As the British and Irish Lions are touring Australia later in the year the Australian franchises are set to begin Super Rugby a week earlier so as to afford the national squad extra time to prepare later in the season. As we've experienced in recent years all Aussie clashes aren't much of a spectical so lets celebrate the fact that two are out of the way in week one when you're actually so Rugby deprived that you might even watch both!
Friday, February 15
Rebels v Western Force - AAMI Park, Melbourne - 10:40 AM
The two youngest Australian franchises have both been the least successful since their respective inclusions meaning matches between them have been more 3rd side club rugby bore-fest than the electric spectical that Super Rugby generally delivers. The Force have always had a high turnover of players from season to season but this year they have out done themselves. With captain Matt Hodgeson, Nick Cummins and Hugh McMenimen injured and stars Nathan Sharpe and David Pocock leaving the franchise, the team from Perth will have SEVEN debutantes in their run on team for the season opener. Look out for Sias 'I'm leaving SA to be the number one Flyhalf' Ebersohn, starting from the BENCH.
The Rebels were an improved unit last year-albeit slightly-but with further quality additions and a squad that now has two seasons of Super Rugby experience under their belt, they are starting to look less like the 'Rabble' they have so often been referred to as. The acquisition of Scott Higginbotham adds quality and flair to their pack-although their tight five will still struggle this year. They have stuttered a bit in preseason but I'll never make judgement on matches where players are more concerned about avoiding injury than scoring points. James O'Bieber and his fellow Boy Band member Kurtley Beale should have the quality and the spark to get the boys from Melbourne over the line in week one.
My Call: Rebels by 8
Brumbies v Reds - Canberra Stadium, Canberra - 10:40 AM
Match two of 2013 sees the two genuine contenders for the conference and a place in the play-offs clash in what should be a dramatic step up in quality, intensity and hopefully, entertaiment! The Reds are not on the same level as they were when they blew all in their path off the park with a fast paced brand of rugby on their charge to the 2011 championship. Squad leaders James Horwill and Will Genia are not present for their first encounter with Genia not returning for a further two months. Quade Cooper-fresh off playing his part as the undercard in the farcical SBW boxing match-struggled for form last season and with his off the field distractions these days will be hard pressed to find the form of 2011. However a team coached by the very intelligent Ewen McKenzie with Wallabies such as Ioane, Tapuai and Harris in the line and a well gelled pack is hard to write off when playing in Australia.
Jake Whites Brumbies team have been on a rather contrasting path to their opposition for round one. Completely written off at the start of last season White showed just what Aussie packs can achieve when taught structure and a few Saffa mauling techniques. They were the most consistant performers in their conference last year missing out on the play-offs by a single bonus point to the Reds. The squad will have grown from their experience last year and I feel the addition of Wallaby captain David Pocock will be the spark that takes them up a level. A well publicised side note to this fixture is the almost movie script esque come back of Clyde Rathbone! The SA schooled center returns to the professional game after spending years on the sidelines battling depression and weight gains.
This should be a tight struggle with both sides fairly even in quality and both undoubtedly to be plagued with early season errors, but the Brumbies have the upper hand in the pack and a very good home ground record last year-so its hard to bet against them.
My Call: Brumbies by 3
So week one isn't exactly an advert for the entertainment that makes Super Rugby the best 'Provincial' tournament in world Rugby, but it's definitely enough to wet those Rugby taste buds and get you even more excited for the real kick-off next week. May the Superbru force be with you and if you think your prediction skills are accurate enough to bet your hard earned Randela's on then Sportingbet are for you!