If you’re anything like us here at Red Rugby Towers™, you’ll now be pining for a return to rugby action having had a ridiculous four weeks without the stuff (since the end of the summer internationals). You may have even reached the stage where you’re scrabbling around your telly-box channels, desperately seeking a game to end your egg-chasing cravings. Well fear not! This Saturday is semi-finals day in Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere’s premier club/franchise competition.
But “Oh no!”, you say sheepishly, “I’ve not seen any of this year’s Super 15! I’ve been far too busy filling my boots with northern hemisphere fare (you know, the heavy-grunt stuff interspersed with the odd Europe-wide administrative squabble)”. We sympathise, dear reader: Super Rugby may well be considered as the most skilful rugby competition on the planet, but trying to find time to watch it can be a struggle, especially when the games are usually aired on a Friday or Saturday morning for us, and we’re usually concerned with the business-end of our domestic seasons.
There are no such excuses this weekend though. So to get you up-to-date and in the mood for what should be two cracking matches, here’s our bluffers’ guide to Super Rugby 2014…
With its three conferences and uneven number of home and away games, Super Rugby can be a bit confusing for a first-timer, so your first port of call has got to be understanding the format. Check out the video below, which should help you along your way. What it all boils down to in 2014 is Saturday’s two semi-finals: Crusaders v Sharks and Waratahs v Brumbies.
The South Africans have been rubbish (apart from Jake White’s Sharks)
Yes, as alluded to recently in Hugh Podmore’s assessment of the Springbok national side, this has been a season to forget for the South African franchises. Four out of the five sides have finished in the bottom half of the table. The only shining light for the domestic game has been the Sharks, coached by the seemingly ever-successful Jake White. They had to survive an almighty scare last week though against the Highlanders, coming back late on to win through a couple of Francois Steyn kicks. They’ll have another tough task on their hands this weekend when they play the formidable Crusaders in Christchurch.
The Kiwis led the way early on, but only have the one side left
That side is the aforementioned Crusaders, the most successful side in Super Rugby history. That there aren’t a couple of kiwi sides in the semi-finals is a bit of a surprise though as four out of their five franchises ended the regular season at the top end of the table. However, away trips in the quarter-finals marked the end for the Highlanders and Chiefs, meaning that New Zealand only has one representative this weekend. The Crusaders will be buoyed by the return of Richie McCaw though and the fact that they’ll be playing at home (something that has got right up Jake White’s Springbok blazer this week).
The Aussies are on fire…but for how long?
Australia have an impressive two sides in this weekends semi-finals and (Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds aside) their franchises have been very impressive this season. Their two representatives play each other this weekend, so the land of wombats and walkabouts will be guaranteed a team in the final. Behind the scenes though, things are not rosy for Australian Rugby and you would think that one of their teams will have to take their chance to win the tournament while they still can. The main issue facing the game Down Under is a player exodus (sound familiar Welsh fans), as a string of their star players have either already committed to a move abroad or are contemplating one. The money on offer at home for these players is simply not there. It could well be a case of ‘enjoy this final series while you can’ for the Waratahs and Brumbies. Next season, the tournament may revert to type – New Zealand dominance.
Who’s going to win it?
Well, Red Rugby is predicting a Crusaders v Waratahs final. If that happens, home advantage could be crucial (and would belong to the Waratahs). The Sydney-based outfit have never won the competition. This could well be their year…and with players like Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau you wouldn’t bet against them.
So there you are dear reader – consider your toe well and truly dipped into Super Rugby waters. All that’s left to do now is to enjoy this weekend’s games and the following final. Just one thing though – the first game starts at 8.30am BST. But when has an early start ever put off us rugby addicts?