WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA: Super Rugby has officially kicked off and the only conference RWU has not previewed is the one for the Land of Oz. This conference is often viewed as the weakest of the 3 conferences. This year that is only partly correct. The fourth and fifth seeds will be a joke but the there will be 3 teams battling for the top seed and the hoping to win a wild card spot.
With all the talk of weak conference, lets not forget that the runners-up in last year’s final’s came from this conference. Lets look at the predictions for the forgotten conference in Super Rugby.
1. Queensland Reds: Yes, Ewen Mckenzie has left Brisbane and now coaches the Wallabies. However, the Red province produces the vast majority of players that end up playing for other sides in the conference so they are deep. The loss a Jono Lance and Digby Ioane is eased by the emergence of Aidan Toua, Lachie Turner and the healthy return of Chris Feauai-Sautia. The list goes on and on. They also have the irrepressible Quade Cooper, who proved on the 2013 End of the Year tour that he has improved his defence and matured as a player. Combine Quade with is long standing partner-in-crime Will Genia and the two will be more than a handful in attack. Not to mention a sporting cast of Ben Tapuai plus a pack lead by James Horwill, Liam Gill and Jake Schatz. Head Coach Richard Graham will get a chance to coach and emerge out of Mckenzie’s shadow. Barring a major injury crisis, the conference is their’s for the taking.
2. NSW Waratahs: Coach Michael Cheika is in his second year and judging by his history it is when the magic really kicks in. He will have a talent in Bernad Foley to play fly-half with the option of Kurtley Beale to play there or inside centre or even fullback when the all-world fullback Israel Folau needs a break. He still has Mr. Consistant, in Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper to finish the the backline. In the forwards he has the much anticipated giant lock Will Skelton available as well as eightman Wycliff Palu, flanker Michael Hooper and prop Paddy Ryan. The stability and Cheika’s taskmaster style will have the Tah’s competing to win it all. The are only placed second here because I don’t want to look like a homer.
3. ACT Brumbies: Whether you like him or not and most people in the ACT don’t, Jake White worked miracles in Canberra before he left in the off-season. His departure has now made one of my favorite Wallabies of all-time, Stephen Larkham, the head coach. The Brumbies have a solid back line with soon to be Wallaby Henry Speight on wing Matt Toomua at fly-half, Christian Lealifano at 12, Tevita Kuridrani at 13 and Jesse Mogg at fullback.Larkham was the backs coach so the line’s success reflected on his ability in White’s system. Problem is how will the all important forwards respond. They have players in David Pocock,Ben Mowen, Scott Fardy, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, and Scott Sio that are or will be Wallabies. However will they answer the bell for their new leader? Not yet my friends.
4. Melbourne Rebels: Once again the new boys of Australia rugby will struggle. They have the leadership of Wallaby Scott Higginbotham (who should be in James Bond movie). RWU 2014 Class member, Luke Jones will hope to add grunt in the forwards. The backs will be lead by ex-Highlander Tamati Ellison. The loss of Nic Strizaker for the early part of the season will be tough but they would have a long season regardless as they are not deep enough, full stop. Their main goal is not to finish bottom of the table.
5. Western Force: They can count on RWU favorite, Hooker Nathan Charles, doing his part in every game, win or lose. However this team will struggle to not finish bottom of the 15 team table. To have any chance of winning any game they will need big performances from Kyle Godwin at 12, Nick Cummins on wing, scrum-half Alby Mathewson, and backrowers Ben McCalman and Matt Hodgson. Considering the tests of depth, they will face over the course of the season against members of the Aus conference and out of conference sides, they just don’t have enough talent across the pitch to be actually dangerous.
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