Hollywoodbets Sports Blog: Super Rugby AU: Season Preview

Super Rugby AU: Season Preview

Super Rugby AU: Season Preview

The second season of Super Rugby AU kicks-off on 19 February and will run alongside Super Rugby Aotearoa before the first Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition begins in May. 

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

The Trans-Tasman showpiece is set to feature all 10 sides from Australia and New Zealand and, with that in mind, the AU tourney should provide the Aussie franchises with enough preparation ahead of their impending battles with the Kiwis.

Like last season, the AU format will see each side play each other home and away followed by a qualifying final between second and third to determine who faces the log-leaders at home in the Grand Final.

With all and sundry looking to knock the Brumbies off their perch, we analyse each team’s chances ahead of the regional tournament.

Brumbies: 13/10

Last season: First; champions
2021 prediction: Second; runners-up
Player to watch: Tom Wright

When Super Rugby proper was halted in mid-March last year, the Brumbies were placed second overall with a game in hand after collecting five wins from six. No matter. Dan McKellar’s men took that form straight into the inaugural Super Rugby AU where they proceeded to win six from eight, top the log and then claim the title in a thrilling final victory over the Reds.

Word on the street is the squad is so determined to go back-to-back they traded spending Christmas with their families for a training session. Now I don’t know how good the turkey is down under, but I reckon that’s some serious commitment right there.

The departure of veteran centre Tevita Kuridrani to the Force will be offset somewhat with the arrival of James Tucker (loose forward) from the Blues, Reece Tapine (back three) and Archer Holz (tighthead). The squad certainly has youth on their side, with 50% aged 23 or younger.

Considering the quality across the board at the organisation, last season’s champs will be favourites to successfully defend their title in 2021.

Western Force: 12/1

Last season: Fifth
2021 prediction: Third; qualifying final loss
Player to watch: Richard Kahui

The Western Force’s return to Super Rugby last year wasn’t pretty. Eight losses from eight tells the tale of a team who, for all their self-belief and positive vibes, just couldn’t keep the pace with their big Aussie brothers.

Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were encouraging signs in their round five extra-time loss to the Rebels, as well as a narrow four-point loss to the same opponents away from home in round 10. And there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for Force fans ahead of this season.

Director of rugby and Force great Matt Hodgson has made some exceptional signings, bringing in plenty of star power and experience to Western Australia. The newly acquired names of veterans Tevita Kuridrani and Rob Kearney suggests there may be something special brewing in Perth. Add in Jaguares quartet Tomás Cubelli, Tomás Lezana, Santiago Medrano and Domingo Miotti, plus former Chiefs winger Toni Pulu, and you’ve got yourself a serious title contender.

If they can make good on owner Andrew Forrest’s long-term promise to deliver an outstanding rugby product, expect the Force to exceed expectations in 2021 and beyond.

Melbourne Rebels: 13/2

Last season: Third; qualifying final loss
2021 prediction: Fourth
Player to watch: Isi Naisarani

The Rebels will look to build on the structures already in place at the franchise after narrowly missing out on a place in last year’s final. The men from the sporting capital lost out to the Reds 13-25 at Suncorp in the qualifying final but will look to go two better this time around.

The squad has been caught in covid chaos of late regarding inter-state travel, with five players initially trapped in New South Wales while the majority have had to find alternative training bases. No side was affected more by the pandemic last season than the Rebels, who had to play all of their matches away from home following a mass outbreak in Victoria. After the latest news, one would hope they find some stability soon enough.

Dave Wessels again has a number of Wallaby international backs to call upon, with the likes of Mr Dependable Dane Haylett-Petty, Marika Koroibete, Matt Toomua and Reece Hodge set to play vital roles again this year. If the set piece can front up, they will be playoff contenders.

Reds: 22/10

Last season: Second; runners-up
2021 prediction: First; champions
Player to watch: Harry Wilson

Last season’s runners-up will hope to take advantage of arguably the most talented squad in the competition and win the AU crown this season. In fact, the Queenslanders will even have the Trans-Tasman title at the back of their minds such is the quality at Brad Thorn’s disposal.

The 2011 Super Rugby champions have retained their locally based crop of talent, with 89% of the current crop having either graduated from the Reds Academy or having played junior rugby for Queensland. This philosophy of looking inward will stand the state in good stead in the years to come, with Thorn’s forward-thinking approach set to lay the platform for years of success.

With names like Taniela Tupou, Hunter Paisami, Harry Wilson, Jordan Petaia, Filipo Daugunu and Liam Wright in the squad, a playoff berth doesn’t exactly seem like too tall an order. The round-robin ties with the Brumbies will be crucial if they are to secure pole position.

Waratahs: 5/1

Last season: Fourth
2021 prediction: Fifth
Player to watch: Lachlan Swinton

The Waratahs may find the going tough in 2021 with a lack of quality in depth likely to show. The departure of two Test centurions in Michael Hooper and Rob Simmons won’t do them any favours and Rob Penney will need a total buy-in from his charges if they are to upset the odds.

New skipper Jake Gordon leads a squad lacking any established Wallaby internationals with just 33 international caps between the entire squad of 36 – of which 14 belong to loose forward Jack Dempsey.  

They may pick up a few positive results over the Rebels and Force at home but will need to shock a few of the big boys if they are to avoid finishing with the Wooden Spoon.

Written by Shaun Goosen.

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