By Paul F Carr
The 2015 Super Rugby Season has reached the half way point. It’s time to look at how the Australian teams are progressing.
For Australian fans the table after Round 9 is depressing. On a total points basis the top two teams are the unbeaten Wellington Hurricanes and the Waikato Chiefs. They are followed by the ACT Brumbies and the Otago Highlanders. The Northern Bulls and Western Stormers round out the top six.
On a conference basis, which actually determines the final six placings, the Brumbies move into second followed by the Bulls. The three wildcard places are currently held by the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Stormers.
The rest of the Australian Teams are further down the table with the Western Force second last and the Queensland Reds last. The NSW Waratahs are 10th with the Melbourne Rebels one place behind them. The Waratahs and Rebels have a game in hand over the Brumbies, but even so the Brumbies would still be on top of the Australian conference.
In Round 9 the Brumbies lost away to the previously winless Auckland Blues and the Waratahs blew a terrific opportunity to make up ground on the Brumbies by submitting at home to the Stormers. The Force were beaten away by the Cheetahs and the Reds were smashed in Pretoria by the Bulls. The Rebels had a bye so the Australian Conference avoided a clean sweep of losses.
The Brumbies are undefeated at home but have lost two close games in New Zealand to the Chiefs and Blues. Their biggest defeat was in Sydney.
After starting the season well with good wins in Australia and an unlucky away loss to the Chiefs they have fallen away in the last few rounds. They failed to put away the Cheetahs in Canberra and could not convert an avalanche of possession into a bonus point, although they did botch a number of try-scoring opportunities. They also had a close loss to the Blues in a game a team aspiring to be champions should have won.
The major issue now facing the Brumbies is the high injury toll. They started the season with a backline that boasted only one non-Wallaby. In contrast their starting side for Round 10 has only three Wallabies with three players making their starting debuts. Only the back three remain in place from Round 1.
The forwards are largely intact with David Pocock fully recovered from his ankle injury. The forwards have scored plenty of points for the Brumbies this season and they will be key to the Brumbies remaining near the top of the table. The forward dominance of the Brumbies has given Coach Stephen Larkham the luxury of bringing on his forward reserves early to give them experience. Therefore forward injuries are easier for Larkham to cover.
The Brumbies are yet to visit South Africa where they play the Stormers and Lions.
The Conference top spot is theirs to lose and they will be in a close tussle with the Bulls and Stormers for a top two place.
The Waratahs have been inconsistent this season with poor home losses to the Force and Stormers mixed with good performances against the Brumbies and the other Australian sides.
This time last year they were in seventh position and finished on top of the table and then won the Championship with a nail-biting penalty at the end.
The Waratahs have a similar team to 2014 and should be able to turn their inconsistent form around. The loss to the Stormers may be a blessing in disguise as it may have blown away any complacency.
In Round 10 they face the undefeated Hurricanes in Wellington. A victory will set them up for the season, a loss, combined with a Brumbies Round 10 win, could see them give up their Australian Conference aspirations.
The Waratahs are yet to play in South Africa where they play the Lions and Cheetahs.
The Waratahs are too good a side to miss the finals and will keep the pressure on the Brumbies for the Conference lead. If they can rediscover the form and hunger they displayed in the second half of the 2014 season they will retain their title.
The Rebels started well but only have three wins to show from their efforts. In Round 10 they have a great opportunity against the injury-stricken Brumbies. Should they fail to take that opportunity their season could be over.
The Rebels have a tough mid-season run and will visit South Africa later in the season.
Their best performance was in Round 1 when they stunned the Waratahs in Sydney. They were smashed in South Africa and their performances on this side of the Indian Ocean have not been much better.
They will vie with the Reds for the Wooden Spoon.
How can a side with 14 Internationals in their squad be performing so poorly? Admittedly they have had many of those players out injured but they are still able to draw on Australia’s second biggest Rugby nursery for replacements and should be able to put together a side that can be competitive.
Off-field distractions have also played a part.
The Reds will be competing with the Force for the Wooden Spoon.
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