Super Rugby’s latest incarnation kicks off this weekend with event boss Andy Marinos vowing the slimmed down tournament will deliver a “competitive and compelling” spectacle to end years of criticism.
By dumping the unwieldy 18-team, four-conference championship in favour of a more streamlined 15 teams in three conferences, Marinos has pledged a five-nation club tournament “that promises to deliver the best versus the best.”
“With the hard decisions to re-structure Super Rugby behind us we can now look forward to a stronger tournament,” said Marinos, chief executive of Super Rugby’s controlling body Sanzaar [South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby], which also includes Japan.
The Canterbury Crusaders, the most successful team in the history of the 22-year-old tournament, are again fancied to be contenders in the finals.
They beat the Golden Lions 25-17 in South Africa in last year’s final, and are the only side to travel overseas to win the Super crown, a feat they have achieved twice.
“It’s what Crusaders do,” said coach Scott Robertson, attributing the success to the proud history of the club who have made the semifinals 17 times and gone on to make 12 finals, winning eight of them.
“We created opportunities to create history.”
But while Marinos talks of a stronger tournament, the impact of injuries and the requirement in New Zealand to make players available for All Blacks’ training camps could have a telling effect.
Australian sides in particular will be looking to be more competitive after introducing a new fitness and conditioning programme, following a disastrous 2017 season when the Brumbies, with only six wins from 15 matches, were the best performing side.