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 with our weekly wrap, the Taylors Wines Top 5, brought to you by our good friends at Taylors Wines (and accompanied by a handy wine tip every edition).
Super Rugby kicked off last weekend, with the Melbourne Rebels toppling the Brumbies in Canberra and the NSW Waratahs falling agonisingly short against the Hurricanes at a sold-out Brookvale Oval, and this week sees the second Buildcorp Super W season kick off as well.
The Rebels are forced back into training mode with a Round Two bye in Super Rugby this week, but the Queensland Reds get the opportunity to begin their season as they travel to Dunedin to take on the Highlanders (Friday, 5:35pm AEDT). The Waratahs are in Tokyo against the Sunwolves (Saturday, 3:15pm) and the Brumbies host the Chiefs in Canberra (Saturday 7:45pm).
Check out all of the Australian team selection news at the end of this article, and make sure that if you can’t get there to cheer on your team in person, you know exactly when to lock your television to Fox Sports’ outstanding coverage of the game, or to fire up your Kayo Sports app.
1. Debutant Gibbon reflects on his journey
Melbourne Rebels replacement front-rower Matt Gibbon was one of four Aussie players to make their Super Rugby debuts last week, alongside NSW Waratahs Rory O’Connor, Lachlan Swinton and Chris Talakai. Gibbon, the brother of former Australian Rugby Sevens and Queensland Reds star Alex, became Rebel #139 in the process, his selection a reward for consistently strong seasons for Shute Shield side Southern Districts.
A quietly spoken and humble individual, Gibbon was initially part of a large group of Club and NRC players who were invited to take part in the Super Rugby preseason program with non-wallabies listed Rebels. While thrilled at the idea of being a part of a professional rugby program, Gibbon says he only thought of the opportunity to train with the Rebels as a chance to better his game.
“This is my first time being properly in this sort of environment,” Gibbon told the Melbourne Rebels’ official website. “Coming down here into the Development Squad, I haven’t had that chance anywhere else because I’ve had a few niggles and shoulder reconstructions. I didn’t think much of it, I was thinking about becoming a better player and if they keep pulling me through then so be it.
“I thought if they’re going make me a better player, then I’m going to try and be it.”
However, things quickly changed for the 23-year-old when his form during training caught the eye of a number of Rebels coaching staff. While working closely with Forwards Coaches Geoff Parling and Nic Henderson (both former players), Gibbon was continually given positive feedback from both Assistants before the end of his short-term deal drew nigh
“I went to Nick Ryan about one week before the end of my RDS contract ending and I said, ‘hey mate, when are you going to book my flights to go back home?’,” Gibbon said. “He said,’ mate I don’t mean to blindside you but they’re thinking about keeping you down here’.
However, the positive news didn’t stop for Gibbon, who catapulted himself to selection in the Rebel’s match day 23 against the Brumbies. And the news was something which made Gibbon feel that all of his hard work had finally come to fruition and the announcement even brought a tear to the eye of one of his dearest relatives.
“When Dave Wessels named the team last week, I was like wow this is actually happening here,” he said. “After that, I was lost for words really. All my tough work had paid off. I called my grandma and she was crying straight away, because I live with them and everyone was ecstatic. I called my brother who’s my closest mate, and he was so chuffed for me.”
2. Lukhan’s new name on everybody’s lips
2018 was an incredibly tough year for Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, the Queensland Reds and Wallabies forward formerly known as Lukhan Tui. The sudden death of his father last September, and subsequent shameful situation a week later where a heckling spectator spewed expletive-laden taunts at him following the Wallabies’ Gold Coast Test defeat against Argentina and in the presence of his young sister, led to him stepping away from the Wallabies’ Spring Tour and focusing on preparing to return to Rugby in 2019.
That return came with a new name, changing his surname was to honour his late father (Salakaia) and his birth father, with an abbreviation (Loto), and he explained to the Courier Mail’s Jim Tucker just how much it means to him ahead of the Reds’ first match of the season.
“It’s something I carry with me every day for the people I represent...my family, where we come from and the struggles we’ve been through,” he said. “To see my new last name printed online or in a Reds’ match program means so much it is right up there with my Wallabies debut. “I have six siblings from both sides of my family, I represent them all and they can see that’s their big brother who is guiding them.”
Salakaia-Loto, 22, wants to keep his personal life private yet gave an inkling at what a force it is when he plays the game.
“Looking after my family was the best decision to make, the only right decision to make,” Salakaia-Loto said. “I’ve always been one to have my priorities sorted and everything else takes a backseat to family. You go through tough times like this you build strength and I’ve kinda found a peace. My family is the reason I’ve been training harder every day and I get to express that out on the field. ’Run hard, hit hard, do my job’...that’s my simple plan outside the technical stuff.”
3. Rocketing into the abbreviated form
Wallaby No. 851 Rod Davies, a Super Rugby winner with the Queensland Reds in 2011 and now with the Western Force following time in both France and Japan, is a surprise call up into the Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens squad and is now aiming to debut in the Vancouver leg of the World Rugby Sevens series later this month.
The winger, one of the fastest players in Australian rugby and nicknamed ‘rocket’, has been training with the Rugby Sevens squad for the past two weeks after getting a call from coach and former Queensland teammate Tim Walsh. Davies was due to tour with the 2009 sevens squad but was called into the Reds side and has not played the shorter game since. Davies will have a final “trial” playing for Gordon in the Kiama sevens tournament this weekend.
“He hit me up to see what I was doing and with the Force games being delayed there was a bit of a gap to have a go,” Davies told The West Australian’s Nick Taylor. “I thought I’d give it a go and see if I’ve still got it.
“I felt like a rookie again, like I had to earn my stripes. I’ve been playing professional Rugby since 2009 so I’ve had to adapt and learn to things. It’s a different game but there are skills that I can transfer, and I think I’ve got something to offer even though I’m turning 30 next birthday. There are things I have had to work on, but it has been enjoyable. Training is a different beast.
“Vancouver would be a realistic goal. To put the Australian jersey on would be great. It would be awesome to get a tournament in before we nail down the Force. It could lead to could be bigger and better things with sevens down the track but I’m not getting ahead of myself.”
4. Distance no barrier for Brumbies Super W players
Growing up next door to an ex-Wallaby, Emily McDonald’s fate as a footballer was probably sealed before she even knew it. The teenage Orange Emus and NSW Country playmaker has been selected in the Brumbies Super W squad ahead of the competition’s second season in 2019 and, if she achieves her ultimate goal of playing for Australia, Classic Wallaby and former Balmain Tiger James Grant will be more than partially responsible.
“I remember as a little kid, going over to Jimmy’s with his son Jack, and playing footy in the back yard or going out on the road and kicking up and down,” McDonald told RUGBY.com.au’s Stu Walmsley. “He was probably coaching me and I didn’t even realise it.”
There’s not much traffic in Bilton Place, making it perfect for street footy, but 19-year-old McDonald has become a highway warrior over the past three months as she balances an apprenticeship in Parkes with home life in Orange and six-hour round trips to Canberra for Brumbies training. Thankfully, Emus teammate Jacky Lyden is on a similar journey, and their families, club and community are firmly behind their quest to make a mark on the national stage.
“We’re so knackered after training, we eat our dinner while they’re driving, and then we fall asleep for most of the way home,” McDonald says.
Orange City legend Grant, who played four Tests for Australia in 1988 before switching to league, holds skills sessions every Monday night with the pair, and the trio have played touch football together since 2015.
“Jacky had never played rugby before, and we were just chatting about a few subtleties of the game, and I said; ‘well, let’s just go and have a run around down the park’,” 54-year-old Grant says. “They love their training, they’re passionate about what they’re doing, and they’re really keen to learn.
“I think the coach just had to pick them because they were working their butts off - and the commitment they were showing, you’d think if they show that sort of commitment on the field, you’re going to have a great player.”
But this scenario isn’t unique to Orange - the final 30-player Brumbies squad for the second Super W season has a strong regional flavour - and is much more representative of the franchise’s catchment area than the Super Rugby men…
5. Berry re-establishing himself on world stage
Former Queensland Reds ad Australian Under 21s scrumhalf Nic Berry didn’t imagine this would happen; that he’d be refereeing, as a career, and making genuine waves.
After hanging up the boots earlier than anticipated as a result of multiple concussions while playing in the English Premierships with Wasps, Nic began teaching back in Brisbane.
Just as New Zealand were turning former Chiefs flyhalf Glenn Jackson into an elite referee, Rugby Australia referee manager Andrew Cole was searching for ex-players to make the switch in a “talent transfer pathway”.
"Coley chased me down and said: 'listen mate, we think you’d be a good referee',” Berry told RUGBY.com.au’s Iain Payten. "I said “thanks but no thanks”. It took them a good six to nine months before they got me. Coley was really persistent with it.
"You grow up with a mentality of sort of “us versus them”. You didn’t think they loved the game as passionately as you did, as a player. But I think, now, a lot of refs love the game more. As a ref, you turn up and you’re on hiding to nothing. People are going to abuse you, and you don’t have that big a team camaraderie as you do as a player, which often keeps you going - that banter. A ref doesn’t get that as much. So you really, really have to love the game because there are not a lot of frills that go with the job, mate."
Berry relented to Cole's persistence, did some junior games in Brisbane and enjoyed it. The rest is history. With intense education, training and testing fast-track appointments, Berry moved up quickly. In 2015 he began doing club rugby, reffed NRC at the end of the year and by 2016 was in the Aussie ranks for Super Rugby. Berry handled the 2017 Under 20s World Championship final in Georgia, ran the line in the Rugby Championships and in late 2017 even refereed a Test match between Scotland and Samoa. It turned out Cole had good eye. Berry was, naturally, a very good referee.
“Being a halfback probably helped the transition, because I’d be around that breakdown for so long. You’re used to making quick decisions on the spot,” he said. "One of the things I had to work on is signalling and my communication, because I would be barking at the players like I used to as a player. And I needed to remember I am a referee now, and I am refereeing not just for the players but for the wider public and the people watching at home.”
Berry admits he was apprehensive about the response of his old teammates when he first refereed them on the field, where his name was now “sir”.
"A few mates had a sly chop and joked they were doing to wipe me off their phones and so on, but it was all good,” he said. "The guys were great. They were awesome. They were overwhelmingly positive actually, about an ex-player being out there in the middle.”
Since taking up a whistle, he has relied heavily on set-piece tuition of former Reds and Waratahs lock Mitch Chapman, who is the Rugby Australia referees’ coach. Prepare well and be confident in your call at all times, Chapman tells him.
When Six Nations match official appointments were released last week, Berry had won two of the prized gigs: France v Scotland at Stade de France, and England v Italy at Twickenham. From a “tradesman” halfback to a reluctant referee who has already risen to the ranks of the world’s best young talents, Berry has come a long way in a short time.
"I never got to experience Test rugby as a player and I always said as a player I would have given it all up for just one Test,” Berry said. "If someone said you’ll play one game for the Wallabies but then never play again, I would have done that. Because it is something no-one could ever take away from you.
"I never achieved that as a player, and realistically I never expected to, but the dream of playing Test rugby is something that drives you at that stage. And I guess as a referee I have surpassed anything I achieved as a player. I am proud of that."
Super Rugby Team News:
Queensland Reds (vs. Highlanders, 5:35pm Friday)
1. Feao Fotuaika, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Izack Rodda, 5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Liam Wright, 8. Caleb Timu, 9. Moses Sorovi, 10. Hamish Stewart, 11. Sefanaia Naivalu, 12. Samu Kerevi (C), 13. Jordan Petaia, 14. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 15. Bryce Hegarty.
Reserves: 16. Alex Mafi, 17. Harry Hoopert, 18. Ruan Smith, 19. Harry Hockings, 20. Fraser McReight, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. Duncan Paia’aua, 23. Isaac Lucas
NSW Waratahs (vs. Sunwolves, 3:15pm Saturday)
1. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Jed Holloway, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Ned Hanigan, 7. Michael Hooper (C), 8. Jack Dempsey, 9. Jake Gordon, 10. Bernard Foley, 11. Curtis Rona, 12. Kurtley Beale, 13. Karmichael Hunt, 14. Alex Newsome, 15. Israel Folau.
Reserves: 16. Tolu Latu, 17. Rory O’Connor, 18. Chris Talakai, 19. Lachlan Swinton, 20. Will Miller, 21. Mitch Short, 22. Mack Mason, 23. Cam Clark/Adam Ashley-Cooper
Brumbies (vs. Chiefs, 7:45pm Saturday)
1. James Slipper, 2. Folau Fainga’a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Rory Arnold, 5. Sam Carter, 6. Rob Valetini, 7. Tom Cusack, 8. Lachlan McCaffrey, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Christian Lealiifano (C), 11. Andy Muirhead, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Chance Peni, 15. Tom Banks.
Reserves: 16. Josh Mann-Rea, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19. Blake Enever, 20. Peter Samu, 21. Matt Lucas, 22. Wharenui Hawera, 23. Tom Wright
Buildcorp Super W Team News:
Brumbies (vs. NSW, 5:00pm Saturday):
1. Anna Korovata, 2. Louise Burrows, 3. Peta Cox, 4. Emily Sogal, 5. Shellie Milward, 6. Michaela Leonard, 7. Georgia O’Neill, 8. Tayla Stanford, 9. Jane Garrawy, 10. Carly Hill, 11. Brooke Gilroy, 12. Sammie Wood, 13. Michelle Perry, 14. Ngawai Eyles, 15. Rachael Crothers
Reserves: 16. Harriet Elleman, 17. Stefanie Stewart-Jones, 18. Violeta Tupuola, 19. Grace Kemp, 20. Sharyn Laws, 21. Irene Macarthur, 22. Remi Wilton, 23. Claudia Obst
The Brumbies host NSW in Round One of the 2019 Super W season (Saturday, 5:00pm, Canberra Stadium), as part of a double-header before the Super Rugby clash between the Brumbies and Chiefs. Early-bird General Admission tickets are available for purchase at the gate on matchday for only $5. This offer is only available from 4.50pm-5.45pm and includes entry into the Super Rugby match between the Plus500 Brumbies and Chiefs at 7.45pm. This offer is not available online.
1. Emily Robinson, 2. Tasmin Sheppard, 3. Evelyn Horomia, 4. Ana-Lise Sio, 5. Sera Naiqama, 6. Alexandra Sulusi, 7. Emily Chancellor, 8. Grace Hamilton, 9. Ilivesa Batibasaga, 10. Chloe Leaupepe, 11. Shanice Parker, 12. Ashleigh Hewson, 13. Katrina Barker, 14. Maya Stewart, 15. Mahalia Murphy
Reserves: 16. Matalena Wilson, 17. Loretta Mailangi, 18. Asoiva Karpani, 19. Noella Green, 20. Pareake O’Brien, 21. Arabella McKenzie, 22. Crystal Maguire, 23. Kirrily Laws
Melbourne Rebels (vs. Queensland, 3:00pm Sunday):
1. Liz Patu, 2. Averyl Mitchell, 3. Christina Sekona, 4. Alisha Hewett, 5. Saxon Campbell, 6. Millie Boyle, 7. Eilidh Sinclair, 8. Shannon Mato, 9. Cobie-Jane Morgan, 10. Lavinia Gould 11. Ivania Wong, 12. Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea, 13. Cecilia Smith, 14. Alana Elisaia, 15. Lori Cramer
Reserves: 16. Ivy Kaleta, 17. Ana Fotu, 18. Hana Ngaha, 19. Vetekina Aho-Fangaloka, 20. Kiri Lingman, 21. Asaka Ono, 22. Eseta Aho-Fangaloka, 23. Samantha Treherne
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!