The Taylors Wines Top 5 is 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).
Round Six of Super Rugby for 2020 sees the Melbourne Rebels, NSW Waratahs and Brumbies all looking to continue on their winning ways, while the Queensland Reds are looking to hit back from last week's defeat to the Sharks when they travel to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders.
It all starts in Wollongong on Friday, with the Sunwolves and Brumbies playing there at 2:45pm (AEDT) and the NSW Waratahs hosting the Chiefs (7:15pm), with the coronavirus epidemic leading to the Sunwolves' home matches being moved to Australia by SANZAAR. Sandwiched in between those fixtures is the game in Christchurch, kicking off at 5:05pm.
The Melbourne Rebels are back at AAMI Park after their big win in Dunedin last week, and they'll host the Lions at 7:15pm on Saturday, while the Australian Men's Rugby Sevens team will be looking to build on last week's promising 4th-placed campaign in Los Angeles when they take on Scotland (Sunday 4:22am), Samoa (7:34am) and USA (1-046am) in their pool games at the Vancouver Sevens. Click here to see the Aussie squad, and click here to see the Vancouver Sevens schedule.
Finally, Buildcorp Super W action sees a blokcbuster clash between the undefeated NSW Waratahs Women and Queensland Reds Women (Saturday 4:00pm, Ballymore) as well as the Melbourne Rebels heading to Perth to take on RugbyWA on Sunday (6:30pm AEDT) at Kingsway Reserve. Follow all the latest Super W news here.
As always, FOX Sports and KAYO Sports have all the action LIVE and exclusive; now, without further ado, here’s what has been making news.
1. Hunt keen to stay in Sydney
Spending five hours getting to and from work each day during peak hour will sound like torture to most, but for Karmichael Hunt it’s a treasured escape. Hunt lives in Bowral, and drives to training for the NSW Waratahs in Daceyville most days, filling the time listening to podcasts by Joe Rogan and Stephen A. Smith, as he told Jamie Pandaram in the Daily Telegraph.
“I come from a home that has my three daughters and my wife, and I come to the footy Club that has all my footy mates, so the only time I get to myself is the two-and-a-half hours in the morning and the two-and-a-half hours in the evening, so I’m happy with the drive, if you know what I mean.
“I’m one of the elder statesmen of the team chronologically, but biologically I feel great. I’m loving the footy we’re trying to play, that we’re playing in parts. The first 20 minutes last week was some of the best footy we’ve played for the past couple of years, so we just want to keep building.”
The 33-year-old’s Super Rugby career is a year by year proposition, but he is keen to extend his tenure at the 'Tahs.
“I love what we’re doing here, I love the football, my family loves it down in Bowral, so I’d love to stay if the opportunity came up,” Hunt said. "[Stability is] huge. Kids are pretty adaptable but for me and more importantly my wife, living down in Bowral, the kids have got a great little school, a good community we’re part of.
“It’s nice for them to be settled in the same school and environment for another year. When life outside of footy is great and the family is happy, it makes footy that much easier."
The Tahs notched their first win of the season last week against the Lions, but if they’re any hope of defeating the Chiefs, Hunt’s midfield defence will be crucial to shutting down playmaking maestro Aaron Cruden.
“He’s been overseas but he hasn’t lost any class, understands how they want to play the New Zealand style, attacking footy and taking opportunities as they see it,” Hunt said. “He’s someone we’re putting a lot of time into watching vision this week for sure; the way he controls the game, his kicking game, running game as well, numbers on the feet inside and outside him. There are threats all over the park.
“We want to make sure everyone is alert and alive across the field, because you could be four plays away from the play where he is, but you can’t switch off because he’s got kicking options, [players] who can duck back inside, cut passes, all the tools for you to need to be aware across the park.”
Click here to read the full story.
2. McInerney & Brumbies looking to put smiles on supporters' faces
Hooker Connal McInerney has lifted the lid on the inspiration driving the Brumbies forward in 2020.
It was only a short couple of months ago that the Brumbies were forced to relocate to Newcastle with Canberra surrounded by raging bushfires. Despite the fires continuing to burn everything in its way, the Brumbies returned on the eve of the season getting underway and 7:10pm on January 30, with temperatures a tick under 40 degrees Celsius, took the field against the Reds.
A month into the Super Rugby season and the Brumbies are top of the Australian conference after three wins from their opening four matches, with their lone loss a heartbreaking one-point defeat against the Highlanders last month. But their greatest triumph occurred across the ditch, as the Brumbies snapped a five-year drought in New Zealand by handing the previously undefeated Chiefs, who only a week earlier had taken down the Crusaders, their first defeat.
McInerney, who played an instrumental role in the win after being asked to step up in the absence of injured Test hooker Folau Fainga’a, said that a pre-season camp run by former first-class cricketer Cade Brown had been instrumental in changing the outlook for the Brumbies.
“I know in pre-season we touched on that a lot, trying to change the perspective of Australian Rugby supporters and we wanted to be the point of difference and that’s sort of our drive for the whole season,” McInerney told Christy Doran from Fox Sports.
“That’s the big picture. To do that, we’ve just got to play a good, positive brand of Rugby. We sat down and spoke about it as a group.
“We spoke about how we wanted to change the perspective of Australian Rugby at the moment and we also spoke about the tragedy of the bushfires in our region, on the south coast and west of Canberra.
“We just wanted to put a smile on our supporter base’s faces first and with that hopefully change the view of how Australian Rugby’s looking. It was really special.”
As nice and heartwarming as those values are, it’s really only when teams are tested that one finds out whether or not they’ve been put into practise or just fluffy buzz words on walls. Against the Chiefs, the Brumbies showed their mettle as they withstood a Chiefs second-half blitz to win in Hamilton for the first time since 2007.
McInerney credited the Brumbies’ resolve and tightness as a group for coming away with the win.
“The Kiwi teams are renowned for it, aren’t they? Really stepping up in that crucial last 20 minutes,” he said. “We got the yellow card, got compounding penalties and it was looking like what happens most of the time that they come back, wind in their sails.
“We just got tight, we spoke about what we wanted to do, not what they’re doing. To be honest, it was in the back of my mind and it drove the team, that we knew they were going to come back hard. We connected well though.
“We usually get a breath and we have some clear messages from the leaders and we try stick to those messages, and our bench came on and did a great job.”
As proud as the Brumbies may be, like the bushfire recovery mission, they are acutely aware that one win in New Zealand is just the beginning in changing the narrative in Australian Rugby.
“Getting a win like that, that’s super for all the young guys out there and stepping up,” McInerney said. “It just shows we can compete with the best, we can win anywhere and as long as we play our footy and do what we do at training every week, and if we continue to stick to our game plan I’m sure we’ll get a few more.
“Then again, it’s early days, it’s a long season and we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, we just know if we put the work in and we do what we say, we’ll be fine.”
3. Wright: We're still confident in ourselves
Liam Wright says the Reds still have the belief they can make a run for the Super Rugby finals but how they respond to the weekend's loss to the Sharks will determine whether they can be a competitive outfit. The Reds take on defending champions the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday after having their set piece mauled by the Sharks the weekend's 33-23 loss.
But Wright said the loss had not shattered the confidence of his side, who head to New Zealand this week attempting to become the third Australian side in three weeks to win across the ditch.
"I think our group's still very tight," he told Rugby.com.au's Emma Greenwood. "We know what we're capable of and that our systems work and we're ready to put that forward. We've obviously had a tough start to the season and it was not the way we wanted to do it but we're still within the fight.
"We haven't played many Aussie conference games and if we get some good wins there against Aussie conference opponents, the way Super Rugby is structured, we can still get into that finals picture that way as well.
"So we're still confident in ourselves and our group and what we're going to put forward on the field."
A win against the Crusaders on Friday would be massive but the Reds will head in as underdogs and face the real prospect of heading back to Brisbane with a 1-5 record, a position from which many teams would struggle to recover.
"The way we respond to this will be big - not just in terms of simple win/losses but the way we conduct ourselves, especially on the training paddock," Wright said. "Everyone only gets to see what happens on Saturdays but I'm going to make sure the boys respond well during the week as well and put everything we can into getting those results.
"Like we've been saying the last few weeks, if we trust the process, everything else will take care of itself."
Certainly the Reds are sick of professional sport's version of regret the morning after the night before.
Having led all five of their games this season at halftime, Queensland has finished the job just once, in their runaway win over the Sunwolves.
"It was another game we led at halftime we could have taken," Wright said.
"We gave ourselves plenty of opportunities that we let slip.
"It makes it tough, especially going into a game against the reigning champs and we're going to have another look at it this week and ask ourselves if we're doing everything possible to make sure we're winning."
"I think the main thing the Crusaders do, is they do the simple things well. They don't try to overcomplicate everything but they do the simple things - the ruck, maul, tackle contest, passing - to a very high standard.
"You see their tries, one in particular was the one Richie Mo'unga scored the other week, a simple pass out the back of the forward pod and everyone's holding their lined, doing the passes to the right angle and so he goes through the hole and scores the try.
"Rugby can be a simple game when you play it like that."
4. Harrison stars despite circumstances
Waratahs five-eighth Will Harrison feels “10 kilos lighter” after a pressure-relieving win over the Lions on Friday night, and the 20-year-old’s stellar performance was all the more remarkable given the family heartbreak he overcame just to take the field. Harrison was shattered by the death of his grandfather and did not train on Monday so he could be a pallbearer at his funeral.
Barry Telford, a Rugby lover and popular figure at the Coogee Surf Life Saving Club, passed away peacefully at the age of 84 on February 17, a few days after the Waratahs lost to the Melbourne Rebels.
During the bye week, Harrison went to the hospital whenever he could, sometimes straight from training to be with Telford, who always took a keen interest in his grandson’s football journey.
When Harrison made his Super Rugby debut against the Crusaders in New Zealand, hospital staff set Telford up with an iPad so he could watch his grandson play. He was proud as punch. However, his condition deteriorated. It was the last time he saw his grandson play.
Just before Telford passed away, Harrison gave him his Waratahs cap, which sat by his bedside until the final moments of his life.
“He wouldn’t miss it,” Harrison told Sydney Morning Herald Rugby reporter Tom Decent. “It was tough. I’ve been telling a lot of people that he’s been lucky to live the life he lived. He’s been dying for three years. For him to see me play footy for the Waratahs was amazing. I spent as much time as I could with him and said my final goodbyes.”
Harrison was on the training pitch practising his kicking when he received the phone call. He’d spent the previous evening by his grandfather's bedside with family saying goodbye to the man who went by the name of "Bolla".
Just four days out from a must-win clash against the Lions, Harrison’s mind was anywhere but on football as he sent off his grandfather in style.
“To see all family and mates get together and the Rugby Club was awesome,” Harrison said. “He didn’t say much, but he was always proud of me, and I knew that.”
Harrison was determined to take the field at Bankwest Stadium on Friday and put in a performance Barry would be proud of.
That he did in spades as the Waratahs sliced through the Lions early to open up a 19-3 lead before hanging on 29-17 to register their first win of the year.
“I was playing for him last night,” Harrison said on Saturday. “I know he’d be watching up there. It feels like I’m 10 kilos lighter. We finally clicked last night for the first 20 minutes and showed what we’re capable of.
“There’s been a lot of stuff we’ve had to deal with. It was a pretty tough start with the Crusaders and then two wet games. We finally got a good track and played footy.
“We’ve been training well, and we’ve been buying in, but just haven’t been getting the result. To get the result was unreal. There was a different vibe in the sheds afterwards.”
5. An unlikely Rabbitoh reunion in Wollongong
A South Sydney connection is set to ignite a midfield battle in Wollongong as Irae Simone braces to face a former teammate he describes as an "animal". Simone will go head to head with Rabbitohs premiership-winner, and England international Ben Te'o, on Friday.vThe pair first crossed paths six years ago when Simone was an teenage South Sydney star trying to break into the NRL and Te'o was at the peak of his powers in Rugby League.
Now they're set to collide in the 'Gong, and the clash will be a chance for Simone to show how far he's come since he teamed up with Te'o at the Auckland Nines as a rising Rugby League playmaker, who scored 19 tries in 36 under-20s games.
"I was at Souths with him in 2014 and 2015 ... he was just an animal and still is," Simone told Chris Dutton in the Canberra Times. "He was a big unit then and he's a big unit now, so I know it's going to be a tough challenge for me. But I've also never come up against a big unit like that, who's a similar player to me but is bigger. I'm willing to take that challenge on.
"I've looked up to [Te'o] over the the years ... watched him play State of Origin and for Australia in Rugby League and for England in Rugby. He's going to be opposite me, but that's exciting and I'm ready."
Simone is finding his feet as the stable inside centre as the Brumbies' back line begins to fire.
"At the moment we're still improving and we're not changing our mindset this week," Simone said. "We're preparing for the Sunwolves to turn up because we can't take them lightly. The last few weeks hasn't really shown what they can do. When they turn up, they're dangerous and that's what we have to be ready for because they can come out firing."
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re teaching you about glassware…
Choosing the right glassware can really add to the enjoyment as well as the flavour of a wine. You may have noticed how the glassware in department stores is differentiated by wine style or grape. Some glassware manufacturers have a specific glass for every varietal, which can add up to a lot of different shaped glasses