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Scots learning how to turn close defeats to wins – Barclay

June 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Skipper John Barclay says Scotland are learning from their agonising defeats and are better equipped at closing out tight Tests after toppling the Wallabies in a famous victory in Australia.

BArclay

The Scots will climb to fifth in the world rankings from sixth after holding on for a resilient 24-19 win in Sydney on Saturday, spiritedly defending their try-line as the Wallabies laid siege.

It was Scotland’s second-straight win in Australia after edging the Wallabies 9-6 in Newcastle in 2012, and comes on the back of two heartbreaking one-point defeats at Murrayfield last year and in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham.

Scotland have now won three of their last six encounters with the Wallabies and will take home the Hopetoun Cup, one of the few trophies that had been remaining in Australia’s possession.

Barclay, the 62-capped blindside flanker from Llanelli’s Scarlets, said Scotland’s skills have been under-played and they were making their presence felt in international rugby.

“It will give us confidence. You cannot deny the fact that we’ve been on the wrong side of a couple of these against the Aussies for the last couple of years and it was nice to close one out,” Barclay told reporters after Saturday’s triumph.

“But in this year’s Six Nations we closed out a couple of really important games, tight games against Ireland and Wales, so I think we are getting better at closing out games.

“The important thing is that you learn from the close defeats. Everyone always talks about the Scots being brave, but I don’t think we speak enough about the skills of the guys have.

“Look at the tries we’re scoring, I think it’s brilliant and I think it’s under-played at times.”

Scotland matched the Wallabies’ three tries and after regaining the lead midway through the second period, they held on gamely for a morale-boosting win.

“It’s really a proud day for us all,” said coach Gregor Townsend, who has now won his first two games in charge after last week’s 34-13 victory over Italy in Singapore.

“For everyone involved in Scottish rugby to blow away those frustrations of the last couple of seasons and come away with such an important win is a credit to the players.

“If you have to defend 10-15 minutes like that against a brilliant attacking team, then you need strong bones and that’s what this team has.

“We knew that it would be really tough, Australia showed a lot what they could do in attack but our width in our defence, the fact that everyone in that 15 were looking to get back and compete for ball, really helped us to get a place and slow down their ball.”

Townsend and Barclay paid tribute to the on-field leadership of 29-capped fly-half Finn Russell, who later was called up as one of six injury reinforcements for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

“I have to say that Finn Russell was outstanding. He leads our attack, but I thought he led our defence really well, the amount of tackles he put in and putting his body on the line,” Townsend said.

Barclay added: “I thought the way Finn Russell has changed as a leader and his composure on the pitch breeds confidence to those around him.”

Scotland left on Sunday for their third and final Test of their tour against Fiji in Suva on Saturday.

Wallabies ‘ready for the fight’ to restore morale – Cheika

June 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Coach Michael Cheika has vowed the Wallabies will lift the spirits of the Australian game amid a demoralising Super Rugby campaign in this week’s start to the international Test season.

Wallabies

Australian rugby is in the doldrums with its five franchises struggling and one, as yet unnamed, facing the axe when Super Rugby reverts to 15 teams next season form the current 18.

New Zealand teams are currently unbeaten in their 23 Super Rugby matches against Australian opposition this year.

Cheika said Sunday the Wallabies’ first five Tests of 2017 were going to be “like Everest for us”, but added that the players were ready for the fight.

Super Rugby takes a back seat for the next three weeks as the Wallabies take on Fiji, Scotland and Italy at home.

Also ahead in August is the Bledisloe Cup, which Australia has not been able to win back from the All Blacks since 2002.

“These first five games of our season, the three June Tests and the two Bledisloe Cup matches, are going to be like an Everest for us,” Cheika said on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Offsiders programme.

“We’ve got to be fully prepared and we’ve got to enjoy the challenge as well… and get stuck into it.

“I’m a strong and passionate believer in rugby in this country. Yeah, there’s some tough times on and off the field but it’s what you get from those and how you respond.”

Cheika added that Australian rugby fans were looking to the Wallabies to put things right on the field.

“We’ve got to play with a certain attitude that says we’re here for the fight,” he said.

“The Australian team will be playing with no fear and having been well prepared to go out there and have that positive mindset.”

While Cheika believed that Australia had “punched above our weight so far… even to be where we are now — third in the world”, he wanted to set the team’s sights even higher ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

“But maybe we’ve been satisfied at that level instead of going to the next step. You got to start believing and dreaming that.

“For the next generation of players, that’s the mindset we want to put in their head.”

The Wallabies kick off their 2017 international campaign against Fiji in Melbourne on Saturday, followed by Tests against Scotland in Sydney on June 17 and Italy in Brisbane on June 24.

Cheika proud of Wallabies

November 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said his team could look each other in the eye with pride after Australia held off France in a thrilling Test on Saturday.

Cheika

Camille Lopez missed a last-gasp drop goal as the Wallabies claimed a 25-23 win at the Stade de France in Paris.

Australia were missing a number of stars, with the likes of Israel Folau, Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper not involved in the French capital, but the Wallabies – led by stand-in captain David Pocock closed out the victory to remain undefeated on their European tour.

After Saturday’s side were labelled a “B Team” pre-game, Cheika said: “The team selection was made with the knowledge that obviously when a player steps inside a gold jersey, he knows who he has to be and we’ve been working really hard on that this year with a new group of players and that’s all I wanted them to do tonight.

“Whether they were labelled as the ‘Equipe Bis’ or not or the first team, I was just really proud of the effort.

“We made some mistakes as well but I feel like there was a lot of commitment there from our lads.

“That gives them the opportunity to eye-ball each other in the dressing room after the game and say, ‘You know what? I did my job and I can look at my team-mate straight in the eye’ and that is all there is to it.”

Cheika also singled out Pocock for praise, telling reporters: “I think we all know what David brings I don’t want to embarrass him sitting next to me but I think as a leader – different as a No.7 – today he played as a leader and captain.

“And I think that inspires other players around him and it certainly inspires me watching him in the game when you see a leader take it on like that.

“Full credit to him because he was one of the players that was retained in the team, he knew he had a job to do and he took it on with both hands.”

France boss Guy Noves added: “[The most] frustrating [thing] is it took first half to get going, I was really bored in the first half and the match only became beautiful in the second half.

“We were lucky to wear the jersey and be there on the pitch so I told my guys if you do nothing during the first half it’s not worthwhile.

“There is a lot of frustration because I feel we could have won and the first half does not pay tribute to the work that has been going into the preparation.”

Australia edge Scotland 23-22 at Murrayfield

November 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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For the second time in 13 months, a late kick by Australia fly-half Bernard Foley denied Scotland a famous victory against the Wallabies at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Wallabies

The Scots were leading 22-16 in their opening November international when centre Tevita Kuridrani broke through an attempted tackle from full-back Stuart Hogg to peg their deficit to 22-21, providing Foley with an opportunity to snatch victory with a close range conversion.

The Waratahs outside-half duly slotted the ball between the posts – against a backdrop of unsporting boos – as he had done to controversially win the 2015 World Cup quarter-final between the countries at Twickenham, 35-34, with an unjustly awarded 79th minute.

In doing so, Australia kept their Grand Slam tour hopes alive and Scotland were cruelly denied a famous victory that beckoned after two tries from Edinburgh-born Stormers centre Huw Jones, who made a storming first start for Scotland in his home city, and lock Jonny Gray.

“Too close for comfort!” said Australia skipper Stephen Moore.

“We just got there in the end. I’m very proud of the guys digging in there. Lot of respect for the Scots, it’s always tight.”

Scotland’s Jones added: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking, we’re gutted to lose like that.

“Our discipline just wasn’t good enough.”

Scotland had never beaten one of the southern hemisphere’s big three – Australia, New Zealand or South Africa – in the opening match of a November series but they came out of the traps firing in their first Test for five months.

With two minutes on the clock, centre Alex Dunbar made a huge dent in the Wallabies’ defence with a diagonal run from midfield. The Edinburgh player was hauled down by Australia full-back Israel Folau but the Scots were awarded a penalty for offside and Greig Laidlaw, Scotland’s captain and scrum-half, kicked them in front, 3-0.

Australia attempted to hit back immediately but their giant tighthead prop Sekope Kepu spilled the ball under tackle with the try-line in sight. Then Scotland struck with the opening try in the eighth minute, fly-half Finn Russell chipping through for Jones to collect and beat the cover defence with a mazy run to the line.

Greig Laidlaw’s conversion gave Scotland a 10-point cushion but they were pegged back to 10-7 in the 13th minute when Australia showed the first glimpse of the cutting edge that carved apart Wales. It came from a line-out move on their own 10m line, lock Rory Arnold claiming possession and Genia and right wing Dane Haylett-Petty coming into the line on the left to feed a scoring pass to the razor-sharp Hodge.

Foley landed the conversion and the Wallabies would have added to their tally had Jones not snaffled a pass from flanker Michael Hooper that threatened to furnish Hodge with his second score. Still, in the 23rd minute, Foley nailed his first penalty to level the scores at 10-10.

Not that the momentum remained with the visitors for long. Indeed, Jones made it two debut tries in the 27th minute, taking a feed from Fagerson and skipping through two would-be tacklers to score on the left. Laidlaw converted and Scotland were 17-10 up at the half-time interval.

Foley made in 17-13 with a penalty three minutes into the second-half but Scotland hit the Wallabies with a third try in the 48th minute. Though full-back Stuart Hogg was halted on a blindside break by Kuridrani, Jonny Gray barged over from a close range ruck. Laidlaw’s attempted conversion hit the near upright but his side were ahead 22-13.

A third penalty success by Foley cut the gap to 22-16 in the 56th minute but a huge defensive effort by the Scots held the Wallabies (who lost replacement lock Will Skelton to a yellow card in the 68th minute) at bay until the 75th minute. Furnished with possession 10 metres out, Kuridrani had the power to elude Hogg and score the decisive try that Foley converted to deny the Scots.

Foley leads Australian Wallabies to Wales rout in Cardiff

November 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Bernard Foley said he and his Australian teammates were set on ignoring any criticism, instead focusing on ever-improving performances after demolishing Wales in their tour opener.

Wallabies

Fly-half Foley was magnificent in his chef d’orchestre role in the 32-8 victory on Saturday, thriving behind a dominant pack and quick service from scrum-half Nic Phipps to feed a wealth of willing, free-running backs outside him.

Three first-half tries and two more in the second period, including one from Foley, set up a comprehensive win in the first game of a six-match tour in which Australia could win their first Grand Slam of Home Nations teams since 1984.

“I think it’s something we put a lot of emphasis on is coming here and starting this tour well and this week preparation was immense,” said Foley.

“You can’t fault how the guys prepared for this game and I think what was real pleasing was it was our defence, it didn’t waver all game.

“When our attack wasn’t working in the second half we were still able to score two tries off the back of our defence and that’s probably one thing this team wants to pride ourselves on. It’s something we’ve taken a lot of positives out of.”

Michael Cheika’s Wallabies have come in for criticism after a string of poor results following their appearance in the World Cup final a year ago.

A June series whitewash by England and a record home defeat by New Zealand in the Rugby Championship put Cheika and the squad in the limelight for all the wrong reasons, but Foley insisted it was water off a duck’s back.

“For us, there is a lot of external noise and there has been this year and I think it’s something we’ve had to put up with but as a squad we’re taking no notice of that external noise,” said the playmaker who won the Super Rugby title in 2014 with the Waratahs.

“We’re just focused on our roles in this squad and be really tight as a group. The resilience this team has showed the character it’s showed and the Tests we’ve been out through this year is just setting the platform, hopefully, for future success.”

Foley has proved to be somewhat of a thorn in Wales’ side in recent times.

In 2013, he came off the bench in the final five minutes as Australia snatched a 30-26 victory and a year later hit three penalties, three conversions and a crucial drop-goal in the closing stages as the visitors won again.

Then during the World Cup pool game at Twickenham 13 months ago he struck five penalties to help his team to a 15-6 win over Wales to finish atop their group.

“I was happy. We came here with a plan and we were able to execute it. We were prepared for what the Welsh bring and then try to nullify their threats and then also look at opportunities for us in attack,” he said.

“The backs worked really hard off the back off the platform the forwards set. I think it was, especially that first half, probably set us up really well.”

Thoughts now, however, turn to Scotland, whom Australia play next weekend.

“he Scottish are a side that we’ve had some close encounters with in the past couple of years,” Foley said.

“You only have to look back at last year’s World Cup quarter-final. They’re a team that if you’re ill-disciplined and if you knock off at set piece, they’ll really hurt you.”

Foley reiterated Cheika’s stance that there had been no talk of the Grand Slam.

“Not at all! That’s where you fall over, if you start looking ahead, that’s where we’ll stumble or fall over,” he said.

All Blacks crush Australia for record 18th straight win

October 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Julian Savea’s stunning late try double ended Australian resistance as the All Blacks claimed a world-record 18th consecutive victory with a crushing 37-10 win in Auckland on Saturday.

Savea

It was hardly vintage All Blacks and the tense game at Eden Park wasn’t settled until Savea’s game-breaking effort in the second half, scoring two tries and setting up a third.

But the ultimately convincing win rewrites the record books for Steve Hansen’s side, who surpass the top-tier record winning streak of 17 set by the All Blacks of 1965-1969 and matched twice since.

The All Blacks hit the front in the fifth minute when Israel Dagg scored and they never surrendered the lead, but for long periods Australia dictated terms and only stout defence earned the All Blacks their place in history.

They were only ahead 15-10 — after Australia had had a try disallowed by the TV match official — and defending constantly with 25 minutes to play when Savea burst into life.

There were questions ahead of the game whether the Wallabies would prove giantkillers, having stymied the All Blacks three times in recent years when the record was on the cards.

But Bernard Foley missed two close-range penalties and a Henry Speight try was disallowed when the TV official judged that Dane Haylett-Petty blocked Savea as he chased Speight.

For all their attacking flaws, sloppy discipline and rushed decision-making, the All Blacks scored six tries with Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, TJ Perenara, Savea (twice) and Dane Coles all crossing the line.

Aaron Cruden, brought off the bench early in the second half after Beauden Barrett missed the first three conversions, added seven points with the boot.

Rory Arnold scored Australia’s only try with Foley adding a conversion and penalty.

The Test record caps a remarkable 12 months in which the All Blacks became the first team to successfully defend the World Cup, retained the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup for a 14th consecutive year and won the Rugby Championship for the fourth time in five years.

Since Hansen took over as head coach after the All Blacks won the 2011 World Cup, the side has lost only three of 64 matches.

The Wallabies had the first opportunity to score only for Foley to hook a 33-metre penalty and the All Blacks responded immediately, exposing the Wallaby centres with two smart tries.

Ben Smith ran around Reece Hodge to put Dagg over wide out for the first touchdown and four minutes later Lienert-Brown, taking a short pass from Ryan Crotty, zipped past Samu Kerevi for the second.

For 15 minutes through the middle of the first half the Wallabies enjoyed a measure of control and they eventually broke the All Blacks defence when Arnold used all of his 2.08 metres (6ft 9in) to stretch out and score in the 28th minute.

They had a chance to turn it into a 10-point try, as Kieran Read was penalised in a confrontation on the line, but Hodge was astray with his long-range attempt at the restart.

The All Blacks struck back immediately with scrum-half Perenara charging down a Hodge clearing kick, regathering the ball and running in the All Blacks’ third try.

Foley landed a penalty early in the second half and Australia continued to keep pressure on the All Blacks until Smith broke out from his own 22 and set up Savea’s first try.

The big wing smashed through Speight and Nick Frisby for his second and then sent Coles over to settle the outcome.

Australia delay naming of side for All Blacks clash

October 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Australia rugby coach Michael Cheika has raised the stakes in his psychological battle with New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen by delaying the naming of his team for Saturday’s test at Eden Park until Friday.

Cheika

Test sides are traditionally named on the Thursday before a match and while Cheika has often delayed firming up his replacements bench, leaving the matchday squad announcement until the eve of the contest is a new twist.

All Blacks coach Hansen, whose side will be aiming for a top tier record 18th successive test victory in Auckland, earlier played a few mind games of his own by suggesting a few selections he thought Cheika would make.

Hansen said he thought New Zealand-born flyhalf Quade Cooper would be dropped, with Bernard Foley moving back into the number 10 shirt from the inside centre berth he occupied for most of the Rugby Championship.

Cooper has often struggled for the Wallabies in the land of his birth, where he was dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” during the 2011 World Cup.

“I’m picking they’ll play two big guys in the midfield,” Hansen told the New Zealand media on Thursday.

“They’ll play Foley at first-five and give Quade a rest for this one (and) someone like (Reece) Hodge or either one of the Fijian boys in the midfield to try to get some go-forward which is probably something they lacked in the first two tests.”

Samu Kerevi took over at outside centre from his fellow Fiji-born back Tevita Kuridrani for the second of the two drubbings at the hands of New Zealand with which Australia opened the Rugby Championship in August.

Regardless of whether he rejigs his backline, Cheika must decide whether to bring standout loose forward David Pocock into the starting line-up after his recovery from injury.

He must also replace Will Genia, who has returned to club duties in France, at scrumhalf.

The two Rugby Championship victories ensured that New Zealand will retain the Bledisloe Cup, which they have held since 2003, regardless of the result of Saturday’s test.

Australia have not beaten the All Blacks at Eden Park since 1986.

Warburton confirmed as Wales captain

September 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Sam Warburton has been confirmed as Wales captain for their November internationals against Australia, Argentina, Japan and South Africa, interim head coach Robert Howley said on Friday.

Warburton

Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton, who has captained Wales on 50 occasions, also led the British and Irish Lions on their 2013 tour of Australia and has also been tipped to skipper the combined side in New Zealand next year.

As was the case in 2013, Warren Gatland is taking a sabbatical from his duties as Wales coach in order to guide the Lions.

“Sam Warburton is a great captain,” said Howley, who is again in charge of Wales in Gatland’s absence with the Lions.

“He captained the Lions, he will continue to captain Wales. I have spoken to Sam already, and he will captain us for the autumn series and into the Six Nations.

“He has, of course, done it (led the Lions) once, and I am sure he is in other people’s thoughts to captain again, but the challenge for all players will be the autumn series and the Six Nations.”

England captain Dylan Hartley is also in contention to skipper the Lions, particularly given the hooker led the team to a Six Nations Grand Slam and a 3-0 Test series win in Australia during a run of nine straight victories under coach Eddie Jones.

And former Wales and Lions scrum-half Howley accepted that, under former Australia and Japan coach Jones, England had become the team to beat in Europe.

“It’s a challenge for ourselves, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy,” Howley said. “Eddie Jones has come in and they have played nine, won nine.

“As Eddie said, he mentioned in a quote that England should win (or challenge for) the (Six Nations) championship every year, so it’s for all of us to do something about it and make sure we challenge that area.

“It was great to see their three Tests over in Australia. They’ve got their house in order under Eddie, and it is something we look forward to.

“It’s at the Principality Stadium (Wales’ Six Nations clash against England in Cardiff on February 11), and it’s a date in the calendar.”

Howley, who has been a member of Gatland’s staff since 2008, will have full responsibility for Wales this term.

His previous stint in charge of Wales in 2012/13 saw the side lose five straight matches, including all four autumn Tests, before recovering to win the Six Nations.

Gatland is set to stand down as Wales head coach after the 2019 World Cup in Japan but Howley added: “I don’t see it as an audition.

“Autumn 2012 was a huge learning experience for me as a head coach,” he explained. “Because Warren came back for the Australia and New Zealand games, that period was difficult with messages going back and fore between us. There was a lot of energy wasted, a lot of communication.

“We need to become better as a team, and if we can become better, we will be a difficult team to beat over the next 10 months.”

Pumas target Cooper-Foley in Wallabies ambush

September 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Argentina plan to target playmakers Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper as they gear up for an ambush win over the Wallabies in their Rugby Championship Test in Perth on Saturday.

Foley

Head coach Michael Cheika risked fielding both fly-halves as the Wallabies broke a run of six Test defeats against South Africa in Brisbane last week and the pair hold the key to Australia’s attack against the Pumas.

Winger Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino said Argentina, who already have the Springboks scalp in this year’s southern hemisphere tournament, are looking to keep Cooper and Foley in check this weekend.

“I think this is the idea, start playing the match and don’t give easy points to Australia, put pressure on the key players, Quade Cooper, Foley,” Amorosino told reporters on Friday.

“They have two 10s (fly-halves) in their team and they play with really good skills so I think the idea is to put pressure on (those) players.

“Maybe make them feel not so comfortable and after that we take the opportunity to carry the ball as soon as possible.”

It is the first time the two nations have met since the Wallabies won 29-15 in a semi-final at last year’s World Cup in London.

Amorosino said the Pumas had to ensure their defensive game was spot on to contain the Australians.

“We need to put pressure on Australia to put up a really good defence, so after two or three phases we receive the ball again and we can start playing,” he said.

But Amorosino said while defence was a priority, the Pumas would not abandon the running rugby that had them trailing the All Blacks by just two points after 50 minutes in New Zealand last weekend.

The All Blacks stepped it up in the final stages to run away 57-22 winners, scoring eight tries to one.

“Rugby is a mixture, if you’ve got really good attack and no defence you can’t play and then you’ve got really good defence and no attack you can’t play,” he said.

“You need to have a mix to have a good match.”

Pumas defence coach Pablo Bouza said the Wallabies, with three new backs this year, were a difficult team for which to devise a game plan.

“I don’t know if they have so many as New Zealand but they have the skill and the pattern of attack is very good,” he said.

“Every match they improve something, they bring something new so it is very difficult for us to study what they’re doing.

“They have some different players — Israel Folau is a great, now they are playing with two number 10s, their number nine (scrum-half Will) Genia is playing really well in the championship.

“It’s a very tough team for defence.”

The Pumas have only won once in 12 Tests in Australia, but that was back in 1983. They have had three narrow defeats in the Rugby Championship away to the Wallabies.

Springboks plan to gate-crash ‘Pooper’ party

September 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Skipper Adriaan Strauss said on Friday the Springboks had plans to make sure Australia’s Michael Hooper and David Pocock don’t dominate the breakdown in Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test.

Wallabies

Strauss said South Africa would have to negate Australia’s renowned “Pooper” back-row combination, with the breakdown likely to be one of the key areas of the game.

“We’re going to need to front up there (in the breakdown),” Strauss told reporters. “There’s a lot of tactics to get those guys out of the game.

“We just need to be sharp and we need to be aware of where they are on the pitch and what positions they’re placing themselves on the field to make those steals and to slow the ball down.”

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has resisted calls for a back-row makeover by keeping both natural open-side flankers in his starting team and calling up lineout jumper Dean Mumm at blindside flanker.

Strauss said there wasn’t a single way of stopping Hooper and Pocock’s ball-pilfering, which made its first appearance in last year’s corresponding Test in Brisbane.

“There’s a lot of ways to try and keep them out of the game but they’re also very clever players and they find ways to sneak into the rucks,” he said.

“We’ve prepared quite well for that and on the day we just need to be sharp.”

The Springboks traditionally struggle to win in Australia with just two victories in their last 12 Tests in the country. They have only won once in Brisbane (2013) since 1993.

But last year’s Brisbane Test was decided by a Tevita Kuridrani try after the full-time siren and Strauss said he expected another close tussle this weekend.

“I think it’s always a massive game against Australia, rivals in rugby and we haven’t got a great record here in Brisbane,” he said.

“But fortunately on the day history won’t make any difference on the scoreline.

“We are fully aware that they are a good side, especially in Brisbane, so we’re looking forward to having to play another tough game tomorrow.”

South Africa have retained their back row of Warren Whiteley, Francois Louw and Oupa Mohoje, who played together in the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship against Argentina.

“We are an evolving team,” Strauss said. “We’re definitely not playing the type of rugby we want to play yet, but we know where we’re heading.

“We know we’ve got a lot of shortcomings still. It’s a growing process but we’ve been trying to speed that up.”

Mumm’s the word as Wallabies’ Cheika seeks set-piece boost

September 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Coach Michael Cheika bolstered the lineout as he made two changes Thursday to the Wallabies starting team for the Rugby Championship Test against South Africa in Brisbane.

Cheika

Reece Hodge earns his first start for Australia after impressing off the bench in their 29-9 loss to New Zealand in Wellington two weeks ago.

He replaces winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has returned to his French club side Bordeaux.

In the other change, Dean Mumm will start at blindside flanker and partner David Pocock and Michael Hooper in the back row. World Cup flanker Scott Fardy has been left out of the match-day squad.

Mumm had two strong performances off the bench in the Rugby Championship and has been selected to match the Springboks’ traditionally strong set-piece.

Cheika named an extended nine-man bench with one to be omitted following the final training run on Friday.

If selected, Melbourne Rebels backrower Lopeti Timani is in line to become the eighth Wallabies debutant this year as Cheika looks to rebuild the Australian team.

Timani looks Australia’s best option for a traditional running No.8, while Sean McMahon is back in contention after playing for the Wallabies in June’s three-Test home series loss against Six Nations champions England.

Lock Rory Arnold is set to return to the Wallabies fold after overcoming an elbow injury.

There could also be a return for French-based winger Drew Mitchell, who has battled a groin injury and hasn’t featured for the Wallabies since the World Cup final in London last October.

Australia have lost their last six Tests, three of them against New Zealand, and another defeat would equal the team’s worst run in the post-1995 professional era.

Seven consecutive defeats in 2005 eventually led to the sacking of then coach Eddie Jones.

Australia, who are the Rugby Championship holders, lie on the bottom of the four-nation standings, having conceded 71 points in their two heavy losses to the world champion All Blacks.

Australia (15-1): Israel Folau; Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Dean Mumm; Adam Coleman, Kane Douglas; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio

Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Lopeti Timani, Sean McMahon, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani, Drew Mitchell

Ashley-Cooper set for France tests after concussion

September 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Veteran Australia back Adam Ashley-Cooper must undergo tests in France before playing again after suffering concussion against New Zealand last week, Bordeaux-Begles forwards coach Jacques Brunel said Saturday.

Cooper

Ashley-Cooper played in a 29-9 Rugby Championship defeat to the All Blacks where the 32-year-old won his 116th cap, but suffered a head knock and had to be replaced after 17 minutes.

“We saw him this morning (Saturday) when he came to training,” said Brunel. “He’s good, we’ll give him a checkup next week with a neurologist to see if he can eventually be called on.

“But he seems to be physically and mentally fit to play,” added Brunel ahead of Sunday’s Top 14 clash against Montpellier.

Ashley-Cooper called time on his international career after the last World Cup, but had responded favourably to Australia coach Michael Cheika for a return to the Rugby Championship.

Bordeaux president Laurent Marti had expressed his frustration at having to release Ashley-Cooper, who signed with the French club before the introduction of the “Giteau Law” that allowed players with more than 60 Test caps to return to the Wallabies from overseas clubs.

Bledisloe Cup big, Cooper not so for All Blacks

August 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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New Zealand say Saturday’s Test in Wellington against Australia is all about securing the Bledisloe Cup for a 14th straight year, downplaying the appearance of the polarising Quade Cooper.

Cooper

The world champion All Blacks are overwhelming favourites to win, given the way they steamrollered the Wallabies 42-8 in Sydney last week.

Coach Steve Hansen has expressed concern that his side was so dominant that complacency loomed as the big enemy.

But captain Kieran Read said the need to retain the Bledisloe Cup was enough motivation not to go off the boil.

“We’re a pretty proud bunch and the Bledisloe Cup means a lot to us so obviously we’ve got to do a job tomorrow night for us to hang on to it,” Read said after leading the All Blacks through their final training run on Friday.

“It’s never easy backing up a great performance and we’re looking to go out and do that and really stamp our mark on the game. We’ve got to do that early.

“The Bledisloe Cup is a massive driver for us and that’s still up in the air right now, so we can’t be saying anything about holding onto it until we do the job one more time.”

Both New Zealand and Australia rate the Bledisloe Cup, the symbol of trans-Tasman rugby supremacy, as second in importance only to the World Cup.

But the Wallabies have not sighted it for a long time. They have lost their last 18 matches on New Zealand soil, dating back to 2001, and last held the Bledisloe Cup 14 years ago.

In an effort to shore up their ranks after the Sydney drubbing, the Wallabies have brought back fly-half Quade Cooper for his first international in 11 months.

Cooper is a ready target for elements of the New Zealand crowd given his history of incidents involving former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

New Zealand-born Cooper also has his detractors in Australia for his ability to run hot and cold, particularly when playing against his country of birth.

“There will be a queue trying to blame Cooper if things go pear-shaped,” wrote Jim Tucker in the Brisbane Courier-Mail newspaper.

But, with McCaw now retired, Read could not understand what the fuss was about.

“It’s a non-issue for us as a squad. We’re here to play footy against whoever it is,” he said.

“In the past, in New Zealand, it’s created a bit of stir but a lot of our guys probably weren’t involved in those moments and so it’s just another name on the team sheet for them.”

Cheika losing patience with misfiring Wallabies

June 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Coach Michael Cheika says he will forcefully get his message across to his misfiring team after the Wallabies threw away their chance of squaring the Test series against England this weekend.

Cheika

The Wallabies let themselves down with a multitude of handling errors, many in strong attacking positions, as England triumphed 23-7 on the back of a monumental defensive effort in the second Test to clinch their first-ever series in Australia on Saturday.

While the Wallabies conceded 14 penalties in losing 39-28 in the Brisbane series opener, this time it was their shoddy handling that let them down, losing possession a staggering 13 times.

The Wallabies enjoyed 68 percent possession and 56 percent field position, yet could only come up with one try after scoring four tries in the previous Test.

Cheika was fuming over the butter-fingered Wallabies throwing away their chance of taking the three-Test series to a decider in Sydney next Saturday.

“I’ve got to own that because we prepare that during the week and I’ve got to explain it to the lads more forcefully,” he told reporters after Saturday’s loss.

“I’ve got to own that as a coach with those things. That’s the stuff we set out and I’ve got to make sure that message is clear.

“I know that we want to play a lot of rugby, but it doesn’t always convert into the scoreboard and that will happen sometimes, but it shouldn’t happen regularly.”

The Wallabies were frustrated by England’s resilient defence with the Six Nations champions making a total of 215 tackles to Australia’s 81.

“You have to pay credit to England, they played very well in both games,” Cheika said.

“They’ve played very smart, they’ve played in the right areas, they’ve played well in the ruck and spoiled a lot of good ball for us. That’s well done to them.

“They’ve seen that we’re going to play a lot of footy and chosen the opposite way and their way has been victorious pretty clearly.

“Even though we’ve had a lot more attack, we only got the one try this week. We have to take that, suck it up and use the scars later on.”

What began with the Wallabies as clear favourites to beat the Eddie Jones-coached England after reaching last year’s World Cup final materialised into a humbling series defeat for the first time at home.

Injuries to key men David Pocock and Kurtley Beale did not help, but the Wallabies were out-thought and out-played by the Six Nations Grand Slam champions, who now have won eight consecutive Tests.

“Our squad’s changed a fair bit. I think there’s 10 or 11 different from the World Cup squad, but that’s the opportunity for us to grow our depth and that’s what we’re going to get out of this,” Cheika said.

“But the opportunities that we let go tonight just through errors are at this point more at the forefront of my mind than the other things we may be getting from this series.”

Wallabies blow as Pocock ruled out of England series

June 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Star forward David Pocock will miss the remainder of the Test series against England after suffering a fractured eye socket during Saturday’s 39-28 loss in Brisbane, the Australian Rugby Union confirmed.

Pocock

Pocock, rated one of world rugby’s best players, was replaced in the 69th minute of the first Test under the blood rule before scans later confirmed the injury.

“Gutted to be ruled out of the rest of the Aus v Eng series with a fractured eye socket. Disappointing but these things happen,” the No.8 tweeted Sunday.

“I’ll be cheering on the Wallabies over the next two weeks.”

The 28-year-old has missed just one Test through injury since 2014, following a knee reconstruction.

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika has so far not confirmed a replacement, with Western Force No.8 Ben McCalman, NSW Waratahs’ Wycliff Palu or possibly Sean McMahon of the Melbourne Rebels among the contenders.

“There’s options there that have experience in the frontline,” Cheika told reporters.

“We’re fortunate there, but at the same time disappointed to lose a player of David’s quality, the skills he brings to the game and that dynamic we have in the back-row with himself, Michael (Hooper) and Scott (Fardy).

“We’ll have a look at the game again today as coaches, we’ll see what we want to go with and how we might want to play the game next Saturday.”

Australia must win the second Test in Melbourne next weekend to keep the three-Test series alive.

England’s win over the second-ranked Wallabies was their first in Brisbane and only their fourth victory in 18 internationals between the two nations in Australia.

Cheika gets creative to solve Wallabies centre crisis

May 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Michael Cheika has proved an inventive coach in his time in charge of Australia and his lack of options at inside centre less than a month before the three-test series against England appears to have got his creative juices flowing.

Michael Cheika

Injuries to Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua have robbed him of the most likely contenders to occupy the number 12 shirt, while Matt Giteau, who started at inside centre for most of last year’s World Cup, is on duty with Toulon in France.

Cheika’s decision to play two openside flankers in his back row was a key factor in Australia reaching the World Cup final last year and he has given every indication he could be just as adventurous in his centre pairing.

Anticipating a hugely physical challenge from the English, Cheika has hinted that he could give Queensland back Samu Kerevi his Wallabies debut alongside Tevita Kuridrani in what would be a hulking 200-kg plus centre partnership.

Kerevi, who like Kuridrani was born in Fiji, made his comeback from a hand injury on Saturday and produced plenty of the tackle-busting running that looks certain to elevate him into the test arena.

Although both Kerevi and Kuridrani play at outside centre, Cheika thinks there would be plenty of time for a new partnership to gel during the pre-series training camp.

“There’s a few different options that we can play around with,” he told reporters in Sydney this week.

“We will have decided what we are going to do before we get into camp and we just get everyone used to the way we’re going to play. No matter how we spin it there’s going to be a bunch of new combinations.

“That couple of weeks together before the first test for those guys to get to know each other, whether it’s Samu and Tevita or Christian (Lealiifano) and Tevita … we’ll let them have two weeks to get to know each other and then they’ll have three games.”

ACT Brumbies flyhalf Lealiifano is the conservative option for the number 12 shirt, offering as he does a second playmaker at inside centre – a system Australia have used consistently over the last few years.

Cheika, however, does not believe that the second playmaker necessarily has to be playing at inside centre, offering league convert Karmichael Hunt as an example of someone who offers the option from fullback.

Add into the mix Israel Folau’s increasing assurance playing at outside centre for the New South Wales Waratahs and England could be facing a backline unrecognisable from that which helped send the hosts out of the World Cup last year.

That Giteau will not be part of it while Toulon remain in June’s Top 14 playoffs is certain.

“I’m not going to take players away from their clubs while they’re involved in finals footie, that would be ridiculous,” Cheika added.

Wallabies winger Tomane in doubt for England series

April 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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In-form Wallabies winger Joe Tomane is a major doubt for the June internationals against England after tearing a knee ligament while playing for the ACT Brumbies in a Super Rugby match last weekend.

Rugby Union - Australia Captain's Run - Twickenham Stadium - 30/10/15Australia's Joe Tomane during trainingAction Images via Reuters / Paul ChildsLivepic

Tomane was injured in a clash with Crusaders flanker Matt Todd late in the Brumbies’ 40-14 humbling in Canberra and will be sidelined for up to eight weeks, the team said.

With five tries, the 26-year-old was the Brumbies’ top try-scorer this season and in line for a spot in Michael Cheika’s squad for the three-match series against England.

The series opens in Brisbane on June 11, with matches in Melbourne and Sydney in following weeks.

Tomane’s loss is a heavy blow for the Brumbies, who were knocked out of top spot in the Australian conference by the Crusaders defeat and head to Invercargill this weekend to take on champions the Otago Highlanders.

Co-captain Stephen Moore is also in doubt for the Highlanders game after suffering a heavily bruised thigh, making Wallabies flanker David Pocock’s return from a two-game suspension all the more important.

Wallaby Moore eyes fourth World Cup in Japan

December 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore says he has set his sights on a fourth World Cup after signing a new three-year deal with Australian rugby.

Moore

Moore’s new contract with the Australian Rugby Union, penned Friday, commences in 2017, the same year he joins his former club, the Queensland Reds.

The 32-year-old stunned his current ACT Brumbies team on Thursday when he advised them the 2016 Super Rugby season will be his last in Canberra.

Moore, who was a major influence in the Wallabies getting to this year’s World Cup final against New Zealand in London, said he preferred to stay in Australia so he could build on the recent Wallabies’ successes and improve on his 102 Test caps.

“I really feel we are building something special at the Wallabies under ‘Cheik’ (Michael Cheika) and his coaching staff but there’s a lot more we want to achieve and I really wanted to be a part of that,” Moore said in a statement late Friday.

“I’ll be 36 at the next World Cup (in Japan) and obviously form and a lot of other factors come into it.

“If I am playing well and healthy and I’m the right fit for the team when the time comes, I’d love the opportunity to play at another World Cup.

“It’s extremely rare for a player to play in four World Cups and I’m under no illusions that it’s not going to happen for me without a lot of those factors working in my favour.”

Moore said he decided to return to Queensland to be closer to family and finish his career where it all began, rather than chase a more lucrative stint in Europe as a host of other players have.

Wallabies suffer big loss with Toomua joining Leicester

November 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wallabies coach Michael Cheika suffered a major loss on Monday with English club side Leicester announcing that utility back Matt Toomua would join them at the conclusion of the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Rugby Union - Australia Press Conference & Training - The Lensbury Hotel, Teddington, Middlesex - 14/10/15 Australia's Matt Toomua poses for a photo after talking to the media Action Images via Reuters / Peter Cziborra Livepic

The 25-year-old Toomua, who came off the bench in the Rugby World Cup final loss to New Zealand on Oct. 31, is not able for an exemption to the Australian Rugby Union’s eligibility rules.

Toomua, who can play flyhalf or inside centre, has played just 23 tests, well short of the 60 required by the ARU to grant an exemption for players based offshore to be selected for the Wallabies.

Until earlier this year, players had to be contracted with the ARU and playing in Australia to earn selection before they changed the rules for players who had made a “significant contribution to Australian rugby”.

Cheika selected Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell, both of whom play for Toulon in France, for the World Cup while Adam Ashley-Cooper and Will Genia are likely to come into that category next year after also heading to France.

Toomua has played 75 times for the Canberra-based ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby.

His versatility to play flyhalf and inside centre made him a valuable member of the Wallabies squad, with a strong defensive game, assured boot and distribution skills giving them the option of two playmakers.

“It is no secret we have been looking to sign a top-class player to add to our backline resources and Matt is certainly in that category,” Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill said in a statement.

“He is still a young man but has already achieved such a lot in Super Rugby and played extensively in test rugby for the Wallabies.”

Cooper thrives on Toulon debut after World Cup disappointment

November 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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Mercurial Quade Cooper was little used at the World Cup, Australia coach Michael Cheika opting for the steadier game of an in-form Bernard Foley as the Wallabies finished runners-up to trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand after a fine campaign.

Cooper

But Cooper said the frustration of not pulling on the green and gold jersey as much as he would have liked to at the World Cup was well and truly behind him as he started his Top 14 adventure in Toulon’s emphatic 52-8 victory over Montpellier on Saturday.

“I was disappointed not to get more game time at the World Cup,” admitted the New Zealand-born Cooper, who looked fit playing the full 80 minutes at a sun-kissed Stade Felix-Mayol in southern France.

“I’ve been training for the last 12 weeks to play games. I wanted to come here as soon as possible after the World Cup to play rugby.

“I was very happy and fortunate to play today. The players around me, well there are world class players there and they made the transition very easy, so I just had to fit in there and try and add my own personal touches to that.

“You always expect more of yourself. But each week you have to fit in around the team and this week I didn’t have to do any more. A lot of the guys were playing some very good football so first game in, I was just riding off the back of that.

“I was just very happy to be able to contribute, to be able to set up some guys for some tries and do my part in the team.”

Cooper flourished behind a dominant pack, Fijian winger Josua Tuisova scoring a second-half hat-trick as the home side ran in eight tries to one for a well-deserved bonus point.

But the fly-half acknowledged that one personal touch had gone astray, a forced pass allowing Julien Malzieu to sprint away for an intercept try that kept Montpellier in the game, albeit briefly.

“I was disappointed (with the interception), but I had faith in our team that we were on the right track. I knew I had to simplify things for our team!” the former Queensland Reds player said.

“At the end of the day it’s about winning the game and working on my game. I’ll continue to work on it so I get better and the team gets better.

“The team, the forwards did everything to make my day very easy and one that I’ll remember and enjoy for the rest of my life.”

Cooper, 27, said the game had differed slightly from Super Rugby.

“The game was a little bit different, very physical,” he said.

“There was a lot of space out there, but credit to our forward pack. The way our forwards played the game today created a good platform.

“In any rugby, whether it’s international, Super Rugby, European Cup or French Top 14, if your forwards do a great job, then it’s always going to be a nice day at the office.”

Toulon might have been missing the likes of Bryan Habana, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Ma’a Nonu, Leigh Halfpenny, Duane Vermuelen, Paul O’Connell, Frederic Michalak and James O’Connor, but they could still afford to field a star-studded team packed with experienced internationals.

And Cooper’s task ahead will be trying to nail down a regular starting spot for the big games as coach Bernard Laporte rotates his squad in his bid to settle on a team to extend the club’s European domination and reclaim the Top 14 crown.

That will likely pitch him in direct competition with former Wallaby teammate Giteau, with Mitchell and O’Connor also due back from World Cup duty.

“They’re some of my close mates and I’ve played a lot of rugby with them,” Cooper said.

“They’re very good players and I’m excited to play alongside them again.

“At the World Cup they were telling me stories about here in Toulon, the rugby and everything to expect, so I’m looking forward to sharing some great memories alongside some good friends.”

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