Super Rugby 2014 Preview: Australian Conference

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BRUMBIES

Having gone all the way to the final in 2013, the air in Brumbyland seemed a rosy colour, until their World Cup winning coach suddenly called it a day and headed home to coach the opposition. There are question marks surrounding the availability of their captain, Ben Mowen, and the pilfer prince, George Smith, has returned to Japan. Talk about shaking things up.

When one stares at the Brumbies team sheet, it is the names of David Pocock and Stephen Moore that jump out. That being said, they couldn’t have asked for a better season last year and performed way above expectation with an equally unfamiliar player pit. Some of those players have gone on to become regulars in the national side, but with that comes the risk of recognition as they are now without that enigmatic element.

With Stephen Larkham being promoted from attack coach to ring leader, a lot of fireworks are being expected of the Brumbies with ball in hand. This, in my opinion, could cost the citizens of Canberra having lost the services of one of the great minds on defense. Even though Larkham inherited the team in good shape, there is always a rebuilding phase when a new coach takes the reigns.

Predicted finish on AUS Log: 3

FORCE

Talk about fishing in the neighbour’s pond. It seems that the Western Australian franchise has made it their mission to stock up on as many South Africans possible in an attempt to fill the gaping gaps in their armoury. They have contracted something like eight Saffers and if this trend continues, South Africa might actually field an undercover sixth team in the near future.

On a more positive note, three of the four scalps they claimed during the previous tournament included the Brumbies, Reds and Crusaders. One-on-one their squad actually looks like they can take on anyone, but that is on a good day and when everyone is giving their best in addition to a fortunate bounce of the ball.

All kidding aside, the Force have just not got it in them to be considered serious contenders. Granted, they will probably frighten a couple of sides along the way, give teams a bit of a wake-up call now and again, but those victories will be few and far between, getting them absolutely nowhere on the log.

Predicted finish on AUS Log: 5

REBELS

They joined the competition in 2011, and in astonishing fashion appointed their third coach in four years when Tony McGahan took over from Damien Hill at the end of 2013. All this chopping and changing of players and staff has made it nearly impossible for the Rebels to build any momentum, and 2014 will again be a rebuilding phase for the Melbourne franchise.

In an attempt to get a positive tea spirit going, they’ve axed trouble makers James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, but have unfortunately also lost a handful of their dependable players in the form of Gareth Delve, Nick Phipps and Ged Robinson. With rugby talent spread very thinly Down Under, the new coach went shopping across the Tasman and acquired the services of Tamati Ellison, Telusa Veainu and Toby Smith to bolster his squad. A couple of Waratahs (speedster Tom Kingston and bulldozing Lopeti Timani) also made the journey south to join the Rebels’ cause, stopping along the way to also pick up young Colby Faainga in Canberra.

Eightman and probable captain Scott Higginbotham is close to the best in his position, but he’ll have his work cut out to keep these guys motivated through another learning curve season. If we consider what we witnessed last year, I have no doubt that the Rebels will run the ball without regard and their playmakers will surprise the opposition regularly. However, I doubt that they’ll be able to stay uplifted throughout the long season to keep up appearances against the serious teams.

Predicted finish on AUS Log: 4

REDS

The Australian National side first disrupted the Queenslanders’ Super Rugby schedule with the Lions tour and then went on to nick their coach. Richard Graham – a guy that has assisted many a big name – has made the trek all the way from Perth to try and fill the boots of Ewen McKenzie.

As always, a lot will depend on the availability of the terrific trio – when James Horwill, Will Genia and Quade Cooper are on song, so are the Reds. Lachie Turner is literally the only new addition in Brisbane whilst they trimmed a bit of the fat through Radike Samo, Jono Lance and Digby Ioane.

I this instance I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the “new coach” mantra – these guys know each other so well by this time that they can almost coach themselves. Their nemesis, the Brumbies, have in my opinion the harder yards to make without the Magician, than they do without Link. The Reds have a hardworking pack and that in itself goes a long way towards creating space and opportunities for the backs. Any other Aussie team will need to be at their absolute best to stop them.

Predicted finish on AUS Log: 1

WARATAHS

It took Michael Cheika’s Waratahs a long time to find their rhythm, but once the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place, it was a much improved Sydney side that took to the field.

With the Tahs only winning half their matches during Cheika’s maiden season, a large number of players jumped ship including the likes of Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell and the Timani wrecking balls. They look a little thin in certain positions, but on the other hand most of the backline is so versatile that they can be swapped around at leisure. There is a lot of playmaking genius and speed among the backs and real grafters upfront.

New additions to keep an eye on are Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps from the Rebels as well as barging Bulls flanker Jacques Potgieter whom I think will really compliment the style of rugby Michael Hooper plays. Bernard Foley will now finally be able to settle in as pivot to combine with the amazingly skilful Izzy Folau – who has proven that he is in fact the real deal. The Waratahs look a well-balanced side and I’m willing to bet that they’ll have a much improved 2014.

Predicted finish on AUS Log: 2

By Jackie Smit

4 thoughts on “Super Rugby 2014 Preview: Australian Conference

  1. Fair predictions, from most punters, experts and media outlets in oz seems brumbies on top with tahs, reds, rebels then force. I think u are right, brumbies to struggle to reinvent after white. Tahs to improve and reds still having the core of their championship squad to still be competitive with the top teams.

    1. Glad that you agree Mo, and considering the weekend’s results, I think I’m right on the money. Tahs could actually make a valid effort to top the Aus log and get into the qualifiers.

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