Reds vow to retain title
Sydney - Australia's Reds hold no fears of a second-year syndrome as they seek to defend their Super Rugby crown when the new season starts on Friday.
The Reds lost only three matches in their 15-victory charge to last season's Super trophy, but Wallaby scrumhalf Will Genia says his side will not rest on their laurels in defence of their southern hemisphere provincial title.
"We are so young and we're not like older players who have won a title and we'll rest our careers on that," Genia said, ahead of his side's opener on Saturday against the Waratahs.
"We're still full of motivation and still want to play well and do well for the Reds."
Local bookmakers have the Reds third-favourites behind New Zealand heavyweights Crusaders and Blues for this year's Super Rugby.
The Reds, 18-13 winners over the Crusaders in last year's Brisbane final, will kick off this weekend without Wallaby playmaker Quade Cooper.
Cooper ruptured knee ligaments in last October's Rugby World Cup bronze play-off win over Wales in New Zealand and is hoping for a potential round-seven comeback against the Brumbies on April 6.
Coach Ewen McKenzie knows his team will be under pressure as defending champions.
"Each year you're confronted with different situations so the job as a coach is to come up with different solutions," McKenzie said.
Two-time finalists Waratahs have strengthened in the off-season under new coach Michael Foley and have recruited scrum-half Sarel Pretorius, the South African Super player of the year last year.
Pretorius, 27, is a brilliant attacking half and is hoping his spell with the Waratahs can boost his international ambitions with the Springboks.
"I'm here because I want to learn from the Waratahs and I'm going back to the Cheetahs for the Currie Cup, so hopefully I can take some experience back home," Pretorius said.
The Waratahs hope to pair Pretorius with Berrick Barnes in the halves and have also added Wallaby back Adam Ashley-Cooper from the Brumbies and Rocky Elsom has returned to take over the captaincy.
Melbourne Rebels enter their second season under new coach Damien Hill and have splashed on exciting Wallaby running backs James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale.
After finishing with the wooden spoon in their inaugural 2011 season, the only way is up for Melbourne and if their forwards can achieve parity their potent backline, also including England flyhalf Danny Cipriani, could win more games than they lose.
Cipriani, 24, showed flashes of his best last year but let himself down with some off-field indiscretions which led to him being suspended for a month.
But in three pre-season trial matches he has looked more consistent and his defence - previously a failing - has been strong.
"He's playing well and is controlling the game really well and that's what I like from a 10," said O'Connor, who plays outside him at inside-centre.
"He gives me a lot of time and space and lets me do what I do."
The Brumbies, Australia's most successful franchise with two championships and three final appearances, have turned to South Africa's World Cup-winning coach Jake White to turn around their fortunes after a dismal 13th last year.
White surprised by naming Ben Mowen as skipper and he will look to build his inexperienced team around Wallabies Stephen Moore, Pat McCabe and Ben Alexander.
"At this stage in time, the club needs something new - that's a reality," White said.
"It's not taking anything away from the boys who have been here, but there's a new group here and the dynamics are different."
Western Force, to be skippered by Wallaby flanker David Pocock, look to be under pressure heading into the new season with heavy losses to the Brumbies and Reds in trial matches.
But coach Richard Graham has put on a brave face.
"Trial form in February doesn't count for anything," he said.
"This week there's four or five points on offer and that's going to be important for us."