2022 is a big shakeup for super rugby. The competition includes three new teams and is now exclusive to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Despite the changes, this season should still be incredibly exciting.
The closest thing we have had to super rugby over the last three years was the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman series last year. It was a series in which the Australian teams struggled massively, only winning two games against the five New Zealand teams in the competition.
It looks likely to be another year where Aussie teams will struggle. The Brumbies once again look to be the pick of the Australian teams despite the Reds winning their first domestic title in Super Rugby Australia last season. The Queensland Reds will be looking to compete thanks to a variety of international players like Taniela Tupou and Tate McDermott.
The Waratahs, Force and Rebels will all be looking for spots in the knockout stages, but it will not be easy. The Waratahs do see captain Michael Hooper return for 2022, but they still look to be towards the bottom end of the table. Both the Force and Rebels have lost a lot of test experience over the last year and it will sadly hurt them this season.
New Zealand Teams
After dominating the Trans-Tasman series last year, it looks to be another Super Rugby season dominated by Kiwi teams.
Favourites for their fourth title, the Crusaders have a wealth of international talent led by two time reigning player of the year Richie Mo’unga. Their talent also includes Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, George Bridge as well as recent addition Pablo Matera. They may have some competition for their fourth title in a row.
The Blues are welcoming back Beauden Barrett, while still having internationals like Rieko Ioane, Nepo Laulala and Dalton Papalii. They come into 2022 off the back of winning the Trans-Tasman series. The Chiefs could be a surprise this season despite the losses of Damain Mckenzie and Lachlan Boshier. The Chiefs have one of the most talented set of forwards in Super Rugby which could dominate any team on any day.
The Highlanders and Hurricanes both have a huge amount of talent on the squads. But the Highlanders will struggle having lost a third of their starting XV from the Trans-Tasman final. They have a brilliant leader in Aaron Smith, but will struggle to progress in the tournament. Similar situation for the Hurricanes with some major losses coming into the season. But the Hurricanes add Dom Bird and TJ Perenara and could surprise a few people this season.
Two New Pacific Teams
This season features two new teams, both based in the Pacific Islands. After many years of lobbying, the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika will join Super Rugby. Starting with the Fijian Drua. They have had a difficult preparation for Super Rugby due to COVID issues, meaning the squad is based on the NSW North Coast as they could not prepare in Fiji. It looks like the team will need some time to adapt to Super Rugby’s intensity. Their squad contains Olympic champions Napolioni Bolaca, Kalione Nasoko and Meli Derenalagi. Don’t be surprised if Fijian Drua make a push for the knockout stages this season.
The second new team is Moana Pasifika, made up of players from New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Australia, including 18 former or current internationals. Much like Fijian Drua, it will be a season of getting used to Super Rugby for Moana Pasifika. 110 capped Australian Sekope Kepu is captain for the 2022 season, bringing a huge amount of experience to the new team. Moana Pasifika will be very exciting in the upcoming season, but don’t expect them to be near the top of the table come the end of the season.
The Loss of South African Teams
The reshaped 2022 Super Rugby does not include any South African teams, after their Super Rugby licenses expired after the 2020 season. It does seem odd going into a Super Rugby season without the Bulls, Sharks, Lions or Stormers. Their exclusion opens the floor up a lot for either the New Zealand teams to take over or opportunities for the new teams or the Australian teams to step up.
Super Rugby is going to look very different this season. Losing the South African teams is big for the competition. Despite not competing with them domestically, South Africa is still playing against New Zealand, Argentina and Australia in the Rugby Championship. It does show some disjointed thinking when it comes to Super Rugby’s thinking. But the 2022 changes bring plenty of opportunities for Pacific Island teams who have been trying to get into Super Rugby for years.
In this new look Super Rugby, it looks as if it will be a few years until the new teams or the Australian teams can compete with the talent of the New Zealand teams. 2022 looks to be a similar story.
Working from the bottom up, I think the four teams that are likely to miss out on the knockout stages are most likely to be the Rebels, Force, Waratahs and Moana Pasifika. These teams just don’t have the talent to move any higher. In terms of the teams to get stuck at the quarterfinals, I could easily see these teams being the Hurricanes, Highlanders, Fijian Drua and the Brumbies. The Brumbies could be the surprise package this year, with the talent their squad possesses.
But this season will be dominated by the New Zealand teams. The Reds will be the exception to this, looking likely to at least reach the semi-finals. In an emotional season, the Chiefs will also be targeting a semi-final push, but it may be slightly too difficult for them to get past either of the two teams left.
These two aren’t exactly surprising to anyone who has followed Super Rugby over the last five years. The Blues welcome back Beauden Barrett after his time in Japan, the team has talent in all areas. But the Blues don’t quite have the two time reigning Super Rugby Player of the year.
I think at the end of the season, the Crusaders will lift their fourth title in a row. A team with Richie Mo’unga, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Sam Whitelock and Joe Moody is too much talent for any team to compete with when you reach the knockouts. The Crusaders will win their fourth title in a row.