Our panel of experts answer the key questions ahead of kick-off in the 2016 season.

Who will win the competition and why?

Wynne Gray:

The Brumbies will return to the winner's circle after more than a decade. They've got a stack of hard-nosed pros, the rising gifts of Scott Sio and Tevita Kuridrani, goalkickers Christian Leali'ifano and Matt Toomua and have added Pumas halfback Tomas Cubelli. They made the semis last year and expect coach Stephen Larkham to brings a broader and more varied approach to this campaign. Guaranteed advantage with eight games at Fortress Canberra.

Patrick McKendry: The Hurricanes, because they have the best team on paper (apart from the midfield and more on that in a minute), good coaches in Chris Boyd and John Plumtree, and finals experience after last year's disappointment. They have a strong pack, creativity at halfback and first-five, and awesome finishing power. The only thing which could hold them back is the recent trend among senior Wellington representative rugby teams to, ahem, tighten up at finals time.

Gregor Paul: Chiefs. They have genuine quality at No9 and No10 and Aaron Cruden, having spent last season injured, will be seriously motivated to prove his value. They have strength in depth across the squad to weather injuries and the coaching team will be eager to prove they are the smartest in the competition and capable of masterminding a winning campaign.


Nigel Yalden: Brumbies - excellent coaching, a great squad with depth featuring the prerequisite for Super Rugby victory (an international calibre halfback/first five combo) experience in the key leadership positions and a core that is battle-hardened at both Super Rugby and test level.

Kris Shannon: The Hurricanes. After last season falling at the final hurdle against a side who had caught lightning in a bottle, Chris Boyd's side possess enough quality throughout the rest of the squad to overcome question marks surrounding the midfield.


Which player will emerge as a potential All Black?


Big second season for Damian McKenzie at the Chiefs where his range of skills and positional options suggest All Black utility. He is set on regular attack and can play five eighths, fullback, probably wing and kicks goals. More of that and why not national squad selection?

PM: Blues wing/centre Rieko Ioane is an 18-year-old with a big future, as he has shown in sevens tournaments over the past 12 months or so. Big brother Akira, a loose forward, is likely to be an All Black in the short term, too.

GP: Liam Squire. The former Chiefs No8 has shifted to the Highlanders and if he stays injury-free, he should win plenty of game time. The firm, fast pitch in Dunedin and the adventurous style of the defending champions should suit his athletic game and he has the pace and power to make a big statement in a position where there isn't natural cover for Kieran Read.

NY: Hurricanes halfback Te Toiroa Tahuiorangi. After Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, the third halfback spot in the All Blacks is wide open. Although he's stuck behind Hurricanes co-captain TJ Perenara, Tahuirorangi will show in whatever limited opportunities are afforded him this season that he has all the skills that will translate to next level.

KS: Seta Tamanivalu experienced an underwhelming maiden Super Rugby season after breaking out with Taranaki. But his apprenticeship with the Chiefs midfield will prove invaluable now he's replacing SBW.

Nigel Yaldon previews the Super Rugby season

Which NZ team will under-perform?


The Hurricanes easily topped the New Zealand pool last year and showed great tempo and confidence as their pack went up a level and the brilliant backs worked their magic. The only way is a slide this year with Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Ben Franks gone and relatively new coach Chris Boyd at the helm.

PM: This is Blues territory, traditionally, and they must be odds-on to finish at the bottom of the New Zealand heap despite a bright pre-season under new coach Tana Umaga. They look better organised under Umaga, though, and will be tough to break down again at Eden Park. There is a big question mark over the Crusaders after the departures of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor and their hammering at the hands of the Hurricanes last week is a worrying sign. I'm sticking with the Blues, though. They'll be better next year.

GP: The Hurricanes, for no other reason for thinking this than they have lost Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith. The contribution of those two on and off the field was huge last year and it would be silly to underestimate the impact of their loss. The Hurricanes were all about flowing movement and excellent decision-making and most of it was channelled through their midfield.

NY: Hurricanes - even though I expect them to finish third in the New Zealand conference, it's going to be perceived as under-performance based on the giddy heights they scaled last year.

KS: The Crusaders. The importance in Super Rugby of a dynamic and dominating first-five can hardly be over-stated and, in the trio they have pegged to replace Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor, the Crusaders appear to have none.

Which departed All Black will leave the biggest hole?

Ma'a Nonu will leave a huge hole at the Hurricanes. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Ma'a Nonu will leave a huge hole at the Hurricanes. Photo / Mark Mitchell


Gotta be Richie McCaw. He made his debut with Webb Ellis and has just called it quits to go off and conquer other peaks. Whenever he played, he drew the best out of his teammates and opponents.

PM: Conrad Smith at the Hurricanes. An unsung hero for years at the Hurricanes, particularly for his ability to glue a defensive line together, Smith is a big loss. After his departure, plus that of Ma'a Nonu, the Hurricanes' midfield is very inexperienced. Colin Slade will also leave a big hole at the Crusaders due to his ability to play equally well at No10 and No15.

GP: Ma'a Nonu. It was all too easily forgotten during his wandering years between 2012 and 2014 that Nonu was the perfect Super Rugby player. He showed that when he returned to the Hurricanes last year and delivered a mix of brutal running and insanely good offloading.

NY: Ma'a Nonu - you simply do not replace the most complete second-five New Zealand rugby (arguably world rugby) has seen. Nonu doesn't leave a hole; he leaves a chasm.

KS: Although only one former Crusaders No10 is having his every European movement tracked, Colin Slade is the bigger loss based on the last couple of seasons. Comfortable in three positions, Slade's exit is akin to coach Todd Blackadder having his security blanket snatched away.

Nemani Nadolo talks about the new Super Rugby season

Which team (across the competition) will emerge as the surprise packet/dark horses?


The Blues. Their last title was 2003 and since then results have headed south with an ignominious second-last finish in 2015. Any rise from mediocrity has to qualify as a shock and the investment in youth and quality of the latest squad suggests a halt to the poor results curve.

PM: The Jaguares. With the majority of the team made up of Argentina's national side, the Jaguares are likely to do well. Put it this way, few teams will fancy playing them in Buenos Aires and their big men will take lumps out of a few opponents.

GP: The Blues may have enough organisation, good players and backbone to hang in for the season and surprise everyone. They don't look like a title-winning side, but if they can avoid injuries, they have enough to make the playoffs.

NY: Lions. They were the epitome of team last season and just missed out on what would have been a deserved place in the playoffs. They have retained the core of that group and with that sort of culture and heart in place, look primed to take things to the next level in an overall South African conference that looks a shadow of its former self.

KS: The Jaguares are one aspect of the new competition that comes with optimism. A shadow Argentine national team should prove very tough to beat at home, but their playoff prospects will be tested by a three-match trip to New Zealand in April.

What will be the main talking point of the competition?


The laws will get a strong bashing as we stretch our early-tournament vocal chords and officials try to manage Super Rugby variations alongside the engorged law book. After a month, as forecasts of inept sides and an unbalanced tournament unfold, Sanzar officials will come into the crosshairs.

PM: The reasons why the mainly weak South African teams are protected to the extent that they are guaranteed places in the playoffs through the lopsided draw/conference system. There is likely to be some fantastic rugby this season but the competition structure is fundamentally flawed.

GP: The awfulness of the Kings and Sunwolves. This will become broken record territory - these two are going to be a disaster. No amount of spin and "isn't it great for rugby" nonsense is going to hide the plain facts that these two aren't anywhere near well enough equipped to make any kind of positive impact. They are going to get pumped and disintegrate after about six weeks.

NY: The performances of the Kings and Sunwolves and how under-prepared both franchises were for this level of rugby, which will lead to further criticism of Sanzar for rushing the expansion of the competition.

KS: How it works. Which is less than ideal when discussing a what should be a straightforward sporting competition. It will take some time for the players - let alone the fans - to become comfortable with its scheduling and standings.

Andy Ellis on the new Super Rugby season

Which All Black has the most to prove?

Israel Dagg needs to make a compelling case to be included back in the All Blacks. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Israel Dagg needs to make a compelling case to be included back in the All Blacks. Photo / Brett Phibbs


Luke Romano has won 22 caps but a test career which began with a flourish was impeded by injury with a groin problem then broken ankle biting into his 2013-14 production. Made the World Cup squad but faces a massive challenge from a repaired Patrick Tuipulotu while Dominic Bird and James Broadhurst are injured.

PM: Israel Dagg. Crusaders teammate Ryan Crotty and Highlander Malakai Fekitoa have it all to play for following the departure of Smith and Nonu, but Dagg needs to make a compelling case to be included back in the All Blacks after missing out on World Cup selection.

GP: Malakai Fekitoa. He's been waiting patiently for his chance to secure the All Black No13 jersey. He's got the power and footwork, but does have the patience, the discipline and understanding of the role to bring the composure and accuracy the All Blacks will need?

NY: Kieran Read. His form since being named 2013 World Player of the Year has been questioned by many. Now as national captain, Read will want to show he is the man to lead the All Blacks and the way he will look to do that in the first instance is by being the best player on the park for Crusaders week in week out.

KS: Israel Dagg, if he still wants to be one. The fullback professed as much after being excluded from the Rugby World Cup squad and, at 27, he certainly has time on his side. But with the same true of every outside back who went to England, it's a big season for Dagg.

List the NZ teams in finishing order (1-5)


Crusaders, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Blues, Highlanders.

PM: Hurricanes, Chiefs, Highlanders, Crusaders, Blues.

GP: Chiefs, Highlanders, Blues, Crusaders, Hurricanes.

NY: Highlanders, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Blues, Crusaders.

KS: Hurricanes, Highlanders, Chiefs, Crusaders, Blues.