The 2017 Super Rugby season has been a disaster for Australian teams so far.
After nine matches, the ACT Brumbies lead the Australian Conference with just three wins and 18 points (helped by six bonus points); they lead the NSW Waratahs (3-6, 13), QLD Reds (2-7, 11), Western Force (2-6, 9) and Melbourne Rebels (1-1-6, 7).
Overall the Brumbies sit 10th (that’s the best Australian team), with the Canterbury Crusaders, Lions (South Africa), Waikato Chiefs, Wellington Hurricanes, Otago Highlanders and the Sharks (South Africa) in the top six. The lowest-ranked NZ team – Auckland Blues – are two places ahead of the Brumbies.
The competition rules means one Australian team will qualify for the finals as conference winners and earn a home final. If the Brumbies make it, they’ll host a quarter final at Bruce Stadium (they lost last year’s home quarter final to the Highlanders). On current form, they probably don’t deserve it, but it is what it is.
The Australian teams have done pretty well recently; the Reds dominated everyone in 2011, the Brumbies were grand finalists in 2013 (losing by five points to the Chiefs) and the Waratahs won in 2014.
Last year featured a fantastic battle for the Australian title with the Brumbies (43 points) narrowly ahead of the Waratahs (40 points).
So what’s wrong with the 2017 Australian rugby teams?
This year, the Australian teams have been dominated by NZ teams. The Brumbies have lost to the Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes and Blues; the Waratahs have lost to the Crusaders and Hurricanes; the Reds have lost to the Crusaders and Hurricanes; the Force have lost to the Crusaders, Blues and Chiefs; the Rebels have lost to the Blues, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders. Then there was the Waratahs’ embarrassing home loss to the Kings recently.
Losses to NZ teams aside, one huge distraction has been the future of the competition, with the Brumbies, Force and Rebels playing for their future. While the Brumbies are safe, either the Force and Rebels will be cut from the new competition. The 18-team competition is bloated and confusing. It makes you pine for the old Super 12/14 days when it was a straightforward top four finals, no conferences and everyone played each other at least once.
Maybe we write it off as a bad year, not helped by off-field distractions and the dominant NZ teams?
You never know, a miracle may happen and the Brumbies will find a hot streak and win their third title? Or the Waratahs will go on a similar run for their second title?