Wednesday’s Rugby News sees the Wallabies side become clearer, the All Blacks celebrate their centurion (sort of), the Springboks welcome a huge return and the impending loss of a sevens star to the AFLW.
Hodge, Pocock look to hunt for Bledisloe blood
Reece Hodge is set to be named as outside centre after Israel Folau emphatically ruled out any shock move to the position.
It had been widely speculated that the Rebels centre would step up into the role after the omission of Curtis Rona, however there had been lingering talks about shifting Folau to the position, a point which Hodge brought up earlier in the week.
“There’s still a few guys in the squad who can play 13,” Hodge said. “Izzy’s [Folau] still an option as well
“At the moment, throughout the preparation, the last few weeks have been about trying as many combinations we can to get comfortable playing next to everyone who’s in the squad and I think it’s going to be really important for us come game one.”
However, Folau has looked to shut the door on any possible speculation and mind games regarding his selection, positive that he will be starting at fullback.
“I’ve been training at fullback, I haven’t been training anywhere else,” he said.
“Obviously whatever decisions Cheik makes in the team, it’s what’s best for the team but I probably don’t see myself playing any other position other than 15.”
Meanwhile, another Wallaby is gearing up for his Bledisloe return as flanker and future saint David Pocock is set to return and his return has put the All Blacks on high alert.
His influence over the ruck was a key talking point for the Kiwis, with coach Steve Hansen continuing his role as chief advocate for the Wallabies (for some strange reason) by praising his skill at the breakdown.
“He’s a great scavenger of the ball,” Hansen said. “He’s somebody that we’ll have to be aware of at the breakdown…If we’re not he’ll come in and pinch the ball, so that would be painful.”
Pocock’s opposition number, All Blacks flanker Sam Cane, was also acutely aware of the danger posed by the powerful Wallaby.
“The way he continually bounces back and plays at such a high level is pretty outstanding,” Cane said.” “It just creates an awareness. We’re on more high alert than normal around the breakdown.”
Hopefully Pocock can been instrumental in causing a boil over in game 1 and breaking a drought that has been going for so long that there are nearly more Australians alive that have never seen the Wallabies win the Bledisloe, then the entire current New Zealand population.
Even the All Blacks hate themselves
As the All Blacks ramp up their preparations for the first test, halfback TJ Perenara has honoured upcoming centurion Sam Whitelock by letting everyone know his hatred for him.
That may sound like a weird thing to say, but Perenara has delivered this backhanded remark to Whitelock to praise his intense work ethic and style of play that made the two fierce rivals growing up.
“It’s funny with Sam, I grew up playing a lot of my footy against him before I was in this environment and I hated him,” Perenara quipped.
“Every time I passed it he’d just clean me out and hold me down on the ground, but he wouldn’t be reactive to it, I was like ‘what’s this dude up to? But he does it the same here, in training, it’s just a process for him and it’s part of his job, If there’s a defender next to the ruck, his job’s to take out the nine, so he takes out the nine.”
Whitelock has been a consistent part of the All Blacks side since his debut in 2010 and TJ has put this down to his killer-like mindset.
“Getting in the environment and getting to know him, his work ethic, his love for the game, his ability to just flick a switch and be in this killer mindset out on the field — it’s something that you want to be a part of and it’s something that you want on your team.”
Perenara was weirdly philosophical about why this was the case when quizzed about why this dislike had occurred.
“I don’t think it’s just as players, I think as humans we fall into that perception,” Perenara said. I think a lot of people who watch the game would have a perception of me as a person and they don’t know me as a person.”
“But they’d see what I do out on the field and judge that person — make that interpretation that he’s like that as a human being. So not just as footy players, as humans we do it.”
His leadership and influence on the team were also praised by winger Rieko Ioane, who said that Whitelock had been an inspiration for younger All Blacks coming through the ranks.
“He’s got a huge voice in this team, especially amongst us younger players,” said Ioane. “He’s the one paving the way for us to follow. His leadership is the biggest impact he has on me as a young fella and the core young group in this team, and for him to lead us by example, rather than voice, is the way he goes about things.”
Whitelock has seemingly been apart of the furniture for All Black and Crusaders success for the good part of this decade and continues to be a major threat for opposition teams, especailly the Wallabies.
Springboks boosted by giant return
In news from the seemingly forgotten Rugby Championship match, the Springboks are set to be boosted by the return of Lock and real life Hulk Eben Etzebeth.
Etzebeth has been sidelined since November after suffering shoulder nerve damage in their loss against Wales in November.
His recovery has been marred by setbacks to the nerve, assumingly due to how large it must be considering the size of him, that kept him out of the entirety of the Super Rugby season.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed that Etzebeth would be considered for selection against Argentina for the Rugby Championship opener at King’s Park.
“We just received the clearance from the specialist, Eben has been training full on with us ever since the end of the Stormers’ Super Rugby campaign‚ but we’ve been waiting on this.” Erasmus told the media in Durban
However, Erasmus was coy on the level of involvement that he would have if selected.
“Eben’s match fitness is a concern. It’s for that reason that we won’t see him playing much more than 60 minutes this week. If we start someone else and then there is an injury in the first minute‚ we might be in trouble.”
Erasmus was also hesitant about the selection of overseas players Willie le Roux, Faf de Klerk and Francois Louw.
They remain available for selection under Regualtion 9, which forces clubs to make players available during international windows, but Erasums was not looking to abuse this loophole.
“There aren’t any arrangements yet but there is an understanding with the clubs. In the first four games, we’ll try to use Francois and the others as much as possible.” Erasums noted.
“I want guys like Marco (van Staden) and Cyle (Brink) to learn as much from him as guys like Aphiwe (Dyantyi) and S’bu (Nkosi) learned from Willie or Ivan (van Zyl) and Embrose (Papier) from Faf”
“We don’t want to be selfish, and we want to grow this team with the World Cup in mind. We will handle it on a case-by-case basis. There’s a chance those players will go back after the Australasian tour, a good chance. But if we have a lot of injuries and are under pressure after a few bad results, we may keep them.”
Sevens star set to sing the Blues
In a damaging blow for Women’s rugby and the sevens program, star Chloe Dalton is set to defect to the AFLW after reportedly being on the cusp of signing for Carlton.
Dalton had been on an indefinite break from the sport earlier in the year citing personal reasons, however, it seems that she will spend this time off by trying her hand in the AFLW.
She is expected to be signed as an ‘other sports rookie’, and she will be eligible to play from round 1 as part of the sport’s collective bargaining agreement, which has looked to attract more talent from the other codes to boost its level of competitiveness.
Dalton had tried her hand at the sport earlier in the year, lining up for the side’s VFL team in early May and was excited about the new challenges ahead.
“When the opportunity came for a trial and I knew Carlton was interested, it all fell into place,” Dalton said earlier in the year.
“It’s been an awesome few months and my goal is to play AFLW. To learn the game this VFL season and work really hard there and try to earn my spot into the AFLW list hopefully as a rookie”
“We hope to see her playing rugby sevens in the future,” former national sevens coach Tim Walsh said. “It’s just her decision.”
“Throughout the time that I’ve been involved, we’ve had players leave, players come in and that’s the nature of professional sport and that’s the ability of a team as well, just knowing that’s what it is going into it but, also as a team how you react to it and (the mentality that) nothing’s a problem for us, no one’s bigger than the game and we just move on.”
It’s believed that Dalton has not ruled out returning to rugby ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and let’s hope she returns in time to defend our title.
This news must be worrying for Rugby fans alike as the exodus of rugby stars infiltrates the women’s game after reports last month about the Broncos intention to sign star Charlotte Caslick for its WNRL side and it’s something that needs to be addressed by the ARU to ensure the future growth of female participation in the sport.