PREVIEW: Australian Conference

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Although far more competitive in 2019, the Australian conference still only managed to secure one spot in the playoffs with the Brumbies ending 14 points clear of second-placed Melbourne Rebels at the end of the regular season. There were promising signs from all teams in the conference with the Sunwolves even bagging a couple of wins and pushing many of their opponents close. Given the Brumbies have lost a number of key players, and the rise of the other Australian teams, the conference should be fiercely fought in 2020 and there will be disappointment if they cannot squeeze at least two teams into the playoffs.

 

Brumbies

Stadium: AAMI Stadium, Canberra, ACT

Last year: 3rd 

 

2020 squad: Allan Alaalatoa, Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Shambeckler Vui, Folau Fainga’a, Lachlan Lonergan, Connal McInerney, Murray Douglas, Blake Enever, Nick Frost, Caderyn Neville, Darcy Swain, Jahrome Brown, Tom Cusack, Lachlan McCaffrey, Will Miller, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini, Issak Fines, Ryan Lonergan, Joe Powell, Bayley Kuenzle, Noah Lolesio, Reesjan Pasitoa, Len Ikitau, Tevita Kuridrani, Guy Porter, Irae Simone, Tom Wright, Tom Banks, Mack Hansen, Solomone Kata, Andy Muirhead, Toni Pulu

 

IN: Harry Lloyd, Sham Vui, Lachlan Lonergan, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Will Miller, Issak Fines, Noah Lolesio, Reesjan Pasitoa, Guy Porter, Solomone Kata

 

OUT: Vunipola Fifita, Josh Mann-Rea, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Ben Hyne, David Pocock, Matt Lucas, Christian Lealiifano, Wharenui Hawera, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Lausii Taliauli, Chance Peni

 

Comfortably Australia’s best side in 2019, the Brumbies have the tough task of retaining that mantle in the face of their fast-improving conference opponents and without their departing stars Christian Lealiifano, David Pocock, Henry Speight, Rory Arnold and Sam Carter. Despite the loss of the five veterans, the Brumbies cannot be written off with plenty of talent still stacked throughout the squad. With Tevita Kuridrani, Tom Banks, Toni Pulu and NRL convert Solomone Kata spearheading the backline, expect plenty of running rugby from the Brumbies. Upfront, the Brumbies offer one of the strongest front-row combinations in the competition with Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a and Scott Sio set to start in the engine room. While the Brumbies will be able to field a strong side when fully fit, the real concern is their depth should injuries strike at any point in the season.

Waratahs

Stadium: Sydney Cricket Ground, Western Sydney Stadium, Brookvale Oval and Hunter Stadium

Last year: 12th

 

2020 squad: Robbie Abel, Angus Bell, Jack Dempsey, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tetera Faulkner, Charlie Gamble, Ned Hanigan, Will Harris, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Tom Horton, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Rory O'Connor, Tom Robertson, Rob Simmons, Hugh Sinclair, Tom Staniforth, Lachie Swinton, Pat Tafa, Chris Talakai, Carlo Tizzano, Andrew Tuala, Kurtley Beale, Cam Clark, Lalakai Foketi, Jake Gordon, Will Harrison, Karmichael Hunt, Mack Mason, Michael McDonald, Tepai Moeroa, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Alex Newsome, James Ramm, Mitch Short, Joey Walton.

 

IN: Tetera Faulkner, Robbie Abel, Tom Horton, Charlie Gamble, Carlo Tizzano, Michael McDonald, Tepai Moeroa, Joey Walton, Mark Nawaqanitawase

 

OUT: Sekope Kepu, Sham Vui, Tolu Latu, Le Roux Roets, Will Miller, Michael Wells, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, John Folau, Curtis Rona, Israel Folau

 

The Waratahs 2019 season started with much promise but quickly de-railed in the face of the Israel Folau controversy. With Folau’s shadow now fully removed from the Waratahs, this season offers even more change for the Sydneysiders. They have a new coach in the form of kiwi Rob Penney and a new skipper with Rob Simmons taking over the reins from Michael Hooper. They have also lost some firepower from last year with Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley and Sekope Kepu all now plying their trade overseas. As if that wasn’t enough, the Waratahs will play at four separate venues across Sydney with Allianz Stadium currently being rebuilt. They start their season with the hardest possible assignment – away from home against the Crusaders in round one.

Rebels

Stadium: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Last year: 11

 

2020 squad: Jermaine Ainsley, Angus Cottrell, Cabous Eloff, Mees Erasmus, Pone Fa’amausili, Matt Gibbon, Esei Ha’angana, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Trevor Hosea, Luke Jones, Josh Kemeny, Boyd Killingworth, Gideon Koegelenberg, Rob Leota, Declan Moore, Isi Naisarani, Cameron Orr, Matt Philip, Anaru Rangi, Fereti Sa’aga, Ruan Smith, Jordan Uelese, Michael Wells, Brad Wilkin, Andrew Deegan, Tom English, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Frank Lomani, Ryan Louwrens, Jack Maddocks, Campbell Magnay, Bill Meakes, Harry Potter, Matt Toomua, Semisi Tupou, James Tutt

 

IN: Andrew Deegan, Cabous Eloff, Andrew Kellaway, Josh Kemeny, Boyd Killingworth, Gideon Koegelenberg, Frank Lomani, Ryan Louwrens, Declan Moore, Cameron Orr, Harry Potter, Ruan Smith, James Tuttle, Michael Wells

 

OUT: Ben Daley, Tetera Faulkner, Sam Talakai, Robbie Abel, Hugh Roach, Adam Coleman, Sam Jeffries, Will Genia, Harrison Goddard, Michael Ruru, Quade Cooper, Stu Dunbar, Sione Tuipulotu

 

The Rebels have named a squad stacked with proven game-breakers, up and coming stars and wily veterans for their tenth season in Investec Super Rugby. There’s no denying the Rebels firepower out wide with Wallabies Marika Koroibete, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge and Jack Maddocks back on deck for another season. The issue for the Rebels will be supplying their slick backline with enough clean ball to showcase their attacking flare. If the Rebels hardworking tight five can gain parity with their more fancied opponents in the tight exchanges, then the Rebels will be a contender in the Australian conference.

Reds

Stadium: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Last year: 14

 

2020 squad: Angus Blyth, Sean Farrell, Feao Fotuaika, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Tom Kibble, Alex Mafi, Fraser McReight, Josh Nasser, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Scott-Young, JP Smith, Taniela Tupou, Seru Uru, Harry Wilson, Michael Wood, Liam Wright, Angus Blyth, Sean Farrell, Feao Fotuaika, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Tom Kibble, Jock Campbell, Filipo Daugunu, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Carter Gordon, Jack Hardy, Bryce Hegarty, Isaac Lucas, Scott Malolua, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia, Henry Speight, Moses Sorovi, Hamish Stewart

 

IN: David Faeo, Josh Nasser, Sean Farrell, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Michael Wood, Tom Kibble, Seru Uru, Carter Gorgon, James O'Connor, Hunter Paisami, Henry Speight

 

OUT: Gavin Luka, Ruan Smith, Efi Maafu, Adam Korczyk, Caleb Timu, Scott Higginbotham, James Tuttle, Matt McGahan, Teti Tela, Samu Kerevi, Duncan Paia'aua, Seb Wileman, Will Eadie, Sefa Naivalu, Liam McNamara, Aidan Toua

 

The Reds have recruited well to counteract the loss of former captain and game-breaker Samu Kerevi. Into the squad come Brumbies flyer Henry Speight and Wallabies utility James O’Connor. When including the emerging talent of 19-year-old mid-fielder Jordan Petaia, the Reds are well covered in the back department. Up front the stage is set for Taniela Tupou to become a genuine star of Super Rugby. The dynamic 135kg front rower has racked up 40 appearances for the Reds since his debut as a 19-year-old in 2016 and now has the chance to assert himself as one of the premier players in the competition. Although the Reds finished second to last on the competition ladder last year, 2020 shapes as a much more promising prospect for the side.

Sunwolves

Stadium: Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo

Last year: 15th

 

2020 squad (more players to be added): Jarred Adams, Sione Asi, Chris Eves, Conraad Van Vuuren, Leni Apisai, Ben Hyne, Michael Stolberg, Corey Thomas, Kotaro Yatabe, Mitch Jacobson, Mateaki Kafatolu, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Brendon O'Connor, Tevita Tupou, Onehunga Havili, Jake Schatz, Rudy Paige, Naoto Saito, Garth April, JJ Engelbrecht, Siosaia Fifita, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Ben Te'o, James Dargaville, Burua Inoke, Keisuke Moriya, Jaba Bregvadze, Tom Rowe, Hencus van Wyk, Efi Maafu, Tautalatasi Tasi 

 

To say it is a new-look Sunwolves squad in 2020 is an understatement. Only three players - Jaba Bregvadze, Tom Rowe and Hencus van Wyk – remain from the 2019 squad. Despite losing the nucleus of their team for their final season, the Sunwolves have far from thrown in the towel. Instead they have gone on a recruitment drive and built a squad that is filled with familiar names. Upfront, former Hurricanes teammates Chris Eves and Leni Apisai will bolster the front row. There are more familiar names to New Zealand audiences in the loose forwards with Mateaki Kafatolu, Brendon O’Connor and Mitch Jacobsen all onboard. The Sunwolves most eye-brow raising recruit comes in the shape of former England mid-fielder Ben Te’o who provides the Japan-based side with some genuine star power. There’s no doubt that they have a talented squad on paper, but the real question is whether they can become a formidable and fully functioning unit in a short space of time.