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Super Rugby- Australian Conference Preview

Adrian: Yes, the Super Rugby season is upon us for yet another year. However, 2011 is shaping to be a season of great importance. Not only is it a Rugby World Cup year (hosted in New Zealand), but the entire Super Rugby competition has been overhauled. With a new conference system and a 5th Australian franchise, this is shaping up to be the greatest year of Super Rugby… well, ever. And we’re here to preview it all.

Matt: Yeah, this year sees more Australian games, and more local derbies….at least that’s what Fox Sports tells us.  The World Cup means that this Super Rugby season is much more important, and all the players will be trying to force their way into the World Cup squads. There is also probably the most intriguing and complicated finals system in rugby history.

Adrian: You’re not wrong. Competition is fierce for places in World Cup sides, and I’m not yet sold on the concept of the finals series. The concept I find to be very exciting though, so I’m willing to give it a go. It gives the competition some much needed freshness, in what could be a breakout year for Rugby in this region.

Matt: Alright, we’ll get on to the real business now, the Australian teams. As Adrian just mentioned, we have 5 teams this year, all with a somewhat realistic chance of progressing to the finals. At the end of each team, we’ll leave a prediction as to where we think they’ll finish in the Australian conference.

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Brumbies

Gains: Dan Palmer (Waratahs), Julian Salvi (Bath), Colby Faingaa (Brumbies Academy), Michael Hooper (Brumbies Academy), Ed Stubbs (Brumbies Academy), Nic White (Brumbies Academy) Henry Speight (Waikato).
Losses: Guy Shepherdson (Queensland Reds), Justin Harrison (retired), George Smith (Toulon), Stirling Mortlock (Melbourne Rebels), Afusipa Taumoepeau (Melbourne Rebels), Brackin Karauria-Henry (NSW Waratahs), Alfie Mafi (Western Force), Julian Huxley (Melbourne Rebels), Sitaleki Timanimi (Waratahs), John Ulugia (Waratahs).

Adrian: Considered last year to be the ‘Real Madrid’ of the competition, the Brumbies set out to have a real crack at the competition with their big off season signings. They finished up in 6th place, and were disappointing in missing out on the finals, finishing with enough wins to finish in 4th. Bonus points seemed to be the biggest problem here, proving to be a vital part of any team’s success in this competition.

Matt: They have the strike power all over the park, but it seems that they just lack that killer strike to put sides away. They underachieved last year considering their roster, and unfortunately I can’t see too much changing this year. Giteau, Elsom and Ashley-Cooper (what a great name for a Union player), will hold the key this year, and with the loss of Stirling Mortlock, I’m not sure they have the depth should injuries strike.

Adrian: More than anything else, depth is going to be key this year, with players never having experienced so much of this competition before the Internationals begin. I don’t think they’re going to be hopeless when the fringe players get a run, but I’m not thinking they’ll set the world on fire, either.

Adrian: 3rd
Matt: 4th


Melbourne Rebels

Squad: Peter Betham (Brumbies), Luke Jones (Western Force), Adam Byrnes (Queensland Reds), Richard Kingi (Queensland Reds), Alistair Campbell (Montpellier), Michael Lipman (Bath), Danny Cipriani (London Wasps), Hoani Macdonald (Newport Gwent Dragons), Sam Cordingley (Grenoble), Lachlan Mitchell (London Wasps), Tim Davidson (NSW Waratahs), Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies), Gareth Delve (Gloucester), Kevin O’Neill (Chiefs), Adam Freier (NSW Waratahs), Jarrod Saffy (rugby league – St George Illawarra), Mark Gerrard (NTT Communications), Greg Somerville (Gloucester), Nic Henderson (Western Force), Heath Tessman (NSW Waratahs), James Hilgendorf (Kobe Steel), Cooper Vuna (rugby league – Newcastle Knights), Julian Huxley (Brumbies), Laurie Weeks (Queensland Reds), Luke Rooney (Toulon), Rodney Blake (Bayonne), Tom Chamberlain (Blues), JP Du Plessis (rugby league – Sydney Roosters), Nicholas Phipps (Australia sevens), Hugh Pyle (Brumbies), Ged Robinson (Wellington Lions), Afusipa Taumoepeau (Brumbies)

Matt: Australian Rugby’s newest franchise makes their Super Rugby debut in 2011, and with an impressive roster for a starting side. Much like the Force did upon their inception, they have targeted some big name experience, and some youth, but without the same cash splashed around like the Force. Stirling Mortlock goes there trying to prove himself for the World Cup, and former English superstar Danny Cipriani comes to Australia with a reputation for women as much as his rugby.

Adrian: I’m really interested to see how the Rebels fair this season. Under experienced coach Rod Macqueen, and the aforementioned mix of youth and seasoned campaigners, there is the potential there for them to have a respectable first season. What I find most intriguing is their claims to play an unprecedented “hybrid” style of play, combining elements of rugby league and AFL. I don’t really know how that would work out… But it’ll be interesting watching none-the-less.  No one really expects new sides to dominate from the beginning, but I’m sure the players and coaching staff have their own expectations. Personally, I can’t see them making the finals, but who knows, stranger things have happened.

Matt: The coach is definitely a plus for the Rebels, but I don’t this he has the cattle this year to be successful straight away. They do have the talent to cause some upsets I think as well, and I’m interested to see how the rugby league converts do this year.

Adrian: 4th
Matt: 5th


Reds

Gains: Albert Anae (Reds Academy), Michael Harris (North Harbour, New Zealand), Guy Shepherdson (Brumbies), Liam Gill (Reds Academy/Sevens), Dom Shipperley (Reds Academy/Sevens) (Kimani Sitauti (Reds Academy/Sevens), Adam Wallace-Harrison (Kobe, Japan).
Losses: Blair Connor (Bordeaux, France), Aidan Toua (Academy contract), Dayna Edwards (released), Sean Hardman (retired), Poutasi Luafutu (Tasman, New Zealand), Brando Va’aulu (released), Charlie Fetoai (released), Adam Byrnes (Melbourne Rebels), Laurie Weeks (Melbourne Rebels), Jack Kennedy, Morgan Turunui (Dax, France), Ezra Taylor (Connacht, Ireland), Daniel Braid (Blues)

Adrian: Last year’s surprise packet, the Reds really played some very good rugby off the back of flyhalf Quade Cooper and halfback Will Genia. They wont fly under the radar this year, and have had some pretty big losses (Turunui and Braid come to mind), but I’m still backing them to make the finals and give the competition a red hot go here. Would it be going too far to say that they’re a bit of a dark horse to win the whole damn thing?

Matt: If the Reds fire, I can’t see why they can’t win it. They have probably the most exciting and unpredictable back-line in the competition, led by the wonderful halves combination mentioned above. Its also probably forgotten that they have a decent forward pack as well, including James Horwill, Saia Faingaa and new recruit (and another great rugby name) Adam Wallace-Harrison. A big chance at not only the finals, but the title.

Adrian: I don’t know if they will win the conference, but given their chance in the finals, anything can happen.

Adrian: 2nd
Matt: 2nd


Waratahs

Gains: Ryan Cross (Force), Pat O’Connor (Northland, NZ), Afa Pakalani (Auckland, NZ), Pat McCutcheon
Losses: Adam Freier (Rebels), Dan Palmer (Brumbies), Will Caldwell

Matt: The premier Australian team in 2010, the Waratahs impressed last season to earn a spot in the semis on the back of some great team performances. Their back three, Kurtley Beale, Drew Mitchell and Lachlan Turner, caused problems for all teams, and whilst their halves were unstable at times, if injuries are nice to them in the forwards, they will again be in the race. Wycliff Palu is back after an extended stint on the sidelines, and could make a big difference for the Tahs in 2011.

Adrian: I really have a good feeling about the ‘tahs this year. Beale has seemingly found himself at home in the 15 jersey, and there’s plenty of competition for spots all across the board, most notably at flyhalf and inside centre, with Berrick Barnes, Daniel Halangahu and Tom Carter all in the mix. This healthy competition can only be good for the New South Welshmen, and I can see it being highly beneficial as the season goes on.

Matt: Definitely. With Ryan Cross coming in as well, the back-line will have plenty of depth, and the new structure should help the Waratahs as they have struggled away from home in recent seasons. Hopefully a fairly stable squad will help them progress this year.

Adrian: 1st
Matt: 1st


Western Force

Gains: Gene Fairbanks (Randwick), James Stannard (Sevens), Paul Alo-Emile (Sunnybank), Willie Ripia (Hurricanes), David Smith (Hurricanes), Tevita Metuisela (Manly), Alfie Mafi (New South Wales Waratahs), Rory Sidey (New South Wales Waratahs), Phoenix Battye (Brumbies), Pat Dellit (Eastern Suburbs).
Losses: Nic Hendersen (Melbourne Rebels), Richard Stanford (Honda – Japan), Filipe Manu, Chris O’Young (Retired), Stefano Hunt (Released), Andre Pretorius (Sharks), Sam Harris (Retired), David Hill (Toshiba – Japan), Ryan Cross (New South Wales Waratahs), Josh Tatupu (Released), Joelin Rapana (Released), Haig Sare (Released), Dane Haylett-Petty (Biarritz – France), Scott Staniforth (Retired), Luke Jones (Melbourne Rebels).

Adrian: Taking over from the Reds as the competition’s Australian whipping boys, the Force disappointed many. Despite their talented roster, they failed to do much at all last season, finishing the year at 13th, one spot in front of the hopeless Lions (who, incidentally, did not win a game all season).

Matt: The loss of Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau really hurt the Force last year, and unnecessarily heaped pressure of James O’Connor to deliver. Unfortunately he holds the key for them again in 2011, and I can’t see them doing a whole lot more than 2010. The recruitment of Tevita Metuisela shows the shrewd moves by the Force, but I can’t see them being a Force despite holding O’Connor and the world’s best young flanker David Pocock.

Adrian: We have to remember as well, there’s a new coach in the form of Richard Graham. He’s no chump, and should have them playing better than last season… But I can’t see them worrying the other sides too much.

Adrian: 5th
Matt: 4th

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Adrian: That’s it for our preview of the Australian conference. For the first time in a few years, I’m genuinely excited for the start of the rugby season!

Matt: Let us know your thoughts for Super Rugby in 2011 by commenting below, emailing us at whosplayingwho@gmail.com, or visiting our Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/whosplayingwho, and be sure to stay in touch with whosplayingwho.net for all your Super Rugby news in 2011.

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