….or “D-day plus one” 79 years ago, a crucial period of World War II, sees ex-Tahs coach Rob Penney take up the Crusaders coaching gig, Christian Lealiifano looking to represent Samoa at RWC2023, US Major League Rugby players turn into a bunch of commies, and stabbing is ‘unacceptable’ at South African club matches.
Rob Penney to replace Robinson at Crusaders
Former Waratahs coach Rob e (above, looking surprised at the news) has been named as the successor to Scott “Shaver” Robinson at the Crusaders according to Pravda. His appointment completes one of the great coaching comebacks.
Penney was shown the door at Moore Park five games into the Waratahs’ historic winless campaign in 2021, having coached the side to just one victory from six matches in 2020 before that season was abandoned because of COVID-19. Penney moved to Japan to coach the Shining Arcs, who were subsequently relegated from the Japanese Top League during his tenure, prompting Penney’s parting of the ways this year to coach Japan’s under-20s side.
Penney, who will join the Crusaders from 1 August, has long aspired to get the Crusaders gig. It’s understood his tight relationship with Robertson was a decisive factor in Super Rugby’s most successful franchise taking a leap of faith in him. Penney gave Robertson his first job while coaching the Canterbury NPC team more than a decade ago.
The other main candidate was said to be former Crusaders player Ross Filipo, now an assistant coach at the Chiefs, although Filipo denied (on social media) he had been talked to about the role. RugbyPass reports that former All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg backs the appointment.
“It was only (a) one-man race that one. They weren’t going to go outside of the region. He’s had a big influence here in Christchurch, so Rob Penney was the ideal candidate. He’s got a really good connection with the community, players – knows a lot of them, he’s coached them in Canterbury.”
Christian Lealiifano to represent Samoa at RWC2023
35 year old former Wallabies playmaker, leukaemia survivor, 7th player to reach 1,000 Super Rugby points, and general top bloke, Christian Lealiifano, has revealed he is “close” to finalising the necessary paperwork to formally transfer his allegiance from Australia to Samoa according to Rugby.com.au. Then it’s up to selectors to decide whether the Tart-breaker will feature at the global showpiece in France in September-October.
“I think I’m close. I think we’re just waiting on the form or the documents. I’m not too sure but I think it’s been signed off,” Lealiifano told AAP after helping Moana Pasifika to a shock first Super Rugby Pacific win of the season on Saturday night against Australia’s silvertails.
After making his debut for Australia under Robbie Deans in 2013 and playing against the touring British & Irish Lions, Lealiifano almost represented Samoa at the 2019 World Cup. But the goalkicking playmaker had a late change of heart after discussions with his Brumbies coach, and former “player holding together a ball of tape”, Stephen Larkham before being selected by then-Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika for the Japan World Cup.
“…hopefully I could provide …a bit of leadership and a bit of experience.”
The midfield general can barely believe he’s even in the position to possibly represent Samoa at a World Cup seven years after being diagnosed with and then beating leukaemia. “Every day is a blessing so I’m just so thankful to be still running around,” Lealiifano said. “Ten years ago you could never think this, because you were playing for the Wallabies and all that, and you were aspiring to play there, and to have these laws and eligibility opportunities is pretty cool. It’s exciting for the next generation coming through too, that they can aspire to not only play for tier-one nations but tier-two as well and you can sort of jump over if you like.”
Lealiifano is eligible for Samoa having not played for Australia for more than three years. “As a whole, I think it will be really, really special just to be able to represent my family and my blood,” he said.
Major League Rugby stars push for a union and better working conditions in Land of the Free
The Guardian reports that the professional players of relative newcomer Major League Rugby (MLR) are agitating for better conditions, job security and health insurance in light of two teams (the Gilgronis and the Giltinis) being barred from competition then liquidated. MLR, now in its sixth season, is the most successful pro rugby venture in US history. With 12 teams including a Canadian franchise.
On 11 May, the United States Rugby Players Association (USRPA), launched #RugbyUnionNow, an effort to unionise the roughly 450 players in MLR. The campaign, which has representatives from every team and support from unions including the NFLPA and MLSPA, has three main demands: contract security, better working conditions and league-provided healthcare.
The MLR chief executive, Nic Benson, said: “We respect the rights MLR players have to consider union membership, but we also feel that unionization at this moment could have a profound and lasting impact on our league. We also think it is important for our players to consider all the facts about unionization and collective bargaining, and benefit from hearing the position of MLR owners, coaches, and other leaders.”
Players say the league hasn’t always treated them like professionals. Players rely on workers’ compensation for all serious medical needs, which they say often leads to prolonged waits for surgeries and results. Furthermore, coverage only exists during the season, meaning that for up to half a calendar year, players are without healthcare. In eason, if a player sustains an injury while released to play club rugby, they are expected to secure healthcare themselves.
Players are often expected to play on astroturf. “My first season [playing] with New York was on a 30 or 40 year old high school football field that was hard as a rock,” said former New York lock Nick Civetta, who recently retired. “It took many ACLs and ankles, and helped dislocate my AC joint.”
Contract security is front-of-mind too. Players typically have no say in who they play for. After the six month season, teams hold a player’s rights for the rest of the calendar year. The most common way to switch teams is via sign-and-trade.
Nick Boyer began 2021 in LA before being traded to Houston. “I’ve spent nearly my entire life establishing myself in California, and then right before the season starts, I get traded with little explanation as to why,” the scrum half said. “Players want to stay and become faces of franchises and be pillars in their community, but they can’t because the league doesn’t treat them that way.”
Some players are signed to a second-tier “associate player contracts”, which pay $15 per hour. Given the time investment, players said, APCs effectively pay less than the minimum wage. Moreover, there are no protections against being dropped.
In a young league without deep coffers, growing pains are to be expected. Players stressed they understood that, and so were not currently demanding higher pay. Instead, the USRPA is focusing on contract security and healthcare. “The players aren’t greedy or naive,” said Jack Iscaro, a prop for Old Glory DC.
The MLR is now partnered with Looseheadz, a group dedicated to tackling the stigma around mental health, which players say is a welcome development. But Kyle Breytenbach, a four-year MLR veteran said: “There is a hypocrisy, where it’s easy for them to give branded t-shirts to promote mental health but without the right procedures, healthcare, contract stability, in place.” Boyer asked: “What about (a player’s) mental health when you have no job, housing, or healthcare?”.
The dispute has echoes of the 1895 split that created rugby League. G&GR wishes the Yanks the best in preventing a repeat of that.
SARU slams latest ‘disgraceful’ club stabbing
Rugby 365 reports that the South African Rugby Union has labelled the latest report of a stabbing in a domestic club match as a ‘disgrace’ and ‘unacceptable’.
A match in the Boland League A was called off this past weekend after a player was stabbed by an unruly spectator. In a statement, the Boland Rugby Union said the incident occurred during the half-time break when a Never Despair player was stabbed on the field.
The culprit was apprehended and handed over to police. The wounded player was taken to hospital by ambulance and was discharged on Sunday. After a discussion between the management of the two clubs and match officials, the match was called off because the referees were too traumatised to go ahead.
This is the third incident of club violence in recent months with the Jeffreys Bay club home fixtures suspended, following an incident of violence in which three Port Elizabeth Harlequins players were stabbed and reportedly hospitalised, while Kowie United has had a ban slapped on them by the EPRU in the wake of players getting into a physical scuffle and a referee being assaulted in a club game between Kowie United and Swallows RFC (Makhanda) in Port Alfred.
SARU President Mark Alexander, in a recent statement to Rugby365, called the players in the assault case of the referee ‘thugs’. Speaking about the latest incident in the Boland club league, Alexander spoke about the “ethos” of the game that should be upheld. “Rugby is a physical game where players go hammer-and-tongs at each other for 80 minutes, but at the final whistle, we shake hands and have a drink with each other. That is the proud ethos of rugby. However, this type of behaviour is a disgrace and unacceptable,” he said of the latest stabbing incident.