Benchmark Brumbies to lead Aussie Super Rugby assault

Darren Walton, Murray Wenzel and Justin Chadwick |

James Slipper (r) says the bridesmaid Brumbies can have their big day in 2024’s Super Rugby Pacific.
James Slipper (r) says the bridesmaid Brumbies can have their big day in 2024’s Super Rugby Pacific.

No shying away from the challenge, the Brumbies are eyeing a drought-breaking title as the ACT outfit once again enter the Super Rugby season as Australia’s best hope of wrestling back the silverware from New Zealand.

The perennial Australian benchmarks have fallen at the penultimate stage of the past three full Super seasons, either side of the pandemic-affected competitions, and last made the final back in 2013.

For all their promise, the Brumbies haven’t won a proper Super Rugby crown in 20 years, with the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Highlanders and Blues between them reigning since the NSW Waratahs’ only triumph a decade ago.

Veteran prop James Slipper hopes that trophy-less run ends in 2024.

“We’ve made the semis and haven’t gone further every year since I’ve been here,” Slipper said on Wednesday.

“Like any team, we want to win the comp. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to come out and say that.

“But we do realise there’s a lot of hard work and a lot of results, and a bit of luck has to go your way to get there.”

Under coach Stephen Larkham, an architect of the Brumbies’ championship-winning teams of 2001 and 2004, the side isn’t setting any season pass marks.

“It’s about being consistent throughout the year and being composed when the pressure’s on,” Slipper said.

Australia's super rugby pacific skippers.
Australia’s clubs hope to make a long-overdue trophy challenge in Super Rugby Pacific 2024. (Alan Lee/AAP PHOTOS)

At Ballymore, there is a feeling new coach Les Kiss, after years mentoring in Europe, can get the best out of a Queensland squad fostered by Brad Thorn that never truly hit its straps.

The Reds’ usual suspects make for an imposing backline, back and second row, while the recruitment of former All Blacks props Alex Hodgman and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen addressed the deficiencies found when now-departed star forward Taniela Tupou was absent through injury last season.

The biggest call Kiss will make will be in the driver’s seat.

Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, 19, and 20-year-old Tom Lynagh are pressing their case to wear the No.10 ahead of the more experienced Lawson Creighton and veteran James O’Connor, who will miss the first month with a hamstring injury.

After a disappointing 2023 campaign, in which they won only six matches, coach Darren Coleman admits “the pressure is certainly on” at the Waratahs.

Coleman is off contract at season’s end and knows the Tahs, who suffered heavy trials losses to the Reds and embattled Melbourne Rebels, must improve after going backwards last year if he’s to secure a new deal.

Wallabies centre Izaia Perese, for one, is confident the Waratahs can turn things around, even without champion flanker Michael Hooper, who retired from the 15-man game last year to focus on sevens.

“We’ve got the squad to do it,” Perese said ahead of his side’s season-opener against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.

“There just needs to be unity within the group and we need to bring that to the field as well.

“A lot of us boys have been playing together for a couple of years now and the vibe around the group is really good.

“Spirits are good going into round one and it’s good to start off with a bang.”

Actions from pre-season trial between the Reds and Werstern Force.
The Reds and Western Force are both optimistic ahead of the new Super Rugby Pacific campaign. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

The Western Force are being tipped to finish near the foot of the table, but optimism within the franchise is sky high.

The arrival of Nic White, Ben Donaldson, Will Harris, Harry Potter and Atu Moli has convinced fit-again Wallabies lock Izack Rodda the Force can go all the way.

The Force hierarchy also believe the right pieces of the puzzle are in place, handing coach Simon Cron a two-year contract extension.

The Perth outfit were a powerful beast at home last season, winning five of their six games at HBF Park, but will need to fix their horrid away form to make a significant splash in 2024.

How the financially crippled Rebels fare is anyone’s guess.

The recruitment of Tupou and Filipo Daugunu from the Reds, exciting young winger Darby Lancaster from sevens, England-capped halfback Jack Maunder and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto from Northampton has coach Kevin Foote believing he has the best Rebels roster yet to work with.

But with the club’s future uncertain beyond the 2024 season, it seems imperative for the Rebels to start strongly to stop the wheels from falling off.

“We want to live up to our potential,” Foote said.

“It’s probably the strongest Rebels team that we’ve ever assembled. They’re fit and ready to go, so let’s focus on that.”