Round Eight of the 2019 Super Rugby season sees two teams, the NSW Waratahs and Brumbies, head across the ditch to take on Kiwi opponents, with the Queensland Reds and Melbourne Rebels hosting international visitors of their own at home.
The Queensland Reds will be looking to hit back at home against the Stormers on Friday night (8:00pm AEDT), with the selection of Wallaby Sefa Naivalu at outside centre catching the eye, before three games in a row on Super Saturday sees Aussie teams looking to get the win. The Brumbies take on the Crusaders in Christchurch (3:15pm), the NSW Waratahs head to Auckland to take on a Blues team who have won three matches in a row (5:15pm), and then finally the Melbourne Rebels host the Sunwolves at AAMI Park (7:45pm).
At 4:30pm on Sunday afternoon, the second Buildcorp Super W will come to a close with Queensland aiming to gain revenge against last year's champions NSW at Leichhardt Oval.
Queensland Coach Moana Virtue has named an unchanged team from last weekend's Semi Final win against the Brumbies, while the NSW Waratahs have named their side after enjoying a week of rest and recovery as a reward for winning the Minor Premiership. You can catch all of the action live via the Kayo Sports app, on FOX Sports 506 or via Rugby.com.au.
The Australian Men's Rugby Sevens team are back in action at the world-famous Hong Kong Sevens this weekend, dealt an extremely tough pool alongside Fiji, Kenya and New Zealand. Maurice Longbottom and Tim Anstee return from injury; click here to check out the fixture, with all of the action live on FOX Sports.
As always, we’ll keep you up to date with all of the best player stories being told in the media with our weekly wrap, the Taylors Wines Top 5, brought to you by our good friends at Taylors Wines (and accompanied by a handy wine tip every edition).
So, with all that said, let’s get into it!
Queensland Reds vs. Stormers
Queensland Reds: 1. JP Smith, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. Ruan Smith, 4. Izack Rodda, 5. Harry Hockings, 6.Lukhan Salakai-Loto, 7. Liam Wright, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. Bryce Hegarty, 11. Jack Hardy, 12. Samu Kerevi (C), 13. Sefa Naivalu, 14. Filipo Daugunu, 15. Hamish Stewart.
Reserves: 16. Alex Mafi, 17. Harry Hoopert, 18. Taniela Tupou, 19. Angus Blyth, 20. Fraser McReight, 21. Moses Sorovi, 22. Duncan Paia'aua, 23. Isaac Lucas.
Crusaders vs. Brumbies
Brumbies: 1. James Slipper, 2. Josh Mann-Rea, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Murray Douglas, 6. Pete Samu, 7. Tom Cusack, 8. Locky McCaffrey, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Christian Leali'ifano (C), 11. Toni Pulu, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Tom Banks.
Reserves: 16. Connal McInerney, 17. Vunipola Fifita, 18. Tom Ross, 19. Sam Carter, 20. Jahrome Brown, 21. Matt Lucas, 22. Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23. Andy Muirhead.
Blues vs. NSW Waratahs
NSW Waratahs: 1. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Ned Hanigan, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Jack Dempsey, 7. Will Miller, 8. Michael Wells, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Bernard Foley, 11. Alex Newsome, 12. Karmichael Hunt, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. Cam Clark, 15. Israel Folau.
Reserves 16. Andrew Tuala, 17. Rory O'Connor, 18. Chris Talakai, 19. Tom Staniforth, 20. Lachlan Swinton, 21. Jake Gordon, 22. Kurtley Beale, 23. Lalakai Foketi
Melbourne Rebels vs. Sunwolves
Melbourne Rebels: 1. Tetera Faulkner, 2. Anaru Rangi, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Adam Coleman, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Angus Cottrell (C), 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. Will Genia, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Billy Meakes, 13. Tom English, 14. Jack Maddocks, 15. Reece Hodge.
Reserves: 16. Hugh Roach, 17. Matt Gibbon, 18. Pone Fa'amausili 19. Ross Haylett-Petty, 20. Rob Leota, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Campbell Magnay, 23. Semisi Tupou.
1. Lavinia looking to make it a double
Just six months after savouring the inaugural NRLW title with the Brisbane Broncos, Queensland Women's flyhalf Lavinia Gould is relishing another Grand Final quest in this Sunday's Buildcorp Super W Grand Final.
Speaking to Jim Tucker in the Courier Mail, Gould said that she lives for moments like this.
“You go through a career of many ups and downs so these highs are everything you dream of and work for,” Gould said. “I’ve said ‘this is my last year’ for a few years in a row but if the legs keep running, I’ll keep going. I still feel I can contribute a lot and I’m enjoying it too much to stop right now.”
Gould’s daughters Khalarnae, 8, and Kaia, 14, define her far more than her football; you can tell by all she has squeezed into certain days over the past 12 months. She has worked 12-hour shifts as a crane driver in a steel factory, bounced straight to hospital to be with Kaia for dialysis treatment and still found time for footy training. And some sleep.
“Who we are outside Rugby matters most,” Gould said. “I have my daughters’ names, Kaia and ‘Buzi’, on my wrist strapping and my boots so whenever it seems too hard on the field, I look at that writing. It always gets me up and going again. We had a huge positive turn for Kaia two months ago. She’s no longer getting treatment after being on the dialysis machine every other day for 12 months.”
Down the track, it may still mean a kidney transplant.
“Her father donated when it was first needed and I’ll be the next to put my hand up as any parent would for their child,” Gould said.
Gould is proud to be playing her part in the growth of women's sport on a global level.
“My hat goes off to all women in sport,” she said. “We all have stuff going on in the background. It just takes a little extra to get to training and games. I remember the old Rugby days in New Zealand when we’d be shoved to field No.4 or play at 11am before the kids because there weren’t enough grounds for women to play on. Broadcasts, contracts, exposure...it’s recognition as sportspeople that is deserved.”
2. Former 'Tah plots their downfall
Ten years ago the NSW Waratahs went to Auckland and beat the Blues for the first time in 81 years. It remains their only win at Eden Park - another four losses have followed - and if the man who steered NSW to victory that night has this week done his job, the Waratahs’ 2009 victory will remain an outlier.
The night at Eden Park was a damn good one for Daniel Halangahu, the ultra-reliable Sydney Uni playmaker who occupied the hot seat of the Tahs no.10 for most of his 74-game career between 2006 and 2012 and who is now responsible for plotting the Waratahs' downfall in his role as Blues backs coach.
"It was probably one of the better games in my time playing for the Waratahs,” Halangahu told Iain Payten from RUGBY.com.au this week.
"As a team it was always a big challenge to go to Eden Park, so to come away with a win that night was a good one. Lote (Tuqiri) always said he gave me a try assist because they were all trying to tackle him and that’s how I snuck over. It was a good win. There are some games you remember and that was one of them.”
Halangahu is in his first season as the backs and skills coach with the Blues, under Leon McDonald.
"Some of these guys were my biggest nightmares when I was playing: Ma'a (Nonu) and Sonny-Bill (Williams) in particular,” Halangahu laughs. "There is some awesome talent but you talk about the Blues and they’ve always had that, so it’s nothing new to have some world-class athletes. What the group is about and the leadership is about is providing the glue in between those freakish moments and the freakish ability of those individuals, to try and provide the hard work in and around that so that they can shine.
"People always see Rieko and those guys and the freakish things they do. But internally we try and highlight people diving on loose balls and just working their butts off for the team. We try and grow that part of our game and then the Rieko and Sonny stuff becomes icing on top.”
Having studied sports science and business at Sydney Uni, Halangahu admits he never contemplated being a coach prior to his first day with a clipboard at North Harbour in the Mitre 10 Cup.
"Embarrassingly, I have been known as one of those blokes when I was playing who always firmly said I would never coach,” Halangahu says.
"Particularly at the Waratahs and the scrutiny you saw there, it’s a bit like playing no.10. If things are going great, awesome. But when it’s not, it can be a really tough space coaching. That was my experience at the Waratahs, seeing some of the coaches and what they went through, even when we were reasonably successful. It’s a tough gig so I always thought I’d get out and do something else in the world, and there’s still time. I probably will at some point."
Halangahu is looking forward to catching up with some old sky blue teammates, like Sekope Kepu and Kurtley Beale, this weekend and is expecting them to be stinging from last week's loss in Newcastle.
"They’re a good bunch and a proud bunch and we know they’re going to fire up and get into it,” Halangahu says. "Losing to the Sunwolves in front of a home crowd, I know they’ll really want to come over here and do a job. They’re going to bounce back. I know that for sure.”
3. AAC giving everything he can in RWC push
Adam Ashley-Cooper phoned Wallabies Head Coach Michael Cheika last year and said he wanted to go to the Rugby World Cup; and he wanted to prove he deserved a spot by returning to play Super Rugby.
As he explained to the Daily Telegraph's Julian Linden, 'Swoop' insisted he did not want any handouts because of his long service to the Wallabies. He wanted to earn his spot on merit, which meant giving up a lucrative contract in Japan and returning to Australia for less money with absolutely no guarantees.
“That’s how much the World Cup means to me,” Ashley-Cooper said. “I’ve already been to three World Cups but I want to win one because there’s no bigger thing in the game. So when I called Cheik, I told him I didn't want to be part of the Rugby World Cup if it was through the Giteau Law, no disrespect to my mate Matt Giteau, because I wanted to come back and play Super Rugby and earn my spot that way.”
Impressed by Ashley-Cooper’s commitment to the cause, Cheika brought him back into the Wallabies squad for last year’s tour of the northern hemisphere but made it clear he was no shoo-in so really would have to earn his place the hard way.
“That’s the reality and that’s the way I’m approaching this season. If I’m unfortunate enough not to go, at least I gave it a crack,” Ashley-Cooper said. “When you throw something out there like I did, even though it’s a little crazy, you just have to give it everything you’ve got so I’m just trying to do my best every week for the Waratahs and not focusing down the track.”
AAC turned 35 last week and will be one of the oldest players at the World Cup, if he gets picked, but believes age is an advantage when it comes to the sport’s biggest event.
Each of the last four teams that have won the World Cup have had at least one player aged 35 or older, with Jason Leonard (England 2003), Os du Randt (South Africa, 2007), Brad Thorn (New Zealand, 2011) and Keven Mealamu (2015) all getting their hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy in their mid 30s, and Ashley-Cooper sees no reason why he can’t do the same with the Wallabies later this year.
“Historically, it’s proven that the teams that have been successful in World Cups have a really good amount of experience in their squads,” he said. “Unlike normal Test Rugby where you play maybe two or three Tests then have a few weeks off, the World Cup is unique because you have to play seven Tests back to back and realistically you have to win them all if you want to win the World Cup.
“That makes it the toughest tournament in the world that you play in as a Rugby player and experienced players add so much value in those type of campaigns that are tough, short and very, very intense. So when you look at the age and experience in Australian Rugby at the moment, as well as some of the best young players coming through, it could make for a very successful World Cup team and that’s why I want to be part of it.”
4. Another reality check required: Rob
Rob Simmons has revealed the reality check that transformed his game last year and says the NSW Waratahs are in need of a similar squad-wide wake-up call now. The 94-Test Queenslander, two seasons into a career revival in Sydney, spoke plainly to the Sydney Morning Herald's Georgina Robinson about his side's work rate leading into round eight of Super Rugby.
"There was a meeting we had early in the season last year where it was pointed out as a group what we thought we were doing and what was really happening," he said. "It really struck home with me if I want to make (mobility and work rate) my strong point and try and lead the way in those sorts of areas and since then I enjoy that part and I try to lead the way in that. I think that was a pretty good meeting about this time or a little bit earlier last year and I think that's worked into our identity now.
"I think we probably need that little bit of improvement again. Where we were the end of last year, I don't think we are in terms of our work rate yet and we should be getting there by this time of the season."
The Waratahs head to Auckland to face a Blues team on a roll, having posted three straight wins.
"They're obviously starting to click and they're rolling some pretty good teams," Simmons said. "I suppose their back three players are that end of the spectrum of that whole team. They all look to run, they have a very attack-oriented game, they can offload, they've all got pretty good skills.
"They have threats all over the field and they're all pretty big guys too, so it'll be a good old-fashioned game where the forwards will have to win an upfront battle and the backs will have to try and nullify their backs as well."
5. Pressure is on for Holland & Co
With time running out to secure a top four place on the World Rugby Sevens series, and with it direct Olympic Games qualification, Australian Men's Rugby Sevens Captain Lewis Holland has declared that in regards to selection, the current squad of players are “never safe".
Speaking to Tom Decent in the Sydney Morning Herald, Holland admitted that talk of XVs players crossing over to the squad hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Don’t get me wrong there’d be a few people there scratching their heads wondering who is coming in,” Holland said.
“Australian Rugby wants to succeed so we have the best players available and if the likes of some of the Wallabies want to put their hand up and come train, well then so be it.
“We haven’t got the results we wanted this year, so it does open a little bit of a door up for some of those guys to come and give it a shot. Everything is open. You’re always playing, you’re never safe, you should never feel comfortable. That’s the mentality I use and so should those boys in there.”
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