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    SuperBru S15 Week 1 preview

    2014-02-13 10:17
    Cape Town - Week 1 predictions in this year's Vodacom Super Rugby tournament - as well as Conference winners...

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    Week 1 predictions
    Saturday, February 15

    Cheetahs v Lions, Bloemfontein - 17:05

    Naka Drotske has named as strong a Cheetahs line-up as possible for the visit of the Lions. There are Springbok caps dotted around, and if the forwards can get them a platform expect to see Johan Goosen release the likes of devastating outside backs Willie le Roux and Raymond Rhule. The Lions will find it tough to live with that sort of quality in their first game back in the big leagues.
    Prediction: Cheetahs by 12
    Sharks v Bulls, Durban - 19:10

    The big selection news is that Victor Matfield lines up on the bench for the Bulls, potentially returning to Super Rugby action for the first time since 2011. He brings experience to what is otherwise a very youthful team, that is lead by Pierre Spies. The Sharks have much more experience in their squad, including the bulk of the Springbok squad, and should be too good for the Bulls in Durban.
    Prediction: Sharks by 7

    Conference predictions
    South African Conference

    While the Bulls finished top of this conference last season, they have lost a fair few important players and have even turned back to Victor Matfield and Derick Hougaard to help them out. The loss of Morné Steyn to France cannot be understated.
    The arrival of Jake White to the Sharks has created a buzz around them, and much is expected of their Springbok-infused squad this season. They have more depth than any other South African franchise and will be looking to improve on what was a disappointing 2013 campaign. The Stormers have quality but look short of outside backs, and need to learn how to score tries if they are to win anything, while the Cheetahs could feature again in the upper echelons of the table if they do not suffer too many injuries. The Lions look likely to prop up the conference.
    Predicted winner: Sharks

    New Zealand Conference

    All eyes will be on the Chiefs, as they go in search of an unprecedented third straight Super Rugby title. Can they do it? The loss of captain Craig Clarke is a huge blow, but is partially offset by the recruitment of the experienced Mils Muliaina.
    Despite not winning it now since 2008, the Crusaders remain the most feared of the Kiwi franchises. With All Blacks coming out of their ears and having made the semi-finals every year bar three since 1996, they are still the team to beat. The Blues have the talent to compete but will likely end third on the NZ log, while the Hurricanes should outdo the Highlanders, who have lost most of their biggest names, in the battle to avoid bottom spot in this conference.
    Predicted winner: Crusaders
    Australian Conference

    Change is afoot at last year’s leading Australian team - Jake White sensationally quit Canberra for a return to Durban in the off season, while the influential George Smith has returned to Japan and Ben Mowen seems anything but happy at the moment. New boss Stephen Larkham as quite a job on his hands in his first stint as head coach.
    The Brumbies still possess the quality to compete, however, and it will be a three horse race in the Australian conference – it is hard to see the Rebels or the Force challenging. Also under new guidance, the Reds could be dangerous this year if their axis of James Horwill, Will Genia and Quade Cooper can spark. Bernard Foley will get a chance to lead the Waratahs line that includes plenty of flair, including the indomitable Izzy Folau.
    Predicted winner: Reds

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