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Super Rugby Preview: Sunwolves To Struggle In Fascinating Australian Conference

As the Southern Hemisphere, and arguably the world’s, premier club rugby competition enters its 23rd season we take a look at each team and the competition itself.

Over the next three days, we will be doing a conference-by-conference breakdown through the competition which kicks-off this weekend.

This year, there are a number of changes to the format of the championship.

Starting with the obvious, the Cheetahs and the Kings were dropped from Super Rugby at the end of last season and joined the northern hemisphere’s PRO14.

The Western Force were not so lucky, as they could not find a replacement for Super Rugby.

With the dropping of three teams, the competition has gone back to its three conferences with five teams each, like what was used in 2015.

The Sunwolves will join the four Australian teams in their conference, converting from the now defunct ‘Africa 1’ Conference.

Meanwhile, the much more competitive Jaguares remain to compete with the South African sides.

This year, each conference winner makes it into the quarter-finals and they will be joined by five wildcards – the teams with the highest points tally after the three conference winners.

Here, we take a team-by-team look the Austrailian Conference.

Brumbies

What are their chances?

Not great, they’ll probably win the conference, get into the play-offs and get eliminated by a far superior New Zealand side, despite being the best Australian side.

What makes them interesting?

Christian Lealiifano, recently at Ulster, will be their starting 10, and he’s recently come back from cancer – which adds a feel-good story to the Brumbies.

Also, they have the best number 7 in the world in David Pocock, back after a sabbatical.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be….

Ulster. They will be expected to be in the play-offs but does anyone really expect them to win the competition?

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Rebels

What are their chances?

They have brought in some very good players for this season – Will Genia should compliment Reece Hodge well, if Hodge plays at 10, while Dane Haylett-Petty and Marika Koreibete will probably go to the World Cup with Australia if they stay injury free.

Geoff Parling will be familiar to many on these shores, the Englishman was a Lion in 2013. Despite these additions, they will be off the pace.

Third place in the Australian Conference is their most likely finish.

What makes them interesting?

Their new coach, David Wessels, was heavily linked with the Munster job before choosing the Rebels instead and is bound to be on the shortlist if Johann van Graan leaves and he isn’t involved with a top national team.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Dragons. They possess some talented and promising players and a new coach with a good reputation, but it might take time and them actually holding onto their players to make some progress.

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Reds

What are their chances?

Not good. Stephen Moore has retired, Leroy Houston has moved on, Quade Cooper, George Smith and Karmichael Hunt have been relieved of their duties, the latter for being involved in a drugs scandal.

They enter the new season with no experience at out-half and only three players in their squad capped by Australia.

Fourth place in the Conference is as good as the Reds look.

What makes them interesting?

Former Leinster player Brad Thorn is taking up his first head coach job with the Reds for the upcoming season, with one of his first actions being to tell Quade Cooper that he won’t have a place in the squad.

He has certainly laid down a marker, whether his team can go out and win rugby matches is a different story.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Zebre. Turmoil off the field in the off-season, they’re not expected to be overly competitive but will win a few games along the way.

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Sunwolves

What are their chances?

Of winning a few games? Okay. Of achieving anything more? Not great.

They should be better than last year, Michael Leitch, the Japan captain, is joined by former Munster winger Gerhard van den Heever.

New coach Jamie Joseph, who also coaches the Japanese national team and coached the Highlanders to the Super Rugby title in 2015, should also improve them.

Last in the Aussie conference and overall is on the horizon, however.

What makes them interesting?

Well by the end of the competition we’ll be just over 12 months away from the start of the World Cup, and it’s in everyone’s best interests that Japan have a competitive team in the competition.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Kings. New to the competition and they will play some good attacking rugby and represent an important market for the competition.

However, they will probably struggle to pick up wins.

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Waratahs

What are their chances?

If the Waratahs got their act together they could be serious players at the sharp end of the competition, but that remains a big ‘if’.

Their backline is phenomenal: Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley would all start in Australia’s best team, as does Michael Hooper in the forward pack.

But, like the Wallabies, they don’t have the muscle up front, especially after losing Will Skelton to Saracens, to really compete.

Should finish second in the Australian Conference and will struggle to make the play-offs.

What makes them interesting?

When Beale, Phibbs, Folau, Foley, Naiyaravoro, and Hooper are all on the pitch at the same time, they should be brilliant to watch.

That is if head coach Daryl Gibson can get more out of them than last year.

Like Liverpool, they should be entertaining for neutrals, but incredibly annoying for actual fans of the team.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Ospreys. With the players they have, they should really be aiming for the play-offs but that doesn’t mean they’ll get there.

They possess some world class players in key positions. With both of these teams there is always a but, and the but is that they seem to make too many unforced errors to properly challenge.

Evan O’Connor, Pundit Arena

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