Monday’s Rugby News looks at the results from Super Rugby Aotearoa, the Waratahs confirm their home venues, the Brumbies preparation ramping up and Chris Alcock’s shock retirement.
As the Kiwis enjoy their final moments of being the only major professional rugby competition in business, the Blues have continued their unbeaten run with a narrow 27-24 win over the Highlanders.
The Highlanders looked set to cause a major upset after turning around a 22-10 deficit at half-time into a 24-22 lead after 55 minutes.
However, flanker Dalton Papali would find the line for his second in the 55th minute, with the team from Auckland holding off waves of attacks to maintain top spot on the ladder.
Captain Patrick Tuipulotu was proud with the transformation that his side has undergone, noting that they would’ve likely crumbled under the intense Highlanders pressure in previous years.
“A couple of years ago, even last year we weren’t able to hang on we didn’t have the composure. I’m proud of the fact we managed to do that now,” Tuipulotu said.
“We’re comfortable backing our defence for long periods of time.”
They are joined at the top of the ladder by the Crusaders, who continue to go from strength to strength as they outclassed the Chiefs 19-13.
Fullback Will Jordan scored a try either side of halftime to put the Crusaders ahead 18-3 whilst the Chiefs would bag 10 points early in the final quarter thanks to a converted try to Sean Wainui and another McKenzie penalty, they couldn’t manage to hang onto the ball to secure the upset victory.
All Blacks hooker and Crusaders captain Codie Taylor was full of praise for Jordan after his exceptional performance at the back.
“We knew it was going to be a confrontational game and we had to make sure the breakdown was really clean,” he said
“A young fella like Will Jordan who’s on his toes and just wants to get involved and it’s awesome to see the boys backing their skills especially in conditions like this.”
Iron sharpens Iron
Brumbies assistant Peter Hewat believes that the internal and external pressure on the ACT club will ensure that their players will be firing across the 12-week competition.
For now, their competition has been largely internal, with the side competing in an intra-club match over the weekend as they look to finalise their matchday 23.
Hewat believes that the intense nature of these sessions will ensure that players are pushing themselves and ultimately making themselves better as they look to back up their strong Super Rugby form.
“The intensity was in our game, game speed, speed of the game, we brought a few things to our game which we’re trying out over the break so it was nice to see them under full game pressure,” Hewat said.
“As coaches, we were very happy with how it went. Most importantly, Friday proved a good reminder of the jostling that players will have to do to earn a spot in the 23,
“You want guys that are pushing each other and making each other better in the long run,
“We’ve had a squad mentality the whole year and that’ll probably be more important over this next competition.”
Dan McKellar will have a near-full strength squad to pick from, with locks Cadeyrn Neville and Nick Frost the only players that are set to be unavailable for the opening round clash against the Rebels.
One of the biggest headaches for McKellar lies in the back row, with flanker Tom Cusack admitting that it will be tough to usurp their current starters, particularly new recruit and King of the North(s) Will Miller.
“I’m comfortable with the coaches’ decision on which way they choose to take it,” he said.
“Obviously, I’d very much like to be a part of the starting side come July 4 against the Rebels but Willy Miller’s in fantastic form as we saw at the back end of the first block.
“The back row in particular…everyone’s putting their best foot forward coming into round one and it’s going to be a fantastic back row no matter which combination they choose to go with.”
The Waratahs are set to return to the site of one of their greatest victories after announcing that they will take their round three game against the Brumbies to ANZ Stadium.
As they prepare for their opening round derby against the Reds, the Waratahs have confirmed that they will host the Force at the SCG on July 11 before taking their clash against the Brumbies to the place where they secured their first Super Rugby title in 2014.
They haven’t played at ANZ since the 2015 season, playing their home games at the now-demolished Allianz Stadium before taking games across NSW in the past four seasons.
The ground was expected to be out of action as it went under refurbishments, however, it has now become an option as the NSW Government delays work on the Olympic Stadium.
Venues for the Waratahs’ final two homes, the Reds on August 8 and the Rebels on August 29, are yet to be confirmed as they wait for the AFL/NRL to confirm their arrangements heading forward.
NSW Rugby CEO Paul Doorn was confident that the remaining fixtures would be locked in over the coming days, with the club eager to return to action after a three-month holdout.
“We’re of course still operating without a permanent home ground while we await the construction of the new Sydney Football Stadium, but during this period many teams have been displaced or playing in unfamiliar surrounds,” Doorn said in a statement.
“We’ve got a great relationship with the SCG Trust and understand that both they, and Venues NSW are working within a very congested sporting market at present.
“We’re all facing challenges as we look to see professional sport return post-COVID and scheduling is one of them, we’ve seen how quickly things can change [with bio-security] but we’re close to locking in all of our home games.”
Alcock’s shock retirement
Western Force flanker Chris Alcock has sensationally announced his reitrmeent on the eve of the Super Rugby Australia competition.
The South African native started his career at the Waratahs in 2010 before making his move to the Force in 2013 where he played for four years.
He would re-join the squad after spending a year with the Brumbies despite their exile from the Super Rugby, emerging as one of their best throughout the Global Rapid Rugby series.
The 32-year-old made the call after admitting that his mindset towards the sport had changed, more focused on preserving his body and avoiding injury.
“I’ve put my body through a fair bit of stress and damage and it just came to the point where I was more concerned about getting injured than playing rugby,” Alcock said.
“I got pulled out of second-grade rugby to go to the Waratahs – I was only training one day a week while I was at university, so I did not see that happening from where I was,
“With rugby I have been able to travel the world. I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve played in South America, New Zealand and South Africa. I can’t give it enough credit for what it has given me.
“I’ve absolutely loved it here; this is my seventh year at the Force. I really love Perth and I love the people here. And the club is amazing – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that side of it.”
Teammate and USA international Marcel Brache was full of praise for the effort and commitment that ‘Cocky’ had given to the side both on and off their field.
“I think it is difficult to put into words how much Chris has given to the club and how much he means to the club as well,” Brache said.
“You wouldn’t have thought that Cocky had called time on his career the way he was training but also the way that he was checking in on the players, I think it’s just Chris’ nature. He is a very caring and genuine guy.”