Super Rugby will restart in Australia this week after a near four-month coronavirus hibernation. New Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will be watching closely as he ponders his first line-up.
The Reds will kick off the domestic ten-round season against Waratahs in Brisbane on Friday, before the Brumbies face the Rebels in Canberra a day later.
Perth’s Western Force, who were axed from Super Rugby at the end of 2017, will make their return to top-flight competition against the Waratahs in Sydney in round two.
Officially named Super Rugby AU, the Australian domestic tournament is helping to fill the gap left when the 15-team southern hemisphere club competition was halted after seven rounds because of the pandemic in mid-March.
It mirrors New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa which began last month, and will similarly trial new rules including goal-line dropouts and a 10-minute golden point period if matches are tied.
Getting the competition started has not been easy.
Some state borders remain closed, with Western Force basing themselves in New South Wales while the Rebels dashed to Canberra early after a spike of coronavirus cases in Melbourne last week.
The home Rebels fixture on 10 July has already been moved to New South Wales and the team could be forced to play games in neutral venues if the outbreak persists.
Rugby Australia managed to renegotiate a broadcast deal to show all matches live, but pay talks with players remain unresolved.
Players are currently on an average pay cut of 60 percent until 30 September, but their pay for the rest of the year is still being negotiated.
There were murmurs last week about strike action, but that appears unlikely as the opening day approaches.
The Brumbies, led by Alan Alaalatoa start as favourites. Their team, including flying centre Tevita Kuridrani and prolific try-scoring hooker Folau Fainga’a, were the pacesetters before Super Rugby was suspended in March.
They won five out of six to top the Australian conference ahead of their Saturday night opponents, the Rebels, who will look towards last season’s Australian player of the year, powerhouse wing Marika Koroibete, and captain Dane Haylett-Petty among a dynamic backs line-up.
The Waratahs managed just one win before the interruption and they will restart without their France-bound veteran playmaker Kurtley Beale.
His absence will place more responsibility on the senior shoulders of tireless flanker Michael Hooper, Australia’s World Cup captain last year, and second row forward Rob Simmons who has taken over the Waratahs’ armband.
The Reds have were hit hard during the shutdown by the departures of Izack Rodda, Harry Hockings and Isaac Lucas, who left after refusing to accept the pay cut, leaving coach Brad Thorn with an inexperienced side brimming with young potential but with plenty to prove.
Western Force have a bye on opening weekend, but hooker Heath Tessmann said his team were hungry to make an impact after nearly three years away from Super Rugby.
Super Rugby AU: Fixtures and kick off times Round 1
Times are SAST.
Friday, 3 July: Reds vs Waratahs – 11:05
Saturday, 4 July: Brumbies vs Rebels – 11:15
Prediction methodology explained
The expected win percentage is based off publicly available odds. For example, if a team’s odds are 2.30, the expected chance of winning is 43%. If the odds are 1.62 the expected chance of winning is 62% and so on. These are accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change.