Anyone holding on to the notion that the Australian conference is weak simply has not been watching Super Rugby.
It was true in 2012, with a Waratahs outfit lacking belief and a conference groaning under the weight of two teams added in the space of five years.
This season Australian teams have met inter-conference rivals three times, resulting in a bonus-point win on all occasions. It's early days and such a statistic is no guarantee an Australian team will win the title or beat New Zealand teams more times than they lose - as was the case in 2013 - but it is a start that deserves more respect than it gets in some quarters.
It may be a surprise to some, but the fact the All Blacks proved unbeatable in 2013 does not automatically place the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises on a higher plane. Stuttering starts by supposed powerhouses from Christchurch and Wellington should dismiss those thoughts.
The attack statistics from the first four rounds make startling reading. Teams in the Australian conference average 3.15 tries a game, the Kiwis 2.08 while South African sides lag behind with 1.72. Israel Folau's five tries for the Waratahs in two games has not been bettered by 60 per cent of the teams in the other two conferences.
Of course, some of these factors may be exclusive to the Australian conference. Weaker defences and harder tracks are all possible reasons but the experiences of both the Hurricanes and Cheetahs against Australian teams suggests otherwise.
There has been a gradual evolution taking place in Australian rugby, or in the case of the Waratahs, a revolution. Last year, the Australian conference had arguably the best coaches. The presence of Jake White (Brumbies), Ewen McKenzie (Reds) and Michael Cheika (Waratahs) on the sidelines was at least a match for anything the other two conferences could offer. White (to Durban) and McKenzie (Wallabies) may have departed the Australian Super scene but their influence lives on.
If White toughened up the Brumbies and taught them to be winners again, then Cheika and McKenzie instilled an attacking intent that has filtered through to the national team.
Under new coach Stephen Larkham, the Brumbies have tweaked their game plan but still play safety-first "Jake ball". To be expected, Larkham has made some changes to reflect his own style of play. Larkham was one of the best running five-eighths the game has seen and the Brumbies now have a licence to keep the ball in hand more in their own territory and to run it if the opportunity arises. They took advantage of such an occasion against the Hurricanes on Friday night. On the stroke of halftime, the Brumbies kept possession from a restart and swept up-field resulting in Robbie Coleman's try in the corner. They took the lead and never gave it up.
Saturday night's clash between the Tahs and Brumbies reflects the two extremes of the Australian conference. It's a battle between romantic adventurism and hard-nosed pragmatism, but the Brumbies would do well to repeat the intent behind Coleman's try. Attack begets attack and the Waratahs ball-in-hand style creates opportunities for both sides to capitalise on. The Reds did that in the opening game of 2013 but forgot it a fortnight ago, choosing to hoof the ball against the Waratahs and suffering a record loss. The Brumbies should utilise the speed and elusiveness of Jesse Mogg, Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight to capitalise on the broken play opportunities.
It's a game the Brumbies need to win. Losses at home to the Reds and the Waratahs would put them behind the eight ball in their quest to top the Australian conference. Not fatal, but not good.
The story Aussie Super Rugby teams showing strength and flair first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.