The Reds have ‘the most influential player in the competition’ but the Brumbies have the best chance of beating the Kiwis

The Reds have the most influential player in Super Rugby Pacific, but the Brumbies have the overall advantage in the pecking order of Australian contenders.

That’s the verdict of former Wallaby and Stan Sport pundit Morgan Turinui, who assessed every Australian team for The Roar, ahead of the competition kicking off on Friday night.

Turinui said Queensland’s Taniela Tupou was the difference between the Reds and the Brumbies last year as they battled for the ascendancy in Super Rugby AU and would be a key man again.

“Taniela is the most influential footballer in the competition,” said Turinui.

“He’s getting better and better. He knows his body best, what he can do and what he should do.

“He’s still young and we haven’t seen the best of him. 2023 could be the perfect year when you see peak Taniela Tupou.

Turinui said the Reds prop will take a few laps to warm up to his best form.

“He needs it if we also look at it from the Wallabies perspective,” Turinui said.

“He has a big year ahead of him this year and next. His workload and his joy in doing what he does are really important. If the Reds do the right thing early by Australian rugby, it will draw later.

Here’s how Turinui sees every successful Australian team

Reds might take a while to warm up

Turinui says there are questions over the Reds at the start of the campaign after a tough run in the season, with Covid affecting several of their stars, and issues over their No.2 with the departure of Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Alex Mafi returning from injury.

Although he believes they will be better prepared this year overall, and were hit with emotion in the Super Rugby TT last time out after winning the Australian competition, it could be a slow start from Queenslanders.

“I’m not brave enough to tip the Rebels against the Reds this week, but the only reason I’m not is that they miss Pone Fa’amausili, Andrew Kellaway and Rob Leota,” Turinui said.

“If those three guys had played, I could have picked the Rebels.

“It was not an easy, uneventful first-round operation for the Reds, which makes the Rebels a real danger game.

“The Reds are going to be good – why? – because they have good players and despite the uncertain lead they have, it is a stable team and a stable coach.

“More and more in Australia, we are beginning to understand how much an established program helps. They have a really obvious progression from the Queensland 20s to the Reds team.

“They will be first or second in the Australian teams and they will go to the Super Rugby Pacific final, but they will be judged on how many Kiwi teams they can knock out and how deep they can go. In view of the competition, I can see them finishing in the top 6.”

The waratahs were impressive

Turinui said he changed his mind about the Tahs’ prospects in recent days after watching them play against Queensland in Rome.

“Talking now is a very different conversation than what I would have said last week,” Turinui said.

“Before Christmas, I said the plus and minus for them would be something like three wins, compared to last year.

“I would have thought internally and privately, even maybe away from the players, that they would take anything from five wins.”

While acknowledging the Reds lacked talent in the tryout, he felt the Tahs handled the game well and he saw some changes in the way they approached it under rookie coach de Super Rugby Darren Coleman.

“It’s dangerous to read too much into the trial form, but I had a good chat with some of the coaches after the game,” Turinui said.

Waratahs head coach Darren Coleman. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

“I like some of the things they try to do on defense – there was a tougher side to their defense on the weekends, especially in the middle of the park where it counts.

“I really liked the physique they showed, they tried different things. It looked like they were working on a ‘choked tackle’, which is what the Irish do when they try to hold players back.

Turinui said the introduction of Kiwi lock Geoff Cridge, after two years in the Super Rugby wasteland, was a good call from Coleman.

“The danger would have been that a guy who knows and appreciates Shute Shield as much as anyone would have thought he had to promote Shute Shield,” Turinui said.

“It was a really mature decision to find a proven and more experienced player for the lock position and that’s what he really needed.

“He will know all the football players who play at Shute Shield, but Super Rugby is very different and he immediately needed to shore up that front five.”

Defense has been a priority in pre-season, with Jason Gilmore retaining responsibility in a four-man coaching unit which Turinui says already looks cohesive.

He adds that depth will be key for the Tahs: “If they can keep Izaia Perese in the park…and Jake Gordon is probably the most important player in any Australian team, just because the guys who pass behind him are development players. .”

Key to their hopes could be a strong start against Fijian Drua on Friday night.

“It sounds silly but this game, the first round is already crucial,” said Turinui.

“If you’re the Tahs and can go from no wins to round of 16, that’s already a game to win.

“It’s probably the best time to play against the Drua – they will get better and better the more they play together. This is a real opportunity for the Tahs.

Our experts Brett McKay, Harry Jones and Geoff Parkes present the first week of Super Rugby on The Roar Rugby podcast. Click below to play or follow on Spotify.

The Brumbies are well prepared to beat the Kiwis

Turinui thinks the Brumbies should finish top of the Australian teams and have the ability to scare the New Zealand teams.

“It’s a very smart operation, they don’t just throw things away because they’re under pressure to succeed,” Turinui said.

“They were an inch away from winning UA last year. They are a team well prepared to beat the Kiwi teams.

He said losing to the Reds in the Super AYU final sent them off course before the start of the SRTT, and this year’s format should suit them better.

“They had so many injuries by the time SR au finished last year that they were emotionally and physically drained from failing in the Super AU final and they never recovered,” said Turinui.

“I see them much better prepared to perform in this competition. A lot will depend on how Noah Lolesio is doing at 10 years old, because everything else around him seems very well put together.

“Their maul gives them so many options, scares teams around their discipline and gives them the ability to play different variations around it.”

He said the club were well prepared to continue after last year’s strong season and the fact that they had sorted out the coaching succession plan for next year with Dan McKellar handing over to Stephen Larkham, a lessened the prospect of trouble.

“They have an established program with a good coach and they have several players who are getting better and better – Rob Valetini will be even better, Len Ikitau will be even better. They have the players to come when their starters are out so that they manage the Super Rugby attrition rate better than other teams in Australia.

Rebels can be a giant killer

Turniui said the consistent theme around the Rebels had been having patience for them to build. It’s running out now.

“The problem is that they are 10 years old. It’s almost too late for patience,” said Turinui.

He is, however, optimistic about the mix of young talent with more experienced players, although he sees Marika Koroibete’s departure as significant due to his work ethic.

They will also have to start the season on the back foot due to injuries with Andrew Kellaway, Rob Leota, Trevor Hosea and Pone Fa’amausili in the opener against the Reds.

Coach Kevin Foote has backed young No.10 Carter Gordon, but there is experience in the ranks with Matt Toomua, Reece Hodge, Matt Philip and Joe Powell.

“They have key stalwarts in that backline and a great balance in the attacking group of young tyros and experienced footballers – they’re a very good professional team and I can see them being consistent,” Turinui said.

“They might not reach the heights of the Brumbies or the Reds, but if you’re not on your game I can see them picking teams.

“Toomua at No. 12 will be great for Carter Gordon and how he progresses this year will be really important.

“There are just enough there. I think they’re in contention for 8th-10th – one or two narrow wins could send them through to the final, one or two narrow losses could see them miss out.

Strength will need time

Although far from the finished product, Turinui sees the Force as potentially the big improvers for the competition this campaign.

“Manasa Mataele is giving them an X-factor on the wing, which they need and they’ve picked up some good young talent from the Brumbies,” Turinui said.

“They will need time, but they have the right people around to help them through.

“Richard Kahui will come off the bench and play a mentor role, I like Issak Fines-Leleiwasa and they will have that combination with Ian Prior.

“They are building a team which is good but they still have to step up. I think they’re also in that 8th-10th bracket where there’s not much between the teams.

Watch all Super Rugby Pacific matches on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. The first round kicks off this weekend with Waratahs v Fijian Drua (Friday 7:00 p.m. AEDT), Reds v Rebels (Saturday 7:00 p.m.) and Brumbies v Force (Sunday 1:30 p.m. AEDT). All streaming ad-free, live and on-demand only on Stan Sport.

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