Week One of the 2018 Super Rugby season will feel a little strange. This year, Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby sides must sit ‘in wait’ for their African Conference colleagues to complete the opening weekend alone.
Usually, all teams have a big turnout. In years past, that has meant Thursday matches, double and sometimes triple-headers. But with the revised competition, a change has been made that only provides a ‘soft opening’.
Why? The International rugby calendar and a priority internal tour for the South African Rugby Union (SARU) means that they must start a week earlier than desired. Therefore, the partner unions have ceded to SARU, as negotiations of rugby fixtures are more complicated than a US Senate budget.
If fans are confused, the bigger picture will make them happy. Back to 15 teams is a better fit. Reduced to three conferences, it eases the stress and while the new relationships of the African and Australian groups need time to bed-in, consensus is that it is a better product.
We're starting to feel Super Rugby fever, are you?
— TAB Sport (@TAB_Sport) February 12, 2018
So while the early start by the five South African conference sides means their SANZAAR partners sit idle, they won’t be relaxing.
Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby sides sit ‘in wait’ for African Conference
Having just completed the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens tournament, the nine Australasian Super Rugby teams each still have targets to reach. Their run under the Queensland sunshine will have done plenty for the sides conditioning. True, a 10 minute half is nowhere near the physical conditioning required for a 40 minute stretch. But, the players had to both ‘run and think’ in Brisbane. So game fitness will have benefited greatly.
Combinations too played their part. Whether the first-pick players were involved or not, many of the core teams will have enjoyed the preseason opportunities. Coaches of course have an idea of how the primary team members can handle the playbook. But, it is the ‘substitutes’ who can often impact the season goals.
Preseason Time – Substitutes’ time to Impress
So the Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby sides used the time post-Brisbane, to digest their combinations. Head coaches like Chris Boyd will look to his next best player input. The individuals who could be needed to compliment his star players. Boyd and all Super Rugby coaches know it is a long season -a well developed squad can be instrumental to compliment the leading 23 men to perform.
Across both conferences, the last weekend was used to give their wider-squad a run. The men who bonded well in Brisbane, could be the same players who will offer benefits for the side during the course of the next five months.
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) February 10, 2018
And those benefits will now play-on to the final warm-up before the season proper starts. Looking to be prepared for his sides long trip to Africa for their important Week Two clash against the Bulls, the ‘Canes will use this final week to gain even more match readiness, with a mock-local derby.
Hurricanes Travel North for final Warm-up Match
After weeks, and months of preparation, the Hurricanes will be eager to have some ‘actual’ 80 minute pressure applied. They will do that in their last preseason match against the Blues this Thursday.
Meeting at the Mahurangi Rugby Club, it is an encounter which both coaches will want to run-out the majority of their squads in. It will be a vigorous face-off, conditions aside. The ‘heat will be on’.
— The Blues (@BluesRugbyTeam) February 13, 2018
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) February 14, 2018
With a near-to 100% squad to name his run-on side from, Chris Boyd and his coaching group have the same needs as their opponents–to be as ready as possible for the first match of the season.
“We were also delighted with how the group progressed through the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens tournament, it was also really pleasing to return to New Zealand and get such positive reports about the work the remaining squad had put in.
“Hopefully we will be able to continue that progress against the Blues who have already shown that they are progressing nicely in 2018.”
2018 Super Rugby Season begins with African Conference Matches
So while the African conference gets a ‘start’ on their rivals, the Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby sides will likely sit in wait for their rivals – but not sitting idly.
Even with the Crusaders fancied to retain their Crown, only now will the groups be able to judge better, how their full compliment has returned from breaks. Sam Whitelock, Israel Folau, Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane and Ardie Savea play their first full-contact matches this week.
Across the four Australian teams, and the five NZ sides, the time between now and Week Two cannot come soon enough. The two months between the end of the November tour, and the beginning of Super Rugby is a comfortable break. However, professional sportsmen and women all want to get out on the field and perform their best. And for local fans in Warkworth, Waimumu and at Brookvale Oval, the gains will all be similar. Team work, structure and to fully utilize all squad members before the opening Week Two fixtures.
Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby teams preseason match schedule:
- Thursday Feb 15 – Waratahs vs Melbourne Rebels, Brookvale Oval, Sydney
- Thursday Feb 15 – Highlanders v Crusaders, Fred Booth Park, Waimumu (NZL)
- Thursday Feb 15 – Blues v Hurricanes, Mahurangi Rugby Club, North Auckland.
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