Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at Christian Lealiifano’s reaction to his award nomination, Simone’s re-signing, the potential return of the Australia A concept and how the coronavirus could impact Global Rapid Rugby
Lealiifano honoured by Laureus
Departed Wallaby Christian Lealiifano has expressed his gratitude for the overwhelming reaction to his nomination for Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year.
The comeback award is given to those “who has overcome injury, illness, adversity, disappointment or failure and risen back to triumph in the sporting arena.”
Lealiifano is the only Australian nominated for the awards ceremony, with the 32-year-old just happy to be alive.
“You feel like you have won already,” Lealiifano told RUGBY.com.au from Japan.
“You probably shouldn’t get an award for being recognised for being healthy and alive. I have been given the gift of life already.”
“Adding an award on having been the gift of life …I guess it is just recognition of how you can inspire different people and different walks of life in the world.
“And that’s a huge honour. It’s truly humbling.”
In true Lealiifano style, he was quick to shift the honour to others, believing that the “overwhelming” experience has given those doing great work with leukaemia their rightful recognition.
“It’s been overwhelming hey? I am truly, truly humbled,” Lealiifano said.
“I have said that a fair bit, just the recognition of people seeing me back to play footy and the support they’ve shown.
“The publicity around it has been pretty huge and people have been sending me private messages and whatnot.
“My initial thoughts was oh man, this is a big thing but it is not only me, it’s not only myself.
“There are a lot of people in the background who have got me to where I am, so for me, it is not an individual award.
“It is a family, it’s a rugby community, it’s a whole thing.
“I haven’t done this thing by myself. It’s been a whole family of people that have got me to there.”
Brumbies centre Irae Simone has confirmed his future in the nation’s capital after signing a two-year extension that will keep him at the club until the end of the 2022 season.
Simone arrived from Sydney in 2018 and was an integral piece in their push to the semi-finals, having played 16 out of the Brumbies’ 18 games.
He continued his strong form during their 27-24 win over the Reds during the first round, scoring their opening try.
The 24-year-old was pleased to have secured his future, excited by the club’s playing group and plans for the future.
“I couldn’t be happier to be extending my stay at the Brumbies,” Simone said.
“My family and I are really enjoying our time here in Canberra and the organisation has welcomed us with open arms since I arrived here last year.
“I’m really excited by the future the club is building and am looking forward to a successful season in 2020.”
With his future wrapped up, Simone has his eyes set on representing his adopted country, Australia.
“I came down with some goals. I got an opportunity and I didn’t look back – I grabbed it with both hands,” he revealed.
“It was good to get that security (of re-signing). All I need to worry about now is playing good footy.
“(Wallabies) is a goal but at the moment my priority is Brumbies.
“If can do well here then everything else will take care of itself.”
Coach Dan McKellar was equally as excited, believing that he will continue to develop and improve over the next two seasons.
“I’m really pleased we’ve been able to lock Irae in for another few years here at the Brumbies,” he said.
“He played a lot of minutes for us last year and I’m sure he’ll be looking to go up a level with his performances in 2020 and beyond.
“Irae has grown on and off the field since he arrived last year and is a really well-respected player amongst the group.”
World Rugby planning ‘A’ new schedule
World Rugby is looking for ways to provide more international fixtures for ‘tier-two’ nations, which has heralded the return of Australia A.
Australia A hasn’t played since 2008, with the side regularly playing in the Pacific Nations Cup against the likes of Fiji, Japan and Samoa between 2006-2008.
As these nations continue to develop and impress, Rugby Australia Raelene “Queen of the” Castle has decreed that they will look to bring the concept back as early as next year.
“We have a responsibility to deliver to our tier-one Test schedule, but tier one nations also have a responsibility to deliver to tier two – and tier two is not the greatest language – to make sure they’re growing and developing, and getting regular Test schedules,” Castle said.
“There is no doubt the option of Australia A playing a fixture in Fiji or Samoa or Tonga is something that is achievable and doesn’t mess with the straight Wallabies schedule,
“So we are working with World Rugby, as are New Zealand with the New Zealand Maori team, and South Africa, around seeing how we can build the wider scope to make sure we grow all of that big international content.”
Whether that means a re-entry to the Pacific Nations Cup, which now includes the likes of Canada and the USA, is still up for debate.
However, Castle believes that it can provide the perfect pathway for up-and-coming players along with those on the cusp to take the next step.
“It (Australia A) is in for discussion, with the support of World Rugby,” she said.
“They’re all looking for the top nations, to see if they can find that Australia A level or New Zealand Maori level, in a way that helps and still has that significant profile.
“For us, there would be upside in exposing players to that international platform and transitioning them into the Wallabies.”
This announcement came at the launch of a new partnership between Australian rugby and the Benestar Group, which will look to enhance the health and wellbeing of players, employees and their families.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus is set to play havoc on Global Rapid Rugby as they look to continue their expansion into Asia.
The Andrew-Forrest led competition announced the inclusion of the Shanghai-based China Lions as the final team in their 2020 debut season of the $1 million prize, with CEO Mark Evans expressing his delight about their continual development of Asian rugby.
“Our expansion into China is an important development for the competition. We believe that rugby has the potential to become an extremely popular and successful sport throughout the country,” Evans said at the announcement last week.
“Rugby is a game with broad appeal. Add the on-going energy, entertainment and family fun created by Rapid Rugby and I am confident crowds in Shanghai will love supporting their home team, the Lions.”
However, a day later, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia would not allow people who have visited or transited through mainland China into the country.
This bodes poorly for GRR, who also have a team based in Hong Kong; the South China Tigers.
While Evans admits that it is a concern, he is hopeful that they can keep the teams in the competition after delaying their home games.
“These are uncharted waters,” Evans said.
“We’ve run another schedule whereby we push the first game, to be played in Shanghai, out further into the comp. So that’s one contingency.
“The other is you look at whether you take the team and put them in a less restricted, hard-hit area. You have to look at all of those, and we are.
“We’re spending a lot of time mapping out different scenarios and different contingencies depending on how the situation develops.”
If the outbreak continues, the comp may be forced to relocate the team for the inaugural season, likely to the Bay of Plenty region as part of the club’s partnership with the Mitre 10 side.
Despite this, it is expected that it will not affect players, with the majority of the squad recruited from outside of China.