Super Rugby AU is back for a second go-around as the five Australian Super Rugby franchises – well, four and the Western Force – complete for the title of the best team in the country. This will be a double round-robin format before the Finals, with the Brumbies looking to hold onto their crown. This will be followed by the exciting-sounding Super Rugby Trans-Tasman later this year
Here is a look at the two games that have been chosen to kick-off proceedings in 2021:
Reds vs. Waratahs
Friday, February 19 – Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Reds are seen by most as the Brumbies most likely challengers this year while the Waratahs are seen as the team most likely to make the Grand Final if one of the two favorites slips up. That makes this one an important game right off the bat with both squads coming into it with all the unknowns that the first game of a new season brings.
Reds coach Brad Thorn has made a couple of surprising selections in his starting XV, with none bigger – figuratively and literally – than deciding to start monster front-tower Taniela Tupou on the bench. This means that the Reds will line up with a front row of Dane Zander, Alex Mafi, and Feao Fotuaika, with Tupou expected to add some late-game grunt. The Reds will be hoping to get a full season from exciting back Jordan Petaia – who starts on the wing here – after an injury-hit 2020 often robbed the team of one of its best weapons. Suliasi Vunivalu – a rugby league convert of whom big things are expected – won’t play in this one after an altercation with a security guard at a Brisbane bar.
Seeing the Waratahs without Michael Hooper is going to be different as the 121 cap Wallaby is taking a one-year sabbatical in Japan with Toyota Verblitz. Hooper is part of over 1,500 Super Rugby caps that the Waratahs have lost over the past two seasons and that means players like Angus Bell, skipper Jake Gordon, and No. 10 Will Harrison will have to step up and fill those shoes. Look for outside center Izaia Perese and a new-look back row featuring flankers Will Harris and Carlo Tizzano, along with No. 8 Jack Dempsey – to have a big say in the outcome here.
It is hard to pick the ‘Tahs to win here given how little we really know about their new-look team. Having said that, this is going to be a young and hungry team and I think they will have enough to cover the 8.5 points spread at 0.90 with BetXChange.
Western Force vs. ACT Brumbies
Friday, February 19 – HBF Park, Perth
The Western Force are rank outsiders to win the Super Rugby AU crown this year, but they certainly haven’t sat back after a winless return to the comp last year. Their starting lineup here includes five Test internationals, with a pair of Wallabies in Tevita Kuridrani and Tom Robertson being joined by a pair of Pumas (Santiago Medrano and Lomas Lezana) and an Irish legend (Rob Kearney). Add in a bench featuring the likes of Greg Holmes, Richard Kahui, Tim Anstee, and Tomas Cubelli – plus the ability to play home games in Perth this season – and you have a squad that is going to find a win or two somewhere along the way in 2021.
The defending champs – and favorites to retain their crown – will certainly have a leg up on the Force in terms of continuity and comfort playing with one another. There will be a first start for Mack Hansen on the wing as part of a dangerous looking back three with Andy Muirhead and Tom Banks. The Brumbies will look to dominate the set-piece behind an all-Wallabies front row of James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, and Allan Alaalatoa.