Friday’s Rugby News sees Super Rugby AU Week 10, Is Rugby a Tier One Sport?, The Weekend Ahead in Club Land and Northern Hemisphere Wrap
SUPER RUGBY AU WEEK TEN
We are into the final round of Super Rugby AU and there are two games that are both important as to how the finals series plays out.
With both games on Saturday we have a double header scenario where the finalists will be known after the first game, while the second game sees a battle on the top of the table which will no doubt involve some mind games should they both meet again in the big dance.
The first game on the schedule sees the game that will decide who takes on the Reds next week in the qualifying final, with the Rebels looking to seal the deal by beating the Force. (Saturday 3pm, FoxSports and Kayo). The equation is pretty simple at this point for the Rebels, win by more than three points and they move on. For the Force, the end of the season and a return home probably can’t come fast enough by this point, with the fatigue of so many higher level games coupled with being away really showing in the results the last few weeks. For all Force fans, please note I said results, not effort.
Melbourne welcome back Dane Haylett-Petty at fullback, which has triggered an array of other backline switches. Reece Hodge will partner Billy Meakes in the centres, with Matt Toomua shifting back to flyhalf, moving Andrew Deegan to the bench. Tom Pincus comes onto the wing in place of Andrew Kellway. Richard Hardwick starts at 7 while cult hero in the making Pone Fa’amausili is out of the squad after injuring himself “pretending to be Christian Cullen” in training. In an interesting move, Australian 7’s star Lachie Anderson gets a spot on the bench.
The Force have resisted the urge to go easy in the last game with only a couple of changes to their side. Bryn Stander returns to the starting lineup as does Byron Ralston with Kyle Godwin shifting to 13 and Richard Kahui dropping out of the 23, as do bench players Tom Sheminant, Tevin Ferris and Feleti Kaitu’u, replaced by Heath Tessmann, Johan Bardoul and the potential debut of Dom Hardman.
Saturday night, after the curtain raiser of the New Zealand North v South clash we have the clash between the Reds and the Brumbies. (Saturday 715PM, FoxSports and Kayo). The last clash resulted in a 80th minute penalty leading to the Brumbies escaping with the win, so the Reds will be keen to avenge that loss and fire a warning shot prior to any clash in the final in a fortnight.
On the Reds side of the equation, they welcome back some front row firepower with Harry Hoopert back from injury to start at loosehead. Bench wise we see the reunited Smith twins adding experience and skill with Ruan coming back from Melbourne and JP back from injury. In the backline, Chris Feauai-Sautia returns to the wing with Jordan Petaia shifting to outside centre. 2020 revelation Hunter Paisami returns from his injury via the bench.
The Brumbies have rejigged their lineup quite a bit from that used the last few weeks and would be close to their best 23. The biggest news sees halfback Nic White starting, however also returning to the starting lineup are Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a, Darcy Swain and Tevita Kuridrani. Clearly the prospect of this bunch having little or no football for a month prior to the final in a fortnight is a factor in this decision.
This game should be very good if everything goes as it should, and in reality predicting it is probably a toss up. Yours truly has the preview article here.
Teamlists for both games courtesy of rugby.com.au here
Tips: Rebels by 21, Reds by 7
IS RUGBY A TIER ONE SPORT?
As we continue to ponder what 2021 might look like for rugby in Australia, there is so much that is yet to be determined. You know, the important stuff like what will the competition look like, and where and how will it be broadcast.
Anyone who follows this humble site knows all too well the travails of the last six months that have befallen rugby and it’s relationship with it’s broadcaster of the last 24 years, Fox Sports. There have been hit pieces by associated media players, a campaign to remove a CEO, and an unwillingness to negotiate all under the cloud of the pandemic.
So it should come as no surprise the Interim CEO of Rugby Australia Rob Clarke has been compelled to speak out in defence of the sport after yet another slight placed on it by the honch of Foxtel Patrick Delany that listed the “tier one” sports and that list did not include rugby.
Delany was quoted as saying, “We can see quite clearly the sports that are working and those sports know who they are. We did a great deal with the NRL to review our relationship. I want more of the NRL. Our relationship with the AFL is really fabulous. I want more AFL. The motorsports are going well for us, and we like cricket. But they are really the tier one sports and the rest are going to have to adjust.”
Now Clarke is preferring to take the “he just forgot about us I’m sure it is cool” approach to this, with RA’s self imposed deadline for official broadcast proposals comes due today.
Tom Decent of the SMH is reporting that Clarke is tight lipped about what interest there has been so far from any potential broadcast partner, and also that there has been very little dialogue with NZ about what a Trans-Tasman competition in 2021 might look like, with Clarke saying, “At this point in time there is absolutely no committed competition structure by ourselves or New Zealand and that’s something we’ll continue to work on with our New Zealand colleagues in the coming weeks.”
All of this comes on top of the continued uncertainty around the Rugby Championship with continued pandemic issues causing mass confusion and uncertainty around what it might look like or even where it will be played.
CLUB RUGBY WEEKEND PREVIEW
This is the weekly opportunity for a quick peek under the bonnet of club rugby across the nation.
Western Australia saw Cavaliers notch their first win of the season which has thrown them up the ladder to 12th. Only Arks remain winless and get the chance to change that when they take on Cavaliers this week . Up front Cottesloe continue to rack up big wins and head the competition and will look to put away struggling Bayswater this weekend. Close on their heels are Associates who take on second bottom Curtin Uni. The battle for finals places below the top two is tight with only four points separating third through seventh.
In the Coopers Premier Grade in South Australia, things have tightened up with my predicted match of the week producing a bit of shock. Fourth place Burnside tipped over the hitherto unbeaten Brighton meaning the top have only five points between them. Brighton should get back on track against Port Adelaide while the other top sides are well placed to consolidate their spots as well.
To the national capital, the run of tight contests have continued with two of the three games decided by a total of three points. Owls snuck away from the rest with a one point win over Wests while second placed Vikings slipped up facing Royals. This round sees Owls taking on Royals, Eagles and Wests, and Whites hosting Vikings.
Sydney has the Shute Shield continuing with Gordon now in the relatively unfamiliar role of pacesetters. They remain unbeaten after taking care of West Harbour last week while Randwick dropped their first game in a high scoring affair against Eastwood. With just six points covering the top 6, there will still likely to be some intrigue as to where they all finish, especially if the Waratahs are knocked out of Super RugbyAU and players free to return to their clubs. The TV match on 7TWO this week is the derby game between Warringah and Manly with both teams hoping to close the gap to the top 6.
In Tassie, the only real question is whether Devonport will be beaten this season or not? With an unbeaten record, a massive for and against advantage and four games to go until finals it would be a brave person to tip against them at this point. They face Harlequins this week with second placed Taroona taking on Stags.
Finally to Queensland and the Hospital Cup where University, GPS and Easts continue to set the pace while Wests and Sunnybank face off this week at the other end of the table after Wests capitulated in the second half last week against Brothers. GPS and Uni meet this week for the Halley Appleby Memorial Shield and also to jostle for spots in the top four come finals time. The table seems to be shaping up as a top five of Uni, Easts, GPS and Bond and Brothers, with Souths, Sunnybank, Norths and Wests fighting out the other spots.
As I always say, have a look at rugby.com.au and the hard working and the erudite Nick Wasiliev’s column for more colour and all the links to watch games being streamed.
NORTHERN HEMISPHERE WRAP
There is a bit of news in the Northern Hemisphere this week with the delayed Semi-Finals of the Pro14 right up there on the list. Saturday morning Oz time sees the unbeaten (in this competition) Leinster taking on Munster, while Sunday morning sees Ulster travelling to Murrayfield to play Edinburgh.
Despite being seen as the outsider of the four after sneaking into the semis after winning just over half of their games, Ulster are keen to make amends for last years semi-final effort where they were pasted by Glasgow. They aren’t going into the game in the best of form either having been beaten by provincial rivals Connacht and Leinster in the lead up.
Coach Dan McFarland is well aware it will be difficult, telling BBC Rugby, “The task in front of us is a difficult one as away sides have won only twice in Pro14 semi-finals, the Scarlets on both occasions, so we know the difficulty of what lies ahead of us.”
Onto the English Premiership and Exeter continue to lead the way and look strong with a big break of 14 points to second place Sale Sharks. There is quite the queue behind them with only five points separating them from fifth placed Bath, with the bottom end being held up by Saracens by virtue of their massive penalty which means they are sitting at -47 points instead of a solid second on the table.
The international rugby scene in the North next and the RFU are hopeful of having 20,000 fans at Twickenham for their rescheduled clash with the Barbarians on 25 October. In what means a crowd less than 25% of capacity, the game could be the biggest sporting event in the UK since March if given all the relevant approvals by authorities, BBC reports.