It’s time again for the Taylors Wines Top 5, where we wrap up the best of Australia’s professional players in the media this week (and also give you a great wine tip courtesy of Taylors)!
Super Rugby resumed last week after the June Test window, with the Brumbies toppling the Hurricanes, the Waratahs edging the Rebels in a thriller down in Melbourne and the Reds falling short against the Blues.
This week, the Rebels are again up against local rivals as they head to Brisbane to take on the Reds (Friday, 7:45pm AEST) knowing that a win is critical if they are to keep their finals hopes alive.
Across the ditch, the Brumbies know that winning against the Chiefs in Hamilton (Saturday, 3:15pm) would also keep them in the playoff hunt, while the Waratahs will be looking to potentially seal top spot in the Australian conference with a win at home against the Sunwolves (Saturday 7:45pm).
As always, Fox Sports will have all the live action for you across the weekend. Click here for full list of Round Eighteen Super Rugby fixtures.
1. Emilee happy to lock in Rugby Sevens
As a two-time World Rugby Sevens series champion, and 2016 Olympic Gold Medal winner, Emilee Cherry OAM has achieved an incredible amount in the sport.
With the professional sport landscape shifting so dramatically in Australian women’s sport in recent years, particularly through the introduction of the AFLW and NRL Women’s competitions, she could be forgiven for thinking a new challenge would be a good idea. Speaking with the Daily Telegraph’s Fiona Bollen, however, Cherry made it very clear she has no plans to move anywhere, any time soon.
“At the moment I love playing Rugby Sevens and what it offers,” she said. “You can’t play any other sport that has the Olympics, has Commonwealth Games and you get to do it full-time.
“I’ve got a teaching degree under my belt and I’ve never had to use it, which I’m so thankful for that rugby has given me that career so far. I will never say never. I love all sport and I follow every single sport and growing up I played every single sport. Once rugby ends maybe, possibly.”
That being said, Cherry said a more competitive women’s sporting landscape was a great thing for Australia.
“It’s good for women in sport, seeing the league really pick up and the AFL,” she said.
“It’s a good prospect for women in sport to be more competitive because at the moment, we were the only full-time, the only option. It’s going to be healthy to have competitiveness from a contract point of view, talent point of view, if rugby can get girls who have been through a rugby league pathway it’s going to work both ways.”
Click here to read the full story.
2. Meakes’ unconvential rise
Melbourne Rebels centre Billy Meakes’ road to Super Rugby was fairly non-conventional. A star in Sydney’s Shute Shied competition, Meakes was initially unable to earn the chance to show his wares at the next level in Australia so he headed over to the U.K. searching for opportunity, as he explains in this exclusive column for The Players’ Voice.
“I’m 27 these days, but when I was younger, I was in the Australian Rugby Performance Academy, which was basically like a Waratahs academy at the time. I spent a couple of years there and then I was playing Shute Shield in Sydney for Norths. I felt like I was playing well and sort of knocking on the door for Super Rugby selection, but I just couldn’t get a contract.
“I’ve got a British passport, so my manager at the time strung up a deal to go over to England to play in a competition of a similar standard to the Shute Shield. The plan was to play a season and then see how it goes. But I got over there and it wasn’t quite what they’d advertised. I was playing at a pretty shit level, probably the equivalent of third-grade Shute Shield and whilst I made some unbelievable friends for life at this club, overall, I was pretty down in the dumps.
“Then Gloucester – a team in the English premiership – had a few injuries in their centres, and I got in touch with them through a connection over there. They had a second-tier Cup game coming up and I went and played a second half in that and managed to play really well. A few weeks later, I came off the bench in that game where they had 80,000 there.
“That was my premiership debut. I couldn’t believe it. There were 80 thousand people packed into Twickenham, the home of English rugby, and I was sitting there on the sidelines, ready to run on at any moment.
“Four weeks earlier, I was playing in the equivalent of Sydney third-grade rugby. In my life, I had never played in front of more than a couple of thousand people. In the English premiership, they do a double-header every year. It’s called The Big Game and it’s always at Twickenham and they usually sell it out. It was unbelievable. As I said, I had never played before more than a couple of thousand people.
“I only got four minutes at the back end of the game, but I debuted, which was good. I spent the game just soaking it up on the sidelines, I couldn’t really believe what was going on. I was texting my dad after the game saying, ‘Did you see it?’. It was pretty exciting. I played the home game the next weekend for Gloucester, and I ended up getting a rookie contract with them the next year. Then after that I signed for two more years.”
Click here to read the full story, including how Meakes ended up back in Australia and his Wallaby aspirations.
3. Higgers determined to spoil Rebels party
He scored 15 tries during three years in Melbourne, captaining the Rebels whilst he was there, but tonight Scott Higginbotham will be tasked with trying to stop his former team from qualifying for their first ever finals series.
Speaking with the Courier Mail’s Jim Tucker, Higginbotham insisted that “squaring up with the Rebels at one win apiece for this season and winning an Aussie derby is our motivation, not stopping the Rebels from making finals.
“In my Rebels time, we played more as a team with nothing to lose with a lot of guys straight out of club footy plus some old heads,” Higginbotham said.
“There are a lot more Wallabies around the Rebels now but I’m glad the quality of a mate like (Rebels skipper) Tom English is also being seen with his leadership. Yeah, I’ll be behind the Rebels making the finals for the first time but not by beating us.”
The Reds are determined to finish the season strongly despite being outside finals contention, and the Reds skipper said last week’s performance against the Blues simply wasn’t good enough.
“We were way to passive with our tackling against the Blues a week ago so our defence has to be fired up with the line-speed to pressure (Rebels scrumhalf) Michael Ruru and those around him,” Higginbotham said. “That’s when we’ve played our best and the last two games of the season are absolutely games we want to win.”
Click here to read the full story.
4. Brumbies Wrap
Moving away from TT5 tradition a little bit here, we thought we’d bring you a few little grabs of Brumbies players in the Canberra Times this week as they look to back up last weekend’s epic win over the Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon in Hamilton.
Winger Andy Muirhead has been a revelation this season, and he paid tribute to the backline for helping him get on the end of a few tries:
“We’ve been building over the last six weeks and it’s good that we’ve got that momentum because we’re pretty keen to get over to New Zealand to try to do them over there,” Muirhead told Eamonn Tiernan.
“It’s just nice that things are finally sticking for us, things we weren’t comfortable doing at the start of the season we’re comfortable doing now and making those bigger plays. Our playmakers are making pretty good decisions at the moment as you can see because we're winning games and it’s nice when they look after me. It’s been a good couple of games and I’ve just been in the right spot at the right time to get the pill from the guys inside, I can’t complain.”
David Pocock, meanwhile, is hoping that his side’s final home game of the season showed enough promise to bring the crowds back to Canberra Stadium in 2019.
“The Brumbies have been in the finals for five years in a row so there has definitely been success there and we really appreciate any support we do get," Pocock told Tiernan.
“You’re always looking to use the ball, against different teams you’ll have different kicking strategies where there might be an opportunity to put pressure on them and turn them around. [Against the Hurricanes] for long periods we were looking to run, it’s one of those things, you want to play rugby that suits the group and the group believes in and see what happens.”
Young hooker Folau Fainga’a was in the Wallaby squad for the June series but is yet to make his debut at that level, however he told Chris Dutton that he took plenty of confidence out of the Camp.
“I would say I've got more confidence now [after Wallabies camp] with the blokes that were around me. I've come back here and taken on board what I got out of the [June series against Ireland].
“[I learnt] just being composed about myself and being myself on the field. Not having to push extra things, just being myself. I've just got to control my emotions." [The finals race] is towards the back of our mind at the moment, we just want to finish on a high note.”
Finally, fellow June Wallaby squad member Tom Banks and 2017 Test debutant Blake Enever told Dutton that as long as they’re a mathematical chance of making finals, they’ll still believe.
"We have spoken about [finals chances] and after winning last week we've had a look. The thing is we're up against a really strong Chiefs team so we know what to expect," said fullback Banks."I think we've got to wait on some results but definitely after winning on the weekend it's awesome to be in contention so hopefully results go our way.”
“We all know from what people are saying that we've got a mathematical chance of playing in the finals, but that's about as far as we've looked," agreed Enever. "We've been enjoying the footy we've been playing and we can't do anything more than keep working on that. We'll keep pushing and refining as much as we can. It's good to see we've been learning and there's a bit of growth of being able to finish games or put teams to the sword.”
Young lock Darcy Swain also told Caden Helmers about his delight at signing a new contract at the Club, on his 21st birthday no less, in the year in which he’s made his Super Rugby debut.
5. Taniela takes pen to paper
Our final item this week sees a premiere of sorts, with Reds and Wallabies tighthead Taniela Tupou revealing his first exclusive column for the Courier Mail today.
Tupou, who was sin-binned in last week’s loss to the Blues, expressed his regret at the incident.
“The ten minutes I sat freezing in the sin bin under a blanket went very slowly last week and every moment you think you could be out on the field making a difference. That tough period against the Blues in Auckland was another valuable lesson for me because you do feel so helpless.
“You can’t make excuses as a Queensland Reds player. Back at training this week I spoke to (coach) Brad Thorn and we agreed the team can’t afford to have these moments. I definitely did extras on my tackling technique because being lazy and not using your arms more obviously when tackling with the shoulder can put the team in a difficult position.”
Tupou went to high school in Auckland, and he enjoyed the opportunity to play at Eden Park for the first time.
“I’d been looking forward to performing there all year. It didn’t go to plan but I did have the privilege of speaking to Jerome Kaino from the Blues after the game. He still remembered the chubby, fat bloke (me) who came to watch Blues training as a schoolboy!”
Click here to read the full column.
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re having a bit of a history lesson…
Louis Pasteur was the first scientist to study what happens as wines age. At the time, Napoleon wanted to know why wines were deteriorating on their way to market, so he asked Louis Pasteur for some answers.
Pasteur investigated the effects of air contact as wines age; too much oxygen exposure oxidised the wine leading to the growth of vinegar bacteria. However, a little air contact actually improved the wine. He then discovered that by sealing the bottle more effectively, wines last longer.
Click here to head to the Taylors Wines website (18+ only).