The 2017 Super Rugby draw is out today. To mark the occasion Scotty Stevenson has power ranked every round of the upcoming season, from 1 to 16(B).
1. Round 14
I like this round. All 18 teams are playing and it is the Pascall Party Pack of the Super Rugby season. Blues vs Chiefs: neighbours, excitement; Reds vs Force: average, but likely close; Sunwolves vs Cheetahs: do not anchor your multi on this game; Highlanders vs Waratahs: certain to be spiteful; Rebels vs Crusaders: not to be taken lightly; Bulls vs Hurricanes: good vs evil; Sharks vs Stormers: old school dust up; Jaguares vs Brumbies: an upset in the making; Lions vs Kings… okay, so not quite a perfect round.
2. Round 4
The Waratahs-Brumbies match is the B-list celebrity feud of world rugby, which makes it entertaining. It’s entertaining watching Australians beat each other up. I’m afraid there’s not much going on from a South African point of view here, unless you like seeing the Sharks get bonus points against the Kings. I’m afraid it’s all about the New Zealand scraps again – the Crusaders host the Blues and the Hurricanes host the Highlanders.
3. Round 2
Another Thursday game! In Perth! I just want to lock myself in a dark room like Howard Hughes and descend into madness. Two New Zealand classics (Highlanders v Crusaders and Chiefs v Blues) offer this round some hope. Also, the Cheetahs play the Bulls which is a great excuse to drink Brandy and Coke and braai some exotic African game meats. Mmmm, Kudu!
4. Round 13
The Lions and the Bulls should be one of the ultimate derbies in Super Rugby but it has fallen on hard times lately, based predominantly on the fact that the Lions have only just come out of a 19-season coma, and the Bulls have been putting their fans in a coma since their 2009 season. Personally, this is a match up I can get into. And if nothing else, there is the Chiefs v Crusaders opener to enjoy.
5. Round 3
The Chiefs are equivocating on where to play their match against the Hurricanes, knowing full well that a whole bunch of Taranaki folk have jumped back on the Hurricanes bandwagon despite their union’s financial ties to the Chiefs. The Blues host the Highlanders, which is nice. Also the Jaguares host the Lions who probably won’t send a B team this year and hijack their own title chances. It’s the Jaguares first home game of the season, after two weeks in South Africa.
6. Round 1
Showing a firm grasp on a genuine sense of occasion, Super Rugby’s opening round begins on a Thursday. In Melbourne. With the Rebels hosting the Blues. Everyone loves a blockbuster battle between two teams that failed to make the playoffs the season before. Round one at least does feature the Highlanders against the Chiefs, which in modern times has produced some all-time classic matches, and the Stormers against the Bulls which always presents the chance for someone to be mortally wounded. The Sunwolves get to host their first New Zealand side. And that’s the last one they host until round 17.
7. Round 10
The Highlanders last played the Stormers in 2015, breaking an eight-year win drought. The venue is TBC which you just know means they will make the Stormers go to Invercargill. The Chiefs also host the Sunwolves and they too have left the venue open, which you just know means they will make the Sunwolves go to Pukekohe. Personally, I like both of those places. One does good fish, the other does good chips. The Reds host the Waratahs which at least gives the Australians something to write about.
8. Round 8
Can I just pray that the Crusaders faithful descends on AMI Stadium for the Sunwolves’ first ever match in New Zealand? Come on! It’s Easter! Plus there are International Space Station astronauts who have travelled fewer kilometres than the Sunwolves will this season. Give them a break! The Blues also play the Hurricanes in this round, and those who do not enjoy a Blues-Hurricanes match have plaque in the soul, or eat Carob.
9. Round 12
The Blues host the Cheetahs in the opening match of the round, and you just know they will make the Cheetahs go to North Harbour Stadium. I say why stop there? Take them to Whangarei, which is Bloemfontein by the sea. The Crusaders v Hurricanes match anchors the round, while the Brumbies v Lions game could well be more entertaining than you think. Or it could be terrible.
10. Round 15 (A)
Things get a little weird here. Round 15 (A) is for New Zealand and Australian teams only, which surely could have been scheduled for ANZAC weekend (see Rd. 9) but better late than never. After last year’s season the schedulers have found a way to ensure this is not a New Zealand clean sweep against the Australians. The Crusaders play the Highlanders and the Rebels host the Brumbies.
11. Round 16 (A)
The Hurricanes play the Chiefs. That’s it. That is the only game in round 16 (A). I mean, it’s a hell of a game and all. But still.
12. Round 6
Next to round five, round six looks promising. In the same way that next to death by being submerged in acid, a bullet in the head is preferable. The Stormers play the Cheetahs and although the Stormers have won the last three, you can’t help but watch the Cheetahs, just to see if they are still as crazy as ever. The Lions-Sharks game is the pick of the crop, although the Waratahs-Crusaders match gets a five-star historical rating.
13. Round 17
With the craziness of the Lions (the other Lions) tour out of the way, Super Rugby returns for a triumphant final round featuring the Rebels v the Jaguares, and the Kings v the Cheetahs! If you can get over the excitement of that, you can steady yourself for the Chiefs v Brumbies (a fine rivalry), the Hurricanes v Crusaders (we know what happened last time), the Sharks v Lions and the Sunwolves, fresh from circumnavigating the entire solar system, against the Blues.
14. Round 5
Even when a round is underpinned by South African derbies, they don’t fill one with a sense of anticipation. For the record, the Kings host the Lions and the Cheetahs host the Sharks. Dear God. After four straight South African clashes, the Jaguares get the Reds. Dear God.
15. Round 11
The Cheetahs host the Highlanders in Bloemfontein which means this match will feature at least 2,000 running metres. And then there’s. Um. Oh, wait! The Jaguares host the Sunwolves, straight after they’ve endured a four-game South African streak against the Sharks, Bulls, Lions and Sharks. The Sunwovles are coming off a light three-week trip to New Zealand where they have faced the Crusaders, Highlanders and Blues in consecutive weeks. (Why do they hate the Sunwolves and the Jaguares?)
16. Round 9
It’s ANZAC Day weekend! That must mean we have a host of trans-Tasman matches to look forward to! The Hurricanes play the Brumbies! Tick! The Force host the Chiefs! Tick! And then the…What’s that? The Highlanders play the Sunwolves? The Crusaders play the Stormers? The Waratahs play the Kings? And the Rebels are in Durban? At least the Reds and the Blues…What? They have byes?
17. Round 15 (B)
It’s a South African (and Japanese and Argentinean) affair in this round, with the Sunwolves travelling to Johannesburg (#PrayforSunwolves) and the Jaguares hosting the Kings (#PrayforRugby). At least the Sharks play the Bulls. I love the Sharks v Bulls game. There is genuine hatred here.
18. Round 16 (B)
The New Zealanders will be knee-deep in beer-swilling Lions (the other Lions) fans at this point in the competition, which is a tough product for Super Rugby to be going up against. Still, in the best traditions of the Southern Hemisphere, they will soldier on, while giving the Cheetahs, Lions (the other Lions) and the Sharks a breather. The Reds-Brumbies match and the Force-Rebels match are the highlights of the round. I cannot believe I just wrote that sentence.
19. Round 7