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by Rugby4Cast / 11th February 2019

Super Rugby 2019 Preview: South African Conference

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The tournament’s 15-team, three-Conference format remains the same and there will be a total of 120 matches in the regular season that will be followed by a seven-match, eight-team finals series.
We at Rugby4Cast aim to provide a slightly more stats based approach to matches and look closely at the histories, rankings and form heading in to matches.
We have also built a machine learning algorithm that looks at all these factors to give a prediction for score and likely outcome. We currently provide predictions for all major club and international matches, which really seems to rile people up. Especially if their team is predicted to lose.
To learn more about how this is done, see here. Let us know if you have any questions or suggestions. And please, let us know just how angry you are on all the various social media platforms.

Rankings

These are our Super Rugby rankings heading into the 2019 season. These are based on an Elo rating system.
As might be expected, the Kiwi sides come out on top, but the top South African side – the Lions – are hot on their heels, with the other four conference sides locking out 8, 9, 10 and 11 in our rankings.
The below shows how the South African rankings have moved over time. Generally, they have been pretty consistent, aside from the Lions who have swung from being the worst side in the conference (by a considerable distance) to the best. Quite a turnaround.

Bulls
Where to begin? The Bulls have been a bit of a mixed bag the last few years finishing 15th and 12th in the previous two competitions.
However they have another new coach arriving in the shape of Gerhard Human who replaces John Mitchell. With this, and a bit of luck, the Bulls will be hoping for a push for to the playoffs this year.
We have had a look at the Bulls record for 2018 below. They will be certainly be looking to improve under new coach Human.

Player to Watch: Schalk Brits
Brits has finally come back to the Southern Hemisphere after leaving English champions Saracens. Whilst there Brits made 216 appearances and scored 185 points, so he’ll be a big loss for the English club, but a major gain for the Bulls. Brits is highly regarded and the South African International should be a key component in the Bulls frontline.

Stormers

The Stormers, like the Bulls, had mixed fortune in 2018 winning just 6 out of 10 games and finishing 4th out of 5 in the conference.

However, this year the Stormers have recruited a total of 9 players from the most successful Currie Cup team, Western Province. This could be great news not only for the Stormers but also for South African rugby to bring in rising new talent.
Player To Watch: Sikhumbuzo Notshe
Unfortunately, Sikhumbuzo is playing in a position that already has a huge amount of talent. However, what makes him stand out is his versatility. He has explosive power, as well as a high work rate. Watch out for him.

Sharks

The Sharks look dangerous and we are excited to see what they produce. They have a new captain in Louis Schreuder and won the 2018 Currie Cup. We’d expect the Sharks to make the playoffs once again this year.

Player To Watch: Lukhanyo Am
Where do we begin? Lukhanyo Am is a playmaker that can add direction to the Sharks and also to the South African international side’s back play. He has fantastic poaching skills at breakdowns and robust defence. With only 6 caps he’s new to the international scene caps but we expect these caps to increase in the coming years.

Lions

The Johannesburg outfit has had an interesting time in Super Rugby. In 2012 they got relegated after finishing on the bottom of the table for the third time in five seasons. However, in 2014 they made a raft of changes in coaching staff and players and haven’t looked back.
The rankings graph above showed our internally calculated rankings for the Lions, and demonstrates their rise over recent years. Impressive stuff.
During their 2016 season play-offs, the Lions defeated New Zealand powerhouses Crusaders and Highlanders in order to reach the final. However, there they lost to the Hurricanes in a gripping final.
We have taken a look at their 2018 campaign where they finished top of the South African Conference and 2nd overall. They have also reached the final for the last three years. It’s clear to see will be another big threat in 2019.

Player To Watch: Hacjivah Dayimani
With only 12 appearances to his name Dayimani is a rising prospect in South African rugby. At the risk of roughing up some feathers among our South African followers, we think he’s in probably the best South African team. This should allow his stock to rise and push for the international squad. Expect big things from this guy.

Jaguares

The Jaguares had their best season in 2018 finishing 7th overall and 2nd in the conference making the playoffs for the first time.

Just like a lot of other teams this season, the Argentinian side has a new coach in Gonzalo Quesada, formerly of Racing 92. Will this be a positive for the Jaguares? Could a possible new structure and tactics unsettle a team that’s only been in the competition since 2016? Only time will tell … however we for one hope they make the play-offs once again.

Player To Watch: Lucio Sordoni
Sordoni is in his debut season as a prop with the Jaguares, despite already having two Argentine caps next to his name. Sordoni is a fantastic scrummager (like most Argentinians) but also has great mobility and ball handling skills. He will be in with a shout for the the RWC squad so watch out for his form leading up.

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