Friday’s Rugby News sees the Wallaby squad for Bledisloe III, the final edition of club corner for the year, surprising times at the Reds and NSW and bringing it all back with the Invictus Games.
Under the Lights
The stage is set for the clash between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Japan, and weirdly enough, I’m not concerned by it.
Maybe it’s because we’ve been so bad for so much of this season that really any sort of improvement could be positive, because it is at least not as bad as where we have been in the past.
Michael Cheika has made four changes to the squad that came from behind to beat the Pumas in Argentina. The biggest is the omission of Adam Coleman due to a groin injury, with him set to be replaced by Rob Simmons. Reece Hodge is also out due to injury, and he’s been replaced by Samu Kerevi (on the bench), Caleb Timu is also out (maybe because he’d rather play in the NRC grand final), and Matt Toomua is out because… I don’t know why… why is he out? He’s been playing alright. I don’t bloody know at this point.
In addition to Simmons and Kerevi, Sefa Naivalu, Rory Arnold, Jack Dempsey and Pete Samu have all been named in the squad, with one set to be omitted.
Israel Folau will move to inside centre, a decision that has many folks scratching their heads. I’ll happily be proven wrong on this one, but wouldn’t it make sense to trial this against anyone other than the World Number 1s? Like Italy or Wales? As Han Solo once said: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” The other big news is 7As coming in for Taniela Tupou, and if Sekope Kepu takes the field, it’ll mark his 100th test cap in the Green and Gold.
The Kiwis meanwhile have made seven changes to the side that scrapped victory over the Springboks in South Africa, with Joe Moody, Liam Squire, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown, Brodie Retallick, Matt Todd and Nepo Laulala all set to return. The other big news is that this weekend will be Sonny Bill Williams‘ 50th test in the black.
Wallabies Squad: 1. Scott Sio (51 Tests), 2. Folau Faingaa (5), 3. Allan Alaalatoa (29), 4. Izack Rodda (13), 5. Rob Simmons (90), 6. Ned Hanigan (17), 7. Michael Hooper (c) (87), 8. David Pocock (74), 9. Will Genia (96), 10. Bernard Foley (64), 11. Marika Koroibete (17), 12. Kurtley Beale (80), 13. Israel Folau (69), 14. Sefa Naivalu (7), 15. Dane Haylett-Petty (27). Reserves: 16. Tolu Latu (9), 17. Sekope Kepu (99), 18. Taniela Tupou (8), 19. Rory Arnold (18), 20. Jack Dempsey (6), 21. Pete Samu (7), 22. Nick Phipps (69), 23. Samu Kerevi (21), 24. Tom Banks (3) *one to be omitted.
All Blacks Squad: 1. Joe Moody (36 Tests), 2. Codie Taylor (38), 3. Owen Franks (103), 4. Samuel Whitelock (105), 5. Scott Barrett (25), 6. Liam Squire (20), 7. Ardie Savea (31), 8. Kieran Read – captain (114), 9. TJ Perenara (51), 10. Beauden Barrett (69), 11. Rieko Ioane (20), 12. Sonny Bill Williams (49), 13. Ryan Crotty (41), 14. Ben Smith (73), 15. Damian McKenzie (19). Reserves: 16. Nathan Harris (18), 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe (9), 18. Nepo Laulala (13), 19. Brodie Retallick (71), 20. Matt Todd (14), 21. Aaron Smith (79), 22. Richie Mo’unga (4), 23. Anton Lienert-Brown (30).
You know what, I reckon this will be a landslide victory to the Wallabies. This squad is perfect in every way and I reckon we’ll put fifty on the Kiwis and everything will be right with the world.
Nah, nah. Just kidding. I reckon the All Blacks are going to win by 20. In all honesty, is there anyone out there who believes that we have a hope in hell of winning this match? I’m actually curious.
The Final Corner
Ohhh, now this match is looking a beauty! Ladies and Gentleman, for our last edition of NRC (and Club) Corner, we’re all set to go for the NRC Grand Final, which serves as the final professional rugby match on “home” soil for the year.
In all regards, it’s been a great season of NRC, with the very obvious exception of NSW. If anything, it shows that when it comes to the competition, pretty much everyone except NSW is on the same page about making it work. All the other teams stepped up and improved, crowds were noticeably up (especially in Perth and Queensland), and most importantly, more people know about it and are starting to see it as an increasingly important cog in the Australian rugby pathway.
And that comes down to the quality of the games played, which brings us to the Fijian Drua and Queensland Country, arguably the two most entertaining teams to watch this year. The match this weekend looks like a real test, especially when you consider that Country are the only team in the NRC that the Drua have never beaten. Fijian fans also remember that it was Country who brought the Drua’s campaign to an end last year in the semi-finals.
But on the flipside, it’ll be hard not to back the Drua at home this year. Not since the Melbourne Rising‘s unbeaten regular season run in 2014 has an NRC team looked so consistent (especially at home). If the Country do manage to pull an upset, it would probably be the biggest upset since when the Perth Spirit knocked the Rising out of the semi-finals in Melbourne that first year.
Honestly, this game just looks so damn entertaining. I can’t wait for it!
Drua Squad: 1.Joeli Veitayaki, 2.Mesulame Dolokoto, 3.Benji Makutu, 4. Peni Naulago, 5. Albert Tuisue, 6. Mosese Voka (c), 7. Jone Navori, 8. Eremasi Radrodro, 9. Frank Lomani, 10. Alivereti Veitokani, 11. Aporosa Tabulawaki, 12. Cyril Reece, 13. Apisalome Vota, 14. Levani Kurumudu, 15. Apisalome Waqatabu. Reserves: 16. Ratunaisa Navuma, 17. Eroni Mawi, 18. Luke Tagi, 19. Tevita Naqali, 20. Johnny Dyer, 21. Peni Matawalu, 22. Enele Malele, 23. Avete Daveta
QLD Country Squad: 1. James Slipper, 2. Efi Ma’afu, 3. Kirwan Sanday, 4. Harry Hockings, 5. Angus Blyth, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Tom Kibble, 8. Caleb Timu, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. Hamish Stewart, 11. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12. Duncan Paia’aua (c), 13. Jordan Petaia, 14. Filipo Daugunu, 15. Jock Campbell. Reserves: 16. Richie Asiata, 17. Harry Hoopert, 18. Jake Simeon, 19. Rob Puli’uvea, 20. Harry Wilson, 21. Harry Nucifora, 22. Tom Lucas, 23. Patrick James.
As much as I want the Aussie rugby team to win this match, how bloody good would it be for Fijian Rugby if they win this? For this one, I’m backing the hosts. Drua by 10.
And with that, this brings us to the end of our final Club/NRC Corner segment. It’s been a lot of fun putting these together throughout the year, and I hope you guys have enjoyed hearing about the club rugby and NRC games that might slip under many people’s radar. Hopefully it’ll be back again in some capacity when club rugby rolls around again next year. In the meantime though, enjoy your rugby this weekend.
There’s been a couple of weird announcements out of both the QRU and the NSWRU, so without further ado…
We start in sunny Queensland, where the Reds squad has been announced for 2019. And, interestingly, Karmichael Hunt‘s name is still there.
The fullback has been playing again for Brisbane City in the NRC, however Reds fans shouldn’t get their hopes up that he will play a game next year, as Brad Thorn still isn’t interested in playing him, despite Hunt’s public admissions that he aims to win Thorn’s trust again.
“My dream world would be to run out there with the Reds again and play some footy for the Wallabies again,” Hunt said earlier in the year to Fox Sports.
“That’s my dream goal and I’m doing everything possible to put myself in that position for next year.
“This last chapter is probably my most important.
“I’m not going to be able to wipe away the past and nor do I want to.
“But I want to own it and I want to move forward and put footy at the forefront of the talking points when people speak about my name.”
He’s certainly got an uphill battle on his hands sticking around at Ballymore, and it says a lot that Quade Cooper and James Slipper both left to go to the Rebels and Brumbies, respectively.
The Reds had very little to say on the matter, with a spokesperson simply stating: “Karmichael Hunt is a Reds contracted player next season.”
Make of that what you will. You can check out the Reds squad here though, which includes 27 players from the team that played this year.
Down in New South Wales, the Waratahs have confirmed that they will three games against the Crusaders, Reds and Rebels at the SCG. However, what makes this slightly different is that unlike last year, the field will be set in an East-West configuration, similar to the A-League derby that will happen this weekend.
Andrew Hore was on hand to get excited about the event, saying that playing East-West will lead to a better spectator experience. (Let’s be honest though, it’s also because the want to turn the brand new stand at the Northern End of the ground into the members area).
“From our perspective it’s the viewing for our sport,” he said to rugby.com.au.
“Our sport is a ground-based sport, so having that slight piece of elevation and viewing is really important, so it helps us with the customer satisfaction and coming to the ground.
“On top of what is already an iconic and wonderful stadium, (this) adds to that.”
Daryl Gibson also gave his two cents worth, and admitted it was an interesting idea.
“It’ll be an interesting one,” he said.
“We’re in that exploratory phase – for fans, a different perspective.
“For players, we’re obviously running in a different direction so I think it’s a bit of a wait and see.”
The other home games will see the Tahs play the three matches at the new Western Sydney Stadium, their season opener at Brookvale Oval, and take one match to Hunter Stadium in Newcastle.
On a brighter note…
To finish off the news this week, I thought it would be good to touch on the amazing wheelchair rugby that is currently being played at the Invictus Games in Sydney.
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to go and check out the Games (in person or online), the quality of sport and the amazing spirit in which contestants are getting involved is nothing short of inspiring. It’s events like these that bring out the best in people, of being there for your mates and having a crack.
The Wheelchair rugby was played in fantastic spirit over the last two days, with six teams from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, France, the UK and an ‘Unconquered’ team taking part. While Australia finished top of the leader board, what’s really drawn people’s attention was the outstanding sportsmanship in the match between Australia and New Zealand.
Following a spine-tingling haka, the Aussies went on to convincingly win the game 24-6. However, in the dying stages of the second half, Aussie Davin Bretherton passed the ball to Kiwi George Nepata, the first tetraplegic ever at the Invictus Games, helped push him towards the line and celebrated with him as he scored his first ever try. You can check out the footage here.
The fact that Nepata was there at all was a victory in itself, having suffered his injury after a military accident in 1989. He was also new to wheelchair rugby, and because a team member dropped out, he had to be on field for the entire game.
Understandably knackered from playing the whole time, the Aussies planned during their halftime break to give him the ball, as a sign of respect for the courageous effort he was putting in.
“He was on the court for the whole time and we do realise how much heart and passion it must be to stay on the court and still push around,” Bretherton said post match to the ABC.
“To see him throw those arms up is a memory that I will cherish for a long time.”
It was a gesture that wasn’t lost on the crowd, who erupted into enormous applause, and neither on Nepata.
“It was a very humbling experience and I will never forget it,” Nepata said post-match.
“It took me by surprise, I just do my role out on the court and then out of nowhere all I could feel was everyone come up behind me and push me toward the goal line… it was awesome.”
Kiwi Warrant Officer PJ Harimate also took time out to speak about the game and the event as a whole.
“That’s the great thing about the Invictus Games – it’s not about the medals, it’s about participating and meeting all the other inspiring people here.
“In as far as the Invictus Games being a vehicle to rehabilitate and recover in one way or another, it’s really fantastic.
“There were some magnificent stories told, I watched it on social media, on live streaming, and our competitors there were really great.
“At the golf I met John Key, our former Prime Minister, got a picture with Stephen Moore, which was great – I’m a keen rugby man – and had a good chat.
“Everyone was saying ‘Oh, what are you doing? He’s an Aussie rugby player!’ But it’s not about that. On the field there’s a rivalry, but off the field we’re cousins.”
Not that matters, but in the final results of the Wheelchair Rugby, the Aussies went on to defeat the UK 23-17 and win gold in the Grand Final.
The Invictus Games concludes tomorrow.