Only two games this week in the most abridged of possible starts to the Super 15 season. Only Australian teams are in action this week with games coming to fans from AAMI Park in Melbourne and Canberra Stadium.
Rebels v Western Force
This fixture presents the sides placed 4th and 5th last season in the Australian Conference with the opportunity to get off to a flying start to their 2013 campaigns. Both teams have lost some key players since 2012 without gaining many players of similar quality. The Force start 2013 without Nathan Sharpe, David Pocock, James Stannard, Rory Sidey and Cameron Shepherd while the Rebels have lost Adam Byrnes, Danny Cipriani, James Hilgendorf, Stirling Mortlock, Mark Gerrard and Julian Huxley. It would be fair to say that the Force gaining Sias Ebersohn and Alby Mathewson and the Rebels gaining Scott Higginbotham do not make up for those losses.
On paper the Rebels are replete with class across the park and will be looking to their Wallabies in Higginbotham, O’Connor and Beale to lead the charge this season. Conversely the Western Force have been, rightly in my view, installed as second favorite for the wooden spoon in 2013 and have the look of a side out of its depth against quality opposition.
The Rebels have been successful in three of the four encounters between these two teams and I frankly can not see there being any other result than a Rebels win in this fixture. The only reason I am not tipping a blowout is the propensity for local derby fixtures within the conference to throw up a tight fixture here and there. We all know derbies tend to be close affairs and upsets are often on the cards but I think the Rebels will be too much for the Force, especially at home, and the Force will end up the losers on Friday.
Rebels by 8
Brumbies v Reds
Having started the season by watching the two teams that came 4th and 5th in the Australian conference last season, attention will turn on Saturday night to the two stand out teams in the Australian conference, the Brumbies and Reds. The Brumbies are coming off an excellent and improved season last season where they fell at the last metaphorical hurdle whilst the Reds were courageous in their run to the finals despite a massive injury toll including injuries to some key players.
The Reds come into this season having taken a limited role in the player transfer merry-go-round save for the loss of Scott Higginbotham whilst the Brumbies have replaced the a new star at number 7 in Michael Hooper with the second best flanker in the game in David Pocock. Clyde Rathbone is also making his much anticipated return to Super Rugby with the Brumbies after suffering from depression a short time ago. As an opening fixture to the competition, Australian fans and the broader Super 15 community could not ask for a better game when one considers the following “battles” that will play out on the night:
- The battle of the coaches pits Ewen McKenzie against Jake White: two of the premier coaches in the game. These two wily combatants will have their teams well drilled for this fixture.
- The battle of the number 7s pits the incumbent Australian captain, David Pocock, against the captain of the Australian U20s side that competed in the IRB Junior World Championship in 2012. Fans north of the border consider Gill to have been desperately unlucky to have fallen behind, the now Waratah, Michael Hooper as Pocock understudy at open side flanker and one expects this to battle to be a mouth watering prospect.
On paper the Reds probably have the better team, a team filled with first choice Wallabies and players who have grown up in the squad however they are also without their two principal leaders in James Horwill and Will Genia which poses an obvious risk to their continuity. In particular, it would be fair to say that Quade Cooper has the propensity to look lost at times without Genia inside him. Conversely the Brumbies have a squad that includes a mix of old heads with young talent and will have the advantage of player in front of one of the must partisan crowds in the game in the nation’s capital.
This will be a tight fixture the result of which could come down to one mistake or piece of ill-discipline within kicking range. My heart says the Reds but my head says that this will be a very very close game were the crowd might just lift their home town heroes over the line.
Brumbies by 2