You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Veterans provide Super Rugby boost to Reds

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 20/02/2017 By Ian Ransom

The recruitment of a string of Wallabies veterans has sparked hopes of a Reds revival in Super Rugby but a strong Waratahs roster appears primed to win the Australian conference.

The Reds, champions in 2011, have welcomed home playmaker Quade Cooper and loose forward enforcer Scott Higginbotham, while adding Wallabies captain Stephen Moore and evergreen flanker George Smith.

The quartet add much-needed experience to a talented but raw lineup that managed only three wins and 15th place in the southern hemisphere competition's overall standings.

Gone is the clunky dual coaching arrangement that succeeded the unpopular Richard Graham two games into last season.

Nick Stiles, who shared the job with Matt O'Connor, has full rein to steer a team that has been in freefall since winning their sole Super Rugby title under Ewen McKenzie.

While first five-eighth Cooper could provide a real spark if he can recapture the magic from that 2011 triumph, it is 111-cap Wallaby Smith who could prove the true talisman, having proved an inspiration during stints in Japan and Europe in recent years.

"I've always wanted to be a part of a team building into something great and I believe the Reds can be a force and up with the best of teams," said 36-year-old Smith, who helped Tokyo side Suntory Sungoliath to the 2016/17 Top League championship last month.

The Waratahs won the title in 2014 and reached the semi-finals in 2015 but failed to reach the playoffs last year after a disappointing season under new head coach Daryl Gibson.

Their strong contingent of Wallabies is likley to be more settled this year, however, and big improvement is expected from a core of young forwards including back-rower Jack Dempsey, prop Tom Robertson and lock Will Skelton.

Waratahs fans will hope their development can lead to a stiffer line-out and more composure under pressure after their playoffs hopes were shattered last year by losing a number of tight games.

The Brumbies, last year's conference winners, have been weakened by the loss of a core of seasoned Wallabies including hooker Moore, flanker David Pocock and backs Matt Toomua and Joe Tomane.

A major knee injury to Argentina halfback Tomas Cubelli in the pre-season has dealt another blow to Stephen Larkham's side, who are expected to slide out of contention.

Four New Zealand teams reached last year's playoffs while the Brumbies were the only Australian team to qualify, underlining concerns about the country's ability to field five competitive sides.

With Super Rugby's future composition under a cloud following a strategic review, the Melbourne Rebels and Perth-based Western Force may be playing to stay in the competition.

Neither team have recorded an appearance in the playoffs and are unlikely to do so in 2017.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon