Greg Growden's Super Rugby report card
August 5, 2013
Scott Fardy improved throughout the season © Getty Images
The Super Rugby season is over for another year, the race run and won in deserving fashion by the Chiefs to become only the fourth back-to-back champions in history. Two Australian teams made the finals series: Queensland Reds disappointed in their thumping by the Crusaders in the qualifiers, the Brumbies making the final and putting one collective mitt on the trophy before the Chiefs prised open their grip. Greg Growden runs his rule over each Australian team's Super Rugby 2013 campaign.
When the Brumbies were on song, their so precise game plan was effective, well drilled and well executed, even if at times exasperating to watch. It all revolved around territory, being bombastic at the breakdown, and ensuring the opposition were stuck in their own half, with Jesse Mogg basically booting everything back into the other half of the field. When the Brumbies game plan was off, as in the final round against Western Force, it was dreadful viewing. But you have to play to your strengths, and the Jake White-devised game plan worked to see them worthy Australian Conference winners.
Greg Growden presents his Super Rugby 2013 Awards on Tuesday; which players and teams would you award? © Getty Images
The Brumbies' trek through the finals was admirable, with a staggering victory against the Bulls at altitude in Pretoria before frightening the Chiefs in the first 60 minutes of the final. But eventually their endless travel during the finals would take its toll, and the Chiefs charged over them in the final minutes at Waikato Stadium. Defeat in Hamilton does not alter the fact the Brumbies produced an admirable season effort. The back row, led by Ben Mowen, was their power source, and the injection of George Smith was crucial. Scott Fardy improved the longer the season went on, while Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano were masters of the midfield. It's not a vintage Brumbies team, and it falls short of the legendary line-ups of a decade or so ago, but it's a reasonable alternative and it certainly knows everything about courage.
Mark: A minus (improving from "B plus" at the end of the regular season)
Scott Higginbotham was an inspirational choice as captain © Getty Images
What hope have you got when players are fighting each other on away tours, two are forced to return in disgrace from South Africa, and even a respected captain gets decked? And they were some of the season highlights. The mess Melbourne Rebels became this year was illustrated best when two of the infamous "Three Amigos" - James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale - weren't even being wanted by the province at the end of the season; when your two biggest players are on the outer, it shows the province has lost its way big-time. The Rebels' best moves of the year (there aren't exactly too many to choose from) were making Scott Higginbotham their captain and opting for a coaching change, with Tony McGahan a wise choice for 2014. McGahan certainly will not stand for the nonsense that has seen the Rebels become Australian rugby's biggest joke. He has an enormous job.
Mark: D minus
Israel Folau improved in leaps and bounds in his debut season © Getty Images
New South Wales Waratahs
Michael Cheika has shaken up a joint that needed a big jolt, as expected. Cheika doesn't suffer fools, stands his ground and will not play games with the players; he is direct, sometimes brutal, and loyal to those willing to put in the work. Before Cheika arrived this season, New South Wales was the big wasteland of Australian rugby, with the Waratahs failing year in year out to get their act together due to mismanagement. There are still serious problems in Waratahland, but Cheika gradually is getting his head above it all. At least the dressing room is again harmonious. The Waratahs have for seasons struggled to find a consistent No.10, but Bernard Foley did enough this year to indicate the jumper could be his for some time. The pack remains the province's most important asset but the style has improved, the team gradually becoming more attack-based, and ever so slowly a long-time disillusioned fan base is returning to Moore Park. The anticipated return of Kurtley Beale next season will help as long as he overcomes his longstanding off-field problems.
Mark: C plus
Queensland Reds aren't exactly the dashers who won the title in 2011, with their try-scoring ability drying up this year. It has been as much their excellent defence that has kept them within reach of the leaders; they boasted the second-best defensive record in the home-and-away, with opposition tries averaging less than one-and-a-half per game. Nonetheless, of the Australian provinces, the Reds remain the most fascinating and invigorating team to watch. That has a lot to do with the yo-yo effect of Quade Cooper. Either good or bad, Cooper makes an impact on every game he plays. And he always looks better when Will Genia is by his side. As shown at Super Rugby level and the Test series against the British & Irish Lions, Genia is the only genuine Australian candidate for a walk-up start in a World XV. As crucially, the Reds' front row, which has been erratic in recent years, was a viable force in 2013. Their season ended in a serious blemish, however, as they were obliterated by the Crusaders in Christchurch during the finals. The manner of their defeat only made New Zealanders even more confident the Bledisloe Cup would remain with them for yet another year..
Will Genia is the best player in the Reds' side © Getty Images
Kyle Godwin is a rising star in the west © Getty Images
New coach Michael Foley didn't have a great deal to work with, and you must credit Western Force for their spirit all season and eagerness to keep trying to the end. Foley made a blunder in resting players for the Lions tour match, a decision that didn't help in healing relationships with some non-believers at the province. But there were some inspired moments. Luring Alby Mathewson from New Zealand was a wise choice, and Kyle Godwin has enormous potential. It appears that James O'Connor is heading back to the province he not so long ago shunned, and that will help the Force's midfield work in 2014. But the Force must be careful of a Brand O'Connor takeover. No doubt the Force will be far more cautious second time around; they got burned first time around.
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