Super Rugby AU, Round One - teams and predictions
LONG WAIT IS OVER: Australia’s revved up domestic competition kicks off Friday, with rule tweaks designed to encourage more expansive play.
The Brumbies and Reds expected are to fight it out for domestic supremacy.
The 10-round five-team tournament gets underway with the Reds hosting the weakened Waratahs and defending champion Brumbies heading to Perth to take on the beefed-up Western Force, while the Melbourne Rebels have an opening-round bye.
Rule innovations include a golden try for extra-time games and a time clock on restarts and scrums aimed at more attacking rugby.
Last year’s streamlined competition was launched in July after the coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of the southern hemisphere’s 15-team Super Rugby tournament amid global travel restrictions.
The Brumbies will encounter a strengthened Force with former Brumbies international centre Tevita Kuridrani, Waratahs prop Tom Robertson, Argentine pair Santiago Medrano and Tomas Lezana and Ireland’s Rob Kearney to make their team debuts.
“They’ve got internationals across the board and times have certainly changed where last year they were just happy to be in the competition,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said.
“But with the squad they’ve got there’s more pressure to perform. It’s going to be a real challenge for us.”
(Continue below video …)
Vunivalu absent for opener
The Force had a winless return to the Australian domestic tournament last year, but have gone shopping since as they prepare for their first Super Rugby game in Perth for almost four years after being axed from Super Rugby.
The Reds are heavily favoured to beat the Waratahs in Brisbane in the early match Friday, but will be without their prized off-season recruit, former Melbourne Storm NRL wing Suliasi Vunivalu.
Vunivalu was fined AU$10,000 (US$7,770) and suspended by the Reds after being charged by police for allegedly pushing a security guard in the face at a Brisbane pub last month.
Vunivalu has been touted as a future Wallabies player and was invited into the Australian team camp in November just weeks after leaving the National Rugby League.
Highly-rated tight-head prop Taniela Tupou will be deployed off the bench and Wallaby James O’Connor will lead the Reds against the Waratahs, who have suffered a player exodus.
Tupou, rated among the world’s best forwards by his own coach Brad Thorn, will be used at the death to begin the 2021 season.
“The Waratahs will provide a tough contest. There’s plenty of tradition and rivalry between the two teams as well, so we’re looking forward to a good hit-out,” Thorn said.
The Waratahs have lost more than 1,500 Super Rugby caps of experience over the past two seasons, headlined by Michael Hooper’s one-year sabbatical in Japan.
Apart from Wallaby skipper Hooper, the Waratahs are also without internationals Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley, while Wallabies forward Jack Dempsey says he will be leaving at the end of the season to join the Glasgow Warriors.
“It’s the nature of the beast, the boys took a heavy hit with salaries [last season] and there’s some pretty attractive options for them offshore,” Waratahs coach Rob Penney said.
“It’s something we would rather not happen, but it’s the realities of the environment.”
Friday, February 19
Reds v Waratahs
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 18.45; 19.45 AEDT; 08.45 GMT)
The Waratahs have won 12 of their last 13 Super Rugby matches against the Reds, including by a 33-point margin last time out (45-12) – the biggest win by either side in the history of this fixture.
The Reds have won eight of their last nine Super Rugby home matches, including their last six on the bounce.
The last time they enjoyed a longer winning run at home was an 11-match stretch from March 2010 to May 2011.
The NSW Waratahs conceded just a single try in Super Rugby AU in 2020 starting from possession within the opposition half – two fewer than any other side last year.
The Reds led Super Rugby AU for points (26), metres gained (462), clean breaks (11), defenders beaten (25), offloads (eight) and turnovers won (eight) per game in 2020.
Liam Wright (Reds) was the first man at 167 rucks in Super Rugby AU in 2020, the most by any player and 17 more than the next best (Michael Hooper -150)
Head to head
@rugby365com: Reds by 12 points
Reds: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 James O’Connor (captain), 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Seru Uru, 4 Angus Blyth, 3 Feao Fotuaika, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Dane Zander.
Replacements: 16 Richie Asiata, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Ryan Smith, 20 Tuania Taii Tualima, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Ilaisa Droasese.
Waratahs: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Izaia Perese, 12 Joey Walton, 11 James Ramm, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon (captain), 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Will Harris, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Sam Caird, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Tom Horton, 1 Angus Bell.
Replacements: 16 David Porecki, 17 Te Tera Faulkner, 18 Sio Tatola, 19 Jeremy Williams, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Jack Grant, 22 Tane Edmed, 23 Mark Nawaqanitawase.
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: Nic Berry & Jordan Way
TMO: Brett Cronan
Western Force v Brumbies
(HBF Park, Perth – Kick-off: 19.00; 22.00 AEDT; 11.00 GMT)
The Brumbies have won 12 of their last 13 Super Rugby matches against the Force, including their last nine on the bounce – their second-longest winning run against a single opposition (won 12 v Reds, May 2000 – May 2010).
The Force have won each of their last two Super Rugby matches at HBF Park.
This is set to be the first time they play in Western Australia since July 2017.
The Brumbies both scored the most (eight) and conceded the fewest (four) tries of any team in the opening quarters of their games in Super Rugby AU in 2020.
The Force conceded 13 turnovers per game in Super Rugby AU in 2020, the fewest of any team.
The Brumbies conceded the most of any team in this category (16 per game).
Tom Wright (Brumbies) gained 7.8 metres per carry in Super Rugby AU in 2020, the most by any player to make at least 45 carries
Head to head
@rugby365com: The Brumbies by five points
Western Force: 15 Robert Kearney, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior (captain), 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Fergus Lee-Warner, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Angus Wagner, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Tim Anstee, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Richard Kahui.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Harry Lloyd, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa
Referee: Graham Cooper
Assistant referees: Sam Jones & Jordan Kaminski
TMO: Kyle Burnett
* Additional reporting by @rugby365com
* Stats courtesy of Stats Perform