Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at Jordan Petaia’s return, national club competition back on table, South Africa’s grim outlook for Rugby Championship and the Waratahs major recruitment battle.
The Reds are set to receive a much-needed boost with centre Jordan Petaia likely to be cleared for their clash against the Brumbies.
Petaia has been out of action since suffering a shoulder injury at training before their clash with the Jaguares in February.
With the 20-year-old resigned to missing the rest of the Super Rugby season, the COVID break has ensured that he will able to line-up for the Reds in the Australian competition.
With Petaia back to full training, captain Liam Wright believes that his inclusion would be ‘huge’ to their finals aspirations.
“It’d be huge (to see him back),” he said.
“He’s tracking along quite nicely and getting back into the full swing of things.
“I think there’s a few more boxes to tick but it’s just nice to see him back in training and looking pretty confident.
“He’s had a bad run so it’s good to see him confident in his body again and just enjoying his footy I think. Fingers crossed we’ll have a look at him.”
Wright was full of praise for the way that the 20-year-old has handled himself since his latest setback, with the rest of squad bolstered after seeing him back at full fitness.
“The boys have been really supportive,” he said.
“When he did his shoulder (in BA), he chose to stay on with us, which says a lot I think about the group and how welcoming they are to teach other and supportive as well.
“He’s done a lot of hard work and this COVID break’s probably helped him and a few other guys…as well get back into the mix of possibly playing in this competition again.
“So, it’s been probably a good thing for our rehab list to get back and they’ve done a lot of hard work while we’ve been on the field. Credit to them and hopefully they’ll get a shot pretty soon.”
Along with Petaia, the Reds are also set to welcome back lock Angus Blyth from a shoulder injury that he suffered in round two.
Club comp leading broadcast deal
As RA attempts to negotiate the sport’s broadcast deal, CEO Rob Clarke has confirmed that a national club championship will be pitched towards suitors in the coming months.
The proposed format would see the top teams from across the country come together in a playoff-style tournament towards the back end of the season.
Along with this, it shapes as a ‘Plan C’ for the organisation as they continue to work out the domestic future of the sport, with a trans-Tasman and eight-team beefed up domestic competition still the preferred options.
“We’ve got that as a model, that would be another relevant model to explore should the other ones not prove viable for whatever reason,” RA boss Rob Clarke told SMH.
“We do have it in our schedule and would like to try and bring a short-form national club championship at the end of premier (club) rugby next year. So that would be part of our offering to a broadcast partner.
“We do intend to work more closely with that level of the game to try to give it more exposure and close the gap between any potential Super Rugby competition and club rugby.”
As they continue to work over viable options with the Kiwis, Clarke was optimistic that discussions between the two sides would continue over the next couple of days.
“You’ve seen the position we have taken with our Kiwi colleagues and I’m hopeful that there will be further discussion with them this week to see if we can move forward with a more equitable partnership-based approach on a potential trans-Tasman competition,” he said.
“That being said, we are also exploring alternatives on a domestic front alone, possibly with the inclusion of the Sunwolves, by way of example, and we are moving forward on that basis.
“And any discussions with potential broadcasters for 2021 are incorporating both of those competition models.”
Four down to three
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has seemingly poured water over their participation in the Rugby Championship, fearing that they will not be ready in time for the international window.
South Africa has been hit hard by the coronavirus, recording the 5th most cases worldwide with 452,529.
This has meant that all competitions have been put on hold, with the Currie Cup start date yet to be determined.
With the international window set for November 7 to December 12, Nienaber wants the South African Currie Cup to begin by the end of August or he would be reluctant to risk the welfare of Springboks on the Test stage.
He notes that there would be a distinct disparity in readiness and fitness for his players as compared to their Australian and New Zealand counterparts.
“The longer we stay out (not playing competitively in SA), the further we will lag behind the likes of New Zealand and Australian rugby,” he told News24.
“We have just begun training in small groups at the franchises; the New Zealand ones had five weeks of proper training and now some six rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa – that puts them about 11 weeks ahead of us already.”
He also believes that forcing their players to be away from their families for two months during a crisis would prove difficult, particularly if a player’s partner/family member fell ill.
“That raises all sorts of extra anxieties, never mind the massively challenging rugby aspects involved,” he said.
“It is going to very tough for the squad to leave behind wives, children and other loved ones to spend six weeks plus the quarantining needs around the tournament out of South Africa; the coronavirus situation is still so volatile here.
“You can only imagine the predicament facing guys if a close relative, for example, is suddenly badly affected by the virus back home. Can you fly back? Do you fly back? What happens if you then hope to return to the tournament, meaning fresh quarantining requirements?
“I think we will be quite fortunate if that scenario doesn’t crop up for someone in our (midst).
“So it is going to very tough mentally to leave our shores for a couple of months … that humanity factor.”
Tahs confident of retaining stars
With Super Rugby clubs free to resume negotiations with their players, no club will likely be more active than the Waratahs considering the major task in front of them.
The Tahs currently have 40% of their roster unsigned for next year and beyond, with the likes of Will Harrison, Jack Maddocks and Jack Dempsey yet to be tied down for the future.
This process has been made difficult by the unknown competition model for next year along with the uncertainties surrounding how much money they will have to spend.
“It’s been really hard,” NSW Rugby CEO Tim Rapp told SMH.
“A level of competition is unknown…players are a little bit nervous around what next year looks like as an option for them.
“I don’t think we need to rush and get everyone done ASAP because you also want to make sure you’re getting guys coming into your squad who add value, not just because [players] are off [contract] and you need to get them.
“They may have an option to go overseas or go to another club or competition but they have nothing to compare it against.
“It wasn’t a decision [in recent months] because you had no choice, whereas now we’re starting to get a level of clarity for those guys to actually be able to say: ‘well, I’ve got this option here for a Super team compared to something else’.”
The majority of their squad will be resigned over the next couple of weeks, however, Rapp revealed that the club will have 4-5 spots available for potential ‘top-end’ signings.
“Retention is the most important thing,” Rapp said.
“We’ve got a group of blokes there who we’re looking to continue with.
“We do need to add some top-end seasoned Super Rugby players to give those younger blokes some guidance and direction. Sometimes you don’t just spend the minimum amount, you spend a bit more to get a quality footballer.”