Sport Super Rugby AU: Five major questions ahead of the 2021 season

00:17  16 february  2021
00:17  16 february  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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The 2021 Super Rugby AU season represents a landmark period for Rugby Australia after the code signed a new broadcast deal with Nine and Stan Sport.

The deal was a major risk, having ended a 25-year partnership with Fox Sports as they strived for free-to-air coverage for the competition.

As the five teams prepare for the start of the season on February 19, there are many questions that loom over their heads as well as the sport's heading forward.

Sporting News looks at the five major questions ahead of the start of the 2021 season

1.How does rugby perform on free to air?

Rugby fans finally get what they have craved for so long: Super Rugby on free-to-air television.

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The move is a major risk for both Rugby Australia and Nine/Stan, with the sport struggling for ratings over the past couple of years.

This has often been put down to the lack of perceived support that the game has received from the previous broadcaster according to fans.

However, with a major broadcaster now putting significant resources into the product and trusting rugby union to launch their new add-on Stan Sport, there is renewed optimism amongst those bolted-on supporters.

It will be crucial that the first couple of weeks deliver an entertaining product that can capitate a new or lapsed audience that was once turned away by the sport's lack of support.

If it doesn't, there will be serious concerns surrounding where the sport goes from here if they can't achieve a level of success given the bridge with its former home is all but burnt.

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2.Can the Brumbies go back-to-back as rivals continuing to improve?

The Brumbies established themselves as the premier Super Rugby Australia club during 2020, defeating the Queensland Reds in the final.

It was a well-deserved title for the club, who were arguably the form team of the original Super Rugby competition before the COVID outbreak.

However, the Reds will be hungry for revenge, with their young squad continuing to develop over the past 12 months.

Wallabies flyhalf James O'Connor has been appointed captain after the injury to Liam Wright and looms as the key piece to unlock their backline bolstered by Storm recruit Suliasi Vunivalu.

He joins a back-line that spent the majority of the last three months together in Wallabies camp with Tate McDermott, Hunter Paisami and Filipo Daugunu earning debuts alongside golden boy Jordan Petaia.

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The dark horses once again are the Rebels, who managed to break their finals duck in 2020.

Dave Wessels will be looking to build off this showing, with Matt Toomua and Reece Hodge set to lead from the front.

However, they will be banking on the fitness of fullback Dane Haylett-Petty, who is continuing to recover after a series of concussions.

3. Can the Force pull off an incredible revival?

The Force had a tough 2020 campaign, falling to win a single game after being welcomed into the Super Rugby fold following their exile.

However, fans should ignore this form line heading into this season given the club had less than a couple of months to bolster a side essentially playing in the second-tier competition in Global Rapid Rugby.

They have had a major recruitment drive, with Wallabies Tom Robertson and Tevita Kuridrani joined by Argentinian quartet Tomas Cubelli, Tomas Lezana, Santiago Medrano and Domingo Miotti

However, the gem in their recruiting class is Irish legend Rob Kearney, bringing some much-needed experience and class into a side that was desperate for leadership in 2020.

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Combine this with a return back to Western Australia in front of their loyal and rabid fan base and the Force could be set for an incredible bounce-back season in 2021.

4. How will the Waratahs go without Michael Hooper?

The biggest loss for any club heading into the 2021 season is the departure of Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper to Japan for the first half of the year.

This will rule him out of the Super Rugby Australia and Trans-Tasman competitions, leaving a massive hole in a Waratahs side that has suffered an exodus.

In his absence, Rob Penney's side will look to the experience of halfback Jake Gordon to lead them around the pack as well as flyhalf Will Harrison taking the next step in his development.

There are still questions surrounding their forwards pack though, particularly their locks after the loss of Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Ned Hanigan and Ryan McCauley.

Carlo Tizzano looks set to step up in Hooper's absence, with Kiwi pair Jack Whetton and Sam Caird as well as Sam Wykes needing to step up if they want to compete with the rest of the competition.

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5. How will this form translate into impending France series?

The Wallabies have an uncanny effect of playing their European rivals at their peak during their mid-year Internationals.

In 2016, it was England who white-washed the Wallabies, going on to equal the world record for most consecutive international wins (18).

In 2018, they faced an Irish outfit coming off a Grand Slam victory in the Six Nations.

This trend looks set to continue in 2021 as France continues their resurgence.

The French are welcoming through a 'golden generation' of talent through the likes of Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Louis Carbonel emerging as legitimate superstars.

They have taken European rugby by storm in the past six months, leading the Six Nations after two games following their second-place finish at the Autumn Nations Cup, taking England to extra-time with a second-string team.

This is worrying signs for Dave Rennie and the Wallabies, who severely need a series victory after an average showing during the Tri-Nations.

He will be hoping that the domestic comp, as well as the impending battle with their New Zealand counterparts, will provide enough time to answer some questions surrounding the team.

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