The 2017 Six Nations Championship : The Preview – British & Irish Lions Year


The Six Nations Championship for the Year 2017 has been officially launched this week with each of the six nations involved talking about the forthcoming Championship. The Six Nations will start next weekend after the 2016-2017 european campaign pool stage.

During that 2016-2017 Champions Cup Pool Stage, the teams from all the nations which will play in the Six Nations have performed really well. First of all, about the English clubs, the defending Champions Saracens qualified for Quarter-Finals along with London Wasps.

Besides, the Irish provinces playing in the Pro12 have also been impressive. Munster Rugby topped his Pool and finished as the second-ranked Quarter-Finalist in terms of points. Leinster Rugby also qualified for the next stage of the prestigious competition.

Moreover, even if the only Welsh province playing in the Champions Cup did not qualify, it is fair to say that the Scarlets have delivered massive games. They were unbeaten at home against Saracens and Toulon while the Ospreys are favourites to win the Challenge Cup.

Also, the Scotland team was delighted with Glasgow Warriors qualifying for the first time in the Quarter-Finals. The French sides struggled a bit but clubs like Clermont and Toulouse proposed some great running rugby with a lot of attacking intent to win games.

Finally, that was more complicated for the Italian provinces with Treviso not performing in the Challenge Cup. In the Champions Cup, Zebre conceded heavy defeats but their last home performance against London Wasps showed that Italy Rugby can make next steps.

1. England : Dylan Hartley confirmed as skipper

The England team is probably considered as the favourite team to win the Six Nations Championship. They are the defending Champions as they won the Grand Slam, the Triple Crown and obviously the Championship last year in 2016 after a great win against France.

Currently, England are on a 13-game winning streak and they are targeting the All Blacks record for the most consecutive wins at Test level as a Tier 1 Nation (18). There is a potential decider for the Grand Slam against Ireland in Round 5, at Aviva Stadium, Dublin.

Eddie Jones, the England manager, has confirmed during the Six Nations launch, earlier in the week, that Dylan Hartley was retained as the England skipper. The Northampton Saints hooker is coming back just in time following a ban that he received for striking.

During the build-up to this Six Nations Championship, there was a bit of worry in the England coaching staff considering all the injuries. It has been already confirmed that back-rowers Billy Vunipola and Chris Robshaw would miss all the Six Nations campaign.

More and more concerns came following doubts regarding Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler’s availability. It was not better for flanker James Haskell who battled with concussion and toe discomfort while Jack Clifford had a minor chest injury on duties with the Harlequins.

Nevertheless, it seems that these four players will be okay even if some of them may not take a part for the opener against France. England will also rely on their backline with Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson coming back to add competition in the England back-three.

2. France : Physicality first, Rugby second

Talking about England’s injury problems, France also had to deal with a terrible run of injuries and particularly in the centre positions. First of all, the Clermont centre Wesley Fofana had to give up on his participation after a serious injury sustained against Exeter.

After reports confirming that Wesley Fofana will not feature in the Championship, the Racing 92 powerful centre Henry Chavancy was called by manager Guy Noves. However, the centre failed a fitness test and the French coaching staff had to call another player.

It was the Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud who got the call even if he was certainly not chosen for his passing abilities. That is the problem with France for ages as they are always going for a very powerful side which will be able to match opponents’ physicality.

The only drawback to that tactic is the fact that you get a starting XV who struggle to play together. There are no attacking combinations at all and it is a long time since we last witnessed a France passage of play which was containing more than 10 phases of play.

Manager Guy Noves is a former Stade Toulousain player and coach. He wants to bring the “French Flair” back which is a rugby philosophy with an unpredictable way to attack. It is based on counter-attacking and offloads even if improvements have to be made quickly.

Like every Six Nations Championship, that is difficult to know what to expect from the French team. That is a team which certainly has got the ability to go all the way but when things go wrong, France is losing their game, their patience and they just lose their focus.

3. Ireland : Some tricky away games

Considered as one of the two favourites to win the Grand Slam with England, Ireland is coming into this competition with confidence following the form showed in Europe. The Irish provinces had wonderful results in the Champions Cup such as the Munster province.

Ireland can rely on their coaching staff with their coach Joe Schmidt who has put in place over the years a very effective gameplan where the kicking battle is so important. The defence coach Andy Farrell has also slotted in the Irish set-up very well to make wonders.

For the first time in the last few years, there is almost the same number of players selected from Munster and Leinster. That situation was made possible thanks to the resurgence of Munster on the big european scene thanks to the arrival of Rassie Erasmus.

Also, there are a few players from the Connacht Rugby province who could do the job such as Tiernan O’Halloran who is an outstanding fullback. Ulster will probably be disappointed as their last performances did not help the players who wanted a call-up with the squad.

In this Six Nations Championship, Ireland will need a good start and it will not be easy. They will have to come at Murrayfield to face Scotland before away fixtures to Italy and Wales. Another massive game will await them with the England team coming to Dublin.

The Ireland team is very well organised and their defence is very good. Looking at their attacking capabilities too, it is a team which has potentially no weaknesses. It will be interesting to witness how their opponents will adapt to a gameplan that we start to know.

4. Italy : Conor O’Shea with some ambitions

That is fair to say that there are always some mixed feelings when we start talking about the Italy situation. Clearly, there are some big issues such as the performances of the two provinces (Benetton Treviso and Zebre) who are playing in the european competitions.

Italy has got his own Championship but it is still semi-professional and the provinces playing in the Pro12 are not competitive enough. They are conceding too many points, there are few wins and the away fixtures sometimes mean a heavy defeat for the clubs.

However, some positive signs are telling that the Italy team could be on the good path of improvement. Former Harlequins coach Conor O’Shea was named as the new manager of the team just before the beginning of the June Internationals games last year, in 2016.

Conor O’Shea came with a lot of motivation and Italy played better game after game. They recorded a famous win against South Africa during the November Tour. Nevertheless, they did not back it up the week later with a home defeat against an outstanding Tongan side.

Next step for manager Conor O’Shea is having that positive attitude with the players having to come into each game with the same mindset. The coaching staff is also very talented with Brendan Venter, signing as the defence coach until the next World Cup.

Brendan Venter has worked with the Springboks in the past and also coached the Saracens, a few years ago. He is a very respected coach and he with Conor O’Shea have already said that Italy will reach new heights thanks to total commitment in each game.

5. Scotland : Last Championship for Vern Cotter

Not many people understood why Vern Cotter was told by the SRU (Scotland Rugby Union) that he will have to leave his job at the end of the 2017 Six Nations Championship. The current Glasgow Warriors’ coach Gregor Townsend will be unveiled as the new manager.

Scotland fans are starting to ask themselves whether it was the best idea or not not to keep Vern Cotter. Last season, during the 2016 Six Nations Championship, two statistics showed how far Scotland had improved under Vern Cotter since he took the team in 2014.

Last tournament, for the first time since 17 years, Scotland managed to finish the Championship with a positive points difference, scoring more points than conceding. They also managed to score at least 10 tries during all the Championship, with only five games.

Captain Greg Laidlaw stated that this Scotland squad was actually the best for a very long time. In fact, in the squad which was picked, almost all the players are playing for the two Scottish provinces (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and they have tasted the european success.

Edinburgh reached the Challenge Cup final two seasons ago and qualified for the Quarter-Finals for the 2016-2017 season. Glasgow Warriors managed to qualify for the Champions Cup Quarter-Finals for the first time in their History, after a big win against Leicester.

Glasgow Warriors won twice against Leicester Tigers in Europe and they were also defeated twice against Munster in very close encounters. It shows that Scotland could well surprise their opponents and they are worth a chance to win the 2017 Six Nations Championship.

6. Wales : Sam Warburton no longer the skipper

There are plenty of things to say about Wales coming into that Six Nations Championship. First of all, flanker Sam Warburton decided to give the armband to second-row Alun-Wyn Jones who will be the new skipper. Sam Warburton had a conversation with Rob Howley.

Wales Interim coach, with Warren Gatland on the British & Irish Lions duties, asked Sam Warburton to do that to focus on his game. There is a lot of competition in the back-row and it is to make sure that Sam Warburton does not get complacent with the selection.

Looking at the squad that was picked, there were many players who were left out despite consistent performances such as : Lloyd Williams (scrum-half), Gareth Anscombe (out-half), Tyler Morgan (centre), Hallam Amos (winger) and also Rhys Patchell (fullback).

Rob Howley selected a balanced squad though with seven uncapped players including the two back-rowers Thomas Young and Olly Cracknell. Owen Williams and Steffan Evans, along with Ashton Hewitt deserve to be here after very good showing for their club.

The Welsh squad is very competitive with Rob Evans and Samson Lee, two good scrummagers. Alun-Wyn Jones will lead the side with the likes of Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau. In the backline, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar and Scott Williams are the leaders.

Finally, Rob Howley was left frustrated with the roof controversy. Wales still have to find an agreement with their opponents if they want to close the roof for their home games at Principality Stadium, in Cardiff. Usually, opponents agree and it will please Rob Howley.


The 2017 Six Nations Championship will be very entertaining because there is not much between the six teams. Also, there are two more things which are adding spice : the bonus point try and the new regulations about the high tackles and the players’ safety, as well.

It was announced last season that the Six Nations would adopt the bonus point system. That is already used in the Rugby Championship for years and it was brought to encourage the teams to play a more attacking game. That decision was welcomed by all the coaches.

About the new high tackles regulations, all the teams know that referees will have to sanction each high tackle. It can go from a single penalty to a yellow card or even a red card if it is a more serious offence. All the players will have that pressure on the pitch.

England goes into that Six Nations Championship as the clear favourites as they are on a 13-game winning streak. France will bring a very physical team but has to work on their skills while Ireland will be the other favourites thanks to their very effective gameplan.

Italy will try to perform better than the previous years with Conor O’Shea and Brendan Venter working for that. Scotland will have that momentum coming into the tournament with Wales relying on a balanced squad with experienced leaders and uncapped players.

The 2017 Six Nations Championship will be the last opportunity for the players to perform at Test match level before the British & Irish Lions Tour. Warren Gatland will probably have some work to do when he will have to name the squad which will go to New Zealand.

Great Six Nations coming ! Good Luck to all !


The 2016-2017 Champions Cup : Pool Stage – Review


The 2016-2017 Champions Cup Pool Stage is over after this weekend and the final games having taken place in the Pool 2 with London Wasps, Connacht Rugby, Toulouse and Zebre involved. That is time to make a first review of that competition following that Pool Stage.

Regarded as one of the most exciting rugby competition in Europe, the Champions Cup has delivered some brillant games during the 2016-2017 season so far. That is interesting to note that the Pro12 provinces are performing better than previous european campaigns.

It is great to witness that Pro12 is becoming as competitive as the other european domestic leagues such as Top14 and Aviva Premiership. Looking at the teams which have qualified for the Quarter-Finals, there are an important balance between these leagues.

Contrary to the previous seasons, the Top14 clubs seemed to have the desire to play that competition from the start to the end, except one or two games. That switch of attitude was massively important because the interest in the Pool Stage was complete in Round 6.

The English clubs tried to maintain their standards even if it was sometimes complicated for some of the clubs. However, there were positive signs from Northampton Saints, Exeter Chiefs and Leicester Tigers showing that they will remain competitive in the future.

Finally, about the Pro12 provinces, the Irish sides have done pretty well with Munster and Leinster all qualifying for the next stage. The Scarlets would have deserved a Quarter-Finals as well after a decent home record where they were unbeaten on the pitch.

I. Pool 1 : Munster – Glasgow – Leicester – Racing 92

Definitely, there was a big surprise in this Pool 1 with Racing 92, runners-up during the 2015-2016 Champions Cup season, knocked out after just 3 games. The Top14 side did not manage to get the wins against Glasgow Warriors and was physically matched by Munster.

It raised some questions as Racing 92 is a side full of superstars such as Dan Carter, Chris Masoe, Joe Rokocoko and Juan Imhoff. It shows that money cannot bring success all the time in rugby union. The other side in the Pool which did not perform was Leicester Tigers.

That was not the same coach which started and finished the campaign. Richard Cockerill was sacked after two heavy defeats in Glasgow and in Limerick. Unfortunately, the end of the campaign was worse for the Tigers with a big home defeat against Glasgow (0-43).

Besides, the big contest in this Pool was between Munster and Glasgow Warriors. The Warriors made a strong statement in Round 1 with that win against Leicester Tigers. Gregor Townsend’s team also managed to pick a lot of points against the Racing 92 side.

Nevertheless, Glasgow Warriors could not reclaim the leadership of the Pool. Munster Rugby is a complete different team since the arrival of a new Director Of Rugby : Rassie Erasmus. Munster players were impressive and clinical during that european campaign.

Only Leicester Tigers managed to record a win against them during the 2016-2017 Champions Cup Pool Stage. Munster Rugby are definitely one of the favourites to lift the Trophy at the end of the season with their passion and their outstanding Thomond Park.

II. Pool 2 : Wasps – Connacht – Toulouse – Zebre

That Pool 2 was the most exciting of the competition with London Wasps, Connacht Rugby and Toulouse battling for only two spots. From the start, we knew that two teams would be able to reach the Quarter-Finals because there was in the Pool a huge gap with Zebre.

Unfortunately, that statement is not very good for the Italian provinces but statistics show that there are always two teams qualifying when there is an italian side in the Pool. Once again, there was no exception to that rule with two sides going in these Quarter-Finals.

First of all, London Wasps topped the Pool and that was a deserved achievement for them. They won five games out of the six fixtures and they were impressive with their attacking display. However, all was obviously not perfect like home performance against Toulouse.

Connacht did not manage to reach Quarter-Finals and there was some controversy. They won their home game against London Wasps thanks to a late converted try, taking a lineout after the 80th-minute mark. That is forbidden by the laws but the result stood.

It was very harsh for Connacht not to qualify for the Quarter-Finals as this team is not all about the money. Toulouse achieved some good performances and handled the Connacht pressure really well. The two fixtures involving the two teams were just so entertaining.

To finish with, it was a really tough Champions Cup for Zebre as they conceded too many points and their coach was sacked before the end of it. Zebre did not record a single win nor a single point and that is really worrying to witness that they do not improve enough.

III. Pool 3 : Saracens – Toulon – Scarlets – Sale

When the seeding of this Pool was announced, many fans would have thought that it was going to be a duel between Saracens and Toulon. The Truth is that the Scarlets were in the hunt throughout the Pool Stage and they just would have deserved a Quarter-Final place.

The Saracens, who are also the defending Champions, made the job against a poor Toulon side which is past their best. Mark McCall’s men managed to win away to Toulon for the first time ever in the Champions Cup. It was some statement from the Premiership club.

During that Pool Stage, Toulon was where we were expecting them. They lost twice so far with another defeat to the Scarlets. Former Bath manager Mike Ford is now coaching the team and former Leicester Tigers boss Richard Cockerill joined him as an assistant coach.

With no gameplan, it is always difficult to play some good rugby. The other massive mistake that Toulon is also making for ages now is not building an academy. Many players are paid more than 600,000 € a year but, sadly, the Truth is that they are never worth it.

About the Scarlets, they have earned a massive respect from all the rugby planet. They got an unbeaten home record with wins against Sale Sharks, Toulon and a draw against the Saracens. Their rugby brand is very attractive and they definitely are on the good path.

The Sale Sharks had a difficult campaign with just a win to show for. Their home record was not good enough though there were some close contests when they hosted Toulon and Saracens. That team has got potential and it is just how you use it and how you play there.

IV- Pool 4 : Leinster – Montpellier – Castres – Northampton

If Pool 2 was the most exciting pool of the Champions Cup, it is fair to say that Pool 4 was the most curious one. There were plenty of unexpected results with some teams not really looking interesting in playing in the big competition, sometimes choosing their fixtures.

For example, Castres Olympique deliberately sent a second starting XV at the RDS Stadium against Leinster in Round 1 but decided to play the reverse fixture in Round 6, at home. During that game, they managed to snatch a draw and they just may have qualified there.

Another example was Northampton Saints doing the same for their away game at the Avivia Stadium against Leinster. Jim Mallinder surely did not enjoy that game with his team conceding 60 points. These examples showed that we can ask ourselves questions.

The performances from the four teams were slighly different. First, Leinster had a good Pool Stage with five wins though they got a draw away to Castres. Looking at the campaign, Castres will surely have some regrets and they could have done much better.

Like Toulon, Montpellier are fascinating because they do not know how to play rugby union. They have plenty of superstars, over-paid, but their rugby is awful. Toulon and Montpellier are the downfall of the French team for the next Six Nations Championship.

Northampton Saints showed in the last Rounds of the competition that they were still a great team. Even if they heavily lost twice against Leinster, they recorded home wins against Montpellier and Castres. They have a strong squad to aim high in the next years.

V- Pool 5 : Clermont – Ulster – Exeter – Bordeaux

In this Pool 5, Clermont dominated the contest with Ulster, Exeter and Bordeaux unable to find their best game in that competition. Clermont made some strong statements and got many bonus points tries, showing their intent to play a lot of attacking rugby on the pitch.

The Top14 side is still chasing their first ever Champions Cup Title and they would deserve to achieve that. Clermont has always relied on an interesting balance between their academy players and their foreign players, coming from England and Super Rugby as well.

With the Ulster team, they have not managed to be consistent through the campaign. They did not win a single game away from home with Bordeaux Bègles, Clermont and Exeter being more realistic in those games. Ulster did not start well all these three games.

Besides, Exeter Chiefs will probably have big regrets when they will reflect on that campaign. Rob Baxter’s men had a terrible start with three defeats from their three opening games. Their first home game against Clermont was simply just not good enough.

Then, there was the Ulster game at Kingspan Stadium where the Exeter Chiefs lost by a single score and what about that home defeat against Bordeaux Bègles at Sandy Park. There was room to perform very well for the Exeter Chiefs but they will learn from that.

Finally, Bordeaux Bègles had a pretty good campaign as it is just their second Champions Cup season. They recorded two great wins against Ulster and made the job at Sandy Park but they still have to target consistency if they want to qualify for the Quarter-Finals soon.

VI – The Quarter-Finals games and Predictions

QF1 : Clermont vs. Toulon

QF2 : Saracens vs. Glasgow Warriors

QF3 : Munster vs. Toulouse

QF4 : Leinster vs. London Wasps

Looking at these Quarter-Finals, there are four big games with a remake of the 2014-2015 Champions Cup Final with Clermont hosting Toulon. It will be an outstanding game with Clermont having home advantage but they should be careful as Toulon will be motivated.

On their artificial pitch, Saracens will be targeting another Champions Cup semi-final and it should not be so easy. They will face the Glasgow Warriors who are currently playing very well. Their running rugby is very effective and a big physical battle will decide that.

The third Champions Cup Quarter-Final for the 2016-2017 season will be set at Thomond Park with Munster facing Toulouse. The two sides faced each other a few seasons ago in this stadium and at the same stage of the competition with Munster winning convincingly.

Besides, another big contest will be played at the Aviva Stadium, in Dublin. Leinster and London Wasps will fight for the last place in the Semi-Finals. London Wasps will definitely have to improve their skills because Leinster is a very powerful and settled side.

For two seasons now, there is a different rule about which side will have the home advantage for the semi-finals. It is no longer a coin toss because home advantage for the semi-finals depends on the teams’ performances and the results of the Quarter-Finals.

It means that the teams which have finished among the best Quarter-Finalists in terms of points and which won their Quarter-Finals are not guaranteed home advantage for the Semi-Finals. So, it will be all to play for for all the teams who are involved at this stage.

Champions Cup Quarter-Finals Prediction :

QF1 : Clermont vs. Toulon (Winner : Clermont).

QF2 : Munster vs. Toulouse (Winner : Munster).

QF3 : Saracens vs. Glasgow Warriors (Winner : Saracens).

QF4 : Leinster vs. London Wasps (Winner : London Wasps).

SF1 : London Wasps vs. Clermont (Winner : Clermont).

SF2 : Munster vs. Saracens (Winner : Munster).

Final : Clermont vs. Munster.

Winner : Munster.


The 2016-2017 Champions Cup Pool Stage was very interesting because all the sides were focused on their performances. Contrary to the past seasons, the Top14 sides have fielded competitive starting XVs even though it is true that some games raised a lot of questions.

With the Quarter-Finals which are now confirmed, that is fair to say that the Pro12 league is doing pretty well as it is the most represented league in these Quarter-Finals with Top14. Munster, Leinster and Glasgow Warriors all qualified following great campaigns.

Also, there are three teams from the Top14 with Clermont, Toulon and Toulouse, as well, who qualified as runners-up in the Pool II. Finally, there are two sides from the Aviva Premiership which qualified for that next prestigious stage : Saracens and London Wasps.

In fact, we can say that, based on that Quarter-Finals list, there is an interesting balance with 3 French teams, 2 English teams, 2 Irish provinces and 1 Scottish side. That is some achievement from the Glasgow Warriors who qualified for the first time in their History.

The new rules about the home advantage for the Semi-Finals are very interesting because it is no longer a coin toss. There is still some controversy but it is all about performing for the teams and earning that important advantage according to the Pool Stage results.

With the British & Irish Lions Tour staged on June, 2017 in New Zealand, the Champions Cup Quarter-Finals are promising. They will be played after the Six Nations Championship and the players will try to impress the coaching staff to be part of that prestigious tour.

Great Pool Stage ! Some big Quarter-Finals !


Open Letter to Driving Maul : The 100th #RugbyChat session


Dear Driving Maul,

Today is a great day because this is your 100th #RugbyChat session on the social network Twitter. The first session was held on February, 10th of 2015 and I remember that day very well. I remember you asking me if I wanted to join and you just fulfilled all my dreams.

As you probably know for almost two years now, I am a big rugby fan and I always dreamt of a place where I would be able to share my thoughts with other fans. I have to say that I have always loved these #RugbyChat sessions and many reasons are explaining that.

First of all, the sessions are magnificiently run through the weeks. There are several topics, all interesting, and it is giving the opportunity to all the fans to catch up the rugby week, catch up the news and have a thought while respecting all the different opinions.

Your topics are sometimes unexpected and that is pleased to have an overall view about what is happening in the rugby world. There is cover for union, league, Sevens, the men’s and the women’s game, the domestic leagues, competitions and global tournaments.

I have to thank you for your excellent featured articles on your blog : You made an excellent interview with the Auckland Blues player Joe Edwards. It was about the week in a rugby player’s life and once again, I had plenty of answers on that subject.

I always wondered how that week was organised inside an ambitious rugby club, a Super Rugby franchise for example. That is just an example among many others as your blog is top quality. Your reviews after each weekend are outstanding and a joy to read every time.

Since February, 2016, it has been a long way to go but that milestone and that 100th #RugbyChat is just testament to your hard work and your commitment. You have built something popular, you are making people happy and that is the most important, really.

Living in France, I have always considered from a rugby point of view that there is not enough efforts from the media to spread the game. I think that our model is not the good one and the commentators are sometimes biased and that is not a good attitude to have.

Currently working as an accountant in a public administration, I have signed a temporary contract. I am planning to leave abroad in the future and New Zealand could be one of my destinations. I have no passport so I guess that it will take some time if I make the step.

Please, make it sure that I will tell you if I am coming to New Zealand one day. Who knows ?! I could come to Auckland or make the trip to town if I am elsewhere in the Island. It would be fabulous if we could meet each other to talk about a few things including rugby.

It has become more and more difficult for me to join #RugbyChat due to my professional commitments. However, I am joining when I can and I am following very closely your work. #RugbyChat is a very good way to stay informed about the rugby news worldwide.

That 100th #RugbyChat session was an absolutely deserved milestone. Obviously, I am wishing you the best for what is next for you. I am wishing you all the success possible in that business. I have got a huge respect for you my friend and I am forever grateful to you.

Your friend, Max.

The Super Rugby 2017 : The Preview


The next Super Rugby season may start in two months, there is already some expectation in the Southern Hemisphere. The last Super Rugby season in 2016 was the inaugural season with a new format and the introduction of three new franchises in the league.

In 2017, the same format will remain even though it is creating some confusion among the fans. Anyway, even if it is sometimes frustrating, the quality of the rugby played in this competition is still top. Obviously, the fans are expecting some big games like each year.

Going into this new Super Rugby season, there will be an extra-motivation for the New Zealand franchises. The British & Irish Lions will come in June, 2017 and games are staged between them and the All Blacks franchises for what will be a big moment in the country.

Following a memorable campaign and a 21-year wait, the Hurricanes will go into this season as the defending Champions. They will probably be considered as the favourites to go back-to-back. However, it is not going to be that simple as there are other contenders.

In Australia, things will become very interesting as uncertainty is everywhere. Stephen Larkham will coach the Brumbies for the last season, the Waratahs need to find consistency and the Reds have got a quality squad with Quade Cooper coming back as well.

Hopefully, the Springboks are going to find their form and their franchises can show the way. The Lions were runners-up in 2016 and other sides such as the Stormers and the Bulls were not too bad either even if their game is just sometimes too forward-orientated.

I- The Format : Trying to summarize it !

Since 2016, Super Rugby has got a new format compared to the one when there were 15 franchises facing each other or less. First of all, Super Rugby is a competition with 18 franchises for two years now with the arrival of Southern Kings, Jaguares and Sunwolves.

The 18 franchises are split in four different conferences : the New Zealand conference and the Australia conference are the first two divisions. Then, there are the other two conferences which have been named Africa 1 Conference and also Africa 2 Conference.

Moreover, about the standings, there are two different groups with the Australasian Group, gathering New Zealand and Australia. Finally, the other group has got the two Africa Conferences which are including the Jaguares (Argentina) and Sunwolves (Japan).

Contrary to the former format where only 6 franchises were qualifying for the play-offs, the new format allows 8 franchises to qualify with quarter-finals, semi-finals and final to be played. There are very precised rules about the way of qualifying for these play-offs.

The four franchises which are topping their respective conference will have home advantage for the quarter-finals. The other four tickets are given thanks to wild-cards with 3 wild-cards for the Australasian Group and also 1 wild-card for the Africa Group.

Some controversies have been thrown last season as some of the New Zealand franchises played their quarter-final away while they had more league points than their opponents. The governing body, the Sanzar, said that the format will stand for the next seasons.

II- The New Zealand franchises : Competition

No lack of respect for the other opponents but the New Zealand franchises are remaining the benchmark of the Super Rugby. The competition is reaching new levels each season and the standings between the five All Blacks sides are incredibly close at the very end.

Last season, there was some pressure on the players’ shoulders because it was the year after the 2015 World Cup Triumph. There were some places up for grabs in the All Blacks squad. Steve Hansen was aware of that and he was sitting down in the stands to watch.

There were some big Kiwi derbies last season involving the five franchises and it started in the very first game of the season. The Auckland Blues won a thriller at Eden Park against the Highlanders. There were exactly 63 points scored and the Blues won by just two points.

If the first Round of games between the New Zealand sides were outstanding, it was even more unforgettable for the last Round in the regular season. In Round 17, in 2016, we had a very good game involving the Crusaders and the Wellington Hurricanes in Christchurch.

Some hours later, one of the best game of the season was going to be played under the roof of the Forsyth Barr in Dunedin. The Highlanders scored one of the tries of the season thanks to Dan Pryor against the Chiefs who showed how great this rugby franchise was.

The Super Rugby games involving the New Zealand teams are always a great moment. Next season should be no exception to the rule. Double encounters in the regular season are planned and the Hurricanes know that they will face the Crusaders and the Chiefs twice.

III- The Australia franchises : Five teams or Three teams ?!

The current England coach Eddie Jones has stated in the media that australian rugby would be in a better place if there were only 3 Super Rugby franchises instead of 5 Super Rugby franchises. Eddie Jones said that there was no place for the Rebels and the Western Force.

In fairness, that statement is not really accurate because it is thanks to all the franchises that there will be more competition for places at Test level. Comments acknowledging that the Melbourne Rebels and the Western Force are two poor franchises are absolutely wrong.

Looking at the Super Rugby franchises in Australia, the Brumbies and the Waratahs have been the two dominants sides in the last few seasons. Stephen Larkham has made a good job in Canberra while Daryl Gibson replaced Michael Cheika at the Waratahs last season.

Obviously, it was not all perfect for the Waratahs but Daryl Gibson followed the same gameplan and it should pay at some stage. The Melbourne Rebels are improving every season and they will target the play-offs qualification like the Queensland Reds in 2017.

About the Western Force, based in Perth, the 2015 Super Rugby season showed that they were not too far from winning significant games. First of all, there was that home game against the Blues with the Western Force so close from a famous win in the last stages.

Moreover, the Perth-based franchise nearly made a perfect comeback against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein that same year. Trailing by something like 20 points at Half-Time, they came back in second-half but missed a winning penalty, losing by 2 points.

IV- The South Africa franchises : Plenty of new talents

Next Super Rugby season will be a big test for the Springboks franchises as the national team had a terrible Test season in 2016 with 8 losses. There are plenty of talents in South Africa and their franchises have to perform well to give selection headaches to the coach.

In the Africa 1 Conference, the Bulls, the Cheetahs and the Stormers will face each other. That should be interesting because these three sides are competitive and we certainly witnessed that during the last Currie Cup. The Stormers will have a fair schedule in 2017.

The province from Cape Town criticised the format after the heavy defeat in quarter-final to the Chiefs last season. The Stormers did not face a single Kiwi side in 2016 during the regular season. It will change next season and they will probably be pleased with that.

Also, the Bulls were quite disappointing last season even if they had some good games. They recorded a famous home win against the Stormers but were given a lesson by the Lions. Playmaker Handré Pollard will come back to help the team after a run of injuries.

Finally, the Cheetahs will come with huge ambitions as 2016 Currie Cup winners. In the other conference, the Lions, the Sharks and the Southern Kings will meet. The Lions will be the favourites because they were the runners-up in the last Super Rugby final in 2016.

It should be more complicated for the Sharks and the Southern Kings in the conference. The Sharks qualified for the play-offs last season but became the first side ever not to score a point during a Super Rugby play-off game. Southern Kings will improve a lot.

V- Sunwolves and Jaguares : To be taken seriously

The Sunwolves and the Jaguares were introduced in Super Rugby in 2016 and they did not do too badly for their first season. The Sunwolves conceded many heavy defeats and the Jaguares did not get the wins even if they tried to change their gameplan many times.

Nevertheless, the message will be very clear for all the sides which will face the Sunwolves and the Jaguares next year : Let’s take them seriously. The Sunwolves may have lost heavily some games but they recorded some great performances for their first campaign.

For example, the Sunwolves had a win against the Jaguares who were going into that game with more Test players. The Japanese franchise had a draw against the Stormers and they were leading by a converted try after the 80-minute mark, showing their real quality.

About the Jaguares, they were not far from a big win in Buenos Aires against the Chiefs but they fell short from a win. The Super Rugby campaign was not as good as expected but the Jaguares managed to get some good performances against the Cheetahs and the Bulls.

These two franchises are still learning how to play in the Super Rugby competition. The Sunwolves have to improve their combinations. Last season, they made too many costly mistakes inside their own half which led to tries from their respective opponents.

To finish with, the Jaguares are not a bad side either but we are asking more to the players who are almost all players at Test level. In the Jaguares side, there is plenty of international experience so it has to be transferred now to the Super Rugby stage in 2017.

VI- The Preview : Franchise by Franchise

1. The New Zealand Franchises :

a) The Blues : Structured franchise and always a decent side against the Kiwi opposition / Positives : Signed talented players such as Augustine Pulu and Sonny Bill Williams / Negatives : Have to improve their away record and get the wins during the Kiwi derbies.

b) The Chiefs : Will be Title contenders, staying the best when it comes to counter-attack / Positives : The counter-attacking skills, the number of tries scored and their efficiency / Negatives : Last season for their coach Dave Rennie, could work against them at the end.

c) The Crusaders : The franchise with the highest All Blacks contingent, world-class team / Positives : Expansive gameplan, attacking skills and a powerful scrum to have the edge / Negatives : First season without Todd Blackadder, Scott Robertson has a big job to do now.

d) The Highlanders : Super Rugby Champions two years ago, good and settled franchise / Positives : Their All Blacks players (Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith for example) / Negatives : Same situation compared to the Crusaders as Jamie Joseph is coaching Japan.

e) The Hurricanes : The defending Champions, massive task to defend the coveted Title / Positives : Same coaching staff, talented squad, strong home record and a big defence / Negatives : Quality players left such as Willis Halaholo and Victor Vito, depth needed.

2. The Australia Franchises :

a) The Brumbies : Been the best rugby franchise in Australia in the last two seasons / Positives : Effective gameplan, based on speed, pace and forwards game, powerful scrum / Negatives : Key players leaving, last season for Stephen Larkham, off-field issues as well.

b) The Force : Struggling franchise, not far from getting significant wins, nevertheless / Positives : Test debut for 3 players (Kyle Godwin, Dane Haylett-Petty, Luke Morahan) / Negatives : No stability in the coaching staff, restrictive gameplan, lack of public support.

c) The Rebels : Making improvements every season, needs to target more consistency / Positives : Tony McGahan managing the squad, the youngsters and their playmakers / Negatives : Some heavy defeats (Crusaders, 2016) and a not good enough home record.

d) The Reds : Plenty of potential in that franchise, mix between youth and experience / Positives : World-Class players coming back such as George Smith and Quade Cooper / Negatives : Several managers sacked, tensions between the players, crisis in the medias.

e) The Waratahs : Trying to build on the 2014 Super Rugby Title, spectacular franchise / Positives : Daryl Gibson, the expansive gameplan, the Wallabies players, their crowd / Negatives : The inconsistency and the lack of discipline in some games (yellow cards).

3. The South Africa Franchises :

a) The Bulls : Springboks franchise which had greatest success in Super Rugby (3 Titles) / Positives : Playmaker Handré Pollard coming back after a long spell on the sidelines / Negatives : Too forward-orientated game, more expansion needed and composure as well.

b) The Cheetahs : Ambitious franchise which could be the surprise of Super Rugby 2017 / Positives : Winners of the 2016 Currie Cup, could have the edge against their opponents / Negatives : Lack of self-control and lack of self-belief, have to believe in themselves.

c) The Kings : Coming back to the Super Rugby for the second consecutive season / Positives : They have got a very young squad and are giving Black players an opportunity / Negatives : Poor run of results not reflecting their value, big problems at scrum time.

d) The Lions : Very powerful side, runners-up in 2015 and having a huge self-belief / Positives : Talented coaching staff, expansive gameplan, spectacular attacking combos / Negatives : Have to adapt better to the conditions like rain, wind against the Kiwi sides.

e) The Sharks : Unluckiest side not to have win a Super Rugby Title since the 1995 era / Positives : Their skipper Tendai Mtawarira, the leadership group, their good defence / Negatives : Coach Gary Gold has been sacked, costly injuries and unable to perform well.

f) The Stormers : Consistent franchise in the regular season but not making the next step / Positives : The depth in their squad, the Springboks internationals, their powerful pack / Negatives : Not playing enough with the backline, relying too much on the forwards.

4. The newcomers :

a) The Jaguares : Talented squad with the Argentina internationals, passion and intent / Positives : International experience, passionate crowd when they are playing at home / Negatives : Not finding the right gameplan, failing to turn the opportunities into points.

b) The Sunwolves : Building on the great Japan success at the 2015 World Cup last year / Positives : Significant win last season against the Jaguares and a draw against Stormers / Negatives : Too many points conceded, some unstability about the coaching staff as well.


The new format of the Super Rugby competition which was adopted in 2015 will remain the same. It has created some controversies last season but the Sanzar said that it will not change for now. The next season will give us further informations about that situation.

Looking at the last Super Rugby campaigns, the Kiwi franchises are remaining the benchmark. The Chiefs made the double in 2012 and in 2013 with the Highlanders winning the competition later in 2015 and the Hurricanes doing the same thing in 2016.

The Wallabies franchise have got the potential to go far in the competition. There may be some worries about the Brumbies but the Waratahs will be contenders with the Reds building on a strong squad. The Rebels and the Force may win a few games next season.

About the Springboks, there are talented players in the country ready to run the show for their franchises. The Lions, runners-up last season, will be decent contenders with the Cheetahs able to create a big and unexpected surprise following their 2016 Currie Cup win.

Then, the Jaguares and the Sunwolves both have huge challenges in 2017. The Jaguares will face the Springboks franchise and will need physicality in their forwards pack. As for the Sunwolves, they will be able to rely on their passionate crowd during all the season, too.

The pre-season has not started for all the 18 franchises with the players still on the holidays. It will start in early February and it is always difficult to make a preview based on the pre-season results. Super Rugby 2017 will be another memorable rugby campaign.

Happy New Year ! Bring on Super Rugby !