Round Seven of the Super Rugby season sees two conference derbies taking place that could have massive ramifications for finals aspirations, while the Brumbies have the bye.
The NSW Waratahs kick things off against the Sunwolves on Friday night (7:45pm AEDT) in Newcastle. It's their first ever game in the city, and they'll be acutely aware of the challenge presented by their Tokyo-based opponents, having beaten them by just one point in Japan earlier this season.
The second conference derby sees the in-form Queensland Reds looking to make it three in a row against the Melbourne Rebels (Saturday 7:45pm) at Suncorp Stadium, with title-winning former Reds Will Genia and Quade Cooper looking to steer their team to a fourth victory of the campaign.
Global Rapid Rugby action kicked off last week in Perth as the Western Force defeated Robbie Deans' World XV, and they'll again fire up on Friday night against Hong Kong's South China Tigers; you can see the action LIVE nation-wide on SBS Viceland from 10:30pm (AEDT).
Finally, we've moved into the sudden death phase of the Buildcorp Super W season, with Queensland hosting Brumbies on Sunday afternoon (3:15pm AEDT, live on FOX Sports 507) as each side looks to secure a place in next weekend's final against NSW in Sydney.
As always, we’ll 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).
We’ll also bring you all of the Australian Super Rugby team selection news, and fixture information, to make sure that if you can’t get there 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.
So, with all that said, let’s get into it – Super Rugby, Round Seven.
NSW Waratahs vs. Sunwolves
NSW Waratahs: 1. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Ned Hanigan, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Lachlan Swinton, 7. Michael Hooper (C), 8. Michael Wells, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Mack Mason, 11. Alex Newsome, 12. Kurtley Beale, 13. Karmichael Hunt, 14. Cam Clark, 15. Israel Folau.
Reserves 16. Andrew Tuala, 17. Rory O'Connor, 18. Chris Talakai, 19. Ryan McCauley, Tom Staniforth, 21. Jake Gordon, 22. Lalakai Foketi, 23. John Folau.
Queensland Reds vs. Melbourne Rebels
Queensland Reds: 1. JP Smith, 2. Alex Mafi, 3. Ruan Smith, 4. Izack Rodda, 5. Lukhan Salakai-Loto, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Liam Wright, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. Bryce Hegarty, 11. Sefa Naivalu, 12. Samu Kerevi (C), 13. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 14. Filipo Daugunu, 15. Hamish Stewart.
Reserves: 16. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17. Harry Hoopert, 18. Taniela Tupou, 19. Harry Hockings, 20. Fraser McReight, 21. Moses Sorovi, 22. Duncan Paia'aua, 23. Isaac Lucas.
Melbourne Rebels: 1. Tetera Faulkner, 2. Anaru Rangi, 3. Sam Talakai, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Adam Coleman, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Angus Cottrell (C), 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. Will Genia, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Billy Meakes, 13. Tom English, 14. Jack Maddocks, 15. Reece Hodge.
Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Matt Gibbon, 18. Jermaine Ainsley, 19. Esei Ha'angana, 20. Rob Leota, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Campbell Magnay, 23. Sione Tuipulotu
1. Local lad returns home
Proud Novocastrian and Wanderers junior Harry Johnson-Holmes has been a standout performer for the NSW Waratahs this season, stepping into a starting role in just his second Super Rugby campaign following a serious knee injury to fellow loosehead Tom Robertson, and tonight sees him get to play in front of friends and family in his home city!
Speaking with James Gardiner in the Newcastle Herald, Harry paid tribute to his junior Club and a fellow Hunter product who helped pave the way for him a couple of decades ago - Stu Pinkerton.
"I have a strong connection and sense of gratitude toward the Wanderers Club," Johnson-Holmes said. "They give every kid an opportunity to achieve their dreams. There are so many great people involved in the Club. Someone like Darren Young, who coached me through juniors and went on to coach first grade, encapsulates what Newcastle is all about. He wants nothing more than to give back to a Club which has given him so much.
"I really appreciate every time (Pinkerton) reaches out to me. It is usually at big moments. I got one before the Shute Shield grand final, around my debut, the semi-final last year for the Waratahs. It's really humbling. I am a drop in the ocean compared to what Pinko has achieved in Rugby."
'H' has helped steer the Tahs to the top of the Australian conference, and is enjoying the greater responsibility that comes with being involved from the opening minute.
"Last year, coming off the bench, you try and have an impact on the game in a small period of time. It is almost a different style of Rugby. You assess your game on whether you get a turnover or a line break. Having the chance to start and get regular minutes, you can focus on getting the little things right and doing your job within the team. That has helped me get my head around being the NSW Waratahs starting loosehead.
"Last year was a good learning curve, but a lot of the time I was coming up against the opposition's second-string tighthead prop. I probably had a false sense of security about where I was actually at around scrum time. It has been a big focus to make sure my set piece is right. If I can do my job at the set piece, the stuff around the paddock will come. I have had a lot of help. Sekope Kepu has been really good and Tatafu Polota-Nau was unreal during his [loan] stint at the Tahs."
2. Crazy period coming up for Phipps!
Nick Phipps and his wife Ebony are counting down the days until the arrival of their first child.
Speaking to Jamie Pandaram in the Daily Telegraph, 'Fanga' explained that they have a crucial meeting on Monday with an obstetrician to carefully orchestrate logistics for the birth of their first child. If all goes according to plan, Phipps will fly to Auckland with the rest of the NSW team next week, play against the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday, race from the ground to the airport and catch the last flight back to Sydney to be present for the birth.
“The obstetrician is actually [Wallaby defence coach] Nathan Grey’s uncle, he gets it, he understands what’s going on so he said he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve to either bring it forward or push it back a little bit. At the moment he thinks that it’s going to be just after the Blues game, so that would be perfect.”
Phipps, who has just recovered from a calf injury in the past fortnight, ordinarily would not be allowed to fly immediately after a match due to recovery, but NSW has a bye the following week, leading him to give advice to his partner.
“I’m telling her to relax a little bit and make it really convenient for us in the bye week, but everyone says that never happens, so we’re on our toes,” Phipps said. “I couldn’t feel less prepared at the moment, I guess we’ll learn trial by fire. I see my parents and Eb’s parents, and I see very proud, passionate parents of their families, that’s what I want. I want to be a good role model, make sure that my family is always safe, happy and spending time together. I had a childhood I enjoyed and I want to replicate that as much as possible.
“We haven’t found out the sex. We’ve got a girl’s name, we don’t have a boy’s name yet. We wanted to keep it a surprise, not many people do it anymore but you don’t get as many good surprises as you’d like, so why not? It’s one of life’s great mysteries so we’re enjoying the ride.”
Phipps joined the Waratahs from Melbourne in 2014 and was part of the Club’s maiden premiership victory that year, but is desperate to add a second title to his resume before he moves to the UK at the end of the season.
“That was the greatest feeling ever, me and Sekope Kepu were talking about that night the other day, it’s tough to put into words how tight the group was,” Phipps said. “Those bonds you build last a lifetime. I think it’s good because a lot of the younger blokes who have come in now want it, they’re sick of hearing, ‘In 2014 we did this’, they want their own slice. And for us who were there, we want it again, we don’t want to be a flash in the pan.
“We want to build a consistent team, a consistent program where you know they’re going to be there or thereabouts every year around the finals. This year is a massive year for a lot of us, our last at the Tahs, we want to make sure we’re leaving on a high.”
3. The McReight way to start your Super Rugby career
The winner of the Junior Wallabies Player of the Year award in 2020, Fraser McReight had a Super Rugby debut to remember against the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium last weekend, with the Queensland Reds recording a resounding victory.
As he explained to Rugby.com.au's Emma Greenwood, it more than made up for the disappointment of not coming off the bench when selected for the first time in Round Two as the Reds traveled to Dunedin to face the Highlanders.
"It was tough," McReight said of not coming on in Round Two. "I had a good mate, Isaac Lucas making his debut, we've played Rugby with and against each other for a while and we're good mates.
"I wanted to make a debut with him and wanted to make my debut in Dunedin but things happen for a reason and I'm very, very fortunate that I was able to come off the bench (against the Brumbies) and make my debut it in front of my family and friends and we got a win as well.
"I don't think people writing my scripts could write it any better, I'm so fortunate."
McReight was injected into the game in the final minutes, with the Reds already holding a handy lead. But the 20-year-old played his part in the victory, receiving the ball from a Brumbies short kick-off and starting a Reds drive that led to Brandon Paenga-Amosa's 80th minute try.
"We'd just scored a try, I came on, I kind of expected they were going to kick it to me," he said. "There's five minutes to go, we were up by two tries and a bit and I thought they were going to go for a short kick off, and what happens? A short kick-off comes straight to me.
"I almost fumbled it but I didn't, I caught it and luckily just put it back and went away. We went upfield and scored after the 80th (minute), I couldn’t ask for anything more."
Becoming a Reds player meant the world to the young backrower.
"It means everything," he said. "I've been playing Rugby from such a young age and watching the Reds and admiring the Reds and to do it at home as well, in front of my family and friends, I couldn't ask for anything more.
"We get the win as well against the Brumbies, a big rivalry, I'm just so honoured to be a part of this Club. Only a select few get to do it and I can't wait for many more to come."
4. Genia feeling better than ever
With the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, key Wallabies players have been given week's off to help manage their load, with Melbourne Rebels scrumhalf Will Genia returning from South Africa early and missing his side's match against the Sharks in Durban last weekend.
Speaking to The Age's Roy Ward, Genia said he felt significantly better for the rest ahead of his return to action in Brisbane this weekend.
"It was huge for me, such a good thing to get back here, get some work done from a strength and conditioning prospective and also freshen up mentally," Genia said. "I'm just jumping out of my skin, I can't wait to play."
The game will be Genia's first appearance back at his old home stadium in Melbourne colours, following more than 100 games and a Super Rugby championship with the Reds.
"I'm looking forward to it," Genia said. "I played against them here in Melbourne in round one last year but missed out on the game at Suncorp Stadium last year. It's a place that's had really good memories for me on a personal level, but that chapter is closed and it's all about working hard this week to get a result for this Club."
Fellow playmaker Quade Cooper also makes his return home to Queensland after being left out by the Reds last year which led to him moving to the Rebels.
"Quade didn't leave on bad terms with the Queensland public and the Reds fans," Genia said. "His focus hasn't been on what it's going to be like, it's just a case of him doing his job in our team to get a result and bounce back positively from our two weeks in South Africa."
5. Former Red gutted with Sunwolves' departure
The Sunwolves’ longest-serving foreign player, Australian Ed Quirk, is shattered for the Club’s fans after it was announced the team will be cut from Super Rugby in 2021, and said whoever is on the roster next year will be playing for enjoyment.
Speaking with Jamie Pandaram in the Daily Telegraph, former Queensland Reds star Quirk said that the team will still be competitive in 2020.
“I think it can work, from my experience with the team, whoever is there next year would be playing for pure enjoyment,” Quirk said. “I got my love of Rugby back when I joined the Sunwolves, so the mindset of those players would be to enjoy the moment of that last season.
“It is disappointing, I have seen the team grow over the last four years, commercially and with the players getting better. It’s sad, I had this vision that after I retired, they would be a team I would be watching.”
For Quirk, who’ll play for Canon Eagles next year, the greatest shame will be the loss of the Sunwolves supporters.
“I have never encountered fans like them anywhere in the world, they are so incredibly passionate and generous,” Quirk said. “They give us gifts every week; I receive gifts twice a week after training sessions, and also after games.
“People send me photos with notes on the back thanking me for playing for the team. I get happy socks every week, hand decorated chocolates, food from the regions we play. I’ve injured my knee and I have received bath salts to help me heal. They are a very special group of supporters and it will be Rugby’s loss when they don’t have a Super Rugby team to support anymore.
“I can’t thank the franchise enough for getting me to Japan, I love Rugby for what the Sunwolves have given to me.”
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