Friday’s Rugby News sees the Bledisloe Being Played On a Field, Who Will Play on Said Field?, Club Finals Fever and South Africa Out of Rugby Championship
IT IS JUST A PITCH
In this week’s edition of mind games we see the Wallabies again trying to mix it with the Kiwis on the psychological warfare front.
This time it is the appalling record of the Wallabies when playing at Eden Park, where we haven’t won since 1986. In case you forget that stat, fear not as I am certain you will hear it several hundred times between now and kick off.
Anyway, instead of dwelling on the rather large elephant in the room, newly minted Wallabies forward coach (and part time Same Whitelock impersonator if the picture above is anything to go by) has tried to go the traditional route, telling all and sundry that it is all a load of guff, and to add further fuel to the fire, that Beauden Barrett is just another player.
When asked by reporters about the likelihood of a Barrett return after being a late out last week, Parling told them, “He’s obviously a good player but the other guys that are in there are obviously good players again,” Parling said. “I wouldn’t make more of it than what it is if he comes back in — he’d be replacing someone else who is a very good player.”
TEAM GUESSING TIME
With less than 24 hours until the teams are named, there is all sorts of speculation from both sides about what they will look like when they run out onto Eden Park, but for very different reasons.
For Australia, speculation seems to be around who will and won’t be dropped as all are apparently fit, while the All Blacks have been playing ducks and drakes all week with their injury list, with a late twist on Thursday throwing a further spanner into their works.
Late Thursday, the NewsCorp press published a purported Wallaby team that contained a few changes, with some expected and some from left field. The team published here showed stability to the starting backline, but the forward pack and the bench is where all the shenanigans appear to be happening. In the forward pack, it is suggested that Folau Fainga’a has been dumped and replaced by Brandon Paenga-Amosa, and Pete Samu making way for Ned Hanigan. Both are rumoured to be out of the 23 altogether.
On the bench, the story has Liam Wright replacing Rob Valentini and Jordan Petaia coming in for Noah Lolesio. I think a lot of people saw Petaia coming in and perhaps Wright but BPA and Hanigan seem to be the big shocks.
For the All Blacks, there has been speculation all week about the fitness of a few different players. Richie Mo’unga was under a cloud as was Beauden Barrett, resulting in Josh Ioane being called in early in the week. Add to that the story of Sam Whitelock being under a concussion cloud and things were up in the air in a few spots.
Things seemed to get worse on Thursday with George Bridge hurting himself in the gym, putting him out for around six months. Sydney Morning Herald reports that Bridge tore his pectoral muscle in the gym, with Caleb Clarke, who looked dangerous off the bench last Sunday the likely replacement, although Jordie Barrett is also an option.
Oh to have Jordie Barrett as a squad option….
CLUB FINALS FEVER
Finals fever has hit the eastern seaboard after it swept through WA last week, so let’s pop off to the chemist and stock up on the good stuff and take a peek.
Firstly we are in the ACT, where it is time for the big dance. The grand final features Royals facing Eagles after the cut-throat semis played last week. Royals will be looking to go back to back after capturing the John I Dent Cup last year.
They face a Gungahlin Eagles outfit in their first GF since 2007 and have become a more cohesive outfit since the addition of former Wallaby Matt Giteau. The game kicks off at 215PM local time Saturday and there is a nifty little preview of both clubs on Rugby.com.au here
Off to Sydney now and the Shute Shield. With a six team finals series this week sees 1v6, 2v5 and 3v4. This pits Gordon and Randwick, Uni and Norths, and Easts and Eastwood. Easts and Eastwood is the televised game on Sunday at 3PM local on 7TWO. After getting belted by 60 points last week Randwick will be looking to spring what would amount to an amazing form turnaround against the minor premiers.
Newly free man Jim Tucker gets to freelance for rugby.com.au this week and brings the story of the mateship pushed to one side this week for the Darren Coleman and Ben McCormack, the coaches of Gordon and Randwick respectively.
Tasmania is onto their grand finals this weekend and as predicted it will be a battle of 1v2 on the table with the all conquering Devonport Bulls taking on the Taroona Penguins. The game is set down for 3PM local Saturday and will be a bit of an uphill battle for Taroona against the perennial powerhouse Bulls. Rugby.com.au has their preview here
It is semi final weekend in Queensland with the traditional four team final format in play. This weekend we have the major semi final with minor premiers Easts taking on second placed Uni, and third placed playing GPS for the right to take on the loser of that game next week. The rather busy Jim Tucker has a piece here previewing the weekend and also profiling Bond Uni’s Dan Boardman and his key role as a carer and what it all meant for him during the Qld lockdown amidst COVID.
And finally South Australia with their second week of finals this week. Last weekend Port Adelaide and Onkaparinga were knocked out of contention, with Brighton and Southern Suburbs picking up home semi finals. In what is set to be an intense weekend of footy, current champions Burnside will face up against Old Collegians, while Woodville will host Adelaide Uni. Brighton and Souths have earned the week off and will be looking forward to seeing who their opponents are.
SOUTH AFRICA OUT OF RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
After days of rumour and conflicting stories, news broke late yesterday that South Africa had officially pulled out of The Rugby Championship, scheduled to be played in November and December, throwing not only the competition schedule but the future of Southern Hemisphere rugby alliances into turmoil.
The NZ Herald reported that RugbyAU and SANZAAR are expected to announce the withdrawal today, meaning the advertised series of double header games, already weakened by New Zealand intransigence is now completely obliterated.
It is expected that the withdrawal will be based on two concerns; the lack of competition and build up for South African teams (their domestic comp only started last week), and issues around travel and governmental decisions, despite these largely being resolved.
Already egg heads on social media are throwing up all sorts of replacement options into the mix to ensure the double headers are retained and any TV rights hit is minimised. Suggestions I have seen so far include Fiji (already committed to the Eight Nations northern competition), Japan (who withdrew from the Eight Nations and announced they were shutting their international program down for the year), and some sort of ANZAC team made up of players not involved in the NZ/AUS squads.
Of those, I suspect only the ANZAC team is even close to feasible and even then it would only be the NZ players who would still be playing Mitre 10 Cup that would be close to match fit. On that basis it would appear that it will be reduced to a three team comp, but money can be a great motivator so anything is possible.
While there is the short term question of what this does to the competition and the TV rights that presumably were based on a full schedule, the much bigger question is what does this mean for the future of SANZAAR as a body and the participation of South Africa in rugby this side of the equator.
It has been blindingly obvious to all and sundry for a while that South Africa (or at least a chunk of their rugby administration) see the North as the pathway for their future. They sent their lesser provinces there to play in the PRO14 a couple of seasons ago, and the recent news that the traditional Super Rugby Franchises would go there instead clearly shows their intent as a sport to head in that geographical direction.
So while there is some tradition of playing South Africa regularly since their return to the international fold in the 1990’s, the long term question is do we need or want them as a partner into the future?
Is it better to rip the bandaid off now, and jettison them and perhaps Argentina too (despite them being nothing but good partners) and really put genuine effort into the Pacific and Asia? Money wise the South Pacific is not particularly appealing but certainly Japan would be, as would any sort of serious play into the broader Asian market. And as many have often pointed out, isn’t it about time the “big cousins” of Australia and NZ do more to assist the Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga of the world and help them as opposed to pinching players of descent and giving relatively little back to player development in those nations?