All Blacks star Ma’a Nonu could be the missing link that takes the Blues all the way this year. Source: AP
GET the inside word on the five New Zealand teams as we count down to the start of the 2012 Super Rugby season.
STRENGTHS: Their new recruits. Add All Blacks Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu to a side that made the final four last year and the Blues could be on the verge of something special. They still have World Cup standout Jerome Kaino among others.
WEAKNESSES: The Blues have had talent before and not been able to gell it together. We will all miss Joe Rokocoko, who is playing in France. Any World Cup hangover amongst the top boys? We’ll see.
GAME STYLE: Plenty of flair and attack and they will use it. Coach Pat Lam will also demand discipline.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ma’a Nonu.
WILL BE HAPPY WITH: Making the decider.
STRENGTHS: It’s a new-look side. Nonu, Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear are big players to lose but dynamic fullback Cory Jane and others now have more chance to shine.
WEAKNESSES: The Hurricanes lost their three top tryscorers in Hosea Gear, Ma’a Nonu and Aaron Cruden in the off-season. There are big holes to fill and question marks hover over the backs. Coach Mark Hammett and several top players did not see eye to eye last year. The players split after last season. If the Hurricanes go bad, Hammett will be punted this time.
GAME STYLE: Hammett wants more discipline and consistency. Always plenty of try-scoring from the Hurricanes but he wants to eliminate the bad nights.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Conrad Smith
WILL BE HAPPY WITH: Being in contention for finals
STRENGTHS: Their forwards, led by new recruit and England international James Haskell, will provide a stern test for sides up front. United team under coach Jamie Joseph who worked wonders last year.
WEAKNESSES: Their draw. The boys from New Zealand’s south will face the Bulls, Blues, Crusaders, Chiefs and Reds in their run towards the finals – a tough ask for any side. Struggled to beat the best sides last year.
GAME STYLE: Starchy defence, pluck from the forwards and just a great team ethic produced a turnaround in 2011. Can score some super tries, too.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Adam Thomson
WILL BE HAPPY WITH: First finals appearance since 2002
Sonny Bill Williams
STRENGTHS: The backs. With Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams on deck, they have brilliantly covered the loss of Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Stephen Donald. The Chiefs needed a makeover and a fresh coach in Dave Rennie brings it.
WEAKNESSES: It will take time to gel so many new players to Hamilton. No scary names in tight five so the pack will have to step up.
GAME STYLE: Plenty of hard running from World Cup standout Richard Kahui in the centres while Cruden will be full of confidence to launch attacks after his upbeat World Cup moments.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sonny Bill Williams
WILL BE HAPPY WITH: A return to finals
STRENGTHS: It was a remarkable effort to make the final in 2011 when they played every match away from their earthquake-hit home city. Incredible depth and they have Matt Todd to deputise for Richie McCaw until his foot comes right for round 5 or 6. Seven of the eight positions in the top pack are filled by All Blacks. Dan Carter is peerless at flyhalf and looking at a big season after the groin injury that cruelly ended his World Cup.
WEAKNESSES: They have lost the engine room of their pack with Brad Thorn heading to Japan. That scrum clout needs to be replaced.
GAME STYLE: Marvels in counter-attack from turnovers. They have every base covered. New lock recruit Tom Donnelly adds to the pack and real speed on the wings to grab tries.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Israel Dagg
WILL BE HAPPY WITH: A Super Rugby title