Progress is slowly happening this side of the Tasman: What each of the Aussie Super Rugby teams need to take the next step


The glorious unpredictability of the Super Rugby Pacific competition was highlighted yet again in Round 11, although so was the accuracy of my column last week.

Anyone who watched the Waratahs, Rebels and Force play must’ve come away feeling that the fact of New Zealanders being better at rugby had been well established.

Yet somehow, the Reds defeated the Crusaders for the first time in about six hundred years, and the Brumbies defied expectations by playing horribly, then defied them again by winning anyway.

Such is the chaotically thrilling rugby world in 2024 that when Team A can thrash Team B, who then trounces Team C, who goes on to belt Team A.

But the most exciting thing about this year’s Super Rugby is the green shoots showing on this side of the Tasman.

The Reds and Brumbies look strong, the Rebels are often competitive, the Waratahs are only utterly humiliated every three or four weeks or so, and the Force have lovely uniforms.

There’s a lot of hope around the country. But there’s so much more work still to be done.

Improvements are apparent in many players and teams, but none of the Australian franchises is the finished article yet.

Every team is climbing a ladder to the top, and to reach the next rung there are crucial ingredients that they need to stir into their spicy rugby casserole.

So, what does each Australian side need to ascend to the next level in their journey?

The Brumbies – Memory Aids

After their crushing defeat to the Blues, the Brumbies realised that they needed to lift their intensity and up their physicality, and so they did against the Hurricanes, scoring a famous victory.

The following week, they played the Drua and forgot all of that, copping a battering from the Fijians and barely escaping embarrassment.

The ability of the Brumbies to match and beat the best is not in question: it’s just that they seem to have short-term memory loss and every second game or so they forget how to do it.

Noah Lolesio of the Brumbies. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

The task of Brumbies coaches and management, then, is to find a way to remind the players every week of how to win a game of rugby.

There are lots of ways they can do this; instructions flashed on the big screen is one. Tattoos of a ten-point guide to winning rugby games on every player’s arm is another.

There are also a number of apps that claim to be able to improve memory.

Whatever method they choose, the Brumbies should act quickly, because if this team manages to remember how to play in every game anytime soon, watch out all the other teams.

Waratahs – A Change in the Draw

The Waratahs haven’t had their best season in 2024, although the really depressing thing is that they haven’t had their worst either.

There’s a lot of promise in this NSW team, but they have a real problem sticking to their strengths.

Too often the players get away from what they’re good at and try to play outside their lane.

It would be surprising if the hierarchy hasn’t identified this problem, and it may be too late for this year. But before the 2025 season begins, steps will hopefully have been taken to ensure the Waratahs concentrate on their strengths and minimise their weaknesses.

Mainly these steps should take the form of lobbying New Zealand Rugby to allow the Waratahs to play every one of their games against the Crusaders. If done well, this could result in a spectacular season ahead.

They could also work on goal-kicking under pressure, defence and securing possession, but that does seem like a lot of work.

Reds – Mood Stabilisers

Reds fans must be over the moon right now, after their latest display of fearsome physicality and fearless flamboyance to win in Christchurch.

That’s a problem because every time fans get over the moon about the Reds, the team’s performance goes all Apollo 13 on them and they’re stranded in outer space.

Hunter Paisami of the Reds. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Reds beat the Chiefs, but lost to the Force. They flogged the Highlanders and went within seconds of knocking off the Blues, but couldn’t beat Moana Pasifika.

Clearly playing really well is bad for them: it gets them over-excited and they go all floppy. It’s vital that the Reds find a way to rein in their emotions and keep a level head.

It’s wonderful to see the way Les Kiss’s team has surged back into contention this year, but it feels like if we go on thinking it’s wonderful, we’re bound to be disappointed.

The only way the Reds will achieve true elite status is if everyone acts like nothing special has happened. Medication may help, but hypnosis can also work wonders.

Even if the team itself can’t stabilise its mood, at least we can make an effort to spare our own broken hearts.

Rebels – Rebranding

Two things have become apparent about the Melbourne Rebels this year: firstly, that they actually can play some pretty good rugby every now and then; and secondly, that this is being kept a tightly guarded secret from the Victorian population.

The Rebels’ financial woes are well-known, and though various solutions are being thrown around, it’s difficult to see how the team can have a long-term future without a supporter base that can’t fit in a Volkswagen.

Yet Melbourne is a shockingly competitive sporting market, with the Rebels having to compete for eyeballs not just against the Melbourne Storm and the approximately seventy-three Melbourne-based AFL clubs, but a thriving live theatre scene and the Dromana Drive-In.

Tuaina Tualima Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Jordan Uelese, Sam Talakai and Rob Leota of the Rebels. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Clearly, the Rebels need to do something drastic to get attention and summon some brand recognition in the southern market.

With this in mind, whoever ends up running the franchise should act immediately to change the team’s name and public image.

I would suggest that going forward, the team be known as “Collingwood Football Club”, and adopt a new playing strip of black and white stripes without sleeves.

If they could convince other Super Rugby teams to change their names, to things like “Essendon” or “Carlton”, that would certainly help too.

Even if spectators don’t fall for it, it will result in a huge boost in media coverage, as the Victorian press, as always, will be unable to resist blanket coverage of anything called Collingwood without checking too closely what’s going on.

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Western Force – Some good players

Sometimes when an organisation hits rock bottom, it takes some innovative left-field thinking to drag it out of the hole.

This is the principle behind my idea to rejuvenate the Western Force by getting some good players and having them play well in games. There are no guarantees, but having tried everything else, surely it’s worth a shot?

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