The second edition of Super Rugby AU gets underway with a Friday night double-header: a Reds-Waratahs grudge match and the underdog Force’s home clash with the Brumbies.
History: Played 33: Waratahs 19 V Reds 14
Last meeting: August 8, 2020: Waratahs 45 d Reds 12 at Sydney Cricket Ground
Final Thoughts: The Reds finished runners-up in the inaugural Super Rugby AU season, going down 29-23 to the Brumbies in the final after winning five and drawing one of their eight round-robin games. No.10 James O’Connor will captain a side missing marquee NRL recruit Suliasi Vunivalu, who was stood down over an off-field incident.
The Waratahs finished fourth last season with a 4-4 record. The Rob Penney-coached side is in rebuild mode after the departure of experienced types Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Ned Hanigan and Karmichael Hunt.
The Reds snapped an 11-match losing streak against the Waratahs via a 32-26 victory in Brisbane in the first-ever Super Rugby AU match. James O’Connor stepped up with two late penalty goals to secure the drought-breaking result. But the ’Tahs responded with a 45-12 romp in Sydney, Jake Gordon sniping over for a hat-trick inside half an hour.
The Queenslanders shapes as the biggest threat to the Brumbies’ bid for back-to-back titles. But the Vunivalu setback and early-season rust puts the Waratahs right in the frame with an almost double-digit start.
22:00 (AEDT), Fri 19th Feb @ HBF Park, Perth
History: Played 18: Brumbies 13 V Force 4 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: August 28, 2020: Brumbies 31 d Force 14 at GIO Stadium
Final Thoughts: The favourites for back-to-back wooden spoons host the favourites for consecutive Super Rugby AU crowns.
Western Force’s return to the Super Rugby arena garnered eight losses from eight games, with an average losing margin 17.3 points. But they’ve added overseas guns such as Rob Kearney, Tomas Cubelli and former Brumbies back Toni Pulu, suggesting they’ll be a much trickier opponent in 2021.
The 6-2 Brumbies surged to the 2020 title with a 29-23 win over the Reds in the final. They have also lost Joe Powell and Tevita Kuridrani, however, without adding any experienced players of note. But the Canberra-based outfit nevertheless boast the most well-rounded squad in the competition.
The Force have won just one of their last 14 against the Brumbies, who have won the last nine clashes by eight points or more. The Brumbies were clinical in a 24-0 shutout last season in Perth, running in four tries – including two in the first six minutes. They accounted for the Force 31-14 in Canberra after a sluggish start.
The Brumbies have their work cut out for them first-up in Perth, but they should get off to a winning start.