As part of SA Rugby magazine’s in-depth Super Rugby preview edition, DARRYN POLLOCK brings you up to speed with the Australian sides in the competition.
While the Brumbies have not been the title-chasing force they were in the early 2000s, they have consistently been near the top of the Australian conference. This has often put them in contention for playoff rugby, albeit based largely on the convoluted system of the expanded Super Rugby era.
Still, the Brumbies have stuck rigorously to their traditional strengths over the years: bruising forwards and backs who are happy to run straight and hard. This have always given them the kind of edge most teams are not used to in an Australian side. This year it will probably be more of the same. The Brumbies should be able to get into their stride nicely with their opening three matches to be hosted in Canberra, always a difficult venue to visit. They will face the Reds, Rebels and Highlanders first up.
They then travel around the Antipodes before going on their major overseas tour, with a game in Cape Town in round 10. It will be key for the Brumbies to accumulate as many points at home as they can, as a number of big losses could make for a disrupted campaign.
The team from the Capital Territories will be without five key Wallabies this season. That includes their former starting second row, who have all left together.
The Rebels, now into their 10th year of Super Rugby and having survived the cull that dropped the Western Force out of the competition, will know they need to start pushing on.
They have always struggled but are known to throw out a surprising result or two – this was evident in 2018 when they managed their best finish of ninth. Other than that strong season, the Rebels have mostly languished in the bottom third of Super Rugby, picking up the wooden spoon in 2017 with only nine points from 15 games.
Last season, the Melbourne-based side showed some promise, but ultimately slipped to an 11th-place finish.
The Rebels kick off 2020 with two away games, but those are against the outgoing Sunwolves and inconsistent Brumbies, before welcoming the Waratahs and Sharks at home. They will also benefit from only having to make the long trip to South Africa in round 8, as they face off against the Stormers and then on to the Jaguares.
If the Rebels want to improve upon their best-placed ninth position, they are going to have to become more consistent.
They have a solid and well-known South African coaching contingent, but they need the buy-in from the players to be a force in Australia and the rest of the competition.
The Reds have been one of the more erratic teams of the Super Rugby era. Famously, for Bulls fans, the Brisbane-based side were the whipping boys in 2007 as they succumbed to a 92-3 thrashing, sending the Bulls into the semi-finals, and eventually to the trophy.
However, four short years later, the Reds were lifting the trophy after beating the mighty Crusaders at home.
It would be fair to say the Reds are now near the bottom of their cycle, having not placed better than 13th since 2014. Indeed, the Reds have struggled to build momentum, with a bevy of new and exciting youngsters getting their starts but not really kicking on. Coupled with that, there have been controversies in Queensland, such as Karmichael Hunt being charged with possession of cocaine, as well as the rather public falling-out between Reds stalwart Quade Cooper and the new coach, former All Blacks hardman Brad Thorn.
The Reds face a tough start to the season, not seeing Suncorp Stadium until their fourth game of the competition, against the Sunwolves. They begin on the road, in Canberra, before jetting off to Johannesburg and then on to Argentina. The Sunwolves game will have the lethargy of travel clinging to it, so perhaps the following week, against the Sharks, will be when their season settles.
But that precedes a trip to Christchurch the next week to take on the defending champion Crusaders.
Arguably Australia’s best Super Rugby side, the Sydney-based Waratahs have had some up-and-down seasons of late. The Tahs peaked in 2014, clinching the trophy in a thrilling final against the Crusaders, but their form has fluctuated dramatically.
The Waratahs are now at one of their lower ebbs, having come in a rather disappointing 12th position in 2019 after placing third the year before. They boast one of the stronger sides on paper and have the history and culture to perform well, but they’ve lacked fire in recent times.
If they are to be a success again in the Australian setting, and the overall standings, they will need to shine from the first game. However, they travel to the defending champions Crusaders in round 1, before facing another New Zealand threat in Sydney: the Blues.
Their schedule – other than the opening fixtures – is reasonably well balanced for the Waratahs, and they will only head to South Africa in round 9 to face the Stormers and Sharks on the coast, and don’t have to travel on to Argentina like all the other Aussie sides.
The Waratahs have one of the more experienced squads of the Australian franchises with Wallabies stalwarts Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Bernard Foley and Sekope Kepu all lining up.