Friday’s Rugby news buys into the hype leading into the Super Rugby AU Grand Final between the Brumbies and the Reds, and previews this weekend’s club rugby action, as a potential broadcaster enters the fray for the rugby rights, and a Springboks trial highlights South Africa’s return to rugby.
Everything on the line
Teams are in for Saturday night’s Super Rugby AU Grand Final, as the the ACT Brumbies and the Queensland Reds prepare to do battle at a ‘sold-out’ GIO Stadium.
“Grand Final week – this is what it’s all about,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said.
“We’re embracing the challenge ahead against a worthy opponent, whom we respect.
“Our journey to get here started back in November with our Reds to regions trip across Queensland. We travelled around the world. We worked hard in two pre-seasons. We’ve battled through a global pandemic. Many of our guys in this group have come through our pathway and club rugby – they’ve thrived and have grown as men during this year.
“We’ve reconnected with our state. They believe in us and we want to make them proud this weekend, plus achieve something together as a group.”
The Reds have shuffled their backline, with Hunter Paisami to start at outside centre, and Jordan Petaia shifting to the right-wing after recovering from last weekend’s brutal encounter with the Melbourne Rebels. The other change to the staring lineup is JP Smith, who replaces Harry Hoopert at loose-head.
Meanwhile, Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has bet the house, calling up 20-year-old playmaker Noah Lolesio to start at flyhalf on his first game back from injury.
“As a team we’re really happy for Noah,” McKellar said.
“He was playing good footy before his setback, he’s done a lot of work to get himself right and trained very well over the last two weeks. We’ve got full confidence and belief in his ability.
“To be able to play a home final in front of our family and our supporters is something we set out to do at the start of this competition and we can’t wait for that opportunity.
“We’ve prepared well over the last two weeks and we know the Reds are going to be a huge challenge on Saturday night but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
In another huge selection call, Lolesio will partner Joe Powell in the halves, with Wallaby scrumhalf Nic White riding the pine. There are two changes to the pack, with Murray Douglas coming in for Darcy Swain in the second-row, while Lachie McCaffrey comes in at blindside flanker with Rob Valetini dropping to the bench.
Looking to clubland, this weekend is serving up some tasty matchups across the country.
For Round 10 of Shute Shield there are several clashes that could decide the order of the ladder as the competition reaches its halfway point, with Manly fighting to make the finals when they go up against Eastern Suburbs, while the Sydney University V Randwick will be shown live on tv for 7Two’s Match of the Round.
Gordon will take on Northern Suburbs in the Battle of the North. Considered to be one of the great grudge matches in the Shute Shield, this year’s clash will be especially spicy, as Gordon are a yet to lose this season and are in a rich vein of form, but will be challenged by second-place Northern Suburbs on Saturday at Chatswood Oval.
Another interesting game will be the Hunter Wildfires V Southern Districts game, as Souths continue to fall down the ladder. Meanwhile, former Super Rugby halfback and Warringah legend Josh Holmes is set to bring up 200 games for the club when they take on the Two Blues.
In Round 8 of the Hospital Cup, the Match of the Round is Easts v Sunnybank. While the team might be sitting towards the bottom of the ladder, Sunnybank could throw a spanner in the works for Easts if they manage a win.
Easts are coming off the bye, and are looking to solidify their spot in the top four of the standings after building a solid season which should see them make the finals.
Only four points separate first and fourth no one in the top four can afford to drop a game, as Brothers could very easily swoop in to claim a spot.
In Canberra, the quality of the John I Dent Cup this year has been outstanding. All bets are off this weekend, and while the Whites are the only team mathematically out of contention, and this weekend serves up several big clashes.
In the Match Of The Round, top of the table Tuggeranong Vikings host Gungahlin Eagles, who have been counting on the experience of Matt Giteau pushing them towards finals contention.
In Perth, WA Premiere Grade has effectively been a two way race between Cottesloe and Associates, and this weekend will see the penultimate round with Cottesloe facing up against Joondalup in what will be a critical encounter. While 1-6 are effectively guaranteed finals contention, given the results we saw last week anything could happen.
As always, head over to rugby.com.au and check out G&GR alumn Nick Wasiliev’s column for the full scope.
Rumours are swirling around that Nine Network and its online streaming service Stan may be interested in taking on the rugby rights in Australia.
The reported broadcast deal would see Wallabies matches telecast on Nine’s free-to-air channel and Super Rugby games shown on Stan.
The likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime have been looking to get into streaming sports, and if Stan were to broadcast the rugby, it would the first Australian sport to find a home on an established streaming service.
Network Ten has expressed interest in rights for Wallabies matches but only at a low price, but Optus look to be out of the running, choosing instead to concentrate on its global soccer rights.
Rugby Australia bidding process for its rights closed earlier this month, but has failed to attract any solid bids.
The problem is, any potential broadcasters are still in the dark about what exactly is on offer moving forward, with the configuration of the Southern Hemisphere competition very much up in the air.
It is unlikely that any potential broadcaster would shell out tens of millions of dollars for rugby, but it is encouraging to hear any competition for the rugby rights.
Reports suggest Fox Sports is still the frontrunner, despite Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany recently suggesting rugby fell outside their “tier-one” sports. Rugby Australia is in the last year of a five-year $285m contract with Fox Sports.
Another source of funding could come from private equity, with many companies sniffing around rugby following CVC Capital’s bought an interest in the Pro14.
Green & Gold Rugby?
Rugby will finally return to South Africa, with a series of fixtures announced in the lead-up to the Rugby Championship.
Of particular interest will be a proposed Green V Gold selection trial for the Springboks on 3 October in Cape Town. Assistant coaches Mzwandile Stick and Deon Davids will coach the two teams, with the current director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and former defence coach Jacques Nienaber acting as the teams commissioners.
The selection process will take the form of a draft pick from an enlarged squad of 60 players, with Green and Gold team bosses taking alternate turns in an old-style ‘schoolyard pick’ to assemble their match-day squads of 25 players each.
The drama will unfold live on SuperSport, with the enlarged squad set to be announced live on Saturday before the crucial draft pick next week.
“This will not only be an opportunity to see the best of the best available in South Africa square off against each other in what promises to be something never seen before, but it will also provide the players with another valuable opportunity to shake off the rust and get the legs and lungs going after not playing any rugby in the last six months,” said Erasmus.
“The players will be encouraged to showcase their skills, individually and in their teams, and while it will be full-on, we’re expecting to see a highly competitive match of quality players against each other. It will be exciting from the moment we select the squads, with a number of twists thrown in for good measure through the build-up to the match and the actual encounter in Cape Town.”
The game, billed as the Springbok Showdown, is a part of SA Rugby’s plan to relaunch the domestic season, and fixtures also include a Vodacom Super Fan Saturday round between the Super Rugby franchises, with the possibility of involving Currie Cup teams in some kind of competition.
The local competition will continue over Christmas and New Year and will culminate in semi-finals (16 January) and a final on January 23 next year.