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Super Rugby – Australian Conference Guide

Title Drought: The Waratahs were the last Australian side to win the title, back in 2014 (Getty Images) Rugby World

The Brumbies were the only Australian side to make the play-offs last year, so in 2018, the conference is trying to put that right


Super Rugby – Australian Conference Guide

The 2018 Super Rugby competition looks very different from its 2017 edition, with three fewer teams, rules changes and a new format. For all the details of those changes, visit our Super Rugby explained article.

It was a pretty dour year for Australian rugby, for example they had 26 losses and no victories against New Zealand sides. But let’s take a look at the five sides in the Australian conference looking to stop that trend.

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Brumbies

Christian Lealiifano has returned from Pro14 side Ulster and is excited to start a new chapter with the Brumbies.

“The big idea of heading over (to Ulster) was to refresh, to come back rejuvenated and to experience the type of footy over there was sensational,” Lealiifano said. “I’ve known the Brumbies my whole life and to experience a new culture was really enjoyable for me.”

However, David Pocock, who has returned after a year-long sabbatical, has needed knee surgery, which will set his return to action back by at least 12 weeks. One of his back-row colleagues, Scott Fardy, has also departed for Leinster.

Finally, coach and Wallaby legend Stephen Larkham left his post to become an assistant coach for the Australia national side and he has been replaced by Dan McKellar.

Frustrated: Knee surgery will keep David Pocock out for at least 12 weeks (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Matt Lucas (Waratahs)

Notable Outs

Tomas Cubelli (Jaguares), Saia Fainga’a (London Irish), Scott Fardy (Leinster)

Prediction

Will do well to get anywhere near a play-off spot.

Melbourne Rebels

Coach Tony McGahan has left to become an assistant for the Reds and he’s been replaced by former Western Force head coach David Wessels.

Unlike the Force, the Rebels avoided the ARU’s axe and it is not all bad in Melbourne, the signings of Adam Coleman and Will Genia being particularly noteworthy. Coleman has become a key member of the Wallabies side and will take up the captaincy role for the Rebels.

Genia is one of the best scrum-halves in the world and his skills and leadership will be vital to their success.

Vital signing: The Rebels have done well to sign Will Genia (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Adam Coleman (Force), Will Genia (Stade Francais), Dane Haylett-Petty (Force), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs)

Notable Outs

Mitch Inman (Oyonnax), Sean McMahon (Suntory Sungoliath), Jake Schatz (London Irish), Toby Smith (Hurricanes)

Prediction

Will battle it out with the Sunwolves for the unwanted title of the worst side in the competition.

Reds

New coach Brad Thorn has already caused quite a stir in his new role in Queensland. After four wins and 11 losses last season, it is not surprising he wants to make changes, yet he has shocked many by saying Wallabies Quade Cooper and Nick Frisby will not be part of his plans.

As a result, Cooper has been demoted down to Brisbane club rugby, whereas Frisby has been signed by Bordeaux as a medical joker in the Top 14.

Related: Medical Jokers in the Top 14 

Snubbed: Quade Cooper will not be part of Brad Thorn's plans in the Reds set-up (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Jono Lance (Force)

Notable Outs

Stephen Moore (retired), Rob Simmons (Waratahs)

Prediction

The omission of Cooper has caused controversy down under so Thorn is already on the back foot. It will be surprising if they get near the play-offs.

Sunwolves

There is a lot of excitement in Japanese rugby at the moment with the World Cup a year away. There is also the belief that rugby is trending in the right direction in Japan with it growing significantly in high schools and colleges. According to Shane Williams, there are just more better players around now.

Related: Shane Williams discusses the 2019 World Cup

And the introduction of the Sunwolves Super Rugby franchise has helped, despite their poor form. They had two wins and 13 losses last year so have brought in former Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, who is also in charge of the Japan national team, to make changes. He has said he will be targeting a top-five finish.

In terms of signings, Michael Leitch brings skill and experience to the back of the scrum – and he is a folk hero in Japan.

Hero: Leitch led Japan to a memorable victory over South Africa in the 2015 World Cup (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Lappies Labuschagne (Kubota Spears), Michael Leitch (Chiefs), Robbie Robinson (Ricoh Black Rams)

Notable Outs

None

Prediction

Will struggle in 2018 and likely to be competing with the Rebels at the bottom of the table.

Waratahs

In 2018, the Waratahs back-line is laced with Wallabies and the addition of Kurtley Beale specifically brings creativity and huge experience to the centre or full-back positions.

The forwards, on the other hand, may struggle as they will be heavily reliant on Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons and Sekope Kepu.

Interestingly, the Waratahs are the only side in the conference not to have a new head coach – Daryl Gibson remains in charge – so continuity is heavily on their side.

Leaders: Foley and Hooper will look to get the Waratahs back to winning ways (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Kurtley Beale (Wasps), Rob Simmons (Reds)

Notable Outs

Rob Horne (Northampton Saints), Matt Lucas (Brumbies), Dean Mumm (retired), Will Skelton (Saracens)

Prediction

Will bounce back in 2018, topping the Australian conference.