SupeRugby Preview 2012 - Part 3

Discussion in 'Super Rugby' started by Darwin, Mar 3, 2012.

  1. Darwin

    Darwin AKA Dingo_Darwin

    May 30, 2007
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    New Zealand

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    With the start of the 2012 Super Rugby season less than a week away, the TRF Staff have taken a close look at each of the 15 teams involved. In the third of the previews we examine the Australian conference, which last season provided both the winning team: the Reds, and the wooden spooners: the Melbourne Rebels. With substantial player movement between franchises, and injuries to key players, there are a number of unanswered questions: Will the recruitment of Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor dramatically improve the Rebels fortunes? How will the Brumbies cope after their mass exodus of players? Will the Waratahs finally play to their potential? Will the Force find a competent first-five eighth? How will the Reds cope for several months without Quade Cooper?

    TRF_Nickdnz and TRF_Darwin attempt to answer these questions, and more, in the TRF Australian Conference Super Rugby preview:

    2011 Record: 3 Wins, 12 losses (24 points) - 15[SUP]th[/SUP] Overall

    The Melbourne Rebels had a difficult debut season in 2011, finishing last in the competition and suffering a number of heavy defeats. There were, however, several highlights during the season, including home victories over the Brumbies and the Hurricanes, and a maiden away win versus the Force in Perth.

    As a new franchise, consistency was a major issue for the Rebels in 2011, with strong performances often followed by dismal defeats. A high injury toll and internal team suspensions did not help the team chemistry, as they were unable to put the same team out on the park consistently. This lack of chemistry meant the Rebels struggled in both attack and defence, having both the worst attacking record and worst defensive record of any team in 2011. Their defensive record was of particular concern, with the Rebels conceding 74 tries in 16 games last season (an average of 4.6 tries per game).

    The Rebels have a new coach in 2012, with former assistant coach Damien Hill promoted to the head coaching position after Rod McQueen stepped down to take up a role on the board of directors. John Muggleton joins the coaching team as assistant coach, and will be charged with improving the Rebels defence in 2012. Muggleton is a highly regarded defence coach, having been the Wallabies defence coach for 10 years, and many consider his defensive systems a prime reason for the Wallabies 1999 Rugby World Cup victory.

    Major additions / losses:

    Greg Somerville's retirement is a major blow for the Rebels, as the experienced Sommerville was a cornerstone of the Rebels forward pack last season, starting all but one game. Kevin O’Niell and Sam Cordingley have also retired, while Luke Rooney has returned to French rugby club Toulon. However none of these would be considered major losses for the Rebels, as these players did not regularly features in the Rebels match day 22 last season.

    The Rebels have recruited well in the off-season, snaring two world class backs in James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale. Beale looks set to start the season at fullback, with O’Connor expected to start at either first-five eighth, or at second-five eighth outside the undoubtedly talented (but erratic) Danny Cipriani. The Rebels have also added size to their midfield, with the inclusion of powerful Mitch Inman (from the Force) and Lloyd Johansson (from the Honda Heat). Talented young prop Paul Alo-Emile (from the Force) is another notable addition. He has played for Australia at the last two Under 20 World Championships, and will look to push the more established trio of props (Laurie Weeks, Rodney Blake, and Nic Henderson) for game-time this season.

    Key players:

    Star recruits James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale are expected to bring a huge amount of excitement to the Rebels backline play this season. They are two of the most dangerous players in world rugby, as both posses the ability to create something out of nothing. Gareth Delve was one of the few Rebels players to consistently perform last season, and is expected to again lead from the front in 2012.

    2012 Squad:

    Props: Laurie Weeks, Rodney Blake, Nic Henderson, Paul Alo-Emile
    Hookers: Adam Frier, Ged Robinson, Heath Tessman
    Locks: Adam Byrnes, Hugh Pyle, Luke Jones, Alister Campbell, James King
    Loose-forwards: Jarrod Saffy, Michael Lipman, Tom Chamberlain, Gareth Delve ©, Tim Davidson
    Halfbacks: Richard Kingi, Nick Phipps
    First-five eighths: Danny Cipriani, James Hilgendorf
    Centres: James O’Connor, Stirling Mortlock, Lloyd Johansson, Mitch Inman
    Wings: Lachie Mitchell, Cooper Vuna
    Fullbacks: Mark Gerrard, Julian Huxley, Kurtley Beale

    Possible starting XV:

    1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Alister Campbell, 5. Hugh Pyle, 6. Jarrod Saffy, 7. Michael Lipman, 8. Gareth Delve ©, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Danny Cipriani, 11. Mark Gerrard, 12. James O’Connor, 13. Stirling Mortlock, 14. Cooper Vuna, 15. Kurtley Beale.

    The bottom line:

    Expect to see a much improved Rebels outfit in 2012, due to the addition of several world class backs and a highly regarded defence coach. However despite the quality backline, they lack the forward power to compete with the top teams. Predicted finish in 2012: 10[SUP]th[/SUP]

    2011 Record: 4 wins, 1 draw, 11 loses (33 points) – 13[SUP]th[/SUP] Overall

    The Brumbies have a proud Super Rugby history, winning the competition in 2001 and 2004, and making the final on three other occasions. However, since 2004 the Brumbies have failed to make playoffs once, and 2011 was a horror season for the Brumbies, both on and off the field. On the field they had their worst ever finish – 13[SUP]th[/SUP] – while off the field they recorded a loss of over $200 000 as a result of player contracting issues, and a huge drop in crowd numbers due to the teams consistently poor performances. Coach Andy Friend was sacked mid-season, with assistant coach Tony Rea promoted to head coach.

    South Africa’s World Cup wining coach Jake White has been appointed to coach the Brumbies in 2012, while former head coach Laurie Fisher has returned as forwards coach. Their task, however, will not be easy, as a mass exodus of top players in the off-season has left him with an extremely inexperienced team to work with.

    Major additions / losses:

    There has been a massive turnover at the Brumbies in the off-season, with 16 players from last seasons squad departing. Key losses in the forwards include Wallabies tight-head Salesi Ma’afu (to the Force), lock Mark Chisholm (Bayonne), and loose-forwards Julian Salvi (Leicester), Wallaby Rocky Elsom (Waratahs), Mitchell Chapman, and former captain Stephen Hoiles (released after failing to recover from a persistent achilles injury). Loses in the backs include halfbacks Patrick Phibbs (to Saracens) and Josh Valentine (released), key playmaker Matt Giteau (Toulon), mid-field back Tyrone Smith (Honda Heat), wing Francis Fainifo (Stade Francais), and Wallabies utility Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs).

    There are few notable additions to compensate for these major losses. One strong addition is consistent loose-forward Ben Mowen, who has transferred from the Waratahs. He has recently been announced captain of the Brumbies in 2012, and will likely lead from the front. Promising wing Kimani Sitauti has transferred from the Reds, and looks set to start on the left wing this season. An interesting addition is powerful centre Joseph Tomane from Australian League club the Gold Coast Titans. At 21 years-old, and 110kg, Tomane is an exciting prospect, and does a have strong Rugby Union background having playing in the Australian schoolboys side alongside the likes of James O’Connor. Other additions include former Taranaki lock Leon Power and Australian Under 20 centre/wing Tevita Kuridrani.

    Key players:

    The front row of Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, and Dan Palmer will provide the Brumbies a stable scrum, while Moore and Alexander will provide a big impact around the field, particularly with ball in hand. Pat McCabe looks to be the key back for the Brumbies this season. He was outstanding for the Brumbies last season, whether challenging the opposition defence from fullback, or neutralizing the oppositions attack in the midfield. He will need to step up again this season, as he is one of only three backs in the squad with over 20 Super Rugby caps to their name.

    2012 Squad:

    Props: Ben Alexander, Jono Owen, Dan Palmer, Jerry Yanuyanutawa
    Hookers: Stephen Moore, Siliva Siliva
    Locks: Sam Carter, Ben Hand, Peter Kimlin, Leon Power
    Loose forwards: Fotu Auelua, Colby Faingaa, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen ©, Ita Vaea
    Halfbacks: Ian Prior, Nick White
    First-five eighths: Christian Lealiifano, Matt Toomua
    Centres: Robbie Coleman, Pat McCabe, Andrew Smith, Joseph Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani
    Wings: Tom Cox, Kimami Sitauti, Henry Speight
    Fullbacks: Cam Crawford, Zack Holmes, Jesse Mogg

    Possible starting XV:

    1. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Dan Palmer, 4. Peter Kimlin, 5. Ben Hand, 6. Ben Mowen ©, 7. Colby Faingaa, 8. Ita Vaea, 9. Nick White, 10. Matt Toomua, 11. Kimami Sitauti, 12. Pat McCabe, 13. Andrew Smith, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Christian Lealiifano

    The bottom line:

    Due to the mass exodus of quality players the Brumbies are expected to struggle this season. They will struggle to match last seasons tally of four wins, and may well be lucky to avoid the wooden spoon. Predicted finish in 2012: 15[SUP]th

    2011 Record: 5 wins, 2 draws, 9 losses (37 points) - 12[SUP]th[/SUP] Overall

    The Western Force have struggled ever since their inclusion in Super Rugby in 2006. After three seasons near the mid table, the previous two seasons have seen them slip into 13[SUP]th[/SUP] and 12[SUP]th[/SUP] place. The Force did manage some moments of real magic last season provided by James O'Connor, Cameron Shepherd and David Smith, however there has been strong criticism surrounding a lack of a creative first-five eighth which has perhaps dampened their attacking potential. A contributing factor to the Western Force's failure to make their mark on Super Rugby is the rate which players have been recruited and released. The franchise has recruited and then lost such talent as Matt Giteau, Andre Pretorius, Drew Mitchell, James O'Connor, David Smith and Matt Dunning in recent seasons. This reshuffling of teams seems to have had a detrimental effect on the consistency.

    Major additions / losses:

    The Force have continued their luckless run of player retention once again this season. Losing James O'Connor, their most dangerous and versatile back, will have made the Force's chances of progressing into the top six go from unlikely to virtually non-existent. Able to play anywhere in the backline from 10 out, and being the Force's most consistent goal kicker, you couldn't pick a worse player to lose. Another big loss from last season is David Smith whom finished last season in blistering form scoring one of the tries of the tournament against the Highlanders. The final issue was the loss of Willie Ripia. Ripia, the Force's incumbent fly half, resigned from the team after allegations of stealing from teammates. This marks the loss of the 3rd starting first-five eighth in as many seasons, with the Force losing Matt Giteau in 2010 and Andre Pretorius in 2011.

    With James O'Connor and Willie Ripia gone, James Stannard looks like he'll be making the change from halfback to fly half for the majority of the season. Stannard looked promising at first-five eighth against the Highlanders, so the loss of Ripia may be a blessing in disguise if Stannard is able to open the game up like he did last season.

    The major additions to the Force are Salesi Ma'afu, Winston Stanley and Napolioni Nalaga. Ma'afu should hopefully bolster the Western Force's traditionally average scrum, however with the loss of Matt Dunning the Force don't look to have much depth in the front row and Ma'afu, Nathan Charles and Pekahou Cowan still are unlikely to impose themselves in the front row.

    Winston Stanley looked extremely promising when he first came onto the scene, however he's had a couple of seasons of lacklustre form which he will hope to rectify at the Force. At only 22 he is a good signing for the Force and because he was born in Brisbane, he is eligible for the Wallabies.

    The most anticipated recruit has to be Napolioni Nalaga. Nalaga has been one of the star wingers in the French Top 14 since 2007, playing for French team Clermont Auvergne. He was arguably Fiji's best attacking player in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, in what was a disappointing Fijian team. With a similar game to David Smith, exhibiting plenty of power, speed and finishing ability, he will hopefully make the gaps left by O'Connor and Smith less noticeable.

    Key players:

    Captain Nathan Sharpe will continue to add to his record of most capped Super Rugby player of all time, while a loose trio of Ben McCalman/Matt Hodgson, David Pocock and Richard Brown includes four Wallaby loose forwards. David Pocock in particular being one of the greatest openside flankers in the world, and has also been named captain of the Force in 2012. Napolioni Nalaga and Cameron Shepherd will be the two danger men for the Force, both internationals and coming off good form.

    2012 Squad:

    Props: Pekahou Cowan, Kieran Longbottom, Tetera Faulkner, Salesi Ma'afu
    Hookers: Nathan Charles, Ben Whittaker
    Locks: Sam Wykes, Toby Lynn, Nathan Sharpe, Phoenix Battye
    Loose forwards: Richard Brown, Angus Cottrell, Matt Hodgson, Lachlan McCaffery, Ben McCalman, David Pocock ©
    Halfbacks: Justin Turner, James Stannard, Brett Sheehan
    First-five eighths: Kyle Godwin, Ben Seymour
    Centres: Nick Cummins, Patrick Dellitt, Gene Fairbanks, Rory Sidey, Winston Stanley, Will Tupou
    Wings: Samu Wara, Jordan Rapana, Napolioni Nalaga, Alfie Mafi
    Fullbacks: Cameron Shepherd

    Possible starting XV:

    1. Pekahou Cowan, 2. Ben Whittaker, 3. Salesi Ma'afu, 4. Sam Wykes, 5. Nathan Sharpe, 6. Ben McCalman, 7. David Pocock ©, 8. Richard Brown, 9. Brett Sheehan, 10. James Stannard, 11. Napolioni Nalaga, 12. Winston Stanley, 13. Nick Cummins, 14. Sam Waru, 15. Cameron Shepherd

    The bottom line:

    With a very good loose forward trio and a backline with the potential to be dangerous, the Western Force should be safe from the Wooden Spoon. However, the lack of a solid scrum and an inexperienced inside back combo make it very unlikely that they'll progress much further than they did they did last season, especially with such big losses. Predicted finish in 2012: 13[SUP]th[/SUP]

    2011 Record: 10 Wins, 6 losses (57 points) - 5[SUP]th[/SUP] Overall
    Beaten in qualifying final

    The Waratahs were one of the three original Australian Super Rugby franchises, and though have yet to win a Super Rugby title, they have been very competitive in recent years. They made the playoffs in five of the last seven seasons, including making the final in 2005 and 2008. The Waratahs again had a strong regular season in 2011: they had the best defensive record of any team (conceding only 252 points in 16 games), and despite being regularly criticized for their dour approach, also lead the competition in tries scored (with 48). However a heavy injury toll meant they were unable to field their best team during the latter part of the season, and during their playoff defeat to the Blues they were missing 11 key players (Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Wycliff Palu, Sekope Kepu, Rob Horne, Ben Mowen, Pat McCutcheon, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Daniel Halangahu, and Al Baxter).

    Michael Foley takes over as head coach of the Waratahs this season, replacing Chris Hickey who resigned at the end of last season. Foley has an experienced core of players to work with, and has promising to bring a more attacking game plan for the 2012 season. Unfortunately for the Waratahs the injury curse has hit the team already. Wallabies wing Lachie Turner ruled out of the entire competition after badly tearing his hamstring in a pre-season match, while Wallabies lock Dan Vickerman is still recovering from shoulder and leg injuries that are expected to rule him out until April at the earliest.

    Major additions / losses:

    With the retirement of Phil Waugh and Al Baxter the Waratahs lose a huge amount of experience, as Waugh and Baxter are the two most capped Waratahs in history, with 266 caps between them. Waugh in particular will be sorely missed, as he was inspirational at times as captain last season. In addition experienced loose forward Ben Mowen, who started 14 matches for the team last season, has moved to the Brumbies. There are several major losses in the backline, the foremost being that of Kurtley Beale. Beale creating numerous try scoring opportunities for the Waratahs last season, and his ability to spark the Waratahs attack from the back will be sorely missed. Wallaby reserve halfback Luke Burgess has also departed, transferring to Stade Toulousain.

    These loses are largely compensated for by several major acquisitions. Dan Vickerman played a single game off the bench for the Waratahs in 2011 after returning from the University of Cambridge late in the season. He is expected to take a much bigger part this season, though is expected to miss the first few months of the season. Rocky Elsom returns to the Waratahs in 2012, and looks set to replace the retired Phil Waugh as Waratahs captain. Elsom’s leadership ability and strong running game will be a major addition for the Waratahs.

    Adam Ashley-Cooper is another key signing for the Waratahs, as he is a quality international player who is capable of playing fullback, wing, or in the centres. While he may not replicate Beale’s attacking threat from fullback, he is an ultra-reliable player who generally performs at the same high level every week. Another key addition to the squad is halfback (and sometimes wing) Sarel Pretorius from the Cheetahs. Pretorius was outstanding for the Cheetahs last season; his sniping around the base of the breakdown was devastating at times, and he was the equal top try scorer in the competition (with 9 tries). However question marks still remain over his defensive abilities, as he lead the competition last season in missed tackles.

    Key players:

    The front row of Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, and Sekope Kepu will compete well with most teams at scrum time, and all have strong work-rates around the field. In the backs, Berrick Barnes will be responsible for controlling the game for the Waratahs, while the wing Drew Mitchell will want to replicate his outstanding early season form in 2011, before injury ruined his season.

    2012 Squad:

    Props: Sekope Kepu, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse
    Hookers: Damien Fitzpatrick, Tatafu Polota-Nau, John Ulugia
    Locks: Kane Douglas, Dean Mumm, Greg Peterson, Sitaleki Timani, Dan Vickerman
    Loose forwards: Chris Alcock, Dave Dennis, Rocky Elsom ©, Pat McCutcheon, Wycliff Palu,
    Halfbacks: Brendan McKibbin, Sarel Pretorius
    First-five eighths: Berrick Barnes, Bernard Foley, Daniel Halangahu
    Centres: Tom Carter, Rob Horne, Brackin Karauria-Henry, Tom Kingston
    Wings: Drew Mitchell, Atieli Pakalani, Lachie Turner
    Fullbacks: Adam Ashley-Cooper

    Possible starting XV:

    1. Benn Robinson, 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Dan Vickermann, 5. Sitaleki Timani, 6. Rocky Elsom ©, 7. Pat McCutcheon, 8. Wycliff Palu, 9. Sarel Pretorius, 10. Berrick Barnes, 11. Drew Mitchell, 12. Tom Carter, 13. Rob Horne, 14. Atieli Pakalani, 15. Adam Ashley-Cooper

    The bottom line:
    The Waratahs should again compete with the Reds for the top spot in the Australian conference in 2012. If key players manage to stay fit they have the ability to win the entire competition, but with so many injury prone players on their roster, and major injuries already before the season has even begun, this may be unlikely. Predicted finish in 2012: 6[SUP]th


    2011 Record: 13 wins, 3 losses (66 points) - 1[SUP]st[/SUP] Overall

    Super Rugby Champions

    The Reds Super Rugby history is one of highs and lows. They won two out of three Super 10 titles back in 1994 and 1995 but when the competition expanded to the twelve team setup, their early success was never repeated, with the Reds failing to make it into a final in the twelve team format. Their luck grew even worse when the tournament expanded into fourteen teams, with the Red finishing 12th or lower from the 2006 season until 2009. However, 2010 saw the team make a radical transformation, finishing 5[SUP]th[/SUP], and they went several steps better in 2012 when they finished first in the ladder position and eventually went on to win the final against the Crusaders. The changes can be attributed a more solid forwards pack, one of the best half parings in Will Genia and Quade Cooper, and coach Ewan McKenzie. McKenzie took over from Phil Mooney in 2010, and there have since been calls for him to become the next Wallabies coach.

    Major additions / losses:

    Unlike most of the Australian franchises, the Reds have had a very quiet off season in the recruitment department. With over 15 capped internationals in their team, their major work seems to have been in keeping the team together, which they seemed to have accomplished with a lot of success. Rumours of Digby Ioane looking to play in Japan have been put to rest, with the speedster signing for another three years.

    The big issue for the Reds team will be to see how they perform without Quade Cooper for the first two months of the tournament, after he suffered a terrible knee injury in the Rugby World Cup third place playoff against Wales. His replacement, Michael Harris, is a very reliable young player who used to play for North Harbour, however he has very little Super Rugby experience at first-five eighth, as Quade Cooper starting every match for the Reds in 2011. The other option is bring Ben Lucus out from scrumhalf to fly half, which is another option McKenzie has suggested.

    Key players:

    With a squad so full of international talent it is hard to pick out just one or two key players, however the combo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper was crucial last season, both making magic plays though out the season, with Genia scoring the breakaway try which won the Reds the final against the Crusaders. Ewan McKenzie will be hoping that Quade Cooper makes a quick and full recovery, as it is hard to believe that the Reds will be the same team without him. James Horwill will continue on with his captaincy after being a very successful captain for both the Reds and more recently the Wallabies. Digby Ioane is also set to stay, being one of the best finishers in the world over the last two seasons, and is joined by arguably the fastest man in the competition on the other wing, Rod Davies.

    2012 Squad:

    Ben Daley, Greg Holmes, Guy Shepherdson, James Slipper
    Hookers: James Hanson, Saia Faingaa
    Locks: James Horwill ©, Van Humphries, David McDuling, Rob Simmons, Adam Wallace-Harrison
    Loose forwards: Liam Gill, Scott Higginbotham, Ed Quirk, Beau Robinson, Radike Samo, Jake Schatz
    Halfbacks: Will Genia, Ben Lucus
    First-five eighths: Quade Cooper, Mike Harris
    Centres: Anthony Faingaa, Ben Tapuai
    Wings: Rod Davies, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Luke Morahan, Digby Ioane, Aidan Toua, Dom Shipperley
    Fullbacks: Peter Hynes, Jono Lance

    Possible starting XV:

    1. Ben Daley, 2. Saia Faingaa, 3. James Slipper, 4. James Horwill ©, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Beau Robinson, 8. Radike Samo, 9. Will Genia, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Digby Ioane, 12. Ben Tapuai, 13. Anthony Faingaa, 14. Rod Davies, 15. Ben Lucas

    The bottom line:

    With Quade Cooper out for the first eight weeks of the tournament, the Reds are likely to struggle to reach the heights they did the previous season, at least initially, however with so many internationals in the squad the Reds are still very capable of picking up where they left off. Easily one of the favourites to win the tournament. Predicted finish in 2012: 3[SUP]rd[/SUP]
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