Super Rugby 2018 preview: Waratahs and Brumbies

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    The 2017 Super Rugby season will be remembered in Australia for the demise of the Force, overall poor performances, low crowd attendances, as well as a record run of losses to our neighbours across the ditch.

    While I didn’t want to see the Force culled, I am optimistic that their loss will not be in vain. This year we will see better performances and an increase in attendances.

    The new conference structure is a much simpler format too – hopefully another contributing factor in seeing some interest return to the competition.

    Here I run the rule over the Waratahs and Brumbies, with an assessment of the Reds and Rebels tomorrow.


    Coming off a disappointing 2017, where they finished 16th in the overall standings, the Tahs have had some serious questions raised about the state of their dressing room.

    Daryl Gibson has always seemed like his own man and he will throw everything at this season. However, the coach will be heavily reliant on his big stars to deliver, and he does not have the cattle to make a significant change to their overall standings from last year.

    1. Tom Robertson
    2. Tolu Latu
    3. Sekope Kepu
    4. Rob Simmons
    5. Ned Hanigan
    6. Jack Dempsey
    7. Michael Hooper
    8. Jed Holloway
    9. Jake Gordon
    10. Bernard Foley
    11. Andrew Kellaway
    12. Kurtley Beale
    13. Curtis Rona
    14. Taqele Naiyaravoro
    15. Israel Folau

    16. Damien Fitzpatrick
    17. Paddy Ryan
    18. Shambeckler Vui
    19. Tom Staniforth
    20. Michael Wells
    21. Nick Phipps
    22. Irae Simone
    23. Cameron Clarke

    R. Hugh Roach
    R. JP Sauni
    R. Matt Sandell
    R. Harry Johnson-Holmes
    R. Cody Walker
    R. Leon Power
    R. Nick Palmer
    R. Lachlan Swinton
    R. Will Miller
    R. Brad Wilkin
    R. Bryce Hegarty
    R. Mack Mason
    R. Alex Newsome
    R. Lalakai Foketi
    Coach: Daryl Gibson

    Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson

    Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson (AAP Image/ David Rowland)

    Will Skelton, Dean Mumm, Matt Lucas, Andrew Deegan, David Horwitz, Rob Horne, Reece Robinson, Harry Jones

    Harry Johnson-Holmes, Shambeckler Vui, Cody Walker, Nick Palmer, Tom Staniforth, Leon Power, Rob Simmons, Lachlan Swinton, Will Miller, Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Lalakai Foketi

    Biggest gain
    The Waratahs’ recruitment for 2018 has not seen the usual big names flocking to the sky blue. However, one key signing is the return of Kurtley Beale. He will add some much need flair to the backline and complete the Foley-Beale-Folau attacking trifecta.

    Biggest loss
    While the verdict is still out on Will Skelton, his size, strength and aggression will be missed in this forward pack. Looking at this squad there is a distinct lack of imposing players, which the Waratahs are usually renowned for.

    Key player
    Izz there anyone else? The Wallabies’ northern tour showed how much of an asset Israel Folau is as an attacking weapon. His fitness and form will be the key to the Waratahs’ season.

    Up and comer
    Shambeckler Vui made significant improvements during his limited opportunities with the Force. At 20 years of age he is a young prop with a great deal of strength and an impressive turn of pace. He was a class above during this year’s under-20s championship and if you haven’t seen his 50-metre try against the Italians, do yourself a favour.

    Unknown entity
    Lalakai Foketi was a player that I expected big things from after seeing him play in the U20s Championship in 2013. After spending some time in the Rebels system, he has since been playing in the ITM cup in New Zealand.

    I am not sure how he has progressed in the last couple of years, but he could potentially make a name for himself if given an opportunity. Great speed, footwork and strength, and still with youth on his side at the age of 23, he has been given a second chance to crack the Super ranks.

    Predicted finish
    Conference: fourth
    Overall: 12th


    Is this the year of the Horse? As a Brumbies fan, I find myself neighing this quite often in January. However, I am far more optimistic than years gone, mainly because of squad depth and the potential in the starting 15.

    Retention of key players has been well managed, while recruitment has been well balanced to plug any holes left by departures.

    No Australian team will be strong enough to take out the title, but the Brumbies have the right mix of stars, up-and-comers and squad stability to give it a real shot.

    1. Scott Sio
    2. Folau Fainga’a
    3. Allan Ala’alatoa
    4. Tom Carter
    5. Rory Arnold
    6. Isi Naisarani
    7. David Pocock
    8. Rob Valetini
    9. Joe Powell
    10. Christian Lealiifano
    11. Henry Speight
    12. Kyle Godwin
    13. Tevita Kuridrani
    14. Chance Peni
    15. Tom Banks

    16. Robbie Abel
    17. Ben Alexander
    18. Les Makin
    19. Richie Arnold
    20. Tom Cusack
    21. Matt Lucas
    22. Wharenui Hawera
    23. James Verity-Amm

    R. Nic Mayhew
    R. Mees Erasmus
    R. Joshua Mann-Rea
    R. Darcy Swain
    R. Ben Hyne
    R. Blake Enever
    R. Lolo Fakaosilea
    R. Lachlan McCaffrey
    R. Ryan Lonergan
    R. Jordan Jackson-Hope
    R. Tom Muirhead
    R. Mack Hansen
    R. James Dargaville
    R. Lausii Taliauli
    Coach: Dan McKellar


    Tevita Kuridrani (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Saia Fainga’a, Scott Fardy, Tom Staniforth, Jordan Smiler, Jarrad Butler, Chris Alcock, Tomas Cubelli, De Wet Roos, Nick Jooste, Anthony Fainga’a, Nigel Ah Wong, Aiden Toua

    Mees Erasmus, Folau Fainga’a, Richie Arnold, Darcy Swain, David Pocock, Lachlan McCaffrey, Isi Naisarani, Rob Valetini, Matt Lucas, Chance Peni, James Verity-Amm, Mack Hansen

    Biggest gain
    He returns! David Pocock is back and hopefully better than ever. His presence in any team, on or off the field, is immense. His leadership will be critical in what is shaping up to be a relatively young, but incredibly exciting back row.

    Biggest loss
    While Scott Fardy was a pillar of the Brumbies’ success in recent years, Cubelli’s spark is the biggest loss. He had the ability to light up the attack and create opportunities out of nothing. This is something I have yet to see in Powell and hope he can add it to his game.

    Key player
    Unfortunately the key player for the Brumbies will be exactly that man: Joe Powell. He must continue to build on his 2016 form and start to offer greater variety to go with his great service. This is a defining year for Powell and will determine if he is a Wallaby, or just a squad member while the national side was rebuilding depth.

    Up and comer
    I recall Brett McCay said to watch out for this kid during the NRC – and boy he didn’t disappoint! Big Rob Valetini was a weapon in his first NRC season.

    He has all the characteristics of a great number 8 – expect him to even be in the Wallabies’ frame by the end of this season.

    Unknown entity
    Mack Hansen has already been given the tag of ‘young Stephen Larkham’, which unfortunately did not help Nick Jooste’s career, however Hansen looks ready to develop into a Super Rugby-quality player.

    Don’t expect him to get much time in the 23 this season, but if it’s thrust upon him, he will grab the opportunity with both hands.

    Predicted finish
    Conference: first
    Overall: third

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    The Crowd Says (86)

    • Roar Guru

      January 23rd 2018 @ 3:15am
      Harry Jones said | January 23rd 2018 @ 3:15am | ! Report

      Exciting! It’s almost here.

      Here was my Fashion Review of the Brumbies’ uniforms:

      “The Brumbies are saying to the Australian conference with their 2018 strip: “We want to go back. Back to 1996. No deconstruction. No reinterpretation. No two ways. No irony.” Their ‘gold’ of the last few years is burned back to a dark orange. The white base of the home jersey is no frills, workmanlike, Kearnsey-craftsman. As the players sweat, even props will be flattered by the colour-blocked shoulders and rib-cage lines. No sexiness, except a scoop neck, to show a little cleavage by socially-conscious flankers.”

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:59am
        Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:59am | ! Report

        Very excited as well H.
        Whilst I love traditionalism, the Brumbies jersey is a real snooze. Make the home traditional, then go wild for the away Jersey imo

    • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:36am
      Cynical Play said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      Great write-up. Thanks. I’d like to see a Tahs front row of Vui, Sauni, Kepu at some stage. Brumbies certainly look to have more than covered their losses.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:55am
        Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:55am | ! Report

        Thanks CP
        Yeah, I would love to see Vui and Kepu in tandem.i haven’t seen enough of Sauni, I’ll keep an eye out for him this season.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 11:13am
        jameswm said | January 23rd 2018 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Don’t Vui and Kepu both play TH?

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 12:00pm
          Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

          I have only seen Vui play TH. I think he plays a similar mould to Kepu.

          He seems to have the strength and is a good enough scrummager where he could make the switch. But I think overall TH does suit him best.

        • Roar Guru

          January 23rd 2018 @ 2:01pm
          jeznez said | January 23rd 2018 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          Yep – let’s not mess another prop up by making him switch sides.

          Kepu is coming to the end of his career, having a young tighthead coming off the bench for him is great for both players.

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 2:48pm
            MitchO said | January 23rd 2018 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

            I agree Jez. Switching props around is not good but at test level we need at least one more loosehead who can scrum okay. It is great having AAA, Tupou, Ainsley and Faulkner with Vui in the queue all pushing for that tighthead side but what about loosehead?

            Sio will fix his overextension problems against good scrums in time. He is not a natural scrummager and needs to learn by sheer weight of experience. Robertson is okay around the ground but his scrummaging is a real liability and at present at 108kg or so he is giving up maybe 10kg of power and not even technique improvements will fix that.

            • Roar Guru

              January 23rd 2018 @ 3:50pm
              jeznez said | January 23rd 2018 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

              Slipper should hopefully be back from all his injuries, he would have headed on the November tour if he hadn’t been punched and fractured his eye socket.

              AAA can play loosehead and if there are enough TH candidates becomes an option to move back across (although he won’t get opportunities at the Brumbies on that side with Sio and Alexander there).

              After that it has to be one of the younger guys Fa’agase at the Reds, Sa’aga at the Rebels, Sione at the Brumbies all are young. We’ll have to see how they come through.

              I had hopes that Ryan would thrive after the switch but after some positive signs in 2016 he showed little improvement last year.

              I’m seeing nothing out of Robertson on the LH side, at tighthead he could set low but he is proving ineffective on the other side. Needs to learn the Benn Robinson duck dive technique but I don’t think he is strong enough to attack much bigger tightheads that way.

              • January 23rd 2018 @ 5:47pm
                MitchO said | January 23rd 2018 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

                Cheers Jez, I don’t watch enough rugby to see how the other looseheads are doing so I hope one of those young guys can come through. Ben Daley is a good player. If he stays uninjured (big IF) that is at least good for the Rebels.

                Is Pek Cowan still around. He’s a good super level prop.

              • Roar Guru

                January 23rd 2018 @ 8:48pm
                jeznez said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:48pm | ! Report

                Sione I think will be the interesting one – is an absolute monster for a very young man.


                Turns 22 next month, 183cm, 125kg and doesn’t look fat. One of the best looking necks I’ve seen in a long time.

              • January 24th 2018 @ 10:45am
                Markus said | January 24th 2018 @ 10:45am | ! Report

                Jez I thought Sione did pretty well in the NRC, but from announcements to date I cannot identify if he is in the Brumbies squad for this year.

                They have picked up Mees Erasmus from the Force squad. I don’t know anything about him, but at 120kg he could be a solid option.
                Hopefully he can become as strong as another popular red-haired South African prop.

              • Roar Guru

                January 24th 2018 @ 12:36pm
                jeznez said | January 24th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

                He’s still listed on their website. Based on the Wikipedia showing all squads for 2018 it shows him transferred out to the Canberra NRC side.

                I read that to mean he is still in the EPS. He’s very young so I have no issue with him being on the fringes.

                I really only listed the three blokes above that I did to show where our next LH might come from behind Sio, Slipper and AAA (if the TH depth continues to grow)(and excluding Robertson from discussion)

    • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:44am
      Fionn said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      I don’t think we can come third overall, but I would absolutely love for you to be correct ?

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 8:03am
        Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        Maybe I am over excited again… It’s this blind loyalty that hurts me in my punters club all the time ?

      • Roar Guru

        January 23rd 2018 @ 2:02pm
        jeznez said | January 23rd 2018 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

        Per the author’s prediction if they are conference winners then they will be in the overall top 3. I assume he doesn’t mean based on win/loss/BP records.

    • Roar Guru

      January 23rd 2018 @ 7:48am
      PeterK said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Brumbies won’t finish 3rd IMO.

      They will struggle to beat any NZ teams again this year let alone finish ahead of 2 of them.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 8:14am
        Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        I just think the balance of the team, the squad depth and the coaching staff will be massive factors in the Brumbies having a big year. We have some of the best up and comers mixed in through some big names and very experienced players. Even when we inevitably lose some players to injury over the year, I don’t think most of this squad would be out of place in a starting super rugby jersey.

        Also (and I think a lot will disagree with me), I think this is the start of the downturn for New Zealand sides. I don’t mean they will be cellar dwellers or anything, but I think they will have a much harder time in this new look competition.

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 11:15am
          jameswm said | January 23rd 2018 @ 11:15am | ! Report

          Squad depth? The Brums starting 15 looks good, but 16-23 looks soft. The Tahs bench looks better.

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 12:11pm
            Fionn said | January 23rd 2018 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

            Really? I’d say the Tahs’ forward reserves are far, far worse with the only better player on the Tahs’ bench being halfback.

            Alexander > Ryan
            Makin > Vui
            Abel > Fitzpatrick
            Cuscack/McCaffrey > Wells
            Hawera/Smith > Simone
            Verity-Amm/Dargaville > Clarke

            The only reserve spot that the Tahs might be better (and I stress might) is Phipps over Lucas. Even there I am not convinced.

            • January 27th 2018 @ 11:02pm
              double agent said | January 27th 2018 @ 11:02pm | ! Report

              McCaffrey?? Please…

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 1:01pm
            Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

            I just can’t see that. Other than a few shining stars, I really think the overall Tahs squad is lacking.

            I think they are going to have to really gel as a unit, which wasn’t the case last year, if they are any hope of causing some upsets.

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 1:19pm
          P2R2 said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

          and yes sir you are dreaming….what makes you think that will happen…downturn of NZ sides….that is typical aussie hype and talking up your teams and others….will no one every learn NZ teams play way better than all the others combined….they have this history, the talent, the coaching, the intelligence and nous….

          and as for having a much harder time….one can equally say…2018 will be the same as 2017…26-0 for AUS teams v NZ teams

          but dreams do have a way of materialising BUT not on this occasion…sorry mate

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 4:35pm
            Cuw said | January 23rd 2018 @ 4:35pm | ! Report

            there is BLUES always 🙂

            but to finish 3rd means beating saffas as well . not that easy IMO/

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 4:37pm
            Fionn said | January 23rd 2018 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

            Not really. The Kiwis are starting to lose more and more top players in their primes—the NH contracts have finally started coming for the Kiwis in earnest.

            • January 23rd 2018 @ 8:23pm
              Cuw said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

              and to think they still get peanuts compared to footy boys.

              Manchester United have completed signing of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal on deal worth £600,000 a WEEK !!! after a protracted tussle with Man City.

              am sure by the time January window closes, a few new records will be set re: player salaries and transfer fees , not forgetting agents’ commissions 😀

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 8:14am
        Fionn said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        I dunno. The Chiefs have lost a lot of talent and, from memory, the Highlanders have lost a few key players too. I think we can beat the Blues and the Highlanders.

      • Roar Guru

        January 23rd 2018 @ 9:22am
        Diggercane said | January 23rd 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Dunno Pete, may just be overating the NZ sides a touch.

        The Hurricanes and Crusaders certainly look settled and have some exciting talent coming through but the Chiefs and Highlanders have had a bit of change in the Coaching ranks and a wee bit of the unknown, though the Chiefs can certainly still boast a predominately AB pack while the Blues still have to prove they have the answer in the halves. I think the Brumbies can tip a few over.

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 1:02pm
          MitchO said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

          Pocock and CLL are the keys for the Brumbies and the impact that Nasarini and Valenti (whom I don’t know) may have.

          If Pocock can get healthy then the Brumbies have a enough talent in the pack to compete with the Kiwi and Saffa packs to shade more than a few of them.

          Last year’s 10 was okay but not particularly good. CLL is a test class 10/12 so he will be important at super level. TK is test class. Godwin may lift and be a good super 12 and lets hope push to be a bit better than that. Peni has real strike power – lets hope he stays on the paddock. Banks does have real potential too.

          Henry Speight has the other wing and he is good enough to play test rugby he’s just not very good at it. But he is a proven super rugby finisher.

          VerityAmm has plenty of toe and showed enough last year to show he could be a handy super player. He needs at least one more season to get up to speed but that may be this year as last year was his debut.

          In short, the forward pack, particularly with Pocock in it, doesn’t need to be afraid of anybody and they can get the backs enough ball to score points. I reckon the Rebels are better but the Brumbies with Pocock and Nasarini and CLL coming in are a pretty good team.

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 1:20pm
          P2R2 said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

          yep they can tip a few Aussie teams over….

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 4:40pm
          Cuw said | January 23rd 2018 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

          Highlanders are again lacking the names – exactly when they become very dangeros. the key will be how BEN SMITH goes.

          either they put him in ice or take a chance with his health.

          Chiefs can easily put out a test capped XV. but it is their defence that is a worry


          • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:04pm
            Fionn said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:04pm | ! Report

            Agreed on both accounts. Ben Smith is the key for the Highlanders and if he is injured a lot this year I feel will derail their season. Still the best player in the world when at full health, in my opinion.

            I still can’t really comprehend that DMac is seen as a 10 by some in NZ, but we will see what we will see.

            • January 27th 2018 @ 11:05pm
              double agent said | January 27th 2018 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

              He was terrible against the Lions. To be fair he was behind a beaten pack. That’s never easy for a 9 or 10. Just ask any Aussie.

    • January 23rd 2018 @ 8:51am
      Blacky said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      In my opinion the biggest gain at the tahs is the forwards coach Cron, the organisation, condition and skills of the tight 5 in particular last year was completely lacking.
      Folau will definitely benefit from having Beale back because he is the key to lighting up our backline. Without Beale at the tahs last year Folau was almost invisible. I’m also hopeful Simmons will repay the faith, but the key man as it has been for the last 5 years will continue to be Hooper. I don’t think many tahs fans will be too upset about losing Skelton, we were all very hopeful he would reach his awesome potential but he never did.
      I think Phipps will be the 9 for his speed coverage and defence, and I certainly hope we don’t have the other starting combination of backs you suggest as none are good defenders especially communication and reading defence.
      If the Tight 5 are solid and we have a backline of attacking flair that can communicate defensively well, the tahs will be more than competitive this year.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 9:24am
        Cynical Play said | January 23rd 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

        I think Simmons is in career best form. I may be alone in the opinion. He may not have the brutality of, say, Retalick, but he is a mature, skillful and fit lock who, by all accounts, is ready to play. He offers more than Skelton in that pack in my view. The Tah players that really need to step up here are the wingers. TN needs to produce some of the more skilful play he showed in Europe, and not just barging wide runs; he actually has a good catch and a good set of hands. Clarke needs 10kg and a kicking game. I ain’t talking the Tahs up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they won more than they lost this year, including a couple of NZ scalps at home.

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 11:17am
          jameswm said | January 23rd 2018 @ 11:17am | ! Report

          Yeah I saw some good things in Simmons last year. He’s always good in the lineout, but his defence looks more physical. He still needs to keep away from taking the ball into contact, mind you his clearing out isn’t great either.

          I actually think he would have combined pretty well with Skelton, esp when you have 2 of Holloway, Dempsey and Hanigan in the back row, all of whom are good jumpers.

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 11:25am
            Cynical Play said | January 23rd 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            Let’s see what Cron can get out of him.

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 12:12pm
            Fionn said | January 23rd 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

            He’s way better than Skelton and Mumm.

            • January 24th 2018 @ 1:18pm
              bluffboy said | January 24th 2018 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

              Humpty Dumpty is still better than Skelton

          • January 27th 2018 @ 11:09pm
            double agent said | January 27th 2018 @ 11:09pm | ! Report

            Simmons better than Mumm or Skelton. He’s a good signing for the Tahs.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 9:34am
        Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Good points thanks Blacky
        I agree that Cron is a particularly good and needed addition.
        Simmons will definitely help with the lineout, but I can’t see him finding a new level at the Tahs, as personally I don’t think he has another level.
        Whilst I think Phipps is far better at suited to Super Rugby, rather than international, the quicker they invest in Gordon the better. Phipps would be great support off the bench.
        Agree there are some defensive frailties in that backline, but I am not sure what else to do to sure it up (without losing your attacking weapons), other than dropping Naiyaravoro and maybe bringing in Newsome. What would your backline look like?

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 11:18am
          jameswm said | January 23rd 2018 @ 11:18am | ! Report

          Someone was telling me the other day (whose kid played colts with Phipps and Foley) that Phipps has always been one of the fittest guys. Has always killed the beep test.

          • January 23rd 2018 @ 1:03pm
            Selector said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

            I would believe that. He seems like a real energizer bunny and I would have loved him to find the balance of a good half back as he matured. But he is still so erratic and always seems to be just trying to speed up the game, rather than actually controlling the game.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:59pm
        Steiner said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:59pm | ! Report

        I agree Blacky Cron is a massive asset for the Tahs. Gibson is a backs and attack coach, he needs a Cron to round out his pack?

        • January 27th 2018 @ 11:16pm
          double agent said | January 27th 2018 @ 11:16pm | ! Report


          Oh and btw. I wish my name was Steiner. Cool.

    • Roar Guru

      January 23rd 2018 @ 9:18am
      Diggercane said | January 23rd 2018 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Thanks Selector, enjoyed that.

      I do agree, the Brumbies look the best bet of the Oz sides, greatest depth I feel and perhaps a bit more settled overall, despite the change of Coach. Add a bit more attacking verve and the potential is there. Pocock is the obvious choice but I think Naisarani might just be the biggest addition to the side and can add some real punch, looking forward to it!

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