Round Six of the Super Rugby season culminates with another cracking local derby, as the Queensland Reds host the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday afternoon (4:05pm AEDT), after the NSW Waratahs host the defending champion Crusaders (Saturday 7:45pm) and the Melbourne Rebels look to finish their South African tour with a win over the Sharks (2:15am Sunday) in Durban.
This week also sees the Western Force in action for the very first time in 2019 as they host the World XV at HBF Park on Friday night; click here for all of the matchday information, and for those not based in Western Australia check out all the action LIVE on SBS Viceland at 10:30pm AEDT. (Click here to see the Western Force team announcement).
In the final round of Buildcorp Super W, NSW host Melbourne in Bathurst (Sunday 3:00pm), looking to secure the minor premiership, while Rugby WA and the Brumbies meet in the West (Sunday 5:00pm) as they fight for the third and final spot in the finals.
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).
We’ll also bring you all of the Australian Super Rugby team selection news, and fixture information, to make sure that if you can’t get there in person, you know exactly when to lock your television to Fox Sports’ outstanding coverage of the game, or to fire up your Kayo Sports app.
So, with all that said, let’s get into it – Super Rugby, Round Six
NSW Waratahs vs. Crusasders
NSW Waratahs: 1. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Jed Holloway, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Ned Hanigan, 7. Michael Hooper (C), 8. Jack Dempsey, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Bernard Foley, 11. Alex Newsome, 12. Kurtley Beale, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. Cam Clark, 15. Israel Folau.
Reserves 16. Andrew Tuala, 17. Rory O'Connor, 18. Chris Talakai, 19. Lachlan Swinton, 20. Michael Wells, 21. Jake Gordon, 22. Mack Mason, 23. Karmichael Hunt.
Lions vs. Melbourne Rebels
Melbourne Rebels: 1. Matt Gibbon, 2. Anaru Rangi, 3. Sam Talakai, 4. Ross Haylett-Petty, 5. Matt Philip, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Angus Cottrell (C), 9. Michael Ruru, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Tom English, 12. Billy Meakes, 13. Sione Tuipulotu, 14. Reece Hodge, 15. Jack Maddocks
Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Pone Fa’amausili, 19. Rob Leota, 20. Brad Wilkin, 21. Harrison Goddard, 22. Campbell Magnay, 23. TBC
Queensland Reds vs. Brumbies
Queensland Reds: 1. Feao Fotuaika, 2. Alex Mafi, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Harry Hockings, 5. Lukhan Salakai-Loto, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Liam Wright, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. Bryce Hegarty, 11. Sefa Naivalu, 12. Samu Kerevi (C), 13. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 14. Filipo Daugunu, 15. Hamish Stewart.
Reserves: 16. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17. Harry Hoopert, 18. Ruan Smith, 19. Izack Rodda, 20. Fraser McReight, 21. Moses Sorovi, 22. Duncan Paia'aua, 23. Isaac Lucas.
1. Fitzy - it's more than just a game
We start this week with a story related to the atrocities which occurred in Christchurch last week, where as Jamie Pandaram puts it in the Daily Telegraph "it seems galling that a team should be plotting to defeat the Rugby pride of Christchurch just 11 days after the most horrific crime in the city’s history."
We couldn't agree more, but as Damien Fitzpatrick explains in his interview with the same journalist, the NSW Waratahs players appreciate the significance of the contest.
“Our guys are preparing for a game of Rugby but at the same time, it’s emotional and it’s more than just a Rugby game,” RUPA president and Waratahs hooker Fitzpatrick said. “We met as a leadership group on Tuesday and decided that we will be locked arm in arm with the Crusaders players, in a show of solidarity for the occasion.
“Our thoughts are with the Christchurch people, and we’re also standing side-by-side with New Zealand Rugby, and we’re players standing next to fellow players. We’re going to do our best to pay respect to the situation. You almost feel bad about saying ‘I’m looking forward to it’ in light of the events.
“But at a time like this, the Crusaders are playing for their town, playing for their people, it is an amazing opportunity for them and us.”
In a macabre twist, this is not the first time the Waratahs have been the first team to play the Crusaders after their city has endured tragedy.
“In 2011 when the earthquake hit, the Waratahs were also the first team the Crusaders played, they’d cancelled their match against the Hurricanes and then we played them in Nelson,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was also a part of that match and that game had a really emotional feel to it, and this will be no different.
“This sport acts as a release, people use sport as an outlet to take their minds off things that might not be going well in their lives and the Crusaders are in a privileged position; they have the opportunity to do that for their people on Saturday.
“We’ll play our part in that. Rugby is a big family, and humanity is the same. Everyone living on this planet is the same, we’re all people, and we will be trying to provide relief for those who are going through a tough time right now.
“We want to show solidarity to our Rugby brothers across the ditch, everyone will take a moment to reflect before kick-off. This is a game we will always remember as players."
2. Higgers happy to leave selection to Thorny
As the most experienced player in the Queensland Reds squad, Scott Higginbotham has played alongside some of the best players produced in the country since making his debut over a decade ago.
This year's team is full of exciting, young players. The Reds notched their first win of the Super Rugby season with a gritty comeback against the Sunwolves in Tokyo last weekend, and as Higginbotham explained to Rugby.com.au's Emma Greenwood, there's some very tough decisions to be made at the selection table ahead of the clash with the Brumbies this week.
"That's a difficult decision for Thorny I guess and I'm glad I'm not picking the team," Higginbotham said. "It's great to have some depth and it's nice to see some young guys getting opportunities and that's what you want to see if those young guys taking their opportunities."
Separating starting halfback Moses Sorovi and McDermott, who provided quicker ball for the Reds, was difficult, Higginbotham said.
"Both Moses and Tatey are really electric, just bouncing around, full of energy halfbacks," he said. "I'm sure Tatey will get his opportunity. I'm not sure if it will be this week - back and forth, there's not a lot that separates those two."
The Reds' buoyed confidence faces a test this weekend against a Brumbies side coming off a strong win against the Waratahs.
"I think they're playing some really good football," Higginbotham said of the Canberrans.
"Obviously they'd be disappointed with their two games against the Rebels and not getting a win in that derby but their rolling maul is obviously something that has been a strength for them for a number of years now and their scrum, so we'l have to be on our game around the park.
"It's something we'll have to improve from the Sunwolves."
20-year-old lock Harry Hockings' charge down of a Sunwolves kick in the dying minutes helped Queensland to last Saturday's win, impressing Higginbotham in the process.
"That was fantastic from him. I said he'd have every AFL club knocking on his door after that game," Higginbotham said. "He's a talent and they're the things you can do when you're 20 years old. It was a clutch moment in the game. We knew they were going to go short somewhere along that frontline and Hocko made the decision, got up and got the ball.
"He would have lived for that moment."
3. Ross and Rebels drawing inspiration from safari surrounds
The soundtrack of the South African bush was permeating Melbourne Rebels team meetings over the last couple of days as the entire travelling party enjoyed a safari, lock Ross Haylett-Petty explained to the Herald Sun's Russell Gould, with the team staying at the Madikwe Safari Game Reserve, near the border with Botswana, and mixing match preparation for Sunday’s clash against the Sharks in Durban with a “once in a lifetime experience”.
Haylett-Petty was born in Durban before moving to Perth as a child, and while the animal encounters weren’t new to him, he said the expressions on some his teammate’s faces were priceless.
“A lot of the boys have never had this kind of experience and you could see on their faces how exciting it is for them. I have done it a couple of times but even for me this time is the best. Where we are offers a whole heap of cool experiences, and we’re not only in the back of cars, the boys are running around chasing animals.
“The boys were down pretty hard after last week's loss, but we know we are a good enough team to bounce back from it. And the spirits rise pretty quick when you have a good group together. I think this safari is having such a positive effect, too. We’re becoming close with everything we do together outside of training and hotel rooms.”
“We’ve been fitting in as much training as we could in the park. The laptops are still out, the boys have been in meetings, talking about Rugby. But during the downtime we are trying to embrace Africa properly.
“We train like we do in Melbourne, similar times, them in the down time there are places for us to be, cool experiences, opportunities to see Jo’burg, some boys went to the townships, and now we’re in the bush.
“We are trying to create the connectedness of the team while on tour.”
4. Brumbies achieving dreams together
When childhood friends Mack Hansen and Tom Ross, Daramalan graduates and Gungahlin Eagles alumni, ran on Canberra Stadium for a joint debut on Friday night they saw mates holding up signs in the crowd that announced their arrival, as they explained to the Canberra Times' Chris Dutton.
"I had to laugh when I saw it after going on the field. They [the Eagles] put my face on Donald Trump and they had a 'trust in Big Red' sign for Tommy," Hansen laughed. "That meant the world to me. The whole Eagles community have got around Tom and I so much, I'm so thankful for that. The support has been amazing, I'll probably be pinching myself for two years."
Their joint debut marked a special moment for the friends who have been playing together since they were 10 years old. Brumbies coach Dan McKellar put his faith in the duo to stand tall when the game was on the line against the ACT side's biggest rival, and they managed to hold on for the 19-13 win against the NSW Waratahs.
Both Ross and Hansen have had to overcome personal battles to reach their Super Rugby goal. Ross ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament two years ago, halting his rise as a highly-rated teenage prop.
"At that point in time I wasn't sure, I thought the [junior] Wallabies were out of reach. So you don't get too far ahead of yourself, you play for the love of it," Ross said. "I just want to keep learning off guys like [James] Slipper and Scotty Sio and build from there. I had a bundle of nerves the entire week leading up to the game, but good nerves. I enjoyed it.
"I've played schoolboy footy with Mack since I was about 10 and to go through my career with him by my side, and to make our debut, it's surreal."
Hansen's challenge to be ready for Super Rugby was being big enough to handle the physicality. He stacked on seven kilograms in the off-season to reach 87 kilograms and says he now has the confidence to play against the best.
"And it's not fat this time," Hansen joked. "I've grown mentally and physically, the physical part is big because I feel I'm not getting rag-dolled as much. I had to put trust in myself that I was ready for it. Even last year I never thought I'd play a game, I was there just learning off people.
"But after the first Brumby Runners game this year I felt like I could do it, like I was ready. And being able to play with my mates, it's just like being back at the school. If you're not having fun, you won't reach those higher honours."
5. KB excited to head out West
Monday's announcement, that the Wallabies will take on Samoa at the new Western Sydney Stadium in Parramatta on September 7, is an opportunity to grow the game in Sydney's west, according to Wallabies and NSW Waratahs star Kurtley Beale.
Speaking to Fox Sports' Christy Doran Beale, who grew up in Mt Druitt, believes taking the game to Western Sydney is an opportunity to put Rugby back on the map.
“It’s a great opportunity for the game to grow Rugby in that area,” Beale told reporters in Sydney. “There are other big codes in the area, rugby league, football’s growing, AFL.
“For the Waratahs and the Wallabies to take games out to the new Parramatta Stadium, it’s a great opportunity for the game to reach out to our young followers and show them a part of our game.”
Beale believes that by playing a Wallabies match in the region could capture the attention of the next generation of playing talent.
“There’s so many Pacific Islanders playing at the elite level now, so it’s a great opportunity for Rugby Australia to get out there and influence and encourage young pacific islanders to play our game,” Beale said. “Growing up in the area there’s so much talent that is unseen.
“Boys and girls, there’s so much talent out there that’s been untapped, and you can see the likes of some of our players at the moment, in all teams as well, a lot of those guys come from the western suburbs. If we can create some type of pathway or development system out there, no doubt we’ll see a lot more players there play our game.
“This is a great time for Rugby to reach out to these young kids and show them what the game of Rugby can do and bring to the young supporters out there.”
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re talking about decanters…
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