Rugby
Sam BruceAndy Withers 40d

Super Rugby mid-season report: Your team's progress analysed

Super Rugby, Rugby

It's been an eventful first half of Super Rugby in 2019.

While the Australian and South African conferences remain in the balance, the Crusaders once again have a stranglehold on the New Zealand division, and the competition itself.

Read on as we review your team's progress through to Round 9, and make a call on their finals aspirations in season 2019.

Jump ahead to your favourite team using the links below.

BRUMBIES REBELS REDS SUNWOLVES WARATAHS

BLUES CHIEFS CRUSADERS HIGHLANDERS HURRICANES

BULLS JAGUARES LIONS SHARKS STORMERS

AUSTRALIAN CONFERENCE

BRUMBIES

Tipped by many as the team to beat in Australia, the Brumbies are another outfit to take on a Jekyll-and-Hyde persona through the opening half of the competition. They got off to a poor start in losing at home to the Rebels, a dose they repeated in Melbourne a couple of weeks later despite leading comfortably at halftime, and were soundly beaten by the Reds on a warm Brisbane afternoon. But they were brilliant in thrashing the Chiefs and Lions in Canberra, while also sneaking past local rivals the Waratahs. The 1-3 conference record is a concern, but with David Pocock due for a return they look primed to repeat their impressive late flourish from 2018.

Under/overachieved

While their huge win over the Chiefs looks impressive, its value was impinged by the fact the Crusaders repeated the dose before the Waikato outfit was beaten at home by the Sunwolves. Twin losses to the Rebels is far from embarrassing given the Melbourne side's strong form, but the big defeats away to both the Reds and Hurricanes have left Dan McKellar's side with it all to do in the run home.

Standout player

While the likes of Tevita Kuridrani and Lachie McCaffrey have had their moments, Wallabies prop Allan Alalaatoa has again proven himself to be a rock for the ACT side up front. Alalaatoa tops the total runs (41) for tighthead props, despite playing two fewer games than his brother, Crusaders prop Michael, in proving himself a powerful pick-and-drive option. He has also helped the Brumbies to a 100 percent scrum record, while giving up just the four penalties at the often hair-splitting set-piece.

Playoff hopes

The Brumbies showed signs they may have just turned a corner in last week's win over the Lions, but they are likely to need six wins from their remaining eight games to reach the postseason. It may be that five victories could see them through, particularly if the Rebels suffer a slide, and the return of David Pocock should not be underestimated. However, it looks like the Brumbies might be set for a scramble for positions 7 or 8, as was the case in 2018.

REBELS

Melbourne made the perfect start to 2019 in winning their first three games, only to blow two excellent opportunities in South Africa, particularly against the Lions. They responded with a win in Brisbane on their return and backed that up with a bonus-point triumph over the Sunwolves. Last week's loss to the Stormers, at home, was troubling, however, for a couple of reasons; the first being the visitors were severely under-strength, and the second that it showed exactly where the Rebels' weaknesses lie.

Under/overachieved

The Rebels were expected to improve with the recruitment of Quade Cooper and Isi Naisarani, but it was thought that Cooper, in particular, would need time to click with his teammates. It wasn't the case, though, as they raced out of the blocks to have five wins at the turn for home. Last week's loss to the Stormers will still be hurting, but they are probably one win ahead of where many thought they would be right now.

Standout performer

The Rebels haven't been short on quality performers in 2019, with Billy Meakes, Jack Maddocks and Tom English relishing Cooper's involvement in the backline, and Naisarani getting valuable assistance up front from Luke Jones and Anaru Rangi. But there can be no debate against Will Genia's place at the heart of it all, the Wallabies No. 9 returning to his best after a disappointing finish to 2018. Genia has three more try-assists (6) than the next best scrum-half, tops the run metres, linebreaks and linebreak assist charts \, and has nabbed three five-pointers himself.

Playoff hopes

With a seven-point gap at the top of the Australian conference ahead of this week's game with the Waratahs, the Rebels are in a strong position as they chase a maiden finals berth. A win at the SCG would certainly cement that status, and relieve the stress of what could be a tricky finish to the year that sees them welcome the same side to Melbourne, head to Christchurch, and then face the Chiefs in the final round. They were denied by a New Zealand franchise at the final hurdle in 2018, and won't want to face a similar scenario in a few months' time. Still, they look very much like Aussie conference champs.

REDS

Brad Thorn's side was greeted with a tough opening to 2019, having faced the Highlanders and Waratahs both on the road, bookending a visit from the Crusaders. They headed to Tokyo in Round 5 knowing that a further defeat would effectively end their season, but they staged a fine second-half comeback to get on the board. They have since added two more wins, at home to the Brumbies and Stormers, but were also badly beaten by the Rebels and Bulls.

Over/underachieved

Given their brutal start to the season, the Reds have worked their way back to somewhere near what was likely expected of them at this point in time. They have played some good rugby, in patches, and the continued improvement of their young pack should excite Reds fans.

Standout performer

Skipper Samu Kerevi has brought new meaning to the term "leading from the front", producing a captain's knock in just about every Reds game this season. The Wallabies midfielder has been arguably the most impressive back from the tournament so far, shedding tackles and busting the defensive line at will. Kerevi leads all players for runs (95) and tackle busts (37), sits second for run metres (820) and is inside the top 10 across linebreaks, offloads, and try assists. Kerevi is in the form of his life.

Playoff hopes

The Reds will need their Australian rivals to slip up, if they're to pull off an unlikely return to the Super Rugby finals. Badly beaten in Pretoria last week, they will need to improve massively for the second game of their South African tour, in Durban against the Sharks, to secure some sort of momentum for the back half of the season. It looks like a forlorn position, however, and a better pursuit maybe targeting a final target of seven wins, which would be one more than last year.

SUNWOLVES

It's been a roller-coaster year for everyone's second-favourite Super Rugby team. Starting the year without many of their best Brave Blossoms, the Sunwolves still managed to record their first win away from Asia, against the Chiefs in Hamilton, before backing that result up with another win on the road against the Waratahs. In all, they have been far more competitive across the board this season, only to learn their tournament tenure will come to an end with the conclusion of next year's season.

Over/underachieved

The Sunwolves have exceeded expectations considerably this year despite recording just the two wins to date. That record should really have two home triumphs on it as well, but a lack of composure at the death saw victories over the Waratahs and Reds, in Tokyo, go begging. Still, the Sunwolves have proven they're no pushovers in 2019.

Standout performer

Lock Uwe Helu has certainly proven a handful up front, but for his classy distribution and metronomic left boot, Hayden Parker gets our vote as the Sunwolves' best so far this season. The former Highlanders playmaker has missed just one shot at goal across the first nine weeks of the competition in earning a 97 percent success rate. But he has also contributed in attack, and is among the top five fly-halves for linebreak- and try-assists.

Playoff hopes

The Sunwolves' season is over from a finals perspective, but they certainly have the ability to play the spoilers' role across the back half of the competition. That could prove particularly pivotal in the Australian conference, with the Brumbies and Rebels still having to visit Tokyo; a couple of further wins in 2019 is in no way beyond the Japanese outfit.

WARATAHS

Super Rugby highs don't come much bigger than a victory over the Crusaders, but the positivity evaporates quickly if you don't consolidate such a performance then. The Waratahs came crashing back to earth after beating the two-time defending champions, a shock loss to the Sunwolves halting any hope of a strong run through the middle part of their season. That has left them at 2-2 in conference play, while a 3-4 overall record, with a South African tour to come, does not make for pleasant reading.

Over/underachieved?

It's clear the Waratahs have underachieved, their win over the Crusaders aside, with games against the Hurricanes, Blues and Brumbies all there for the taking. They could have so easily fallen to a loss to the Sunwolves in Tokyo in Round 2 as well, only for Karmichael Hunt to place just enough pressure Hayden Parker as he attempted a drop goal.

Standout performer

Another Australian skipper setting an example, Michael Hooper continues to deliver for the Waratahs. Seemingly under pressure amid persistent discourse around the Wallabies' back-row composition, Hooper has simply got down to work in topping the competition tackle charts (107) despite playing just the six games. He otherwise sits second and third respectively for tackle busts and runs for opensides, adding two tries along the way.

Playoff hopes

Just how the Waratahs react to the firestorm engulfing star fullback Israel Folau, beginning this Saturday against the Rebels, will play a huge role in determining just where they head across the remainder of the season. Will it galvanise the rest of the playing squad, or could there be dissent in the ranks, just as there is division among the rugby community's response? Kurtley Beale is an easy shift to fullback, and the Waratahs should be thereabouts over the closing weeks if they can get back to the "blue wall" that stung the Crusaders. But a battle with neighbours, the Brumbies, for possibly the last playoff spot, looms.

NEW ZEALAND CONFERENCE

BLUES

After dropping their first three games to start the year, the Blues looked to be heading for another miserable Super Rugby season. But after edging past the Sunwolves, they then strung three further wins together by taking down the Stormers, Highlanders and Waratahs. That run came to an end away to the Chiefs, but they remain third in the New Zealand conference as the run starts for home. They'll likely need to find some wins on the road to reach the postseason, making their next two games, away to the Highlanders and Brumbies, particularly vital.

Over/underachieved?

Given their disgraceful recent record and the fact they haven't reached the playoffs since 2011, the Blues are ahead of the curve in 2019. But when you consider the playing stocks at their disposal, a 4-4 return should only really be deemed satisfactory.

Standout performer

The Blues have had been well served by a number of forwards and backs so far this year, namely Akira Ioane, Melani Nanai, TJ Faiane, Ma'a Nonu and boom back-rower Tom Robinson, but Rieko Ioane remains their key strike weapon. Ioane sits atop the charts for linebreaks (28) and tries (8), and third for tackle busts (27). If the Blues can continue to supply him with decent ball, Ioane will finish the job more often than not.

Playoff hopes

Do Blues fans dare to dream? As mentioned above, the next two weeks will be hugely important while a second trip across the Tasman to face the Reds will also be pivotal. We've got three New Zealand teams making the postseason, leaving the Blues in a likely battle with the Chiefs, for that final spot. Four wins with a couple of bonus points might just be enough, and they certainly have that in them.

CHIEFS

This year has already proven to be a bit of a roller-coaster for the two-time champions. They have twice given up more than 50 points, and were also beaten at home by the Sunwolves, but also then found form to run up a similar score away to the Bulls, before grinding past the Jaguares to keep their season alive. They were, however, dealt a serious blow at the weekend when Damian McKenzie suffered a season-ending knee injury, the All Blacks utility having returned to his best after shifting back to fullback.

Over/underachieved?

Injuries have played a role and they have certainly missed co-captain Sam Cane, but the Chiefs also looked badly out of sorts early in the season. Three wins and a draw would not have been the desired return from the first half of the competition for coach Colin Cooper, the shock loss to the Sunwolves in particular.

Standout performer

All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown has been one of the Chiefs' best this year, ensuring he remains front and centre in Steve Hansen's Rugby World Cup calculations in the process. But for the sheer amount of hard work up front, Tyler Ardron gets our vote at the halfway point of the season. Ardron has played in all but one of the Chiefs' eight games, contributing across the board in both defence and attack.

Playoff hopes

The Chiefs' victory over the Blues in Round 9 means they remained in contention in the New Zealand conference, that likely third playoff spot in particular. Cooper's side are likely to need five wins to see postseason footy, and that target could well be on offer when they head to Melbourne to face the Rebels in the final round of the regular season. They will feel McKenzie's loss, however, and don't quite seem to be the same team as in previous years; so we've got them missing the finals for the first time since 2011.

CRUSADERS

The Crusaders are 11 points clear at the top after Round 9 but, truthfully, did you ever expect anything else? The two-time defending champions continue to prove a cut above their Super Rugby rivals, despite the terrible Christchurch terror attacks that have rocked home base. There was a slip-up against the Waratahs in Sydney, though that was their first game back following the Christchurch attacks, but they have since refocused and produced two breathtaking second halves to thrash the Brumbies and Highlanders.

Over/underachieved

Having dropped just the one game, and extended their unbeaten record to 24 games at home, the Christchurch-based franchise have largely done what is expected of them. But the nature of their victories against the Hurricanes, Brumbies, Highlanders and Chiefs, where they have seemingly switched into another gear, suggests they have in fact improved again.

Standout performer

This could go to any number of Crusaders players across the backs and forwards, but Will Jordan's form perhaps best reflects the production line the franchise has come to be regarded as. The rookie outside back burst onto the scene with an eye-catching display against the Reds in Round 3, and then backed that up a week later with a double against the Chiefs. He now sits as the equal-leading try-scorer (8) and equal third for linebreaks (11).

Playoff hopes

Lock the Crusaders in for top spot and, from there, the Super Rugby playoffs will be run merely because they have to be. The only thing that can potentially derail the Crusaders' charge to a third straight title would be an injury to playmaker Richie Mo'unga. Coach Scott Robertson has solid deputies in the form of Mitch Hunt and Brett Cameron, but they were both shown up at the SCG in the face of some resolute Waratahs defence. If Mo'unga stays fit, the Crusaders are home. They're that good.

HIGHLANDERS

After starting the year with back-to-back wins, the Highlanders have since dropped five games on the trot as they battle a dreadful run with injury. While Josh Ioane has been a fine replacement for the departed Lima Sopoaga, injuries to Aaron Smith, Waisake Naholo, Richard Buckman and Marty Banks, on top of the preseason loss of Liam Squire, has tested the club's depth. They haven't been too far away, though; a hefty loss to the Crusaders aside, the Highlanders' four other defeats have come by seven points or less.

Over/underachieved

While they were always probably going to be hardest hit by All Blacks rest weeks given their two key Test stars are Aaron Smith and Ben Smith, the Highlanders still would have budgeted on a couple more wins at least. The games against the Rebels, Blues and Hurricanes, twice, were all there to be won, instead they find themselves on just 14 competition points.

Standout performer

Thought to be in an even battle for the fly-half role with Marty Banks and Bryn Gatland ahead of the season, Josh Ioane has clearly emerged from that trio to assert himself as the Highlanders' chief playmaker. Ioane made a strong early impression in the first-round win over the Chiefs, and has since proven himself a composed No. 10 with the ability to steer his side around and create opportunities for those outside him, evidenced by the nine linebreak assists he has produced to date.

Playoff hopes

While they're expected to get Aaron Smith back in the next week or so, the Highlanders have it all to do if they're to extend their playoffs run into a sixth straight year. Their draw isn't too daunting, however, with a two-week tour of Africa the toughest assignment among five home games. If they can pinch one of those matches in the Republic, nab a win in Tokyo and find some form at home, then finals footy could be a reality. But they just don't look like the same team from previous years, so an early Mad Monday is expected.

HURRICANES

It's hard to get a read on exactly where the Hurricanes are at given their boom-or-bust performances to date. They have twice been thumped by the Crusaders, drawn with the Chiefs, and only narrowly escaped the Stormers, but they have also twice beaten the Highlanders, thrashed the Brumbies and edged the Waratahs away first up. They're not quite humming as John Plumtree would like, but still sit second in New Zealand and fourth overall, with plenty of improvement, particularly defensively, in them.

Over/underachieved

Given their only losses so far have come to the Crusaders, it's fair to say the Hurricanes are probably satisfied with their 5-2-1 record albeit with the knowledge they can play much better. They have also negotiated a chunk of their All Blacks rest weeks, and Beauden Barrett's delayed return due to his wedding/honeymoon.

Standout performer

Whether it be with the No. 7 or 8 jersey on his back, Ardie Savea has been arguably the most dominant forward across the competition in 2019. Savea has 43 more running metres than any other flanker, and 123 more than any other openside; he tops the No. 7 charts for pilfers and tackle busts, and has shown his value as a link man in attack with 52 passes which is 16 clear of the next best openside. He routinely gets the Hurricanes on the front foot with his never-say-die ball-carrying, and has presented an almost irresistible case for a start in Hansen's All Blacks pack.

Playoff hopes

The Hurricanes must set their sights on fourth spot, knowing that can do little to influence the Crusaders' fortunes in terms of the New Zealand conference. A trip to Tokyo awaits Plumtree's men on Good Friday, before three of their next four games fall at home. The Hurricanes should win those four, but the Blues away will present a tough challenge. You'd back them to pick up at least one win in Africa, which should be enough to sew up fourth. From there, they have the ability to reach the final with a win on the road in either South Africa or Australia.

SOUTH AFRICAN CONFERENCE

BULLS

They started with a bang, humbling the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld, and they've generally continued on an upwards curve. Defeat the following week, by the Jaguares, came with them trying to play too much footy in wet conditions in Buenos Aires, but they followed that with hugely impressive victories against the Lions and the Sharks, dominating both with a high-pressure game. Subsequently humiliated at home by the Chiefs and fortunate to beat the Sharks away, with a last-minute penalty, before gifting the Jaguares victory through disciplinary incompetence. They were impressive again in defeating the Reds last week, and now they're one of just four teams with a winning record at the halfway point.

Over/underachieved?

The perception outside the Bulls will be that they've overachieved, as Pote Human was not the first choice to succeed John Mitchell as head coach, and they had a way to go after propping up the South African conference with a 6-10 record last season. The improvement has come primarily because they've tightened up their defence, while Human's game plan, which is undoubtedly more conservative than his predecessor's, seems to play more to the players' strengths. Inside the organisation, there's likely a feeling that they're exactly where they think they should be.

Standout performer

Handre Pollard is essential to the Bulls, and he's just about in career-best form this season. Not just for his goalkicking -- he's the tournament's leading points scorer primarily because of his 26 penalty goals from seven of the team's eight games, while the Bulls have attempted 34, 11 more than any other team -- but also his assured decision-making. His combination with Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits and Jesse Kriel in the leadership group has been superb.

Playoff hopes

Absolutely. They're top of the South African log, and, bar their performance against the Chiefs, and one 10-minute spell of disciplinary madness at home to the Jaguares, they're doing a lot right. That said, this is a hugely open conference in which the teams have been beating each other, and there's just one victory and a points spread of just 78 between first and last. Each will believe with justification that they can make the playoffs, including the Bulls, but each will know also that they can equally easily finish last in the South African conference.

JAGUARES

The Jaguares opened in disappointing fashion with their first home loss to the Lions, and they've since mixed efforts with home wins against the Bulls and Blues before a pair of performances in which they were distinctly second best to the Lions and Stormers in South Africa. Their effort in a seesawing game at home to the Chiefs was better, and then they went 2-0 when back in South Africa to face the Bulls and the Sharks; their effort against the Sharks was particularly impressive, if not as good as it gets, albeit against opponents who were poor on the day, and it will give them justifiable hope for the second half of the season.

Over/underachieved?

There will be a feeling, perhaps even within the organisation, that they've underachieved given they're a Test team in all but name; equally there's a feeling that they're perhaps only now coming to grips with life without Nico Sanchez, and that their 4-4 win-loss record may just be a launching pad into the second half of the campaign. It'll have to be, however, for their attacking stats are poor in all categories, indicating they're struggling to establish an identity going forward.

Standout performer

Pablo Matera has been a statto's dream, with four tries in his 496 minutes; 51 runs for 329 metres; 16 tackle busts; nine offloads; nine turnovers; 67 tackles; and, unfeasibly, for a back-rower, six kicks for 179 metres. Regardless of the Jaguares' level of underachievement, this is a bloke at the top of his considerable all-round game.

Playoff hopes

Definitely. Third on the log, but why won't they believe they can qualify given they've beaten the conference-leading Bulls home and away, and destroyed the Sharks in Durban? Their fixtures from hereon look fair, as they'll be deserving favourites in their four games at home, and will feel they can get results in two or three of their four-match run through Australia and New Zealand if the Round 10 bye does not affect their momentum after two wins.

LIONS

The season started so well with their first win in Buenos Aires, but they came crashing down to earth with defeats by the Stormers and Bulls -- and they displayed similar frailties in subsequent winning efforts against the Jaguares, Rebels and Sunwolves in tippy-tappy games that lacked defensive intensity. Those frailties have become even more manifest in defeats by the Sharks and the Brumbies that suggested the wheels were coming off. Warren Whiteley's return from injury to face the Chiefs comes not a week too soon.

Over/underachieved?

This likely depends on your point-of-view at the start of the season: Did you consider them to be the team that had reached the past three finals or a side that was sliding over the other side of the hill? Factor in a number of key injuries that have seen coach Swys de Bruin blood a number of younger players perhaps before they're ready, and the picture is blurred further. The reality of the campaign, however, is that they've proved way too soft in defence. They still know how to score tries -- they've tallied 29 -- but they have conceded the same number.

Standout performer

Malcolm Marx has been superb in the front line, even though it's perhaps fair to say that he has not provided the leadership needed in Whiteley's absence. You can't argue with his numbers, given he's played more minutes than any other Lions player, made more runs for the second-most metres, has scored five tries, and features strongly in other key categories. He remains the best hooker in the competition, and may produce even more now he doesn't have the responsibility of the captain's armband.

Playoff hopes

In a conference as tight as South Africa's, of course they hold realistic postseason claims. For all that they seem to have issues, in particular on the defensive side of the line, they're just one victory out of a share of the conference lead, and the return of Whiteley from serious injury will be a serious boost to their hopes. Their captain is genuinely talismanic, but they have to improve their intensity without the ball, and likely develop a more structured game plan, if they're to recover from the third-worst defensive record in terms of points conceded through the first half of the campaign.

SHARKS

They were not duly credited for their performance to defeat the Sunwolves easily, and with a little panache, in Singapore in round one, and they impressed again, for 40 minutes at least, against the Blues in Durban. They followed that with bananas defeats by the Stormers and the Bulls before a WLWL record against the Rebels, Bulls, Sharks and Jaguares. Their defeat of the Lions was incredibly good, while their defeat by the Jaguares was equally bad, leaving us to ponder which the outlier is in their inconsistent campaign to date.

Over/underachieved?

There's a genuine feeling the Sharks are the best, and the best balanced, South African side in Super Rugby so their 4-4 win-loss record is below par -- especially given the quality of their performance to disembowel the Lions at Emirates Airline Park in Round 8.

Standout performer

Tendai Mtawawira is perhaps the heartbeat of the pack, and Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Curwin Bosch are the game-changing and match-winning spirits in the backs, but No. 8 Daniel du Preez gets this team going forward like no one else. His numbers for tries (4), runs (89), metres (451), linebreaks (8), tackle busts (24), offloads (10) and turnovers (5) suggests he should be in strong Springboks contention even though he's likely not.

Playoff hopes

They're genuine contenders, like everyone else in the even South African conference, quite possibly even if they don't develop consistency from week to week. They're good on both sides of the ball, despite shipping 51 points to the Jaguares, but they have shown a weakness against the more physical South African sides. Advantaged by playing only three games on tour, but those games see them face the Waratahs, Crusaders and the improving Chiefs.

STORMERS

Couldn't have made a worse start to the campaign with a horrible defeat by the Bulls in Pretoria, but recovered to beat the Lions and the Sharks without anyone understanding how. Recorded an impressive wins against the Jaguares but then produced progressively worse efforts on the road, before ending their tour with a remarkable win against the Rebels that was achieved without Pieter Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi.

Over/underachieved?

Absolutely they're overachieving as they seem to have little to offer on offense other than a rolling maul and an ability to capitalise on opposition mistakes, whatever the evidence of their performance in Melbourne suggests. No one apart from the Stormers themselves can consider how they have a 4-4 win-loss record, but they do.

Standout performer

The Stormers' strength lies in the pack, where Pieter Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi have produced tremendously strong efforts, but Damien de Allende has shone like a beacon with his efforts in an undermanned backline. His numbers show he's still South Africa's best No. 12, and similar efforts on either side of the ball through the second half of the season will go a long way to securing an unlikely playoff berth.

Playoff hopes

They have a genuine claim of postseason action, like everyone else in this incredibly open conference. Their chief advantage is that they have completed their tour of New Zealand and Australia, doing so with one win. They now play six of their final eight games at home, with away fixtures against the Jaguares and the Lions; maintain their strong home form, and they might well claim a playoffs spot to end Robbie Fleck's tenure as coach on the upside.

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