Super Rugby power rankings: Defending champs Crusaders on top as play-offs draws near

The two-horse South African conference race will come down to the final two matches of the regular season. Conversely, the winners of the NZ and Australian conferences are already settled. The Rebels and the Sharks are now vying for the eighth and final playoffs berth.

1 Crusaders (First in NZC)

Champions of the NZ conference. Tick. Home advantage through the playoffs. Tick. Kieran Read looking good after a 47-minute comeback. Tick. Richie Mo’unga in imperious form. Tick. Seven straight NZ derby wins. Tick. Set-piece strike moves looking slick. Tick. Get the engravers in…

2 Waratahs (First in AC)

The Waratahs are hitting their straps at just the right time. Granted, they didn’t have to over-extend themselves to clean out a 14-man Sunwolves, but all their key men look in prime form. Second seeding going into the playoffs is on the cards and that would be a real fillip to Daryl Gibson’s troops.

Chiefs first-five Damian McKenzie in action during a Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and Brumbies played at FMG Stadium in Hamilton, New Zealand on Saturday 7 July 2018.

Copyright photo: © Bruce Lim / www.photosport.nz
Chiefs first-five Damian McKenzie in action during a Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and Brumbies played at FMG Stadium in Hamilton. Source: Photosport

3 Chiefs (Third in NZC)

They say Brodie Retallick will be back this weekend. They have said that for the last fortnight. What is certain is they need to beat the Hurricanes by 23 on Friday night in the Tron and claim a bonus point to claw into fourth position. Big ask, especially if Sam Cane cannot make the cut or if Damian McKenzie takes his All Blacks rest. The Chiefs had to fight tooth and nail to get the win over the Brumbies last Saturday. Nothing will come easy against the resurgent Canes.

4 Jaguares (Second in SAC)

Edged by the Bulls in Pretoria, the Jaguares at least have qualified for the playoffs. But they should want more, namely the South African conference title. They will know by kickoff in the early hours of Sunday morning what they must do to head the Lions, or indeed if that is even possible.

Hurricanes second-five Ngani Laumape scores a try in the tackle of Blues' halfback Augustine Pulu. Round 18 Super Rugby match, Hurricanes v Blues. Westpac Stadium, Wellington. Saturday 7th July 2018. © Copyright Photo: Grant Down / www.photosport.nz
Hurricanes second-five Ngani Laumape scores a try in the tackle of Blues' halfback Augustine Pulu. Source: Photosport

5 Hurricanes (Second in NZC)

The Hurricanes upped the ante just in the nick of time. The 42-24 victory over the Blues was far from flawless, but it was good enough to toast Brad Shields’ 100th Super Rugby outing. Ngani Laumape took route one and was too hot to handle. The Canes should be good enough to hold fourth position when they hit Hamilton on Friday night.

6 Lions (First in SAC)

The Lions sat on tenterhooks during the bye as they had to force themselves to cheer for their arch-rivals the Bulls. But the men from Pretoria did the job in downing the Jaguares. Now the Lions must turn their sights on the Bulls, knowing victory will confirm their SA conference title. But they must produce their March form rather than their recent output.

7 Highlanders (Fourth in NZC)

Can you believe the Highlanders have lost their last two games by the score of 45-22? What are the odds? And yet, the two displays were far different in nature. In Suva, the Highlanders were gone after 40 minutes and then played for pride. In Christchurch, they hung tough for long periods against a ruthless home side. They scored a couple of cracking tries, but overdid the kicking. Beat the Rebels, however, and they should lock in sixth position.

Chiefs winger Solomon Alaimalo in action during the Super Rugby match - Chiefs v Brumbies played at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand on Saturday 15 July 2017.  Copyright photo: © Bruce Lim / www.photosport.nz
Solomon Alaimalo Source: Photosport

8 Brumbies (Third in AC)

Oh so close. A late Tyler Ardron knock-on, missed by referee Rasta Rasivhenge, has effectively doused the Brumbies’ playoffs hopes, which are hanging by a thread anyway. They did a lot of good stuff in the 24-19 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton. Henry Speight ran in a brace on his old Waikato stomping ground.

9 Rebels (Second in AC)

They went to Brisbane and felt scrum heat from the Reds. Jack Maddocks scored a nice try but the 37-23 defeat means they will now need to win in Dunedin to cement their playoffs berth. Good luck with that.

10 Reds (Fourth in AC)

While Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt can be found on suburban Brisbane grounds most Saturday afternoons, the Reds are building something solid under Brad Thorn. Their fifth win of the season, against the Rebels, was again founded off a stable scrum platform.

11 Sharks (Third in SAC)

The Sharks missed another trick, falling 27-16 to the Stormers. They continue to clam up against the South African sides. There remains one last chance, against the Jaguares, to sneak into the playoffs, which would mean, not for the first time, a trip to Crusaderland.

12 Bulls (Fifth in SAC)

Fullback Warrick Gelant, running a cunning angle, inspired the Bulls’ comeback from a 19-0 deficit to beat the Jaguares 43-34. Despite their lowly position on the log, they can still have a say in the overall standings when they travel to Joburg.

13 Stormers (Fourth in SAC)

Damian de Allende sparked up, and the Stormers, who have the bye this weekend, at least completed their campaign with a victory and showed some character. But 11th, or 12th, on the log is not the place for their talent.

14 Blues (Fifth in NZC)

The Blues again showed moments of good rugby, but just not enough of them. And they could not stop a rampaging Ngani Laumape. They also cough up far too much ball in contact. Lock them in for 14th position.

15 Sunwolves (Fifth in AC)

It would be easy to say that Semisi Masirewa’s red card, for which he copped a three-week ban, was the root cause of the Sunwolves’ 77-25 hiding from the Waratahs. It is true they were competitive up until that point, but all the defensive frailties then resurfaced in the face of a rampant home side.

Crusaders lock Scott Barrett celebrates his try with teammate Kieran Read. Crusaders v Highlanders. Super Rugby, round 19, Wyatt Crockett Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand, 6th July 2018. Photo Copyright: Craig Morrison / www.photosport.nz
Crusaders lock Scott Barrett celebrates his try with teammate Kieran Read. Source: Photosport



'He's only just beginning' – Steve Hansen gushes over Rieko Ioane's new deal

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says that there's more to come from star winger Rieko Ioane, as the youngster put pen to paper on a new deal with New Zealand Rugby.

Since making his debut at the end of 2016, Ioane, 21, has been a standout for the All Blacks, displacing Julian Savea as the first-choice in the number 11 jersey.

Speaking to media ahead of his side's departure to Argentina, Hansen spoke of his delight at Ioane's commitment to the All Blacks.

"He's a special player and he's only at the beginning of his career," Hansen began.

"What he's done so far, with maturity and greater game understanding is just going to get better and better.

"He's only just beginning."

The winger has recommitted to New Zealand Rugby for another four years. Source: 1 NEWS


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Rieko Ioane on rejecting huge overseas deals to stay in NZ: 'The Black jersey is enough for me'

All Blacks winger Rieko Ioane has spoken about rejecting lucrative overseas deals to remain in New Zealand, recommitting to NZR with a new four-year deal.

Ioane, 21, and brother Akira signed on the dotted line to remain in New Zealand for the next four years, fronting media at Auckland Airport to explain his decision.

"I want to establish myself in New Zealand," he began.

"The black jersey is enough for me, and is enough to keep me here.

"Rugby is what I love playing, and to play in the best team in the world is motivating enough for me, overseas didn't come into the picture."

The All Blacks star penned a new four-year NZR deal this morning. Source: 1 NEWS


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Kieran Read out, Vaea Fifita recalled for All Blacks' trip to Argentina

All Blacks captain Kieran Read will miss his side's Rugby Championship clash with Argentina in Buenos Aires, with Wellington flanker Vaea Fifita called in as a replacement.

Read, 32, will be sent straight to South Africa, missing the All Blacks' Argentinian leg of their Rugby Championship campaign, coach Steve Hansen confirmed to media at Auckland Airport today.

"The original plan was always to make sure we don't have him sitting in a plane too long," Hansen began.

"When you go to Argentina then to South Africa, short turnaround, and not a great ride from Argentina to South Africa.

"The smart play is to leave him at home and send him straight to Africa."

Read's absence sees Vaea Fifita return to the side, having originally been overlooked for the All Blacks' Rugby Championship campaign, with the Wellington flanker controversially stating that he didn't understand why he'd been dropped.

"He's always been on our mind," Hansen said of Fifita.

"We've given him the task of going and playing some Mitre 10 Cup, he's done that.

"With Reado not coming we need a replacement, he's the obvious man."

The All Blacks' newest weapon sat out of practice with a sore shoulder today. Source: 1 NEWS


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'I'm sure we'll see his game go to even greater heights' - All Blacks star Rieko Ioane signs long term deal with NZ Rugby

Star winger Rieko Ioane has committed to the All Blacks for four more years in a significant win for New Zealand Rugby.

The 21-year-old, who has scored 18 tries from 18 Tests, was the subject of intense offshore club interest but has chosen to remain put at his Super Rugby team the Blues.

His deal is the longest of any current All Black, taking him to the end of 2022.

Ioane was last year crowned World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year and was also a nominee for the main award.

His electric pace and nose for the tryline has been a key element for the world champions, most notably on last year's tour of Europe when he single-handedly proved the difference in Test wins over Scotland and Wales.

"I want to give it my best shot at serving the black jersey and, hopefully, I'll get the chance to play at the Rugby World Cup in the future. That's a huge motivator for me," he said.

Akira Ioane was an unlucky exclusion from Steve Hansen's squad this morning.
Source: 1 NEWS

Ioane's older brother Akira, 23, has also extended his NZ Rugby contract, until 2021.

The powerful Blues No.8 is yet to be capped but played a midweek match for the All Blacks in France last November.

Both brothers are former New Zealand sevens stars who are regarded by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen as among the country's premier young players.

"With his growing maturity and growth in his game understanding, I'm sure we'll see Rieko's game go to even greater heights," Hansen said.

"Akira is also an immense talent who has a bright future in our national game and we congratulate him on his decision as well."

(L to R) Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane and Akira Ioane,
All Blacks training session ahead of the upcoming test series against France. Alexandra Park. Auckland, New Zealand. Tuesday 22 May 2018. © Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz
Rieko Ioane and Akira Ioane during an All Blacks training session in Auckland. Source: Photosport


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