Testing, testing………: Howzat? Oops, sorry……right’o. We are back! That’s right its Rugby time. After finding our way out from under the blanket of smoke we have been hiding in for most of the break, the Green and Gold Rugby machine is roaring back to life. Welcome to 2020 and what we all hope is a new era for Aussie rugby. So, let’s get to it.
The Civil war is over!
The post Rugby World Cup knives were out for Castle and RA in general but it all seems to have simmered down. In what appears to be a good sign of the changes happening in the Australian Rugby landscape, the usual “has been” malcontents called for the usual sackings so they could take the game backwards. But refreshingly the tide has turned and Aussie rugby supporters are actually backing RA (go figure!). With Castle and RA bringing in a new Wallabies regime it’s all looking relatively positive and there is real change happening. Rugby has a lot more challenges in 2020 and beyond but it’s fantastic that we are starting on a positive for once.
I really don’t know and like it
Name the 10’s for our rugby teams? I am loving that for most of our teams we don’t know, and even with the Rebels having Toomua it’s not Fait accompli. (personally, I would have Deegan at 10, Toomua at 12).
This season brings some real excitement and interest with an abundance of new faces and young talent evolving as our next potential Wallabies. It will be interesting to see who can earn selection and how they go on the big stage.
Personally, I can’t wait. We all hope our team will win, but I can live with a loss if I can see the team building and improving and my young team is growing. But also, I am looking forward to watching all the other teams and have a good look at what talent they have.
The GAGR game forums will be an interesting read this year with so much new to analyse and talk about.
Aussie coaches feeling the heat
This year could be career defining for our Aussie coaches. 2020 could have a real impact on their future and their performances will be as intriguing as watching our new talent try to forge their futures.
Dave Wessels will be feeling the heat this year and this could be a make or break year for him. After being spoilt with an abundance of talent last year and a failed campaign he is increasingly looking like a one trick pony that has hit his ceiling. Can he recast his game plan and find the balance between his backs and forwards? If the Rebels don’t perform this year there will be serious consideration about his future.
Thorn is in a similar boat. He has created a fantastic culture, is identifying and developing talent and with the support of Reds Rugby has the community and fan engagement humming along nicely. The Reds have a really good talent nursery set up and have some real talent at their disposal. But after a season of building he needs results. It’s the last but critical piece. Can he get the Reds to perform consistently? We know his side can win, but can they be serious contenders or has he also hit his ceiling?
Which brings us to McKellar who for the first time in his short coaching career no longer has the top-class talent he inherited at his disposal. He is having to build a team and it will be interesting to see how he stands up to this test. In the past he could lean on the likes of Christian Leali’ifano to help get the Brumbies through. But that experience is now gone and with the only options available having no Super Rugby game time at all it really is starting from a blank canvas. This journey will be intriguing and a challenge for him.
Rob Penney. Not much is known but there will be mixed views around what’s expected. He does have a decent roster so there will be expectations to get some good results. But there is also the excuse of being a first-year coach, late in the door and needed to build a squad. The pressure is off him being his first year in charge. It will be interesting to see how he moulds his team.
Are we making it harder to watch?
For those that don’t know all the games will be starting earlier. Apparently, this is to help the game. Its allegedly a more family friendly time. I also read they engaged with the fans about the changes.
Now I can only speak from the MST’s experiences, but this season I won’t be racing home to see the start of the 5:30pm Friday game. The race home from work for the 5:30pm kick-off in the past was challenging at times. But a 5:05 kick-off is a bridge too far and I am unlikely to be able to get in front of a screen in time to see the kick off.
From the MST family perspective, the 7:15pm game kick off provides no real benefit to us. If anything, it adds pressure to be able to get the Friday night home games. With less time between finishing work, rounding up kids from schools and getting to the game that 30-minute change is actually quite significant and adds time pressure. Something all parents need! But also, we had a pretty tightly controlled pre-game regime where we could feed our kids dinner before heading to the game. Convenient as they were fed (one less issue) it offset the food cost and time spent queuing for food (which you need extra time for or miss game time).
But the thing that has us stumped is the seemingly counterintuitive idea of starting the game earlier in SUMMER!!!! Yes, that hot time of the year that not conducive to sport with physical exertion involved and not so pleasant to be sitting around watching. We know the MST’s can be a little left field, but we have the weird concept that later in the day in summer when it’s cooler is nicer for sitting around.
But this is Rugby we know how to appeal to the public and attract supporters right?
So, next Friday night, with a forecast high temperature of 41c and an average of 30+c at 7:30pm, I wonder how many families will decide to skip the time pressures, avoid the heat and watch the BBL finals on TV?
But let’s add another element in to the conversion with an on ongoing discussion here in Canberra about media reporting and news about the Brumbies. In a city that has limited media reporting, and with very little being reported via the Brumbies social media, nearly all of the Brumbies news and information is behind the Canberra Times paywall wall so not out in the public domain. It is not a good sign when your established supporter group is complaining about being starved of information in the pre-season.
But this is Rugby we know how to appeal to the public and attract supporters right?
Let’s Get This Party Started
How are the teams shaping up? What do their seasons look like? Well let’s just take a brief look at the 2020 season.
We’ll start with the Brumbies. The Brumbies kick off the season with 3 home games against the Reds, Rebels and Highlanders. Home ground advantage might be taken out of the equation somewhat given the expected 41-degree heat in round one and the continued issues with the smoke (is there a contingency plan in place if the smoke is too bad to play in?) plus both of those things will likely affect crowd numbers. All in all, the Brumbies look to have a fairly decent run. Their SA trip is in the later half of the season, following their 2nd bye which may be of benefit, but the trip is not so late that it will define their season. The away games in New Zealand are the Blues and Chiefs and the Brumbies skip the Crusaders all together. The toughest past looks to be playing the Stormers on return from South Africa, never an easy ask. Byes in rounds 5 and 12.
Next up is the Rebels. Like the Brumbies, the Rebels have a pretty steady draw. Their toughest ask will be the trip to SA and then on to play the Jaguares. Any time you have to play the Jaguares away it is tough. They have their byes in rounds 7 and 15, I am still on the fence about whether late season byes are helpful or not. They have two consecutive games at home against New Zealand teams, the Blues and Crusaders, while they will face the Highlanders and Chiefs in New Zealand in rounds 5 and 17. They don’t have the easy start they had last year, which saw them storm away on the ladder after just a few rounds, so they will need to be consistent throughout the season.
The Reds have a pretty tough start to the season. They head to the stifling and choking hot, smoky air of Canberra for the opening match, then immediately take off to South Africa to face the Lions then jet on over the Argentina to play the Jaguares. They return to face the Sunwolves, which in the past I would have said was an easy match for them, but the way the Sunwolves have been in the past season or two, who knows! It doesn’t get any easier from there as they play the Sharks at home then head to NZ to play the Crusaders, come back home to play the Bulls before they can finally take a breath in round 8 with the bye. Their second half of the season is a little easier with more games against Aussie teams and a mix of home and away matches. Their second bye comes in round 14.
The Waratahs are starting their season on the road for the first time since 2014, and it is the first time since 2006 that they have played their opening game of the season in New Zealand. And it doesn’t get much tougher than playing the defending champs, the Crusaders first up. Will this match define their season? Nah, it’s only round one. Unless they win, then of course they will then be dead set favourites to take out the title. The Tahs trip to South Africa falls at a similar time to the Brumbies, and they will take on the Stormers and the Sharks. When they return they play the Reds at home then have their second bye (round 13), which will give them some good recovery time ready for the last part of the season.
This year no team has extended breaks away from home, in the past we have seen stretches of over a month between home games. The Rebels play three away games on the trot between in March/April, and the Reds play their first three matches away, but otherwise they are all fairly evenly spread. I don’t think any team has it easier than others when looking at the draw, but I do think the Reds have it a bit tougher. Do I have any idea how this year will pan out? Nope! But I am looking forward to finding out, starting this Friday.