ARU boss O’Neill defends Aussie conference
Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill says recent results scupper the suggestion that Super Rugby’s Australian conference is weak and insists it wouldn’t be a big blow if only one local team make the finals.
With five rounds remaining, the third-placed Brumbies are the only Australian side presently stationed in the top six.
Successive bonus-point wins have lifted defending champions Queensland up to eighth, five points off sixth spot and eight behind the Brumbies.
A Reds’ loss to the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday would almost certainly seal the conference title for the ACT-based franchise and condemn Australia to just one finalist.
“It (just one Australian finalist) is not a big blow, it’s a tough competition,” O’Neill told reporters on Tuesday.
“I’d always prefer to see two Australian teams in the finals. Certainly the winner of the conference goes through automatically. It will be quite a tight finish, I think.”
O’Neill dubbed the previously unfancied Brumbies as the surprise packet.
“You look at what their odds were at the start of the season, you wouldn’t have necessarily picked them to be heading the conference, ” O’Neill said.
“But they have played a very good style of rugby and they have done the simple things really well.
“All credit to both (head coach) Jake White and (forwards coach) Laurie Fisher and the players.
“The Reds are coming home with a wet sail and it’s great to see Quade Cooper back and Will Genia is playing superbly and some new talent like (Brumbies openside flanker) Michael Hooper has emerged.
“The people who have been arguing or saying that the Australian conference is weak, I don’t think recent results, with Australian teams beating New Zealand and South African teams, really supports that notion.”
The Rebels, Waratahs and Force all appear to be out of the finals running.
O’Neill was reluctant to be drawn on the fortunes of the underachieving Waratahs, who have won just four out of 12 games and languish in 11th spot, one place below the Rebels and two above the Force.
“The Waratahs have had a lot of injuries, that’s disrupted their campaign,” O’Neill said.© AAP 2013
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