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Aisle be back: The Super Rugby Draw

Super Rugby | 27 September 2017 | Kevin McCarthy

Aisle be back: The Super Rugby Draw

If you hate the early onset of Christmas, which seems to start around September now, the antidote is simple. Start thinking about Super Rugby 2018. I am.

You'll remember 2017, the year where somehow, we lost the title. Although strictly we didn't lose the title; we just didn't win it again. The Crusaders are not the defending champions, but another team trying to win it. Have we got that clear?

So with those semantics to one side, we do know one thing - 2018 is different. There as you will be aware, be 15 teams - no more Perth stopovers for anyone, of course.

The new format - three conferences - will for New Zealand sides probably make little difference to the cut-throat nature of the domestic derbies, although my grasp of the latter stages is that it will see fewer of the ludicrous rankings inflicted upon us under previous four-conference beast.

Regardless, there are a number of games of rugby football to be played between teams of 15, before everyone agrees the Hurricanes are the best, sometime in July 2018. Here is how the draw looks from afar.

It's always important to start well, of course. Doubly so this year, for the draw puts the Canes on the road to South Africa and Buenos Aires in rounds 1 and 2 (actually R2 and R3 thanks to a staggered start). Great to get the serious travel out of the way early, provided both games can be nailed.

While everyone talks about the importance of the conference derbies, I actually think the most critical games not to lose are the out of conference matches. Given the New Zealand dominance, to drop a game, to say, the Rebels, is going to mean having to claw that back against, well, a New Zealand side, where the points won't come easily.

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So the two away matches are actually not a soft start but an opportunity to get two problematic fixtures out of the way while the squad is fit and raring to go. But they won't be easy.

Round 4, and its back home for the Crusaders. Aka an early reality check, and it will be interesting how the squad is managed to see that there isn't too much travel exhaustion to deal with. I am not suggesting using a B team in BA; we all know how that's worked out in the past for the Lions.

Then there's a bye. Probably a bit early, but they come when they come.

I won't work through the comp round by round. The second group of games before the next bye has two home derbies (Highlanders and Chiefs), a home hosting of the Sharks, and an away fixture against the mighty Rebels.

From that clutch of matches, you'd hope the Canes can come away with just one loss. Two would be okay, three would be bad.

The first real litmus test will be whether the side can stop the habit of losing the key New Zealand match-ups - I'm looking at you, Saders and Chiefs.

That really kept last year's campaign spluttering.

Looking beyond the second bye, in round 10, and we're now into late April. Doesn't time fly, even if it never lands in Perth anymore.

There's a string of 6 games, a mix of soft home games against poor visiting sides - Sunwolves, Lions and Reds, and three tough derbies away. We should know by then if the 2018 squad is the real deal.

Then comes the June international window, and then the final three games - the Brumbies away, Blues at home, and Chiefs away to round out things.

So it's simple really, isn't it? Let's not hear whinging about the brutal Kiwi conference. The day we hope for a set-up that is easier is the day we start weakening the All Blacks.

With that all sorted, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Especially in Perth.

Lifelong All Blacks supporter Kev has followed the Hurricanes since they began. Last year his faith in them was rewarded when they won the title – they've missed out in 2017, but he'll be back!

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