The end of June International window marks the suffering return of one of the most abused competitions in world sport – Super Rugby. Coming off the euphoria of the highest level of the game, Super Rugby returns with a whimper to finish itself off.
So, how do you beat the test window hangover and push through the tail end of the Super Rugby season? Here are some of the positives the return of Super Rugby brings to convince you it’s worth watching.
Competitive rugby back for Kiwis
Whilst the All Blacks are the hottest ticket in town for New Zealand fans, another drubbing of a Northern Hemisphere opponent failed to provide any sort of competitive rugby, with the feeling of a pre-determined series cementing itself after the French collapse at Eden Park in the second half of the first test.
With four New Zealand franchises in the thick of the playoff race, fans will be treated to real contests as a host of Kiwi derbies round out the season starting with the Chiefs and Highlanders in Fiji on Saturday night. Both teams are fighting for their lives and this result could have a huge bearing on the competition.
The Highlanders will begin their last ride with their best ever pivot, Lima Sopoaga, before he departs for Wasps. This has been the best era in franchise history. They could still make a run to pull off a second title with key pieces like Aaron and Ben Smith still around. With their title window closing, this could be their best shot in a while as they search for a new first five-eighth next year.
The Chiefs have overcome remarkable adversity this season with an injury toll that defies belief. Damian McKenzie’s switch from fullback to first five-eighth has paid off and kept the attack firing. After his form against France, no one should count the Chiefs out from peaking at the right time. If McKenzie can deliver the Chiefs a third championship under these circumstances, it should be considered one of the greatest in Super Rugby history and elevate McKenzie into the discussion of starting for the All Blacks – just like it did for Beauden Barrett in 2016.
The Chris Boyd era at the Hurricanes will end on the completion of the season. The most successful coach in franchise history took the team to back-to-back finals, winning the second one and maintaining a win percentage of 80% since 2015. The team is 10-3 and very much still in the mix. After experiencing a 20-year drought to capture their first title, every Hurricanes fan is hungry for more success while Beauden Barrett is still there and there is no better time than right now.
The Crusaders have a habit of collecting titles in multiples, and after ending their drought last year the new dynasty is just beginning. Sitting in first place on the ladder, the side does not want to take their foot off the gas. It won’t be easy as they will play their second Southern Derby at home after losing the first one in Dunedin before they play their old rival Blues at home.
The end of the season should produce some cracking Kiwi derbies, which will overflow into the playoffs as four kiwi sides look to come out on top of the cannibalistic New Zealand conference and compete for more titles.
Fans not the only ones with Test rugby hangovers
The June international window has in the past shaken up the competition as teams deal with injuries, fatigue and a loss of momentum.
In 2016, the Chiefs entered the June break as the hottest team in the competition led by the next All Blacks first five in Aaron Cruden. A month later, he was off to France and Barrett was the ‘guy’ after capturing everyone’s attention with an explosive showing against Wales. The Chiefs faded out and gifted the Hurricanes the number one seed (who were 7th heading into the final round), which was the catalyst for their maiden title run.
The disruption caused by the break will only serve to hit the reset button on form and momentum. The competition can be won or lost on home ground advantage seeding determined in the next few weeks as the past has proven.
A number of the sides in contention are dealing with casualties. The Waratahs lost Michael Hooper and have a suspension to Israel Folau, while the Hurricanes lost Ardie Savea. Who knows what kind of effect concussion will have on Beauden Barrett after the likes of Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty have missed significant game time following their own. The Crusaders have dealt with injury setbacks all year but who knows how long that resolve will last.
The month of July brings unpredictably to a competition that struggles with predictability.
End of another painful season for Australian Rugby
This is more of a ‘silver lining’ positive for Australian fans. After a series loss to Ireland, another fruitless season is closing down which means less suffering for fans of Aussie teams.
The Australian conference still hasn’t determined which sacrificial lamb will be offered as a ‘tribute’ to the Kiwi teams for slaughtering in the playoffs, which adds some intrigue to the closing rounds. It would be nice to see the Rebels put forward for a change.
At least the New Zealand drought was broken this year.
Jaguares could be the fairytale Super Rugby needs
The Argentina national side is on a worrying slide but the Jaguares are on a six-game winning streak and riding high in Super Rugby. A historic undefeated tour of Australasia has put the team well and truly in playoff contention in the African conference.
Hopefully Argentina’s form isn’t brought back to the Jaguares, as the side has shown it can win in New Zealand. If they make the playoffs, they could cause a massive shock and give the competition the kick that it needs.
If your team is no longer in the competition, the Jags are the team to support.
Third time lucky?
Should the Lions finish top of the South African conference (which looks likely), they will finish second on the overall table and earn home-ground advantage for a quarter-final and semi-final. Despite inconsistency this season, the Lions will be given an inviting path to their third-straight final.
A third Super Rugby final loss in a row would be demoralising but does give South Africans interest in the competition all the way to the end. And who knows, it could be a case of third time lucky for the Lions. A championship would be well deserved for a side that has been so strong in recent seasons.
It seems that Super Rugby is a predictable beast but this month should produce quality and some unpredictability, offering fans (but mainly Kiwis) some reasons to get excited.
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.