Kiwi view of 2018 draw
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: The 2018 Super Rugby schedule was released this week, and here is a New Zealand view of the draw.
Jamie Wall's the first take is that there is still an awful lot of travel, a very tough assignment for one New Zealand side and absolutely no possibility whatsoever of people not complaining about the fairness of the competition.
After breaking down the 19 rounds of the competition next year, here are the teams that have done well and the ones that haven't.
The Hurricanes have (according to my sources) got what they were after, which is an early trip to South Africa. The Canes had to play two away games to start their 2016 campaign, and lost both before coming right and maintaining consistency on both sides of the Tasman to win the title that year. Conversely, last year's champs the Crusaders have two tough assignments in Johannesburg and Buenos Aires in consecutive weeks, but have the luxury of a bye upon their return in round nine. Meanwhile, the Brumbies – aside from benefitting from the fact that they're the only good Australian team – have a trip to Tokyo to play the Sunwolves in round one but then don't have to travel to South Africa till round 15. Plus they get to play the Sunwolves, Rebels and Reds twice.
Not so bad:
The Chiefs have to go to Tokyo and then play the Highlanders in successive weeks, which will be a tough ask. But after that they have it pretty good – no away fixtures against the Jags or Lions. The Lions, meanwhile, once again have the luxury of being the best of the South African conference with daylight second. However, they don't get away with not playing any NZ teams this year, with a trip to Wellington and Dunedin set to be the pivotal moment of their season. The Waratahs, Sharks and Stormers can't really complain about the hands they've been dealt.
The Highlanders don't have quite as big a travel burden on them, but definitely have a tough run of games away from home. The Sharks and Bulls in South Africa will be a big ask at the midpoint of the season, and then they face the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Crusaders in three of the last four weeks of the season. The biggest losers of the NZ conference are a team that probably needs a bit of a break, though. The Blues start with two local derbies against the Highlanders and Chiefs before having to play the Lions in Johannesburg. As well as that, they then have another trip to Tokyo – scene of their capitulation against the Sunwolves last season. Spare a thought for the Bulls, though. They have a brutal trip to New Zealand against the Chiefs and Crusaders, then an away fixture against the Jaguares, as well as a little jaunt over to Singapore to play the Sunwolves.
Not going to make a difference:
The Reds and Jaguares will be good for a few home wins, no matter what order they come in given the respective climate and travel issues visiting teams face. However, the Rebels and Sunwolves could play all their games at home on three weeks rest and still have about as much chance of a making the playoffs as Warren Gatland sending Sean O'Brien a Christmas card.
By Jamie Wall