Sport How your team will fare in Super Rugby AU

05:15  16 february  2021
05:15  16 february  2021 Source:   wwos.nine.com.au

Super Rugby AU: Fixtures, squads, how to watch and more

  Super Rugby AU: Fixtures, squads, how to watch and more Super Rugby AU: Fixtures, squads, how to watch and moreIt marks as a new era for Australian rugby, with new CEO Andy Marinos looking to guide the sport into the future.

An exciting new dawn has arrived for rugby in Australia with Super Rugby AU kicking off on Stan Sport and Nine on Friday night.

The Queensland Reds will host the NSW Waratahs in the season opener before the Western Force entertain the Brumbies in Perth.

The Brumbies were the inaugural Super Rugby AU champions in 2020, beating the Reds in an exciting final.

But how does the Aussie pecking order look in this new era?

We've ranked the five teams for you.

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Hugh McElhenny, Tevita Kuridrani, Allan Alaalatoa posing for the camera: Brumbies claim the 2020 Super Rugby title. (Getty) © Getty Brumbies claim the 2020 Super Rugby title. (Getty)

1. Brumbies: 2020 record 7-2 (champion)

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Attack: 24.1 points per game (3rd)

Defence: 18.9 points per game (1st)

First 3 rounds: Force (away), Waratahs (home), Rebels (away)

The reigning Super Rugby AU champs are looking to keep the good times rolling.

Coach Dan McKellar is preaching stability, even sacrificing his own call up to the Wallabies coaching staff last year and extending his Brumbies contract until the end of 2022, to ensure this team can carry on their recent success.

Speaking of Wallabies call ups, 11 of this year's squad played in the gold jersey last year, so there is quality across the park, despite the losses of Lachlan McCaffrey, Joe Powell and Tevita Kuridrani.

The Brumbies will focus on winning up-front again, with the rock-solid forward pack able to score a truckload of tries – particularly from lineout drives - or at least, letting the backs work from an excellent platform.

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Many are predicting the Brumbies to be runners-up this year, though any side will have to go through the competition's best defence.

And considering the men from Canberra have not lost to any Australian opponent at home since 2019, it becomes apparent just how big a task that will be.

Key player: Folau Fainga'a

Mr Underrated: Andy Muirhead

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James O'Connor holding a football ball: James O'Connor (R) celebrates a Reds try against the Sunwolves. © Getty James O'Connor (R) celebrates a Reds try against the Sunwolves.

2. Queensland Reds: 2020 record 6-3-1 (runner up)

Attack: 26.3 points per game (1st)

Defence: 19.1 points per game (2nd)

First 3 rounds: Waratahs (home), Rebels (home), Bye

With so much positivity floating around Reds HQ this year, the only question is – can they take the leap?

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Having taken the Brumbies to the limit in the 2020 grand final, the Reds have added more firepower.

Big name league recruit Suliasi Vunivalu adds excitement to an already stacked backline, while the team's existing talent took major strides forward last year.

Filipo Daugunu, Tate McDermott, Fraser McReight, Hunter Paisami and Harry Wilson had brilliant Super Rugby seasons, earning them Wallabies selection, which will help their development.

It's also hopeful that star back Jordan Petaia can shake off his wretched luck with injuries to enjoy a more substantial run of matches.

The injury bug has bitten captain Liam Wright already and he is expected to be out for up to 10 weeks.

However, there is significant loose forward cover and James O'Connor has a wealth of experience as stand-in skipper.

All in all, this squad seems ready to ascend and while it wouldn't be expected that Brad Thorn will be busting out any breakdance moves - like Crusaders coach Scott Robertson - you could expect some wild celebrations if they can become champions in 2021.

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Key player: Taniela Tupou

Mr Underrated: Jock Campbell

Will Genia et al. playing football on a field: Isi Naisarani of the Rebels is tackled at the Sydney Cricket Ground. © Getty Isi Naisarani of the Rebels is tackled at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

3. Melbourne Rebels: 2020 record 4-4-1 (qualifying finalist/3rd place)

Attack: 23.0 points per game (4th)

Defence: 22.6 points per game (3rd)

First 3 rounds: Bye, Reds (away), Brumbies (home)

There's no place like home and in 2020 the Rebels were left without one - forced to relocate to New South Wales for home games.

This year there are similar COVID concerns with question marks over being able to host games in Melbourne.

While living out of a suitcase led to their maiden Super Rugby finals appearance, coach Dave Wessels is looking to push further this year with new recruits like league convert Young Tonumaipea, as well as Aussie sevens stars Jeral Skelton and Lewis Holland all looking to add some attacking spark.

Returning talent in the form of Pone Fa'amausili, Jordan Uelese and the highly-touted Trevor Hosea are looking to build on their Wallabies involvement last year and provide good go-forward, following Wallaby prop Jermaine Ainsley's transfer to the Highlanders.

Title-winning halfback Joe Powell is a good addition and his combination with Isi Naisarani at the back of the scrum and Matt To'omua at five-eighth - will be crucial to igniting a backline with seasoned stars Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge and Dane Haylett-Petty.

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Captain Dane Haylett-Petty is hopeful of soon returning from concussion issues, but so far there is no concrete date for his return.

Key player: Isi Naisarani

Mr Underrated: Joe Powell

a group of people playing a game of football: Will Harrison of the Waratahs is tackled at GIO Stadium in Canberra. © Getty Will Harrison of the Waratahs is tackled at GIO Stadium in Canberra.

4. Waratahs: 2020 record 4-4 (4th place)

Attack: 25.5 points per game (2nd)

Defence: 23.6 points per game (4th)

First 3 rounds: Reds (away), Brumbies (away), Force (home)

To begin the 2020 Super Rugby season, the Waratahs were dreadful, but by the end of Super Rugby AU, had made significant strides - just missing the qualifying final on points differential.

Second year coach Rob Penney now has a huge challenge to get the sky blues trending upwards.

Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Tom Robertson, Jed Holloway and Michael Hooper (among others) have all departed.

Hooper will return next year after a Japanese sabbatical and in his absence halfback Jake Gordon has been named captain.

Playing outside Gordon is second year star Will Harrison, who has already assumed the mantle as the leading place-kicker in the Australian game.

He will look to ascend to being the country's best pivot over the coming years.

He ran the attack well in 2020, often in trying conditions, so that experience will serve him well as the new look Waratahs look to push for finals contention.

Add in other developing young talent like Angus Bell, Lachie Swinton, James Ramm, Tom Horton and Joey Walton, means that there is hope the 'inexperienced' tag won't hold this squad back for long.

Key player: Will Harrison

Mr Underrated: Carlo Tizzano

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Dmitri Zhivoglyadov et al. standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Domingo Miotti of the Pumas will play Super Rugby for the Force. © Getty Domingo Miotti of the Pumas will play Super Rugby for the Force.

5. Western Force: 2020 record 0-8 (last place)

Attack: 14.4 points per game (5th)

Defence: 31.6 points per game (5th)

First 3 rounds: Brumbies (home), Bye, Waratahs (away)

The Western Force sure have been fun to watch over the off-season.

Pushed out of Super Rugby since 2017, simply taking the field in Super Rugby AU was a major victory.

As COVID laid waste to the previous model of Super Rugby, the Force were welcomed back and despite having to relocate, plus losing all eight games, they did push teams on occasion.

Now, they've added talent from all corners of the globe to lead the charge this year.

Snaring Wallabies Tevita Kuridrani and Tom Robertson immediately gives this side more credibility.

But they didn't stop there.

The sad demise of the Jaguares, saw the Force swoop on Argentinian internationals Santiago Medrano, Tomás Lezana and Tomás Cubelli, who will be crucial cogs in the Force machine.

They've also brought in Ireland's 'Mr Reliable' Rob Kearney to provide stability at fullback, American centre Marcel Brache, Aussie sevens player Tim Anstee, retained Kiwis Richard Kahui, Toni Pulu and Jeremy Thrush, as well as 2020 stand outs Fergus Lee-Warner, Jono Lance and excitement machine Byron Ralston.

Coach Tim Sampson's ability to mesh this international talent and experience will be crucial to improving last year's worst attack and defence.

Key player: Tevita Kuridrani

Mr Underrated: Domingo Miotti

Build it and they will come: The Andy Marinos view for Australian rugby .
The first weekend of Super Rugby AU is already behind us, and we’re now well and truly into the swing of the season, with every match over the remaining nine rounds likely to have some impact on the final standings. There’s been a definite change in mood around the game in Australia this season. There is no doubt that is all down to the game being more visible than it was – three times the viewing audience on opening night is already proof of that. 2020 shook up both rugby in Australia and Rugby Australia like the game has never experienced before.

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