And we’re back!
Monday’s Rugby News dissects Australia’s performance at the Hamilton Sevens, Dave Rennie’s thoughts on overseas players playing for the Wallabies along with the final trials for the Super Rugby sides.
Semi final struggles
Both Australian sevens teams have suffered losses during the semi-finals of the Hamilton Sevens.
First up was the women’s team, who were defeated by Canada 28-14 after going unbeaten throughout the opening day.
The Canadians would come back from a 12-7 half-time deficit to take the contest before they were eventually beaten by New Zealand in the final 24-7.
The Aussies would end up losing the bronze place match to France 19-14, with coach John Manenti choosing to rest multiple star players with the Sydney leg of the series on the horizon.
The men’s team were soldiers of fortune heading into the semi-finals, with an incredible performance by Argentina to upset gold medalists Fiji in the final group match sealing their place.
Whilst their good run looked to continue after taking a half-time lead against New Zealand, a yellow card to Maurice Longbottom allowed the Kiwis to fight back and take the semi-final 17-14.
They would end up winning the tournament 27-5 against France, making into two from two on home soil.
The men’s side would have no dramas during their bronze medal match against England, cruising to a 33-21 victory after doubles to Josh Turner and Lachie Anderson secured the result.
It was the highest finish for Australia since a silver medal in London last season.
“It was a really good weekend for us and a good stepping stone for next week in Sydney. That’s the best result of the season so far and hopefully we can go a bit better next weekend,” new Aussie skipper Nick Malouf said.
“Hopefully (Sydney) will be even a more polished performance than what came out this weekend.
“We dropped two games against Fiji and New Zealand and games like that are ones we’d like to be winning.
“Just the next step up next week and today’s a great day to be an Australian.”
Rennie disproves Giteau’s law
New Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has opened up on his selection policy, revealing that his preference is that his players are playing in Super Rugby.
Rennie had his first open media session on Friday and told reporters that he will look to select home-grown talent unless they are willing to pull a Nic White and recommit to coming home.
“I think what’s really important is that we are picking guys from here,” Rennie said.
“We’ll have more influence if they are playing in a Super Rugby competition which we know is really strong.
“Ultimately if there are guys overseas that either make a commitment back here to be in the mix, not too dissimilar to what Nic White did for the World Cup and committing back here.
“I just think it’s important if you want to be a Wallaby, you need to be playing your footy down here…otherwise the fear is that you will have a lot of guys chasing the pound or the euro instead of plying their trade here.”
One player that is firmly on the radar is potential castaway Will Skelton, who may be forced home after Saracens were embroiled in a salary cap scandal that will see them relegated next year.
“Yes, I think conditioning wise he’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen him,” he said on Skelton.
“We (Glasgow) played against him three times last year and he’s playing great footy.
“He’s certainly someone we are keen to get back but we need him to commit back to Super Rugby.”
Rennie also revealed that he isn’t afraid to select U20 stars such as Isaac Lucas and Will Harrison with limited options at flyhalf, believing that age shouldn’t be a factor.
“Yeah I think Matt will end up playing a lot of 10 for the Rebels as well, so clearly he’s a strong contender (to play fly-half),” Rennie said.
“There’s no doubt that 10 is probably thinner than most in regard to experience.
“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of these young men to front during Super Rugby and if you do, you’re playing against some of the best players in the world within that competition, so I’d love to see that and promote a young fella — but they’re going to have to earn the right to play.”
Noah ready to Go(ah)
Brumbies young gun Noah Lolesio has declared himself ready to step into Christian Lealiifano’s lofty shoes after a stellar performance during their trial win over the Rebels.
Lolesio was one of the shining stars in the Brumbies 45-14 thumping win over the Rebels on Thursday, with the performance edging him in front of Bayley Kuenzle for the number ten jersey.
Both teams ran out near full-strength line-ups in the second game, with the first half offering a rugged 7-7 affair before the two coaches emptied their benches in the second term.
This spurred the boys from the nation’s capital on, with the Brumbies scoring five tries in the last fifteen minutes to seal the win.
Whilst Lolesio admitted to pre-game nerves before the clash, he stated that he enjoyed the occasion and is ready to step up if selected for their opening round contest against the Reds.
“I was obviously pretty nervous before the game, but when I was there, it felt pretty natural and normal, to be honest,” he said.
“I enjoyed it and loved being out there today.
“I want to stamp my name as that number one ten, in that starting role and hopefully I did enough tonight to prove to the coaches that I’m up to it.
“I felt like we played too much footy in our 40, where I could have stood up and played down there, but it’s definitely a learning curve.”
Coach Dan McKellar was full of praise for the 20-year-old, pleased with how he stepped up against his idol and Wallabies flyhalf Matt Toomua.
“I thought he controlled the game well,” McKellar said.
“He will learn from that first 20-minute period where we did try to play a bit too much from our own end, we have been guilty of that a bit in the past.
“(We need to be) identifying backfield space when it’s open and hitting the corners and not asking our big units to carry 10 or 15 times.”
Reds take bragging rights
The Queensland Reds have secured a pair of wins during their clash against the NSW Waratahs.
Whilst the Reds claimed a28-19 victory during a testing trial in Dalby, coach Brad Thorn will likely be more pleased to come through the clash unscathed with no fresh injuries.
They ran away with the game in the second half, scoring three unanswered tries before the Waratahs crossed twice late in the game to add some respectability to the scoreline.
Thorn was pleased with the result along with the news that former captain Izack Rodda and prop JP Smith are set to be fit for the start of the season.
“What I liked about today was just seeing some rugby get played by both sides,” he said.
“Just the calibre of player was different this week, from the Waratahs, which actually helps the flow of the game.
“Last week was a little bit slow. When you get two teams that are competitive, it just helps the game.
“We’re hoping that those guys will be available, they’ve been working hard,” Thorn added on the injured pair.
“Big Izack Rodda I think could have played two weeks ago but they stuck to the thing that (the medical staff) wanted him to do and that’s really good. And the same with JP.
“It would have been perfect if it would have been a normal season start but it is what it is and every other team is dealing with the short season.”
The same couldn’t be said for Waratahs coach Rob Penney, who will be sweating on the fitness of flyhalf Mack Mason after he was forced from the field with a groin injury.
This could lead to the debut of U20 star Will Harrison or the potential shift of Kurtley Beale to the position, opening up a position in the back three for Mark Nawaqanitawase (Nah-WANG-gah-KNEE-tah-WAH-zay for those wondering how to approach his glorious last name).
“(Mason) looks to have a bit of a groin, I don’t know too much detail yet,” Penney said,
“If he’s not available, that will impact on the fact that he’s not available. You deal with the injuries as they come about.
“It’s not a position we have a great deal of depth in but as the week unfolds, we’ll get more information on Mack and see where it leads.”