NZ scribe expects lift in Super Rugby standards
Cape Town - A popular New Zealand scribe hopes the reduction in the number of teams participating in Super Rugby will improve the competition's standard.
The southern hemisphere showpiece will be reduced from 18 to 15 teams from 2018, with South Africa losing two teams and Australia one, from this year's format.
From a South African perspective, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings were axed leaving SA Rugby with four representatives.
Australia also now boasts four teams, with the Western Force removed from the equation.
Japan’s Sunwolves and Argentina’s Jaguares retained their status.
The competition has been dominated by New Zealand teams in recent years, with Kiwi sides winning the last three editions - and 15 of the 22 tournaments played to date.
In 2017, no Australian side managed to beat a New Zealand team in the 26 matches played between the two country's teams.
Marc Hinton, a columnist for the Stuff.co.nz website, is hopeful that the change in format will bring about stronger opposition for the Kiwi sides.
“Let's not forget that South Africa and Australia are now down to just four Super Rugby teams apiece. You have to figure that concentrates their talent better, and lifts standards. One can only hope so. Maybe we will even see an Aussie team beat a Kiwi one in 2018,” Hinton Wrote.
“Also there have to be improvements from the Sunwolves and Jaguares. Both have failed to live up to expectations, and may need to dial up their competitiveness lest they too start facing that hovering axe.”
The 2018 Super Rugby tournament starts on Saturday, February 17 when the South African Conference kicks-off with the Stormers hosting the Jaguares in Cape Town. The Lions, runners-up the last two years, host the Sharks in Johannesburg, while Bulls have a bye.
The Australian and New Zealand Conferences will kick-off a week later when defending champions the Crusaders open the defence of their title at home against the Chiefs.
The Brumbies, last year’s Australian Conference winners, open the season against the Sunwolves in Tokyo who are now positioned in the Australian Conference.
2018 Super Rugby Conferences:
New Zealand Conference
Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs, Sunwolves
South African Conference
Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Jaguares