Connolly: It's now or never for the Brumbies

Super Rugby
John Connolly Profile
by John Connolly

With two rounds to go, the Brumbies and Waratahs are still locked in a ferocious battle to secure top spot in the Australian Conference.

The Brumbies were rusty out of the gate against the Reds in Canberra but finished the job well and the Waratahs made easy work of the Sunwolves to stay in the hunt.

Despite the recent strong form of both teams, it’s likely that there’s only room for one of them in the Super Rugby finals. I’m tipping the current leaders, the Brumbies, to win their final two matches and hold on to that spot.

The Brumbies have the most talent of any Australian roster this season but you get the feeling it might be now or never for them if they are going to finally break through for a title after making the finals the past three years.

The reason I think they might struggle to back up next season is due to the pending departure of a core group of experienced players.

Their captain, Stephen Moore is headed back to Queensland, David Pocock is taking a year out of the game and young guns Matt Toomua and Joe Tomane are off to England and France respectively.

Matt Toomua is leaving at the end of the season. Photo: Getty ImagesToomua made a big difference to the Wallabies midfield in the third Test against England and the Brumbies will miss his organising and creativity. Tomane was arguably the form winger in Australian Rugby before suffering a major knee injury back in April.

To date not much has been done to replace these players down in Canberra, although it is virtually impossible to replace over 200 Test matches worth of experience.

The Waratahs have hit a purple patch but are a middle-of-the-road team. I can’t see them improving too much next season and it will once again come down to how consistent their star players are throughout the season. Without Kurtley Beale, there is a lot of pressure on Bernard Foley and Israel Folau to make something happen.

The Waratahs will just miss out on the finals, maybe only by the smallest of margins if they can win their remaining two games, but their big clash is this weekend against Hurricanes. If they can repeat their performance against the Chiefs before the international break, they’ll at least give themselves a shot.

Looking at the teams out of the finals race, I see the biggest potential for improvement at the Reds.

Queensland have brought some experience back for next season with the likes of Moore, Kane Douglas, Leroy Houston and George Smith, who even at 36 years of age is a phenomenal athlete.

Will Genia come back? Photo: Getty ImagesThere was some talk that Will Genia might look to head back to Ballymore and there is even a chance he’ll be reunited there with his old partner, Quade Cooper.

I’m not sure if Genia will make it back next year. He's just such a solid citizen and may feel like he owes his new club Stade Francais after a patchy and injury-interrupted first season.

If Genia does return and the rest of the plan aligns, there might be light at the end of the tunnel for the Reds. Add in the right coach, and they could give the Aussie conference a real shake in 2017.

While the Reds are seemingly on the up, the opposite could be said for the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force.

The Rebels have won about as many games as they have lost this season but are lacking in class, particularly in the halves. If Quade Cooper doesn’t go back to Queensland there is plenty of interest in his services down in Melbourne.

We know the potential with Quade, but he hasn’t grown as player over the past couple of years. I’m surprised he didn’t fit in at Toulon but he could be a real asset for Queensland or the Rebels.

The Western Force will go backwards in 2017. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Force, in my view, are the tragedy of Australian Rugby. They will go backwards with the departure of Michael Foley and it’s hard to see where their players are going to come from for next season.

Off the field, the return of the Super Rugby competition after the England Test series has come about with little fanfare. The international window has been a hot topic of debate since the beginning of the professional era and there’s no doubt Super Rugby is suffering under the current model.

With a month-long break at the pointy end of the season, the competition just can’t compete with rival football codes for continuity. You get this long build up to the finals and then there is a long pause right at the business end, which snuffs out any excitement.

It’s a combination of this, and the fact that the competition structure is confusing, which is alienating the casual fan. I went to an election function in Queensland last weekend and there were Rugby buffs among the crowd who weren’t even aware the competition had restarted.

There are no quick fixes on either front, so for now and next year at least, it is what it is. Rugby can’t afford to lose any more ground, though.