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 a massive week, as the Wallabies prepare for their third and final match on Australian soil this year, taking on Samoa at the brand new Bankwest Stadium on Saturday night before they fly off to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The makeup of the matchday 23 remains a tightly-kept secret at this point in time, with Michael Cheika and his selection panel tossing up whether to wrap any players in cotton wool, and what combinations they'd like to see before they take on Fiji in two weeks' time. Limited tickets remain on sale; click here to grab yours, or if you can't make it along check out all the action live on FOX Sports 503/Kayo Sports and 10 Bold (Channel 140 on FOXTEL).
Meanwhile, Round One of the NRC season went ahead on Saturday and it was an absolute doozy! The Canberra Vikings fired a title warning shot to their rivals, Brisbane City and the Drua couldn't be separated, the Western Force left it late to win at home in a try-scoring frenzy and NSW Country edged the local derby in what truly was a game of two halves!
This week, in Round Two of the NRC, the Force are the first time to travel to Fiji this season, taking on the Drua in Suva (Saturday 1:00pm AEST), before the Melbourne Rising host NSW Country in Adelaide in the FOX Sports Match of the Round at 3:30pm the same day.
On Sunday, Brisbane City and Sydney will be looking for their first wins of the season when they clash at Bond University on the Gold Coast (1:00pm) before Queensland Country host the rampant Vikings at the same venue (3:00pm) in a double-header!
Saturday's a huge day of Rugby on FOX Sports channel 503, with non-stop Rugby from 9:00am (AEST) onwards. Firstly, see as replay of Friday's Japan vs. South Africa clash, before the Pacific Island Legends take on NZ Barbarians Legends, New Zealand host Tonga, Randwick host Argentina at Coogee Oval, the Melbourne Rising and NSW Country clash and then the Wallabies host Samoa.
1. Keps prepares for home swansong
105-cap Wallaby prop Sekope Kepu will quit international Rugby at the end of the Rugby World Cup, after earlier this year announcing a move to London Irish, meaning that this Saturday's match is likely to be his last professional outing on Australian soil.
“I never thought I would have achieved that milestone (playing 100 Tests) and to have done so, it’s something that makes me feel very privileged and fortunate,” he said, in an article penned by the Daily Telegraph's Julian Linden.
“My daughter is 11, so as long as she’s lived, I’ve played Rugby so she’s almost ready for dad to hang it up and just be home a bit more.
“My family’s been awesome, they’ve sacrificed a lot for me, especially my wife (Anna) for what’s she’s given up over the years. To juggle four kids at home at the moment, I don’t know how she does it, she’s definitely been the rock of our family.
“It (Saturday) is going to be very special. It's another massive challenge and something I’m definitely looking forward to, running out in front of family and friends as well as our home fans for the last time this year.
“I’ll let my wife contact all the friends and relatives that want to come along to the game but it will just be a great day to play against Samoa. It’s going to be a hell of a week and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Already a veteran of two World Cups, Kepu has been instrumental in transforming Australia’s scrum from a weakness to a strength and believes the pack is in great shape for when he leaves.
“There’s guys pushing for spots everywhere now. We have quality depth in Australian Rugby at the moment and I’ll be looking from afar and just excited about what we have,” he said.
“Guys like Allan (Alaalatoa) and Taniela (Tupou), they have now established themselves at Test level and then Scotty (Sio), Slips (James Slipper), Tolu (Latu) and Folau (Fainga’a) and all those guys — and now we can play anybody in that front row and you can guarantee they are going to do the job, no matter who we are playing.”
2. Jordan the Chief
Jordan Uelese is the youngest and most inexperienced forward in the Wallabies World Cup squad, but commands more respect from teammates with Samoan heritage than most others. Why? A little-known fact about Uelese is that he was given the prestigious title of a 'chief' in his father's small hometown village of Aufaga in the southeast of the island by Samoa's prime minister last year.
When the 22-year-old returns to Samoa, the birthplace of his parents Sala Kolotita Uelese and Taliausolo Sekati Uelese, who migrated to New Zealand and then Australia “for a better life”, no one refers to him as Jordan.
“They call me Segiali’i,” Uelese told Tom Decent in the Sydney Morning Herald. “I’ve lost my name now. It’s pretty special. They treat it with respect but it’s nothing I’m arrogant about. It’s really humbling. Every time I go back it’s pretty cool to represent my family’s name in that way. To be bestowed a chief title is pretty special.
“They’re very proud of everything I have achieved and just carrying our last name around the world it makes me so proud. I’m a very proud Samoan-Australian. It’s something to be proud of where your ancestors were from.”
There are seven players in this Wallabies squad whose families hail from the small Pacific Island nation: Uelese, Allan Alaalatoa, Scott Sio, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Jordan Petaia. Samoan is the largest representation, ahead of players with Tongan (5) and Fijian (4) heritage.
Uelese speaks Samoan fluently at home with his parents and attributes that to his grandmother.
“She used to give us a little smack if we spoke English to her,” Uelese said. “That’s tough love and that’s the best way to learn. I always try and get back as much as I can. They do everything very hard on the islands - starting at 6am and getting a fire started just to cook breakfast. It’s a tough life they live and that’s what makes Samoan people grounded and a very humble culture. They go through adversity every day and that’s what brings us tight as a family remembering where they came from and being grateful for what we have today.”
Uelese has spoken previously about giving up big Samoan lunches on Sundays to get his frame in shape after injury troubles over the past few years and is eyeing off selection for the first Test at Sydney’s newest stadium. Despite being born in New Zealand and growing up in Melbourne, Uelese’s strong Samoan roots would make an outing against the men in blue very special.
“You know they bring that physicality and playing against your country the whole island is going to be watching and it’s going to be playing a quality side,” Uelese said. “If I do get the opportunity I will be all for it. It will be a special day.”
3. Tolu makes the most of unexpected lifeline
2019 has seen Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, having to front court on drink driving charges which threatened to kill off his Rugby World Cup dream.
Speaking to Fox Sports' Christy Doran, Latu admitted that being handed a lifeline to impress selectors and proceeding to play the house down throughout The Rugby Championship to earn RWC selection completed a remarkable return that not even he could foresee a few short months ago.
“To be honest, no I didn’t (think this moment would come). It’s been a disappointing year with the Waratahs. Not getting much game time because of on-field and off-field incidents that I regret, and definitely have learnt from.
“If you asked me earlier if I thought I was going to be here, no I definitely did not. It was always a dream and a goal of mine since I was a young kid. To get the opportunity to go there to a World Cup and achieve that and hopefully do great things at a World Cup is exciting.”
When the Sydney Downing Centre Local Court heard from Latu’s lawyer in June, it was revealed the hooker had been dealing with personal issues, including the breakdown of a long-term relationship and the death of his uncle two months prior. His solicitor Shaun Titmarsh also told the court that Latu financially supported his mother, was a youth worker at his church in Canterbury, had completed a certificate in social work and had started seeing a counsellor to deal with his personal issues.
Latu said his family, particularly his mother, helped him come out of the darkest chapter in his life.
“My mum was definitely a big part of that and my cousins and my immediate family,” Latu said. “My teammates at the Waratahs were reaching out to me and I had all sorts of help, and I’m thankful for that and grateful for their help and helping me through those dark times.
“I’m glad now that I’m on the other side.”
The person who gave Latu the good news of his selection was former Wallabies captain and two-time World Cup winner, Phil Kearns.
“He started off talking about the last two Tests against New Zealand and for a second I thought he was calling me to give me a review of the game,” Latu recalls. “Then he was like, ‘I’ve got the pleasure and honour of telling you that you’re going to the World Cup and you’ll be a part of the squad.’ It still hasn’t really hit me yet that I’m going to a World Cup.”
4. Scott-Young striking the right balance off the field
Reds backrower Angus Scott-Young is shattering the modern myth that sporting and academic excellence can’t mix as he prepares to graduate with a double degree from the University of Queensland.
Over the past four-and-a-half-years, Scott-Young has racked up 28 appearances for Queensland, played for the Junior Wallabies (2016-17), won two club premierships with Uni (2017 and 2019) and excelled in Queensland Country’s 2017 title in the National Rugby Championship - plenty to celebrate on the field.
Speaking to Jim Tucker in the Courier Mail, Angus, a RUPA Board Member, explained how he has been able to celebrate off the field by also completing a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Science over the same period.
Studying neuroanatomy or flipping open a textbook on econometrics on tour won’t suit every footy player, but Scott-Young, 22, has found a life balance that will pay off long after he hangs up his boots.
“High-intensity training can be quite consuming so the last thing you might feel like doing is sitting in a chair, tight and sore, to study,” Scott-Young said. “You find a way and it helps that it was drummed into me from a young age that you need skills to be employable, because footy is only a short-term period of your life.”
Scott-Young always travels over the baggage limit on Reds tours and not because of overzealous shopping.
“Four fat textbooks put you over the limit but it’s surprising how much work on assignments you can get done on tour because you spend a lot of time in your hotel anyway and there’s plenty of hours with no real distractions,” Scott-Young said. “I definitely think it’s a good thing for players to expand their horizons outside of straight footy.”
Even more remarkable has been Scott-Young achieving a perfect GPA of 7.0 in his courses with the supportive UQ Business School being flexible on assignment dates. Scott-Young will have his graduation ceremony later this year and is already pondering whether his next step is chasing honours in science or a Masters of Medicine degree.
“I want to give Rugby a red-hot go and I really think the Reds are set-up for a good few years with the focus on long-term signings of young talent,” Scott-Young said. “The number of wins (six) might have been the same in 2017 and 2018 but everyone could see we played a lot better this season, we were more consistent and there was more responsibility being taken for performances, regardless of age.”
5. Tuatara-Morrison back amongst Sea of Blue!
After five years playing in France, Chris Tuatara-Morrison has returned to where his professional Rugby career started and wasted no time reacquainting himself with the WA Rugby community and working hard to again pull on the Western Force jersey.
His time abroad saw him take in the sights and sounds of three French professional teams, grow his family, with the arrival of his two daughters, and even nail down the French language! He has been back in Perth since early 2019 and played a starring role for Wests Scarborough in the Fortescue Premier Grade to earn another opportunity at the Force where he played 10 Super Rugby games between 2012 and 2014.
In an interview on the Western Force website, Chris explained that he sees his return not only as a chance to reignite his professional career in Australia but, now a little older and wider, to also share his experience with the young talent progressing through WA’s pathway.
“France was an eye-opener, I left on a six-month contract and it has been five years! I left with no children and just my wife and now we have two kids. Life happened in France and we loved it but it was time for us to get home,” he said. “I came back with the goal of making the NRC squad. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, no-one has given me a free pass, but I’ve been biding my time in club Rugby and tried to play as well as I could there and its paid dividends.”
The bullocking centre has been training with the Force for the past month while also coaching at Wesley College and working as a Development Officer with Rugby WA which includes the Rugby Roos program.
“I am loving it, giving back and doing some work within Rugby as well as keeping my feet grounded,” he said. “Now that I have a daughter who is four and knows what her dad does for work, giving kids a pathway to get into Rugby is something I am aware of and passionate about.”
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re teaching you about Chardonnay...
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