It’s going to be a busy season for Australian Super Rugby teams as they not only have to deal with arguably the most grueling club rugby competition in the world, but also fixtures against the visiting British and Irish Lions. The biggest question facing these clubs ahead of the season is whether they have the talent and stamina to succeed. Australia only placed one team in the Super Rugby playoffs last year, the Reds, and if it weren’t for home seeding as the winner of the Australian Conference, the Reds would not have had home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs (they still lost to the Sharks). Some of have questioned whether Australian rugby has the player pool to field five teams in Super Rugby and whether spreading out the talent benefits the clubs and the Wallabies. With a strong season those questions could be put to rest, but that all depends on how the teams perform on the pitch.
Reds (First round playoffs, sixth overall, first in Australian Conference)-
The Reds, despite winning the competition in 2011, only made it to the playoffs after earning a bonus point win over the Waratahs while the Brumbies shockingly lost to the Blues. The subsequently lost to the Sharks at home in the first round. The Reds will be without their best player, Will Genia, for the first several rounds of the competition. That could be a blow that puts them in a hole early that they can’t get out of. The team also lost Scott Higginbotham to the Rebels. One of the other questions surrounding the team is whether Quade Cooper is fully invested in being with the team or whether he still has his head elsewhere, like Boxing or Rugby League. Still, the Reds certainly have the talent to win the Conference once again, it’s up to them to put it all together like they did in 2011.
Brumbies (No playoffs, seventh overall, second in Australian Conference)-
The Brumbies were extremely disappointed to miss out on the playoffs last year and the Australian title, and will be looking to avenge that disappointment this year, beginning with the Reds on Friday. The team returns the majority of their core from last season and have added David Pocock from the Western Force. There aren’t many flashy names on the Brumbies, with the exception of Stephen Moore and Pat McCabe, but Jake White has his players playing with cohesiveness. There is no reason why the Brumbies can’t repeat last year’s season and once again contend for the title. They have one of the best home field advantages of any team and will have a chip on their shoulder for almost the entire year. Also, the advantage of not having as many name internationals as other teams means they may be less effected than other teams by call-ups.
Waratahs (No Playoffs, 11th overall, third in Australian Conference)-
The Waratahs had a miserable season last year, finishing with only four wins and 12 losses. Sure the team was hit by injuries and last several players, but overall the team wasn’t up to scratch. They were dominated early and often by other teams and seemed to lack any sense of urgency. That led to Michael Foley’s dismissal and the hiring of Michael Cheika. Cheika seems to have restored a sense of belief within the team but it remains to be see whether that will result in more wins. The team has also switched out many of the players that had subpar seasons. Out are 12 players, including Rocky Elsom and Dan Vickerman (retirement). 14 players are in with the most notable being Rugby League and Australian Rules convert Israel Folau. The Waratahs struggles last year were hard to explain but with quality players like Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, and Wycliff Palu available, they should be dangerous once again. The big question is whether they can actually come together as a team.
Rebels (No playoffs, 13th overall, fourth in Australian Conference)-
2012 was better than their inaugural season when they finished last in the table, and the Rebels are hoping that 2013 will be even better. The Rebels have slowly be sure added talent with James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale, Gareth Delve, and Scott Higginbotham, who signed for this season, on the squad. The most notable exit from the team is Danny Cipriani, who returned to England. Depth is an issue for the team and in key positions quality is lacking. The Rebels might be better than they were last year but it’s hard to see them improving much overall in the standings. The quality of the New Zealand and South African teams (minus the Kings) is just too high. Additionally, the Waratahs should be better making it even more difficult.
Western Force (No playoffs, 14th overall, fifth in Australian Conference)-
It was a horrid season for the Force as they finished with only three wins and thirteen losses. The only thing separating the Force from the last place Lions, who finished with an identical record, was two losing bonus points. The team’s chances of improving this season don’t seem to be great as they haven’t added the top-notch talent they needed to while losing David Pocock and Nathan Sharpe. The Force have been trying to bring up young players and if the team is going to see success those players need to perform now. One player that could step up and play an even bigger role on the team is Brett Sheehan. One other thing that may be going in the Force’s favor is that they won’t have as many international call-ups as other teams.
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The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
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