Pick'n Go
Reasons to look beyond the player drain
Sam Bruce
February 16, 2015
Waratahs 13-25 Force (Australia only)

News of Bernard Foley's likely departure to Japan after the Rugby World Cup threatened to take the focus off the opening round of Super Rugby. But the growing exodus of players has been handed a fresh perspective by a weekend of stunning upsets.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika didn't want to discuss reports linking Foley with a move to Japan ahead of the game with Western Force; he said he'd talk on Monday about Foley's rumoured departure, but he's unlikely to want to talk about that - or anything at all - after the events of Sunday afternoon that are sure to have his charges headed for a brutal few days on the training paddock.

The talk surrounding Foley on Friday had seemingly seen the Drain Danger Level increase from "worrying" to "alarming", such is state of the Waratahs and Wallabies playmaker's career - a career could move well beyond the 50-Test mark. But then Super Rugby started, and Australia's Generation Next went to work. And the 18- to 20-somethings for whom the gold jersey remains the ultimate goal may just be the only people in Australian rugby who aren't concerned by Izzy's future or the circus that will likely play out around Quade Cooper.

First it was the Rebels and their impressive pack of hungry young forwards.

Lopeti Timani, who was sidelined for much of last season, thundered through the experienced Crusaders pack for the season's first five-pointer. He was ably supported by the Rebels' best player of 2014, Luke Jones, and back-rowers Colby Fainga'a and recent Wallabies tourist Sean McMahon were also excellent. Scott Higginbotham led by example, of course, and there's little doubt he'll be missed when he heads to Japan after the World Cup.

As will halfbacks Nic White and Will Genia - with the Queenslander tipped to follow his Brumbies rival to France. Enter Nic Stirzaker. A yellow card for stamping on Richie McCaw wasn't the best way to start a season, but who among you can say you would have done any different had the All Blacks skipper been rolling around at your feet? The Rebels No.9 produced a typically busy performance after that, and he swooped on a loose ball to cap his game by sealing the Rebels' first win on foreign soil.

Tom English - he of the famous "laxative" comment this time last year - was another Melbourne player to impress. A Wallabies squad member in 2014, English fits the prototype for the modern winger: big, strong and fast; his finishing is improving, too.

The opening round of sensational upsets got the most unexpected of bookends when Western Force outmuscled and out-thought a woeful New South Wales Waratahs side on Sunday afternoon. The match was supposed to be a celebration for the Waratahs; an easy opening to their title defence. But they played as if that was their own expectations, and the Force handled the sweaty conditions superbly and richly deserved their bonus-point victory.

Back-rower Angus Cottrell, who was on the verge of Wallabies selection before a broken leg in 2014, made a fine return to Super Rugby and, at 25, he is another player for whom the growing list of departures won't be a concern. Cottrell may just have a word in the ear of Ben McCalman, though; the Wallabies No.8 was outstanding on Sunday afternoon.

It would be naïve to suggest that Australia's player drain isn't a concern, and that Foley, should he decide to head to Japan, is not a big loss. But it is also naïve to think that Australian rugby doesn't have a Generation Next on the horizon, and perhaps that fact has been overlooked somewhat amid all the rumour and worry around many first-choice Wallabies. The younger guns are by no means the finished product but, if some of the individual performances on the weekend are anything to go by, they're tracking in right direction.


Enter your Super Rugby tips at http://www.footytips.com.au/tipping/superrugby for your chance to win an Auckland Bledisloe Cup travel package. Enter the ESPN Scrum Super Stars tipping league at http://www.footytips.com.au/comps/ESPN_Scrum_Super_Stars to claim bragging rights over the ESPN Scrum rugby journalists including Greg Growden..


© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Sam Bruce is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum in Australia and New Zealand

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.