Happy Religious Festival for those who observe I am off to do the most Australian of Easter activities and am going camping with the family.
Suliasi Vunivalu is back at last.
Vunivalu’s selection on the wing for the Queensland Reds is a fresh and exciting dimension to Friday night’s clash against the improving Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne. If there are early nerves in his first match for 10 months, they’ll be quickly quelled by the familiarity with his surroundings at AAMI Park. The ground was home base for his heroics as a tryscorer when he played his five seasons for the Melbourne Storm (2016-20) in the NRL.
Vunivalu has been ripping in at full pace and in contact sessions for several weeks since getting the final tick that his troublesome hamstring is strong again after two surgeries. Wallabies coach Dave Rennie could witness Vunivalu’s fitness for himself because he was a welcome guest at Reds training at Ballymore on Wednesday.
Reds skipper Tate McDermott is in no doubt that Vunivalu, 26, is ready to pick up where he left off with the best moments of his disrupted debut season in 2021. “Suli…how good and back in Melbourne,” McDermott enthused. “He started to hit his straps last year and his hamstring went. We were absolutely gutted for him. I imagine he’s been incredibly frustrated but he’s the type of guy who doesn’t show it. The boys love having him, a superstar, around. He’s awesome for this team and I want to see him getting up in the air for kicks because he’s very Folau-ish with the number of times he gets the ball back for you. Suli Vunivalu doing what he does best. He’s been away so long you have to remind yourself that Vunivalu is tall at 1.92m and throws 100kg into his running.”
McDermott won’t be shy about using him either. “As a running halfback, there’s nothing better than knowing you have Suli and Filipo (Daugunu) on the wings,” McDermott said.
Through injuries and suspensions, it’s a remodelled Reds outfit. The return of high-workrate Angus Scott-Young to the bench after beating a knee injury is a major positive because Liam Wright still had his right ankle in a moon boot at training yesterday.
Lock Connor Vest has been reprogrammed as an emergency blindside flanker to start. His urgent physicality was a big plus off the bench in the recent win over the Brumbies but he hasn’t the swiftness to the ball that Rebels backrowers Brad Wilkin and Richard Hardwick have.
With the injuries to Alex Mafi and Josh Nasser, the Reds are fielding their No.3 hooker in Richie Asiata. Scrum weapon Taniela Tupou will come off the bench at tighthead prop.
Reds Team to face the Rebels
REDS (1-15): Feao Fotuaika, Richie Asiata, Zane Nonggorr, Ryan Smith, Angus Blyth, Connor Vest, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott (c), James O’Connor, Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jordan Petaia
RESERVES: Matt Faessler, Harry Hoopert, Taniela Tupou, Lopeti Faifau, Angus Scott-Young, Kalani Thomas, Josh Flook, Lawson Creighton
11 Weeks Tolu Latu following his latest red card
Tolu Latu of Stade Francais has been suspended for eleven weeks for his latest Heineken Champions Cup red card brandished last Saturday less than three months after he escaped with a one-match ban for abusive language directed at referee Wayne Barnes. The 19-cap Wallabies international fell foul of another English referee, this time Luke Pearce, with 13 minutes remaining of last weekend’s first leg round-of-16 derby match against Racing 92.
An EPCR statement read: “The Stade Francais Paris replacement hooker, Tolu Latu, has been suspended for eleven weeks following an independent disciplinary hearing by video conference arising from his club’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 first leg match against Racing 92 at Stade Jean Bouin.
“Latu was sent off by the referee, Luke Pearce (England), in the 67th minute of the match for making contact with the Racing 92 second row, Baptiste Chouzenoux, in the air in a dangerous manner in contravention of law 9.17.
He got his suspension reduced due to him saying sorry. I know it was only a week and it probably rules him out for the rest of the year. But this is exactly why we see so many penalties for taking guys in the air. This is the type of challenge that will put someone in a wheelchair on day and for mine 11 weeks with his history is very lucky.
Wallaby Overseas XV
I read an article about an Australian player playing for the Highlanders this week and it got me thinking about an Exiles Wallaby XV.
1 Paul Alo Emile (Samoan international raised in Brisbane)
2 Nick Dolly (English Capped Former Colt in Sydney)
3 Oli Hoskins
4 Rory Arnold
5 Will Skelton
6 Ben Gunter (Japanese International raised in Brisbane)
7 Colby Fainga’a
8 Liam Gill
9 Nick Phipps
10 Quade Cooper
11 Marika K
12 Cooper Vuna
13 Samu Kerevi
14 Luke Morahan
15 Surely someone can help me out here I cannot say Kurtley B
Not a bad team and some positions could be very open for debate particularly in the Row.
NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds confirm sides for Super W semi-final
The NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds have confirmed their sides ahead of Thursday’s semi-final at Eric Tweedale Oval.
Waratahs coach Campbell Aitken has received a major boost with Wallaroo Mahalia Murphy cleared to return from a hamstring complaint. Murphy, who has not featured since her five-try haul against the Rebels in round three, slots into fullback as the Waratahs look to replicate last week’s drubbing. She is joined in the backline by Nicole Nathan, who starts in place of Katrina Barker (shoulder), partnering Georgina Friedrichs in the centres.
There is one change to the pack, with Eva Karpani’s impressive form seeing her elevated to the starting side. Adiana Talakai and teenage sensation Ella Koster are the new faces on the bench, joined by Bridie O’Gorman and Lori Cramer.
As for the Reds, they have made a number of changes after Saturday’s defeat, handing Tina Campbell and Imogen Hei their starting debuts. Campbell comes into the second row alongside Annabelle Codey after Aleena Greenhalgh was ruled out. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Hei slots into scrum half in place of Sarah Lewis, with Renae Nona retaining the starting flyhalf position. Sophie Holyman returns to the starting side at number eight, joined by Hana Lane and captain Shannon Parry in the back-row. Sarah Riordan has been added to the wing for her first start in 2022, which drops Caity Costello to the bench
WARATAHS (1-15): Emily Robinson, Natalie Delamere, Eva Karpani, Kaitlan Leaney, Sera Naiqama, Piper Duck, Emily Chancellor, Grace Hamilton, Illseva Batibasaga, Arabella McKenzie, Tatum Bird, Nicole Nathan, Georgina Friedrichs, Margot Vella, Mahalia Murphy
RESERVES: Penelope Leiatua, Adiana Talakai, Bridie O’Gorman, Sabine Blakeman, Ella Koster, Pauline Piliae, Lori Cramer, Layne Morgan
REDS (1-15): Alapeta Ngauamo, Tasmin Sheppard, Liz Patu, Tina Campbell, Annabelle Codey, Hana Lane, Shannon Parry (c), Sophie Holyman, Imogen Hei, Renae Ngona, Ivania Wong, Cecilia Smith, Melanie Wilks, Sarah Riordan, Ellie Draper
RESERVES: Madi Schuck, Tiarna Molloy, Theresa Soloai, Grace Qaranivalu, Okeroa Manihera, Skyla Adams, Malaela Su’a, Caity Costello
Good luck to both teams who will play the Fijiana in the final.