The following is a preview of the Australian Conference for the 2014 Super Rugby season. The Australian conference’s reputation for being soft is fading after Australian sides won 12 of their 22 confrontations with New Zealand sides last season. With the Waratahs appearing to be on the up, there will be three Australian sides with genuine playoff aspirations this year. The Reds start the season with away games against the Brumbies and Waratahs so the battle for Australian supremacy starts very quickly.
Futures Market Tip
Back the Reds to make the playoffs at 2.15 (Sportingbet). They should be at or near the top of the Australian conference this year and the high turnover of players in the South African franchises means there’s a good chance two Australian sides will make the finals.
Below are team-by-team previews for 2014. These details will be updated as more information becomes available.
Note: all new and departed players lists are sourced from Wikipedia.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 2nd in the Australian conference, 7th overall
- 2013 Season: 1st in the Australian conference, 3rd overall. Lost in the Grand Final.
- New Players: Jack Whetton (Auckland), Jarrad Butler (Reds), Conrad Hoffmann (RSA), Lionel Cronjé (RSA), Harumichi Tatekawa (Japan)
- Departed Players: Dan Palmer (France), Etienne Oosthuizen (Sharks), Colby Fainga’a (Rebels), Peter Kimlin (France), George Smith (Japan), Ian Prior (Force), Mark Swanepoel (NZL), Zack Holmes (Force), Tom Cox (released)
- Current Squad:
Forwards: Ben Alexander, Ruaidhri Murphy, Scott Sio, Ruan Smith, Joshua Mann-Rea, Stephen Moore, Siliva Siliva, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Leon Power, Jack Whetton, Fotu Auelua, David Pocock, Jordan Smiler, Ita Vaea (tbc),Jarrad Butler, Ben Mowen,
Backs: Conrad Hoffmann, Nic White, Lionel Cronjé, Harumichi Tatekawa, Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Pat McCabe, Andrew Smith, Clyde Rathbone, Henry Speight, Joe Tomane, Robbie Coleman, Jesse Mogg
- Injury Concerns: Christian Lealiifano is recovering from ankle surgery and is expected to miss the first four rounds. Fotu Auelua picked up a knee injury pre-season and is expected to miss the first eight games.
- Comments: it will be interesting to see how the Brumbies fare after the departure of South African head coach Jake White. He has been replaced by Stephen Larkham, who certainly has big shoes to fill. With George Smith returning to Japan the Brumbies will be hoping David Pocock can have an injury-free season. New signing Jack Whetton has good pedigree, with his father and uncle combining for over 100 All Blacks caps. The Brumbies will be hoping he young 6 ft 7 in lock can deliver on his potential.
- 2014 Prediction:: the Brumbies will be in the hunt for a playoff spot, although the Reds and Waratahs will make life difficult for them. I expect the Brumbies to finish second or third in the Australian conference.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 5th in the Australian conference, 14th overall
- 2013 Season: 5th in the Australian conference, 13th overall
- New Players: Chris Heiberg (Stormers), Wilhelm Steenkamp (Bulls), Brynard Stander (Sharks), Ian Prior (Brumbies), Zack Holmes (Brumbies), Marcel Brache (RSA), Dane Haylett-Petty (France), Luke Morahan (Reds)
- Departed Players: Salesi Ma’afu (UK), James Hilterbrand (UK), Ben Whittaker (France), Toby Lynn (released), Rory Walton (dropped to extended training squad), Richard Brown (Japan), Lachlan McCaffrey (to Brumbies extended training squad), Chris Eaton (released), Brett Sheehan (UK), Michael Snowden (released), Sam Christie (released), Ben Jacobs (UK), Winston Stanley (Highlanders), Will Tupou (released), Alfie Mafi (axed mid-season, UK), Sam Norton-Knight (Japan)
- Current Squad (announced 9 Jan):
Robbie Abel (eps), Chris Alcock, Phoenix Battye, Marcel Brache, Luke Burton (eps), Nathan Charles, Adam Coleman (eps), Angus Cottrell, Pek Cowan, Nick Cummins, Patrick Dellit, Sias Ebersohn, Tetera Faulkner, Kyle Godwin, Dane Haylett-petty, Jayden Hayward, Chris Heiberg, Matt Hodgson, Zack Holmes, Kieran Longbottom, Ryan Louwrens (eps),
Salesi Manu, Alby Mathewson, Ben Mccalman, Hugh Mcmeniman, Luke Morahan, Ian Prior, Junior Rasolea, Brynard Stander, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Ed Stubbs, Heath Tessmann, Chris Tuatara-morrison, Rory Walton (eps), Sam Wykes.
Wider Training Group: Ollie Hoskins, Brad Lacey, Dillyn Leyds, Dylan Sage, Francois Van Wyk
- Injury Concerns: Hugh McMeniman underwent a shoulder reconstruction last August and may miss the first game.
- Comments: the Force lost a total of 16 players during the off-season, so they are once again in a rebuilding phase. Eight members of the greater squad are South African, so there’s certainly an international flair to this side. Their 4-1-11 record in 2013 was heavily due to their inability to convert possession and pressure into points, with the side scoring the fewest points in the competition. The high turnover of players will make them somewhat of an unknown quantity in 2014.
- 2014 Prediction:: the Force are a genuine chance of getting off the foot of the Australian conference this year, however I don’t see them challenging the sharp end of the table. I expect them to finish fourth or fifth in the Australian conference.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 4th in the Australian conference, 13th overall
- 2013 Season: 4th in the Australian conference, 12th overall
- New Players: Max Lahiff (UK), Toby Smith (Chiefs), Tom Sexton (Ireland), Colby Fainga’a (Brumbies), Lopeti Timani (Waratahs), Tamati Ellison (Highlanders), Tom Kingston (Waratahs), Telusa Veainu (Crusaders), Lalakai Foketi (Manly), Jock Merriman (ARU National Academy – six-week contract)
- Departed Players: Nic Henderson (retired), Ged Robinson (NZL), James King (released), Tim Davidson (retired), Jarrod Saffy (France), Gareth Delve (France), Nick Phipps (Waratahs), James Hilgendorf (released), James O’Connor (UK), Rory Sidey (released), Richard Kingi (France), Cooper Vuna (Japan), Kimami Sitauti (released), Kurtley Beale (Waratahs)
- Current Squad: Eddie Aholelei, Paul Alo-Emile, Max Lahiff, Toby Smith, Laurie Weeks, Shota Horie, Tom Sexton, Luke Jones, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Chris Thomson, Colby Fainga’a, Scott Fuglistaller, Scott Higginbotham, Jordy Reid, Lopeti Timani, Luke Burgess, Nic Stirzaker, Angus Roberts, Tamati Ellison, Tom English, Mitch Inman, Lachlan Mitchell, Tom Kingston, Telusa Veainu, Bryce Hegarty, Alex Rokobaro, Jason Woodward, Lalakai Foketi, Sam Jeffries, Jock Merriman
- Injury Concerns: Tom Sexton is out for the season with a knee injury, Chris Thomson is out indefinitely with wrist and knee injuries. Jack Debreczeni and Cadeyrn Neville are both out for three weeks with hamstring injuries while Nic Stirzaker is out with an ankle injury for 6-8 weeks.
- Comments: while the Force struggled offensively last year, the Rebels struggled defensively, conceding more points than everyone but the Kings. Like the Force, the Rebels have made significant squad changes from last season, with a number of key players departing. They have picked up some handy players, however, with the likes of Tamati Ellison poached from other franchises. Another upside is the disruptive members of last year’s squad have all departed. The Rebels have a new coach this season, with the sacked Damien Hill replaced by Tony McGahan. They have started the 2014 season well, with pre-season wins over the Waratahs, Hurricanes and Reds. They’ve shown a good work rate on defence and at the breakdown and young playmaker Bryce Hegarty has shown good form.
- 2014 Prediction:: in all likelihood the Rebels will be involved in another battle with the Force to avoid the wooden spoon in the Australian conference, however the high amount of player turnover makes them harder to predict. I expect the Rebels to finish fourth or fifth in the Australian conference.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 1st in the Australian conference, 6th overall but 3rd seed in playoffs where they lost in the Qualifying Finals.
- 2013 Season: 2nd in the Australian conference, 5th overall. Lost in the Qualifying Finals.
- New Players: Lachlan Turner (Waratahs), Jamie-Jerry Taulagi (QLD)
- Departed Players: Adam Wallace-Harrison (retired), Nigel Ah Wong (Japan), Jarrad Butler (Brumbies), Radike Samo (Japan), Jono Lance (Waratahs), Digby Ioane (Japan), Luke Morahan (Force)
- Current Squad: Ben Daley, Greg Holmes, Jono Owen, James Slipper, Albert Anae, Saia Fainga’a, James Hanson, James Horwill, David McDuling, Ed O’Donoghue, Rob Simmons, Curtis Browning, Liam Gill, Eddie Quirk, Beau Robinson, Jake Schatz, Nick Frisby, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Ben Lucas, Anthony Fainga’a, Michael Harris, Ben Tapuai, Aidan Toua, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Dom Shipperley, Lachlan Turner, Rod Davies
- Injury Concerns: Quade Cooper will undergo scans after hit to the neck in a pre-season game
- Comments: the Reds have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, with just two new acquisitions. With strong continuity from last season, one would expect them to hit the ground running this year. Ewen McKenzie has now moved on so Richard Graham takes the full reigns this season. The Reds will miss the strike power of Digby Ioane but have done well to pick up Lachlan Turner during the off-season.
- 2014 Prediction:: the Reds should again be competitive this year. I expect them to top the Australian conference.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 3rd in the Australian conference, 11th overall
- 2013 Season: 3rd in the Australian conference, 9th overall
- New Players: Tolu Latu (NSW), Tala Gray (France), Jacques Potgieter (Bulls), Nick Phipps (Rebels), Matthew Carraro (France), Jono Lance (Reds), Kurtley Beale (Rebels)
- Departed Players: Damien Fitzpatrick (France), Luke Holmes (released), John Ulugia (France), Ollie Atkins (UK), Greg Peterson (demoted to training squad), Sitaleki Timani (France), AJ Gilbert (NSW), Lopeti Timani (Rebels), Grayson Hart (UK), Berrick Barnes (Japan), Tom Carter (retired), Tom Kingston (Rebels), Drew Mitchell (France), Lachlan Turner (Reds)
- Current Squad (announced 20 Sep):
Forwards: Mitchell Chapman, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Tala Gray, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu, Pat McCutcheon, Tolu Latu, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota Nau, Jacques Potgieter, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Will Skelton, Jeremy Tilse,
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Carraro, Kurtley Beale, Peter Betham, Cam Crawford, Bernard Foley, Israel Folau, Michael Hodge, Rob Horne, Jono Lance, Brendan McKibbin, Nick Phipps, Ben Volavola
- Injury Concerns: Tala Gray picked up a rib injury pre-season against the Blues
- Comments: this will be the Waratahs’ second season under the tenure of Michael Cheika. Their performance last year was an improvement on 2012 and their fans will be expecting further improvements this season as the Waratahs push to become Australia’s strongest franchise. They will hope Bernard Foley can stay fit with Berrick Barnes’ departure leaving him as the only specialist fly-half in the squad. Kurtley Beale will hope he can regain his best form now that he’s back with his former club. The Waratahs will have to improve on their 50% domestic winning record if they are to make the playoffs this season.
- 2014 Prediction:: last year the Waratahs showed signs of turning Allianz Stadium back into the fortress it was in 2010 and 2011. If they can maintain their rate of improvement then a playoff place isn’t out of the question. I predict the Waratahs to finish second or third in the Australian conference.