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by Rugby4Cast / 14th February 2019

Super Rugby 2019 Preview: New Zealand Conference

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2019 is here and the Super Rugby season starts this weekend.
There are also a total of 33 players about to play their first season of New Zealand Super Rugby along with 21 players who have come from the U20 development programme. Quite a depth of talent New Zealand Rugby is developing.
Interestingly there are 4 sets of siblings in this year’s tournament.

  • Beauden, Jordie (both Hurricanes) and Scott (Crusaders) Barrett
  • Rieko & Akira Ioane (Blues)
  • Damian & Marty McKenzie (Chiefs)
  • Sam (Crusaders) & Luke (Highlanders) Whitelock.

Rankings

These are our Super Rugby rankings heading into the 2019 season. These are based on an Elo rating system.
As might be expected, most of the Kiwi sides come out on top, taking four of the top five spots, with the Blues down in in 12th.
However, this wasn’t always the case, as can be seen below from our historical tracking of the rankings. Back in 2003/2004 the Blues were challenging the Crusaders for the top spot, and indeed this was the last time they won the title. Since then however, it has been a fairly steady decline, with all other NZ franchises overtaking them in recent year.

Blues

The Blues will be looking to end a 16 year title drought, their last title coming in 2003, and their recent run in finishing in the bottom half of the standings.

Not a great record. However, this year the Blues have a new head coach with Leon MacDonald taking over from Tana Umaga (who has been demoted to Assistant Coach). They have also bolstered their ranks with some star names in Karl Tu’inukuafe and the returning Ma’a Nonu. Some serious firepower. Hopefully they can bring it to bear.
Player to Watch: Ezekiel Lindenmuth.
This Samoan born prop is the real deal and has been developed from within. Ezekiel played in 2017 for the New Zealand U20s and, although he’ll sit behind the new recruit Tu’inukuafe, but we’re sure he will get plenty of game time coming off the bench.

Chiefs

The Chiefs last won the Super Rugby title in 2013. In 2018 they were knocked out in the quarter finals by eventual semi finalists the Hurricanes, 32-31. A tight match that will still hurt for many Chiefs fans. Can they improve on that in 2019?

Player to Watch: Etene Nanai-Seturo
This player departed the Warriors [Rugby League] and also plays for the New Zealand 7’s team. Needless to say then, he has pace to spare, great strength, footwork, and seems to have that intangible quality of making time to slow and allowing him to make smart decisions on the fly. Keep an eye out.

Hurricanes

The Wellington franchise now have a new coach John Plumtree and have retained a bulk of last year’s side for the 2019 campaign. However they have recruited 6 new faces including the familiar name of James Marshall who returns from time in Japan and the UK.

The Hurricanes got knocked out of the Semi Final by eventual winners Crusaders 30-12. The Hurricanes also got knocked out at the same stage in 2017 by the South African Lions who then went onto play the Crusaders (again) in the Final. The Wellington based team will certainly be looking to make amends after failing to make the final in the last two seasons. However with a possible new structure this could be a bridge too far.
Player to Watch: Salesi Rayasi
This bolter had a massive season with Auckland in the Mitre 10 cup and is looking to hone his craft on the wing under the likes of Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ben Lam and Beauden Barrett. Fine teachers of the speed craft.

Crusaders

Scott Robinson’s men are going for a ‘three-peat’ (see what we did there?) of Super Rugby titles and have recruited 5 new players. However, they might find themselves in a similar position to 2015 where a large string of All Blacks players were held back by the NZ rugby union for the World Cup. That year, they didn’t even make the play-offs.

Players to Watch: Leicester Faingaanuku
At only 18, Faingaanuku has dominated schools rugby and shows great promise. He uses his size and power to find his way to the try line with ease and Scott Robertson has already earmarked him as a future star of the game.

Highlanders

Finally, The Highlanders. They welcome back the cult hero Marty Banks in the 2019 season. Banks not only played a huge role in the Highlanders 2015 Super Rugby title win but also came off the bench to lead the Highlanders to a famous 23-22 win against the British and Irish Lions in 2017.

The Highlanders had a decent enough season in 2018. However finishing 4th in the New Zealand conference and 6th overall ultimately sent them on a tough trip to Sydney to play the Waratahs in the Quarter Finals. They lost this 30-23, but will be hoping for an improvement this time round. Key to that will be that Aaron Smith finds his best form again. He hasn’t been as sharp lately and they will be hoping this Super Rugby campaign sees his resurgence. New Zealand rugby fans across the country will also be hoping to see this ahead of the World Cup.
Players to Watch: Pari Pari Parkinson
It would have been easy to put down Marty here but Parkinson has caught the eye after a strong Mitre 10 Cup with Tasman and games under his belt for New Zealand Maori. Pari Pari Parkinson is a skilful player in a bit of space but he can also throw his weight around the rucks and tackle areas. A real handful for opposition.