It’s time again for the Taylors Wines Top 5, where we wrap up the best of Australia’s professional players in the media this week (and also give you a great wine tip courtesy of Taylors)!
It’s the final round of the 2018 Super Rugby regular season, and there’s certainly plenty on the line for all four Aussie teams. The Reds might not be able to play finals this year, but they’ll be looking to finish their campaign with back-to-back wins on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium against the Sunwolves (7:45pm AEST), a team who comprehensively beat them earlier this year in Japan. It also shapes as a final outing in red for Europe-bound duo Jonno Lance and Eto Nabuli, with Kane Douglas and George Smith also being farewelled although not playing.
On Saturday, the Rebels will be looking to make history by qualifying for the finals for the very first time in their eight-year history against the Highlanders in Dunedin (3:15pm). Disappointing defeats in their last two matches means that they must win to secure the spot, no easy feat, but they’ll back themselves to earn a second victory across the ditch this season after earlier defeating the Blues in Auckland.
Finally, to Allianz Stadium on Saturday night (7:45pm), and there’s plenty on the line for the Waratahs and potentially the Brumbies. The Brumbies’ slim finals hopes will remain live if the Rebels don’t win their earlier clash; they’ll still need a bonus point win to overtake the Melbournians, and will need results to go their way in South Africa on Sunday morning when the Sharks host the Jaguares, but they’ve been impressive in the last two weeks and will go into the match determined to have an impact. The Waratahs have already wrapped up the Australian conference, but a win here would see them secure second place on the overall Super Rugby competition ladder, and with it a home Quarter Final, and potential home Semi Final.
As always, Fox Sports will have all the live action for you across the weekend. Click here for full list of Round Nineteen Super Rugby fixtures.
1. Hodge preaches a return to the Rebels’ basics
Defeats to the Waratahs and Reds in the past fortnight have come in quite contrasting fashion for the Melbourne Rebels. Two weeks ago, they lost a shootout to the Waratahs in Melbourne thanks to two late intercept tries, but in a match described by many as the best Aussie conference derby of the year they looked like a team ready to play finals.
Fast forward a week to Suncorp Stadium last Saturday night, and they were tipped by the media to comfortably defeat a young Reds team without a win in months; but nobody told the Reds! Defeat in Brisbane was gutting for the Rebels team, but according to Reece Hodge it’s all about maximising their strengths to win against a Highlanders team coming off two heavy losses of their own.
“We can't shy away from the fact we haven't won the last two games when we really wanted to and put ourselves in such a great position for finals,” he told Rugby.com.au’s Beth Newman.
“Obviously it is disappointing but in reality, we're still in eighth place and if we win this week, we're in the finals. We've got a massive game ahead of us against the Highlanders who'll be wanting to bounce back from the last couple of weeks and they're going to provide a massive test for us at home in Dunedin.
“I think (we) just go back to what works for us and for us, that's not playing with numbers on our backs, I think from 1-15 and 1-23 we've got size and physicality in our team that really gets us going forward of the ball and our attacking game.
“Against the Reds we were probably a bit guilty of trying to push the ball and go wide before we went through them, probably let us down a little bit throughout the middle parts of the game especially. From an attacking perspective, we need to really go through them as much as we can and defensively I think it's been quite good for us the last couple of weeks.”
Click here to read the full story.
2. Jed ‘spear-heading’ ‘Tahs charge to the finals
It’s not your usual pre-match routine, but as he explained to the Daily Telegraph’s Jamie Pandaram, spearfishing on game day has reaped benefits on and off the field for Waratahs forward Jed Holloway. Firstly, his freezer is stocked with fresh crayfish and a variety of other seafood. More importantly, it has sparked a career revival for the 118kg backrower-turned-lock.
“Getting my life sorted away from football, focusing on that, I love to do spearfishing and stuff like that so finding a good balance when I’m away from here and being happy reflects on my game,” Holloway said. “I think it’s starting to show now, at the right time of the year.
“I’ve got a place down in the Royal National Park, and then I also go at Cronulla. I did it before the game on the weekend, Saturday morning, and I do it most days off as well. I get in there as much as possible.
“[I catch] blackfish, drummer, kingfish, a lot of lobsters — got a few waiting for me at home tonight that I’m keen to dig into.”
Holloway has been a highly impressive cog in the Tahs’ forward pack since being shifted into the second row a few weeks ago, and will be a linchpin in their bid to make the Super Rugby grand final.
“The transition has been pretty easy, I played a lot of under-20s there and starting out my first couple of years at Southern Districts I was in the second row,” he said.
“Then I transitioned back to No.8. Obviously with the personnel we’ve got here with Wellsy (No.8 Michael Wells) playing outstanding all year, Will Miller coming into the squad and being great for us, and Ned (Hanigan) playing a bit of Wallabies there (at blindside flanker), a positioned opened there for me and I was more than happy to jump in.”
Click here to read the full story.
3. Brumbies legend hanging up the boots
After 73 games for the Brumbies, as well as stints in Ireland (Munster) and France (Montpelier), 33-year-old centre Andrew Smith is retiring from the Rugby at the end of the season; and with the Brumbies’ finals hopes slim, that may mean as soon as this weekend.
Smith has never taken the easy road during his time in Canberra, competing with Wallaby legends Stirling Mortlock, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Tevita Kuridrani for selection and often having to make do with a place on the bench, but as he told the Canberra Times’ Chris ‘Blocka’ Dutton he wouldn’t change his experience for the world.
“I still had an amazing time,” Smith said. “I've been up against some great players and working with them as well, even when I first came to Canberra. It started with Stirlo, then Adam Ashley-Cooper and now Tevita, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. Three great players who I worked with learnt off, an amazing time.”
Smith has played just six games this year and averages thirteen minutes on the field, but his experience and calmness has helped the Brumbies develop a new generation back line.
“I guess I've sort of been always happy to fill in where I can,” Smith said. “I probably knew this year was going to be my last season when I signed the contract at the end of last year. For me and my family, it's the right time for me to walk away. It hasn't been a big thing, I didn't stand in front of the group and tell them, but if someone asked me what I was doing I was just honest about it.
“I've been around for about eight years now and I've loved every minute I've been a part of it. I feel like I've given my all to Rugby and the Brumbies and it's just my time to go in a new direction. It's been in the back of my mind for a while now. It's just been trying to get the balance right between football and family life. And in the last few weeks I've finalised that decision (that it's time to retire).
“It probably hasn't sunk in at the moment. It will hit me at the end of the season and it's going to be sad to leave. I've made a lot of good mates and have a lot of good memories.
“To be able to start my career in Canberra and finish it here, that's something that's pretty special and something I'm really proud of.”
Click here to read the full story.
4. McNamara praises leaders for getting him back for the Cup
The Rugby Sevens World Cup kicks off in San Francisco next weekend, and one man who has done exceptionally well to be selected is young Aussie Men’s team back Liam McNamara.
Having played only the Paris tournament since returning from twelve months out with a knee reconstruction, McNamara has beaten the odds to secure his spot. Speaking with Rugby.com.au, McNamara said the ability to soak up expertise from some of the Aussie sevens most experienced players while labouring away in rehab made him in a better player.
McNamara, who is highly-rated by coach Tim Walsh for his instinctive skill and ball-playing adventure, says he has come back as a better player after a stroke of fortune saw him joined in the Aussie sevens rehab group by some of the program's biggest stars. Lewis Holland, James Stannard and Jesse Parahi were all among those who spent long periods in team rehab, and McNamara used the chance to watch, learn and listen about how to grow as a footballer.
“There has been a lot of experience in that rehab group at various times,” McNamara said. “It’s been great having Chucky and Lewi around, and having a different perspective. Sort of like a coaching point of view and seeing from a different point of view.
“You learn a lot about the game, so when you get back out there you have a couple of new tricks. You also get to see other people’s strengths when you’re watching (play and train), so when you give them the ball you know their strength. Then when you play you know their strengths, like with Jesse Parahi you know will carry hard and look for an offload. It does help.”
Rehab can be a soul-destroying time for some but McNamara said he'd used the nine-month break to build up his mind and body.
“It was a long journey coming back but I thought of it as a long pre-season before the last two legs of the World Series,” McNamara said. “It was a great learning experience, on and off the field.
“I feel really good. I was lucky to get back out there in London and Paris and tour with the boys. It was really good getting back into it and getting that feel, so it’ll be good to rip in in San Francisco.”
Click here to read the full story.
5. ‘Throbber’ backs round-robin, talks a bit of cauliflower
Waratahs and Wallabies prop Tom Robertson has been in exceptional form this year, not only in Super Rugby but also in all three Tests off the bench against the Irish, with his scrummaging ability, defensive nous and ability to bend the line catching the eye; that unbridled desire has, however, seen him sport a new accessory; the most eye-catching ‘cauliflower’ ear seen in Australian Rugby since Paul Alo-Emile left the Melbourne Rebels at the end of 2014!
Speaking with Georgina Robinson in the Sydney Morning Herald, Robinson revealed that his teammates have taken to naming his ‘angry ear’. Paddy Ryan calls it Little Tommy, Damien Fitzpatrick calls it Claude and Nick Phipps called it Little Buddha.
While a cauliflower is considered a badge of honour among front row forwards, the Test prop revealed it was also painful and high maintenance.
“I've had it drained about 20 times now, pretty much three or four times a week either Mum or the doctor comes and drains it,” he said. “Then I've tried magnets, blu-tac, a paper clip, a lot of stuff.
"It hurts if you're in a maul or a tackle, I'll say that, but that's at training. When you're playing in front of 18,000 people as we were at the weekend, you've got bigger things to worry about.
“I think I'm stuck with it for at least 10 years and then maybe post-retirement I'll get a little plastic surgery done and a few other things fixed up while they're on there.”
Changing topics, and in speaking with the same journalist, ‘Throbber’ has called for Super Rugby to return to the round-robin format that made it the best professional Rugby competition in the world.
Robertson bristled at sentiments from across the ditch that New Zealand's superior teams were disadvantaged by the current three-conference format but agreed that a round-robin system would result in a "much more even" competition.
“That's their point of view but hopefully we just beat them and they can see how that talk goes," he said. "I understand what they're saying but at the same time they do get two or three teams through each year generally and they're generally pretty good teams too.”
“It's probably not my place to say with all the travel - it's pretty expensive to send blokes all around the world - but I'd love to see that [round robin}. You play everyone once, you get one shot unless you play them in the finals. That would make it a lot more even.
“Obviously you get more TV (revenue) and stuff with the derbies and [playing each team] home and away ... but from a playing perspective that's the ideal comp. You play everyone once, pick your top eight going into the finals and that's it. That would be a lot simpler I think.
“If you're a fan you want to see the best teams go through and you want to make it clear what's going on," Robertson said. "I think they're trying to do that but at the moment I don't think it's as clear as it could be.”
And now, for an exclusive tip from our friends at Taylors Wines, and this week learning about how wines age…
The higher quality wines age better than inferior ones because they have more acids, sugars, tannins, minerals, pigments, esters and aldehydes. As wines age, tannin levels diminish and acid levels reduce. In terms of flavour, different wines age in different ways.
For instance, with a Cabernet Sauvignon, the ‘grippy’ effect of the tannin diminishes, the fruit flavours increase while the oak integrates with the wine and balances with the fruit flavours. As wines age, ‘secondary’ flavours emerge like toast, toffee, cashew and bacon, in addition to a maturing of the rich berry flavours. Chardonnays tend to develop flavours like caramel, butterscotch vanilla and cashews, while the acids diminish and oak flavours become less dominant.
Click here to head to the Taylors Wines website (18+ only).