The 2013 Super Rugby season kicks off this weekend with two Australian derby matches. The New Zealand and South African teams will be starting next weekend. The reason for this is to create space later in the season for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.
The Reds were the only Australian team to reach the playoffs last year. No Australian team made it to the finals but the Brumbies missed the top-six by a mere point. The Rebels and the Force did not do so well. They finished 13th and 14th respectively.
After winning the title in 2011, the Reds were plagued by injuries during the 2012 season. Even though they did not make it to the play-offs, the Brumbies had started to come into their own during the 2012 season under the leadership of South African coach, Jake White. But they suffered a surprise loss to the Blues and their 2012 season ended abruptly. The Rebels and the Force were never close to being named among the top teams.
The first match will kick off tonight in Melbourne when the Rebels host the Force for the third time in Super Rugby history. The Rebels have now been around for two years. They joined Super Rugby in 2011 when they were added to the Super 14 to make it the Super 15 series. The Rebels surprised everyone by winning their first Super 15 match in convincing fashion. Unfortunately, they took a seat lower on the rankings since then, winning only 4 of their 16 matches in 2012. The Force did even worse, winning only 3 of their 16 matches. The rivalry between the Force and the Rebels will continue tonight.
Kurtley Beale has won the battle with his good mate James O'Connor to wear the No.10 jersey. There have been no major changes to the Rebels but their biggest coup this year is the recruitment of Scott Higginbotham. This should add some maturity and aggression to the young team.
Without David Pocock and Nathan Sharpe, the Force is expected to struggle this season. Their one saving grace might be ex-Blues half back, Alby Mathewson. He is an attacking player who will be able to create some sparks around the sides.
Looking back at the last games they played against each other, the Rebels won three out of four. But it was close. All three wins came by only one point.
The second Super Rugby match this weekend, will be played on Saturday night between the Brumbies and the Reds in Canberra. Tension between the two teams have run high during the past week. The Brumbies have a strong record against the Reds as the two teams have played each other 20 times and the Brumbies have won 16 of those. But that changed during the latter part of the 2012 season. Out of the last five matches between the teams the Reds have won three times and in 2012 the Reds beat the Brumbies both at home and away. Everybody expected the Brumbies to make it to the play-offs but with their loss against the Blues, they gave the Reds the opportunity to sneak into the play-offs. The Brumbies will probably be looking for redemption on Saturday night and put even more heart into the game.
Brumbies coach, Jake White, has made no secret of his selections and said, “This is by far the best side we can put on the field this weekend.”
Reds coach, Ewen McKenzie, on the other hand played his cards close to his chest. He made it clear that skipper James Horwill will be ruled out for this match and refused to reveal the full team. What we do know is that, with Will Genia sidelined, Ben Lucas will team with Quade Cooper in the halves.
This match between the Brumbies and Reds will help decide which Australian team will most strongly challenge for the Super Rugby crown this season. Whichever way the result goes, it will make for some Super Rugby – pardon the pun.