Anticipation as the 2009 Super 14 Pre-Season Preparation Continues

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Anticipation as the 2009 Super 14 Pre-Season Preparation Continues

The season has officially begun with the first result of 2009 being a Chiefs' 21-17 victory over the Blues in Pukekohe—with plenty of preseason matches scheduled over the next three weeks.

 

As with all such clashes, it is difficult to read too much into the result, as both teams were filled with players from the wider training groups.  All New Zealand teams are back in training, but minus their front line All Blacks, who will join the squads late January. 

 

Let’s look at the teams:

 

New Zealand

 

BLUES:
Saturday, January 17: v Chiefs: Pukekohe
Friday, January 23: v Hurricanes: Albany
Friday, January 30: v Reds: Auckland
Thursday, February 5: v Highlanders: Albany

New Zealand TAB title odds: $8.00

Keven Mealamu has been confirmed as captain for the franchise, while Josh Blackie will not be available in early rounds as he still has Japanese commitments.  Jimmy Gopperth and Tasesa Lavea will—according to coach Pat Lam—battle for the fly half berth.

 

CHIEFS:
Saturday, January 17: v Blues: Pukekohe
Friday, January 23: v Highlanders: Rotorua
Saturday, February 7: v Hurricanes: Gisborne

New Zealand TAB title odds: $14.00

Sione Lauaki continues his fall from grace, being the 11th All Black to appear in court in the last five years on New Year’s Day damage charges.   Waikato have more new faces than any other NZ franchise, and Ian Foster is wanting to give all players as much game time as possible.  Brendan Leonard, Ben May and James Wilson are still injured.

 

CRUSADERS:
Friday, January 23: v Western Force: Perth
Friday, January 30: v Highlanders: Timaru
Thursday, February 5: Inter-squad hit-out

New Zealand TAB title odds: $3.75

Still the darlings of New Zealand domestic rugby, firming to title favouritism according to most New Zealand media sites.  Leon Macdonald (concussion) and Casey Laulau (broken arm) are likely to be starters for the franchise’s first season game.

 

HIGHLANDERS:
Friday, January 23: v Chiefs: Rotorua
Friday, January 30: v Crusaders: Timaru
Thursday, February 5: v Blues: Albany

New Zealand TAB title odds: $50.00

Likely to be the weakest of the New Zealand teams, Coach Glen Moore will be aptly served by assistants Steve Martin and Peter Russell, the latter who took Hawke’s Bay to unlikely ANZC semi-final berths in the last two years. 

 

HURRICANES:
Friday, January 23: v Blues: Albany
Friday, January 30: v Brumbies: Canberra Stadium
Saturday, February 7: v Chiefs: Gisborne

New Zealand TAB title odds: $5.50

Growing mention for title favouritism could hurt what is arguably the strongest squad on paper of any team.  Andrew Hore is still an unlikely starter for the season opener against NSW, but Colin Cooper believes that in his sixth season, he has never had such depth at his disposal.

 

South Africa

 

The big news this week is that SA are launching a new franchise in the South Eastern Cape (venture between Eastern Province and Border rugby unions) – which will be launched on June 16/17 with a view to being added to the Super rugby competitions.

 

BULLS:
Saturday, January 24: v Lions: Johannesburg
Friday, January 30: v Cheetahs: Polokwane
Wednesday, February 4: v Sharks: Durban

South African Betting World title odds: 12/1

John McFarland will likely return as their defensive coach as they look to launch their season (with three home games to start) better than their disastrous title defence last year—according to centre Wayne Julies.  They are aiming to clean sweep their home games.

 

CHEETAHS:
Friday, January 23: v Griquas: Bloemfontein
Friday, January 30: v Bulls: Polokwane

South African Betting World title odds: 66/1

Already poor odds for performing in this year’s comp have been compounded by Currie Cup first division winning captain for the Griffons—Sarel Louw, breaking his ankle in the cheetahs first training session.  He was slated as CJ van der Linde’s replacement.

 

LIONS:
Saturday, January 24: v Bulls: Johannesburg

South African Betting World title odds: 100/1

The long shots of the Super 14 have Andre Pretorius fit and former Springbok Ashwin Willemse back from Biarritz.  Coach Eugene Eloff has spoken of a three year plan.  2009 is year three so hopes are high in Johannesburg.

 

SHARKS:
Wednesday, February 4: v Bulls: Durban

South African Betting World title odds: 7/1

League great Andrew Johns, recently the sharks coaching consultant, reckon they have the firepower to take the title.  John Smit has been confirmed to play tighthead and hooker as required.   They were to play the Cheetahs in a historic Abu Dhabi match, but this has been cancelled.

 

STORMERS:
Sunday, January 25: v Saracens: Cape Town
Saturday, January 31: v Boland: Wellington

South African Betting World title odds: 12/1

Luke Watson will be fit after being uninjured in a car crash this month—although some players would probably not care either way.  Conrad Jantjes and fly half Willem de Waal will likely not be fit for the season opener, but Springboks Percy Montgomery and Peter Grant are likely to cover for both injured players.

 

Australia

 

BRUMBIES:
Friday, January 30: v Hurricanes: Canberra Stadium
Thursday, February 5: v Waratahs: Sydney

Australian Sports Bet title odds: $11.00

No. 8 Stephen Hoiles has been named as ACT’s captain—and ex-captain of five years Stirling Mortlock will likely still be Wallaby captain according to Robbie Deans.  Hoiles will be no stranger to the demands, having taken Randwick to a 2008 Shute Shield grand final as captain.

 

REDS:
Saturday, January 24: v Waratahs: Toowoomba
Friday, January 30: v Blues: Waitakere Stadium

Thursday, February 5: v Western Force: Ballymore

Australian Sports Bet title odds: $41.00

An Injury to Otago recruit Ezra Taylor has him sidelined alongside Captain James Horwill (broken foot), however Berrick Barnes is expected to be fit for the season opener.  Officially the Reds season is launched this week, with a open training session at Ballymore on Tuesday night.

 

WARATAHS:
Saturday, January 24: v Reds: Toowoomba
Friday, January 30: v Fiji Warriors: Newcastle
Thursday, February 5: v Brumbies: Sydney

Australian Sports Bet title odds: $11.00

Forwards coach Michael Foley has been working overtime with Dean Mumm and Chris Thomson, likely to be their first choice locks.  Matt Dunning (five months) and Sekope Kepu (two months) are still recovering.  Most Wallabies returned to the ranks this week.

 

WESTERN FORCE:
Friday, January 23: v Crusaders: Perth
Thursday, February 5: v Reds: Ballymore

Australian Sports Bet title odds: $34.00

Controversy still surrounds the team, but senior members are shrugging off any disruption.  Nathan Sharpe (fractured thumb) and Cameron Shepherd (broken leg) are likely to be fit for the season opener.

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