21 Feb 2017

Aussie Super rugby teams under pressure

3:52 pm on 21 February 2017

The gap between Australian and New Zealand teams in Super Rugby has never been wider - and the only way to close it is by taking more risks, according to Wallaby great Tim Horan.

The five Australian franchises are under pressure to improve after a lacklustre 2016 when Australian rugby's shortcomings were laid bare for all to see.

Were it not for the competition's odd format since the expansion to 18 teams, the Australian conference-winning Brumbies would have finished eighth on the overall ladder - not fourth, which earned them a home final many felt they didn't deserve.

Tim Horan

Tim Horan Photo: Photosport

Meanwhile, the Western Force and Queensland Reds struggled badly and notched just five wins between them, and the NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels were a long way off the pace-setters, New Zealand's Hurricanes and South Africa's Lions.

But after some canny off-season recruitments and with ARU skills guru Mick Byrne's influence starting to take hold after his switch from the All Blacks camp, Horan believes things can turn around.

"I just think we've got to play with more risk," Horan said.

"The skill level will get better with the more risk we play.

"If you look at whenever a New Zealand team plays a non-New Zealand team, the difference between the offloads is huge. It'll be 40 to maybe six for an Australian or South African team.

"I just think if we can have a more concerted effort to actually play a bit more risky footy - counter-attack a bit more, not kick for touch, try and get some more offloads away - that'll create opportunities for players.

"Otherwise we can play the exact way we played last year, and the New Zealand teams will probably get 10 per cent better. But if I was one of the coaches, I'd be trying to create something different."

The Waratahs are the favourites with bookmakers to win the Australian conference but there are question marks over their roster after losing a wealth of experience in Kurtley Beale, Dave Dennis, Wycliff Palu and Benn Robinson.

The Brumbies are in a similar boat, with no Stephen Moore, David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Matt Toomua and Joe Tomane this season.

Big things are expected from the Reds, who lured topline veterans Moore, Quade Cooper, George Smith and Scott Higginbotham to Ballymore and will have no excuses under new coach Nick Stiles.

Horan reckons the Force and Rebels, who are potentially on the ARU's chopping block ahead of a likely Super Rugby restructure for next year, are most under the pump to perform.

"There's going to be pressure on all teams but certainly Western Force and also the Melbourne Rebels, because we don't know what's going to happen if one team's going to be cut," he said.