Welcome back to the Taylors Wines Top 5, where we keep you up to date with all of the best player stories being told in the media, brought to you by our good friends at Taylors Wines (and accompanied by a handy wine tip every edition).
It's time for the Wallabies' final pool game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, against Georgia at 9:15pm (AEDT) on Friday, with David Pocock handed the Captaincy duties and Rob Simmons in line for his 100th Test cap off the bench.
Starting XV: 1. Scott Sio (61 Tests), 2. Tolu Latu (17 Tests), 3. Sekope Kepu (109 Tests), 4. Izack Rodda (23 Tests), 5. Rory Arnold (24 Tests), 6. Jack Dempsey (13 Tests), 7. David Pocock (c) (81 Tests), 8. Isi Naisarani (6 Tests), 9. Nic White (29 Tests), 10. Matt To’omua (50 Tests), 11. Marika Koroibete (26 Tests), 12. Samu Kerevi (vc) (31 Tests), 13. James O’Connor (50 Tests), 14. Jordan Petaia (1 Test), 15. Kurtley Beale (90 Tests)
Reserves: 16. Jordan Uelese (7 Tests), 17. James Slipper (94 Tests), 18. Taniela Tupou (17 Tests), 19. Rob Simmons (99 Tests), 20. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (19 Tests), 21. Will Genia (108 Tests), 22. Christian Lealiifano (24 Tests), 23. Dane Haylett-Petty (36 Tests)
With the weather wreaking havoc in Japan, and two matches being called off, it's been confirmed that a win against Georgia would see Australia face old foes England at the Quarter Final stage, a tasty match-up indeed!
In the NRC, it's final round action, and six doesn't go into four - two of the teams fighting to make finals are going to fall short. In what appears to be the match of the round, the Canberra Vikings (2nd) host NSW Country (3rd) in Canberra at 6:00pm (AEST) on Friday, before three matches on Friday, one after the other.
Sydney (8th) are playing for pride against potential minor premier Western Force (1st) at Woolahra Oval (12:00pm), Queensland Country (4th) travel to play Fijian Drua (5th) in a winner-takes-all clash at 2:00pm, and Brisbane City (6th) host Melbourne Rising (7th)!
1. Slips the try-scoring sensation
We start this week with not just a good news story, but a great news story - James Slipper, in his 94th Test for the Wallabies, scored his maiden international try against Uruguay!
The try drought had become so well-known that Slipper had been copping grief about it when he passed 50 Tests, let alone nearing his 100th cap.
"I am more relieved to be honest,” Slipper told Rugby.com.au's Iain Payten. "When are you in the 90s and you haven’t scored a try ... it has been a running joke for a couple of years that I am the only one who hasn’t scored.
"Obviously the more games you play, the pressure keeps building.”
The try was a barrelling run of about three metres, off a Will Genia pass and finished with a burrowing dive. It probably should be worth 10 points given Slipper had also helped win a scrum penalty just seconds before. But the reaction from Wallabies teammates was probably more insightful into Slipper, and his valued place in the team.
To a man, Slipper’s teammates yahooed and, with genuine joy, ran over to congratulate the popular 30-year-old prop. Taniela Tupou even gave Slipper a peck on the cheek. It was the nice guy getting a first, and a rare moment in the sun for a guy who’d endured a few years of well-publicised, much darker times.
"A year ago I didn’t think I would be at another World Cup, so to be here and to contribute is nice,” Slipper said. "I’d say I have found the love for the game again.
"There were personal things I did with my family and that, I think just becoming a better person helped with my footy. Just seeing life a bit differently, having a better perspective on what matters a bit.
"It’s more worrying about what you can control, and then enjoying the little things that come a long with it. And just working hard."
Resuming a Wallabies career after all his trials and tribulations has made Slipper’s parents “very proud”, he said.
“And that’s what makes it so much sweeter for me,” Slipper said. "Last year was a tough year and the year before there were a few things in my life that weren’t going right. A lot of that was external as well, things I can’t control and I went about it in the wrong way. I always bring it back, you just have to be a good person. Be a good bloke and be open.”
2. Christian - we need to keep working on our tackling
Christian Lealiifano believes the Wallabies need to be much harder on themselves in their assessment of ball-retention and overall discipline. Christian suggested to Wayne Smith that Australia are having such slow starts to all their matches in Japan simply because everyone is trying too hard, but he also believes they need to look hard at the cavalier manner in which they are protecting the ball going into contact.
"Uruguay were putting us under a lot of pressure and we were coughing up ball and you can’t do that in big games, if you want to be at the business end of the tournament,” said the Wallabies vice-captain from the Oita match. “We really need to be harder on ourselves there in looking after the footy. And our discipline as well.”
Lealiifano insisted that the Australian team as a whole did not need to review its tackling techniques. Yet he left unsaid whether he believed individuals needed to do more work to ensure they are meeting the high tackle guidelines.
“Everyone in this whole tournament knows how to tackle,” he said. “It’s one of these things that in games are just happening, to us a bit more than to others. But I think we’ve got to continue to work, how we work each day and improve our defence as a whole. I think these incidents, these tackles, are happening because of poor technique, so we don’t need to assess it as a whole.”
The match marked a personal milestone for Lealiifano. For the first time since he made his way back into the Wallabies this year since recovering from cancer, he was able to complete a full shift on the park against Uruguay.
“It was nice to get a bit of time to let the body recover last week and I felt great coming back into this week. I got 80 minutes of Test footy, which was the first time since I’ve been back.”
3. Kepu realises that the end is nigh
Centurion prop Sekope Kepu wants to sign off from the Wallabies with a bang and is doing his best to savour every moment after 11 years in gold, with his International career concluding at the end of the Rugby World Cup.
“Knowing these are my last few weeks in the jersey I’ve really learnt to embrace every moment whether it’s hanging out more with guys to soak up the environment or taking in the packed houses of Japanese people at games with all the colour,” Kepu told Jim Tucker.
Kepu, 33, will start in his 110th Test before a baton-change to Taniela Tupou for a bruising test against big, confrontational forwards like 130kg Konstantine Mikautadze and the skills many Georgians have honed in French rugby.
“They have a great scrum and pack and will try to take us on there,” Kepu said. “Look they are big boys and, just hearing from guys like Drew Mitchell who played with them at Toulon, they are tough buggers who don’t really take crap from anybody.
“Fair enough. That’s how they grew up, that’s their culture and it’s no different to us (having our own).”
Tupou uses “uncle” as a respectful title for Kepu but the senior prop knows this is no kid he has been mentoring for battles just like this.
“Against Uruguay, you saw what he can do and I just encourage him to bring that (high-impact) side of his game,” Kepu said. “He’s the strongest out on the field I can guarantee that. We’re roomies as well. Taniela and I are good mates and regardless of who is in the match 23 or not we are still pushing each other,” Kepu said.
“What I try to put in perspective is the end goal … it’s a squad effort to do it as a team, nothing to do with an individual.”
4. Arnold conscious of height challenges
Lock Rory Arnold saw his fellow tall teammates Adam Coleman and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto shown yellow cards for dangerous tackles against Uruguay last week, and with a move to France looming at the end of this tournament, Arnold realises that any foul play suspension he incurred would effectively end his Test career prematurely, to say nothing of the impact a send-off or yellow card could have on a match.
Arnold said the Wallabies' big men, in particular, were on notice about the high tackle crackdown and were working hard to adjust.
"Over the last few weeks there's been a lot of cards thrown out there and it's put a lot of pressure on your side," he told Georgina Robinson. "In big games, in any game, I'm just thinking about getting that body height down and being really disciplined in that area.
"It puts a whole lot of pressure on the team, like we did last week. It wasn't perfect there to have us playing with 14 blokes for a while.
"For me it's about working on those things at training and bringing them into the game."
The Wallabies are not the only team on high alert at a World Cup that has already seen referees hand out a record number of red cards. Arnold is grappling with how to make sure their abrasive styles are not diluted by trying to stay on the right side of the laws.
"That's a hard question because you can over-think it as well and stop playing your natural game," Arnold said. "At the end of the day I want to play aggressive and that's the way I'll play but ... I'll be thinking about that as well, in the back of my mind, 'get low, don't give any silly penalties away' and hopefully that will take care of itself."
The Wallabies had to contend with Uruguay players carrying low into the tackle, a tactic that was evident against the big second-rower Coleman and No.6 Salakaia-Loto, but Arnold said there was no choice but to adjust.
"It is mainly all those taller boys who are getting picked for those high shots," he said. "As locks and tall men we just have to focus on getting our shots down. At the end of the day the rule is no contact with the head and it's for player safety and at the end of the day player safety is the most important thing. It's up to us to get our tackles down."
5. Student becomes the teacher
James O’Connor says he knew all along whiz kid Jordan Petaia would shine on his Test debut and gave some sage advice to the 19-year-old after finding himself in a similar situation when debuting as a teenager a decade ago.
Petaia, who will link up with O’Connor at the Queensland Reds next season, had a stellar debut against Uruguay, scoring a try with his second touch and setting up Tevita Kuridrani in a 40-minute effort that could see him picked again for Australia’s final pool match against Georgia on Friday.
“We all knew Jordan was going to carve up,” O’Connor told Tom Decent.
“I’ve seen it at training, he is a freak athlete and his composure for his age is well above anyone who is of that age. He had some great touches, and you saw his work rate and good vision to connect with Kurtley Beale. I wasn’t surprised but it was very encouraging to have someone who can finish that well in your team. You want to give them the ball.
“I got to speak to Jordy the night before the game and all I passed on to him was almost what was passed on to me, which was just focus on your defence and get yourself in the game early. The big moments will come and you’re going to be very excited and adrenaline is flowing but it’s about staying composed. I think one thing he does have is that composure.
“He has quite a calm presence on the field and then, when he gets the ball, he switches into game mode. He plays in the moment very well. Possibly he was a bit calmer than me on my debut.”
O’Connor, who has worn the No.13 jersey at the World Cup, said Petaia’s performance in Oita has “put a bit of pressure” on him but the youngster is considered unlikely to play anywhere but the wing at this World Cup.
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re talking about decanters…
Chances are, many of us don't actually have a wine decanter in the cupboard. If you really enjoy your wine, think about buying one for your next dinner party. Otherwise, you can also gain the benefits of decanting wine by looking for a clean water jug or similar wide-mouthed glass serving jug.
Choose a clear (not patterned) glass container that will allow a full 750ml bottle to be contained while ensuring a generous surface area.