By Alan Dymock
THIS WEEKEND sees the start of the 2013 Super Rugby season with two all-Australian affairs. The Melbourne Rebels host the Western Force on Friday morning and the Brumbies host the Queensland Reds on Saturday.
The Aussies are starting earlier than the rest with a week’s extra preparation scheduled before the Lions visit this summer. However, with Warren Gatland watching the whole competition with the intensity of a Where’s Wally world champion, there may be a few surprise performers who catch, and more pertinently worry, his eye.
Israel Folau, 23 (NSW Waratahs)
Izzy has tried more codes than a hapless safe cracker. Okay, maybe I’m exaggering, but the winger is tall, fast and gifted with the jumping ability of a particularly frightened frog.
Many are backing the former league and Aussie rules player to be the saviour of Tahs rugby, and alongside fellow signing Matt Hooper, he is expected to be a Wallaby by the time the Lions land.
Two things are for sure: he likes scoring tries and he is more than willing to pluck them out of the air.
Matt Toomua, 23 (Brumbies)
Billed as the next big thing at fly-half, Toomua is the playmaker for this year’s Brumbies.
Fans are aflutter after looking at the makeup of Jake White’s side, with David Pocock signing up to support him and the much-vaunted centre Christian Lealiifano playing outside him at centre.
Toomua is a possible answer to a Quade-shaped question. He can kick for goal and will attack the line if the moment presents itself, even though he may seem a bit too gung-ho. Nevertheless, fighting back from a serious knee injury shows that he is willing to keep giving it a lash: a trait the Aussies love.
Luke Jones, 21 (Melbourne Rebels)
Headlines in Melbourne tend to be reserved for Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor, while Wales’ own Gareth Delve is the serious, brooding face of the franchise. Yet there are a few ripples of excited pub-talk about a hard-grafting second-row, with the engine of a blindside and the appetite of a young (or old) Nathan Sharpe.
Can the 6ft 6in, 17st Jones fill the old fella’s boots?
Hugh McMeniman, 29 (Western Force)
Sure, he’s no spring chicken and he returnes to Australia after three years in Japan, but already the hardy McMeniman is being whispered about as a returnee for the national side.
The lock-cum-flanker is rugged and experienced and is rested for the opener, as is the ‘Honey Badger’ Nick Cummins, but Force head coach Michael Foley has publicly stated that he can rely on the 21-time Wallaby come what may. McMeniman would at least welcome the opportunity to take up Sharpe’s mantle.
Clyde Rathbone, 31 (Brumbies)
You want a comeback story? Sure you do. Well feast your eyes on the latest incarnation of Clyde Rathbone.
He was ravaged by injury and fell into well-documented bouts of depression that almost made a rugby return impossible. He retired. He was shot. In his own words, he spent three years bloated in a ‘dark place’.
Having worked himself back into shape, though, he is back. He may not be nailed-on for a return to the Australia side, but at least he is in a fine fettle and the game is undoubtedly delighted to have him back.
With 26 caps, he has class, too. In fact, it could be dangerous having such a seasoned campaigner smashing lines off of Messrs Toomua and Lealiifano.