Taylors Wines Top 5: August 2, 2019
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By Pete Fairbairn, 02.08.19

It’s time again for the Taylors Wines Top 5, where we wrap up the best of Australia’s players in the media this week (and give you a great wine tip courtesy of Taylors).

We're two-thirds of the way through 2019's abbreviated version of The Rugby Championship, with Australia to play just three more matches in total before the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan with the Wallabies up against Fiji.

A great win against Argentina in Brisbane, extending the Wallabies' winning ways at the venue, came on the back of a campaign-opening loss in Jo'burg against the Boks. Next up are the All Blacks in Perth on Saturday August 10th, before a trip across the Tasman to face the same opposition and finally a first ever Test at Bankwest Stadium against Samoa on Saturday September 7th.

There might not be any Test footy this week, but there's still plenty of Rugby news and interviews with RUPA members in the newspapers and online - so who's been saying what, this week?

1. Pelite: We're driving the standards

2016 Rio Olympic Games Gold Medalist, and 2017-18 Australian Women's Rugby Sevens Players' Player of the Year, Evania Pelite is counting down the days until the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Reflecting on her first Olympic experience three years ago, Pelite told The Guardian's Mike Hytner that heading to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, her focus was not solely on returning to Australia with a gold medal packed in her luggage. She and her teammates were equally intent on exposing the game of rugby sevens to the rest of the world and doing their best to inspire a new generation of girls to pick up an oval-shaped ball.

“We did our job in Rio in establishing rugby sevens not only as a male-dominated sport, but a female sport. You’ve got young girls that now understand rugby sevens and that there’s a pathway to becoming an Olympic rugby sevens player.

“We came out with that goal. Winning the gold medal was amazing for us, but this year the pressure of having won that gold medal – and now having to back it up – has shifted the focus.”

Pelite, who took up the game only after transitioning from touch football at the late age of 17, sees herself as something of a pioneer in a sport that has struggled for mainstream exposure.

“Sevens is definitely on the up,” Pelite says. “We’ve always looked at sevens being the front runner for women’s sport – we were one of the first to become full-time professional [female] athletes in Australia; we also last year got pay parity with the men. I feel sevens is really driving the standards for women’s sports in Australia at the moment.”

Pelite understands her position as a role model to young people across Australia and the world, an honour she does not take lightly. “We all know being in the limelight you’re going to have to promote it in a positive way,” she says. “There are always people watching you – grown men and women, but also young women and boys – that also have aspiration. We can show them that hard work does pay off. Five years ago, I would never have imagined I’d be an Olympian now, so anything is possible.”

Click here to read the full story.

2. Fitzy locks in another year at the Tahs

To the best of his knowledge, Waratahs hooker (and RUPA President) Damien Fitzpatrick is still the only professional rugby player to have come back from a tibial osteotomy. That is, a six-hour surgical procedure at the hands of an eccentric French surgeon three years ago that left him with "a chunk of metal" in his left leg and at long odds to resume his playing career.

It was an extreme solution to an anguish-filled few years in which he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee three times. His family asked him to give the game away, for his own mental health. But the same hardiness and never-say-die attitude that saw Fitzpatrick return to top flight rugby after that 2013 procedure has bought the front row stalwart another year at the Waratahs at the back end of his career, as he told the Sydney Morning Herald's Georgina Robinson.

"I'm feeling really good currently," Fitzpatrick said. "I do have a large hangover from the third ACL and half a chunk of metal in my leg from the tibial osteotomy, so I have to monitor how and when I train, but the Tahs have been fantastic in managing me to the point that I know exactly what I can do, how long I can do it for and how I need to back up."

Fitzpatrick was the unsung hero of the Waratahs pack during the recent season, playing monster minutes as injury and suspensions ravaged the team's hooking stocks and tackling everything that moved. While NSW captain Michael Hooper topped the entire competition for tackles (210), Fitzpatrick was an impressive sixth with 175.

The Waratahs have lacked for big ball carriers and, with Kepu's departure and the loss of workhorse No.7 Will Miller, will go into next season at the top of nobody's "smokey" list.

"I’ve heard the same thing and it’s natural for people to have that view," Fitzpatrick said. "For whatever reason, as long as I've been in NSW it's been very easy for people to turn pessimistic about the Waratahs. Apart from 2014 (the year the Waratahs won Super Rugby) when you read very constant, positive reviews, people enjoy highlighting whenever NSW has underperformed.

"I’ve blocked it out because I know that it doesn’t reflect what happens at training and on the field."

The Waratahs will be looking for a new Head Coach, something Fitzpatrick is excited about.

"If that’s going to come from overseas, then as long as they understand the squad we’ve got, I’ve got no issue with what their nationality is. The group we’ve got is willing to jump on board with whatever style a coach is going to bring and get the best out of them.

"I would like them to have a real conviction around looking at our list and seeing where we’re strong and developing a game around that, then being forthright about it and allowing players to get on board."

Click here to read the full story.

3. KB has plenty left to achieve

Fitzpatrick will have another familiar face back at Daceyville next year, following the news that Kurtley Beale is also staying in Australian Rugby.

As reported by Fox Sports' Christy Doran, Beale said that he was confident in the direction Australian rugby was headed and said winning trophies for both club and country was paramount in his decision to re-sign.

“Very excited to put pen to paper,” Beale told Fox Sports in an exclusive interview. “I’m really enjoying my rugby here in Australia.

“I feel like there’s a lot more to achieve in Australian rugby with the Waratahs as well, I know there’s a new generation of players coming through and I feel like I can put myself in positions to be able to achieve some special moments.

“With the Wallabies, with the vision of how we’re playing the game at the moment — the new styles — it’s really exciting and it’s just great to be a part of it.

“I’ve been playing at this level for a long time now and I’ve only won one premiership with the Waratahs (2014) and two Rugby Championships (2011 and 2015) and as a player to try and get more trophies in the cabinet, that’s something I want to be a part of and want to achieve.”

“I’ve always believed that we’re a special team and I think people have got to understand that when you do wear the Wallaby jersey and you’re representing (Australia) on a big stage you just turn into a different beast. You put so much on the line. I don’t know what it is: the magic touch or the magic feeling that allows you to become a different player, a different beast.

“I think the guys that get the opportunity to play in a World Cup and wear the Wallaby jersey will experience that and understand that. I’m really enjoying where we’re at at the moment. I still feel like there’s a lot more to do.

“We’re working extremely hard. We’re putting ourselves through the paces and Cheik’s doing everything he can to get the best out of each player, and that’s not just the current crop who are there in the matchday 23, there’s guys on the edges who come in and bust arses for each other and I think that’s what enables us to create the belief and gives us the confidence to go out there and win games.”

Click here to read the full story.

4. Lachlan joining Ryan at the Brumbies

Next we take you from experienced players locking in longer stays, to a gun rookie signing his first deal.

Hooker Lachlan Lonergan was a Junior Wallabies revelation at the World Rugby U20s Championship, and he'll be heading to Brumbies training full-time alongside scrumhalf brother Ryan next year after agreeing to his first professional contract.

Lonergan told Chris Dutton in the Canberra Times that he will use the rise of fellow hooker Folau Fainga'a as motivation to make his debut after signing the first professional deal of his career.

The Brumbies' No. 2 jersey has been a pathway to Wallabies gold since the start of Super Rugby 23 years ago and Lonergan will be following in the footsteps of Marco Caputo, Jeremy Paul and Stephen Moore. The latest international Brumbies hooker is Fainga'a, who was an unknown in Australian rugby less than two years ago. The Brumbies will boast three former junior Wallabies hooker with Faingaa and Lonergan teaming up with Connal McInerney next year.

"It's exciting. It's every little kid's dream growing up and it's good to say that I've got [a contract]," Lonergan said. "Folau and Connal are awesome people to learn off ... they give you tips and don't hide anything from you."

Lonergan grew up in Williamsdale playing front-yard rugby against older brother Ryan, who already has a Brumbies contract. Now the pair could become the latest set of brothers to play for the club, following the likes of Saia and Anthony Fainga'a and George and Tyrone Smith.

"We had our battles, [Ryan] was always really competitive," Lonergan grinned.

"When I saw Ryan make his debut I got goosebumps. When you're young you think it's impossible to get to the [Super Rugby] stage. That gives you hope, at the end of the day it's about how good you're playing."

Click here to read the full story.

5. Scrum coming good, thanks to camps.

Finally, to Lonergan's new front-row teammate at the Brumbies, Wallaby loosehead Scott Sio, who told Rugby.com.au's Iain Payten that mid-season bonding work done at the Wallabies’ three “catch up” camps helped the Australian scrum have a good night out against Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday.

After sitting out the Johannesburg Test with injury, Sio’s return in Brisbane to a front row also containing Folau Faingaa and Sekope Kepu helped the Wallabies scrum turn in a dominant show over the Pumas. Encouragingly for coach Michael Cheika, the dominance continued when the bench front rowers were rolled out in the second half; James Slipper, Taniela Tupou and Tolu Latu.

Sio said the seamless transitions made were down to the six players all having strong connections.

"Just time together, combinations,” Sio said. "Fortunately for us, ‘Slips' and myself have partnered well at Brumbies level, Folau and Tolu have known each other for a long time at Shute Shield and Super Rugby level, and I have played wth ‘Keps' and Taniela, and ‘Slips' also had that relationship with Taniela up at the Reds.

"Building that combination was really easy for us and luckily it is quick, and luckily it all gelled at the weekend. It was a good performance but something we need to build on coming into the games."

Asked whether the Wallabies scrum was building towards a repeat of the 2015 World Cup, where the Aussie pack was an under-rated force at scrum-time, Sio said the pack had to keep performing to wipe out preconceived notions of Australia having a weak scrum.

"I feel like we are building towards that (2015),” Sio said. "It is a reputation that is forever being criticised, one way or another, so in every game and every scrum you need to be on and be consistent to make sure the conversation is the one you are after.

"It’s a good foundation to build off but I know for us to progress and win throughout the year, we need to go up another level.”

Sio said the connections and combinations between the Wallaby scrum unit had benefited from a series of mid-Super Rugby camps, where the top Aussie players were able to lay down their arms for a few days and focus together on the World Cup.

"Having spent a lot of time together during Super Rugby has allowed us to do that,” he said. "You don’t get a lot of time post-Super Rugby to gel, so being able to have met up at least three times during the season has given us the opportunity to build that rapport among one another.

"Obviously we are competing against each other for a good five months, and it is not that easy to just put that aside and come together for a common goal. "So laying that foundation early and through the season is a big stepping stone towards us looking to achieve what we want to.”

Click here to read the full story.

And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re teaching you about Chardonnay...

Chardonnay is the most popular and most planted white grape variety in the wine world and for good reason!

It grows well in the vineyard, it crops well, maintains its character in a variety of climates and is relatively easy to make into good wine. Chardonnay excels most in cooler climates...

02.08.19
Pete Fairbairn
Communications Manager
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