Thankfully though, the new system will see qualifying made a little bit easier for fans to understand. The season kicks-off in with a couple of games in the South African Conference on 17th February, a full schedule of games from the Australian and New Zealand Conferences will take place a week later.
Last year’s Grand Final winners Crusaders are once again favourites with the bookies to go all the way. The 25-17 victory over Lions landed them their eighth Super Rugby title – many expect that number to be nine this time next year. They are best-priced at 18/5 with Bet365 to win the Grand Final, followed by fellow New Zealanders Hurricanes (4/1) and South Africa’s Lions (5/1). Incidentally, Brumbies are regarded as having the best shot of any Australian side. They are priced at 11/1. Before you have a punt, check out the latest rugby free bets in the UK to see if you can find some clever ways to back your selection.
Crusaders Should Still Flourish Without Read
One thing that might count against Crusaders is the loss of their captain Kieran Read to a back injury. Read, who had to undergo surgery on his back, will certainly miss the early part of the season, but will hopefully be back around April. Still, with the vast experience provided by the likes of Israel Dagg, Sam Whitelock, and Owen Franks, the Crusaders should be okay without their captain for a while.
As the new season begins to unfold, Crusaders’ head coach Scott Robinson will surely have one eye on the game against Hurricanes on Saturday 10th March. Yes, all the games are tough in the New Zealand Conference, but the trip to Wellington to face the 2016 champions will be one of the toughest. The game is on at 6:35 am UK time, but it may be worth setting the alarm for as these two are arguably the best club sides in world rugby at the moment.
Hurricanes and Barrett Ready to Rock
As for the Hurricanes, there is one standout reason they may go all the way again this year – Beauden Barrett. The fly-half has been voted Rugby’s World Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and is showing no signs of relinquishing that crown. Fellow All-Blacks Dane Coles and Julian Savea should provide a strong supporting cast for Barrett, as the Hurricanes again look like a side that could go far in the competition.
What of the other candidates? Lions have been the best club in South Africa for some years now. They have been beaten in the last two Grand Finals by Crusaders and Hurricanes respectively. They will certainly be in the latter stages of the tournament but may come up short once more. Australian sides had an awful campaign last year and few are backing them to make amends this season.
In the end, Chiefs, priced at 7/1 (Bet365), may be the strongest challengers to their fellow New Zealanders. The fact that Unibet are as low as 2/11 on the winning team of Super Rugby being from New Zealand, tells you all you really need to know about where the trophy will end up next season.