Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at a James O’Connor injury update, the return of Michael Cheika, how Lachie Swinton is changing the Wallabies playstyle and a sudden SANZAAR change.
JOC on LOC-down
The Wallabies are set to be without flyhalf James O’Connor for this week’s clash against Argentina.
O’Connor has missed the last two test matches against the All Blacks after suffering an MCL injury.
However, it would be an issue from injuries past that has haunted his return, with a plantar fascia injury that he carried throughout the Super Rugby season flaring up.
It is expected that Reece Hodge will keep the position, with rookie flyhalf Noah Lolesio set to still play a significant role off the bench.
Another position up for grabs is at loosehead prop, with veteran Scott Sio and young gun Angus Bell set to battle it out for the vacant position left by James Slipper and his elbow injury.
Bell was chucked into the deep end on debut two weeks ago against the All Blacks, however, he told reporters that he believes that it was the perfect way to start his career.
“It was better I just got chucked in. No thinking, just straight into it,” Bell said.
“It was definitely tough but it was good scrumming with [Taniela Tupou]. He definitely helps. It was just a good day – we put a lot of prep into our scrum and set-piece.
“We’d mauled and scrummaged all week so that was definitely a plan. It was good it came to fruition and we got some pay from it.”
With his family, including one-time Wallaby Mark Bell, set to be in attendance in Newcastle on Saturday, Bell was hoping to replicate his heroics if called upon again.
“No advice, just go as hard as you can,” Bell said.
“He was watching it from Sydney. As soon as I could, I called him. It was a very good moment. Very special and especially to come away with the win on Slips’ 100th – it was an awesome day.
“It was a dream to face the All Blacks and the haka – it was probably the best week of my life. I’ll definitely never forget it.”
Know your enemy
The Wallabies are facing a ghost of coaching past on Saturday – new Argentina assistant Michael Cheika.
Cheika’s influence was pretty clear to see on the Pumas on Saturday, who produced one of the most emotionally upsets in 2020.
No one is more aware of ‘the Cheika effect’ than Ned Hanigan, who was handed his state and national debut by his former Waratahs coach.
Hanigan pointed to his intense and passionate style of coaching as the key towards the galvanization of the Pumas, believing that it will continue as he faces his Wallabies return.
“Having Cheik [Cheika] in the team, he has that motivating aspect and knows Australian rugby very well so he’ll definitely be an asset [on Saturday],” Hanigan told reporters on Tuesday.
“He just loves winning…he hates losing and loves winning so I think he’s taking both.”
A hallmark of last Saturday’s win was their incredible level of ball control and handling, giving away just four turnovers across the 80 minutes.
This has served as the Wallabies Achilles heel over the Bledisloe Cup series, with Hanigan conceding that they need to play tighter and with more control.
“The passion and pride they’ve got in the jersey; you could see the reaction after the game,” he said.
“That on-field energy you keep building with the bloke next to him, the key is for us to not give them the opportunities to get those sort of moments.
“In past games we’ve probably thrown the willy-nilly [pass] out the back, that sort of stuff just lets the momentum keep building in the opposition’s favour.”
Be like Lach
Despite playing just 30 minutes in the gold jersey, the Wallabies have taken major inspiration out of the performance of Lachie Swinton heading into their clash with Argentina.
Swinton’s physical nature set the tone for the Wallabies upset victory over the All Blacks a fortnight ago, with a similar style of play seemingly proving the catalyst for the Pumas upset victory last Saturday.
With the Waratahs back-rower suspended for the rest of the year, potential replacement Liam Wright admits that they need to emulate his efforts if they want to overcome Argentina.
“What Dave is looking for at No.6 is a lot of physicality and impact on the game,” Wright told reporters on Monday
“We’re looking for guys to come in like Swins (Swinton) did and just fly in and rip in.
“I thought he was really good, until that card, and put in a lot of effort and had a lot of dominant contact.
“I think the other main thing for that six role is just the set piece…and shoring that against Argentina is really important as well.”
The Reds captain pointed to their back-row as the catalyst for the Pumas upset victory, believing that they needed to win the contact battle to secure the win on Saturday.
“For us to get quick breakdown ball we will have to target their back-row definitely and make sure we win that contact battle for the carry otherwise it’s going to be a long day,” Wright added.
“They are going to slow up our ball and it’s hard to get go-forward.
“Their back row is quite a big row, they’ve got some bruising tacklers and they were good over the ball so it’s going to make for an interesting match up but I think our boys are ready for it.”
NZR boss Brett Impey has gone full scorched earth on SANZAAR after he stepped down from his role as chairman.
Impey has held the role for the past five years, however, the organisation has faced significant issues over the past 12 months.
This has ironically been led by Impey, who pioneered the charge for the abolishment of Super Rugby as well as a weird spat between his two jobs regarding the schedule of The Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations.
“In my view it is time for Sanzaar to make some fundamental changes which are best placed to happen under an independent chair,” he said in a statement.
“While there was no imperative for change it was appropriate to rotate the role, however I now believe that the role of chair of a national union as well as chair of Sanzaar is a conflict for any country,
“I also hold the view that Sanzaar should become membership-based. The four-country consensus model is outdated if we are looking to grow the game commercially and internationally.
“A membership model would allow the group to act together on issues such as the global calendar, rules, regulations, governance, and mutual commercial interests. Currently, the odds are heavily stacked against SANZAAR in its present form being able to affect change.”
He believes that the organisation needs to focus on building its profile and relationships with second-tier nations.
“That includes potential expansion of the Rugby Championship, developing competitions for the likes of South American countries, North American, the Georgia and Romanias of this world, Pacific Islands,” he added.
“In my view, Sanzaar should be welcoming all of those countries in as members and creating competitions that are going to allow the likes of Japan and Fiji to the next level, and those other countries to progress.’’