Super 14 Preview 2010: The Australian Challenge

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Super 14 Preview 2010: The Australian Challenge
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Big things are expected in Australia this year after having no semi-finalists in 2009.

The Waratahs and Brumbies look to be the best of the Aussies, and some are predicting both to make the semis. I suspect the Aussies will find the going tough and all their sides will struggle this year.

I can't see how they expect to field a fifth side in 2011!

 

Brumbies

I can never understand how a Super 14 side can function when the majority of the players don't even permanently live in their base city! Where does the pride and passion for the jersey and area emanate from?

They have gained some important players, including Wallaby captain Rocky Elsom, scrumhalf Josh Valentine, and the return of flyhalf Matt Giteau and lock Justin Harrison. Add Matt Toomua to that young flyhalf talent and there is a solid core complemented by Stephen Moore, Guy Shepherdson, Ben Alexander, Matt Chisholm, Stephen Hoiles, George Smith, Stirling Mortlock, and Adam Ashley-Cooper.

However, I still suspect the Aussies as a whole lack the physicality at the top level. I don't believe this Brumbies side is as strong as its predecessors, who had Stephen Larkham and George Gregan. They're a competitive side, but not good enough to go all the way.

Prediction: Middle of the pack

 

Reds

They have acquired the services of former Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie. He focuses on the basics and keeps things simple, an area in which this side simply doesn't perform well enough. Their best bet may be to throw the ball around, but as they showed last season, it's tough to do that consistently well.

Whilst there is some talent in the backline with players like Will Genia, 'Drunken Burglar' Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane, and Peter Hynes, the reality is that they cannot match the class of other sides' internationals. The loss of Berrick Barnes takes away the one player who had given them direction.

The forward pack looks weak and ineffectual. They'll struggle to compete for 80 minutes against most of the other sides.

The Reds will be fighting it out for bottom spot with the Cheetahs.

Prediction: Bottom 4

 

Waratahs

Coach Chris Hickey now has the benefit of a year's experience at this level, but his gameplan and tactics were found wanting in 2009. How will he adapt in 2010?

The Waratahs have a decent pack to match most sides, including a strong forward pack with Benn Robinson, Adam Freier, Tatafu Poloto-Nau, Phil Waugh, and Wycliff Palu. They will also be bolstered in the second row with the arrival of South African Hendrik Roodt (the traitor!).

The Waratahs have gained Wallaby Berrick Barnes to control their side, and with the addition of new recruits Sonese Anesi and Drew Mitchell, they have some gas out wide. Where they may struggle is the midfield, and Barnes may have to play at 12 with Kurtly Beale or Daniel Halengahu at flyhalf.

Like most of the Aussie sides, they simply don't have the depth required to be successful at this level. They won't be able to play an expansive game and consistently gain enough try-scoring bonus points to raise their log position.

Prediction: Middle of the pack

 

Western Force

The Force appear to be moving backwards after their inclusion in Super rugby.

The loss of flyhalf Matt Giteau leaves a major hole, and injury prone ex-Springbok Andre Pretorius was seen as their saviour. His hamstring injury comes as no surprise to me, and without him, the backline will be clueless and non-threatening. Wallabies James O'Connor and Ryan Cross will need to make things happen and it's asking a lot from a youngster and journeyman, respectively.

The forward pack is devoid of many stars other than 'has-been' prop Matt Dunning, Wallaby lock Nathan Sharpe, and loose forwards David Pocock and Richard Brown. If you can't gain forward parity, you can't challenge for the title. It's as simple as that.

Prediction: Bottom 4

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