Super Rugby preview - other NZ teams

Crusader Heiden Bedwell-Curtis evades a tackle from Lions player Elton Jantjies in last year's 
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Crusader Heiden Bedwell-Curtis evades a tackle from Lions player Elton Jantjies in last year's Super Rugby final. Photo: Getty Images
The four other New Zealand teams all fancy their chances of Super Rugby glory as the competition starts on Friday.

Steve Hepburn takes a look at the sides and who to fancy. He will look at the Highlanders tomorrow.

CRUSADERS

The side is going for a hat trick of titles and was 15 to 20 points better than any side last year.

Everyone who is any good is back, so it should cakewalk to the title, one would think. But it does not always happen like that.

Key players are going to be on the sideline for a decent period, while teams will surely become wiser when they play them.

The Crusaders do not appear to have a weakness and can score points.

The biggest doubt hangs over how many of their players will be looking further ahead than just this competition.

Last year: champions

Coach: Scott Robertson

Up side: lots of talent, hardened forward pack, huge depth

Down side: key guys sitting out, tough start to season, everyone is hunting them

Prediction: champions

HURRICANES

The Hurricanes have been knocking on the door for the past two seasons after winning in 2016.

But an inability to beat the Crusaders when it matters and not handling the colder weather at the business end of the season has been their Achilles heel.

It certainly has the backs to win the competition. It is a case of who to leave out in a backline dripping with talent.

But it all starts up front in games, and the onus will go on the forward pack. Brad Shields is a big loss and much will rely on Dane Coles and how he gets through the season. It's a big season for Gareth Evans, too.

Chris Boyd got rather shafted out of the Hurricanes, so the pressure is on John Plumtree.

With so much class in the backline, it's hard to see the Hurricanes not being in the picture.

Last year: semifinals

Coach: John Plumtree (new)

Up side: talented backs, know how to score tries, plenty of X factor

Down side: light in second row, can be flighty, inconsistent

Prediction: semifinals

CHIEFS 

The Chiefs probably over-achieved last year, overcoming a huge injury count, and will continue to fight hard.

But losing Charlie Ngatai and Liam Messam are big blows, while Sam Cane is unlikely to be seen. Brodie Retallick will skipper the side, and it will be interesting to see how his playing minutes are managed.

Damian McKenzie is again the key, and he is a quality operator at this level and sparks so much for the side.

The forward pack has a workmanlike look about them, and that is often enough if McKenzie and co can do the business out the back.

Last year: quarterfinals

Coach: Colin Cooper

Up side: great tenacity, some very classy players, tough to beat at home

Down side: Lost some big players, not much star power in loose forwards, not a great draw at back end of season

Prediction: ninth

 

BLUES

Leon MacDonald is trying to do what Tana Umaga, John Kirwan, Pat Lam, and David Nucifora could not - win a Super Rugby title.

There has been plenty of positive talk coming out of the Blues, and there is always is. But everyone looking top-class in training while winning pre-season games is all well and good - those results are worthless.

To do any good, the Blues have to have a decent run with injuries and also cut out the mistakes. The defence has to take a real step-up, as there were far too many easy tries given away last year.

And the side has to beat some New Zealand teams.

There is some genuine star power in the Blues with the Ioane brothers, Sonny Bill Williams, and new All Black Dalton Papali'i. And of course Ma'a Nonu - but the talk of an All Black return is stuff best left to the fantasy writers of this world.

For the Blues to fire, halfback Augustine Pulu and first five-eighth Otere Black have to perform.

Last year: 14th

Coach: Leon MacDonald (new)

Up side: Quality players, big and strong in the forwards, plenty of money

Down side: lack composure, questionable spine, losing culture

Prediction: 10th

• See Friday's Otago Daily Times for your guide to this year's Super Rugby competition.

 

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