Factbox on the teams in Super Rugby’s Australian Conference (in order of position last season):
ACT BRUMBIES (Canberra)
Coach: Dan McKellar (third year)
Captain: Allan Alaalatoa
Last year: Semi-finals (W-10, L-6)
Best performance: Champions (2001, 2004)
The Brumbies, semi-final losers to the Jaguares last year, again look the best placed of the Australian conference sides to challenge for honours in 2020.
An established pack with an all-Wallabies front row will hope to create the platform for the backs to play, although, as for many of the other Australian sides, there is no established flyhalf after Christian Lealiifano headed off to Japan.
Scrumhalf Joe Powell will need to step up as the senior halfback and help unleash a backline which purred at times last season, but not often enough.
MELBOURNE REBELS (Melbourne)
Coach: Dave Wessels (third year)
Captain: Dane Haylett-Petty
Last year’s finish: 11th (W-7, L-9)
Best performance: Ninth (2018)
The Rebels have been stressing continuity ahead of the 2020 season but there will be huge disappointment if the same chief executive-coach-captain combination produces nothing better than a third straight 7-9 finish.
The loss of the halfback combination of Will Genia and Quade Cooper has been mitigated by the return from England of test flyhalf Matt Toomua and the recruitment of Fiji scrumhalf Frank Lomani.
The backline is chock full of attacking talent through the likes of Marika Koroibete, Billy Meakes and Haylett-Petty but the lack of depth up front could again cost them late in the season as they look to lock up that elusive playoff spot.
NEW SOUTH WALES WARATAHS (Sydney)
Coach: Rob Penney (First year)
Captain: Rob Simmons
Last year’s finish: 12th (W-6, L-10)
Best performance: Champions (2014)
With a new coach, new captain and new chief executive, it is hard to see 2020 as anything other than a year of rebuilding for Australia’s best-resourced side.
Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper remains after giving up the captain’s armband and versatile back Kurtley Beale is still around, but Bernard Foley’s departure leaves a big hole at flyhalf and there is no Israel Folau after his sacking.
The loss of Sekope Kepu and Tolu Latu from the front row will also be felt as the youthful Waratahs squad face a second season on the road while their Sydney Football Stadium home is rebuilt.
QUEENSLAND REDS (Brisbane)
Coach: Brad Thorn (third year)
Captain: Liam Wright
Last year: 14th (W-6, L-10)
Best performance: Champions (2011)
Former All Black Thorn’s project to turn around the fortunes of the Reds will need to show some results in 2020 after a sixth straight season without post-season play and he will need to do it with the youngest squad in the tournament.
Standout rugby league convert Suliasi Vunivalu will not be on board until 2021 but there is no lack of quality in the backline with the teenage promise of Jordan Petaia and the experience of James O’Connor and new recruit Henry Speight.
Samu Kerevi will be missed but O’Connor’s presence in the centres offers another playmaker option, which might be useful as the flyhalf spot is by no means settled with Isaac Lucas likely to get first crack alongside scrumhalf Tate McDermott.
Coach: Naoya Okubo (First year)
Last year: 15th (W-2, L-14)
Best performance: 15th (2018, 2019)
The Sunwolves will be playing their final season of Super Rugby after the competition’s governing body SANZAAR and the Japanese Football Rugby Union failed to agree on the terms of their inclusion last year.
Devoid of the Japanese stars of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the Sunwolves are a mix of journeymen, such as former England centre Ben Te’o, and youngsters playing at this level for the first time.
Georgian hooker Jaba Bregvadze is one of a small number of players to feature previously for the Sunwolves, who will rely on moments of magic from untested youngsters like Australian back Jordan Jackson-Hope if they are to leave Super Rugby with more than a whimper.
Compiled by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford