Recent years of Super Rugby have been a tough watch for Australian rugby fans and 2020 shows little promise to improve the situation. Fear not though, my frustrated Australian friends, with mass exodus means opportunity for new. Those unclaimed jerseys may just find a long term home with the next generation! Super Rugby is only days away now, so let’s check out the Australian Conference.
BRUMBIES – 2019 1st us Aus – Knocked out Semi Finalist
If you are the ultimate optimist about Australian rugby, then the standout team from 2019 would be have been the Brumbies. There’s been little to get excited for recently, but a side making the semi finals must be right up there and lets be fair on them, playing away to the back slapping, tunnel jumping, choir singing, pyro blasting, pumped up Jaguares would have been too much for any side in Super Rugby that night. Moving into 2020 can we expect more of the risk avoiding, strangle teams to death by set piece Brumbies? With Dan McKellar and the wizard Laurie Fisher still about, I expect so.
I have two major areas of concern for this Brumbies side and no, one of them isn’t that they are Australian…. Maybe there should be three. The second row is a critical part of the pack, the engine room, where this team has been served very well by the departing Rory Arnold and Sam Carter in the past. That leaves a big hole in such an important part of the Brumbies set piece world domination plan. If it fails at the “win the lineout” stage, they are in a spot of bother. Cue some good recruitment and welcome back Cadeyrn Neville to Australia. The former Red and Rebel will join some raising stock locks like Murray Douglas and Blake Enever. David Pocock has free up some money and space in the changing rooms since leaving for the cash in Japan, after a season of lost promises for the Brumbies in 2019. The addition of Will Miller from the Waratahs is worth more value than a broken Pocock and if your a Brumbies fan, you should be happy. What they lost, was replaced well and this is a pack which could deliver their backline some tasty sweet front foot ball, especially against rival Australian sides, if they decide to release it.
Let’s talk about the big issue here. This is not a Brumbies problem, this is an Australia problem. It’s the pivotal number ten jumper. Christian Lealiifano was the best bandage a gushing wound could get, but we all knew it was only short term. A lot of time and resources were spent on Wharenui Hawera, whos results must go down as disappointing and he joins Lealiifano in Japan. So step up Bayley Kuenzle, Noah Lolesio and Reesjan Pasitoa… please one of you must step up. This can make or break a career for kids just cracking twenty. It’s also make or break for the future of Australia’s tens, but boy they need one to swing their way. Good luck young chaps. Good luck needs to go to Joe Powell and a guy like Irae Simone on either side to guide them out of the jungle every weekend. There is a couple of other big losses for the Brumbies, Henry Speight is off the the Reds and after looking like the only one capable of a line break, Chance Peni extends the list going to Japan. Another former NRL player, Solomone Kata joins the outside backs but questions remain if they will be required for anything but defending. So much wasted talent like Tom Banks, Toni Pulu and Tevita Kuridrani could do so much more with some ball in hand
Predicted Finish – 1st
Tom Banks, Issak Fines, Mack Hansen, Len Ikitau, Solomone Kata, Bayley Kuenzle, Tevita Kuridrani, Noah Lolesio, Ryan Lonergan, Andy Muirhead, Reesjan Pasitoa, Guy Porter, Joe Powell, Toni Pulu, Irae Simone, Tom Wright
Allan Alaalatoa, Jahrome Brown, Tom Cusack, Murray Douglas, Blake Enever, Folau Fainga’a, Nick Frost, Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, Harrison Lloyd, Lachlan Lonergan, Lachlan McCaffrey, Connal McInerney, Will Miller, Cadeyrn Neville, Tom Ross, Pete Samu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Rob Valetini, Shambeckler Vui
REBELS – 2019 2nd in Aus – Failed to make Playoffs
The Rebels are full of confidence heading into the 2020 Super Rugby season and, wait… again? That’s right, it’s a new year, a new decade and a new season but the Rebels are coming at us all with the same old cliche promises since they stole all the players from the Force. I’m starting to lose the hope that the Rebels will ever deliver. Sure, they are jumping up and down about having fantastic player retention and a settled squad, but it hardly helped last season?
The Rebels fibs end there though, losing only a couple of players they would have prefered to keep. Ben Daley has called time on his career and Tetera Faulkner has jumped to the Waratahs, which leaves a rather unproven propping unit behind. Ruan Smith is a superb pick up, a consistent, solid Super level squad player with a pile of experience, just what’s needed. Robbie Abel and Hugh Roach are out but Anaru Rangi and Jordan Uelese (when fit) have that number two locked down. Gideon Koegelenberg joins from his time at Zebre and the Sharks to replace Adam Coleman, whos loss continues to deplete the locking stocks and we look at a Rebels tight five who will struggle against its rivals. They have got a good look about their backrow however. Michael Wells joins from the Waratahs and put him with Richard Hardwick, Angus Cottrell, Rob Leota and the biggest one, Isi Naisarani, things start to look better.
As you may have gathered, I expect these Rebels to use their star studded backline if they can. We have known about the Will Genia and Quade Cooper loss since last season but the Rebels have clean swept their scrum halves. Newcomers Ryan Louwrens (Japan), James Tuttle (Reds) and Fijian Frank Lomani will run the nine, with Andrew Deegan from the Force joining Matt Toomua outside them. Former Waratahs, Northampton Saints and Counties player Andrew Kellaway rejoins Super Rugby again after a couple of years away. The big one the Rebels will be annoyed to lose, and so close to the start of the season too, is Jack Maddocks, who has run away like a naughty child to the Waratahs. But the core survives, Tom English, Reece Hodge, Billy Meakes and two big names, Marika Koroibete and Dane Haylett-Petty, will all be at the forefront of anything the Rebels side achieves. If you believe what they are saying, playoffs should be inbound for the Melbourne franchise. Just try not to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen again……
Predicted Finish – 3rd
Andrew Deegan, Tom English, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Frank Lomani, Ryan Louwrens, Campbell Magnay, Bill Meakes, Harry Potter, Matt Toomua, Semisi Tupou, James Tuttle
Jermaine Ainsley, Angus Cottrell, Cabous Eloff, Mees Erasmus, Pone Fa’amausili, Matt Gibbon, Esei Ha’angana, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Trevor Hosea, Luke Jones, Josh Kemeny, Boyd Killingworth, Gideon Koegelenberg, Rob Leota, Declan Moore, Isi Naisarani, Cameron Orr, Matt Philip, Anaru Rangi, Fereti Sa’aga, Ruan Smith, Jordan Uelese, Michael Wells, Brad Wilkin
REDS – 2019 4th in Aus – Failed to make Playoffs
Big bad Brad Thorn is back again for another tilt at trying to fix his beloved Reds side. If your going to give an overall impression on the Australian sides transfers so far, you have to say, they have kept hold of the majority of their talent…. Or is it just because no one else wants them? I’ll leave that up to you. Brad Thorn has had a plan and ideas smashing through his mind since he stepped foot in the Reds camp. Hes stamped his authority all over this team and no matter who you are, Quade, if your not wanted then that’s it!
What I really like to see in this Reds side is the amount of players signed from Brisbane City with six of the seven forward recruits from the Queensland NRC side. Thorn has proven his ability to get the best out of his young forwards so expect some new Super Rugby quality players in the Reds this season. There’s some big boots to fill too, squad man Ruan Smith, powerman Caleb Timu and of course the experience talisman Scott Higginbotham are all on their way out. The Reds pain from last season should see some reward for them this year however. The continued development of guys who are already young internationals like Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Liam Wright will hold the weight of this team on their shoulders.
In the fancy pants backline, the Reds have lost arguably the best performing Australian player in Super Rugby last season. Samu Kerevi is now demolishing defences in Japan and will leave a mammoth hole in quality and size. Others to join him in the departures lounge are James Tuttle (Rebels), Matt McGahan (Japan), Duncan Paia’aua (Toulon), Sefa Naivalu (Stade Francais) and Aidan Toua (Japan). Speed and power was needed for the Reds and what they picked up is just that, Henry Speight from the Brumbies. A quality finisher who should enjoy getting a bit more ball this season. Considered to be their marquee signing, James O’Connor is back in Australian Super Rugby. He’s been touted to be everything from the golden boy to a waste of talent. One thing never argued is his ability to play rugby and the Reds will need every trick he has. I do like what the Reds have hung on to for this season, Tate McDermott, Moses Sorovi, Isaac Lucas, Jock Campbell and the new “O’Connor-esque” sensation Jordan Petaia. This team looks exciting, dangerous and will only get better the more it plays together. Their first match will be a real test of where they are. Brumbies, away.
Predicted Finish – 2nd
Jock Campbell, Filipo Daugunu, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Carter Gordon, Jack Hardy, Bryce Hegarty, Isaac Lucas, Scott Malolua, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Henry Speight, Moses Sorovi, Hamish Stewart
Angus Blyth, Sean Farrell, David Feao, Feao Fotuaika, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Tom Kibble, Alex Mafi, Fraser McReight, Josh Nasser, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Scott-Young, JP Smith, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Taniela Tupou, Seru Uru, Harry Wilson, Michael Wood, Liam Wright
WARATAHS – 2019 3rd in Aust – Failed to make Playoffs
The champion of the headless chickens (Daryl Gibson) has been sent to the hypothetical abattoir after another season of abysmal displays from the Waratahs and since replaced by New Zealand coach Rob Penney. For a couple of years now we have questioned where the issues lie for such a quality side on paper like the Waratahs, now maybe we will really find out. This side has been aging horribly over the last couple of seasons and a mass exodus was always on the cards. With big name players stocks dropping so quickly after failure on failure, most have jumped at the chance to cash in before all the zeros disappeared.
The pack has lost a wealth of experience with the loss of Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu and Tatafu Polota-Nau from the front row. Tetera Faulkner has linked up from the Rebels with five other new front rowers dragged in from any and every NRC side with some available. I have many concerns with what is left, especially behind the front row. Ned Hanigan, Jed Holloway and Jack Dempsey were often in the mists of the confusing style of play that baffled even the strongest Waratahs fans. I can see Penney will be reluctant to go away from those more experienced players unless his hand is forced but from the previous efforts in this shirt, every position should be up for grabs.
The pairing that led the Waratahs backline for so long has finally broken apart. Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley have gone their separate ways, much to my relief. Foley had become the epitome of inconsistency, less than four years after reveling in his “iceman” nickname at the Rugby World Cup 2015. Mack Mason was handed a couple of games late last season in his place and looks like the favourite to start the season in the ten jumper. If his nervy showings last season are anything to go by, we may quickly see just what Will Harrison and Jack Wash are capable of there too. Adam Ashley-Cooper has finally had enough of leaving the rest home during weekends and the Folau….. Oh I’m just not going down that road. Curtis Rona will be a man missed this season after an impressive showing during 2019. A very difficult player to tackle and showed good pace in open spaces, for me, he was the only shining light in a very dull season for the ‘Tahs. If anything should worry the other sides in Australia, it’s the audacity shown by the Waratahs to steal Jack Maddocks away from the Rebels at such a late stage of the build up that it reeks of something more to this situation. Either way, he’s a massive addition for the NSW side and will add a good amount of energy and line breaking ability that has lacked in the past.
Predicted Finish – 4th
Kurtley Beale, Cam Clark, Ben Donaldson, Lalakai Foketi, Jake Gordon, Will Harrison, Karmichael Hunt, Jack Maddocks, Mack Mason, Michael McDonald, Tepai Moeroa, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Alex Newsome, James Ramm, Triston Reilly, Henry Robertson, Mitch Short, Jack Walsh, Joey Walton
Robbie Abel, Angus Bell, Darcy Breen, Joe Cotton, Jack Dempsey, Max Douglas, Tetera Faulkner, Damien Fitzpatrick, Charlie Gamble, Ned Hanigan, Will Harris, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Tom Horton, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Rory O’Connor, Tom Robertson, Rob Simmons, Hugh Sinclair, Tom Staniforth, Lachlan Swinton, Pat Tafa, Chris Talakai, Tiaan Tauakipulu, Carlo Tizzano, Andrew Tuala, Cody Walker, Jeremy Williams
SUNWOLVES – 2019 5th in Aust – Failed to make Playoffs
Ok, final side to be playing in the Australia conference this season and for the final time as well. Whilst I could just talk about the WHOLE new squad they have put together, with more joining just days from the start of the season, I think I’ll kick off with how it all went wrong for the Sunwolves first.
It’s not rocket science here for the Japanese franchise and it was made all the more abundantly clear during the Rugby World Cup in 2019 as well. Japan has easily enough talent to be competitive at Super Rugby level. I instantly compare them to how the Jaguares have worked their side into the competition over the last few years and how some idiots have tried to criticize them for picking an international Argentinian side. That my friends, is clever by the Jaguares. They have one team in Argentina and who are their best players? The international squad, simple. So, back to the Sunwolves, and lets tally up how many are Japanese players. Fourteen. How many with international experience? TWO from 38 players. (at the time of writing). That’s why the Sunwolves do not perform to the standard expected. But why don’t they value the opportunity of playing in Super Rugby? Yes develop your own competition, but make all levels stepping stones. Sorry Sunwolves, I love your team, but I find the processes you have employed so frustrating.
About this team though, let’s have a look at who they have picked up and try and guess how many weeks it will take them to firstly understand each others accents, and secondly each others names. Oh and then learn how to play rugby together too! Hmm so you think the season will be over by then also….? They have picked up some quality individuals this season, Chris Eves (Hurricanes), Conraad van Vuuren (Bulls) and Leni Apisai (Blues) will boast a Super Rugby level front row. Lock Tom Rowe has a proud achievement of being one of very few players to be retained in successive Sunwolves season, well done Tom. Mitch Jacobson (Chiefs), Brendon O’Connor (Blues) and Jake Schatz (Formally Reds/Rebels) are very good backrow options in their own right, but with no continuity between them, being from all over the globe, how will they go as a team?
The backs have a real South African flavour to it. Rudy Paige and Garth April are no strangers to this level and should be happy in a territory based game plan, but will we see that from new coach Naoya Okuba? JJ Engelbrecht (Stormers) continues a trend of favoured backs for the Sunwolves but what I really want to see from this team is if Ben Te’o really knows what he’s signed up for? This squad really has journeyman mercenary written all over and I struggle to see what many players will gain from this except a one year contract in Super Rugby to put on the CV. A couple of Australians round out the notable names with James Dargaville and Jordan Jackson-Hope from the Brumbies.
I wish I could be more positive about this Sunwolves side but I think this tether with them is starting to grow a little thin. Maybe I am beginning to understand what SANZAAR thought last year. It’s a wasted chance for Japan, just imagine how exciting it would have been if these Sunwolves were made up with at least 60-70% of the Brave Blossoms Rugby World Cup squad this season. That’s the kind of action I want to see for their fantastic supporters in Super Rugby!
Predicted Finish – 5th
Garth April, James Dargaville, JJ Engelbrecht, Siosaia Fifita, Alex Horan, Burua Inoke, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Takahiro Kimura, Hiroki Kumoyama, Keisuke Moriya, Shogo Nakano, Rudy Paige, Naoto Saito, Tautalatasi Tasi, Ben Te’o
Jarred Adams, Chang Ho Ahn, Leni Apisai, Sione Asi, Jaba Bregvadze, Kaku Bunkei, Justin Downey, Chris Eves, Mamoru Harada, Ryuga Hashimoto, Onehunga Havili, Ben Hyne, Mitch Jacobson, Mateaki Kafatolu, Efi Ma’afu, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Brendon O’Connor, Tom Rowe, Jake Schatz, Michael Stolberg, Corey Thomas, Tevita Tupou, Conraad van Vuuren, Hencus van Wyk, Kotaro Yatabe
That is my thoughts on the five teams in the Australian conference for Super Rugby in 2020. What are your thoughts about these sides? Who is your champion? Standout players? Or disappointments? Let me know in the comments and as always, thanks for stopping by, Behind The Posts.