Melbourne Rebels attack coach and former Wallabies assistant Shaun Berne says the Brumbies deserve favouritism for the new Super Rugby AU competition but he’s interested to see which team embraces the rule changes best. The five-team domestic league will start July 3, with the Rebels and Brumbies clashing in Canberra a day later.

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The Brumbies had only had one loss from seven rounds before the regular 15-side competition was shut down in March because of Covid-19 and then scrapped due to the ban on international travel.

The Canberra side outclassed Melbourne in their round two match 39-26 and Berne expected them to again be a tough proposition. “I think they deserve to be favourites of this competition,” he said.

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“They’re the in-form team and the benchmark of Australia at the moment. They did a good job of beating us in round two of the first competition but maybe unfairly it restarts for them and they have to start from scratch. We know we’re up against it in round one but we’re excited by some of those new law variations.”

There will be seven new laws in the Australian league and Berne said his players had been working hard on their kicking game, with the likes of superboot Reece Hodge as well as fellow Wallabies Matt Toomua and Dane Haylett-Petty looking to take advantage.

Two of the rules have been adapted from rugby league with the introduction of 50/22 and 22/50 kicking laws, as well as goal-line dropouts rather than a 22-metre restart. “Those kick variations and those laws, people are going to have to hold the backfield a little bit more which opens up space and if they don’t there’s an opportunity to kick and find those 50/22s,” Berne said.

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“Reece is one, Dane Haylett-Petty, Matt To’omua and Andrew Deegan – there’s plenty of guys there that can exploit that.”

Berne did a brief Wallabies assistant coach stint leading into last year’s Rugby World Cup and was asked about ongoing criticism of head coach Michael Cheika. He said he “loved” his time under the divisive coach despite Australia’s quarter-final exit.

“The results are that we failed but anyone who dealt with Michael Cheika will tell you he gave it his all – he was trying his best for Australia as we all were.”

Meanwhile, the Brumbies can accommodate up to 1,500 spectators for the Rebels’ visit. “We’re really happy that we will be able to have some of our members at our first game,” Brumbies CEO Phil Thomson said in a statement.

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“We’re hopeful we will be able to have more of our members and supporters at games throughout the season.”

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