Lions once again SA's best Super Rugby bet - bookies
Super Rugby has had a contraction in 2018, reverting back to the 15-team, three-conference format after two years of confusing and downright unwatchable at times Super 18 action in 2016 and 2017.
Of the SA teams, the Lions adapted best to the Super 18 structure, reaching the final in both years, but falling short at the final hurdle on each occasion (2016 - lost to the Hurricanes 20-3; 2017 - lost to the Crusaders 25-17).
Gone are the Cheetahs, Kings and Force and for the foreseeable future at least, we have a more streamlined format, albeit far from perfect for the purists.
Stormers fans will be quick to point out that they were tops in the SA Conference the last time the tournament was 15-teams strong in 2015 (as well as 2011 and 2012), while the Sharks dominated locally back in 2014.
The Bulls led the way in 2013 and remain the only SA side to have lifted the Super Rugby trophy in any format (2007, 2009, 2010).
Leading SA bookies BET.co.za suggest everyone will be chasing the 8-time champion Crusaders (7/2) once again this year, with the Hurricanes (19/5) a close second.
The Lions are next best at 11/2, followed by the other three New Zealand teams, the Chiefs (7/1), Highlanders (31/4) and Blues (14/1).
The Brumbies (31/2) are best of the beleaguered Australian bunch, while the Stormers can be backed at 18/1.
The Sharks (particularly attractive 25/1 odds) and Bulls 28/1 are considered outsiders for the title.
The Stormers will host the Jaguares in the first match of this year's tournament at Newlands on Saturday, February 17 at 15:05, followed shortly thereafter by the only other clash in Week 1, the big Lions v Sharks showdown at Ellis Park at 17:15.