoepeau, Sitaleki Timani (Force).

OUT

Alister Campbell (Montpellier, France), Anthony Faingaa (Reds), Saia Faingaa (Reds), Julian Huxley (injured), Peter Playford (Waratahs), Jone Tawake (Secom, Japan).

TAB odds: $14

Predicted finish: eighth.

 

WESTERN FORCE:

When Sunday News reported last September that there had been a fallout between Force coach John Mitchell and senior players, the Rugby WA PR machine was quick to rubbish our story.

Fast forward a few months and retired judge Rob Anderson was appointed to look into allegations made against Mitchell following 31 of the 36 players and 10 staff members declaring a vote of no confidence in the coach.

However, for this season the Force haven't got a bad side and in Matt Giteau they've got the best first-five in the competition. They also have the talented James O'Connor and David Pocock in the squad but hanging over the team is Anderson's verdict and that is sure to have an impact on the team's on-field activities.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

James O'Connor, at 18, last year became the second youngest Wallaby of all time with Robbie Deans admiring the talented player with pace to burn.

IN

Filipe Manu, Richard Stanford (Brumbies), Josh Valentine (Waratahs), Justin Turner, Ben Whittaker.

OUT

Adam Clarke, Scott Fardy, Scott Fava (Waratahs), Matt Henjak (Toulon, France), James Hilgendorf (Kintetsu, Japan), Lachlan MacKay (Brive, France), James Stannard (Brumbies), Sitaleki Timani (Brumbies).

TAB odds: $30

Predicted finish: 13th.

 

REDS:

Last year Reds coach Phil Mooney was able to put the Brisbane-based team back on course after Eddie Jones' disastrous tenure in 2007. This year he'll be looking to take the team a step further.

Old-timers like Chris Latham, Andrew Walker, John Roe, Clinton Schifcofske and David Croft have moved on or retired and that sort of experience is sure to be missed.

The signing of loose forwards Daniel Braid from the Blues and Ezra Taylor from the Highlanders is sure to put the two under the spotlight for the season but they should rise to the challenge.

Berrick Barnes and Quade Cooper are sure to test defences but realistically a top-half finish is the most that can be expected.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Aidan Toua has been tipped as something special by those in the know in Brisbane. He is a lightning-quick fullback who played for the Australian schoolboys team.

IN

Daniel Braid (Blues), Adam Byrnes, Blair Connor, Rod Davies (Broncos, NRL), Anthony Faingaa (Brumbies), Saia Faingaa (Brumbies), James Hanson, Jack Kennedy (Brumbies), Mark McLinden (Harlequins RL, England), Ezra Taylor (Highlanders), Aidan Toua, Laurie Weeks.

OUT

Geoff Abram, Josh Afu, Doncaster, England), Ole Avei (Waikato), Rodney Blake (Narbonne, France), Caleb Brown, Sam Cordingly (Grenoble, France), Ben Coutts (Mont-de-Marsan, France), David Croft (retired), AJ Gilbert, Herman Hunt, Lloyd Johansson (Viadana, Italy), Chris Latham (Worcester, England), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), John Roe (retired), Clinton Schifcofske (Ulster, Ireland), Chris Siale (Tarbes, France), Henari Veretau, Andrew Walker (retired).

TAB odds: $40

Predicted finish: 11th.

 

WARATAHS:

Along with the Hurricanes, the Waratahs are the nearly men of Super Rugby.

With all the talent and money at their disposal the Sydneysiders have only made the final twice, both times losing badly to the Crusaders.

The team's coach Ewen McKenzie was told he was being sacked midway through last season and it's a big call from the NSW board to pluck Chris Hickey out of club rugby with Eastwood. Hickey will have to do without Rocky Elsom, Al Kanaar, David Lyons, Josh Valentine and Dan Vickerman. With that much talent gone it's difficult to see the Waratahs going as far as they did in 2008.

However, Timana Tahu, Lachie Turner and Kurtley Beale will improve on last season's efforts and they're never a side that can be taken lightly.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Ratu Nasiganiyavi broke onto the scene playing for Perth Spirit in the now defunct Australian Rugby Championship in 2007. The Fijian wing scored seven tries from five games in last year's Junior World Championships.

IN

Scott Fava (Force), Ratu Nasiganiyavi, Dan Palmer, Chris Thomson, Peter Playford (Brumbies).

OUT

Rocky Elsom (Leinster, Ireland), Sam Harris (Honda, Japan), Ben Jacobs (Saracens, England) Al Kanaar (retired), David Lyons (Llanelli Scarlets, Wales), Alfi Mafi (Brumbies), Josh Valentine (Force), Dan Vickerman (Cambridge University, England).

TAB odds: $10

Predicted finish: sixth.

 

 BULLS:

The Bulls went from champs to chumps last year when they dismally failed to retain their 2007 title.

They do have Victor Matfield back after spending a season filling up his bank balance in the French second division with Toulon and he's sure to make a big difference to the Frans Ludeke-coached side.

Richard Bands and Derick Hougaard are no longer with the team and while there are still plenty of players with star quality in the side, most notably Bryan Habana, there isn't the spark to the team that was there two years ago.

The Bulls struggled to adapt to the ELVs last season and second-year coach Ludeke will be tested to get the players all on the same page this time around.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Burton Francis is a young and naturally gifted first-five who has a keen eye for openings in defences and is handy with the boot.

IN

Burton Francis, Brandise Maku, Victor Matfield (Toulon, France), Jaco Pretorius (Lions), Dries van Schalkwyk (Boland).

OUT

Richard Bands (retired), Derick Hougaard (Leicester, England), Hilton Lobberts (Stormers), Trompie Nontshinga (Cheetahs), Wikus van Heerden (Saracens, England), Francois van Schouwenburg (retired).

TAB odds: $12

Predicted finish: ninth.

 

CHEETAHS:

The Cheetahs have got progressively worse since they came back into Super Rugby in 2006. They have finished 10th, 11th and 13th and their deterioration to the worst side in the competition should be completed this year.

There is little to get excited about with the Free State-based side and you have to wonder why Juan Smith, their talented loose forward captain, doesn't jump ship and move to another South African team.

It is possible the Cheetahs could go through the season winless, a feat only ever achieved once before, by their South African neighbours the Bulls in 2002.

Where the Cheetahs may be able to get some parity with the other teams this year though is in the scrums. Richardt Strauss is an international hooker while Coenie Oosthuizen and Wian du Preez are quality prospects.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Coenie Oosthuizen is seen as the natural replacement to CJ van der Linde in the Cheetahs' scrum. They love their props in South Africa and they're talking up this one big time.

IN

Danwell Demas, Fabien Juries, Trompie Nontshinga (Bulls), Corne Uys (Stormers), Piet van Zyl (Boland).

OUT

Rory Duncan, Eddie Fredericks, Alwyn Hollenbach, JW Jonker, Hendrik Meyer (France), Darron Neil (Castres, France), Falie Oelschig (Stade Francais, France), Barend Pieterse (retired), CJ van der Linde (Leinster, Ireland), Duane Vermeulen (Stormers).

TAB odds: $150

Predicted finish: 14th.

 

LIONS:

Don't laugh but the Lions may not be absolute rubbish this season.

They're not going to win the Super 14, or even come close, but there have been some interesting recruits brought into the squad for 2009 that will stop them being the laughing stock of the competition.

Jannes Labuschagne, Lawrence Sephaka and Ashwin Willemse are three of the new recruits who have played for the Springboks, while they still have Jaque Fourie, Earl Rose and Andre Pretorius from last year's team.

The big question is whether all the new players brought in by coach Eugene Eloff will gel.

If they can, then maybe fans will come back to Ellis Park.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Young hooker Ethienne Reynecke may not get into the starting team immediately, but when the wheels fall off the Lions' campaign he'll get his chance. He's being tipped as a household name by season's end.

IN

Todd Clever (OMBAC, USA), Shandre Frolick (Western Province), Barry Goodes (Cheetahs), Jannes Labuschagne, Henno Mentz (Sharks), Lawrence Sephaka (Toulon, France), Alastair Siegelaar (Western Province), Ashwin Willemse (Biarritz).

OUT

Rayno Benjamin, Cobus Grobler (Dax, France), Wihelm Koch, Eugene Maqwelana, Thabang Molefe, Kaunda Ntunja, Gert-Andries van der Merwe, JC Janse ven Rensburg, Walter Venter (injured), Joe van Nierkerk (Toulon, France), Jaco Pretorius (Bulls), Jaco van Schalkwyk (Roma, Italy).

TAB odds: $250

Predicted finish: 12th

 

SHARKS: 

There is an even stronger Wellington flavour to the Sharks this year. Former Wellington Lions coach John Plumtree has moved from assistant to head coach and Chris Boyd, Plumtree's sidekick in the capital, has hooked up with him again as assistant.

The Sharks made it to the semifinals last year and they should be strong contenders to achieve the same this season.

They will have Springboks captain John Smit back after a season in France but have lost Frederic Michalak who has gone the other way.

The Frenchman's departure does create a quandary for Plumtree. His two choices for the No 10 jersey are Ruan Pienaar and Francois Steyn. Both are world-class players but in different positions.

Pienaar is a better halfback than a first-five and Steyn still doesn't know what his best position is but it's probably 12 or 15 rather than 10.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Jean Deysel is a powerful ball runner who will cross the gainline with regularity. He played a big part in the Sharks winning the Currie Cup last year.

IN

Monty Dumond, Alistair Hargreaves, Chris Jordaan, Lwazi Mvovo, Len Olivier (Falcons), John Smit (Clermont, France).

OUT

Brad Barritt (Saracens, England), BJ Botha (Ulster, Ireland), Frederic Michalak (Toulouse, France), Henno Mentz (Lions), Epi Taione (Harlequins, England), AJ Venter (Stormers).

TAB odds: $5

Predicted finish: losing semifinalists, third.

 

STORMERS:

In Rassie Erasmus the Stormers have one of the finest coaches in the Super 14 and the squad he has assembled for this year's competition is a pretty fine one.

Last year the Stormers missed out on a place in the semifinals to the Hurricanes on points difference. They should, if things go to plan, be able to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

The Stormers have a sprinkling of world-class players in their ranks, including Schalk Burger, Bolla Conradie, Conrad Jantjes, Jean de Villiers, AJ Venter and the ever-youthful Percy Montgomery.

With that kind of line-up it's no surprise they're being tipped in the Republic as the South African team with the best chance of taking the title.

The Stormers all seem to have overcome the perennial problem of being unable to win matches in Australasia, picking up three victories in this part of the world last season.

The team to watch this year.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Nick Koster had an impressive Currie Cup and the No 8 was called into the Barbarians side for the game against Australia last year. While he's an exceptional backrower he's spent time playing on the wing during pre-season.

IN

Wicus Blaauw, Willem de Waal (Narbonne, France), Dewaldt Duvenage (Boland), Nick Koster, JC Kritzinger, Hilton Lobberts (Bulls), Percy Montgomery (Perpignan, France), AJ Venter (Sharks), Duane Vermeulen (Cheetahs).

OUT

Tony Brown (Sanyo, Japan), Isma-eel Dollie (Brumbies), Tiaan Liebenberg (Toulon, France), Ross Skeate (Toulon, France).

TAB odds: $14

Predicted finish: runners-up.

 

 

 

- Sunday News

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