Analysis - Early Super Rugby results suggests no demise in New Zealand


  • Rugby
  • Tuesday, 05 Apr 2016

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - For the pundits who predicted 2016 would be the year New Zealand's stranglehold on world rugby starts to slip, results from the early rounds of Super Rugby must make for grim reading.

The All Blacks became the first team to win successive World Cups last year but with a raft of senior players retiring, including all-time greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, some thought they would struggle to maintain that dominance.

The Wallabies' run to the World Cup final under Michael Cheika also boosted Australian rugby hopes that New Zealand's days were numbered, with some local media predicting 2016 would be "the year of the Wallaby."

However, judging by the dominance of New Zealand sides in the early exchanges of this year's Super Rugby competition, the gap remains as wide as ever.

Teams from New Zealand occupy four of the top-six positions in the Australasian group after the first six weeks of competition. The ACT Brumbies are second on the table by virtue of being the Australian conference leaders.

However, the two-time champions would only be fourth in the group, and fifth overall, going by total points.

Waikato Chiefs lead the competition with 24 points after five wins and a defeat from six games, with the Brumbies on 17 points after four victories and two losses.

The Otago Highlanders are on 22 points and Canterbury Crusaders, who have a game in hand, on 18.

South Africa's Stormers lead the African group on 18 points after five games in the competition, which has been expanded to 18 teams this year, with sides from Japan and Argentina included for the first time.

The New Zealand sides have not missed a beat despite the retirements of several world-class veterans as other players have stepped up to make an impact.

While English media have been basking in England's Six Nations grand slam and already talking of potential World Cup victory in 2019, the performances of New Zealand teams in Super Rugby have given some pause for thought.

"The stark fact is that New Zealand are showing no signs at all of relaxing their rugby stranglehold," the Daily Mail's Chris Foy wrote last week.

"The dominance could go on and on."

AUSTRALIAN RECOVERY?

Australian media boldly predicted 2016 would be the Wallabies' year, despite their 34-17 defeat to the All Blacks in last year's World Cup final.

"The Wallabies ... are a team on the rise, led by a coach in Michael Cheika who demands high standards and expects results," Australian website Fox Sports wrote late last year.

"So, 2016 is the year of the Wallaby."

However, of the 11 total victories recorded by the five Australian sides so far this year, only one came against a team from New Zealand, the Brumbies beating the Wellington Hurricanes in the opening round of fixtures.

The only other 'foreign' side to record a victory over a team from New Zealand came in round two when South Africa's Lions stunned the Chiefs in Hamilton.

The Chiefs' 48-23 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend should have been of the most concern for Australian rugby's powerbrokers.

Dave Rennie's side were playing their fourth game in a fourth different country in four weeks, having beaten the Kings 58-24 in South Africa, the Jaguares 30-26 in Argentina and the Force 53-10 in New Zealand.

However, they showed no sign of weariness and put the Brumbies to the sword 48-23 in Australia's capital.

Wallabies coach Cheika downplayed the importance of the early Super Rugby form and said he was more interested in how individual players were performing rather than the teams.

"That seems to be the consensus, that our teams are well behind theirs (New Zealand's)," Cheika told reporters in Sydney this week. "I'm not looking at how a team performs.

"What I need to do is see who is going well within our teams, what combinations are going well, who needs to improve and trying to get the best at putting that together."

His All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen is reaping the rewards from forward planning as he begins the taks of preparing for 2016 tests and the next World Cup cycle.

"We are not going to put a new All Blacks side on the field," Hansen told the New Zealand Herald this week.

"We are not starting from scratch. We tried to plan for the future (between 2012-15) so we don't consider ourselves to be in a rebuilding phase."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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