Cape Town – The overall title winners? No major surprises tipped … unanimity over those wily old Crusaders. But the SA conference? Much more like a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game.
Those seem the major hallmarks of the Sport24 experts’ tips for the just-launched Super Rugby season.
Compiled by Rob Houwing, colleagues Garrin Lambley, Herman Mostert and Lloyd Burnard also weigh in with their thoughts for the 2019 tournament …
Who will win Super Rugby 2019?
@RobHouwing: While the main challenge may again come from within their own conference, it is so hard to look beyond the greatest Super Rugby team of all time, the little-altered Crusaders. They will take their silverware tally into double figures, and earn their first hat-trick since doing the job previously in the period between 1998 and 2000.
@GarrinLambley: While teams from all the countries will be asked to rest their international stars at various stages, class will eventually prevail when all is said and done. No team oozes more class than the Crusaders. They will complete a hat-trick of titles and their 10th overall.
@LloydBurnard: Even with this being a World Cup year, and players expected to attend international camps and be rested, it is hard to look beyond the Kiwi sides. Few would be surprised if the Crusaders make it three in a row, and I can’t find enough of a reason to predict it won’t happen. If they don’t win, one of the Chiefs or Hurricanes will.
@Herman_Mostert: The Crusaders will make it a three-peat and claim their 10th overall title. They have a settled squad and the best coach in the competition; don’t be surprised if Scott Robertson is named new All Blacks coach later in 2019.
Who will claim the SA conference?
@RobHouwing: Absolute pot luck this year! The group looks so tight that any team you tip to top it may end up at the basement, and perhaps even vice versa. But against that backdrop, and after getting repeated egg on my face by not backing them for significant prosperity in any of the last three seasons, maybe it’s finally time to suggest the Lions will edge it, just on the grounds of “been there, done that” … and yes, despite the sacrifice of several stalwarts this year.
@GarrinLambley: Difficult to see any one SA side dominating the conference this year, with no real standout … on paper at least. Tough to see the Lions reaching a fourth consecutive final, having lost key personnel, while the Sharks and Stormers haven’t bolstered their ranks to any great degree. That leaves the Bulls to step up and snatch domestic bragging rights, thanks in the main to several marquee signings, both on-field and off it.
@LloydBurnard: The Stormers do not have the depth this year, the Lions are due a slip-up and the Bulls are entering a new era. For those reasons I expect the Sharks to surprise many on their way to winning the conference. They are settled under Robert du Preez and will build on their Currie Cup success.
@Herman_Mostert: I don’t see any team completely dominating. All four SA-based teams match up fairly evenly. The Lions may, however, just sneak it: last year they showed under new coach Swys de Bruin that the loss of personnel can be overcome. On paper, the Stormers have a quality team but their off-field management woes may prove a distraction. The Bulls under new management may not yet reach full potential while the Sharks will lack the consistency needed to excel.
Your surprise package team this year?
@RobHouwing: Bookies have them at an unkind, distant 50/1 and as the likely third worst-faring side in the competition, so maybe the Dave Wessels-coached Rebels will instead punch above their anticipated weight again (they were second in the Australian conference last year, for what it was worth) and grab a few decent scalps along the 2019 road. Acquisitions like unpredictable veteran Quade Cooper and Matt Toomua should help get their line moving snappily enough.
@GarrinLambley: I expect the Blues to finally hand over the NZ conference wooden spoon. On paper one of the most dynamic teams in the tournament, they will be looking to make Eden Park a fortress in 2019. Astute new head coach Leon MacDonald will also go a long way to ensuring they win more than they lose.
@LloydBurnard: Sharks aside, expect the Blues to finally come good and ruffle a few feathers in the New Zealand conference. For too long now, they have been the weak link among the Kiwi sides, and in Leon MacDonald they now have a coach who understands this competition better than most.
@Herman_Mostert: Dare I say Blues? For years now, the men from Auckland have woefully underachieved. But a new coach in former Crusader Leon MacDonald may do the trick.
Your expected individual star of the tournament?
@RobHouwing: Is it sacrilegious in Super Rugby to suggest a prop for this accolade? Some would say so, but my tip for MVP is nevertheless going to be Karl Tu’inukuafe, the 25-year-old rampaging barrel of a loose-head who has quit the Chiefs and will play a massive role in the Blues’ quest to end their reputation as weakest NZ side this year. The nominee for World Rugby breakthrough player of the year earned 13 All Black caps in his stellar, debut Test season last year and will also boost the Blues’ set-piece enormously.
@GarrinLambley: For the Crusaders to triumph they will likely have to provide the tournament MVP. Look no further than flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who will use the tournament as a launchpad to finally step out of the shadow of compatriot Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks No 10 jersey as the latter enjoys a rumoured sabbatical in Japan.
@LloydBurnard: From a South African perspective, expect Lood de Jager to be massive for the Bulls. He has a lot to prove with this being a World Cup year, and now that he has been handed the Bulls’ captaincy I reckon he is going to be monstrous for the men from up north.
@Herman_Mostert: Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga has been one of the tournament’s unsung heroes in recent years. I rate him highly and expect him to push even harder for All Black honours behind a dominant Crusaders pack.
Emerging SA player to take the tournament by storm?
@RobHouwing: Fresh off his promising first season in Springbok colours, Sharks wing S’bu Nkosi seems ready to leap to the forefront as an attack factor in Super Rugby 2019 if injuries stay away. He has all the tools to do well, including suitable physicality near the corner-flag … now he just needs the Sharks to get him more (and better) ball than they did last year. I am pretty sure they’ll try.
@GarrinLambley: This may well be the year of the youngsters, as seasoned internationals prepare for the World Cup. Encouragingly, each of the four SA sides boast emerging players who could well go on to represent the Springboks in years to come. After the Stormers failed to sign star No 8 Duane Vermeulen, it will be interesting to see how former SA under-20 star Juarno Augustus fares at the base of the scrum.
@LloydBurnard: Aphelele Fassi … hopefully he gets the game time, but there is no question that the potential for something special is there.
@Herman_Mostert: Stormers centre Ruhan Nel was a star for the Blitzboks on the Sevens scene and excelled for Western Province in last year’s Currie Cup. He is skilful, big and strong and I expect him to stake a claim for the Springboks’ World Cup squad later in the year.