It’s time again for the Taylors Wines Top 5, where we wrap up the best of Australia’s players in the media this week (and give you a great wine tip courtesy of Taylors).
After a tough result in the opening Bledisloe Cup fixture against New Zealand, the Wallabies can try and respond in Auckland on Saturday night. Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa and Jack Maddocks are the inclusions into the starting side, with Maddocks making his first start on the right wing, while Brumbies Folau Fainga’a and Tom Banks are both named to potentially make their Test debut off the bench. Click here to see the Wallabies’ team announcement.
Prior to that match kicking off, the Wallaroos will also be looking to build on a solid performance against the world champion Wallaroos last week, with Vice-Captain and star inside centre Sarah Riordan named to start after missing last week with an ankle injury. Click here to see the Wallaroos’ team announcement.
Both matches will be broadcast live on FOX Sports, with the coverage beginning at 2:45pm (AEST), with Channel Ten, Rugby.com.au radio and Macquarie Sports radio covering the Wallabies Test as well.
The AON Uni7s series also kicks off its second season this weekend in Tasmania, with all games live streamed on RUGBY.com.au from 9:00am. This year, eight teams will compete, with University of Melbourne and University of Sydney joining the eight inaugural competitors in chasing down defending champions University of Queensland. Click here for all the weekend’s AON Uni7s series fixtures.
Last week saw G.P.S. (Queensland Premier Rugby), Tuggeranong Vikings (A.C.T’s John I Dent Cup) and Melbourne Unicorns (Victoria’s Dewar Shield) secure Premierships at Club level, with a number of professional players victorious; congratulations to Esei Haangana, Ben Hyne, Len Ikitau, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Ryan Lonergan Ruan Smith, Darcy Swain and James Tuttle.
The Shute Shield moves to Preliminary Final stage this weekend, with Sydney University Hosting Manly on Saturday (3:00pm, live on 7TWO) and Northern Suburbs hosting Warringah on Sunday (3:00pm, live on 7TWO), while in Western Australia Associates and Kalamunda will compete in the Western Australia Premiership Division Grand Final at 3:30pm (local time) on Sunday, with NRC stars from previous years such as Alex Rovira and Maalonga Konelio likely to be in action.
Finally, with the National Rugby Championship (NRC) kicking off next weekend, teams are stepping up their preparations in earnest. Queensland Country and Brisbane City will contest an opposed training session at G.P.S.’s Yoku Road on Saturday at 3:05pm, with the public welcome to attend and no entry fee, while the Western Force will take on Australian Country Stockmans Rugby at Warnbro Sound Avenue, Port Kennedy, on Saturday at 6pm (local).
The Force have named a strong team featuring a number of their star players from the recently concluded World Series Rugby competition, including Kieran Longbottom, Chris Alcock and Brad Lacey, alongside some local stars, while former Australian Rugby Sevens flier Alex Gibbon features among a Stockmans team led by former Wallabies Nic Henderson, Jimmy Holbeck and Guy Shepherdson.
1. Banks ready to fly on the world stage
If Banks takes the field this weekend, he can almost certainly lay claim to the title of ‘Fastest Wallaby of 2018’, with Sefa Naivalu yet to don the gold jersey this season and the two (to our knowledge) yet to have a showdown over 100 metres.
Speaking with Rugby.com.au’s Sam Phillips, the mentality which makes Banks such a strike weapon was laid perfectly clear as he spoke about being ready to fly on the world stage.
"This is why you play Rugby, these big moments," Banks told Phillips. "And you can't get much bigger than this - this weekend.
"It's something I've been looking forward to for a long time so hopefully I get my opportunity out there."
The Queenslander's scintillating speed is a natural asset which can't be taught - his full-bore approach to footy drawing regular comparisons to former Wallaby No. 15 Chris Latham – and it was a man of the match performance in the Wallabies' Leichhardt Oval trial which provided the stamp of personal validation Banks required to feel ready to fire at the next level.
"Through all the training and the knowledge we've been doing over the last five weeks I feel I've built (in) every situation, built every week, and I've been pushing for this point," he said.
"Now that it's finally here I've got to take it with both hands. There's no bigger stage than trying to prove it here.
"We've got the firepower and we've gone through what we need to do, we just need to go out there and do it. Stop talking and go out and do it."
Click here to read the full story.
2. Jack looking to keep perfect Eden Park record
It’s remarkably similar to his 100% try-scoring record per Wallaby appearance (after he scored Australia’s lone try on his Test debut last Saturday), with Jack Maddocks explaining to The Australian’s Wayne Smith that he has no experience of an Eden Park hoodoo; he’s never lost at the ground!
The Wallabies haven’t won at the All Blacks’ fortress in 32 years, but Maddocks himself has made only one appearance at Eden Park, back on June 2 this year with the Melbourne Rebels, and came away with a 20-10 victory over the Blues in Super Rugby.
“Last week was really disappointing,” Maddocks said. “The monkey on the back sort of thing that everyone seems to be talking about this week at Eden Park … it’s my first experience there if I play in the Test match so I don’t really feel that sort of stuff. It’s a fresh start for me. I won with the Rebels this year, so what hoodoo?”
His personal history was that within a week of joining the Rebels in training in 2016, he was named on the bench for a Super Rugby derby match against the Queensland Reds. That was the season when the Rebels had a crippling injury crisis and there were some rushed selections, but Maddocks simply felt he did not belong there.
“I didn’t get on, which I was actually quite happy about because I would have rather be thrust in when I felt I had earned it and I feel like with the Wallabies that was the case,” he said, referring to his debut off the bench last weekend as a replacement for the injured Israel Folau. “I started (with them) in November last year. So, it felt a bit more satisfying knowing that you’d done the work first.”
Maddocks is delighted with how everything is going, though he is playing both a game and a position he never took all that seriously as a youngster. All through his formative years, it looked as though Maddocks would be a cricketer, and at times he does look back wistfully on his cricket ambitions.
“I did read an article the other day, which was interesting,” he said. “Shane Warne saying that there’s no batting talent coming through … because I was a young batsman five years ago when they were falling out of trees. But no, no regrets. I’m absolutely loving what I’m doing at the moment, having so much fun and coming to cool places like this. And I’m also loving the journey it’s taking, not only me but my friends and my family.”
He still fantasises at times about cricket and in a moment of whimsy volunteered to play in the Big Bash. “I wasn’t being too serious when I said that, but if anyone wants to take me up, I’d love it. It would be ideal. And I’d miss pre-season.”
He is, as well, a reluctant winger. “At the moment I love playing there and I think it’s really good for me, but hopefully by the time I’m 25, 26, I’ll be back at fullback.”
Click here to read the full story.
3. Riordan returns
As we mentioned earlier, inside centre Sarah Riordan returns to the Wallaroos side on Saturday looking to have an immediate impact after missing the first home Test in eight years at ANZ Stadium last week.
Riordan was a late withdrawal from the Wallaroos team in Sydney last week after rolling her ankle in training just three days out from the Test. The return of vice-captain Riordan is a major boost for the team, and she is the only change to the side in Auckland.
The centre has worked overtime to shake off that setback and the Queenslander will replace Crystal Maguire in the starting lineup, and speaking to Beth Newman from Rugby.com.au she said she was all set to have an impact.
"First off, I thought it was a sprain and just something I could shake off within a day but once the scans came in it hit pretty hard," she said.
"Knowing that there was another opportunity being this weekend (my approach) was just (to) stick my head down and get in to do rehab.
"I tried to stay within the team as much as I could and still help lead the girls as much as I could coming from the sideline but the girls did well without myself out there.
"I'm just keen to get back out there this weekend."
Click here to read the full story.
4. New prop pairing familiar to one another
With Sekope Kepu and Tom Robertson shifting to the bench, and Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa replacing them as the two starting props, it’s time to get acquainted with two different faces in the front row. The good news, however, is that they are of course very familiar with one another, not just from playing together at the Brumbies but also from their close upbringing.
Almost three decades ago the boys' fathers, David Sio and Vili Alaalatoa, made Rugby history as part of the Western Samoa team that beat Wales 16-13 on the way to the 1991 World Cup quarter-finals. It was one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
"We grew up together, very close family friends. Mikey, [Alaalatoa's] older brother, is my age, and Patrick, my younger brother is [Allan's] age, so we played all our junior Rugby together," Sio told Georgina Robinson in the Sydney Morning Herald.
"It's a pretty unreal experience for us to be able to link up at Test level. For our fathers to do that for Samoa and for us to do that for the Wallabies, that's a huge achievement for both of our families."
Sio's return to the front row is a huge boost for Australia at scrum time, while Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said Alaalatoa's performance off the bench last week earned him a start over veteran Sekope Kepu.
"It wasn't a surprise that New Zealand's scrum turned up (last week). It's been doing that for years," the Sydney-raised Brumbies prop said. "For us it's about moving on from whatever the problem was on the field. Unfortunately, I wasn't out there so I don't quite know what was happening in there. It's easy to watch and say things from the sideline but until you get to talk to the boys that are out there in the thick of it, it's hard to nail down the problem.
"We understand that NZ are a quality side, they have been for a long time, so we need to be better as a pack when we move forward this week. It's a big opportunity for us this week."
Alaalatoa is the less experienced of the pair, making his 24th appearance for Australia this week and only his seventh start. Sio will play his 47th Test in the gold jersey and, technical proficiency aside, will no doubt help calm the horses if the Wallabies scrum finds itself at the wrong end of the referee's whistle.
"Watching the game, you understand how important each scrum is and one of the things we talked about is having the ability to keep problem solving as a pack on the field there," he said.
"Keep isolating each scrum for what it is and keep understanding what we didn't get right on the last one and moving forward. I think that was probably the thing that we lacked a bit and it's something that we've tried to work on as much as we can with conversations we've had this week."
Click here to read the full story.
5. Isi thrilled to link up again with Wessels
With the NRC kicking off next week, there’s already been a few players settling into new Clubs. That includes boom backrower Isi Naisarani, who having signed for the Melbourne Rebels will represent the Melbourne Rising after moving down from Canberra.
Speaking on the Melbourne Rebels’ website on his first day of training, the 23-year-old says he’s rapt to join the Rebels and link up with former Head Coach Dave Wessels, who coached the Fijian during his stint at the Western Force in 2017.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity and to be working with Dave,” Naisarani said.
“He’s an experienced coach and he’s been part of my Rugby journey at the Force and I’m looking forward to working with him and the other staff.
“In my first season of Super Rugby he coached me (and) he impressed me with his coaching, which was very professional.”
An exciting proposition for Australian Rugby fans is Naisarani’s impending eligibility to represent the Qantas Wallabies from April 2019. After spending time training with the national team in Sydney recently, Naisarani says one of his goals is to continue his development in readiness for Wallabies selection.
“I was with them two weeks ago; it was a great experience for me to be a part of the Wallabies squad,” he said. “I learnt a lot when I was with them. Cheik’ (Michael Cheika) when he spoke to me about next year, told me to do what you normally do.”
“(One of my) main goals is to be a part of the Wallabies squad next year. I think I’m a step closer to that. I think there’s a few other things I need to work on for next year, and by then I’ll be ready to go.”
First and foremost, Naisarani will turn his attention to securing a position in one of the Rebels’ back row spots. It won’t be an easy task for the former Brumbies player, given the quality which the Rebels already possess in their defensive half,
“I’m looking forward to playing alongside Dickie (Richard) Hardwick and Angus Cottrell,” Naisarani said.
“They are good players and spots will be competitive, but I’m ready for the challenge.”
Click here to read the full story.
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re talking about Riesling…
Like most of the great grape varieties Riesling is adaptable. Just consider the climatic difference between Germany, Austria and Alsace – it’s ancestral homes - and the Clare Valley, the Eden Valley and Mount Barker in Western Australia - it's three prime spots in Australia. Riesling is arguably Australians greatest white wine in the cellar!