2015 Super Rugby season team by team preview

The final edition of the 15 team Super Rugby format kicks off on Friday and here we take a quick look at each of the 15 teams that will participate in Super Rugby this year.

The 2016 edition of Super Rugby will feature 18 teams with new teams coming from South Africa (1), Argentina (1) and Japan (1).

Australian Super Rugby teams

Brumbies
Coach:
Stephen Larkham
Captain: Stephen Moore
Stadium: Canberra (GIO) Stadium
Best finish: Champions (2001, 2004)

The Brumbies have been given a boost with the long-awaited injury return of skipper Stephen Moore. The experienced Wallaby hooker has been sidelined since a serious knee injury in his first Test captaining the Wallabies against France in June last year.

he 32-year-old’s recovery is ahead of schedule and a lift for the dual competition winners under former Wallabies great Stephen Larkham, who will be coaching the Canberra-based side in his second season after finishing second to the NSW Waratahs in last season’s Australian conference.

The Brumbies’ hopes largely rest with Wallaby backs Christian Lealiifano, Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight. Much interest also will be on the return of former Wallabies skipper and flanker David Pocock from his second knee reconstruction.

Melbourne Rebels
Coach:
Tony McGahan
Co-captains: Scott Higginbotham, Scott Fuglistaller
Stadium: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
Best finish: 12th (2013)

The Rebels have struggled to make their impact in Super Rugby and face another challenging season under former Australia assistant coach Tony McGahan.

Backs Mike Harris, Dom Shipperley and Tom Kingston have been recruited, while the Rebels are also taking a punt on 38-year-old number eight Radike Samo after his stint in Japan and have recruited Japanese international prop Keita Inagaki.

Interest will also be on rising Wallaby forwards Sean McMahon and Luke Jones.

NSW Waratahs
Coach:
Michael Cheika
Captain: Dave Dennis
Stadium: Allianz Stadium
Best finish: Champions (2014)

A breakthrough year for the Waratahs under coach Michael Cheika finally realised a first-ever Super Rugby championship and the Sydneysiders will be looking to build on that this season.

Cheika developed a strong forward pack around South African Jacques Potgeiter and Wallabies Michael Hooper, Sekpe Kepu, Will Skelton, Wycliff Palu, Benn Robinson and Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Dave Dennis returns after season-ending knee surgery to take over the captaincy from Hooper. The Tahs have a star-studded backline featuring Wallabies Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps, while giant Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro is also one to watch.

Queensland Reds
Coach:
Richard Graham
Captain: James Slipper
Stadium: Suncorp Stadium
Best finish: Champions (2011)

Much has changed after the Reds below-par last season where they finished a dismal 13th.

They have recruited former rugby league international and Aussie Rules star Karmichael Hunt and have given wayward Wallaby back James O’Connor a chance to return to the fold.

The Reds had a setback when Wallaby playmaker Quade Cooper fractured his collarbone at training and was ruled out for three months, opening the way for Hunt to press his claim at fly-half.

Pressure will be on coach Richard Graham to bring back the good times for the Reds. Prop James Slipper has been made captain of the team this season.

Western Force
Coach:
Michael Foley
Captain: Matt Hodgson, Sam Wykes (interim)
Stadium: nib Stadium
Best finish: Seventh (2007)

The Force are looking to the return of popular winger Nick Cummins and New Zealand pair Albert Nikoro and Tino Nemani to boost their chances after narrowly missing out on the play-offs last season under coach Michael Foley.

The Perth-based club will start the campaign without their inspirational flanker Matt Hodgson for 10 weeks with a hamstring injury and instead rely on Sam Wykes, Ben McCalman, Luke Morahan and Alby Mathewson to lead the group.

New Zealand Super Rugby teams

Blues
Coach:
John Kirwan
Captain: Jerome Kaino
Stadium: Eden Park
Best finish: Champions (1996, 1997, 2003)

After dominating the competition in its foundation years, the Blues have failed to threaten seriously since and their task has not been made any easier this year with coach John Kirwan losing the assistance of World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Graham Henry.

Jerome Kaino takes over as captain with a wealth of fellow All Blacks in the forwards even if Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock are in their twilight years.

Part of the Blues problem in recent years has been the lack of a sound backline general with seven-cap novice Ihaia West to be tested in the role this season after last year’s failed experiment to use league convert Benji Marshall. The backline problems have not been helped by the loss of Ma’a Nonu who has headed back to the Hurricanes.

Chiefs
Coach:
Dave Rennie
Captains: Liam Messam, Aaron Cruden
Stadium: Waikato Stadium
Best finish: Champions (2012, 2013)

The Chiefs have regained code-hopper Sonny Bill Williams in their bid to add to the Super titles they won in 2012 and 2013 before missing the play-offs last year.

The Chiefs have a talented backline laden with speed and skill led by Aaron Cruden at fly-half, with Williams and Seta Tamanivalu forming a formidable centre pairing and former All Black Hosea Gear joining them on the wing after playing overseas in recent seasons.

World player of the year Brodie Retallick and fellow All Black Liam Messam will again lead the forwards and are joined this year by Japan captain Michael Leitch.

Hurricanes
Coach:
Chris Boyd
Captain: Conrad Smith
Stadium: Westpac Stadium
Best finish: Beaten finalists (2006)

Chris Boyd takes over as coach and centre Ma’a Nonu returns as the Hurricanes yet again attempt to prove to their fans they are good enough to make the play-offs after last making the semi-finals in 2009. They missed the top six by one point last year after being affected by injuries at the start of the season.

Boyd this year starts with a near fully-fit squad with Conrad Smith and Julian Savea key figures in the backline.

Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Jeremy Thrush and Dane Coles provide a solid look in the forwards but there is a quesion mark over the depth of the ‘Canes squad should any frontline players be injured.

Crusaders
Coach: T
odd Blackadder
Captain: Kieran Read, Matt Todd (interim)
Stadium: AMI Stadium
Best finish: Champions (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008)

Super rugby’s most successful franchise, and stacked with All Blacks, the Crusaders again look the strongest New Zealand side in the competiton.

Although they have not added to their seven titles since Todd Blackadder took over as coach in 2009 they have continued to make the play-offs each year and were beaten finalists last season.

Dan Carter, in his final year, and Robbie Fruean return to add quality to the backline.

In Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, all former world players of the year, the Crusaders are not short on talent nor leadership. However, they have suffered in recent years by losing early games as they slowly build into the season.

Highlanders
Coach:
Jamie Joseph
Captain: Ben Smith, Nasi Manu
Stadium: Forsyth Barr Stadium
Best finish: Beaten finalists (1999)

The Highlanders will be looking to build on their form of 2014 when they made the top six despite having only a handful of big name players in Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa.

Under the coaching of former All Blacks hardman Jamie Joseph the squad, drawn largely from leftover players in other franchise catchments, has learned that courage and determination are valuable weapons.

Fekitoa was a prime example last year when he joined the Highlanders after being unwanted by the Blues. Joseph this year has drawn heavily from the Tasman Makos, from New Zealand’s domestic competition, in his search for new talent.

South African Super Rugby teams

Cheetahs
Coach:
Naka Drotske
Captain: Francois Uys
Stadium: Free State Stadium
Best finish: Sixth (2013)

The Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs suffered a triple close-season blow when forwards Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne joined fellow South African franchise Northern Bulls.

Hooker Strauss competes for the Springboks number two shirt with Bismarck du Plessis and most other top rugby nations would gladly make either their first choice.

As if those losses were not enough, coach Naka Drotske must also do without Springboks fly-half Johan Goosen, who has moved to French Top 14 outfit Racing Metro.

Cheetahs’ consistent problem has been a porous defence and it is hard to imagine them improving greatly on last season’s 13th place.

Sharks
Coach:
Gary Gold
Captain: Bismarck du Plessis
Stadium: Kings Park
Best finish: Runners-up (1996, 2001, 2007, 2012)

New coach Gary Gold hopes to take the Durban-based Sharks one step further after being four times losing finalists.

Gold is a former assistant coach of the Springboks and has also worked in England and Japan. He replaces the 2007 World Cup-winning South Africa coach Jake White who took the Sharks to third place last term, his sole season in charge ending with a semi-final thumping by Crusaders.

Gold has a Springboks-saturated squad led by hooker Bismarck du Plessis, with highly-rated young lock Peter-Steph du Toit returning.

For the early rounds the Sharks will be without injured flanker Willem Alberts, plus backs Francois Steyn and JP Pietersen and forward Ryan Kankowski, who will be completing contracts in Japan.

Lions
Coach:
Johan Ackermann
Captain: Warren Whiteley
Stadium: Ellis Park
Best finish: 12th (2007, 2009, 2014)

The Johannesburg-based Lions hope to recapture the running rugby that powered them to the 2014 South African Currie Cup final which they lost narrowly to Western Province.

Willing to run the ball from any part of the pitch, the Lions forwards proved as big a scoring threat as the backs with flanker Jaco Kriel the leading Currie Cup try-scorer.

Whether the Johan Ackermann-coached Lions can achieve similar success among the tighter defences of the Super 15 remains to be seen. Number eight Warren Whiteley, who won his first Springboks cap in 2014, skippers the side again and he forms a formidable loose trio with Kriel and Derick Minnie.

Ackermann rates 20-year-old hooker Malcolm Marx highly and Schalk van der Merwe and Ruan Dreyer were among the best Super 15 props last season.

Stormers
Coach:
Allister Coetzee
Captain: Duane Vermuelen
Stadium: Newlands
Best finish: Runners-up (2010)

Injuries wreaked havoc with the Cape Town-based Stormers last year and the curse is still hovering over a team seeking a first Super 15 title. Locks Eben Etzebeth and Argentine Manuel Carizza have been ruled out of the early weeks.

Duane Vermuelen, the 2014 South African Rugby Player of the Year, is skipper, replacing Jean de Villiers who will miss the entire campaign with a serious knee injury suffered against Wales in November.

Vermuelen, veteran Schalk Burger and Nizaam Carr are the pick of the pack while elusive runner Juan de Jongh gets a last chance to persuade national coach Heyneke Meyer he is worthy of a World Cup squad place.

Bulls
Coach:
Frans Ludeke
Captain: Pierre Spies
Stadium: Loftus Versfeld
Best finish: Champions (2007, 2009, 2010)

The return of number eight and captain Pierre Spies after a lengthy injury gives the Pretoria-based Bulls hope of improvement after a disappointing ninth place last season. Unbeaten at their Loftus Versfeld fortress, where they won seven and drew one last season, they lost all eight away matches.

Any improvement on their travels could see them challenge for the play-offs. The close-season signings of Central Cheetahs hooker Adriaan Strauss, prop Trevor Nyakane and loose forward Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne was a major coup, strengthening a formidable pack.

But the backline can be too predictable and much may hinge on the form of young fly-half Handre Pollard, who is battling Coastal Sharks’ Patrick Lambie for the Springboks number 10 shirt at the World Cup.

With thanks to AFP

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