Friday’s Rugby News looks at a World Cup-winning flyhalf’s take on the Wallabies current situation, a pair of All Blacks question Cheika’s feng shui, the Rebels continue to stockpile forwards and the young guns set to take it to the Kiwis
Use the force, Christian
Former England flyhalf and winner of ‘most likely to be crashed tackle in public by a Wallabies fan’ Jonny Wilkinson has called on Star Wars to describe the Wallabies flyhalf situation, believes that Christian Lealiifano has “the force at the moment” to lead the side into the rest of the tournament.
The Wallabies flyhalf situation has resembled the original trilogy of Star Wars movies; with A New Hope in Lealiifano snatching the jersey at the start of the World Cup, before The Empire Strikes Back with the selection of the former number ten Bernard Foley for the clash against Wales.
Now that we have seen The Return Of The Jedi with the re-selection of Lealiifano for the clash against Uruguay, Wilkinson has urged the selectors to keep faith in him.
“I think To’omua is a really strong individual, looks like he’s calm and composed on the field,” Wilkinson told Drew Mitchell on the Fox Rugby Podcast.
“Lealiifano, in terms of just presence, I think he might be the force at the moment.
“It really depends on what type of game you’re trying to play,
“It depends upon how the rest of the players are connecting with that player at that time.
“And that’s not something that always stays constant just because you’ve done well in the past, or because you’re the most in-form player.”
Wilkinson stressed the importance of being able to adapt your play style as a flyhalf, admitting that his inability to change ultimately cost him his England career.
“As generations changed throughout my career, around me, that connection (was) massively different, because I wasn’t able to move with my identity and how I saw the game,” he believes.
“I ended up sometimes feeling like I worked in the team and sometimes feeling like I didn’t.
“And I always, kind of, blamed the team, which is completely the wrong way around, it was up to me to move and become a new player. I really like that in a 10. Moving, changing and adapting.”
Wallabies cursed by poor feng shui
A pair of former All Blacks have piped up about the “negative environment” that Michael Cheika has created, believing that it will ultimately influence the players and cause their downfall.
Cheika has seemed to take inspiration from his rugby league counterparts in Des Hasler and Wayne Bennett, often attracting attention to himself through a variety of antics and complaints.
This may be controversial but I’m a fan of them, when you compare the attention that he has received to some of the underperforming players from the pair of average/below average performances, it’s a landslide to the last (hot)air bender (next time you see him, compaire the pair).
However, this has angered former All Blacks and 2011 World Cup winners Richard Kahui and Andy Ellis, who believe that his constant complaining has created a negative vibe and spirit within the group.
“I see Cheik and I feel for him because he’s obviously a man under pressure. It’s not just this World Cup, it’s been building the last 2-3 years,” Kahui said on The Breakdown television show.
“(But) the way that he’s going about talking about referees and things, I just wonder how much that influences the players.
“It creates a negative environment and it’s like a snowball. It starts to build.”
Ellis backs Cheika’s claims that the Aussies have copes some shocking calls, however, insisted that it isn’t healthy for the squad.
“I’ve heard the language being used — oh, it’s them against us — and I don’t think that’s healthy in a camp,” he believed.
Specialist finisher and second-best athlete in his relationship Matt Toomua rejected these claims, believing that the loss last week was simply down to the team not being good enough (what a novel concept).
“I wouldn’t say that’s the feeling within camp in the sense that we’re thinking everyone is against us,” he said.
“I don’t think (poor officiating) has had a direct impact or effect on the result of the game which is the main thing.
“If it was a last-minute thing we might have felt hard-done-by but we lost on the weekend because we were the worst of the two teams.”
Going back to the Wells
The Melbourne Rebels have continued to boost their pack with the signing of NSW Waratahs number eight Michael Wells.
Just a day after they secured the signing of props Cameron Orr and Ruan Smith, Wells heads south of the border, down Mexico way to Victoria, joining up with the Rebels for next year.
The most interesting thing about this deal is that Wells has completely committed himself to the 15-a-side game, forgoing a shot at the 2020 Olympics to focus on securing his spot in the stacked Rebels forward pack.
“I feel as though I’m better suited to the game of XV’s and for the purposes of longevity and overall performance, I felt XV’s was the right choice,” admitted Wells in a press release.
“The Rebels as a province are an exciting fit for myself.
“The team has been on the cusp of making its first finals in franchise history for the past couple of years and I want to be a genuine contributor in being able to help the team achieve that feat and more.”
Melbourne Rebels GM of Rugby & Pathways Nick Ryan believes that the addition of Wells will be the perfect complement to their back-row stocks, with his experience across all levels of rugby vital to their push towards an initial finals berth.
“The arrival of Michael will see the competition for spots in the pack only intensify,” Ryan believes.
“As well as current Wallabies Isi Naisarani, Luke Jones and Richard Hardwick, we also have the likes of Angus Cottrell, Rob Leota, Boyd Killingworth and Brad Wilkin challenging for back-row spots in the matchday 23.
“Michael comes to Melbourne with a lot of experience having played with the Brumbies, Waratahs and Aussie 7s.
“His exposure to many professional environments and many different styles of play means he’ll be well placed to adapt and drive the standards we set here in Melbourne.”
Under 18’s ready to break hoodoo
The Australian Schoolboys/Under 18 side is brimming with confident that they can inflict a rare defeat on their Trans-Tasman rivals as they get set to take on their New Zealand counterparts on Friday.
Australia has not beaten New Zealand at the schoolboy level since 2012, however, wins over Fiji and NZ Barbarians has coach Peter Hewitt optimistic of an upset.
“We’ve got some good players in the backs that we want to be able to get the ball to and we need to get on the front foot in the forwards to be able to do that,” Hewat said.
“We’re really looking forward to this final match. There is a lot of tradition and a fierce rivalry between the two sides and we will look to harness this emotion ahead of our final clash
“As a coaching group, we’ve been really proud of the work that the team has put in so far and we have full confidence that this is the side that can get the job done.”
Hewitt has praised the overhaul of the system, which has seen all players under 18 finally available for selection, with the previous system excluding those who had already left/graduated from school.
Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore has overseen the program, which Hewitt believes has been essentially in creating a seamless pathway through the junior ranks.
“It’s a benefit to the boys, him seeing them but also them getting used to the (coaching) systems that are in place,” Hewat said.
“That might not have been the case in the past but now we’re not having to teach them new ways of doing things every time they come into the team environment.
“I think Jason being here is a good thing going forward.”
The Australian Schools and U18s side will take on New Zealand Schools on Friday, October 4, at St Pauls Collegiate, Hamilton, which will available to those with Foxtel (channel 507)/Kayo (for those sneaking a watch at work) at 12:05 pm.
The squad is as follows (15-1, academy in bracket): Dion Samuela (Reds), Joseph Suallii (Waratahs), Josh Flook (c)(Reds), Nick Chan (Waratahs), Tolu Koula (Waratahs), Reesjan Pasitoa, (Brumbies), Lachie Albert (Brumbies), Alex Masibaka (RugbyWA), Will Roach (Reds), Zeph Tuinona (Brumbies), Tom Hooper (Brumbies), Hugh Bockenham (Waratahs), Zane Nonggorr (Reds), Billy Pollard (Waratahs), Harry Vella (Reds)
Reserves: Hamish Moore (Waratahs), George Blake (Reds), Daniel Botha (Waratahs), Joe Brial (Waratahs), Keynan Tauakipulu (Reds), Kalani Thomas (Reds), Anthony Alofipo (Brumbies), Glen Vaihu (Reds)