James Mortimer - (29/01/2012)
Boasting the reigning Investec Super Rugby champions within their own conference hasn’t stopped the Australian betting market installing two New Zealand teams as the most likely to win the 2012 title.
Seven-time champions the Crusaders have been slotted in as the 2012 favourites by the Australian TAB, closely followed by three-time title winners the Blues.
The Reds are listed by as third favourites followed closely by the Waratahs, but the bookies faith in the Queenslanders again doesn’t extend to far, with NSW given the more likely odds of overcoming their great rivals in the blockbuster opening first round in Sydney.
New Zealand betting sees the Crusaders as the favourites, the Reds, Waratahs and Blues equal second likely to win the crown.
The local TAB lists the most likely New Zealand Conference finishing order as the Crusaders, Blues, Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Despite Queensland winning fifteen matches (including their two Super Rugby Finals Series victories over the Blues and Crusaders), the loss of Quade Cooper has meant there is a little uncertainty over the Reds ability to overcome their general’s loss – despite the typical confidence of coach Ewen McKenzie.
The presence of ten All Black World Cup winners in the Crusaders, and a further eight in the Blues, would give confidence to the New Zealand heavyweights.
The Crusaders recorded their third runner-up finish (to go along with seven championships) last season after losing 18-13 to the Reds, but made their tenth straight appearance in a Super Rugby Finals Series, and have only once since 1998 not made the knockout stages.
The fact they continued their remarkable record last season despite playing all matches away from home is a likely reason for their installation as favourites for the 2012 crown.
Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will have delayed starts to the season, but all other players are fit and progressing well, with coach Todd Blackadder happy to have had such an extended off season to prepare his charges to try and bring the title back to Christchurch for the first time since 2008.
The Blues Super Rugby Finals Series berth last year was their first since 2007, and with a title now absent from Eden Park’s trophy cabinet since 2003, the perennial pre-season favourites will hope that the fourth year of Pat Lam’s stewardship will yield a championship.
Other factors against the Reds this season is a far tougher draw, playing more of the top sides (Crusaders, Bulls and Sharks) on the road, versus hosting them at fortress Suncorp.
The Reds hosted the Bulls, Waratahs, Blues and Crusaders to close out their home campaign in 2011.