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Australian conference preview

GET the inside word on the five Australian teams as we count down to the start of the 2012 Super Rugby season.


STRENGTHS: Speed in attack. Having added Wallabies James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale to their squad, the Rebels finally look like a team with some offensive potency after eeking out just 30 tries in the 16 matches of their debut season.

WEAKNESSES: Disorganisation in defence was a by-product of a completely new squad last year. The Rebels gave up the most points of any Super Rugby team, which they moved to address in the off-season by bringing in former Wallabies defensive coach John Muggleton. Still a question mark.

GAME STYLE: Physical forward play can now be backed up by some spontaneous counter-attack because Beale and O’Connor are masters at sparking tries from broken play situations.


WILL BE HAPPY WITH: A marked improvement on last year’s wooden spoon. Won three games last year. Winning six would be a strong lift.


STRENGTHS: Talent-rich with a settled squad that includes 16 international players, the Reds have no shortage of try-scoring weapons, starting with flying winger Digby Ioane. The confidence from winning the 2011 championship is a massive factor and young Wallabies like Rob Simmons, Scott Higginbotham and James Slipper all return as better players.

WEAKNESSES: Will be without playmaker Quade Cooper for seven games. Impossible to replace such a star who got the reds out of trouble so many times in 2011.

GAME STYLE: Speed kills. There is speed in everything the Reds do. Speed from halfback Will Genia’s sharp options to the finishing speed of Rod Davies to the speed of their ruck ball. Made fewer handling errors than any other side in 2011, which shows they can sustain pressure and force opponents to crack


WILL BE HAPPY WITH: Another Super Rugby title but finishing top of the Australian conference is where it must start.


STRENGTHS: New coach Jake White is accomplished and a World Cup winner. Has already drummed a strong, physical work ethic into his young, responsive troops. Prime Wallaby forwards Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander must stay fit and lead from the front. Must relish the underdog mantle because they will have it in just about every game.

WEAKNESSES: A lack of depth could expose the Brumbies should injuries start to mount.

GAME STYLE: White’s approach is all about winning the physical battle first so expect a Brumbies side that will scrap hard. They will kick for field position, take their penalty goals, hang in and strike when they can.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Joseph Tomane

WILL BE HAPPY WITH: Winning half (eight) of their games but staying out of the bottom four may be more realistic.


STRENGTHS: Great solidarity in the forwards with well-grooved patterns and trademark toughness. Head coach Michael Foley is meticulous with set piece skills. Berrick Barnes can produce his best season for NSW.

WEAKNESSES: Will miss the line-breaking knack of Kurtley Beale and the organisational nous of Luke Burgess. Injuries could hinder the Waratahs in the early part of the season. Lachie Turner is set to miss the entire year with a hamstring injury, while fellow Wallabies Drew Mitchell (ankle), Rocky Elsom (hamstring) and Dan Vickerman (shoulder) will all have staggered starts to the year.

GAME STYLE:  Fans voiced their displeasure at the Waratahs’ style at a forum last year when they thought there was too much kicking. They still scored more tries (48) in the regular season than any other side. They have a strong forward base again but may lack the strikepower to capitalise without Turner and Beale. New halfback Sarel Pretorius is a speed machine who may just be a try machine.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Sarel Pretorius

WILL BE HAPPY WITH: Semi-finals and topping Australian conference


STRENGTHS: The forward pack. With Wallabies prop Salesi Ma’afu joining Nathan Sharpe, David Pocock, Richard Brown, Ben McCalman, Matt Hodgson and Pek Cowan, the Force pack has added authority. Still need to show they can dominate opponents consistently.

WEAKNESSES: Lacking a top playmaker to start the season. No James O’Connor cuts their X-factor. Struggled to run out games last year, winning just five games for the year despite leading after 65 minutes in 11 games.

GAME STYLE: Need their strengths in the pack to play with authority. The Force have always played with width and will try to again to get the ball in the hands of giant Fijian winger Napolioni Nalaga.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Napolioni Nalaga

WILL BE HAPPY WITH: The first play-off appearance for the club.

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