1. The new bonus point system
Leaving aside the issue of whether bonus points are a stupid marketing gimmick that foster bad habits in good players which then have to be painfully drummed out come the serious business of test football ... there wasn't much wrong with the old, score-four-tries-gain-an-extra-point system. It has been scrapped and this year teams win a bonus point by scoring three or more tries than their opponents. It works in France, but then they eat horses and frogs and don't trust men who like milk in their coffee. The new system probably won't make a huge difference and seems like a deliberate attempt to draw attention away from the fact that two of the three new teams are going to be rubbish.
2. Sunwolves and Kings
The main question with these two new entrants is whether they are going to be awful, truly awful, or unspeakably awful. Neither outfit have any decent players or Super Rugby experience in either the playing or coaching staff and both have hideous travel schedules. The Kings have no money, the Sunwolves have had no time to prepare and the only unknown is the scale of the disaster. The early impression is it will be a Titanic fail.
3. George and Rene
Sometimes a single combination can make a team, taking them way further than anyone expected. Think the Hurricanes loose trio of Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe and Rodney So'oialo of a decade ago. This year, the Blues have a potentially dynamite midfield pairing of George Moala and Rene Ranger. These two could be lethal -- so much explosive power, destructive tackling and robust running. It's easy to see them blasting holes and taking the Blues over the gainline. They could, just as easily, be a disaster -- too much of the same thing. They both love to run straight and hard but neither is renowned as a passer or visionary.
4. Todd's last dance
It's a bit weird, this modern trend of coaches announcing before the season starts that they will be stepping down at the end of the campaign. Ian Foster did it a few years ago and the Chiefs had a horrid year after they knew he was moving on. Mark Hammett did it with the Hurricanes and they drifted out of the running and now Todd Blackadder has done it. Blackadder is a fine coach and hell of a nice guy. No doubt his players will want to send him off with a title but there is also the prospect of them suffering the same fate as the Chiefs and Hurricanes. It's hard to put a finger on exactly why but perhaps knowing a new coach is destined to arrive, make sweeping changes and rebuild the entire squad lessens the hunger and motivation.
5. African Exodus
Somehow - well, the collapse of the rand is the driver - South Africa's Super Rugby teams (not just the Kings) will line up this year looking a little like they will make up the numbers. A huge number of their best players have fled offshore and more are destined to go. Not only will the Kings be awful, but the Bulls, Stormers and Lions also have a vibe of mediocrity clinging to them, with only the Sharks boasting the sort of squad that will threaten the playoffs. There hasn't been a South African winner since 2010 and had a team in the playoffs last year by default only. How long before Super 18 has to be reviewed and questions asked about whether the Tasman component should just get on with doing their own thing?