And now, last, but… what about the Australian SupeRugby Conference? Here’s Utnapistm with his predictions of how the four Oz (and one Japanese) teams will fare.
Super Rugby 2019 Australian Conference Preview
How it Works
Super Rugby 2019 is a remarkably simple format – 15 teams, divided into four conferences. Each team plays the other four in their conference (home and away) plus an additional four matches against teams from each of the other conferences.
The three conference winners will each qualify for the play offs automatically and be awarded a home QF. A further five teams qualify as “wildcards” with the best of them getting the last home QF spot. Wildcard places are given to the five teams, other than the conference winners, who finish highest on the overall league or log position (regardless of conference).
It is fair to say that, in recent times, the Australian teams have not had a great deal of success in SuperRugby, with the Kiwi teams in particular (even the Blues) proving troublesome opponents. Last season saw some improved performances, but can they keep it going or will they remain the Welsh regions of the South?.
Best performance: Champions (2011, 1995, 1994)
Last season: 4th in Australian Conference, 13th on the log
Coach: Brad Thorne
Captain: Samu Kerevi
Notable joiners: Sefa Naivalu, Matt McGahan, Bryce Hegarty
Notable leavers: Izaia Perese, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, James Slipper, Kane Douglas, Andrew Ready, George Smith
Nickname: The Stern Koalas
Mascot: A Stern Koala
Out-of-conference fixtures: Highlanders (A), Crusaders (H), Stormers (H), Bulls (A), Sharks (A), Chiefs (A), Jaguares (H), Blues (H)
It has been a rough few years for the Reds. A lack of squad quality, some off-field issues and not much coherence on the field. Brad Thorne took a back to basics approach last year and, whilst the team struggled against the big boys, they were well-drilled and played with heart.
This year sees a big-name powerful pack, and some very talented backs (though the loss of next big thing Perese to league is a big setback) but, as with all Aussie teams, there are questions over the halves, 10 in particular. McGahan, a kiwi from the Japanese league and Hamish Stewart will share the 10 jersey, with the steady Tate McDermott and new boy Sorovi in 9. Let’s see what they offer.
Defence was poor last year, despite commitment, and the back row need to step up with no more George Smith to patch the gaps. That said, Thorne is making all the right moves, and the squad looks young, hungry and with the right attitude. A tough fixture list means they are unlikely to improve much log-wise, but at least they should be more competitive.
Key players: Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Samu Kerevi, Scott Higginbotham
Ones to watch: exciting 9 Moses Sorovi, classy 13 Jordan Petaia
Prospects: 3rd in the Aussie conference, lower third of the log
Kearnsy says: All the time, referee!
‘Badge says: As tough as woodpecker’s lips!
Best performance: Champions (2014)
Last season: Won Australian Conference, Lost in SF to Lions
Coach: Darryl Gibson
Captain: Michael Hooper
Notable joiners: Adam Ashley-Cooper, LeRoux Roets, Karmichael Hunt
Notable leavers: Paddy Ryan, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Andrew Kellaway
Nickname: The ‘Tah-Rexes
Mascot: A red flower and/or Tah-Man
Out-of-conference fixtures: Hurricanes (H), Crusaders (H), Blues (A), Sharks (H), Bulls (A), Lions (A) Jaguares (H); Highlanders (A)
The flag–bearers of Australian rugby again look the best equipped to challenge for honors. A relatively settled squad, with no notable weaknesses personnel-wise in any area. The squad is chock full of Wallabies. As with all Aussie teams, there are questions over 9 and 10, but the ‘Tahs do have the current Wallaby 10 and the promising Jake Gordon at 9. Kicking is going to have to improve, as is defense, but the key to the ‘Tahs going one better than last year is consistency. The set piece will go well and there are weapons galore in the backs, but they need to play with drive and desire (and play as a team) to make the most of their array of talent.
Get it mentally right and the game plan properly embedded, and they will be a force to be reckoned with. The window for Gibson, and many star players, may be closing soon, so this year or a re-think (no pressure).
Key players: Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Jack Dempsey, Kurtley Beale, Sekope Kepu
Ones to watch: new lock Roets is a behemoth on whom tight-five dominance may depend; “Special-K” and AAC return with a lot of question marks next to their names (not exactly up and coming, I know)
Prospects: 1st in the Aussie conference, a home QF and maybe more. Top end of the log
Kearnsy says: Let it go, ref!
‘Badge says: The boys are on it like seagulls at a tip!”
Best performance: Champions (2001, 2004)
Last season: 3rd in Australian Conference, 10th on the log
Coach: Dan McKellar
Captain: Christian Lealiifano
Notable joiners: James Slipper, Pete Samu
Notable leavers: Isa Naisarani, Ben Alexander, Kyle Godwin
Nickname: The Brumble-bees
Mascot: Rod Kafer
Out-of-conference fixtures: Chiefs (H), Hurricanes (A), Crusaders (A), Lions (H), Stormers (A), Jaguares (A), Blues (H), Bulls (H)
Australia’s most successful outfit historically are in the doldrums. Poor crowds, mediocre performances and an inability to hold on to big players. On the plus side, they will be tough, committed and no-one will fancy a trip to Canberra. That said, the quality of the days of Gregan, Larkham, Roff, Finegan et al isn’t there. Pocock can’t do it all himself.
As with the other Aussie teams, there are big questions over 9 & 10, with big hopes over Lealiifano’s experience and also for Powell to step-up. Elsewhere, the front 5 looks a bit light on quality and the back 3 inexperienced. Generally a forward oriented team, so the latter shouldn’t matter. The former will. Defence will be solid but they don’t have the attack to trouble the best
Key players: David Pockock, Tevita Kuridrani, Scott Sio
Ones to watch: Tom Banks. Many would like to see him in the Green and Gold
Prospects: 4th in the Aussie conference. Lower end of the log
Kearnsy says: I love a good scrum, me.
‘Badge says: Up the guts then get it wide. Meat off the bone.
Best performance: 9th (2018)
Last season: 2nd in Australian Conference, 9th on the log
Coach: Dave Wessels
Captain: Dane Haylett-Petty
Notable joiners: QUADE COOPER, Matt Toomua, Isa Naisarani,
Notable leavers: Amanaki Mafi, Geoff Parling, Laurie Weeks, Colby Fainga’a, Sefa Naivalu, Lopeti Timani
Nickname: Harold Bishop’s Spicy Spuds
Mascot: Johnny Reb
Out-of-conference fixtures: Highlanders (H), Lions (A), Sharks (A), Stormers (H), Hurricanes (A), Bulls (H), Crusaders (A), Chiefs (H)
A star-studded roster on paper, and a highly rated coach. Can they bring it all together and make the finals for the first time? As with the other Aussie teams, there are big questions over 9 and 10, they’ve signed Quade, and he links with old-time partner Genia.
The front row is a potential weakness, but its SuperRugby, so that probably won’t matter. Defense will need a lot of work, and fitting the backline into a coherent ensemble won’t happen overnight. Toomua recently started at 10 for the Wallabies, but will surely play 12? So what happens to Hodge?
Dave Wessels is a highly rated coach though, and the artillery is there. High hopes for this year. Last year was their best ever season, and the meld of Force grit and Melbourne razzle-dazzle looks like it just might work.
Key players: Quade Cooper, Adam Coleman, Will Genia, Isa Naisarani, Jordan Uelese, Dane Haylett-Perry
Ones to watch: Cambell Magnay, Angus Cottrell
Prospects: 2nd in the Aussie conference. Top third of log, sneaking a wildcard slot
Kearnsy says: Fiddle-a-dee, fiddle-a-dee, potato
‘Badge says: Last year, all sizzle and no steak. This year they’ll be off like a bride’s nightie
Best performance: 17th (2017*) *18 team comp
Last season: 5th in Australian Conference, last place on the log
Coach: Tony Brown
Captain: Yutaka Nagare
Notable joiners: Rene Ranger, Dan Pryor, Phil Burleigh, Jamie Booth, Sean McMahon (injured for the season)
Notable leavers: Nil
Nickname: The Singapore Slings
Mascot: A Sun-Wolf
Out-of-conference fixtures: Sharks (H), Chiefs (A), Blues (A), Lions (H), Hurricanes (H), Highlanders (H), Stormers (A), Jaguares (H)
The rugby compass points east this year. The Sunwolves have spent heavily, on a lot of (mainly Kiwi) imports to bolster their lineup as they join the Aussie conference.
A lot will depend upon how the experienced Tony Brown combines the parts into a team, but they will certainly play with plenty of verve. If they can get some ball, the pace and handling of backs and forwards alike will cause problems. Their Achilles heels have been defense and set-piece and, indeed, the front 5 looks a bit meh. Signs are that the team will improve and, though they won’t trouble many teams, they will be much better than in years past.
That said, the question marks are still there over the inclusion of the Japan-based team and the results this season are unlikely to answer many of them. A relatively benign draw notwithstanding, there aren’t many wins likely
Key players: Michael Leitch, Lomano Lemeki, Hendrick Tui, Hayden Parker,
Ones to watch: Captain Yutaka Nagare hasn’t had much game time at 9. Let’s see what he’s got!
Prospects: 5th in the Aussie conference. Lower end of the log
Kearnsy says: Offside, ref!
‘Badge says: They’re going to go off like a bag of cats
Many thanks to Utnapistm for the excellent ligneous logging of the Aussie Conference.
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