Monday’s Rugby News looks at the return of Super Rugby, new rule variations for the Australian competition, fresh signings for the Force and the departure of Henry Speight
After 90+ rugby-less days, Super Rugby Aotearoa has kicked off in New Zealand and fans were treated with two classic matches.
To start the NZ leg of the revised competition, the Chiefs travelled down to Otago to take on the Highlanders in front of a packed Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The first half was a free-flowing encounter, with both teams trading tries as the home side took a 22-16 lead into the break.
The Chiefs would fight back and it looked like they had sealed the game when Damian McKenzie slotted a 75th-minute field goal.
However, replacement back Bryn Gatland would break the hearts of Chiefs fans and his dad Warren, answering McKenzie’s drop goal with one of his own to secure a 28-27 victory for the Highlanders.
“I never imagined it would be like that,” Highlanders captain Ash Dixon said.
“It wasn’t perfect but we gutsed it out and playing a quality side like the Chiefs we just kept trying to compete as much as we could and managed to just be on the right side of the ledger at the end.”
On Sunday, it would be Beauden that would run out victories in the Battle of the Barretts, with the Blues getting the 30-20 win in front of a sold oyt Eden Park.
Caleb Clarke, TJ Faiane and Dalton Papali’i scored the home side’s five-pointers, with fly-half Otere Black responding to the looming threat of being dropped for a 38-year-old Dan Carter with a 15-point haul.
“It sure was [highly anticipated), it’s been a long time coming,” said Barrett post-match.
“I said earlier in the week I’ve played this game a million times in my head. It’s good to get it done way,
“Obviously there was that emotional hurdle to get over, playing all my mates and starting a new chapter in my career as well.
“So I’m very proud of the start and the effort from our boys tonight.”
Fresh rules for fresh comp
Rugby Australia has confirmed that seven new law variations will be applied during the revamped Australian Super Rugby competition.
Amongst the changes includes goal-line drop-outs to reward attacking kicks, replacements for red-carded players after 20 minutes, rewards for 50/22 and 22/50 kicks, and ‘Super Point’ for matches that end in a draw after 80 minutes.
Furthermore, referees will be under strict instruction in regards to limiting the number of scrum resets along with policing the breakdown and cynical infringements in order to speed up the game.
Director of Rugby Scott Johnson was excited about the changes, believing that it will promote exciting and entertaining rugby whilst preserving the integrity of the game.
“We assembled some of the best minds in the game from a range of different roles to look at adding some new attacking dimensions to the game while at the same time sticking to some key principles to preserve the fabric of the sport,” Johnson said in a statement.
“The level of engagement was outstanding from the players and coaches involved in the process and we ended up with a set of law variations that were unanimously agreed upon by all 24 people involved.
“We will also zero in on the application of law around the breakdown and scrums, trying to limit some of the down time and improve the flow of the game.
“Throughout the process we stuck to the principle that whatever we changed, the game still had to be Rugby, and nothing could compromise the Wallabies’ preparation for Test Rugby. In fact, I believe the changes we have implemented will broaden and enhance the capabilities of our players.”
Ahead of the upcoming season, the Force have bolstered their squad with the signing of former Wallabies Kyle Godwin and Greg Holmes.
Godwin began his career with the Force in 2012, winning the Nathan Sharpe Medal, Rising Star and Members’ Most Valuable Player in the same year after a stellar 2013 campaign.
He would eventually move to the Brumbies in 2016 before signing with Irish club Connacht in 2018.
Force coach Tim Sampson was excited to bring back the ‘local hero’, believing that he will bolster their backline as they prepare for their return from rugby exile.
“Kyle is a great example of a talented young Australian who moved overseas to further his rugby career. To bring him back to once again play for his home team is evidence of the rugby program being developed here,” Sampson said.
“Kyle is a local hero, he has represented his state and his nation, and we are thrilled at the prospect of him getting back in the blue and black,
“He has natural instinct and his ability to adapt is a strength of his. He will slip into our squad seamlessly here.”
Along with Godwin, former Reds and Exeter prop Greg Holmes links up with the squad, reuniting with Sampson and forwards coach Van Humphries, who he played with at Sunnybank and the Reds.
“It’ll be great to catch up with him again. He has had a great career so far, I’m sure we will benefit from his experience,” Sampson said.
“Holmesy is a superb tight head and has a wealth of knowledge to add to the team.
“Greg is a greatly experienced player who will add considerable depth to our front row, but he is also a quality person who will no doubt be a major influence on some of our younger forwards,”
The pair are amongst a raft of signings that are expected to be announced, with former Red and Waratah Jono Lance and Rouen lock Ollie Atkins set to be confirmed in coming days.
Speight says goodbye
Reds winger Henry Speight has been released from his Rugby Australia contract to sign with French side Biarritz on a three-year deal.
Speight’s stay in the sunshine state was a brief one, playing just seven games during his six-month stint at the club after moving north from the Brumbies.
In a statement, the 32-year-old thanked the club for honouring his request for a release, proud to say that he had pulled on the maroon jersey and played for a club that he believes are on the verge of major success.
“I would like to take the opportunity to say a heartfelt and enormous thank you to the entire organisation that is the Queensland Reds,” he said.
“Firstly, the opportunity to experience an elite Rugby program which is surrounded and upheld by quality people, who have a genuine care for the person and the professional.
“This group and the organisation have demonstrated that the Reds are a destination club that will allow players to be their absolute best and the strong culture here is something that I know that I will deeply miss.
“My family and I are unbelievably grateful that, from the Board down, our request was dealt with respect and that the organisation was ultimately sympathetic to the opportunity that lies in front of us.
“I know that this place has an exciting future and I look forward to being able to say with enormous pride that I pulled on the Queensland Reds jersey, when the organisation achieves the success that it deserves.”
QRU CEO David Hanham thanked Speight for his services to Queensland and Australian rugby whilst praising Biarritz for their conduct during the process.
“Henry has been a fantastic servant to Australian Rugby over the past decade,” he said.
“Biarritz Olympique have a great Rugby history. They have been respectful during this process and we are pleased that Henry and his family will get the opportunity to spend the next three years in France.”
As Speight departs, the Reds confirmed that Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu is still expected to sign with the Reds at the end of the year despite strong rumours linking him to stay in the NRL.