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Super 12 2003 Preview
Super 12 2003 Preview
(A new season begins anew!)
Well, we've had our month and a half off to watch some fairly uninspiring cricket games. It's nearly time to once again begin the mighty Super 12 competition. It's the first step in a 7 month journey that will, all going to plan, culminate in the All Blacks bringing back a certain gold trophy to stash in the keep along with (hopefully) a couple of others gained and kept from games against our pals across the ditch and the Boers.

But first we have the Super 12. Can the dynasty of the Crusaders continue and make it FIVE championships in the past 6 years? Will the perenial strugglers; the Bulls, Hurricanes and Chiefs make any inroads up the table? If so, who will take their place at the foot of the ladder? Might we see 3 Aussie teams in the final 4 like we almost did last year? And of course, will the Yappies put up any sort of resistance with their new-look squads? Anyway, I'm gonna run through all the teams and give my views on how I reckon they'll go - starting with the SOUTH AFRICAN teams.

BULLS - By far the worst team of the 12 in recent years. The once mighty Northern Transvaal has become the joke of the tournament - the 2nd bye, some call the fixture against these guys. But things might be about to change. Maybe. To me the Bulls have a far better squad than last year with a few Cats players making a move such as Jantjes. The Blue Bulls won the Currie Cup (South African NPC) in 2002, which is very strange considering they won no games at all in the Super 12. If they can transfer that form into this year then they might gain some respectibility. I don't think they'll be challenging for the semis, but they might get to the lofty heights of winning a game or two and getting to spoil someone elses semifinal hopes.

CATS - You always get a dark horse in sports, last year it was the Waratahs and this season it will be the Cats. They finished 11th last year, but I think they're a better team than that. They have a number of prominent players; superstar Pretorious, grafter Labuscacne, and the exciting Bobo in the centres. Bob Skinstad has moved provinces and will captain the team, and he's world class as well. They made the top 4 in the two years before 2002, so I'm picking them to return there in 2003. It'll be fortress Ellis Park once again.

STORMERS - A dangerous looking team. They've got a very tough man as captain with Crige - also fantastic wingers with Rossouw (who is NOT playing in Europe, despite earlier reports) and Paulse. Bolla Conradie the upcoming halfback will direct the backs with a precision pass, but maybe the key to the Stormers chances of making the semis won't lie in the players they do have, but the player they do NOT have. Percy Montgomery, the most overated player to ever call himself a goalkicker has gone and so the Stormers may win more of those closer games they lost last year. Midtable.

SHARKS - I'm not inspired by this team. Butch James will be back in the lineup for all of 20 minutes before he's out, red-carded and suspended for illegal tackling for the rest of the season. The rest of the team, ugh. Bokker boofheads each and every one of 'em. Will win the odd game if someone like Wayne Erikson or Tappe Henning officiates but otherwise teams should just run the ball at every opportunity and win easily. They could be dangerous in wet, squally weather that will develop nearer the end of the season (as winter sets in) but I expect them to be well out of the running by then.

Overall the Boks will, as usual, be easy-beats away but mean and difficult at home. Once again none of them will win the title, but the Stormers and Cats may win enough at home to shove their way into the top 4.

Now for the AUSTRALIAN teams.

WARATAHS - Oh dear. Last season was so good but yet, so very, very bad. Started the season magnificently winning 5 on the trot, dropping a close one to the Blues and then winning another 3. Then they lost the one they REALLY wanted to win against Queensland and from there it all just turned to custard. More than that - lumpy, mouldy, rotten, burnt custard as they were obliterated 96-19 by the Crusaders and again 1 week later in the semifinal to the Brumbies. They've imported a couple more leaguies since 2002, and hence a few of the backs have taken off to Europe but it's a pretty similar squad to last season. I don't think most of the NSW fans will care how the rest of their season goes if they can beat the Crusaders in Sydney - and maybe the Reds as well. Offer them victory in those two matches and I'd suspect they'd be more than happy to lose the other nine.

REDS - To me this team looks the most capable of challenging the Crusaders for the crown this year. Everywhere I look I see strength, except maybe some concern over halfback in particular. Outside backs of Latham and Tune (and Sailor), Herbert at centre, the under-rated Elton Flatley and Steve Kefu in the 5/8's, probably the very fast and elusive Atkinson at halfback and the Reds have unquestionably the best backs of ALL the 12 teams. Captain Toutai Kefu, Sharpe and Cockbain are all Wallabies and will give these backs plenty of ball to play with. They'll be the most exciting team to watch with breathtaking tries - the sort of stuff likely to take the Sharks to the cleaners. If they don't make the top 4, something is seriously wrong.

BRUMBIES - Bah! Let's not beat about the bush. I don't like the Brumbies. A Hurricanes win over them is almost as sweet as an All Blacks win over the Wallabies for me. Their style of play is outdated, apart from Larkham their players have no flair, and to cap it all off George Gregan plays for them. I can see the Brumbies dropping real low this year, and my head says that - not just my heart. We saw signs of it again last year when they lost 4 on the trot. The grand final chokers will not get another chance to add to their 1 title from 4 attempts as they'll end up mid to low table. Their 1st game of the season (against the Reds) will tell us a lot about the Brumbies we're going to see in 2003. Either the ruthless, efficient rugby machine of 2001 or the shoddy bunch of misfits we saw during their losing streak - I just hope it's the latter!

The Aussies will be a typically tenacious and efficient lot with all of them capable of making the top 4. If the Waratahs have psycologically gotten over their end to last year, they'll be very strong - if not they'll be the worst team in the competition. Look out for some ding-dong battles with the kiwi teams such as Reds v Highlanders, Crusaders v Waratahs and Hurricanes v Brumbies. I can hardly wait!

Finally, the heroic NEW ZEALAND teams!

CRUSADERS - The tournament favourites, make no mistake. A shadow All Blacks team wearing red and depth right across the board. If there was one weakness I'd say it would be an over-dependence on Andrew Merhtens. We saw in 2001 what happened to the Crusaders setup when Merhts was out. 10th. If he gets injured, loses form or opponents find a way to shut him down then the Cantabs might fall back to the pack somewhat. Of course, shutting down Merhts is like trying to tackle Jonah Lomu. A LOT easier said than done. Top 4 is a certainty, look out for a thrilling grand final against the Queensland Reds.

BLUES - Auckland supporters certainly seem to think that their team is capable of going the whole way after their triumphant NPC last year. It's worth reminding the Aucks that NPC glory doesn't automatically translate into the Super 12 though (as I can testify for Wellington). The Blues are a bit of a wait-and-see team for me. They have some dazzling, exciting players like Carlos and also some players who can play very badly like... Carlos. They might be the new Hurricanes I reckon. Exciting, but maybe not as consistant they'll need to be. They'll certainly post a few good wins and challenge for the top 4 for much of the season, but I don't think you can compare them to the '96 or '97 teams just yet.

HURRICANES - 8th or 9th beakons again I'm afraid. Colin Cooper is the new coach, but I don't expect miricles. We've already buggered our chances by not picking the right players. We could have had Mark Robinson, James Arlidge, Paul Steinmetz and Glen Taylor if we'd wanted them - but apparantly we did not. Dumb. Just plain, typical Hurricanes dumb. If we get in the top four it will be a miricle and once again we'll only have ourselves to blame for not picking the right players for the job. Will probably beat one or two of the title contenders during the year but again will fail at the final hurdles. That said, apparantly we beat the Blues in pre-season on Friday night. That must be almost the first time ever! We play the Crusaders at their place first up and if we can hit the ground running and win there it will be a tremendous boost. And then I wake up.

HIGHLANDERS - A solid team. Byron and Tony Brown the halves are prime examples of Highlanders players. A solid front row, solid locks and loosies, solid halves, a solid midfield and maybe some less than impressive outside backs. Laurie Mains is one of the more solid coaches too. Will it be the year of the Highlanders at last for the traditional semi-finalists? Could well be. The squad assembled will play no-nonsense, hard rugby in the traditional Otago manner and are certainly capable of winning the championship especially if they get 1st or 2nd on the ladder because as we all know, the Highlanders are bloody tough at Carisbrook. In fact they haven't lost there since 1999!

CHIEFS - Forget your NPC, Waikato. Since then you've lost Deon Muir, Royce Willis, Bruce Reihana and Deacon Manu - basically all of your decent players are gone. The coach will continue his confusing policy of rotating the #9 and #10 like a sprinkler, and you might just find yourself stone motherless last. Even the Bulls and the Hurricanes look better than you do, and that's saying something.

So in summary the kiwis look tough enough in 3 of their 5 teams to push hard for glory with the Hurricanes and Chiefs making up the numbers. Of course the Super 12 is a competition of surprises - who would have picked the Waratahs rise or the Cats and Sharks dramatic fall before last year began? Maybe they'll put up more of a fight than I expect, but here's my predicted table (in descending order).

Predicted Super12 2003 end of season points table













So that's what I'm forseeing. Now it's up to the Hurricanes to go out there and, with a bit of luck, prove me completely wrong!


Let us know what you think!

So the Bulls are going to get more competition points than the Chiefs eh? I hope you're not planning any trips to Mooloo country this year Nathan!

Hell it wouldn't surprise me if the Chiefs get more points than the Hurricanes!

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