Friday’s Rugby News sees Super Rugby AU Week 9, More Players Going on Sabbatical, The Weekend Ahead in Club Land and Fans on Trial In England
SUPER RUGBY AU WEEK NINE
With just two rounds left in the regular season, four of the five teams are still in the running for the three final spots on offer. While the Brumbies have one of those spots locked away the other two spots are still anyone’s, particularly the third spot.
This battle for third makes the Rebels clash with the Waratahs vitally important for both teams, especially the Tahs, who face a nervous bye next week, so this is a game they really need to win with a bonus point.
The other big news for the weekend is the late breaking announcement of the referee appointment for the Force v Brumbies game. Amy Perrett will become the first woman to referee a Super Rugby game. After having AR duties for several years as well as refereeing on the Sevens circuit, Perrett will get the lead role tonight. This could not have come soon enough, with a number of GAGR regular forum contributors calling for this for a while now. In my view, I wish I didnt even have to write this last paragraph, but here we are, and I’m happy to say I’m also the last GAGR news writer to have to do it. News.com.au broke the story here
First up this weekend though is the Brumbies welcoming the Force to Canberra on Friday evening (705pm EST, Fox Sports and Kayo).
The Brumbies have kept a fairly stable squad after dismantling the Waratahs last week with a team viewed by many as second string. The only change to the starting side is Joe Powell returning to the side at the expense of Ryan Longergan, with Ressjan Pasitoa coming onto the bench for Tom Cusack. This means no Folau Fainga’a or Scott Sio in the starting side and no Tevita Kuridrani in the 23.
With nothing else to play for other than pride the Force have made a number of changes as they seek to notch their first win in what has been a particularly hard re-acquaintance with Super Rugby. Into the starting side come Henry Stowers, Henry Taefu and Marcel Brache, while two of their best players in Bryn Stander and Richard Kahui move to the best. Winger Byron Ralston drops of out the 23 altogether as does veteran hooker Heath Tessman and Tevin Ferris.
Let’s face it, the Force will struggle here, the length of time being away combined with their obvious lack of depth is really beginning to tell and only strength of will keep this game close in what will likely be a frigid night in Canberra.
Saturday night (715PM EST, Fox Sports and Kayo) has the clash between the Rebels and the Waratahs. After being done over by the Brums last weekend, the Waratahs have made a call from left field in an attempt to keep their season alive.
Former NRL backrower Tepai Moeroa has been called up to make his first start at 12, after Karmichael Hunt was ruled out again with a hamstring injury. The loss of Hunt was noticeable last week in that Will Harrison seemed less effective at 10 so coach Rob Penney is hoping Moeroa will straighten the attack a bit and give Harrison more time. Backrower Will Harris comes back into the 23 after a few weeks out in the only other change to the squad.
On the Rebels side, they have had the benefit of the week off and have also named a relatively settled side. There are three changes to the 23 with Jermaine Ainsley coming into the starting side at tighthead and Tom Pincus and Michael Stolberg going onto the bench.
Last time around, the Rebels squeaked past the Tahs in a game that was much closer than it should have been. For the Rebels there were a few parallels to the now infamous Reds game in that they had mountains of possession but struggled to get over the tryline, showing that the performance in Brisbane was not a one-off. Expect another bruising encounter as the abrasive Tahs pack look to rough up the Rebels and pound them into submission.
Teamlists for both games courtesy of rugby.com.au here
Tips: Brumbies by 25, Rebels by 5
MORE PLAYERS ON SABBATICAL?
After Michael Hooper announced his rather well earned sabbatical for 2021 to Japan, the news soon filtered through that there were a few other Wallabies also looking at taking similar nest-egg building ventures overseas.
It emerged that a small group of Wallaby players who would generally be seen as key planks in the build to the 2023 World Cup have been offered a similar opportunity to Hooper, in the hope this will keep them in the country when they might otherwise be lost. This is especially true for a number of players who have been loyal servants for a few years now, but would be lost to Test duty due to the Giteau law.
For the Melbourne Rebels, this includes two key cogs in their explosive backline, Matt Toomua and Dane Haylett-Petty. Both players fall under the 60 cap floor so they would be ineligible if they took up a more formal contract overseas.
As Rebels coach Dave Wessels explained to AAP via ESPN Rugby, he is all for the idea, with one caveat. That being that only one of them can go overseas next year. Wessels explained, “The way it works is that both of them can’t go together so if one did decide to go, they’d have to alternate years.”
“Both of them are pretty big parts of our team and both of them are pretty committed to staying at this stage and we’re obviously hopeful it plays out that way,” Wessels added. So it seems the only question is how do they decided on who goes first? Coin toss? Kick off? Pistols at dawn? Any good ideas, please let me know.
It also begs the question of which other players have been offered this opportunity? Who deserves the chance to make some more coin but then be welcomed back into the Wallaby fold for next years internationals?
CLUB RUGBY WEEKEND PREVIEW
Time to take a spin around the country and smell the metaphorical burger on the grill that is clubland.
In Western Australia, the top two teams have cleared out from the rest, with a logjam from third to sixth. Up top, Cottesloe remain undefeated with Associates close behind. The best game looks to be Associates and Nedlands, which is second against fourth. A win for Associates will open the gap on those below and a loss means they come closer to the chasing pack.
In the Coopers Premier Grade in South Australia, Brighton have cleared out from the chasing pack, with eight points separating them from second placed Old Collegians, who in turn have Onkaparinga and Burnside hot on their heels. In a comp where there have been some big scores racked up in recent weeks it seems Burnside and Brighton- 1 v 4 will be the pick of the games this weekend.
Over to the ACT, tight contests have led to a tight table and last weekend was no exception with Vikings scraping past Owls 26-25. Owls remain on top however the gap has narrowed to the chasing pack. This week sees Whites taking on Eagles, Royals and Vikings, and Wests hosting Owls.
The Shute Shield is continuing with the game of the week on 7 TWO being Randwick against Eastwood, a battle of first and fourth on the ladder. Gordon are third and unbeaten while second placed Uni have the bye this week. Hunter, Penrith and Western Sydney are yet to get their first wins, but the Wildfires came close against Manly.
Devonport continue to set the pace in Tasmania, with a tight contest from second to fourth. All teams have notched at least one win, with Stags and Harlequins game this week likely to go some way to sorting out the top four come finals time.
In Brisbane, an Easts side led by a monster pack is setting the pace, and they will be looking to keep it up this week when they take on Bond Uni away. Other frontrunners include Uni and Souths, who meet this week and GPS who take on struggling Sunnybank. Wests will be looking to open their account for the season against everyone’s favourite rival, Brothers.
As always, have a look ar rugby.com.au and the hard working and good looking Nick Wasiliev’s column for more colour and all the links to watch games being streamed.
FANS ON TRIAL IN ENGLAND
With sport generally in England seemingly able to operate relatively well with most codes of football, cricket, golf and racing all functioning at the elite level the next step for them all is to start bringing people back in through the turnstiles, much like we have managed in Australia.
To that end, as part of a UK Government program to stage and test this approach we will see the first fans in English rugby on September 5 when Harlequins take on Bath. The tickets will be limited to 4,000 which is about 25% of the normal capacity of the ground.
BBC Sport has an article here about the broader trial which will see crowds come back in small numbers in a number of sports. This all starts with a EPL friendly between Chelsea and Brighton this weekend.
An earlier plan to get fans back to sport was halted when there was a surge in cases in the UK last month, with snooker of all things being the victim.
Any return of fans, at any number will be a boost to rugby clubs who (along with all other clubs in other sports) have suffered enormously from the lack of revenue caused by games being played behind locked doors. While rugby has been relatively lucky in terms of club solvency, many jobs have been cut at club and RFU level.