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 huge week - the 2019 Rugby World Cup is finally upon us, with hosts Japan taking on Russia tonight, before the Wallabies campaign gets underway at 2:45pm (AEST) tomorrow afternoon against Fiji with the team named as follows:
Starting XV: 1. Scott Sio (59 Tests), 2. Tolu Latu (15 Tests), 3. Allan Alaalatoa (33 Tests), 4. Izack Rodda (21 Tests), 5. Rory Arnold (22 Tests), 6. David Pocock (78 Tests), 7. Michael Hooper (c) (95 Tests), 8. Isi Naisarani (4 Tests), 9. Nic White (26 Tests), 10. Christian Lealiifano (22 Tests), 11. Marika Koroibete (24 Tests), 12. Samu Kerevi (vc) (29 Tests), 13. James O’Connor (48 Tests), 14. Reece Hodge (37 Tests), 15. Kurtley Beale (87 Tests). Reserves: 16. Jordan Uelese (4 Tests), 17. James Slipper (91 Tests), 18. Sekope Kepu (106 Tests), 19. Adam Coleman (34 Tests), 20. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (16 Tests), 21. Will Genia (105 Tests), 22. Matt To’omua (47 Tests), 23. Dane Haylett-Petty (33 Tests).
There are plenty of Rugby World Cup debutants and two Fijian-Australians in the team, as well as some Australian connections in the Fijian side; click here to see who they've chosen, as well as all the other selection news for games over the next three days. You can see all the action LIVE on FOX Sports and Kayo.
The next generation continue to shine in the NRC, as it moves towards the halfway stage (click here to see all the highlights from Round Three). The Western Force (14 points) will be looking to retain top spot when they host third placed Canberra Vikings (9 points) on Saturday in Perth (5:00pm AEST), while earlier that day Sydney (6 points) will be looking to strengthen their finals claims against the Drua (4 points) in Lautoka (12:00pm).
On Sunday, the Melbourne Rising (0 points) have a must-win clash against Queensland Country (6 points) in Ballarat (1:00pm), with Brisbane City (8 points) hosting NSW Country (10 points) in the final match of the round at Ballymore (4:00pm) - click here for all of the Round Four NRC team news.
Finally, the Australian Men's Rugby Sevens team have headed to Germany to play the Oktoberfest Sevens as part of their preparations for Olympic Games qualifiers later this year. They'll take on England (Saturday 10:44pm), New Zealand (Sunday 1:51am) and South Africa (Sunday 4:14am) in pool action, and you can live-stream all the games completely free via the Oktoberfest 7s Facebook page.
Good luck to all the players in action this weekend!
1. Kurtley aware of Fijian threats
He boasts some of the sharpest feet in world Rugby as well as a great kicking game, exceptional vision and superb skills, and Kurtley Beale can now add blogging to his long list of talents!
In this blog, written exclusively for Fox Sports, Beale speaks about the hurt he felt from losing the 2015 RWC Final, and his determination to go one better this time around.
"Four years ago, I went to bed the night before the Rugby World Cup final believing the Wallabies’ destiny was to be world champions the following day. It still sticks in my mind to this day that we came up short against a great All Blacks side in that final. Motivation? Sure it is.
"I’d be lying not to say the dream is to make sure we go one step further this year but my mind is all about today, all about playing Fiji on Saturday in Sapporo. You can’t think any other way because a World Cup tournament is a completely different beast to anything else we strike in Rugby.
"All the hard training, all the tight bonds you must develop as a squad, all the hunger to play for each other and all the mental rehearsal to live in the moment, not just talk about it, has been taking shape for this exciting challenge over the next seven weeks in Japan. Our only focus now is on game one and then it’s all about momentum, all about being physically and mentally tougher than we were the game before.
"One of Michael Cheika’s great strengths as a coach is to build “focus,” so we are living in the present because the distractions of the World Cup can rattle any team if you let them. Our pre-Cup camps in New Caledonia and at our Japanese base at Odawara were intense but always with times to switch off for enjoyment. The Japanese are such lovely people that enjoyment will come easily.
"Australians don’t understand how Rugby-mad the locals are. We had fans come down from the former Japanese clubs of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Bernard Foley just to give them a small gift and support them at training.
"I’ve only seen Semi Radradra play on TV until now but we all know he has flair, size and speed. Radradra is one threat but there are 14 other Fijians with the same capabilities. That’s how much respect we have for Fiji and playmaker Ben Volavola because he’s had a good head on his shoulders since we played together at the NSW Waratahs. It’s a huge Test for us.
"I can’t wait. Let’s get the World Cup started."
2. A RUPA member behind enemy lines!
He's not the only man who's been blogging, but in this instance it's a little bit different as new Melbourne Rebels signing Frank Lomani writes for the World Rugby website from inside Fijian camp!
"The boys are excited and looking forward to a strong challenge against the Wallabies on Saturday. We are looking good, we have been putting our bodies on the line for the game. We can’t predict what will happen but what we can do is be better than the last World Cup and improve on the mistakes we made there. I have watched Australia on TV and they look good. They are strong in defence and attack, where they keep the ball as much as they can, and from there they score tries.
"We have settled in well in Japan. The people here are very friendly and another good thing is the food is so nice! I like the sashimi and the sushi very much, and gyoza too. And the weather has been like back home in Fiji, nice and warm.
"The Fijian Drua team is made up of local boys and it opened up a lot of opportunities for us, especially in Australia where some of the boys got contracted after the first year. And then last year, when we won the National Rugby Championship in Australia, we knew that our local boys have the potential to go up against players who play in Super Rugby. Before we joined the NRC we doubted ourselves, that we could achieve anything, we saw ourselves down low. But as soon as we won that title we understood that there is nothing that is impossible.
"I told my manager I wanted to stay in Fiji until the World Cup, and if there was any opportunity after that I could take it. This allowed me to stay focused. And I have just signed for Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby, which I am really looking forward to. That probably would never have happened without the combine.
"Here in Japan I am going to try to be the best possible version of myself. I will be competing with the best half-backs in the world and I will try to be myself and make the people of Fiji and my family proud. But without God I cannot achieve anything – he is the source of my strength."
3. Fardy gets in-depth on the 'Pooper'
In 2015, Scott Fardy was a key piece of the puzzle as Australia made it all the way to the decider, and he knows better than most the benefits of playing Michael Hooper and David Pocock alongside one another.
In this interview with Fox Sports' Christy Doran, Fardy explains why he thinks Michael Cheika's decision to field the 'Pooper' combo in the Wallabies' opening match is the correct one.
“Obviously you’ve got a couple of the best players in the country going hard at the ball,” said Fardy. “They’re clearly different players. Poey will go really hard at the ball and Hoops picks his moments, he can be very effective around the ruck, but in those wide channels there’s probably no-one better than Hoops with his superior speed.
“As long as you pick the right guy with them, I think it can work. It does put pressure on the lineout at times. But Hoops has developed into a bit more of a lineout jumper over the last three years. He’s pretty light — you can get him up pretty easily. It’s up to the lineout callers to make sure that’s manageable. Having those two on the field — with their abilities — probably outweighs what goes on at lineout time.
“Their ability to be good defenders is their strength too. They’re both very good on their feet. They can make tackles in wide channels and put Fiji under pressure at the breakdown probably in terms of turning ball over. Both of them will do a great job with that, as will Isi (Naisarani).”
Fardy did concede that winning the scrum and lineout battle will be the key to beating the Fijians, and with one smaller lineout jumper there’s no doubt that the Wallabies will be targeted in that area.
“Set-piece is going to be important against Fiji,” Fardy said. “Nailing down scrum time and taking your opportunities at set-piece. Winning your set-piece in their half and making sure you get good attacking opportunities against them.”
As for whether the duo should line up alongside each other against Wales a week later, Fardy reiterated Cheika’s pre-World Cup stance that subtle adjustments in the team would be needed, which include in the makeup of the back-row.
“I think it’s horses for courses,” Fardy said.
“Each game might be different and if you take that approach maybe it’s an option to bring one off them against at some point.
“But they’re both incredible players and having them on the field is great for the team.
“Whether that makes them stronger, I think every Test match is different and every team you play is different, so having that ability to build depth in other positions so that you can use them as well and not just use the two of them for every game.”
4. Rollicking Rory ready to go!
Rory Arnold has been cradling his right hand for almost two months to avoid well wishes and handshakes crushing his World Cup ambition. A fractured bone threatened to end his tournament before it started, but the tallest player in Australian rugby history has promised to leave nothing in the tank when he makes his RWC debut on Saturday.
Arnold will take the next step in his remarkable journey in the Wallabies' World Cup opener on Saturday just five years after working in a sugar mill and being an unknown bush-footy giant. It's a moment Arnold feared may pass him by when doctors told him he needed scans to determine how bad his hand injury was.
"I was pretty nervous for a while. I didn't think it would be too bad and that I might play the next week," Arnold told the Canberra Times' Chris Dutton.
"Then they said it was a fracture ... but straight away they said it wasn't a big one. That was the moment of relief because before that I was wondering if that was it for the World Cup. All of that plays on your mind a bit and I'm lucky it wasn't bad. There are some players that missed out; it wouldn't be good if I was just happy to be there. I want to play games, I want to represent my country and my family. I can't wait."
The World Cup opportunity is a long way from Arnold's days for the Murwillumbah third-grade side, where he would train without boots because he couldn't find any big enough to fit him. He was working at a sugar mill and living at home when the prospect of a Rugby career started to become real and he launched his career at the Brumbies in 2015, the year of the last World Cup.
"Sometimes I'll call home and mum reminds me that I was working at a sugar mill not that long ago, she can't believe it," Arnold said. "The scary thing is that it's all going to be over [in Australia] quickly as well. I want to make the most of the opportunity I've been given and really enjoy it. It is pretty surreal, I'm very grateful."
5. Kerevi reflects on Big Mac ambitions!
Last, but by no means least, Samu Kerevi spoke to Rugby.com.au's Emma Greenwood this week about the sacrifices made by his family which have given him the opportunity to play at his first World Cup - as well as a sneaky burger-related incentive to find the try line as a kid!
Battling for a good quality of life for their family in the Fijian village of Viseisei, just north of Nadi, they made the tough decision to farewell their son almost 20 years ago as he headed to the Solomon Islands with his grandparents. But a coup there - and then another in Fiji as they were on their way back - left him making a new life in Australia.
"We stopped in Australia, luckily and I've been blessed enough to be able to do what I have to do and reach the goals that I have now, so I'm really excited to be here," Kerevi said. "I was raised by my grandparents, my mum and dad still live in Fiji and they had to let me have an opportunity for a better life.
"My family was doing it really tough back in Fiji at that time and it was a lot different, the environment that they had, but now I'm really grateful that god's come into our lives and changed that for my family and it's just awesome to have the opportunities that I do have here in Australia. That was a big reason why I play so hard, for family and for Australia, that's given me so much."
Rugby is a religion in Fiji and while he did not start playing until he was in Australia, Kerevi already had a love of the game.
"You're kind of born with it in Fiji, it's kind of everywhere," he said. "But the first time I played rugby was here in Australia, for Souths, when I was about seven years old and started playing footy there. That's where my love grew and just the enjoyment of playing footy.
"My grandfather used to give me a cheeseburger every time I scored a try, so I got pretty big when I was young if I scored too many tries. One cheeseburger for one try - four tries was a Big Mac. So I always tried for a Big Mac, so that's where the enjoyment came."
The burger king was getting noticed and turned out for Fiji in the U20 world championships before representing the Junior Wallabies the following year. But it was after his first year of Super Rugby that the nationality debate became serious for Kerevi after he was selected in the Wallabies squad.
"Fiji will always be home for me. I played for Fiji in the U20 World Cup and it was the following year I got selected for the Junior Wallabies U20s," he said. "In 2015, I got selected to the (Wallabies) squad. I didn't play a game but I got selected to the squad in my first year of Super Rugby and I called mum and dad and asked them if it was okay if I played for Aussie."
Having well and truly satisfied citizenship requirements, Kerevi did not need his parents' permission. But it was a mark of respect.
"They were crying on the phone, they were like, whatever opportunity god gives you, you take it and they were happy with whoever I played for," he said. "They just came out and were crying and giggled and said: 'that's fine'. They were really happy for me to represent Australia because it's my second home now. It's given me so many opportunities - not just for myself but for all my family.
"It's a land of many opportunities and it was a dream come true to finally put that jersey on because I wanted to pay that respect back to Australia, who had developed me. That was when I knew I wanted to give back to Australia, which has given me so much. (When) I finally made my debut it was a really humbling opportunity and time for my family."
It's not the only story about Samu's family that we've seen in the press this week either - special mention to Georgina Robinson in the Sydney Morning Herald, who has uncovered that Samu's older brother Josh is helping Fiji with their RWC preparations!
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re teaching you about temperature...
Did you know you may have been drinking your red wine at the wrong temperature this whole time?
The concept of drinking red wine at ‘room temperature’ actually comes from the chilly drawing rooms of Medieval France. Since Australia is much warmer than those chilly castles, most winemakers and sommeliers recommend you chill your red wine slightly, to ensure it is at the best temperature for drinking!