Greg Growden writes five rugby headlines for 2016
Greg Growden
January 3, 2016
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1: Fast Eddie inflicts pain on Wallabies

The most compelling storyline in the opening months of 2016 will be whether Eddie Jones can transform England from a Rugby World Cup basket case to a Six Nations power. England made the right move in appointing Jones, ridding themselves of so much dead wood and bringing in a dynamo who will certainly shake up the establishment. But how will his abrasive style sit with all the suits and networkers who dominate English rugby? Even in his first few weeks in the job he has upset some. Will he be able to cut his way through all the politics and selection issues that have so often shackled England? How will he be able to handle the endless scrutiny of the British media, who will monitor and comment on his every move? Losing their support can be fatal; just ask Stuart Lancaster. Surviving the Six Nations will be a task in itself that will see him hailed a messiah if England get back on track and called every name under the sun if they don't. Then in June, he is bound to be an endless headline grabber as the master of the quick quip and the putdown line will be in Australia attempting to undermine his former team during a three-Test series. He understands the Australian psyche, and knows how to irritate, which will ensure the lead-up to the Rugby Championship will have far more vim and vigour than in previous seasons, especially as he will be attempting to out-do his old friend and Randwick club colleague Michael Cheika. Fast Eddie's media conferences are bound to be memorable. That series should be rollicking fun, especially if England are able to rebound from the pain of the October's Twickenham embarrassment. Expect at least one Test to go England's way in Australia.

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2: Come back to Tahland, Chek, we need you

It is always a worry when you hear players say their new coach is "a really good bloke". It is an even bigger worry when the players concerned are wearing the Waratahs colours. In spite of their Super Rugby triumph in 2014, the Waratahs are still renowned for being the great under-achievers of the tournament, for many years wasting resources. It has often been a player-dominated province, with numerous coaches struggling to get the best out of a pampered bunch. The sometimes ruthless Michael Cheika changed that, because he basically put the wind up the players and wouldn't stand for too much nonsense. He hardened up a soft-centred province. The new coach, Daryl Gibson, is a more amiable character and the concern is that the Waratahs could go back to their old lazy ways if he is unable to show enough authority. Being mates with the players does not work. The fear factor should never be underestimated. Gibson, who has great credentials and has been at Tahland long enough to know its strengths and weaknesses, still has one of the toughest tasks in the Super Rugby. The squad he takes over is considerably flimsier than last year's, with numerous players having headed overseas - including Adam Ashley-Cooper, Wycliff Palu, Jacques Potgieter and Sekope Kepu. And whatever Gibson does will be compared to Cheika. As well, his push to get the troubled former All Blacks winger Zac Guildford to the Waratahs hasn't exactly been embraced by all. Sydney can be such a dangerous party town. The tabloid headline hounds are hovering.

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3: Richard Graham - the ultimate Reds survivor - wins a game

Yes, we still find it mind-boggling that Richard Graham remains Queensland Reds coach, after another season of absolute lunacy in which it was clear he had lost the support of numerous key players and a lot of the fan base. And this year, Graham has to make do with a depleted squad as so many of their core players have departed, including James Horwill, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Lachie Turner and James O'Connor. The big hope is Kane Douglas. Hmmmm. Even though the Queensland Rugby Union publicly conceded the Reds' 2015 performances were "unacceptable", they still somehow believe that Graham remains the best person for the position. Countless Reds supporters think otherwise, and home crowd figures are bound to collapse if this farce continues. At least the Reds can't sink much lower, and Graham will be treated as a coaching mastermind if he can muster something out of what appears a severely depleted squad. A lucky one at that, though, because few other provinces would be so patient about a coach who has only achieved a 28% success rate with Western Force and the Reds. Buy Lotto tickets, go to the dishlickers with full pockets, head to a roulette table, he should do it all as he is clearly blessed.

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4: New Zealand: is there life after Richie and Dan?

After two consecutive Rugby World Cup triumphs, you would assume that New Zealanders would now be content, and have got over their "stick it up the rest of you" phobia. Not so. Rugby provides New Zealand with an identity, and that relies heavily on domination. So there will be a lot of headlines - good and bad - concerning New Zealand rugby's ability to quickly overcome the loss of their two biggest sporting icons - Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Sure New Zealand's rugby resources flow from a flourishing well of diamonds, but McCaw and Carter were the heart and soul of their operation. Even though there is a multitude of credible candidates for both of their positions, whoever eventually takes over their Test spots on a consistent basis will find themselves constantly being analysed, scrutinised, everythingised by the New Zealand media. This endless attention will break the fair-to-middling candidates but will make those who are not intimidated by the enormous shadow they are stepping into. There is bound to be some irritating teething problems. Sports talkback radio in New Zealand will be brutal.

The All Blacks celebrate their Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia
The All Blacks celebrate their Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia© Phil Walter/Getty Images

5: Party like it's 1999+4: Australia at last wins Bledisloe Cup

No, I haven't over imbibed on Sailor Jerry, Speight's Old Dark, glazed ham and plum pud over the festive season to completely lose the plot. Here's the headline, the storyline, the everything line all of Australia has been frustratingly waiting for since 2003. It has been a long time since Australian rugby has headed into a season feeling so buoyant. The Wallabies exceeded expectations at the Rugby World Cup, producing spectacular triumphs against England and Wales and at last showing a bit of spunk when they fought back in the second half of the final against the All Blacks. Sure they didn't win the trophy, but Michael Cheika has succeeded in bringing back a bit of the old fighting spirit, which was a Wallabies characteristic when they used to win the big trophies. They showed in Sydney last year that they can actually beat the All Blacks, and as long as injuries, especially to their pack, remain minimal, they have an excellent chance to at last show off a forgotten silver monstrosity on this side of the Tasman. And if it doesn't happen, we'll just wheel it out again in next year's storylines. In the meantime, just remember the old German proverb: "Patience is a bitter plant but it has sweet fruit."

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