The Southern Hemisphere rugby drought is finally over, as Super Rugby kicks off this week with some cracking encounters. Here’s our thoughts on the first round of action:
Blues v Highlanders
The Super Rugby season officially gets underway when the Blues and Highlanders meet at Eden Park on Friday, February 26th. The Highlanders will carry plenty of confidence into the season after winning last year’s competition while the Blues will look to atone for their forgettable season.
Highlanders by 5
Brumbies v Hurricanes
One of the best matches of Week 1 will likely be played out when the Brumbies host the Hurricanes in Canberra. Two of the formed teams of the 2015 season, the Brumbies face a big task in overcoming last year’s runners-up who have retained the majority of their talent-rich roster.
Brumbies by 5
Cheetahs v Jaguares
The Cheetahs struggled last season and this the loss of players again in the offseason it looks like another struggle. We get to see the new Argentine franchise for the first time in a competitive game. They have a good squad and on paper this is a game they should win. We have to see the reality though and I think later in the season they would struggle with the travel but for this one they should be fresh so I’m backing an early away win.
Jaguares by 3
Sunwolves v Lions
The Sunwolves have been brought together late and with key Japanese national team players at other franchises don’t have the quality. This lack of preparation and quality means it should be an easy away win. The Lions have a lot of travel to do as they head to New Zealand after this but should be fresh enough for the first game.
Lions by 15
Crusaders v Chiefs
Longtime rivals go head-to-head when the Crusaders host the Chiefs in Christchurch. The Chiefs well and truly had the edge over the south island franchise in 2015 but will have to control possession from the outset of they are to win at one of the competition’s toughest road trips.
Crusaders by 5
Waratahs v Reds
The Tah’s topped the Australian conference last season and will beginning for it again. The toll of playing in Japan for key players will be a tested. The Reds though are a franchise in a mess. There’s been a turnover of players and the same failing head coach is still there. This should be an easy win for the Tah’s to get rid of some early season rust.
Waratahs by 10
Force v Rebels
Australia’s two potential-packed franchises meet in Perth. Neither team managed to make much of an impact in 2015 but both have recruited well in the offseason and will view this match as an ideal opportunity to post early points. The Force have promised an expansive gameplan in 2016, and should have the firepower to take this one.
Force by 3
Kings v Sharks
The Kings will have something to prove in their return to the Super Rugby fold in Week 1 but will realistically face too great a task in the ever-dangerous Sharks, even at home.
Sharks by 10
Stormers v Bulls
The Bulls had a rather unfortunate pre-season, with star flyhalf Handre Pollard being ruled out of the season with injury, setting back their attacking gameplan quite some bit. This may mark a troublesome season for the Pretoria side, but they have enough strike-power in their backline to still cause some damage. The Stormers did have some distractions themselves, as they lost Eddie Jones to England, but they are a relatively settled side with an internal promotion to head coach.
Stormers by 5.
What are your picks for the first round of Super Rugby? Let us know in the comments section below and tweet us @MenStuffZA.