Hollywoodbets Sports Blog: Super Rugby 2020: Australian Conference Preview

Super Rugby 2020: Australian Conference Preview

Henry Speight competes for high ball

Darry Worthington takes a look at the 2020 Australian Super Rugby Conference and tells us which of the five sides he will be backing to top the pops come the close of the pool phase. 

Last season was a massively disappointing one for Australia rugby with only the Brumbies advancing through to the play-offs. It's a new dawn in the Land Down Under, however, with New Zealander Dave Rennie taking over the national helm. Will the feel-good factor of Rennie's appointment trickle down to Franchise level or will it be another year of mediocrity from the Australian Super Rugby franchises.

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

To Win Tournament Outright
Brumbies 25/1
Rebels 40/1
Waratahs 45/1
Reds 100/1
Sunwolves 250/1

To Win Australian Conference Outright
Brumbies 16/10
Rebels 16/10
Waratahs 5/1
Reds 11/2
Sunwolves 50/1

2019 Finish: Beaten Semi-Finalists

Tom Banks of the Brumbies chases a kick against the Reds
Tom Banks will be key to the Brumbies's 2020 season hopes. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.
The Brumbies were by far and away the best Australia had to offer last season with the men from Canberra topping the Conference phase charts a whopping 14-points ahead of their closest rivals, the Melbourne Rebels.

Their best moment of the year came in last year's quarter-finals where they hammered a talented Sharks side 38-13. They were unable to repeat the feat against the Jaguares in the semi-finals, however, going down 39-7 to the Argentines in Buenos Aires.

Like all of the other sides in this Conference, the Brumbies have lost a number of experienced veterans with the likes of Christian Lealiifano, Rory Arnold, David Pocock and Henry Speight having moved on to pastures new.

They haven't really shot the lights out when it comes to off-season recruitment with lock Will Miller the only real standout signing.

Key Player: Tom Banks
The fullback will have a vital role to play in this rejigged Brumbies backline. He is a great counter-attacking threat and he also has a solid kick return on him.

2019 Finish: Pool Phase Exit

Reece Hodge's experience will be vital to a Rebels outfit who are tipped to struggle this year. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.
It's going to be a tough old year for the Rebels who have lost their vastly experienced playmaking combination of Will Genia and Quade Cooper. The two veterans were at the forefront of the Rebels' solid start to last season and as soon as they picked up injuries the Melbourne franchise started to falter.

While the Rebels did manage to finish as runners-up in the Australian Conference last year they still missed out on claiming a spot in the play-offs by two points.

Like the Brumbies, the Rebels haven't made too many standout signings with the only real exciting capture being the signature of Fijian Drua scrumhalf Frank Lomani.

Key Player: Reece Hodge
Hodge is one of the few players in this Rebels backline that is capable of sparking something from nothing. He is a very handy runner and his long-range goal-kicking will also come in handy for the Rebels.

2019 Finish: Pool Phase Exit

Jack Maddocks of the Rebels takes the ball into contact against the Cell C Sharks
Jack Maddocks might struggle to fill the boots vacated by Bernard Foley. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.
The Waratahs will be looking to vanquish the ghost of 2019 by rebuilding what once was a very competitive rugby side. 2019 was an absolute write-off for the 'Tahs with the Israel Folau saga hampering them both on and off the field.

They finished way down in 12th place on the Overall Conference standings and just pipped the Reds to third-place on the Australian Conference.

While Folau effectively ended his Waratahs career during the early salvos of last season, the Waratahs have lost a whole lot of other veterans during the off-season with Bernard Foley, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nick Phipps and Adam Ashely-Cooper all parting ways with the club alongside long-serving coach Daryll Gibson.

They haven't really replaced any of these big names with other superstars as they have mainly recruited youth players to fill the void.

Key Player: Jack Maddocks
The former Rebels player is being touted as a possible replacement for Bernard Foley at fly-half, and with the Waratahs only having rookie tens on their books this may be a good idea.

He's got a great passing game and likes to take the ball to the line.

2019 Finish: Pool Phase Exit

James O'Connor of the Sale Sharks runs at Bath Rugby defenders
The capture of O'Connor is seen as something of a coup for the Reds. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.
The Reds, despite having a rather poor 2019 campaign, will come into this season with high hopes. They have a handy old squad which should be able to better last year's fourth-place Australian Conference finish.

Coach Brad Thorn and the Reds hierarchy have done some shrewd business during the off-season bringing in some talented youngsters alongside experienced Wallabies James O'Connor and Henry Speight. The two veterans will give this Red backline a real attacking punch.

Key Player: James O'Connor
This was a really shrewd acquisition on the part of the Reds. The former 'Golden Boy' of Australian rugby was in solid touch for the national side at the World Cup. If he can bring his international form to club level then Reds will be a much more competitive side.

2019 Finish: Pool Phase Exit

Ben Teo of England competes for high ball against Italy
Ben Teo will spend the 2020 Super Rugby season with the Sunwolves. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports. 
This will be the Sunwolves final season in Super Rugby and they will be looking to bookend it with a solid showing. While they did finish the tournament in last place last season - they only managed to register two wins from 16 outings - there were mitigating factors to this with the Japanese national teams' preparation for the World Cup robbing them of a number of their players.

The Wolves have a very handy looking squad with the additions of Leni Apisai, Conraad van Vuuren, Ben Hyne and Jake Schatz suring up a decent looking forward pack, while backline recruits JJ Englebrecht and Ben Teo will operate in a dangerous midfield combination.

Key Player: Ben Teo
This was a very smart signing as the former rugby league star will give the Sunwolves some real threat in the midfield. The Englishman is a solid ball carrier and makes metres at will. He is also vastly experienced and will be a good shoulder for the Sunwolves young guns to lean on.

Verdict: Reds 11/2
All of these sides are in massive rebuilding phases and the Reds look the most settled of the bunch. I would not be surprised to see them pull off a massive shock and top the Australian Conference come the close of the round-robin phase.

While my main bet will be on the Reds, I will also be having a small crack on the Sunwolves at crazy odds of 50/1.

Written by Darry Worthington for Hollywoodbets.

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