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).
The Wallabies are back in action this weekend, taking on New Zealand in Yokohama as preparations ramp up ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
They’ll have to do it without the injured Reece Hodge and Angus Cottrell, who were both ruled out of the squad late last week, however there are two potential debutants in the squad; Jed Holloway and Jake Gordon. Jack Dempsey, Samu Kerevi and Pete Samu also return from injury to the squad, while Sekope Kepu will play his 100th Test for the Wallabies if selected, becoming just the ninth player and the first prop to reach that mark.
The match will be broadcast LIVE on FOX Sports 503 and Network 10 from 4:50pm (AEDT) Saturday afternoon.
The National Rugby Championship (NRC) culminates this weekend, with the Fijian Drua hosting Queensland Country in the final in Lautoka. The Drua have been excellent in 2018, finishing the season with the Minor Premiership and the Horan-Little Shield, with halves duo Frank Lomani and Alivereti Veitokani leading the way.
Country, however, are no slouches and comprehensively beat the Drua back in Round Three on home turf. James Slipper will be playing his last game in Queensland before re-locating to Canberra to join the Brumbies, and he will be determined to help a young side led by Duncan Paia’aua, Jordan Petaia and Hamish Stewart to back-to-back titles – coverage LIVE on FOX Sports 503 from 2:15pm (AEDT), Saturday.
Last Friday saw David Pocock win his second John Eales Medal at the Rugby Australia Awards, while Taniela Tupou, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ben O’Donnell, Shanice Parker, Emily Chancellor, Evania Pelite and Fraser McReight were among the other players to win individual awards. Congratulations to them, and all other Award winners, as well as the three newest members of the Hall of Fame; Phil Kearns, Tim Gavin and Eddie Bonis.
Click here for the full list of winners.
Finally, congratulations to the Griffith University side, who secured the second-ever Aon Uni 7s series on the weekend – a wonderful achievement!
1. Pocock sabbatical justified
Everybody had an opinion on whether David Pocock should have been granted a sabbatical from Australian Rugby in 2017, with the superstar backrower using the year to do environmental work in Africa, study in the United States, play Rugby in Japan and spend more time with his family.
After his stunning victory in the John Eales Medal on Friday night, however, former Wallaby David Wilson says he has answered any of his critics by playing his best Rugby in nearly a decade (and possibly his career).
Speaking with the Canberra Times’ Eamonn Tiernan, Wilson said that he also believes Pocock has been able to extend his career as a result.
“At the time there were question marks over his sabbatical but it's rejuvenated him and he's come back better than ever," Wilson said.
“He's had some injuries he had to cope with and to his credit he has overcome them and refocused and now consistently proven he's the best player in that Wallabies squad. He has certainly set the benchmark now for openside breakaways in world rugby, he’s had a tremendous year and when he was injured and didn’t play it had a big impact on the team.
“He just adds another dimension when he plays and has an impact right from the start of the game. We saw how the All Blacks had to really target him this year because they knew he’s such a threat on the ball.
“They started to attack his neck and twist his head to get him off because he’s just so strong. He’s a great athlete and fit and strong and knows the game so well.”
Pocock said his African crusade also rammed home the importance of work-life balance.
“You get a taste of things outside of rugby,” he said. “When you're 18, 19, 20, your whole life is about rugby.
“And then the further into your career you get, the more you realise that you have to have the ability to actually be a hundred per cent focused on rugby and then try and clear your head away from it, which is easier said than done.
“I met a few people who are really good at balancing things, which is something that's important. There's some real characters that seem to be able to, when the world's falling to pieces around them, who could be totally immersed in that and doing their best and then having a good laugh.
“They take their work very seriously but not themselves. I've tried to bring that in about how I am around the team.”
Click here to read the full story.
2. Dempsey gets help from an unexpected place
On the cusp of a Test return almost a year since a nasty hamstring tear turned his world upside down, abrasive backrower Jack Dempsey has explained that a voicemail from John Eales helped him through some of the tough times of his recovery.
Speaking with Georgina Robinson in the Sydney Morning Herald, Dempsey explained how unexpected the call actually was.
“[He] found my number somehow and got in contact with me and shared some words of wisdom and gave me confidence in terms of working hard throughout this rehab to get back,” Dempsey said.
“He talked about his own experiences with injuries and just the mindset about how 'you might feel forgotten, but we’re all hoping that you get back and you get strong'. I think it just shows his leadership… he’s one of the greatest players, and probably the greatest captain we’ve ever seen.
“When I read the voicemail that it was him calling I thought it was a bit of a joke, so I called him back and it was him. Obviously, I was in a pretty dark space then, he helped me get through that. It’s a credit to him, staying in touch with the players and showing full confidence in the Wallabies. I owe a lot to him.”
Eales said he reached out because he'd been watching Dempsey's rise through the ranks in his break-out season.
“I had been so impressed with how he had progressed with his play and disappointed for him to be injured just as he had broken through,” the Wallabies great told Fairfax Media. “I'm thrilled to see him back, he's an impressive young man.”
Click here to read the full story.
3. Duncan looking to go back to back
Duncan Paia’aua led his Queensland Country side to the 2017 National Rugby Championship with victory in the final against the Vikings, and now he is looking to go back to back this weekend against the Drua.
Paia’aua has played five seasons in the NRC, going from making one appearance off the bench in the inaugural 2014 campaign to scoring over 100 points across the past four years, and he scored two tries in last year’s final. Teammate Filipo Daugunu went one better in that decider, scoring a hat-trick, and after notching another three in 2018 Duncan has continued to take great comfort in seeing opposition teams clear the ball in Filipo Daugunu's direction.
Speaking to Rugby.com.au’s Sam Phillips, Paia’aua said that “it's awesome having someone like Filipo in the team.
“He's one of those guys that you just want to give the ball to and let him do his thing. Every time teams kick at him we are cheering. We just know he is going to do something crazy.
“Sometimes when the boys kick it back to him a few of the boys are already there waiting for him to make a break.”
English isn't Daugunu's first language and that has made communication on field even more of a premium for Country. It takes little more than a wink and a nod for Paia’aua to know when and where Daugunu wants the ball.
“We've got certain words when he wants something," Paia’aua said. “If he wants a kick or a pass we know how to tell each other. We really understand each other's game having played with Country all last year, the Reds and then back to Country.
“With the skill set he has I think he can dominate any competition in the world.”
Being Captain means you have a fair bit of media responsibility, and Duncan was also speaking to Phillips’ colleague Beth Newman ahead of the final.
“It’s going to be a very big crowd over there and they're going to have a lot of support base behind them but the boys did the job against them over there last year (winning 24-17) and hopefully we can take some confidence into that.
“A lot of the core players stayed together this year, with some new additions that have been really good for us. (Head Coach Ron Seib) Seiby's done a very great job, he's really given the reins to the leadership group and us driving the team, to make sure that we have a say in what happens and he's been really good for us.”
Click here to read the full story with Sam Phillips.
4. Will believes Quade can bring a title to the Rebels
The Melbourne Rebels have confirmed the signing of Quade Cooper for the 2019 season, with the superstar flyhalf confirming the news on his Instagram channel in a typically creative fashion, and scrumhalf Will Genia is looking forward to reigniting the combination which took the Reds to the 2011 Super Rugby title.
Speaking with Fox Sports’ Christy Doran, Genia said that while Cooper’s exuberant play didn’t always pay off, he could prove to be the difference for the Rebels in 2019, particularly given Wallabies playmaker Matt Toomua won’t arrive at the club from Leicester until the end of the Super Rugby season.
“The guy is a special player and he’s got some strengths that no other player has in the world,” Genia said.
“Some of the things (criticism of play) he brings onto himself, I’m not going to lie. But I think the majority of it is a bit unfair, that bandwagon mentality of people saying: ‘I’m going to spray him as well.’ I know he’s going to have a huge impact on the group and he’ll definitely give us an opportunity to win the comp.”
Cooper was frozen out by the Reds in 2018 and forced to move from the only Australian Club he has ever played for, however he admirably turned a tough year into a positive by starring for Brisbane Club side Souths in 2018.
“I have got sympathy for him (having to leave) because he loves that place, as I do,” Genia said.
“We were there a long, long time from tough times to building to success, obviously always emotional attachment, I just think the best thing for him is to get back to playing at this level just because he has so much to offer.
“If he can do that and find some consistency in his performance, I think he’ll find some solace in that rather than playing for Souths, as much as he would have enjoyed it, he deserves to be at this level and probably owes it to himself as well.”
Click here to read the full story.
5. Samu’s Bryon Bay ‘holiday’ preps him for the World Champions
When most people think of a weekend in Byron Bay, they think of lying on the beach, possibly a lit yoga, some fish and chips and a quiet Stone & Wood or two at the Beach Hotel – hardly the ideal preparation for taking on the All Blacks a week later after a long injury layoff!
Fortunately for Samu Kerevi, his trip to the idyllic hotspot last weekend was a little bit tougher than that as he used the Byron Bay Sevens tournament to gain some much-needed match fitness before joining up with his Wallabies teammates to fly to Japan on Sunday.
Speaking to Jim Tucker in the Courier Mail, Kerevi said that he was likely to come off the bench this weekend.
“I’ll back myself to play a solid 30 minutes and see where I go from there if the legs keep going over,” an upbeat Kerevi said in showery Tokyo on Tuesday. “It was awesome just to be back playing some footy and seeing how the injury would feel under pressure because it wasn’t just about the match fitness. If I hadn’t tested it out on the weekend, I wouldn’t be putting my hand up for selection this week.
“Playing that Byron Bay Sevens was really important for me to get that confidence back and just that happiness in playing footy because I play better happy. I was lucky enough to get two tries, they were 50m out and these young cats kind of chased me down so I had to put on the gas and really stride out.”
Kerevi also spoke about his good mate Lukhan Tui, who recently announced he would take the rest of the season off to support his family after the tragic passing of his father last month.
“I’m real close with him and I was spending time with him doing the fitness and the gym because he wants to keep the body ticking over,” Kerevi said. “I see a lot of change in him. It’s a really sad situation but he has grown as a person because he has that major role in the family.
“The most positive thing that has come out of it is him and the maturity that’s going to benefit him. I feel like he is going to be an awesome leader for the Queensland Reds and even at the Wallabies he already has that aura about him.
“He misses footy but his priority is family...his little brother needs him and his little sisters need him. He is really hungry for next year. Every time I talk to him he just wants to win a Super Rugby title right now. After that is Wallabies duties and that’s a good thing to hear from your lock or No.6.”
Click here to read the full story.
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week we’re teaching you about Chardonnay...
Chardonnay is the most popular and most planted white grape variety in the wine world and for good reason!
It grows well in the vineyard, it crops well, maintains its character in a variety of climates and is relatively easy to make into good wine. Chardonnay excels most in cooler climates...