A second place finish at the 2015 Rugby World Cup for the Wallabies was the culmination of a massive change of fortunes led by Coach Michael Cheika. Disappointing results against northern hemisphere sides and in the Rugby Championship led many supporters and media outlets to fear the worst for Australian rugby. Yet a reversal of fortunes saw the much maligned set piece dominate the old enemy, England and dogged defence thwart the Welsh to escape the ‘Pool of Death’ and reach the final. The Australian Super Rugby teams will now look to replicate the success that has been witnessed at international level and improve the fortunes of rugby in the nation.
The Brumbies and Waratahs stood out in the last season of the old format as Super Rugby introduces three new franchises to the competition, the Japanese Sunwolves, the Southern Kings from South Africa and Argentinian Jaguars. Both the ‘Tahs and Brumbies fell to Kiwi opposition at the semi-final stage with both being on the wrong side of rather large points differences. This year will no doubt be the same unless the Australian Super Rugby sides can lift their games. The Waratahs were the last Australian side to win the competition in 2014 whilst the Brumbies have not tasted glory since the years of Super 12 Rugby. Indeed Australia lags behind New Zealand with only four tournament winners compared to New Zealand’s thirteen since the inception of Super Rugby. Although they do lead South Africa by one.
The Brumbies challenge this season will hinge upon the strength of their leadership and the announcement of Christian Lealiifano and Stephen Moore as co-captains for 2016 suggests they may have the right ingredients to challenge. Combative Wallaby hooker, Moore, will front up to any task set him whilst the kicking ability and guile of Lealiifano can utilise his backs to unlock defences. Post World Cup each player will have differing personal objectives, Moore to see out his Super Rugby career with the Brumbies on a high before joining the Reds and Lealiifano to prove that he deserves a place in the Wallaby squad come England’s tour.
In Sydney expectations will once again rest upon the broad shoulders of Wallaby back row Michael Hooper after an outstanding World Cup from his perspective as one part of a breakdown double act with David Pocock. Yet attentions could focus on a Kiwi hoping to steer the ‘Tahs to glory this season, Zac Guildford. Hopefully, his past off the field transgressions can be put behind him as the ten cap All Black has the potential to set Super Rugby alight once again. With his clinical finishing and added strength in depth in the back three, Tah’s fans will be looking to go one step further this season.
A 13th place finish in 2015 can only be described as a catastrophe for the Queensland Reds and they will be looking to for a return to past glories this season. Champions in 2011 the Reds have become accustomed to being part of post season playoff rugby for a number of years and last season will have hurt players, coaches and fans alike. With only four wins last season there is definitely room for improvement from the Reds. The man tasked with leading them back to the glory days is Wallaby lock Rob Simmons as James Slipper continues to return from injury. His work rate in the engine room of the pack could lay the platform for the Reds to prosper.
No longer the new boys with the addition of the Sunwolves, Kings and Jaguars, the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force have differing tasks ahead of them as they look to impress in the 2016 Super Rugby season. The Force finished dead last on the ladder last season one point behind the Blues notching only three wins all season. The lack of truly world class talent at the Force may well mean another season of disappointment on the west coast, however, as the Exeter Chiefs have shown in the English Premiership it is possible to compete against the best with a strong home grown squad and incredible work ethic.
The Rebels have always faced a huge challenge to even be the biggest team in their own city as rugby competes with league, AFL, soccer amongst many other sports but an improved performance last season saw their stake rise. A more than respectful seven wins and tenth placed finish will have their support hoping for further improvement in 2016. The marketing machine behind the side seems to be going from strength to strength as they announced a unique preseason match up with an international flavour against Samoa. The Rebels fortunes will be interlinked with the performances of Super Rugby stalwart Mike Harris. His game management and kicking from the tee will be vital in ensuring the Rebels build upon the success of 2015.
The new Super Rugby format will mean more Australian derby match ups than ever before, placing even more emphasis on winning games against your conference opposition. The Australian Conference is made exclusively of the five Australian Super Rugby teams showcasing the best that Australian rugby has to offer. The key to regular season rugby is the 6/5/4 rule, meaning Australian sides will face six matches against opponents from the Australian Conference, five against the New Zealand Conference teams and four from the South African group. A format that although overwhelming at first promises some exceptional matches between the best teams in southern hemisphere rugby. (Rebels fans can check out this handy guide on the club website here)
The success of the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup was built upon strong scrums, menacing breakdown work, stringent defences and thrilling attack plays. The Australian Super Rugby teams must now look to replicate this throughout Super Rugby 2016. It promises to be a year of enthralling rugby building upon the carnival of rugby that was 2015 now with a little added spice from around the world as rugby truly looks to go global.