After twelve rounds of Super Rugby, New Zealand teams dominate the competition with the undefeated Crusaders top of the New Zealand standings on an eleven-match winning streak.
If the knockout stages were to be played this weekend, the Crusaders would be joined by the Lions, Stormers and Brumbies as conference winners, whilst three of the four wildcard slots would be taken by the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs, with the Sharks taking the final wildcard spot ahead of the Blues.
If the tournament followed the knockout stage format it had five years ago, three semi-finalists would be New Zealand franchises.
The following graph compares the total points for and against over the course of the current season of Super Rugby franchises from Australia (five teams), New Zealand (five teams) and South Africa (six teams):
|Region||Total points scored||Total points conceded||Try bonus points|
The New Zealand franchises have conceded the least and scored the most points (including tries), highlighting the fact that these teams currently dominate the competition, while four of the last five Super Rugby titles have been claimed by Kiwi franchises (Chiefs 2011/12, 2012/13; Highlanders 2014/15; Hurricanes 2015/16).
Four of the top five try scorers in this year’s competition are New Zealanders (Ngani Laumape, Vince Aso, Rieko Ioane and George Bridges), with Damian McKenzie leading in terms of carries made and metres gained, and future Leinster man James Lowe consistently making the top ten for offloads, clean breaks and tries.
The rise to prominence of Jordie Barrett has been noted by Super Rugby pundits, further highlighting how Steve Hansen has unprecedented strength in depth in the back three to face the Lions.
The British and Irish Lions will face four of New Zealand’s high-flying Super Rugby franchises (including top of the table Crusaders) and the Maori All Blacks in the space of 13 days, before three Test matches against the All Blacks – broken up by a game against an almost free-scoring Hurricanes outfit.
Their tour schedule is as follows:
Saturday, 3 June – New Zealand Provincial Barbarians vs British and Irish Lions, Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Wednesday, 7 June – Blues vs British and Irish Lions, Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday, 10 June – Crusaders vs British and Irish Lions, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Tuesday, 13 June – Highlanders vs British and Irish Lions, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Saturday, 17 June – Māori All Blacks vs British and Irish Lions, Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
Tuesday, 20 June – Chiefs vs British and Irish Lions, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Saturday, 24 June – New Zealand vs British and Irish Lions, Eden Park, Auckland
Tuesday, 27 June – Hurricanes vs British and Irish Lions, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday, 1 July – New Zealand vs British and Irish Lions, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday, 8 July – New Zealand vs British and Irish Lions, Eden Park, Auckland
The fact that the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Highlanders, Chiefs and Blues are in such strong form in comparison to their Australian and South African counterparts (save for the Johannesburg Lions) is a somewhat ominous sign for Warren Gatland and his men.
Steve Hansen has got strength in depth in the form of experienced internationals in every position, as well as being spoilt for choice when it comes to exciting, young and uncapped prospects (especially in the back line).
It can be expected that the matches leading up to the three Tests will be more physically demanding and competitive than such matches in the 2009 and 2013 Lions tours.
The rise in form of the New Zealand clubs, the compactness of the tour schedule and the fact that the British and Irish Lions have won one Test series against the All Blacks since 1904 (out of a possible eleven) does not bode well for the Lions’ prospects in 2017.
Pressure is on Gatland to make a success of this Lions tour, but success in this case is subjective, especially when we consider that the last tour of New Zealand ended in a series whitewash and the end of Sir Clive Woodward’s career in international rugby management.
Graham Manditsch, Pundit Arena