20 Apr 2018

Halfway through Super Rugby: How your team is tracking

12:45 pm on 20 April 2018

It's been some week for rugby in this part of the world, but none of it has anything to do with what's going on the field. But while the Israel Folau issue isn't going to go away any time soon, here's a brief respite of actual footy.


Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

We're officially just over halfway through the Super Rugby regular season, so have a look at how the New Zealand teams are progressing. Spoiler alert: there's a lot of injuries.


One of the signs of a championship team is when they start winning the games when they're not even in top gear. That certainly was the case in round eight, when they had no right to beat the Sharks. It was even more evident the next week against the Chiefs, when the Canes recorded a comfortable victory despite having second-string Jamie Booth starting at the all-important halfback position. They've only had one loss, have beaten all the other NZ sides bar the Blues (because they haven't played them yet), and have both Barrett brothers in incredible form right now. Everything is going right in the capital, and there's every chance this season will end with another Super Rugby trophy in the cabinet.

Key storyline: Can Ben Lam go from being Sevens workhorse to All Black winger?


Like the Canes, the Chiefs started off badly and got better. However, they in the process they did so while suffering more casualties than a season of Shortland Street. Luckily, the guys that did stay fit have managed to put in some career-best bodies of work so far in 2018: Solomon Alaimalo has been in breathtaking form in the outside backs, while Sam Cane has brutally asserted his dominance around the ruck area. While their injuries have been a concern, coach Colin Cooper has installed a no-nonsense gameplan that revolves around Damian McKenzie just doing whatever he likes - and, apart from the Canes' loss, it's working pretty well.

Key storyline: Will Canadian Tyler Ardron's hot form entice more Tier 2 players to crack Super Rugby in NZ?


The team with the most rough draw to start the season has come out the other side looking pretty good. Despite the star power of Sopoaga, Naholo and the Smiths, there is very much an old-school 'battler' feel to this team. Their pack has been under a bit of pressure, and time will tell whether their squad depth can withstand the heat of nine more rounds and possible playoffs. The other problem that will be concerning coach Aaron Mauger is that all those aforementioned All Blacks have to take a fortnight off - so exactly when that is going to happen will probably define their season.

Key storyline: Rob Thompson has been at the heart of everything that's good about this team this year, can he make it count when the All Blacks are rested?


So, things haven't been going quite as smoothly as Scott Robertson might have hoped, with losses to the Canes and Highlanders in successive weeks. Richie Mo'unga's injury hasn't helped matters, but despite the losses they are still a very dangerous side - especially at home. They are going to need that home advantage to work in the business end of the season too - they have five straight New Zealand conference matches to close out the regular season and will need to win pretty much all of them if they want the top spot.

Key storyline: Can winger Manasa Mataele continue to keep his uncle Seta Tamanivalu on the bench?


Well, where to start? Expectations were pretty low when the season began for the much-maligned Blues, so much so that a close loss to the Highlanders was celebrated as a new dawn. Unfortunately, apart from a very impressive win in Johannesburg against the Lions, the sun still hasn't come up yet. There are concerns pretty much across the whole park, and the ongoing injury to Sonny Bill Williams means that the first five problem that Tana Umaga had is now a second five one as well. He's joined in the casualty ward by almost 20 others, and it means that it's pretty easy to plot the trajectory of the Blues this year. Once again they'll find themselves at the foot of the table, and once again we'll be spending the summer trying to figure out just how to fix New Zealand's perpetual Super Rugby problem.

Key storyline: Can Tana Umaga can keep his job?