Super Rugby draw: Your team's best and worst stretch

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

The return of home and away conference derbies are the headline of the 2018 Super Rugby draw but an added layer of simplicity is the real substance in the revamped 15 team format.

The 18 team format was, without question, severely flawed.

The Lions' run to the Super Rugby final was a perfect example of that.

As good as they were en route to a home grand final, the fact that they didn't face a single New Zealand opponent prior to the finals was mind boggling.

Reverting to a 15 team format has eliminated that ridiculous wrinkle, with each team slated to play home and away derbies, as well as four matches against teams from the other two conferences.

Put simply, while some teams will have a better schedule than others, there will be no more situations where the Lions get a huge leg up by entirely avoiding the NZ Conference.

They will avoid one NZ team but not all five.

So, now that the draw is public knowledge, it's worth breaking down a few crucial stretches for each of the Australian clubs.

Brumbies

Rory Arnold and the Brumbies will be conference favourites next year. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyBest quartet

The Brumbies open the season with four very winnable matches, despite three of them being away games.

Kicking the season off with the Sunwolves (A), Reds (A), Rebels (A) and Sharks (H) provides a very realistic chance for the Australian Conference champs to put at least three wins on the board in the opening month.

Drop these matches and things could get very dicy early on for new coach Dan McKellar.

Toughest stretch

The two matches either side of the midseason bye could be make or break for the Brumbies.

They face the Jaguares (H) and Crusaders (H) before hosting the Rebels (H) and setting off for South Africa to tackle the Lions (A).

The Jaguares are always prickly opposition, the Crusaders are the reigning champs, the Rebels will be an improved outfit and the Lions have proven there is no tougher away trip in the competition.

The run home

There are three matches after the June break next season and the Brumbies will face the Hurricanes (H), Chiefs (A) and Waratahs (A).

That's a tough set of starts to finish the year.

Reds

Quade Cooper and the Reds get a good run home. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyBest quartet

If they're a game or two away from a finals berth with four matches to play, the Reds have the optimal run home.

More on this later.

Toughest stretch

The two matches either side of Queensland's bye will be crunch time.

They face the Jaguares (A), Stormers (A), Brumbies (A) and Waratahs (A).

Emerge from that stretch with a pair of wins and they will be very well placed heading into the back half of the year.

The run home

The Reds have the Tahs (H) before the June break and when they get back into the swing of things they will face the Blues (A), Rebels (H) and Sunwolves (H).

One couldn't ask for a better run home.

If they're within a win or two of the Australian Conference crown, expect them to storm home.

Waratahs

Can Bernard Foley and the Tahs climb the Super Rugby ladder? Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyBest quartet

Just like their arch rivals up north, the Tahs have a really good stretch home.

Their clash with the Reds at Suncorp Stadium the week before the June break is going to prove pivotal.

Toughest stretch

The Tahs have two terribly tough stretches that will make life very hard in 2018.

They are thrown straight into the furnace with a South African trio of starts against the Stormers (H), Sharks (A), Jaguares (A) before hosting the Rebels (H).

That's tough but then, after their second bye, they face four straight Kiwi sides, in the Blues (H), Crusaders (A), Highlanders (H) and Chiefs (A).

Brutal.

The run home

The clash with the Reds pre-June break shapes as a season defining one.

When proceedings resume, the Tahs head to Melbourne to face the Rebels (A), before hosting the Sunwolves (H) and Brumbies (H).

If they're good enough and - like the Reds - within striking distance of a finals berth, this run home will give them every chance.

Rebels

The Rebels will have Will Genia steering them around the park in 2018. Photo: Getty ImagesBest quartet

Four straight Australian Conference derbies to start the season will give the Rebels a chance to kickstart their season after a one win 2017.

They face the Reds (H), Sunwolves (A), Brumbies (H) and Tahs (A).

If they're an improved outfit that wants to contend, they'll need to pick up at least two wins in that stretch.

Toughest stretch

The four matches after the first bye will be make or break for Melbourne.

They will tackle the Jaguares (H) before facing the Bulls (A), Stormers (A) and Crusaders (H).

The run home

After the June break they host the Tahs (H) before heading north to face the Reds (A).

They'll finish their season across the ditch, facing the Highlanders (A).

Not the worst run but certainly not the best.

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