In this edition we profile rivals – the Rebels, the Kiwi forces of the Crusaders and Highlanders. Plus we look at the women’s tournament with a focus on the ladies from Victoria, The Rebels Women squad.
Opposing teams would be wise to start preparing to feel the force of the Melbourne Rebels in 2018, starting at the Brisbane Tens. No Australian side benefited more from the demise of the Western Force than the Rebels – the Victorians boast a near new coaching staff fronted by former Force leader Dave Wessels, along with a generous heaping of starting players – meaning all of a sudden the perennial easybeats of Super Rugby will be cannon fodder no more. It’s easy to forget that the first incarnation of the Rebels was rather successful – they finished runner up in the one and only Australian Rugby Championship back in 2007 – and 2018 may be the year in which they return back to the head of the pecking order.
Player to watch – Sam Figg: The Rebels team announcement provides plenty of stand outs. Wallaby scrum half Will Genia, flanker Colby Faingaa, jet shoes Jack Debreczeni, or even Rebels wildcard, former Wallaby hooker, current Rugby Australia media and marketing type and all-round good guy Adam Freier. However one Rebel to watch for his impact at the Tens is former Australian Sevens representative Sam Figg. Something of a journeyman despite being just 25 years of age, flanker Figg was one of the stand outs for the NSW Country Eagles in their breakout National Rugby Championship year in 2016 before continuing his career in Japan. Fearless over the ball and a great broken play runner, Figg will no doubt enjoy the wide open spaces Tens rugby has to offer.
Seeing the Crusaders in a final is par for the rugby course, and the inaugural Brisbane Tens did not disappoint for the men in red and black. But while their 2017 season would ultimately end on the high of upsetting the Lions on their home turf in Johannesburg to lift a length-of-the-straight record eighth Super Rugby trophy, the Tens were not as kind, with the Cantabrians going down to the Chiefs 12-5 in the decider. With the enigmatic and downright entertaining Scott Robinson – the only person to win a Super Rugby title as a player and coach, in addition to boasting the best breakdancing skill of any coach in world rugby – at the helm, the Crusaders will again be one of the teams to beat in the Brisbane sun.
Player to watch – Mike Alaalatoa: As one of the only remaining teams yet to confirm their tens line up, the Crusaders have certainly ramped up the mystery. They come into the weekend off a 43-22 trial loss to the Hurricanes, playing a side with little in the way of top line experience. Which is why we’ve gone with one of those to line up in Grymouth last Friday – former Waratah, brother of a Wallaby and son of a Samoan gun, Mike Alaalatoa. Alaalatoa has been part of the Crusaders set up since 2016, playing 14 Super Rugby games in that time, and will be out to kick start a big year in red and black with a strong showing (should he line up at the tens this weekend).
Our round up wraps up with those enigmatic men from the deep south of New Zealand, 2015 Super Rugby champions, the Highlanders. With a new head coach in Aaron Mauger taking the reigns for 2018, the Highlanders will be looking to improve upon their quarter final exit at the hands of the Hurricanes in 2017 with an improved showing this time around. Having chosen to leave current All Blacks in Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Lima Sopoaga at home, the men from Dunedin have still chosen a squad chock full of class, including young players like Tyrel Lomax – former Melbourne Rebel and son of Kiwis league legend John Lomax – and All Blacks Eliot Dixon and Luke Whitelock.
Player to Watch – Pita Platini: Another marquee man gets the nod for the player to watch section – 17 test All Black and former Highlander, Hurricane, Crusader and Chief, Pita Alatini. Alatini’s international career coincided with his time at the Highlanders, where he played 48 games over four seasons between 1998 and 2001. Now 41, Alatini holds the rare distinction of having played test rugby for two nations, having represented his native Tonga in one test back in 1995.
Another newcomer to the Tens this year, the Rebels women will bring plenty of class and experience to Brisbane in the form of coach Alana Thomas – a former Wallaroos Rugby World Cup representative and reigning Australian community coach of the year – and captain Jayne Kareroa. Kareroa has been a mainstay of Melbourne club rugby for a number of years, and most recently recorded something of ac career highlight by briefly switching codes to represent the Cook Islands at the recent Rugby League World Cup.
Rugby Tens Fun Fact
Highlanders wildcard Pita Alatini played nearly 200 senior games at test, Super Rugby and provincial level in New Zealand and Japan. During his time with the All Blacks, Alatini duked it out for a starting position with two players who will hold clipboards in Super Rugby this year – Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger and Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson. Panasonic head coach Robbie Deans was also assistant coach to John Mitchell the last time Alatini lined up in Black, back in 2001.
Brisbane Global Rugby Tens
Dates: Friday 9 and Saturday 10 February, 2018
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Gates Open: 1:45pm Friday / 12:45pm Saturday