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)!
Last week, the Waratahs headed off to South Africa to face the Lions in a Super Rugby Semi Final. It was a momentous task but the boys in blue gave it a red-hot crack, ultimately falling just short.
In the other knockout match, the Crusaders eliminated the Hurricanes to earn a first home Super Rugby final in a decade; they’ll take on the Lions for the second straight year, looking to go back to back after being victorious in Johannesburg in 2017, with Saturday’s coverage beginning at 4:30pm (AEST) on FoxSports 501 before kick-off an hour later.
Back at home, and focus turns to an intriguing match between the Wallabies and an Australian Super Rugby selection at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval on Friday evening, to be streamed from Rugby.com.au at 6:45pm (or free for live entry). Captained by Tom English (Rebels), the side also features capped Wallabies James Slipper (Reds), Blake Enever (Brumbies), Matt Philip and Richard Hardwick (both Rebels), as well as young guns such as Angus Blyth, Moses Sorovi (both Reds) and Andrew Deegan (Western Force). Shute Shield stars Mick Snowden, Pama Fou, Pat Sio, Sam Lane and Fabian Goodall have also been called up.
The Wallabies, meanwhile, have named a 28-man squad which includes plenty of uncapped talent; namely Jermaine Ainsley, Tom Banks, Jake Gordon, Harry Hockings, Jed Holloway, Adam Korczyk, Jack Maddocks, Bill Meakes, Isi Naisarani, Jordan Petaia, Hamish Stewart and Liam Wright. David Pocock will Captain the side, with capped Wallabies Bernard Foley, Tom Robertson, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona, Israel Folau, Ned Hanigan, Paddy Ryan, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu and Taqele Naiyaravoro not considered for selection after playing last weekend in South Africa, and numerous players out injured including Michael Hooper, Samu Kerevi, Dane Haylett-Petty and Tevita Kuridrani.
You can see the Intrust Super Shute Shield match of the round (this week is Eastern Suburbs vs. Northern Suburbs) live on 7Two on Saturday at 3pm, and then replayed at 12pm Sunday on Fox Sports, while a replay of one of the Queensland Premier Rugby Semi Finals will be show at 4:30am on Thursday August 9th. Finally, you can catch the match of the round from Rugby South Australia on NITV every Sunday at 3:30pm.
1. Hodge happy to play wherever picked
With Kerevi and Kuridrani out injured, speculation around the battle for the Wallabies’ 13 jersey has intensified with the likes of Folau, Hodge, Rona and English mentioned in dispatches as being in contention.
Hodge will get the first crack on Friday, with the utility back boasting experience at Test level in every jersey from no.10 to no.15, and as he told Rugby.com.au’s Iain Payten he’d love the chance to play there in the upcoming Wallaby Test matches.
“I have played a fair bit (at no.13). I probably played a third of the year there, probably half of the year in the centres for the Rebels, and a fair bit over the last couple of years as well. As I have said previously I am comfortable playing pretty much 10 to 15 now. I have played it all. So now it is just up to me to prepare.”
Outside centre is often regarded as the toughest spot defensively, and Hodge agrees. But he is confident with enough time in the role, he can nail it down.
“I think it is (the toughest), because you are connecting the outside and inside sections of defence. It is such a pivotal part of the backline, where teams like to target that seam between 13 and wing quite a bit,” he told Payten.
“It’s ultimately up to combinations, the more you play and defend with the 10 and 12, and the wingers as well, the better the combinations are going to get. So, if I play that position in this series at all and on Friday, that’s what we will be working on.”
Click here to read the full story.
2. The rise and rise of Wallabies cult figure Taniela Tupou
He’s been one of the Australian Rugby superstars of 2018, but he could have been an All Black if he had been swayed by overtures when at school in New Zealand.
Speaking with Jamie Pandaram in the Daily Telegraph, Taniela Tupou revealed why he left the famed New Zealand rugby system to pursue a career in Australia despite the protestations of legendary All Black Sir John Kirwan, but also how he snubbed Wayne Bennett’s advances to switch to the NRL.
“It was my last year at school in New Zealand, and they were saying at the start of the year that I wouldn’t be able to play in the schoolboys’ team because I had a Tongan passport,” Tupou said.
“At the end of the year, after I’d played games and everything was happening (videos of Tupou scoring long-range tries went viral), they heard the story that I love Australia, they sent a letter to my coach asking me to sign it. The letter said I can play for the schoolboys but I had to stay back the following year. I said ‘Sorry, if that means I have to stay in New Zealand and sign with a New Zealand franchise I can’t’. Because I had already made up my mind to come here.
“If they had not told me at the start of the year I couldn’t play for the schoolboys, things could have been very different. I could be sitting in Auckland right now. But after they told me that, I had my mind set to come to Australia.”
They didn’t give up easily on convincing Tupou his future lay across the ditch.
“I had a meeting with John Kirwan and the Blues manager, I met the Chiefs too,” Tupou said. “But I decided I’m going to go to Australia and live with my brother. I didn’t know if I would get a contract to play rugby, I was so close to playing league.
“I nearly went to the Knights. Wayne Bennett was coaching in Newcastle and he called my brother and they were talking. I was really thinking about it but lucky I didn’t go. Things didn’t go well there and then Bennett went back to the Broncos.
“I had decided to sign with the Reds, and when I came here I found out it would be three years before I could play for the Wallabies. I didn’t have a problem with that, because I never thought I would play for the Wallabies, I was just grateful to get an opportunity to play Super Rugby.
“I was training next to Quade Cooper and George Smith, I grew up watching these guys, I couldn’t believe it.”
He will almost certainly be among the 23-man squad named to take on the All Blacks on August 18 at ANZ Stadium, and Tupou will look across at the haka and recognise some old faces.
“I played with Rieko Ioane in the Blues under-18s team, that was in 2014, he was the captain,” Tupou said. “I went to school with Vaea Fifita, at Tonga College from 2009-10. I know a few of the boys. But growing up in Tonga, I always supported the Wallabies, I would stay awake to watch them play at 2am against South Africa. I was just a normal fan supporting Australia. Now I’m no longer a fan, I am part of this team, it is a dream come true.
“When I was growing up I watched Sekope Kepu and George Smith, now I have to pinch myself, I am wearing the same shoes as them. Maybe some kids are looking at me now like I did those guys, it’s crazy. I want to continue to work hard and win more games for Australia, and be a good role model for young kids coming up.”
Click here to read the full story.
3. Toomua back in Aussie Rugby
Nearly three years ago, boom flyhalf/centre Matt Toomua embarked upon a European adventure with English powerhouse Leicester, leaving Canberra after 88 Super Rugby appearances for the Brumbies and 33 Test matches for the Wallabies, but the 28-year-old is back!
He’s signed a two-and-a-half year with Rugby Australia and will relocate to Melbourne to join the Rebels, as reported by Roy Ward in The Age.
“The option to return to Australia was something that did exist within my contract, only if a chance to represent the Wallabies was there and, with a Rugby World Cup next year, was ultimately one I couldn’t turn down,” Toomua said.
“As well as a chance to represent my country at a World Cup again, the return home also allows me to be closer to both my wife and family after nearly three years on the opposite side of the world.
“The Rebels are a club on the rise and I was really impressed after having a few conversations with [coach] Dave [Wessels] about his plans for the future.”
Toomua’s wife Ellyse Perry is a superstar cricketer and former national soccer star as well, with 18 appearances for the Matildas between 2007 and 2016. She won the International Cricket Council Women’s Cricketer of the Year in 2017.
Click here to read the full story.
4. Lonergan locked in – and looking for little bro
Junior Wallabies skipper Ryan Lonergan may not have been able to add any Super Rugby minutes to his tally in 2018 after making his debut last year, but the talented young scrumhalf has still impressed enough to snare a two-year contract extension in Canberra.
Speaking to Chris Dutton in the Canberra Times, Lonergan expressed his delight at the new deal and said the chance to achieve a childhood dream of playing alongside his brother is driving his long-term Brumbies ambition, with hooker Lachlan expected to be added to the Brumbies extended squad as coach Dan McKellar invests in a new generation of Canberra juniors.
"It would be a dream just to train with each other. We've played all my junior footy together and he's my best mate.
"We've spent a whole lot of time playing together when we were younger, so if we could get the chance to pull the jersey on together it would be really special. Let alone just training together in a professional environment together, that'd be pretty nice. It probably clicked when we both played Australian schoolboys together.
"We've never really talked about it, but it is exciting. To play footy [with Lachlan] and the rest of the guys coming through ... to find ourselves here, it's a dream come true."
Lonergan made his debut in the last round last year, playing 15 minutes from the bench against the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton. But this year he had to bide his time as the third-string scrumhalf, as well as juggling junior Wallabies duties.
"When I first came here I was just a kid admiring the people I was around," Lonergan said. "I've learnt so much off them rugby wise and lifestyle wise. I was sort of looking for a bit of [Brumbies game] time at the back end of the year but it just wasn't meant to be. It was disappointing, but that's all the more motivation to push harder for next year and hopefully get some game time there.”
Click here to read the full story.
5. Slipper back on the footy field
It’s been a challenging year for Reds and Wallabies star James Slipper, with his well-publicised mental health challenges and enforced suspension from the game, but it was wonderful to see him back in front of the media on Wednesday to accept responsibility for his actions and provide an update on his wellbeing ahead of his return to the footy field on Friday.
Speaking with Fox Sports’ Christy Doran, Slipper said he was the “happiest” he’d been in more than a year.
“At the time, I didn’t see a healthy ending there for a bit,” Slipper said. “I’m not all fixed, as they say. But I’m working hard and seeing the professionals and going well. I’m as happy as I’ve been in a long while, so that’s probably a positive thing.”
Slipper, 29, admitted he’d hidden his personal grief and encouraged others to find someone they could confide in if they were struggling.
“Unfortunately, in our world, everyone’s pretty good at hiding things, everyone’s pretty good at putting up a front. I was pretty good at that. But it’s really up to the person to make the first move.
“Unless people pick up on it, that’s probably my advice. Go to someone who’s close to you and speak up.”
“(In my case, the ban) brought it to a head. It forced me to step away from the game and deservedly so. But it forced me to actually have a real good look at myself and seek professional help, and I was doing that the whole way through as well, but I just wasn’t coping.
“It (the conversation with my family) was difficult, but I knew it was a big part of, I guess, me overcoming certain issues. It was hard, but the moment I did it, it was a relief. A ton of weight came off my shoulders. It was a big part of the process of me getting through it.”
Rather than wanting people to feel sorry for him though, Slipper wants to shed light on his own experience so people don’t follow the same rocky road he walked.
“I want to be a positive outcome,” he said. “That’s always been in the back of my head. Once I get through the hard bit, to be a positive influence on someone. I don’t know what that looks like right now, I’ve solely been focusing on myself but it’s something that I have spoken to people about. I think it would be important for me to do that because obviously I’m living proof that if you make bad decisions you get penalised. But you can stop that from happening if you’re open and honest and speak out a bit earlier.
“I’ve been waking up at four in the morning, every morning, going through my own routine. Just putting little steps in play like that where I’m good. I’ve moved back to my family home, so that’s been a big help as well.”
Playing in Friday’s trial match is a positive step forward for Slipper, and he feels he is ready for the challenge.
“That’s something that I did think about (returning too soon), but I thought it was important to get back on my feet,” Slipper said. “Confront, especially you guys (the media), who were really, really good to me in giving me some time to deal with some stuff.
“At the end of the day, having a purpose and working towards something can always help. I just have to make sure I do everything right, with everything off the field as well.”
Congratulations on your bravery and honesty yesterday James, and for owning your mistakes.
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 Pinot Gris…
Australia may have once hitched a ride on the sheep's back, now it sits astride Shiraz. It is the merino of grape varieties, and is the variety for which Australian wine is most globally famous.
The Taylors Jaramans Shiraz 2014 was declared the best in the world last year, having won the most awards at international wine competitions throughout the year.
Click here to head to the Taylors Wines website (18+ only).