Thursday’s Rugby news sees the Force take on the Reds at Suncorp, with the Brumbies travelling up the Hume Highway to meet the Waratahs, as the Shute Shield returns this weekend and the Aussie Sevens programs secure olympic funding.
Force to be reckoned with
This week the Western Force will travel to Queensland to take on the Reds at Suncorp on Friday night. The two teams havn’t played each other since 2017, but in their last visit to Brisbane the Force scored 17 points in the final 17 minutes to seal a convincing 40-26 victory.
The Force want to bounce back after last weekend’s 14-23 loss to the Waratahs, whilst the Reds will be looking for a better performance after their frustrating 18-all draw with the Rebels.
Having emerged victorious from their previous three Super Rugby encounters over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the boys from the West would be feeling a little bit confident of getting one over their Queensland rivals. Of course, this is a completely different side to the one that run out in 2017, but they have drafted in some good players. It will be interesting to see how they gel.
One of the new faces is veteran prop Greg Holmes, who played for the Reds a staggering 144 times in his career.
The 27-time capped Wallaby made his Western Force debut off the bench last week against the Waratahs, and is expecting a “physical” encounter against the Reds.
“As a front row we’ve got a lot of focus on their scrum. Up front they’re very tough, so if we can nullify that threat, it will go a long way to winning the game,” Holmes said.
The Force have also welcomed 2011 World Cup-winning All Black Richard Kahui into the squad and will be counting on his experience. “First and foremost it’s important to get my performance right and play the best I can to help the team win. I could play this week, but maybe next week or the week after,” Kahui noted.
Super Rugby redemption
The second game of Super Rugby AU will see the ACT Brumbies and the NSW Waratahs renew their rivalry on Saturday at ANZ Stadium. The Brumbies and the Tahs battled it out in the last game of regular Super Rugby for 2020, with the brumbies coming out on top 47-14.
Brumbies Flanker Will Miller said he expected NSW to be stinging from that loss.
“Without a doubt,” he said.
“They’re a quality side and they’ve got a lot of quality players. Any team in this competition’s going to be as good as possible and that break’s just helped out teams that weren’t going as well beforehand.
“It’s evened the playing fields a lot, I think it’s going to be a tight one and one that we’re all looking forward to. As long as we play our brand of rugby, I think we should look pretty good.”
Electric Brumbies Fullback Tom Banks will return after missing round one because of stress fractures in his foot.
“I had a few stress fractures in the outside of my foot,” he said. “I don’t know how long they’d been there for but they flared up from the running I was doing during the break, then came back in training, had a few scans and they popped up. Obviously worked through with the rehab team, fair bit of hard work but it’s all paid off.”
Banks returned to full training last week and is confident he will be right for Saturday’s Waratahs clash. His return will be a big boost for the Brumbies as they look to continue their momentum through the competition.
Shute Shield time
Sydney’s Shute Shield competition will kick off this weekend in front of limited crowds. For this year, Penrith and Newcastle have joined the 13-team competition, with plans to run the comp over 13 regular rounds with a top six finals series culminating in a grand final under lights on 31 October.
Round one sees a grand final re-match between 2019 premiers Sydney University and Warringah at Rat Park, which will be broadcast on 7Two from 2pm.
Warringah hope to go one better than their second place in the last two Shute Shield competitions.
“We were runners up, we don’t want to do that again,” coach Michael Ruthven told the Daily Telegraph. “We are definitely looking to reverse the last two seasons. Last year we were good for 60 minutes, not 80. We haven’t reinvented the wheel. No great need to reinvent the wheel. It’s about creating an environment where we challenge each other and improve. Just coming up with different ways to challenge.”
Another highlight will be a battle of the beaches of a different kind when Randwick host Newcastle at Coogee Oval.
It has been 20 years since the Wildfires last played in the premier competition, upsetting Eastwood 20-17 in the final round in 1999, before being axed along with Canberra, Parramatta and West Harbour.
Coach Scott Coleman is impressed by the enthusiasm and work ethic of his team ahead of their opening game. “There is just excitement to be honest. They know they are up against it but they are jumping out of their skin to get out there,” Coleman said.
Scott will join his brother Darren in the Shute Shield, with the latter Coleman at the helm of Gordon.
Shute Shield organisers are still expecting fans to watch, but will be enforcing strict social distancing protocols.
Saving the Sevens
It has been announced that Australia’s Sevens teams have received $2.2 million in AIS funding as they look to relaunch their respective olympic campaigns.
With the Tokyo Olympics postponed and the remainder of the Sevens World Series in doubt, the one-off grant comes at critical time.
thanks to their gold medal in Rio, the Australian womens Sevens has stronger clout than the men, with coach John Manenti confirming the program would remain centralised and full-time in 2021. This grant will come in handy, as NRLW teams have been circling a number of high-profile players.
Most of Australia’s Mens Sevens players under a cloud with their contracts expiring on 30 August and a recent revised player pay deal only applying to Super Rugby AU players.
A number of players have departed the squad to link up with Super Rugby teams, while Ben O’Donnell recently inked a deal with Ireland’s Connacht.
Rugby AU CEO Rob Clarke said the funding was an endorsement of the teams’ Olympic prospects.
“On behalf of Rugby Australia and both of our Sevens teams, we thank the Australian Institute of Sport for their increased support for our programs,” he said.
“This increase is a tick of approval for our teams and the progress they had made before the World Series was suspended with our Australian Women’s Sevens pressing for another title and our Men’s team were finishing the season with a wet sail as they sat in fourth position with four rounds to go.
“This extra funding will allow for more security and greater planning ahead the Tokyo Olympic Games and as we move forward in a new Sevens landscape.”
The Tokyo Olympics were scheduled to be starting next week but have been pushed back a year to begin on 23 July.