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Friday, February 17, 2012

Super Rugby 2012 Profiles - The New Zealand teams

Super Rugby is just a week away so our man in New Zealand, Tony O'Sullivan, has put together a no-nonsense preview of the teams over there that will be competing for the trophy. Next week we'll feature the Australian and South African teams. Feel free to share your thoughts on the sides, the previews, and what excites you most this year. 

The Crusaders. Like Harry Redknapp hates investigations into his offshore accounts, I hate the Crusaders. Well I did, but now after all the good people of Canterbury have been through I find my self saying in hush tones that taste like vinegar 'C'mon crusaders.' The team has some of the biggest names in the game and talent throughout the squad.

The buzz word when describing the Crusaders is culture. 'It's their culture that makes them so successful', 'It's their culture that separates them'. Well whatever it is, the Super Rugby runners up of 2011 - in the most trying conditions imaginable - will be once again be there or thereabouts at the business end of the tournament.   

Notable losses: Brad Thorn, Sonny Bill Williams, Chris Jack
Notable signings: Tom Donnelly, Tom Taylor
Biggest strength: Clinical precision; Can kill a game without the opposition even getting a look in.
Weakness: Natural disasters.
One to watch: Israel Dagg

The Blues, my team, are as frustrating as teaching your Grandmother to use an iPod. The Bipolar results and the win-one, lose-one nature of the team make them an extremely hard team to pick. The glory days of Blues rugby are well and truly over and have been eclipsed by the red and black domination.

They are capable of some extremely attractive rugby though, and have signed some more than handy players in the form of 'Keep calm Piri's on' Weepu and Ma'a 'Does he wear eye liner?' Nonu. Could this be the year the power base of NZ rugby shifts back north? Hopefully, but probably not.

Notable Losses: Joe Rockoko, Luke McAlister, Jon Afoa, Winston Stanley
Notable Signings: Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Rudi Wulf, Gareth Anscombe
Biggest strength: Ability to pile on a lot of points and shock other teams into submission
Weakness: Consistency and decision making at crucial times
One to watch: Rene Ranger

The Chiefs: Always have potential, very rarely deliver when it counts. For those outside of New Zealand, Wakachanchan, or the Waikato region, is an extremely proud and passionate Rugby heartland. But you wouldn't know it. Pathetic crowd numbers and apathetic support is an all too common and sad sight to see.

This could change this year though with the likes of the most polarising three letters in New Zealand arriving in Chlamydiasville (aka Hamilton), SBW. With his arrival and the boy wonder, Aaron Cruden, new to the scene, their back line with the likes of Richard Kahui and the freakish talent Tim Nainai Williams have a real spark about them. They have one of the smartest brains in the game Wayne Smith involved, and as long as the forwards get the backs some front foot ball, the Chiefs are my dark horses of 2012.       

Notable Losses: Siteveni Sivivatu, Mills Muliainia, Alec de Malmanche, Isaac Ross, Stephen Donald
Notable Signings: Sonny Bill Williams, Aaron Cruden
Biggest strength: A back line jam packed full of X factor
Weakness: Inexperience. Severe out breaks of STDs.
One to watch: Has to be Sonny

The plucky, not flashy Highlanders surprised many last year as they had some periods of impressive form. A lot of this was attributed to new coach Jamie Joseph with his hard-nosed approach and staying true to the fundamentals of good rugby: Do the hard graft upfront and the rewards will come.

The Highlanders pick up Hosea Gear and Andrew Hore in the Hurricanes carve up, adding world class grunt upfront and attacking venom out wide to a workmanlike squad. Can they be there at the end when it counts? Unfortunately I don't think they have the depth to take them there.

Losses: Tom Donnelly
Signings: Hosea Gear, Andrew Hore
Biggest strength: Keeping it simple.
Weakness: Squad depth to last the season.
One to watch: Hosea Gear

At this time of year you always hear the same old catch cry about the Hurricanes, 'Maybe this will be the year they finally win it.' No one is saying that this year. After last years appalling year with Mark 'all my best players have left because of me' Hammett at the helm, this could be a train wreck of a year.

On the other hand if Hammett is successful in installing the much talked about Crusaders culture into the capital they may be able scrounge out a few victories. This once great franchise with some of Rugby's most exciting players has been dismantled and shipped off for parts, and has a long way before they can even think about being a strong team again. I hope I'm wrong.

Notable Losses: Andrew Hore, Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Hosea Gear, John Swalger, Rodney So'oialo, Neemia Tialata. (8 current or former All Blacks... ouch)
Signings: Half a dozen rookies and journeymen
Biggest strength: Underdog tag
Weakness: Mark Hammett
One to watch: Conrad Smith, how will he cope being the main man in an understrength squad?

This year's Super Rugby tournament kicks off on February 24th, with the Blues vs Crusaders
You can follow Tony O'Sullivan on Twitter here

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