Friday’s Rugby News sees Super Rugby AU Week 7, Disruption in NZ, The Weekend Ahead in Club Land and English Premiership Resumes
SUPER RUGBY AU WEEK SEVEN
After last weeks games threw the cat amongst the pigeons in a big way, we return to Week Seven of Super RugbyAU. Will this week still be stuck in the alternate dimension, or will we see results that are closer to general expectations? The Brumbies have the week off to stew over hiding they got from the Rebels and try to work out if it was a one off.
Friday night see us on the Gold Coast for the Force take on the Waratahs. (705PM EST, Fox Sports and Kayo). The men from the West have relocated again to the Gold Coast area and have had the week off, and take on a Waratahs outfit still on a high from their thumping of the Reds last week.
As one would imagine, the Waratahs have not tinkered too much with the team that blew the Reds off the park in the first half, with the only change to the starting XV being the return of skipper Rob Simmons from injury. This sends Ned Hanigan to the pine. The bench sees Robbie Abel come on in place of Andrew Tuala.
For the Force, captain Ian Prior returns in place of Nick Frisby, while Pek Cowan and Jake Strachan come in for Chris Heiberg and Jack McGregor respectively. Ollie Atkins and Nick Jooste come onto the bench as well.
If the same Waratah team turns up that came last week, this will be a one sided contest. However, given they have only put that sort of game together once this season that is also a big maybe. I expect a similar game to the last encounter, with the Waratahs eventually out arm-wrestling a game but ultimately outmanned Force team.
Saturday night (715PM EST Fox Sports and Kayo) sees Suncorp Stadium host the Reds and the Rebels. This is the match up of two diametrically opposed results from last week. The Reds were terrible last week, particularly in the first half whereas the Rebels looked like world beaters in taking care of the Brumbies.
As with the Waratahs, the Rebels have decided not to tinker with the winning team, the only change being Pone Fa’amausili coming in at tighthead for the injured Jermaine Ainsley. Esei Ha’angana and Michael Wells are added to the bench along with possible debutant Charles Abel.
The Reds have made several changes to their lineup due to injuries and “rotation”. Up front, the loosehead prop stocks are at a low ebb, with Jack Straker named to start replacing Dane Zander who is out for the season after injuring his knee at training. Fraser McReight comes back after a puzzling stint on the bench forcing Liam Wright to 6 and Angus Scott-Young to the bench.
In the backs, Tate McDermott comes back into the starting side after a similarly puzzling two games on the bench and Jordan Petaia returns on the wing after the late withdrawal last week. Jock Campbell goes to fullback with Bryce Hegarty to the bench. Club prop Jethro Felemi comes onto the bench as the reserve loosehead.
I am concerned about the Reds prop situation. Other than Taniela Tupou, the other three props probably have less than 80 minutes total experience between them and it could well be a real trial by fire against what is a pretty good Rebel scrum. Surely the Rebels will try and target this and lay a platform for their backline which is in great form at the moment.
Teamlists for both games courtesy of rugby.com.au here
Tips: Waratahs by 7, Reds by 5.
NZ RUGBY DISRUPTIONS
We have made it to the last round of Super Rugby Aoteroa and with it all wrapped up for the Crusaders the last round has been thrown into real doubt following the positive COVID cases in the Auckland area earlier this week. As of writing, no one is too sure if either or both games will proceed or not, and under what conditions. That aside, teams are in for the Saturday clash (which is probably the more likely of the two to go ahead)
Saturday (505PM EST Fox Sports and Kayo) has the Highlanders taking on the Hurricanes in the Dunedin Cow Shed. Both teams will be looking to finish off the season on a positive note and have both named pretty strong squads despite having little other than pride to play for.
One key player missing for the Canes is talismanic halfback TJ Perenara who is missing the game to be near his wife as she prepares to give birth. Asafo Aumua also drops out of the squad due to illness. Dane Coles brings up quite a milestone, becoming the most capped Hurricanes forward, quite the achievement given he has missed quite a bit of rugby the last few seasons. This will be his 119th cap for the Canes. Ben May and Ardie Savea both play their final games for the franchise which will leave them stranded on 98 and 99 caps respectively.
On the Highlander front, co-captains Ash Dixon and Aaron Smith both chalk up significant milestones. Dixon will earn his 100th and Smith his 150th cap in a side that other than Tom Florence coming onto the bench remains unchanged.
As with all the NZ clashes this should be a hard hitting encounter and tight but ultimately the Hurricanes should finish this one on top.
The other game that is currently scheduled to go ahead is the Blues and the Crusaders. The Saders wrapped up the title last week and the Blues will be hoping the game goes on so they can seal second spot on the ladder. As of writing no teams have yet been named but given the pattern of the other game I expect both teams to name strong teams with injury being the only factor to rule players in or out.
The Blues were beaten relatively soundly in the earlier encounter but hung with the Crusaders for a good chunk of the game and would hope that just a bit of the killer instinct has left the champions.
Stay in touch with the team news courtesy of ESPN here
Tips: Hurricanes by 8, Crusaders by 9.
CLUB RUGBY WEEKEND PREVIEW
Time for us to have a wander around the country and see what is happening in club land.
In Western Australia, there remains two unbeaten teams after six rounds. Joondalup and Cottesloe continue to win with Associates, Nedlands and UWA all sitting on one loss. (Nedlands has also drawn one). This has created a bit of a gulf with Palmyra staying in touch by virtue of bonus points. This week has 1 v 3 with Joondalup taking on Associates as what should be the highlight.
In the Coopers Premier Grade in South Australia, it is the battle of first and second this week as unbeaten Brighton take on Old Collegians as Brighton look to consolidate their grip on first place. Third also takes on fourth as Onkaparinga tackle Southern Suburbs in a weekend that could really help shape the season. At the other end of the table Elizabeth will be hoping to notch their first win of the season against second from bottom Adelaide University. Both teams have taken some big losses this season so a win will be extra sweet.
Down in Canberra, Owls continue their march through the season, disposing of Gungahlin in a tight game last weekend. This round sees them taking on a Viking team who were beaten by Wests for their first loss of the year. As in previous weeks, close games were the order of the day again. The other games this week see Wests play Whites and Gungahlin taking on Royals.
We are onto Round five of the Shute Shield in Sydney and there are still multiple unbeatens. Uni, Gordon, Randwick, Souths and Norths are all yet to drop a game. The televised game this week on 7TWO is Uni playing host to Souths in a battle of the unbeatens. Norths and Randwick should remain unbeaten, taking on the Wildfires and Penrith respectively while Gordon face a Manly side which has only managed the one win thus far. The table is a real split with top six already distancing themselves from the rest.
In Tasmania it is the Devonport Bulls making all the running with them comprehensively beating third placed Stags last week. This week should be no different with them taking on the bottom club in University. Taroona take on Harlequins in what should be the best match of the weekend.
Last week in Darwin saw a massive boilover in the semi finals with previously unbeaten University going down to a Darwin Dragons side that had only won three from eight prior. Casuarina downed South Darwin in the other semi which means the grand final sees Casuarina and Dragons going for the trophy on Saturday night.
Round two of the Hospital Challenge Cup in Brisbane saw the points continue to flow along with the late announced appearance of Wallaby veteran Will Genia for GPS. GPS managed a big score again, notching 59 in their comprehensive win over Souths. The match of the round will be Uni vs Easts, with both sides unbeaten (Uni have had a bye) with Easts boasting a dynamic pack led by former Wallaby skipper Ben Mowen. Other games see GPS take on Brothers, Bond hosting Norths, and winless Sunnybank taking on Souths.
As always, pop over to rugby.com.au and take a look at Nick Wasiliev’s column for more colour and all the links to watch games being streamed.
ENGLISH PREMIERSHIP RESUMES
After being on hold since late March, the resumption of the English Premiership finally happens this weekend. While it will clearly be good for rugby to start again on that side of the world, there are several little stories that all weave in together to make not just the conclusion of this season interesting, but the following one as well.
On one hand we have the resumption of the season, one that will see the relegation of perennial contenders Saracens as a result of the salary cap scandal that engulfed the club. While the general expectation was that this would lead to an exodus of stars, this has proven not to necessarily be the case, with many of the stars committing their futures to the club, despite the looming prospect of Championship rugby.
The main reason they seem to be willing to stay is their international careers, which could have possibly been stymied given the numerous internationals would not have been facing top class opposition week to week. However, English coach Eddie Jones has indicated here that he is more than happy to pick anyone and those selections will be based on form.
Jones said, “”There are a number of very established players there that have played a lot of test matches and a lot of high level rugby so they’ll know how to maintain their level of performance.” These words will have been music to the likes of Owen Farell, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and the Vunipola boys among others. While this is a logical thing to say, it will be a pretty big step up from that level to Test matches so it will be interesting to see how they manage it. Certainly, none of the last English squad came from the Championship so there is no real precedent for selecting a team like this, regardless of form.
While on the subject of the season restart, it seems that clubs unable to take part in games due to a COVID-19 outbreak in their squad will be forced to forfeit their games as opposed to rescheduling them. This BBC article explains that with six rounds being played in nine weeks and less than a month between the end of the season and the start of the next one, there was little other option. With some 20 players testing positive since 6 July, there is a real possibility that this could occur once squads start mixing on the pitch.
The English season restarts on Saturday morning Oz time with Harlequins taking on Sale.