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Big season: World Cup looms over Super Rugby competition

February 12, 2015

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The impact of Super Rugby on the World Cup is arguable but the impact of a World Cup on Super Rugby is indisputable and is likely to be felt again this year in a shortened season and in the absence of star players.

The nationality of the Super Rugby winner and the nationality of the World Cup winner have coincided only once in the histories of both tournaments: in 2007 South Africa’s Bulls won the Super Rugby title and later that year the Springboks won the World Cup.

In the most recent example, the 2011 Super Rugby title was won by the Queensland Reds but Australia was emphatically beaten in the World Cup semifinals by eventual champion New Zealand.

It is likely again this year that the nationality of the winner of the Super Rugby title, in a season truncated because of the World Cup, will do little to log the form of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand ahead of the main event in England.

That’s partly because the proximity of the World Cup will ensure Super Rugby coaches face pressure, direct or unspoken, to carefully manage the workload of top players.

Each of New Zealand’s Super Rugby club has agreed, after meeting with fitness of medical staff from the national set up, to rest their All Black players for at least two weeks of the 18-week regular season.

So in this weekend’s opening round, for example, the Auckland-based Blues will rest hooker Keven Mealamu and lock Patrick Tuipulotu against the Hamilton-based Chiefs — the early title favorites — who will rest All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden, flanker Liam Messam and World Rugby Player of the Year Brodie Retallick.

For the seven-time champion Crusaders, All Blacks No. 8 Kieran Read and lock Sam Whitelock won’t be available until the fifth round.

The South African Rugby Union has reached agreement with its Super Rugby teams that the workload of Springbok players will be carefully managed ahead of the World Cup.

“It’s wonderful to know we have the support and co-operation of the franchises as the Springboks prepare for the Rugby World Cup,” SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said. “It’s a massive year for rugby and we’re confident that our franchises can set the tone for the 2015 season by being competitive from the word go as the players aim to impress the national selectors to make it to the Rugby World Cup.”

The pressure to manage the workloads of the most elite players may impinge most heavily in Australia on the New South Wales Waratahs, who are trying to defend the Super Rugby title for the first time.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is in the unique position of also being Australia’s national coach and having to manage the interests of both teams as Super Rugby and World Cup ambitions overlap.

The Waratahs have provided a large number of players to recent Wallabies teams and Cheika faces the need to best utilize those players while also serving the Sydney-based club’s ambition to retain its title.

“I’ve got to make sure I’m extremely disciplined,” Cheika said. “When I’m at Waratahs, physically here, I’m not doing anything to do with the Wallabies. And when I’m away from here I’m able to do things with the Wallabies.

“I will have a physical divide, because if you cross those things over you’ll only get muddled.”

There is one certainty and that is that the World Cup will loom heavily over the Super Rugby season, ensuring the form of players will be more closely scrutinized even if the form of teams is less relevant.

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