INSIDERUGBY

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - BY F OX S PORTS’ N ICK M CA R DLE

When you think of rugby in 2017, you pic­ture the typ­i­cal Aussie fan si ing in a cor­ner, knees held tightly to chest, rock­ing back and forth mum­bling “make it stop, make it stop”.

Yeah, it was a bit like that at times. The ax­ing of the West­ern Force came at great cost: friend­ships, faith and trust in the na­tional body. For­give­ness will be hard won.

On the park, Aus­tralia’s Su­per Rugby teams played Kiwi sides 26 times and won ex­actly ... none. Not once, nada, zilch, zero. So for all sorts of rea­sons, the new Su­per Rugby sea­son can’t come quickly enough.

We were promised the ax­ing of a team would make Aus­tralia more com­pet­i­tive. On pa­per there’s a lot to like about the Aussies, and with some early wins against the Ki­wis, we might fi­nally close the gap be­tween ex­pec­ta­tion and re­al­ity. Proof will be in the 2018 pud­ding.

MEL­BOURNE REBELS

The Rebels are the great ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the cull from five to four. They’ll turn out in 2018 with 14 Wal­la­bies, along with Eng­land and Lions Test prop Ge­off Par­ling and Ja­pan’sTest no.8 Amanaki Mafi, Aus­tralia’s Su­per Rugby Player of the Year in 2017.

With Will Ge­nia, Adam Cole­man, Dane Hayle - Pe y, Marika Koroi­bete and Sefa Naivalu, the Rebels are gen­uinely star-stud­ded.

The early spot­light, though, will fall on the coach Dave Wes­sels. Mel­bourne was the worst team in Su­per Rugby last year. Can Wes­sels, an­other Force refugee, mould a team of cham­pi­ons into a cham­pion team in his first year?That is one of the big­gest ques­tions in Aus­tralian rugby in 2018.

REDS

While we’re talk­ing coaches, what does Bradley Carnegie Thorn have in store? As a player, lo o was about the only thing he didn’t win. He’s a World Cup cham­pion, Su­per Rugby cham­pion and Heineken Cup cham­pion. In league, he was an NRL cham­pion, Ori­gin win­ner and rep­re­sented the Kan­ga­roos on eight oc­ca­sions. What BradThorn doesn’t know about win­ning as a player isn’t worth know­ing.

Does that translate to coach­ing suc­cess? We’re about to find out. If his suc­cess with Queens­land Coun­try in the NRC is any in­di­ca­tion, you can ex­pect the Reds to be rock­et­ing up the Su­per Rugby ta­ble.

Al­ready the new coach has had his chal­lenges. He’s cut Quade Cooper loose and the wash-up from Karmichael Hunt’s drugs charges is still un­clear, but there’s more than enough ex­cit­ing young tal­ent – Tui, Rodda andTupou – to en­sure the Reds will be big im­provers in 2018.

WARATAHS

When the Reds and the Waratahs are per­form­ing well, Aus­tralian rugby is per­form­ing well.

It will be a cru­cial year for the Tahs. Coach Daryl Gib­son copped plenty of crit­i­cism last sea­son and early suc­cess in 2018 will be the only way to keep those same crit­ics at bay. He’s in the last year of his con­tract so the pres­sure will mount quickly. They’ve missed the play-offs two years in a row – Gibbo, and the en­tire or­gan­i­sa­tion, can’t af­ford to make it a hat-trick.

The back­line will show in­stant im­prove­ment with Kurt­ley Beale back in blue. His re­turn from English rugby into a Wal­laby jersey was ex­cel­lent and the Tahs will need him at his best. The back­line didn’t al­ways func­tion so well last year, but KB will make a huge dif­fer­ence to the likes of Bernard Fo­ley and Is­rael Fo­lau. Throw in winger Cur­tis Rona, re­turn­ing to Syd­ney from the Force, andTahs fans are dar­ing to dream.

The Waratahs need some mon­grel and it’ll be in­trigu­ing to see who can fill that role of en­forcer – think Jac­ques Pot­gi­eter in 2014.

BRUMBIES

And last, but given the his­tory of Aus­tralian Su­per Rugby, cer­tainly not least – the Brumbies.

“Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful Su­per Rugby team.” You’ll hear Rod Kafer roll that one out most weeks on Fox Sports and while it’s true, the last ti­tle in 2004 is a long time ago.

In 2018, Dan McKel­lar re­places Stephen Larkham as head coach and for­mer Brumbies boss Lau­rie Fisher is back in the coach­ing mix.

There’s good news on the park too. Last year’s best rugby story will continue to un­fold in 2018 – the re­turn of Chris­tian Leali­ifano. A£er the all-clear from his cancer treat­ment and a cameo for the Brums at the end of 2017, Chris­tian spent our sum­mer in Ire­land, where he dom­i­nated for Ul­ster. Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate what his re­turn will mean for the Brumbies.

David Po­cock’s sab­bat­i­cal is over but un­for­tu­nately the Brumbies will have to wait just a li le longer to see him back in ac­tion. Knee surgery has de­layed the star flanker's re­turn to the field by a cou­ple of months.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.