It’s only natural that as the season continues to progress we are less likely to see debutants in action, but after four players made their Super Rugby debuts in Round Two (Junior Laloifi & Waita Setu (Reds), Tom Moloney & Kotaro Matsushima (Rebels)), young Reds hooker Matt Mafi has been named on the bench this week and is a chance to make his first appearance in the world’s toughest provincial competition.
There’s two cracking local derbies to keep us all entertained this week with the Force hosting the Brumbies on Friday night and the Rebels hosting the Reds 24 hours later, as well as the Vancouver Rugby Sevens which kick off Sunday morning (AEDT). While the Waratahs head into a bye following last week’s loss in Canberra, Israel Folau has been at his busy blogging best for Fox Sports this week, and that’s where we start Look Who’s Talking Now.
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“We had one of Cheik’s get-togethers on the Saturday morning after the game,” Folau said. “We went at each other pretty hard the night before but the next morning we were all in there having a chat and hanging out.
“It just shows how much respect we have for each other and whatever we do on the field we leave that on there and we get on with things. We spoke about what our goal is with the Wallabies this year and what we want to achieve. Cheik spoke about the need to get better this year; as a team we know we have to evolve.”
One standout from Friday night who certainly wasn’t invited was Argentinian International scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli, who is quickly asserting himself with the Brumbies and even teaching some of his native tongue.
"I'm putting in hard work to try to get good combinations with my teammates [on] the field. Sometimes it goes out as a Spanish word. But at the same time they're getting used to some Spanish words,” he told Chris Dutton from the Canberra Times.
"Speaking into the team has to be natural, not forcing it. I just have to play my part and do what I need to do when it's important. Yes [they can understand me], the halfback is always trying to say things that are obvious so the forwards or other guys know.”
Cubelli will likely get to play alongside teammate Tom Staniforth at Super Rugby level for the first time this weekend, after the lock was recalled 700 days after his first (and so far only) Super Rugby appearance.
"It did cross my mind whether or not I'd get another go, but I was always pretty positive with it. I had to train hard and put my best foot forward," Staniforth said.
"I am starting again, but I feel a lot fitter, stronger and a lot more ready. Two years ago I thought I was ready but now I know that I am. I'm not too nervous, I've trained for such a long time now and played in trials. I feel ready and very, very excited to get out there."
Somebody else used to waiting, and who could sympathise with Staniforth, is Reds backrower Waita Setu. After making his debut last week, he’s been elevated to the starting lineup and he told Jim Tucker about his journey culminating in receiving his professional chance at the age of 24.
“My name was put out there in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Japan and when there wasn’t a bite it felt like doing my knee again,” Setu, who tore his ACL in 2012 after previously representing the Australian Schoolboys, said. “I was going to walk away after five years around the professional scene with no opportunity because I was thinking ‘move along’ and get a job full-time in dad’s painting business.”
“I didn’t want to be a quitter in front of my four-year-old daughter and that was one of the big things that kept me going. It was very emotional for me and my family to finally know that feeling of Super Rugby and its do-or-die in my mind every time I play.’’
Setu will be up against plenty of familiar faces at AAMI Park; he spent the 2015 pre-season training with the Rebels. The hosts have been hit by injuries, however Tom English told Roy Ward there will be no excuses if they can’t secure their second win of the season on Saturday night.
"There's been a few spanners there, but that is just footy and you do get injuries," English said. "So you have to learn to adapt and if you can't adapt you can't be in the business. We've had some good players come and go, but we've had some great ones filling in and they had some good touches last week and players like Jonah Placid really shone. I have the confidence in the boys to step in when needed and regardless of the backline we'll give it our best crack."
Nathan Trist was a member of the original Melbourne Rebels side in the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC) in 2007, a competition which only lasted one season. He was also a Rugby Sevens International, and after watching Australia make their second straight Cup Final at last weekend’s Las Vegas Sevens he told RUPA that he believes the abbreviated format has the ability to transform Rugby in this country.
“I’m so happy with how Rugby Sevens is tracking and I really think it has the potential as a sport to be to Rugby what T20 is to cricket,” Trist said. “Our men’s and women’s players can really focus on being full time Sevens athletes. A lot of the 15’s players are looking at the profile they’re developing and the lifestyle they live, travelling around the globe and then playing at the Olympic Games, with a fair bit of envy.”
Women’s Rugby Sevens star Chloe Dalton is a former WNBL player who knew little about Rugby growing up, but as she told Beth Newman once she had a taste of Sevens, she knew it would not just be a fleeting experiment.
“I’ve got a younger brother and older brother and they’d been playing Rugby for years but I never thought girls playing Rugby was a thing,” she explained. “I ended up going along to sessions to Warringah Rats and picked it up. It was quite a big choice; I was just planning on taking a bit of a break from basketball but I was literally playing Sevens and it was like this is the game for me.”
Women’s Sevens is one part of a larger tapestry of women’s sports garnering more attention in recent times and Dalton says it’s a movement she’s proud to be a part of.
“I think women’s sport in general over the last few years, the growth and professionalism across sports has been amazing,” she said. “Women are performing on the world stage and achieving big things so I’m stoked to be a part of that. I’d really like to be a role model to young girls and show Rugby as a really good option to play and to represent your country,” she said.
Nick Phipps played Rugby Sevens for Australia as well but now focuses his attention entirely on the Wallabies and Waratahs. The ‘Tahs have a bye this week, but as Phipps explained to Beth Newman it doesn’t mean they were going to have an easy week on the track following defeat in Round Two at the hands of the Brumbies; in fact, honesty and ‘truth bombs’ were in order.
“You're often a better mate if you're saying something that's’ pretty hard to say to someone,” Phipps said. “Everyone in the squad has little areas that we have to work on and that sort of collective buy in is something we’re going to be looking forward to after the bye.
“I thought on the weekend we had a few signs there that we’re a young team, which probably isn’t good enough for the people we’ve got in our squad. (We had) a few sort of brain snaps out there, some silly penalties (and) some of the defence wasn't as solid as it needed to be through the middle.”
Phipps is a man big in voice but small in stature, so we’ll forgive him if he struggles to relate with Brumbies back and former flanker Nigel Ah-Wong as he talks about having the flexibility to move from the centres into the back row when called upon.
"I think it was Jordy (Smiler) that went down, I think he copped a cut on his head. There I went, slotted into the back row, familiar territory, but I had to ask the boys to show me where to go for a bit," he said. "I wasn't on for long so I try to make the most of the time I was on there. It's not something I practice, but it's something I keep in the back of my mind in case these kind of moments come. Fortunately for me it's happened twice now, so getting a bit more experienced there and the wing as well.
"It helps my case a bit that I can cover a few positions. As long as I'm on the field and slotting in and playing well I'm happy with that."
Ah-Wong packed down in the scrum behind lock Sam Carter, who told his Club’s website that his Wallabies aspirations are well and truly alive.
“That’s my goal,” Carter said. “Whenever you play Rugby you want to play at the highest level. I’ve been there before and I want to be back there this year.”
Carter said tonight’s Force match would be a good test for the Brumbies.
“We’ve obviously got off to a good start,” Carter said. “Now we’ve got three games on the road and it’s really important to get those wins away because if we come back and we’ve got those results in Perth and South Africa then we’ll be shaping well for the season. Our goal is to win away and to win well. Our first game is this weekend in Perth and that’s what we are focusing on.”
Carter was a late call-up for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but fellow lock Luke Jones didn’t make it into Michael Cheika’s squad. He’s since signed to move to France at the end of 2016, however he told Iain Payten that his World Cup snub did not influence his decision to sign with Bordeaux.
“Any player who didn’t make the World Cup would have been upset, but that’s normal,” Jones said. “I would have loved to be there but that’s not the reason why I am leaving. That didn’t make my decision. I thought it was a good opportunity to test myself in the Top 14 while I am young and it suits my small family.
“A lot of young guys are able to do that and still come back and play for the Wallabies. The possibilities are opening up, so I don’t see it as me closing the door on the Wallabies or anything. I see it as a chance to add more strings to my bow.”
Jones said he then plans to return to Australia to give the 2019 World Cup a crack.
“That’s my thought process. Guys are getting recognised for the achievements and growth overseas as well now,” Jones said. “My goal this year is to play as well as I can for the Rebels and get as much success with them this year, and then following that, going to the Top 14 and hopefully growing as a player there as well. That’s exactly why I did a two-year deal. I have full intentions of coming back. That’s exactly where my head is at, at this point in time.”
However, it was the simplicity of Dominique Du Toit’s post that we’re going to run with: Girls you can play this game too!