Tomorrow will go a long way towards shaping the season (and ladder) for the Australian Super Rugby teams. Currently the Rebels lead the conference by 6 points, but they have a bye this week. Both the Waratahs and the Reds will be anxious to close the gap, while the Brumbies look to resurrect their season.
At 3:30 in the afternoon the Waratahs will play against the Sunwolves in Tokyo. If they can gain a bonus point win they will get to within a point of Melbourne on the Australian Super Rugby conference ladder.
A win by at least three tries will probably also put their points differential above the Rebels. They will be without Israel Folau, but will also (for once) have approximate size parity in the forwards.
The Brumbies and Reds play each other in Canberra at 7:30. This will be a must win game for both sides if they are to have any hope of sneaking into the finals. The two last met in Brisbane in round 3, with the young Reds forwards absolutely dominating. The result was a shock 18-10 win to Queensland, and showed that the Brumbies were unlikely to live up to the pre-season hype – or top the Australian Super Rugby conference again.
With rough parity in the forwards, the Waratahs will enjoy not needing to wait for the opposition to get tired before they unleash their attack. Even without Folau they still have plenty of strike power in their backline. Their forwards will also be able to use their improved speed, fitness and skills to support the flashy backs.
Although I believe that the Sunwolves will ambush somebody this year, I don’t think it will be NSW. The Waratahs have a remarkably similar game plan to the Japanese side, except with the strike power to execute.
Later on in the season they may be able to exhaust bigger forward packs going into the Northern summer, especially when they play in Singapore, but the Waratahs don’t have a weakness that matches a Sunwolves strength. The only way the Waratahs will lose this game is if their backs have a shocker. I also think they will get the bonus point.
The Brumbies and Reds are harder to pick. The Reds looked impressive on their tour, and certainly have the forward pack to dominate possession. Their backline, on the other hand, does not have the speed or skill to convert this into many points. The most they have scored this season is 20, in a 6 point win over the Bulls.
The Brumbies have more points in them, but first they need to break through the Reds defence. It is very difficult to get a roll-on against this Queensland side, and they don’t surrender points any more frequently than they score them. I think the Reds forward pack will give them the edge in a grinding encounter. Look for more points to come from penalties than tries in this Australian Super Rugby showdown.