Time to crunch the numbers in the Australian conference in the 2012 Super Rugby competition. Can a statistical edge be found for your Friday afternoon tipping?
Wild Horses – Brumbies
New Kids on the Block: Fotu Auelua (NTT Communications – Japan), Ben Mowen (Waratahs), Tom Cox (Academy), Cam Crawford (Academy), Ruaidhri Murphy (Academy), Ian Prior (Reds), Siliva Siliva (Western Force Academy), Jesse Mogg (Academy), Joseph Tomane (Titans), Kimami Sitauti (Under 20’s), Tevita Kuridrani (Under 20’s), Leon Power (Bay of Plenty), Dylan Stigg (Academy), Scott Sio (Under 20’s), Zack Holmes (Western Force Academy), Scott Fardy (Kamaishi Seawaves)
Missing in Action: Rocky Elsom (Waratahs), Francis Fainifo (Stade Francais), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Salesi Ma’afu (Force), Patrick Phibbs (Exeter Chiefs), Huia Edmonds (Saracens – England), Mark Chisholm (Aviron Bayonnais), Mitchell Chapman (NTT Communications), Josh Valentine (Narbonnee), Matt Giteau (Toulon), Stephen Hoiles (released), Henry Vanderglas (Bristol), Julian Salvi (Leicester), Samu Wara (Brumbies)
Marquee Man: Pat McCabe
The only player who came out the other side of the annus horribilus with any credibility. He led the team for tackle busts (44), linebreaks (12), and run metres (1092m), but it was his defence that had Dingo Deans reaching for the phone. In 14 appearances (averaging 75mins per game) he only missed 5 tackles all season.
In the Brumbies remarkable win over the Reds at Suncorp he made a game high 21 tackles in a ferocious defensive effort. He’ll be raring to go under the fresh leadership and direction of Jake White.
Keep Your Eye On: Colby Faingaa
The third Faingaa in the triangle featuring big brothers Saia and Anthony; this kid is making his own mark on the rugby field. Captain of the Australian Under 20’s at last year’s Junior Championship, he has developed into a natural leader since his 2010 debut against the Waratahs at ANZ Stadium.
Rewarded last season with six starts last season, he is sure to build on this experience in 2012, and show his bro that there’s only one Faingaa that matters in the nation’s capital.
To Do List: It can’t get any worse than last season right? Four wins in 16 matches and an apathetic draw in Perth summed up the worst performance by a Brumbies team since 1998. Jake White’s priority has got be turning Canberra Stadium back into the frozen fortress it was a decade ago.
They conceded 17 of their 32 tries at home (53.1%) and teams that had never won in Canberra (Lions, Reds, Stormers) walked out of there wondering how they made it out of the deep freeze with all four points.
The only relief for the Canberra Stadium stalwart in 2011 was wins against the Rebels, Chiefs, and Hurricanes; all cellar dwellers themselves but a win’s a win right? The task ahead; no more than two losses at home in 2012.
Big Question: Has the Brumby bolted, or can it be reined in again this season?
May the Force be with You (Western Force)
New Kids on the Block: Winston Stanley (Blues), Toby Lynn (Chiefs), Salesi Ma’afu (Brumbies), Samu Wara (Northern Suburbs), Salesi Manu (Warringah), Lachlan McCaffrey (Waratahs), Napolioni Nalaga (Clermont), Jordan Rapana (Gold Coast Titans), Will Tupou (Cowboys), Ben Seymour (Waratahs Academy), Elvis Taione (Manly), Angus Cottrell (West Brisbane).
Missing in Action: James O’Connor (Rebels), Mitch Inman (Rebels), Paul Alo-Emile (Rebels), Matt Dunning (Biarritz), Tim Fairbrother (Harlequins), Siliva Siliva (Brumbies), Mark Bartholomeusz (retired), Tevita Metuisela (Waratahs), David Smith (Toulon), Willia Ripia (sacked), Mark Swanepoel (Canterbury), Tom Hocking (released), Jono Jenkins (released), Ryan Tyrrell (Cardiff Blues).
Marquee Man: David Pocock
One of only seven foundation players remaining at the club, Pocock will be charged with turning around their fortunes in 2012. Six seasons under Nathan Sharpe’s leadership has come to an end with Pocock determined to fit his 104kg frame into the captain’s armband.
The last two seasons have been interrupted by injury, but Richard Graham is banking on those bulging biceps to recapture his 2009 form which saw Pocock as the leading Aussie tackler in the competition.
Keep Your Eye On: Winston Stanley
The younger brother of All Blacks and Blues centre Benson, and nephew of legendary “Smokin” Joe Stanley, Winston has moved 5000kms from Auckland to the Wild West in search of regular game time. Since making his Super Rugby debut three years ago, the IRB Junior Player of the Year in 2009 has averaged just 10mins across 6 games for the Blues.
To Do List:
Too many points were dropped last season with narrow losses. Four of their nine losses were by five points or less, and Richard Graham will be looking to his squad to close out the game this year. In the final 20 minute period in 2011, the Force conceded the second most amount of points (132) behind the Rebels in the competition. T
he Reds, Sharks, Blues, Stormers, Waratahs, Crusaders, and Rebels all benefited from these lapses in concentration racking up 10 or more points against the Force in this 60-80 minute period. DE-FENCE the Force faithful will be shouting.
Big Question: Is the Force strong enough to evade the wooden spoon?
Rebels with a Cause (Melbourne Rebels)
New Kids on the Block: James O’Connor (Western Force), Mitch Inman (Western Force), Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Paul Alo-Emile (Western Force), Lloyd Johansson (Honda Heat), James King (Blues)
Missing in Action: Sam Cordingley (retired), JP du Plessis (Western Province), Peter Betham (released), Hoani MacDonald (Highlanders), Kevin O’Neill (retired), Greg Somerville (retired), Luke Rooney (Toulon), Afusipa Taumoepeau (released)
Marquee Man: Kurtley Beale
The attacking void Kurtley Beale has left at the Waratahs is longer than the Yarra River he now calls home.
In 2011 he was responsible for 16% of the Waratahs total linebreaks, 30% of their linebreak assists, 29.4% of their try assists, and 41.6% of their points. It was a standout season for Beale; he featured in the competition’s top five for, linebreaks, linebreak assists, and try assists, and scored 167 points for the Waratahs, the most in a season in his career.
He started all 17 matches, and played the most minutes by any Waratah. His 76th minute substitution against the Rebels denied him the honour of playing every minute of the Waratahs season. The Rebels have a potent attacking weapon in their arsenal, and will be hoping his hamstring which curtailed his World Cup form, doesn’t twinge again this season.
Keep your Eye on: Lloyd Johansson
After three seasons with Italian side Viadana, and one with Japan’s Honda Heat, Johansson returns to Super Rugby, and to his home-state. Johansson played 20 games for the Reds between 2005 and 2007, and most rugby fans will probably have forgotten he has worn the green and gold.
He made his Wallabies debut against the All Blacks in 2005, scoring 2 minutes after coming off the bench. It was not the fairy-tale to be, with the All Blacks running out 34-24 winners, and with that Johansson’s international career also fell by the wayside, only making 2 more appearances for Australia; against France and England on the subsequent Spring Tour.
To Do List:
New coach Damien Hill and his assistants John Muggleton, Nathan Grey, and Matt Cockbain need to address the Rebel’s defensive rabble. They conceded the most amount of points (570), tries (74) and linebreaks (116) in 2011, never mind the fact that they freely handed out the four-try bonus point to 12 out of their 16 opposition teams.
They also have a job in organising their backs; with new signings Beale and O’Connor guaranteed a start in every match, he needs to draw straws for the fall guy.
Will O’Connor start in the No.10 jersey, relegating much hyped fly-half Danny Cipriani to the bench, or will he and veteran Stirling Mortlock partner up in midfield?
Will the Rebels stay in second gear at the bottom of the table, or will the new faces steer the results in a new direction?
Flower Power (Waratahs)
New Kids On The Block: Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies), Rocky Elsom (Brumbies), Sarel Pretorius (Cheetahs), Grayson Hart (Southern Districts)
Missing in Action: Luke Burgess (Toulouse), Sosene Anesi (NTT Communications), Al Baxter (retired), Kurtley Beale (Rebels), Ryan Cross (Perpignan), Ben Mowen (Brumbies), Elvis Taione (Western Force), Phil Waugh (retired), Lachie McCaffrey (Western Force), Josh Holmes (Bourgoin), Pat O’Connor (Agen – France), Ben Roberts (retired).
Marquee Man: Sarel Pretorius
This team is packed full of Wallabies experience, so it will be interesting to see how Pretorius fits into the old boys club at the Waratahs.
He begins his two year stint as the marquee import, and looking at his attacking stats from last season, you can see why Michael Foley is expecting big things from the former Cheetah. Equal leading try scorer (9) with Sean Maitland and Bjorn Basson, most linebreaks (15) by any South African player and 5th overall, second in try assists (8) behind Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale (10), and he led his team for tackle busts (39) and linebreak creates (10).
Waratahs fans will remember is game breaking efforts on a rained soaked SFS pitch last season when he carried the Cheetahs to their first win on Australian soil.
His cameo on the wing yielded 1 try, 4 linebreaks, and 1 try assist. If he continues his form from last season, he could usurp Tiaan Strauss as the most popular South African at the SFS.
Keep Your Eye On: Tom Kingston
This young gun has been called up to the big boys after an impressive rookie cameo in 2011 which featured two run-on starts against the Blues and the Reds, and two appearances off the bench. His debut try against the Lions in Round 14 capped off a strong start to his professional career. Not bad for a guy who had never played a game of first-grade until their trial against Fiji this time last year.
If he can build on the experience around him he could provide a few welcome selection headaches for Michel Foley.
To Do List:
For a team that equalled the Crusaders with most tries (2.9) per game, the Waratahs endured the wrath of the faithful in 2011. Michael Foley has taken charge and will be doing his best to meet the lofty expectations of the fans. Appearances in two Finals and three semi-finals since 2005 has yet to produce any silverware, and with 481 Wallabies caps in the squad, the supporters are screaming WHEN, not IF will they lift the prized trophy.
Statistically the Waratahs weren’t far off last season, conceding the least amount of points in the competition (278), and the second least amount of tries (23), but it was their lack of form on the road (3 wins from 9 matches, and none outside of Australia) ultimately derailed their season. Their kicking game also came under scrutiny and it’s no surprise they topped the kick metre stats for the season (13,518m).
Big Question: Can the Waratahs bring back any points from visits to the Republic and across the ditch? They haven’t won outside of Australia since 8th May 2010 v Chiefs in Hamilton
Red Carpet (Reds)
New Kids On the Block: Chris Feauai-Sautia (Academy), David McDuling (Academy)
Missing in Action: Will Chambers (Melbourne Storm), Leroy Houston (Bordeaux), Ian Prior (Brumbies), Kimami Sitauti (Brumbies), Lei Tomiki (Stade Francais)
Marquee Man: Digby Ioane
Despite missing three games through injury, the flying winger (whose thighs are thicker than a prop’s neck) still managed to bust through 78 tackles, the most by any player in the competition. He finished equal second for linebreaks (16), directly busting through the opposition’s defensive line 11 times.
It needed Jerome Kaino to physically pick him up from behind in the 14th minute of the World Cup semi-final to stop this rampaging bull from scoring a try. So show him a red rag (or even a try line!) this season, and he’ll be unstoppable.
Keep Your Eye On: Chris Feauai-Sautia
Signed a fulltime Reds contract at just 17 years of age, the young winger has been awarded for his strong work with the Academy with an invitation to join the Super Rugby Champions on a full-time basis. He has done the yards on the Australian Schoolboy circuit with GPS, equal with Newington College’s Hugh Roach for the most number of Schoolboy caps (11), surpassing the previous mark of 9 matches held by Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale.
To Do List: What more can a coach do after winning the Championship? Win it again! And to do that he needs to keep the attacking flair flying. No Quade Cooper for the first six weeks which features the Sharks and the Bulls in a tour of the Republic mean Link needs to get his No.10 combinations working…ASAP.
Vying for the role are former North Harbour utility Mike Harris and fullback Ben Lucas; however only Mike Harris has experience playing in this position with the Reds – 22mins against the Rebels last season as Quade Cooper’s replacement. Harris has been chosen this week by Link for the Reds.
Apart from this substitution, Cooper played 80mins of every other Reds game in 2011. McKenzie will have to hope his replacement can overcome the lack of Super Rugby experience at fly-half to control the Red’s attacking game.
Big Question: Can the Reds become the first Aussie team to win two consecutive Super Rugby titles?