Joe Schmidt: Leinster v Munster echoes in brutal start for Super 15 neighbours
Published 15/02/2013 | 04:00
At the risk of saturation, there's even more rugby kicking off this weekend, with the heat of the southern hemisphere summer set to intensify as teams look to make a positive start to the Super Rugby season.
The Super 15 starts a weekend early for the Australian teams as they clear some space in their calendar for the Lions tour later on in the year.
The Sydney-based Waratahs are the only Australian franchise not in action this weekend; instead they lost 16-14 to the Canterbury Crusaders yesterday in their final warm-up match for next week's big derby with the Queensland Reds.
The Waratahs, cluttered with Australian internationals, are under the guidance of the former Leinster coaching duo of Michael Cheika and Alan Gaffney (pictured). And even though they have swapped hemispheres, they'll still have to contend with a Blue versus Red derby in next weekend's second round.
The inter-state clash was first played in 1882 and, like the Leinster versus Munster derbies on this side of the planet, it will be both brutal and passionate.
After a disappointing year in 2012, the new coaching team have raised expectations for the 2013 season, as has the exciting rugby league convert Israel Folau, who scored two tries in their first pre-season friendly against the Melbourne Rebels.
Two more big names in coaching are set to go head-to-head in the Australian capital tomorrow morning (Irish time). Ewan McKenzie, who guided the Reds to their first Super Rugby title two seasons ago, will match up against Jake White, World Cup-winning coach in 2007 with South Africa. White is assisted by ex-Munster forwards coach Laurie Fisher and the two almost managed to help squeeze the Brumbies into the play-offs last season.
In what should be a fiery encounter, White has already sparked a reaction with his claims that McKenzie is playing "mind games" after declaring that second- row workhorse James Horwill to be a non-starter due to an ankle injury.
White contends Horwill, this season's Reds captain, will be in the line-up tomorrow, just like Quade Cooper was last season, despite McKenzie saying that he wouldn't be available. If Horwill isn't available, it may leave open a space for ex-Ulster and Leinster second-row Ed O'Donoghue.
The Brumbies are at home and have strengthened their squad with the addition of world-class Wallaby flanker David Pocock. There's also plenty of interest in the return of Clyde Rathbone.
The bruising, high-speed Rathbone excelled in his early Super Rugby days and is due to play his 50th match tomorrow – three years after announcing his retirement.
For the Reds, direct from the boxing ring where he won his first professional bout with a first-round knockout, the enigmatic but gifted Cooper will orchestrate the attack.
Cooper's footwork, speed and canny eye for gaps will challenge the Brumbies' defence, while his kicking and passing game can also be hard to contain.
While Cooper was preparing for the season in the ring, the Reds completed their pre-season preparations with a loss to the Waikato Chiefs. Jono Gibbes, as former Chiefs captain, expects them to be tough to beat again, so the narrow loss represents sound form, especially with the Reds dominant at the set-piece.
In this morning's (Irish time) match, the Melbourne Rebels will host the Western Force at AAMI Park. Leinster's Tom Sexton will, no doubt, watch this game with interest as he heads back to his birthplace on a three-year contract with Melbourne next season.
The presence of James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale in the Rebels backline will ensure there's plenty of high-speed action, while the Force will miss the leadership of Nathan Sharpe, who retired a number of times last season, but was called back each time for the Wallabies.
Rebels v Force,
Sky Sports 4, 8.40am
Brumbies v Reds
Sky Sports 3, 8.40am