Once again I expect a strong showing from the Kiwi sides, although I don’t expect the pecking order to change too much from recent times.
The Crusaders will lead the way with Carter, the Hurricanes are often tough to beat, the Blues and Chiefs lack the top class players to perform consistently and the Highlanders will be found out again.
Never got going in 2009 and coach Pat Lam has looked to bolster problematic positions. Have gained Stephen Brett from the Crusaders to run their ship, and he’ll be supported by young Daniel Kirkpatrick from the Hurricanes.
Scrumhalf Alby Mathewson is another addition, whilst the return of Luke McAlister from overseas will fill both the inside centre and goal kicking headaches. Pace on the wings but fullback could be a weakness.
A squad with talent and some great players, but lack the overall class, finals experience and consistency needed to win a Super 14.
Prediction: Middle of the pack
The Chiefs are last season’s finalists who finished the season strong before being walloped in the final. Big things are expected this year and this franchise has never performed well with the weight of expectation.
Minimal personnel changes, but many of the unknown players from last year will have to deal with second season syndrome.
In my opinion, they have erred greatly in giving thug Sione Lauaki leadership responsibility. Intelligent decisions are not his forte and they’ll need that away from home. If they lose games at home they’ll never repeat last season’s success.
Prediction: Middle of the pack
Have New Zealand’s two best players in Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. If McCaw is rested for part of the Super 14 it may affect their campaign but this side has plenty of depth and will be bolstered with the return of lock Chris Jack and the arrival of wing Zac Guilford.
The loss of flyhalf Stephen Brett to the Blues leaves a potential weakness if Carter is injured, and there is no Leon McDonald to provide solidity at the back which they’ve become accustomed to.
Have big match experience aplenty and should lead New Zealand’s challenge. Their biggest weakness is being slow starters and if they lose early games they may find it tough in 2010, but I expect them to be hard to beat once again.
Surprised during the middle stages of last year’s competition but this year no side will take them lightly.
Have not gained any notable players, and will rely once again on passion and pride from their no-name players. That can only take you so far and whilst the pack is tenacious and scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan a real fighter, the lack of a quality flyhalf and inside backs will not create enough tries to threaten most sides.
Looks like being a long season again for the Highlanders and they’ll be the bottom placed Kiwi side.
Prediction: Bottom 4
Have performed consistently well in recent times and once again have a strong squad and plenty of experience. This will be coach Colin Cooper’s last year in charge and he’ll want to go one step further and secure the title to have something to show for his time in charge.
Continue to have a strong pack, centres and outside backs. Their weakness could be at flyhalf where young Manawatu rising star Aaron Cruden may get the nod and will be backed up by Willie Ripia. At scrumhalf Piri Weepu will play most of the matches and lacks a deputy with the departure of Alby Mathewson.
Tough to beat at home and have a good away record. Their danger is having the occasional shocker and undoing their hard work.