Super Rugby 2011: New Zealand Conference Preview

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Super Rugby 2011: New Zealand Conference Preview
Sandra Mu/Getty Images

Another season of Super Rugby is almost upon us, and in two days' time, the Hurricanes and Highlanders will get the 2011 competition underway for a 16th year. 

2011 sees the competition take on a new format, where the teams will be divided into three conferences of five teams based upon which country they are from.

Each of the 14 teams from last year maintain their positions in the competition along with a new team, the Melbourne Rebels, bringing the total number of Australian teams to five.

Each team will play each other team in their own conference twice, while they will play four teams from each of the other conferences once, two away and two at home.

This makes for more local derbies and will surely boost the level of competitiveness between the teams as they now have extra incentive to get one over their fellow countrymen.

At the end of the round-robin, the top qualifier from each conference will progress through to the knockout stages along with the next three top teams regardless of the conference.

The top two qualifiers will have a week off, while the next four will play off in quarterfinal-style games, where the winners go on to play the top two qualifiers in the semifinals for a spot in the final. 

In this article, I look at the New Zealand conference and preview their chances in the 2011 competition.

The New Zealand teams have traditionally been the strongest of the three countries participating, with 10 of 15 championships coming from New Zealand.

Also, every New Zealand team has contested at least one final; in contrast, only three South African teams and two Australian teams have achieved this.

In recent years it has been South Africa's Bulls that have had the edge over the traditional strength of New Zealand, but will 2011 be the year that sees the kiwi's claim back the dominance that was theirs for so long? 

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