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All the action from the first round of the Super XV.PT0M0S 620 349
Years ago, as I scratched for some advice after a friend's break-up, I said: "Mate, it's not the one you start with that counts, it's the one you end up with that matters." Similarly, while it's comforting to start well in Super Rugby in February, where you're at in July and August will be what pays the bills.
Time moves quickly and it can coronate as quickly as it can cremate. It seems like yesterday that the Wallabies sent Nathan Sharpe out a winner in Cardiff against Wales to complete a year that ended very differently to how it began against the Scots in Newcastle. Also in December, England were on top of the world after trouncing the All Blacks in a record – and their only – defeat of the season and the Wallabies were winning the close Tests with some regularity.
And disturbingly, just before the season had even kicked off, the sports pages have been filled with talk of drugs, organised crime and now alleged murder. My inbox is flooded with mates from overseas asking what drugs we used more than a decade ago and one of the special heroes from the London Olympics is behind bars.
Rebels winger Richard Kingi passes the ball against the Force. Photo: Getty Images
So now, looking from the middle of the short month where it does seem early to be intrigued by football but a relief that the contest itself is back in the spotlight, there is a lot to whet the appetite, such as a new Waratahs regime, some key movements between the franchises and a British and Irish Lions tour.
One of the challenges will be to write a rugby article without mentioning the British and Irish Lions, who are on a slightly higher rotation to Australia than Hayley's comet.
Their visits are so infrequent, in fact, that Australia's most capped forward, Sharpe, book-ended his career with Lions' tours, though unfortunately for him one was the year before he made his debut and the other the year after he retired, so he never played them.
Their novelty will demand that they consume the rugby head space until they leave our shores in July, hopefully without the Tom Richards trophy.
Super Rugby coaches will lament this obsession at times and the team that manages the inevitable distractions best might be the one to get through to the finals. And there will be distractions, some easily anticipated and others surprising, as the interests and demands of Super Rugby and Test rugby can at times be mutually exclusive, especially with the scarce resource of top-class players.
The players, then, are best advised to centre their universe on their own health and form and allow the Gregorian calendar to let February lead to March and so on to July. Selection to play the Lions and a place in the Super Rugby play-offs will be the medals of consistency, not hype.
The Lions tour has already affected the start of Super Rugby, with the first round of matches involving just four Australian teams, as the June-July schedule requires some manipulation of the norm. If you're a pessimist, take a photo of the log now as we hold the top four places. Though an optimist may have seen enough signs for hope of a cheerier Australian result as, for a start, I think our depth will be vastly improved on last year.
Optimism is so important for sport, just as it is in any relationship. It's always better to feel your good times are not all history and that you still have much to look forward to. Ultimately, optimism is sport's shelf-filler – it will ring the turnstiles like $2 milk.
And in the two Australian conference matches where the Rebels beat the Force and the Brumbies downed the Reds, and even in the Waratahs' final trial against the Crusaders, there was hope on offer. The Brumbies, in particular, demonstrated composure and proficiency in a well drilled and professional display against a challenging, though not full strength, Reds team. Perhaps they were driven partly by the memory of being left at the altar after their capitulation last year.
But this victory is just one small step to reconciliation from those pains, for the demons of that demise will be exorcised only by a top-six finish. The hope is that this year they have the management, the cattle and maybe now the nous, to do just that.
But all this is just supposition as it is too difficult to draw accurate conclusions from the current evidence, especially when we haven't yet seen the NZ and South African teams in action. When the Reds won the title two years ago they were comprehensively dismantled in their season opener by the Waratahs. It's not how you start, it's how you finish that counts.