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).
We start this week with a shoutout to the Australian Men's Rugby Sevens team, who followed up their 4th placed campaign in Los Angeles to reach the Cup Final in Vancouver over the weekend, where they were narrowly pipped by New Zealand and took home the silver medals. It's seen the boys move up to 4th on the series standings, with a two-month break now ahead of the London and Paris legs - and then the Olympic Games! Lachie Anderson and Locky Miller were named in the Tournament Dream Team in Canada - epic performance, fellas.
Back to Super Rugby, and the Melbourne Rebels have earnt themselves a week off after winning three of their last four, comprehensively out-playing the Lions at AAMI Park last Saturday. The Queensland Reds are the first Australian team in action this week, hosting the Bulls at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday (7:15pm AEDT), before a big local derby on Sunday afternoon as the NSW Waratahs head to Canberra to take on the conference-leading Brumbies (4:05pm).
The final regular season round of Buildcorp Super W action sees the NSW Waratahs Women host Rugby WA at Sydney University on Saturday afternoon (3:25pm), while the Brumbies will be aiming to knock off the Queensland Reds and move above them on the table when they play host at 1:15pm on Sunday, as part of a double-header at GIO Stadium. Follow all the latest Super W news here.
Last, but certainly not least, the 2020 Global Rapid Rugby season kicks off this weekend, with a double-header in Perth and a match in Suva, Fiji. Australia is of course represented by the Western Force, who host the Malaysia Valke at 9:15pm (AEDT) on Saturday - good luck, gentlemen, we'll be watching!
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. KB prepares to become top 'Tah
Kurtley Beale has played in three World Cups, played 92 Tests for the Wallabies and on Sunday equals Benn Robinson’s record of 148 Super Rugby matches for the Waratahs. He’s also scored more than 50 professional tries during his career in Australia. But the moment that leaps out in his long-time Club and school teammate Damien Fitzpatrick’s mind dates back to his very last touch in schoolboy Rugby for St Joseph’s College, as he told Fox Sports's Christy Doran.
“If you ever get an opportunity – and it is on film – the very last play of his very last game for Joeys, he ends up scoring a try off the back of just one of the most incredible passages of play. For what it looks like to be completely out of the play, somehow the ball bounces off about four or five other people and directly straight back into his hands for him to run it under the posts in the final second of his final game.
“It was just such a fitting way for him to finish his school career because it was almost like ‘wow, that ball was always going to end up in his hands somehow’. When you watch it, it was like a pinball machine and the opposition try to kick it out and it bounces off two or three people and Kurtley’s standing out wide after being tackled and it rolls straight into his hands and he finishes his Joeys career with the try, which was so deserving and everyone just said, ‘that shouldn’t happen’ and that stands out to me.”
Indeed, the try was straight out of the Harry Potter playbook of witchcraft, where it’s impossible to tell from replays whether he was onside.
For the record, Beale quips that he was “definitely on side”. “It was special times back then,” he adds.
Fitzpatrick was in the year below Beale at the Rugby nursery. Immediately he caught the attention of his teammates and the Brothers teaching at the school, as he scored tries for fun and helped deliver the College three straight GPS titles along the way being signed by the Waratahs at the tender age of 16. No surprises then that the fleet-footed indigenous sensation would one day go on to become the state’s most capped Super Rugby player despite two seasons at the Rebels and another season up north at Wasps in the English Premiership.
“To be honest, if anyone was reading the paper back then, it probably doesn’t surprise anyone that he was going to go and do something incredible in this sport,” Fitzpatrick says, who played along Beale in his final two years at the college.
“I mean that with all honesty, it doesn’t me surprise one bit that he’ll probably come out being one of the greatest, if not the longest serving, Waratahs. Having him on the field and knowing how opposition go about analysing when he’s on the field, it definitely makes you confident as a player knowing when he gets the ball he’s able to do things that other players aren’t.
“When something needs to happen, when you almost don’t deserve a linebreak here or a special play there, Kurtley can make that happen better than anyone and I still think he’s got that in his game."
Often the joker, milestones aren’t something that Beale seeks or feels comfortable about talking about. Indeed, Beale wasn’t even aware he was equalling the record before being told earlier in the week.
“Obviously (it’s a) proud milestone, it’s a major achievement,” Beale says.
“As a professional Rugby player, you dream of playing at the top level for as long as you can and it’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m just very grateful to be able to achieve such a special milestone.”
So what stands out for the Super Rugby champion, who helped the Waratahs to their maiden triumph in 2014 after returning from the Rebels?
“Obviously your first cap is pretty special, your first trip to Africa is quite special; that was almost my first trip overseas as a young kid from western Sydney and to be on a Rugby tour was quite eye-opening,” Beale reminisces.
“But then you’ve got games like the ’08 [Super Rugby] grand final, I happened to start at No. 10 and we lost, and I got syndesmosis, I got injured in that game, but it was certainly a great experience. That was a special year to be a part of, to be playing in front of your home fans at the SFS, packed house, created so many great memories there. And I guess along the way you play with some greats of the game as well, I was very fortunate to play alongside Phil Waugh, Lote Tuqiri, Dan Vickerman, Al Baxter, Robbo; the list could go on. But as a player, you reflect and just sit back and appreciate those times.”
Click here to read the full story and see that schoolboy video!
2. Mum & daughter star in Super W
When Sera Ah-Sam started playing Rugby for Wanneroo with her sister and cousin as a 22-year-old, she could not have imagined a time when she would run out in a national women's competition with her own daughter. They might not yet have won a game this Super W season but RugbyWA are chalking up victories off the field that will ensure the long-term strength of women's Rugby.
One of them is the competition's first second-generation player in Frieda Ah-Sam, who not only continues her mother's legacy but packs down alongside her in the RugbyWA front row.
"It is amazing. It's a great opportunity to be able to play with your daughter," Sera, 36, told Rugby.com.au's Emma Greenwood.
"We've come a long way, we've taken the challenge and we're very tight for this."
A mother of five, Sera has had a long and successful career with Wanneroo, where her three oldest children, including Freida, have also played.
"I'd just had my second child and I used to come off the field, breast feed and go back on," Sera said. "My sister and our cousin played and they said to come and check it out. From then on, (I was hooked), we had a great team - we lost every game but we were so good together and it just grew and grew. Us old heads keep the team together."
Frieda, the oldest child, started playing at 14, tired of watching younger brothers Myran and Nortorious run around.
"She was 14 turning 15, she came to me and asked if she could come to training," Sera said. "She used to watch her brothers all the time and she was sick of watching them, so she came down to training and she was actually pretty good."
Now 17, Frieda is so good she joined her mother in Sebastian Delport's RugbyWA squad last year and made her Super W debut at prop in the opening round against the Brumbies before packing down beside her mother, who shifted into the unfamiliar position of hooker for their first game together against the Reds. The enormity of that occasion hit at home after training following the team announcement.
"Having your child there, that's amazing. It makes me teary sometimes as well," Sera said. "At home after we were named to play our first game together, I said: 'I've got you' and she said: 'I've got you too mum'."
Delport believes Frieda has the potential to become a PONI (Players of National Interest) representative in the near future. It's an opportunity that wasn't open to her mother but one she supports for a new generation of West Australian women.
"There are great opportunities now for the young generation," Sera said.
"I'm all for the young generation, our Club has got a lot of young girls and we're all about developing them and helping them grow and letting them enjoy the sport and pushing them to their limits.
"If you really want to be something, go for it. I ain't going nowhere but I just love playing Rugby."
3. Hoops pumped for Brumbies challenge
Michael Hooper says the Waratahs need to address a key breakdown issue before Sunday’s clash against the Brumbies or they will continue to “miss a trick”.
As one of Australia’s finest ever back-rowers, Hooper knows a thing or two about breakdowns. He felt NSW had been short-changed after giving away easy penalties for defenders over the ball who aren’t supporting their body weight and are, realistically, not in a position to cause a turnover. Hooper said the Waratahs had to adapt to referee interpretations at the breakdown or continue to be comprehensively outplayed in that area.
“I’m surprised at the breakdown ... at how referees are allowing guys, I don’t think, to support their weight,” Hooper told Tom Decent in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I’m seeing a lot of guys, particularly tall guys, with their legs pretty much extended and their forearms quite in and around the ground, with no potential to steal the ball and they’re getting away with it. They’re doing it well, teams are doing it really well, and we’re probably not doing it as well as we could be, and particularly for someone like myself looking at how we can turn over ball and get the ball back so we can attack. I think we’re missing a trick there.
“If that’s the way the game is going to be refereed, then we have to start adapting to that.”
Hooper said the Waratahs’ season was not “dead in the water” and the group was very much a chance of playing finals.
“[We are] five games into an 18-round season. The Chiefs went zero and five last year and made finals. While we've made it very hard for ourselves after dropping, particularly, the first three games, we've still got a lot to play for," he said.
“You definitely take a [confidence] hit there. Thirty-eight points in the second half is not something you can just shake off.”
Hooper is impressed by the way his former team have started their campaign, and relishing the chance to take them on this Sunday afternoon in Canberra.
“They’ve really hit their stride nicely and we haven’t,” Hooper said. “I’m pumped about it and a lot of the boys are pumped.”
4. Former Brumby on the end of some banter
The Brumbies, meanwhile, are building into Waratahs week by throwing some cheeky shade at a former teammate but it will be all business in Sunday’s derby.
NSW lock Tom Staniforth began his career with the Brumbies before moving up to Sydney to join the Waratahs ahead of the 2018 season, and Brumbies (and fellow Eastern Suburbs) hooker Connal McInerney couldn’t resist throwing a good-natured barb the second rower’s way ahead of the important derby.
“Love playing with him and against him, he's a real pest,” he told Rugby.com.au's Beth Newman. “He has calmed down a bit since he's been married and stuff, he's let go of himself a little bit around the edges.
“I saw him at the hotel in Wollongong (last week) and he's getting around looking like a tall prop now.
‘He's always good, he's a quality team man and he's going well for the Tahs and I'm just happy for him but I'll get stuck into him.”
Brumbies flanker Tom Cusack expects Staniforth to come to Canberra on a mission, with a view to making his presence felt.
“He’s probably one of the softest carriers in the game,” he joked. “He'll step up, he always steps up. He's going to want to put a stamp on this game, this is probably one he's earmarked pretty early and one he's going to want to put his stamp on.”
While they were happy to make some jokes about their mate, the pair were more serious when discussing Sunday’s Waratahs meeting. Their past three meetings have all gone the Brumbies way but the ACT Club won’t be taking that as a given this weekend.
Cusack said they were quickly reminded this week about the Rebels’ 2019 season, where the Melbourne side began the year flying and faded away to miss the finals completely.
“It's the reality of it, they haven't performed very well at all, only winning one game and we have to tread lightly around that as cliche as it is,” he said. “They can bounce back in any way. I think Dan made the point the other day, Rebels were where we are (now) last year and they didn't end up anywhere near the top.
“We're sitting right up the top and where we want to be so it's just about keeping that form and making sure we stay where we need to stay.”
5. Kieran out to make WA proud
Front-rower Kieran Longbottom’s career will come full circle when he packs down for Western Force in Saturday’s $1 million Global Rapid Rugby clash with Malaysia Valke at HBF Park.
The 118kg prop entered Force folklore in 2008 against the Chiefs at Subiaco Oval when he became the first WA player to go through local ranks to make his Super Rugby debut, and he is one of 12 players that have progressed through RugbyWA pathways to be fully contracted in this season’s Force squad.
“To come from the academy and now being a senior player, I want to give something back,” Longbottom told The West Australian's Nick Taylor. “I want to help bring the next generation of players through. I had a good experience, lets see how good I can make it for them.”
GRR, in its first home-and-away season is bankrolled by mining magnate Andrew Forrest who kept the Force alive when Rugby Australia axed them from Super Rugby. It has evolved from World Series Rugby and the GRR Showcase Series in the past two years.
“You want to do right by Andrew Forrest, he’s obviously invested a lot in us, but we want to make everyone proud, make WA proud,” Longbottom said.
“We’ve always had pride but the excitement is there now. I feel that little bit of nervousness. We want to show that Rugby is alive in WA.”
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re talking Pinot Noir…
In the wine world, pinot noir is the difficult child!
Attention seeking, and needing lots of love and care from viticulturalists and winemakers alike, it is the variety beloved of those red winemakers who love a challenge. Good pinot is ethereal and quite frankly there is no other wine like it.