After the first third of the Super Rugby competition, it is about time I review the progress of the Australian teams. At first glance, the Australian teams have not been performing to the level that they should.
The good news is the Reds are just hitting their stride, the Rebels are starting to come together, and, the Force are going OK considering their injuries.
There may even be improvement at the Waratahs, and, with some backline shuffling, at the Brumbies too.
The best Australian team at the moment is the Reds.
They can be forgiven for the first two performances, as they were just getting into the competition, even the Crusaders lost in the first round.
But how fantastic was it to see Cooper, Genia and co. cutting loose over the last couple of weeks?
Part of their success has to be attributed to Beau Robinson. A lot of talk has been on how good Pocock is, but Robinson has lifted. His work rate is phenomenal.
It was a tough choice when I made a pre-competition prediction between the ‘Tahs and Reds for top spot. With the Reds in this form, they should be there.
One of the surprise packets this year has been the performance of the Force. The loss of key players over the last few seasons has spelt doom, but this year they are going far better.
The big losses to the Reds and Stormers aside, their games have been strong. This has been largely attributed to excellent leadership provided by Nathan Sharpe. He is certainly in the best form of his career and should be one of the first picked for the Wallabies this year.
James O’Connor has given the Wallabies selectors something to think about as a number 10 option. Giteau and Barnes should be looking over their shoulders.
Also, Nick Cummins seems to have grown a leg. He has to come into contention for higher honours, as should the back rowers.
As a new team made up of players from all over the world and rugby league, the Rebels were always going to struggle to get combinations going at the start of the season.
But the sight of a rejuvenated Striling Mortlock (hasn’t his running and defence been missed at the Wallabies) and forwards doing the hard yards has lead to the team starting to gel. This considering the injury toll augurs well for the Rebels.
The return of Rodzilla and Mark Gerrard will give the Wallabies selectors more options come RWC time. There is still a ways to go, but, I think as the competition goes on, this team will improve. They may not make the finals, but will certainly create some interesting results and scares for finals contenders.
I have deliberately left the Waratahs and Brumbies until last. Both teams have been disappointing this year.
Again on paper, the ‘Tahs have the cattle that should make them unbeatable. So why are they not leading the competition? A good win over the Reds is forgotten with a poor performance against the Cheetahs, and not what I would call a convincing win over the Brumbies.
There are a few players that so far have not done anything to show they should be in the Wallabies – Beale, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Drew Mitchell being the exceptions.
Once again they are turning fans away. This is not good for the Waratahs, the Wallabies or Rugby in general. The ‘Tahs need to be the team in the biggest city that draws in the crowds, continually dragging out the ‘winning ugly’ term needs to be dropped.
So to my Brumbies. I have written previously about where the problems are so I won’t go into it again. Given that there are injuries to key players of Moore, McCabe and Elsom, perhaps I am being too harsh.
What I will say is that there are positives around the side.
I think the forwards in particular (except the shambles that was the lineout against the Waratahs) have been going well.
Dan Palmer is starting to be and will be a great tight head prop, and again will put a smile on the Wallabies coaching staff faces as finally the front row stocks are improving.
I still can’t see the Brumbies making the finals. Giteau continues to put himself before the team, and while his game improved against the Tahs, he needs to move (hopefully to the bench).
Again, I cannot believe that with a player in the bin and hard on attack the shot at goal was taken.
Granted it was a close match, but all it did was give the Waratah’s three minutes of breathing space and time off the yellow card of Carter, plus from the kick off position down the Brumbies half.
At least Lealiifano at 12 worked well and with the hopeful return of Pat McCabe, should at least spell a victory to the Brumbies soon.
My original prediction for the Australian conference was:
The current table is quite different, however the Brumbies are in my predicted position. For mine, the current table is the likely finishing order for the Australian conference.
I can’t see the Brumbies moving too much higher, unless they go into decline. So my new table is:
Hopefully some of the momentum being gained by the Australian teams will feed into the Wallabies this year.
The leadership of Sharpe, the skills and commitment from the Reds and the growth of the Rebels as a team feeding into the Wallaby team can only be a good thing.