It may have been a long wait, but Super Rugby finally returns this weekend.
With the British and Irish Lions visiting Australia in June, the schedule has been slightly disrupted, so although it may be just the Australian franchises taking to the field this weekend, there is tension aplenty in the air and the mind games have started.
Each week we’ll be bringing you previews and predictions of all the games, which may or may not help you make your SuperBru picks! To join our pool, just click here.
It all starts in Melbourne on Friday morning when the Rebels take on the Force. This fixture last season produced a memorable encounter, which the Rebels edged 30-29. Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor both start in a strong backline for the Rebels, while new marquee signing Scott Higginbotham will provide some ballast up front.
The Force have had a disruptive off season both on and off the field, and so it’s a bit tricky to predict how they will do with no form guide to go on. A lot will depend on Australian internationals Salesi Ma’afu and Ben McCalman’s ability to win some ball, while in the backs the competition for places at half-back is fierce, with Sam Norton-Knight returning to Super Rugby in March to join young South African prospect Sias Ebersohn and former All Black and Hurricane Alby Mathewson.
It’s a difficult one to call, but at home the Rebels should get off to a winning start.
Prediction: Rebels by 6
The only other game sees the Brumbies welcome the Reds to Canberra on Saturday. The build-up to this one has been spicy, with Brumbies coach Jake White accusing the Reds of ‘mind games’ surrounding the injury to captain James Horwill. Whether he will actually play or not remains to be seen. However, the Reds a have a very settled squad and will welcome back Quade Cooper from the wilderness, although his halfback partner Will Genia will not return until round five. They can potentially count 14 Wallabies in their ranks, and will be a test for anyone.
The Brumbies made perhaps the signing of the off-season as they snaffled Australia captain David Pocock from the Force – he will be key to their chances. Coach White has also confirmed that Clyde Rathbone, the former Australian international who battled injuries and depression, will make his comeback against the Reds. They can also boast Wallaby internationals including the likes of Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and Pat McCabe, meaning they won’t be taken lightly.
Another very tough call between what will probably be the teams who top the Australian Conference – in which order is a little harder to predict. This early in the season, with no form guide, it is tough to look past home advantage.
Prediction: Brumbies by 5
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43