With no internationals in which to hone his players before the arrival of the British & Irish Lions this summer, Wallaby coach Robbie Deans is hoping the Super Rugby season will provide a proper springboard for his players.
The Wallabies lost the first Test of the season in 2011 and 2012 to Samoa and Scotland respectively and Deans knows he cannot afford to let the opening Test of the three match series in Brisbane slip in similar fashion.
The Super Rugby season kicks-off this weekend with the Melbourne Rebels hosting the Western Force and the Brumbies entertaining the Queensland Reds. The NSW Waratahs have a bye.
The Reds, who won the title in 2011, were the only Australian team to reach the play-offs last year. They finished third under the new tri-conference system, but they actually came sixth on overall competition points (58).
The Brumbies (58) were seventh, while the Waratahs (35), Rebels (32) and Force (27) finished 11th, 13th and 14th respectively. South Africa had three teams in the top six and New Zealand two.
Deans knows all about the quality of competition in Super Rugby having led the Crusaders to a record five titles before taking over as head coach to the Wallabies.
"We didn't succeed the way we would have liked in Super Rugby last season. But they are all coming into the new competition with genuine expectation, and rightly so. I think there is any number of them who can get to the business end," said Deans.
"They've had a lot of time together and they look refreshed. They have recharged and they are excited about what's coming.
"Clearly with two new franchises in recent times we've spread the playing group. That has created a young profile and we've suffered a little bit off the back of that because we lack training age, but we're coming through that now.
“I think we'll start to see that this year in Super Rugby. Ideally, every franchise will thrive and we'll all get the benefit of it."
Each of the five franchises will also get a shot at Warren Gatland’s Lions side in June, starting with the Force in Perth on 5 June. Those fixtures will expose a lot of Australia’s top players to international competition.
"The good thing is a lot of players will get access to the Lions through the franchises and the Tests – a large number of players will get to play an international,” said Deans.
"You look at any Lions series, and in particular Lions series where provincial and state games are involved, and players emerge from that. They respond to that opportunity.
"I've got no doubt there will be players who will emerge this year. Some will get an opportunity who wouldn't ordinarily have got an opportunity."