Rugby Australia

Great to have Shute Shield back on 9Gem for another year in 2024 with the last five rounds including three weeks Playoffs beginning Week 14’s Match of the Round between Warringah v Eastwood at Pittwater Rugby Park. The first 20 minutes was a bit quiet but then Warringah ate most of the pie by dominating the 1st half, although Eastwood did score right on half-time as the score was Warringah’s way, 28-8. Eastwood did make a couple of steps forward where they were able to score a few, having seen two of their players sitting on the naughty chair earlier on at different times. But at the end of the day, it was Warringah who was too good in the end whilst extending their winning share to almost half-century by 27 points, 49-22.

He’s the starting Warringah Hooker who is a ball-throwing machine with lots of physical grit to plow the opposition down and his name is Wes Thomas. What a performance he’s had this afternoon with two tries, although a hat-trick would be nice but then that was counted as a penalty TRY. Anyways, he’s the seasoned veteran out there having the best time whose team is sitting on top spot & he’s here for the best of Warringah. Coby Miln, a 25-year-old Kiwi plying his trade in Sydney, also had an excellent afternoon as Warringah’s creative man in the No.10 role. His conversion kicks never looked out of place while getting the best out of Warringah’s counter-attack through open play with the likes of tall back of Ben Marr running with the ball before the help of his forwards helped finish off the good work for him. Again, keep an eye out for him over the next coming weeks where winning the Minor Premiership & hopefully a grand final triumph would be the next great thing on his CV.

And half-back Tom Goddard gave Eastwood some great moments including one TRY for himself on what has been a tough outing v Warringah. He might not be the tallest but has a great knack of picking up the pieces that Warringah couldn’t capitalise before he finds the support Goddard needs to get over the line. It’s a shame Eastwood unable to stay on Warringah’s radar despite some 2nd half improvements off the back of poor discipline coupled with a poor first 40 as well.

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There has been plenty of rugby news over the last couple of days ahead of another big weekend of International Rugby where a couple of two-match tours is about to come to an end, although they do have another match left to play but this time it will be against the lesser sides before we turn our attention to the Rugby 7s at the Summer Olympics in Paris towards the end of this month. Not only that, there’s a huge change coming at the ACT Brumbies in Canberra when it comes to the off-field operations and Club Rugby is back on free-to-air once again via 9Gem that will go for little over a month including Finals beginning this weekend whether if you’re tuning in for the Shute Shield in New South Wales or Hospital Cup in Queensland.

International Rugby

All Blacks were relieved to see off England unscathed by a single point 15-16 in Dunedin while the Wallabies may have a huge task ahead following their disastrous World Cup pool stage run last year but at least a win is a good start to get on top of the under-pressure Wales side 25-16. What’s even better that both sides were able to hold onto their respective series plates, even though the final Test results aren’t guaranteed to see out for sure when they retained them last time around. Now the ABs will head off to Eden Park in Auckland which is place they do so well all the time and Wallabies play at AAMI Park in Melbourne this Saturday. The reception there in Melbourne is going to be mixed when Rugby Australia decided to axe the Melbourne Rebels at season’s end towards the end of May & it won’t be the same without rugby fans going there as if they have no home-supporting player to cheer on for the Green and Gold – despite the team’s one & only rare good season that wrapped up the Rebels’ 14 year existence but again, it was due to financial reasons & the board moved on with the times now.

Predictions: All Blacks to win v England by 13 points and Wallabies to win v Wales by 8 points – so another Southern Hemisphere/Tasman clean sweep then to round off their respective two-match July tours.

Super Rugby 1: Australia

Speaking of Rugby Australia, their plans to have their Super Rugby teams being centralised (similar to the setup in New Zealand and Ireland) has taken another step this week as the ACT Brumbies now became the second team after the NSW Waratahs to hand over their off-field operations to the governing body – such as the high performance, players/staff and the commercial departments. That way, RA will look after both the Brumbies and Waratahs in the hope of getting back to their best while the state-run organizations will focus on getting the best out of Club and Grassroots Rugby – even though the Brumbies is by far the No.1 Australian Super Rugby side every year. They won’t be leaving Canberra after all which is good news, although they might be open to host some games in Melbourne since the Rebels is now gone (again not a merger).

If that happens, then it will be great to see Melbournians return to AAMI Park by getting behind the best Australian Super Rugby team in the Brumbies and that is gonna help inspire the kids there to start playing Rugby in their local area before they can make a name for themselves once they’ve grown up through the junior representative ranks with Rugby Victoria. All of that can be done while the Brumbies will always remain first and foremost in Canberra hoping they can make the Grand Final at last by knicking the championship. Even though Western Force will stay on as Australia’s 4th Super Rugby team, hoping they can get some support from Japan like reviving to boost their on-field performances if they can’t do well next season when a national third-tier competition is back on the cards – as if Japan is the perfect nation to replace South Africa in Super Rugby without having to sacrifice their own Top League competition thanks to the huge amount of seasoned Internationals they’ve got there. Again, most of the home games would come from Perth with some over in Tokyo and Singapore.

Super Rugby 2: New Zealand

Looking across the Ditch a bit in NZ, the Highlanders have re-installed Jamie Joseph as their head coach once again with Clarke Dermody demoting as his No.2 assistant coach. Yes, it was great seeing them enjoy some success in 6th this season but the Highlanders still have a long way to go if they want to challenge the Blues, Chiefs and Hurricanes someday since their last championship back in 2015 under Joseph during his 1st spell before he went on to coach Japan and is now back at home to turn things around for Otago. Their attack has been somewhat hesitant at times that consigned them to losses, especially when playing against the Australian teams but most of home games they’ve played though ain’t bad. Watch this space as this is the team they wanted to reclaim its former glory having last won the Super Rugby title under the six-team Playoffs format before its complicated expansion between 2016-2024, which is expected to be revived as a 11-team competition next season.

Club Rugby

And last but not least, while the respective Shute Shield and Hospital Cup competitions are ongoing since the start of April, it’s great to see both Club Rugby competitions return to free-to-air a bit relatively early this weekend via 9Gem for another year in 2024 starting with the last five regular rounds followed three weeks of Finals. That gives you a huge Saturday viewing line-up of Rugby there with Club Rugby in the afternoon before finishing off the rest of your evening with some of the Wallabies action when playing at home including the 2nd Test v Wales in Melbourne. Although it remains to be seen whether if next weekend’s Shute Shield free-to-air viewing would bump into Sunday or be pitted at the same time as the one-off Wallabies match v Georgia that is going to be aired on the main channel at Allianz Stadium in Moore Park. The same thing should apply with the Hospital Cup for those tuning in from Queensland. The Shute Shield commentary team will look a bit different when Will Davies will be out for a while to commentate Field Hockey at the Olympics soon for Nine with former Hockeyroo Georgie Parker, but he should be back after this to call the Shute Shield Finals like he did last year – having also called a series of Super W games more often, as well as some Wallaroos Tests and the odd Super Rugby match (Force v Fijian Drua) so far this year.

UPDATE: Next round’s Shute Shield game for Round 15 is scheduled on a rare Sunday afternoon next weekend at 3pm between reigning champions Randwick v Warringah, so this should be on 9Gem while Nine will showcase Wallabies and Georgia to fill up the primary 3pm Saturday afternoon slot on the main channel. For Queensland viewers though, not so much where you would need both a TV and a portable device or a computer to watch both rugby games at the same time.

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While we are transitioning into International mode and also at Club Rugby too going into the 2nd half of 2024 next month, let’s look back at the 2024 Super Rugby Season following the Blues A+ Grand Final performance that sealed their long-awaited drought for their 4th championship trophy for the first time since 2003 over the Chiefs at Eden Park last night.

It began with the Crusaders largely not being the same team anymore that won them multiple championships despite their late season resurgence where they were one place short of the Top 8 while the Melbourne Rebels had a rare spectacular run on the field in 8th before their poor financial health regardless of this however unfortunately ended the team’s 14 year existence. Plus, NSW Waratahs were at an all-time low once again other than the two wins v Crusaders off the back of numerous injuries in the treatment room, particularly with their front rowers. Queensland Reds also had some fresh breath of under new coach Les Kiss including the Highlanders with their big rebuilding phase over in Otago but then they were both nowhere near past the Quarter-Finals alongside the Fijian Drua off the back of another excellent home season in 7th. Time will tell if the Drua will continue to progress & go Top 6 under a new coach while looking to improve their away form next season.

The same goes with the ACT Brumbies who continues to fall short in the semis yet again as they still continue to hold the title as Australia’s No.1 Super Rugby team, although we did witness a surprise semi elimination in the top-ranked Hurricanes by the Chiefs before the Waikato-based franchise weren’t simply up to the task against the championship-winning Blues last night. Nothing much also happened to Moana Pasifika and the Western Force when they had some wins off the back of a huge off-season drive but both are still underwhelming for the majority. It remains to be seen if the Force will benefit from the Rebels demise in an 11-team competition (short term) next year that would hopefully improve Australia’s record in Super Rugby as well as Wallabies at International level, so they can look to win games again. If not, while we understand of having a national footprint when the world has changed nowadays – three teams may finally be the way to go again with Rugby Australia helping the Force out elsewhere like reviving Global Rapid Rugby & have them play against teams in South East Asia.

And finally, congratulations to the Blues on their fourth championship when they first won this competition back-to-back while Super Rugby was born under Super 12 back in 1996 followed by a 3rd one in 2003 before they finally broken the 21-year hoodoo last night on top of the short-lived Trans-Tasman crown over the Highlanders during COVID back in 2021. They too have been unstoppable who can unseat any team including the top regular-season ranked Hurricanes while setting the standard all along including the Grand Final v Chiefs, even without Beauden Barrett at least in the short term until next year due to him playing in Japan. But it’s all about having an excellent group of players who is still around day in, day out alongside an experienced head coach of Vern Cotter after lifting his first major silverware off the back of long stints in France & Scotland.

So there you go for 2024 as Season 2025 would see 16 regular season matches and two weekly byes alongside a Top 6 Finals system like it was back in 2011-15 with the Top 2 going straight into the semis with 3rd-6th placed teams to play in the first week Quarter-Finals, then the other winning two will face the best two in the Final Four before the best of the best two teams will battle it out in the hope of lifting that championship next time around in 12 months’ time. After that, depending on the four Australian teams performance, Super Rugby would ideally like to say 12 teams but would otherwise have to go with 10.

The South African teams are well and truly happy in Europe following their split back in late 2020 while Japan wants to stay on its own with the Top League, a Jaguares reunion from Argentina may still pose financial and logistical issues & having Canada and USA onboard including a Hawaii-based team is still far off competitively right now for at least the next 10 years.

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It’s been a huge week of Rugby Union here this week where the last four teams still in contention have been prepping hard ahead of the weekend’s semi finals action starting tomorrow while a few players have been out and about when it comes to relocating to another club ahead of next season with one taking up a code switch rather than looking to stay within here at a different Super Rugby club or go overseas and a surprise guest came up last night in the Aussie Olympic Swimming Trials.

Super Rugby Semi-Finals preview starting tomorrow

The 2024 Super Rugby semi-finals will kick off tomorrow night with the first semi-final game between the Blues and ACT Brumbies at Eden Park in Auckland before semi-final 2 stops there during the Saturday afternoon when the No.1 ranked Hurricanes host the Chiefs at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Will we see a Brumbies breakthrough at last or else The Blues stand strong and tough on home fortress? On the other hand, can the Chiefs make the main event for the 2nd straight year by upsetting the leaders or will the Hurricanes step one ahead in their unreal campaign going into next Saturday’s Grand Final?

This is all to play for when the Crusaders is out of the running at least in the short-term this season, it could open up a really good opportunity for the Brumbies to make a statement on behalf of the sport in Australia whose performance gauge has been underwhelming for a very long time while the team itself has always been regular semi-finalists over the last few years. It’s going to be difficult unfortunately to say unless they go & surprise all of us as the Blues will look to shut them out at home yet again by 15 points like they did earlier this year 46-7 during Round 8 and two years ago with the previous meeting semi-final. For those watching every Saturday on 9Gem, tune in tomorrow from 4.30pm so you don’t miss out ahead of kick-off.

Meanwhile, Hurricanes look set to be real favourites to win that semi-final since their 2024 season has been mostly outstanding despite the injury of half-back Cam Roigard. They’ve got a really good group of players including their bench that puts them way ahead on the Super Rugby map. But don’t forget the Chiefs is not out of the running just yet despite their inconsistencies combined with back-to-back losses v Hurricanes and Blues in the last few rounds of the season. especially when playing away from home after their Quarter-Final win v Queensland Reds last Friday. They are a team that has made massive progress though and the Chiefs would wanna go out on a bang in the hope of making the Final for another year, although don’t get your hopes up as they just need to take things one a time while DMac smiles his way through the sticks.

Life without the Melbourne Rebels with a few players looking to be on the move as one just made the switch to Rugby League

A week on from the Melbourne Rebels’s sad exit out following its one and only Finals loss in the last eight v Hurricanes, there is one player who has just made the move to Rugby League ahead of next season in young No.10 Carter Gordon at the Gold Coast Titans. He will be sorely missed having gone through the ranks at the Queensland Reds on hometown turf before Carter made a name for himself by moving to Melbourne by making the starting 10 role himself for the Rebels before he gained some experience in the Wallabies shirt despite its worse ever campaign at the World Cup in France last year. But again, he’s got so much potential on the best he can ever be following his development with the Rebels and not seeing him end up back at the Reds or go to the Waratahs is such a painful blow to Rugby here. Surely, he will be a hit in the NRL initially on a two-year contract depending on whether he likes to be around for a long time or not. If he just wants to be here for the two years, then happy to welcome him back at anytime ahead of the home 2027 Rugby World Cup as we wish him all the best.

Other than Carter to NRL, it’s too early to see which players will be ending up within Australia as most of them will expected to stay at any of the four Australian Super Rugby teams on top of Andrew Kellaway, who will be returning home at the Waratahs soon enough, while a few have already committed their next playing time offshore. Time will tell whether or not if they will be able to make some progress that would hopefully translate into Wallabies much-needed resurgence as a four-team group next season. If they are not able to deliver this despite a wee bit of quality of players in Rugby Australia’s main talent pool, then they need to do something about it sooner rather than later with the next TV rights deal set to commit from 2026-2030.

While Brumbies won’t ever face the cut since they’ve been always strong on the field despite some financial and crowd filling difficulties with the Waratahs and Reds being foundation teams that belongs in strong/traditional Rugby markets here that goes back to the 1800s, it’s up for the Western Force to finally deliver on the field or else they’d be best either merging with the Sunwolves/Moana Pasifika, expand into PNG or play Global Rapid Rugby in Asia again. Yes, the world has changed these days with 4-5 teams but sometimes things just wasn’t the same when the Wallabies were so good with three teams back then.

Drew Mitchell back on Nine after all in a while ahead of the upcoming Summer Olympics after he took part in the Celebrity Swimming event last night

While the Australian Olympic Swimming Trials is ongoing midway through the week at Brisbane Aquatic Centre, we saw one Rugby person poolside, who is an ex-Wallaby winger and also used to be on Nine and Stan’s Rugby Union coverage from the beginning until he was let go at the end of last year, in none other than Drew Mitchell. He was part of the celebrity swimming race last night where he swam 1 x 50m stint for Team Payne alongside Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne and Olympic Gold Medalist Duncan Armstrong before he confirmed to Roz Kelly after the race that he will be part of Nine’s Olympic commentary line-up for Rugby Sevens alongside Sera Naiqama. Yes, it’s a bit unusual seeing him only on the one channel and not all on the one Nine platforms like Stan Sport but that’s a separate contract when not many of them will be available for the Olympics as most of the ex-players they’ve got usually have more experience than at Sevens level. You can also think Morgan Turinui can easily be part of that group for Nine but will still be on Stan’s group as their resident Rugby 7s expert.

As we all know, he’s the guy that likes to be around when it comes to having fun and giving his insights that goes back from his playing days, having first worked for Fox Sports not long after he retired before he was made redundant after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Although he was given a lifeline when Nine/Stan took over the rights at the start of 2021, he only did studio analysis/sideline reporting for the most part while doing relief game commentary since they prefer Morgan Turinui up there alongside Tim Horan and caller Sean Maloney. Then he barely featured only on Nine during last year’s World Cup particularly on Sports Sunday and maybe on the sports news reports before he was dropped not long after the tournament was over and Drew had no choice but to fight for his media employment in court, which unfortunately didn’t change the outcome.

He has since moved on by appearing in the Kick Off and Kick Ons podcast on a regular basis including at all home Wallabies games later this year alongside ex-Wallabies Matt Giteau, Adam-Ashley Cooper & Host James Rochford. For now, it was great seeing him on Nine again with a bit more to come at the Olympics before Drew is happy to hang around at KOKO every week.

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Even though the Melbourne Rebels had a great season that would mean a first extended go in the Super Rugby finals next week depending on their regular-season finale performance in Suva this Saturday v Fijian Drua after Week 15, unfortunately the new consortium group involving ex-directors just didn’t prove to Rugby Australia that they can make them financially viable to bring back from the dead and not fall into the red once again as instead the Rebels will not be back playing next year with their last game coming up next month. There’s nothing anyone can do about it when the club entered this season under huge financial uncertainty and despite this, they managed to do so well with a really strong squad they’ve got over the off-season while the Waratahs had lots of injury clout that reflected yet another worst ever season & the Force still very unlikely to make just inside the Top 8 when you got the Drua (win and you’re in) and Crusaders (win and see Drua lose) in front of them.

We feel very sorry for the Rebels administrative staff, players and coaching staff who have to suffer this difficult announcement like this where some will be moving to another Super Rugby club here like the Waratahs (Andrew Kellaway already onboard with a few more looking to follow him soon) and Force or else head overseas. It doesn’t mean everyone should hate the Rebels when they first entered Super Rugby back in 2011 but their on-field performances have been mostly mediocre for so long combined with them running as insolvent in recent years when RA first controversially cut the Western Force back in late 2017 – only for the Force to return a few years later off the back of COVID & South African teams leaving for Europe full-time.

It doesn’t mean that RA will stop investing community and grassroots rugby within the Melbourne and Victorian area despite the Rebels shutdown with more home-grown players coming through which isn’t going away any time soon but for these kids to play for either of the four Australian Super Rugby clubs at some point in their careers after high school or juniors U-16 to U-19s level with Rugby Victoria. For example, loose forwards Rob Valetini and Pete Samu whom are both born and bred in Melbourne, both also grew up there & ended up moving interstate later on (Valetini to Brumbies & Samu to Sydney/Brisbane).

We also hope to see that the ACT Brumbies and even NSW Waratahs (both teams wouldn’t be mergers to Melbourne after all – don’t stress) could play some of its games there at AAMI Park from next year if that can be done too but you never know when the annual Super Round might be heading elsewhere at the same time. At the end of the day, RA is unable to support their senior talent pool of players up to five teams financially as said above where they will field four Australian teams next year consisting of the Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs and Western Force – with no replacement team elsewhere like the Jaguares in place of the Rebels to make up 12 teams & will instead go with 11 teams in the next Super Rugby instalment for now. Let’s hope they can make it count with more than just the Brumbies so our Australian Super Rugby teams can have a really strong campaign against the New Zealand teams that would mean a great extended Finals campaign and most importantly, a strong Wallabies performance at last in a long time in order to win back both the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup.

What does it mean for the Western Force? They’re also beginning to build a good group of experienced players too other than Nic White onboard this year thanks to the ownership of Andrew Forrest, with his ex-Brumbies team-mate Darcy Swain expected to join soon after the season is over for the second row department alongside two brilliant hookers like Nic Dolly and Brandon Paenga-Amosa from Europe. But again, they’re a team who still hasn’t yet had a full Super Rugby finals campaign before that goes way back to when the Force first started in 2006. If they don’t continue to make much progress in the next few years regardless of how much money being thrown here and there, then they would be better off either expanding into Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong or Singapore on top of Perth (they can continue some of the games there), merge with Sunwolves if Japan wants to play Super Rugby again (also doesn’t mean they shouldn’t leave Perth altogether with some home games like the PNG link up suggestion) or else play in a different competition. The NRL is about to give PNG their 18th team soon, so no doubt Twiggy can have a look at the growing PNG market just like the other Pasifika hotspots such as Fiji. It doesn’t mean that the work of developing and producing more of the homegrown talent is to be missed/overlooked where he can get some of the best PNG league players to play for the Force alongside the experienced & youth players in Super Rugby.

For now, this weekend and next weekend is all about the Rebels putting their best show as they possibly can to go out with their head held high. They can make the Crusaders make Finals possible if they can beat Fiji on their home turf to finish 6th spot before going all in regardless of their final result against any of the Top 3 sides like the Brumbies, Blues or Hurricanes.

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Last night, Melbourne has witnessed their own Rugby team winning another game this time v Highlanders in the form of the Rebels and they now sit in 4th place on the ladder with a bye next week before they resume to go all in & hopefully have their first taste of Finals footy. Although they did play in the Qualifying Final back in 2020 v QLD Reds under a temporary Super Rugby AU comp when COVID interrupted our daily lives at the time & the Waratahs weren’t doing much good back then.

However, questions will still need to be answered by Rugby Australia amid the Rebels still being broke as whether or not if they have the resources including the talent pool to support as many as five teams? It’s been a long-running debate that saw two teams end up in the hole including the ACT Brumbies whose existence will not be taken away anytime soon thanks to their decorated history regularly up front that reflects long-running success. There’s another team that won’t be in for the axe at all is the NSW Waratahs whose history is also so strong in a Rugby dominated state/market that goes back to hundreds of years despite their mediocrity over the last couple of years; Same goes to the Queensland Reds – so rule both of them out too as removing those big influences & RA investing more into the Brumbies, Rebels & even Western Force won’t help that much.

While we’d like to go back to the way things were when the Wallabies were oh so good with just three teams in the 1990s and early 2000s, it won’t happen since the world has changed over time with most professional sports here having an excellent national footprint. At the end of the day, it’s still going to be five teams without needing to axe a team again under a few conditions – if the Rebels get cut, 1. I’d to see a like-for-like replacement with the Jaguares coming back this time as a Melbourne-based team by inheriting most of the Rebels players with a few Los Pumas Internationals coming over and 2. Western Force gets some help from Japan and merge with the Sunwolves while still playing most of the games in Perth.

That way, we will able to meet the goal of having all five Australian Super Rugby teams thriving against the long-dominating New Zealand counterparts. Plus, the talent pool will be stronger as ever which in turn will get more quality Australian Super Rugby players coming from all five teams for the benefit of the Wallabies returning to its former glory by winning games & silverware again while expanding overseas selection availability since the Springboks won back-to-back recent World Cups under this model including the next crop of local grassroots kids who will learn massively from the seasoned Internationals playing here.

And hopefully no more fighting after consistently losing to the All Blacks over the last 20 + Bledisloe Cup editions while experiencing the worst World Cup campaign ever where they exited the group stages for the first time last year in France as the worst thing can happen is for RA to face someone in the courtroom yet again like the Force back in 2017, The end.

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Great to have Super Rugby back for another year in 2024, especially on a Saturday night that began with the long-running Queensland Reds v NSW Waratahs rivalry as this week’s game of the round at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. It was a close first half where the Waratahs showed some intent in the way they spotted a few Reds mistakes before they cashed in with the rewards on hand, while the home side benefitted from winning penalties every time when they have the ball in hand going forward & they are the ones who has the upper hand at the break, 21-15. But the 2nd half is all about the Reds where they continued to keep on scoring before being too good in the end as the new era under head coach Les Kiss is off to a great start with a comfortable victory on home soil, 40-22. Next weekend’s games will be under the one roof during the Super Round at AAMI Park in Melbourne with Crusaders v Waratahs on next Saturday night & Hurricanes v Reds next Sunday afternoon. Time will tell if the Australian teams really mean business this season since the NZ teams have entered into a completely new chapter with lots of musical chairs amongst coaches and even players over the course of the off-season.

Tate McDermott has been a revelation in the Reds attack at No.9 (half-back) whose performance tonight has played a key role in his team’s huge win v the Waratahs. He’s great communicating with his players while unleashing the pace and physicality every time the Reds has the ball on hand. All of this is so important in getting the job done when making the most of the counter-attack as this is how Les Kiss wanted the Reds to play and gotta say it’s so far, so good with McDermott vowing to keep that rebuilding phase onto the next step in the weeks to come. There’s another Reds player who will be there to bring back the glory is experienced Alex Hodgman on the front row at loosehead. He too benefitted from winning penalties where he has the tall reach & packed meat combined to plow himself past the Waratahs players with scrums and tries being won under his watch. There’s life after Taniela Tupou in the props when you got someone onboard who has previous Super Rugby experience in New Zealand and he could even play for the Wallabies too soon enough thanks to his Australian-born father.

And Mark Nawaqanitawase had a really long evening on the wide right for the Waratahs where he has outstanding vision as being tested in defense while he can get his side out of trouble every time the opportunity is there whenever the ball is right near or with him. There’s a reason why he’s more than a Super Rugby player in the Wallabies shirt as Mark will be missed when he will play for the Sydney Roosters in 2025 & 2026. Even though he did his best to try and stop the Reds from scoring, his side unfortunately wasn’t happy with the discipline/lost penalties before more mistakes went against them at his own end later on & this is something the Waratahs will need to watch out if they wish to get themselves back on track this season.

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Things are going from bad to worse at the Melbourne Rebels who are operating by little by little now. First of all, they’ve entered voluntary administration 1-2 weeks ago while they were owed lots of money in debt. Now not only a few of their staff including the board were forced to leave but also they have just $17,300 left with just a few pieces of office furniture, gym equipment & two cars. Although they will be playing out this season since the fixtures have already been laid out for the over the next few months as there’s no way back, but still no guarantee the Rebels will return in 2025 which will be highly unlikely. 

It will be devastating to see Rugby leave Melbourne where they’ve been the host of the three-day annual Super Round weekend for a few years, which isn’t too far away now for Round 2 at the start of March. They also hosted the home Bledisloe Cup games when the Wallabies v All Blacks over the last two years (2022 at Marvel Stadium & 2023 at MCG) & will be hosting Wales during the 2nd mid-year tour match in mid-July at AAMI Park. Yes, they have also produced a few Wallabies players of their own over the last few years & not being able to play for a local professional team like the Rebels like underage level & then into Super Rugby before stepping up at International level would see them end up elsewhere. Regardless of what happens, there will always be some people wanting to play rugby from a young age in Melbourne & across Victoria.

But if you look at the on-field results however, they barely do anything good apart from the rare 9th placed finish back in 2018 when they benefited from Western Force’s axing from Super Rugby at the time. You might also tell that they do have a great line-up of players too from the off-season despite a huge mess off the field lately, but don’t think it will make much of a difference when all of the players’ contracts including the coaching staff under Kevin Foote will last through the end of June.

Look it’s so hard to tell having looked at options to see the Rebels live on such as merging with another team like the ACT Brumbies from Canberra and even Moana Pasifika. But no matter what you think whether or not if the merged squad would be even stronger, it’s unfortunately not a good idea when merging two teams would see plenty of uproar amongst fans in the Rugby community here. That means, you will be taking out the history they’ve built for such a long time like 27 years & it won’t be good to see that kind of value go, who fear the team they support will soon be gone under a different location & new team identity. It means a lot to them & that will be irreplaceable as Rugby Australia never wanted to do it anyway.

Now here’s what will happen if the Rebels meet their comeuppance, as said, it would be so sad to lose an Australian Super Rugby side as RA always wanted to keep all five teams in order to have a national footprint, which is understandable. 

But the results and lack of silverware including their worst ever World Cup last year is still weighing against them over the last 20 + years as the question is can they support five teams? The answer is no unfortunately because RA proved that they are unable to make room to support themselves financially for all five Super Rugby teams in order to have the best success as we will be down to four after this with the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, ACT Brumbies & Western Force. Yes, there were rumours about the Brumbies also entering the same way (voluntary administration) as the Rebels, who are also running tight on funds. But considering their strong on-field presence year-long round that includes making the Finals every year where they went all the way as the only Australian team here to the semi-finals meaning it will be too difficult to see them go.

Even so with four teams here that was done on more than a few occasions, they still haven’t translated much success into International level as the Wallabies used to enjoy dominating on the field with just three Super Rugby teams of Reds, Waratahs & Brumbies back then in the 1990s & early 2000s. So is abandoning the national footprint plan for a pro-rugby state strategy that would finally see the Wallabies return to winning ways just like Rugby League does mostly in NSW & QLD? This could finally be the answer with the Western Force from Perth either playing in Japan or relaunching their own comp in Global Rapid Rugby considering Andrew Forrest has lots of cash in the bank. They are a side that has been in and out off the comp for a long time since 2006 whose form weren’t bad during most home games last year but still yet never made the finals.

In the meantime, Rugby Australia has lots of issues to address where the silverware cabinet has been mostly empty other than the rare 2011 Tri Nations & 2015 Rugby Championship as time will tell soon enough with or without the Melbourne Rebels.

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We are about to enter the 28th year of Super Rugby & yet things are still not the same as it once was back in the glorious 1990s-early 2000s when Australia (Wallabies) benefited so much success right until the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Yes, they won just three Super Rugby championships ever since but that doesn’t mean they are on the same standard as their Tasman neighbours, New Zealand. There has been so many changes through the off-season with regards to musical chairs at players and coaching staff amongst multiple teams. Waratahs handed over control to Rugby Australia recently while the Reds got a new head coach. Plus, Brumbies staying strong as the leading Super Rugby team here, as well as Western Force who are looking to return to the finals with the recruitment of some experienced players. And this week, the Melbourne Rebels entered voluntary administration even though they will continue to play just for this season, despite some star hirings of their own.

Over in New Zealand, most of the five teams (Blues, Hurricanes & of course Crusaders) except Chiefs & Highlanders will now have new head coaches where most of them from last year have joined Scott Robertson at the All Blacks as the Crusaders will begin a brand new era in 2024 without him. He was the one who delivered so many Super Rugby championships including last year’s final v Chiefs & it remains to be seen if the Crusaders can keep on winning including delivering another championship under former Waratahs coach Rob Penney. And for the Highlanders, they are under a big rebuilding phase with Jamie Joseph back onboard to try & return to its former glory as the head of rugby after they missed the Top 8 finals bubble in 9th last year.

We also don’t forget the two Pasifika teams to round off the line-up with Fijian Drua coming off from a great second season before they were elminated by the Crusaders in the last 8 as winning away from home would be the great next step to stay in the Top 8 & Moana Pasifika needs more time so they can really win games after they finished last over the last two seasons.

This year could be a great opportunity to see an even/level playing field where it’s Australia’s time at last to catch up to NZ but despite there will be some really close games, the outcome won’t change much where we will see a New Zealand winner once again whether it’s going to be the Crusaders or Blues or Chiefs by surprise whereas the Brumbies will continue being the best Australian Super Rugby team. Likewise in previous seasons though, the Brumbies will unfortunately still be nowhere near the Grand Final radar either in the quarter or semi finals. Yes, Rugby Australia is going with the high performance centralisation system alongside Joe Schmidt as their new head coach in the hope of also winning games again following a disastrous group stage campaign for the first time ever at last year’s World Cup in France. But the question remains to be seen whether or not if they can support five teams, having seen the Rebels fall into trouble off the field this week? While there will always going to be some Victorian/Melbourne born talent, there’s no guarantee that the Rebels will continue to play at AAMI Park going into 2025 and beyond. For now, the new season will start on Friday 23rd February right until mid-June where every game is live and Ad-Free on Stan Sport while there’s always a Saturday night game being simulcast via free-to-air on 9Gem.

Predicting ladder 2024

  1. Crusaders (champions)
  2. Chiefs (then semi-finalists)
  3. Blues (runners-up)
  4. ACT Brumbies (then semi-finalists)
  5. Hurricanes
  6. NSW Waratahs
  7. Queensland Reds
  8. Highlanders
  9. Fijian Drua
  10. Western Force
  11. Melbourne Rebels
  12. Moana Pasifika
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Just saw an extract from Code Sports and also The Roar earlier today about Steve Hansen wanting to help out a review of the state Rugby Union is in right now across Australia which is clearly worse and worser as it gets. I agreed with Stephen Hoiles the other day and Steve Hansen that we should cut an Australian Super Rugby side, but it’s even better if they cut two sides in order to go back to the things that made them once successful of having just three good quality teams (Brumbies, Reds & Waratahs) at the highest level. There is something he suggested a bit differently though to this is that the ACT Brumbies should merge with the Melbourne Rebels. He understands that Rugby is an International sport while more games would help gather revenue when it comes to showing Super Rugby across TV & attendances in-person at Stadiums, but then Brumbies fans don’t like this idea at all where it has been revisited several times throughout their 27-year existence.

Okay, they’re best Super Rugby side here for a long time where they won two trophies (2001 & 2004) plus the 2020 Super Rugby AU trophy. Plus, they’re the only side who made the semis every year since 2019 and these are all true. It would’ve also been better if the Wallabies squad was full of Brumbies players rather than a mixture of players being selected from other states which is impossible. But at the same time, they’re small commercially where the Brumbies were under threat at one point several years ago while still thriving on the pitch despite its small geographical population & an incompetent board.

Plus, we still don’t know if the ACT Government will commit building a new 30,000 seater Canberra Stadium over in the Civic area that would probably be the end of GIO Stadium currently located in the Bruce region.

It’s hard to say when you look back at the club’s history but even though people here don’t like this, the merged Brumbies side will still play half of the home games in Canberra while the other half will see them play at AAMI Park in Melbourne. That way, the Brumbies will get a metro following while Canberra still retains some existence like the NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds & Western Force as well as the other five NZ Super Rugby teams. Also, the squad would get somewhat better where only a handful of good talented players from Melbourne (Imagine Carter Gordon playing with Ryan Lonergan or Harrison Goddard at No.10) will be rewarded to play alongside most of the Canberra & Southern NSW based team-mates. Not only they can learn from these players through the senior and its academy squad, but it could also help them win more regular-season games as well as make the big Final every 1-2 years which is almost certainly a guarantee in Australian Super Rugby history. 

Aussie sports fans would love seeing this happen in the hope of winning the Super Rugby trophy that would definitely translate into Wallabies success as well as us rugby fans here and of course, Melbournians, who love seeing their favourite team and/or sport thrive at home whether if it’s AFL (Aussie Rules) or the Melbourne Storm in Rugby League (NRL).

All in all, things would be better if the Rebels and Force play either in a revived National Tier 2 comp or the Top League in Japan so that the Brumbies can continue its own identity out of just Canberra and Southern NSW & continue playing Super Rugby alongside just the NSW Waratahs & Queensland Reds. But if both options aren’t possible, then maybe the Brumbies-Rebels merger would be Rugby Australia’s last resort if they really do intend to cut a Super Rugby side. The competition right now in Melbourne is far too inferior for RA when trying to pit Rugby against other winter Football codes where most boys will want to pick up a Sherrin over a Gilbert ball as we can’t keep on being mediocre at best.

And as said, I don’t have anything against the Western Force which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be playing Rugby out of Perth, Western Australia. If they survive the axe, we’ll have to wait & see if they do help the Wallabies get back to their best again when it comes to on-field results but then we’ve been there twice before with four teams and it doesn’t seem to have helped the cause that much. Instead, their best bet is for them (Western Force) to play elsewhere where they either revive their own comp (Global Rapid Rugby between 2018-early 2020) or join the Japanese Top League. The level of Rugby they play as well as the same day time zone fits the Force perfectly amongst the other Japanese Top League or Asian-based teams there.

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