On Sunday, fans braved the second half rain at Bond University to watch the National Rugby Championship semi-final between last year’s premiers Queensland Country and the Western Force. The star-studded Country outfit did not fail to impress from the getgo with tries aplenty in the first 20 minutes. None more so than 2018 Reds bolter, 18-year-old Jordan Petaia. Some very impressive running from the young Wallabies squad member playing at outside-centre with two tries in 15 minutes under the watchful eye of Reds coach Brad Thorn, who was standing beside me. From our vantage point, Caleb Timu also ran in for a five-pointer, on the blindside, with the Western Force down to 13 men.
Hamish Stewart did not bring his kicking boots which proved costly in the first half as Qld Country went to the sheds up only 20-14, after Western Force kicker, Ian Prior, converted their first two tries. Stewart did make-up for his earlier failures with the boot in the second half with two conversions and two penalty goals, but leaving points out there was scrutinised by Reds coach Thorn.
In the 53rd minute, referee Damon Murphy called the match off due to the lightning in the area, but after about 15 minutes the play was back on. A few spectators left at this juncture, however, there were plenty that stayed, eager to watch more from the impressive Queensland Country outfit. The final score was 45-24 to the home side, booking them a place in next weeks final in Suva against Fiji Drua.
Queensland Country coach, Rod Seib, said, “I’m really pleased with the team’s performance today. The team delivered.”
Some real standout performances by Caleb Timu and Angus Scott-Young that should see them get a future call-up to the Wallabies.
The last Rugby World Cup of the century began with much fanfare at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff two weeks ago. The top seeds won their pool games quite easily through the second week provided some interesting results.
The first real match-ups of rugby heavyweights took place last weekend with New Zealand verse England and Australia v Ireland.
In the former game, England realised it had to play 15-man rugby to repeat their finals appearance of 1991, but the superiority of the All Blacks came to the fore in Jonah Lomu. As in the 1995 tournament, the 58th minute proved Lomu was back with a trademark 60 metre run through the English backs to break the 16-16 deadlock.
New Zealand scored a further try by in-form halfback replacement Byron Kelleher and took the match 30-16.
In the latter match, the passionate Irish couldn’t back up their rough play with any try-scoring opportunities and the Wallabies went away with two tries to win a scrappy contest 23-3.
Instrumental in the win was mid-field saviour Tim Horan. As he was in the successful 1991 campaign three-Cup veteran Horan is the centre of attack.
I caught up with Tim Horan before he and the team left Australia a few weeks ago on a typical early spring day in Brisbane.
In contrast to the light rain that fell at Lansdowne Road before Sunday’s match, blue sky with the sun shining brightly greeted me as I parked out the front of Tim’s Queenslander house. His daughter directed me to ‘the office’ where the interview was conducted.
It had been about 10 years since we played in the Colts (under 19) “Dream Team” that won the 1988 Grand Final convincingly and just like then he can still carve through backlines as he proved with vintage aplomb on Sunday against the Irish.
The Aussie campaign to “Bring back Bill”, the affectionate name they have given the William Webb Ellis trophy, is underway and November 6, just three weeks off, is looming as a very significant day for a young nation entering the new millennium.
For also on that day a referendum will be carried out in Australia to decide whether to become a republic or hold onto a dying monarchy. The players have already voted and Captain John Eales had one regret that they won’t be playing England on that day.
“It would have been good to play England in the final,” he said. “We could stuff them on the field – and stuff them in the vote.”
I asked Tim his opinion as to Australia winning the 1999 World Cup. He said, “We have a fairly good chance, but Ireland won’t be easy.”
“At the moment we are concentrating mainly on Wales in the quarters”.
He didn’t seem too concerned about Larkham’s injury noting that it was not as bad as the thumb injury he sustained in a Super 12 match where he had to go off at halftime.
His lack of concern proved justified as Larkham had a solid return to test match level rugby last Sunday and again yesterday against the Americans.
‘At the moment we are concentrating on Wales in the quarters’
Australia’s chances of regaining the Webb Ellis trophy are looking pretty good. As Bob Dwyer stated in his 1992 autobiography that the best two prepared teams contested the final in 1991 and should that be the case this time the Wallabies (and the Kiwis) are starting to come good at the right time.
An emphatic win over the Kiwis at Stadium Australia, 34-9, in front of 107,000+ people was a psychological shot in the arm after some lacklustre games preceding it.
“The atmosphere was ecstatic…great for Australian rugby”, Tim said. “Crowd support like that is something we don’t often get in Australia.”
“In New Zealand and South Africa you come to expect to play 16 (including the crowd) but at Stadium Australia it was excellent.”
This game provided the springboard for Australia’s assault at retaining rugby’s Holy Grail, the Webb Ellis trophy.
In a year that has seen our cricketers, hockey and netball players win their respective world championships it would be another piece of silverware on the mantelpiece of a proud young nation.
Australia’s first match of the tournament was against Romania in Belfast. Once again Tim Horan proved too good for the weak defence and scored in less time then it takes to pour a pint of Guinness (119 seconds).
For his effort, sponsors Guinness will donate £10,000 to the charity of his choice (this probably should go to the under-financed Romanian rugby team).
The tournament run by the Five Nations has had its detractors noting the lop-sided results. But as Sydney Morning Herald writer Peter FitzSimons says, “Wouldn’t rugby league love the chance to show it had a similar array of cultures, backgrounds and socio-economic firepower united through a common passion?”
When Australia hosts the next rugby World Cup in 2003 these same arguments will be brought out along with the problems of where each game will be held.
As rugby has become professional the bottom line has been to make as much return from the game as is put in and that means bums on seats.
At the present World Cup, we have seen good numbers at games in England, France and Wales but poor ones for matches in Scotland.
The Scottish Rugby Union is responsible for this balls-up due to their traditional opposition to any innovations or improvements of the game and their initial rejection of having a World Cup when first raised by the IRB.
I remember asking a Scottish friend about tickets for the World Cup early this year and he told me that even the clubs are finding it hard to obtain any – what a travesty that has proven
Fast forward to 2003 where the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is calling the shots, will the spectators be looked after then?
Will Queensland, a strong backyard for Wallaby talent, be overlooked for the choice matches by Melbourne; or even Perth?
ARU head, John O’Neill has decided not to give Brisbane a Bledisloe Cup match next year opting for Melbourne where rugby is hardly played because they can guarantee numbers through the turnstiles.
However, when I asked Tim about the lack of major test matches in Brisbane he cited that only 34,000 people came to Suncorp Stadium for the Tri-nations match against South Africa in July.
With the present debates over a super-stadium in Brisbane in the professional age of rugby, Queensland may be left out on a limb.
The debacle when Queensland topped the Super 12 and was given a home semi-final over whether to play at Ballymore or Suncorp Stadium meant that those schoolboys who supported the Reds all season weren’t allowed to use their schoolboy passes.
Subsequently, many locals boycotted and a proportionally larger Kiwi contingent turned up to see Canterbury outplay an uninterested Queensland side.
A further point I raised with Tim was that of the end of season Rico Challenge played between Queensland, New South Wales and ACT.
He supported the concept saying it is a good way for fringe players to get a Super 12 contract.
Although spectators to these games are low if marketed properly and positioned better in the rugby calendar, as proposed, we may see this problem overcome.
Finally, I asked Tim of his plans after the World Cup.
“Well I have another year to go on my Super 12 contract, but after that, I’d like to play in Europe”, he said.
“The pressure of Super 12 and test matches are great and I’d like to relax for a while with my family”.
No chance of following in your father’s footsteps and entering politics?
“No way!!!” he replied.
“You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.
“For all the hard work my father does he doesn’t seem to get any popular response”.
The interview ended at 3pm as Tim apologized that he had to pick up one of the kids from school.
This weekend the final pool matches of the World Cup will be wrapped up with Pool D looking the closest; the clash between France and Fiji to determine the winner of Pool C being unclear; and England against Tonga no certainty.
“You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.”
New Zealand’s hundred plus points against Italy was very impressive while Australia’s line was crossed for the first time this tournament by the USA, but went on to win 55-19.
Finishing the top of pool E Australia is guaranteed a semi-final berth, however, they will be without star running loose forward Toutai Kefu banned for 14 days for his toe-to-toe with Ireland’s enforcer Trevor Brennan.
Australian coach Rod McQueen was upset about the “selective citations”, but acknowledges the tournament has been well run.
Whichever team holds aloft the Webb Ellis trophy on November 6 rugby will be the real winner.
The morning rain did not dampen the spirits of Brisbane’s rugby faithful, with a healthy 3,000+ braving the cool spring conditions for the latest instalment of the Quade Cooper/Karmichael Hunt double act. Wests’ impressive Sci-Fleet Stadium hosted the Round 5 Brisbane City/Queensland Country clash for the Andy Purcell Cup, once again attracting rain and a healthy blend of rugby diehards and novices. Not all were there for Cooper’s kick off to highly-fancied, reigning Premiers, Bond University Queensland Country. As rugby people tend to do, rocking up in the first 10 minutes is normal, so by the time Hamish Stewart crossed the chalk to open the account for Country in the 18th minute, a boisterous crowd split roughly 50/50 were assembled. The beers and cheers were still flowing two minutes later when the Cooper/Hunt show produced their first act to set up their captain, Adam Korczyk for a try. Cooper missed the conversion leaving the score 7-5 to Country, setting up the afternoon for a see-sawing affair.
Plenty of media interest
Sun was shining.
Brisbane City got the jump on their more fancied rivals to go to the break up 22-12, however, it wasn’t long into the 2nd half before Tom Lucas crossed for Queensland Country to narrow the margin. By the 52nd minute, it was 29-24 to City after Country’s halfback, Tate McDermott received a Hamish Stewart purler to cross the chalk, keeping Country in touch, however, Cooper had his kicking boots on and opted for a long-range penalty to extend their lead. Replacement hooker Sean Farrell sealed City’s fourth Andy Purcell Cup in five outings going over after a maul and with Cooper’s conversion saw Brisbane City win 39-24 over last year’s premiers, Queensland Country.
The match can be best summed up by the words of City coach Mick Heenan,
“Country is such a good side and we’ve got a lot of respect for how they’ve been playing and their players as well, so certainly that’s the best we’ve played and defended all season.
“The spirit and the fight that we showed was outstanding. We needed to win to keep our season alive and we’ve got to keep winning and we can’t take anything for granted, so we have to keep at it, keep persisting and keep fighting,” Heenan added.
The first round of the Finals Series began last weekend at Ballymore with minor premiers, UQ, taking on strong finishers GPS in the major semi-final at 3pm. Uni got away to an early lead 3-0 with a penalty kick, as the crowd started to assemble for the first semi. I found myself in a very vocal GPS’ supporters group, buoyed by their finals day and were hoping they could erase the 54-5 shellacking their girls received in the Women’s GF against a strong Sunnybank team.
In, the major semi-final, what I thought was going to be a walk in the park for the Red Heavies turned out to be a real arm-wrestle with the Galloping Greens from Ashgrove strong until the final whistle. The last 10 minutes was riveting stuff with the Smith twins, Reds’ JP & Ruan, in the front row dominating at scrum time, with eventually the UQ tight-head prop being yellow carded with less than 10 minutes on the clock. Unversity of Queensland was just too strong, inevitably holding on to win 24-21 and to go straight into the Grand Final in two weeks time, whilst GPS have to play Easts next Sunday at Ballymore for a 3.05PM kick-off after they defeated Souths 25-17.
Bathed in beautiful winter sun in the western suburbs of Brisbane at Yoku Road, top of the table clash in the Hospital Challenge Cup between GPS and Souths took place last Saturday. Ladies Day at the Ashgrove Sports Ground meant for a healthy spectator turnout, 3000+, with plenty of Reds contracted players for both teams turning out for a great afternoon of local club rugby. A pity Raelene Castle was not present to witness grassroots rugby, the bloodline for Super Rugby and the Wallabies, at its raw best. The Honorable Member for Ashgrove, Education & Tourism Minister Kate Jones, was out there enjoying champagne in the Ladies Tent and was not averse to mingling with the strong crowd from both teams during the match.
After the 3.20pm kickoff, both teams went at each other hammer and tong ensuring running rugby was the game we had come to watch. Recalcitrant Reds prop JP Smith led the charge resulting in a penalty try to Jeeps within the first 10 minutes after Souths tight-head prop, Jake Simeon, was yellow-carded for collapsing. The Magpies were not disheartened with a pep talk from the sideline from injured fly-half, Quade Cooper, inspiring the men in black to run in three expansive tries to lead 19-7. But the Ashgrove lads regrouped under Man of the Match half-back, Jordan Lenac, and equalled the score by the half-time break 19-all.
Everyone was braced for the second half as the last rays of sunlight slipped behind the western hills and the grounds lighting was turned on. What ensued was fast-paced attacking rugby with neither side letting up until GPS scored two tries to lead 26-19 with 20 minutes to go. Souths were valiant in their reply with Eto Nabuli running in out-wide after the sustained attack on the left flank. With No. 1 supporter Quade Cooper, now positioned behind Souths goalposts giving constant encouragement to his teammates, the Magpies threw everything at the Galloping Greens, but they never gave up and managed to register Souths first loss of the season. The loss was not enough to dislodge Southern Districts from the top of the Hospital Challenge Cup table on 23 points, but the students at Queensland Uni delivered a mighty 45-29 victory over Western Districts, despite the strong showing from Scott Higginbotham, to leap ahead of GPS with a bonus point to go clear in second place on 20 points. Eastern Districts and GPS on 19 points round out the top four.
Last weekend I was reminded of the #RWC2007 in France where the Argentines defeated France twice to claim 3rd overall in that tournament. To defeat a nation on their home soil is a really difficult assignment and Los Pumas have not achieved this in Australia since 1983, some 35 years ago. At Cbus Stadium on the Gold Coast, 16,009 people witnessed a truly historic occasion on the fast paddock in the outer suburb of Robina.
The Wallaby coaching staff must be ruing another missed opportunity to put some home ground results on the board ahead of six overseas matches after a long period of losses on Australian soil starting with the first white-wash by England with Eddie Jones’ side winning 3-0 in 2016, straight after a successful Wallabies showing at #RWC2015. Losing a series to Scotland in 2017 and the first series loss to Ireland this year, 2-1, since 1979. The Wallaby fortunes of nine losses have seen their world ranking drop to 7th, which hasn’t occurred since the early 1970s.
The analogies with #RWC2007 where the English knocked off the Wallabies in mystifying circumstances with messers Gregan and Larkham seeming like they had the match under control and simply ran out of time were reflected by the Wallabies on Saturday night. A few hours later, on the same night in 2007, the French beat the All Blacks in their quarterfinal in Cardiff; once again, like last Saturday night when the Springboks beat the form ABs.
The big difference for the Kiwis was they had a packed stadium in Wellington and lead 12-nil early, the Wallabies had 16,009 at Cbus Stadium on the Gold Coast and were behind from the outset. All of New Zealand was glued to television sets from Auckland to Bluff and on the Gold Coast at the Grand Hotel in Labrador, there was a stunned silence when Beaudan Barritt missed the conversion to tie the match 36-all. A bit like trying to have a conversation with a Kiwi in the last 10 minutes of #RWC2011, where they French should have won. By contrast, most of Australia was watching the AFL or NRL finals series.
The problem with Australian rugby is we are not attracting enough interest in the game. Super Rugby is on the nose with our teams getting thrashed by the Kiwi franchises and the Wallabies being hammered by the All Blacks in the first two Bledisloe Cup matches; we do have a chance to address that for Bledisloe III in Yokohama, a prelude to the #RWC2019 final there on next year on November 2nd. What Rugby Australia should be doing is getting Andrew Forrest more involved in providing a solution, as I have mentioned before:
As Topo Rodrigeuz said in his article, “Mental Toughness’? This is what they refer to! Do Not Retaliate, Do Not throw silly or clever punches or Do Not spit on anyone on the playing field!!! You play to WIN, and the only reflection of it is the scoreboard…”
But for the Wallabies to have any chance of dreaming about back to back World Cup final appearances, there has to be a lot of navel-gazing done. Cheika had a good run taking over from McKenzie in 2014, winning the Super Rugby final with the Waratahs then taking the Wallabies to the RWC2015 final. Just as his teammate from Randwick, Eddie Jones, enjoyed a honeymoon period, the sad reality is HIS TIME IS UP!!!
Out at Shaw Road, Wooloowin over 4,000 people had gathered to watch a magician that has been hiding at local rugby parks in Brisbane’s Premier competition and being paid handsomely for it by Rugby Australia and the QRU. As a regular at Souths’ Chipsy Wood this winter, where bumper crowds have enjoyed the pure entertainment this entertainer provides, I felt almost guilty seeing his talent for gratis (or a couple tinnies from the can bar).
There are many people out there that want to see him playing at the top level again, and as last Sunday proved the higher level he plays the better he plays. Four of Brisbane City’s five tries (he scored one himself) came from a Cooper offload, none more so than to South’s teammate Jayden Ngamanu in the 62nd minute. Although the City team was beaten 47-29 by a well drilled Western Force side, under Tim Samson, they are studded with Reds players and when they work out their combinations they will get some wins on the board.
A lot of speculation on Quade Cooper’s future has been thrown around this week, such as Tim Horan suggesting the Sunwolves might be interested and Rugby Australia releasing details of discussions between the QRU, Rebels and Cooper’s manager, Khoder Nasser.
Nasser told me on Monday morning that he was looking at all offers on the table from New Zealand to the world. He said that Rugby Australia and the cash-strapped QRU want his player fee of $800,000+ off their books to free up more cash for developing players. Quade is not budging, quite content to run around for another season at Chipsy Wood and draw the crowds to Brisbane club rugby, which is not a total waste of money in the grand scheme of things.
Whatever decision Cooper makes over the next few weeks, he should be supported and the mercurial genius will draw the crowds to whatever paddock he’s playing on from Shaw Road to Sapporo…
At a suburban rugby ground in Brisbane’s north on Sunday, I met former Springbok five-eighth Peter Grant, still running around a rugby paddock at 34. We talked about rugby and the opportunities it provides for you more so than any other sport. The camaraderie that it instils is second to none and the greatest event of the 20th Century was how the 1995 World Cup in South Africa united the Rainbow Nation under Nelson Mandela.
I told him I have friends in Japan well into their 50s that regularly play rugby on the weekend, that’s when he replied that he played four seasons for Kobe Steel. The conversation ensued on how rugby provides an opportunity to travel the globe playing a game you love. Born in Durban to farm owners, Grant, grew up dreaming of playing for the Natal Sharks. When he matriculated from Maritzburg College his father told him he would never make money from rugby so he did business at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape province of South Africa. His skills on the rugby pitch were not overlooked and the Super Rugby franchise the Stormers picked him up, eventually playing 104 games for them. He also went on to play 5 test matches for the Springboks, at a time when they had some of the best No. 10s playing the game.
From 2010 to 2014 he played the offseason with the Kobelco Steelers, one of the most successful company clubs in Japan, winning the inaugural Top League in 2003/4. Currently, Dan Carter is the Steelers five-eighth. After Kobe, Grant played a season, 2014/15, with La Rochelle in the French Top 14 before joining the Western Force for the 2016 season. He has settled in Perth with relatives galore and has established his own family. Grant told me that Andrew Forrest is a great man with deep pockets that wants to see rugby succeed in a country dominated by AFL and NRL. The exciting part is that Asia is the future for rugby expansion and Twiggy Forrest with his World Series Rugby will be part of the future when Super Rugby dies and comes begging for a solution. As for Peter Grant, he just wants to get a bit of land in Western Australia and get back to his roots and run a farm. A true gentleman of rugby.
Last week I went to Sydney as a little-known rugby scribe from Brisbane and came back with the greatest rugby experience that I ever thought possible. I flew down on Wednesday in preparation for my meeting with Mr Shinohara of the RWC2019 Fukuoka Committee and from past experience (namely in 2014) I did not rush or make any bad choices. I was met in the CBD by my best mate and we discussed what strategy I should take for Thursday’s afternoon meeting at the Travelodge Wynyard.
Another rugby buddy from Shenzhen offered me a place to stay at Five Dock, provided I make my way there by public transport. So, armed with an Opal Card I preceded to navigate the city’s transport bus network and arrived at the address in Five Dock just as my friend’s Chinese meeting was finishing. We then regaled stories of playing rugby for the Shenzhen Dragons, particularly the Xiamen trip in 2012, while drinking some King Horse red, sourced from the best grapes in Australia and bottled in the Hunter Valley, and the most fragrant Baijo I have ever tried.
Some smooth Shiraz
We left some bottles for another day
Understandably, I awoke Thursday morning a little groggy, however, knowing the 11am meeting had been pushed back to 1.30pm, I knew I would be right. A walk along the bay to the dog park cleared my head in the crisp morning air and was back for a shower and a fully catered breakfast at the $3 million mansion, known as King Horse Club.
Just before 1pm, my Chinese/Australian buddy drove me into the Travelodge in his 2014 C-class Mercedes for the in-house meeting with Mr Shinohara and two other members of the RWC2019 Fukuoka Committee. Having spoken to Mr Shinohara on the phone, I recognised him straight away in the lobby. The four of us preceded to the hotel restaurant and over the course of three hours, we aligned ourselves with what tactics we should employ to promote World Cup Host City Fukuoka’s tourist aspects for the influx of Australians visiting for the World Cup. This was a day of accomplishment after two months of emails and a single meeting in Brisbane with Mr Yamaki from the Hong Kong office of Fukuoka Prefecture. However, my greatest day was yet to come, because on Friday I met with the Anthony French and Peter Murphy in the boardroom of Rugby Australia at their impressive new facility. The discussions were private, suffice to say the Wallabies doing their best at the World Cup was paramount.
Outside I caught a taxi to Central Station and made my way to Brighten-le-Sands to meet the most knowledgeable man on scrummaging on the planet, Enrique “Topo” Rodriguez.
Topo is the only rugby player to have represented three nations, Argentina 13 caps, Australia 26 caps and 1 test for Tahiti in rugby union. He also played for the Barbarians Club against Scotland in 1991 after he had retired from international rugby with a test match, ironically against Argentina in Buenos Aires on November 7th, 1987. Most known for his scrummaging as a prop, both loose-head and tight-head, his 178cm 110kg frame he has also played hooker. As a young fledgeling hooker, I had always looked to him as an inspiration so you can understand my delight when he phoned me the week before to meet for lunch. Initially, we were going to meet at St George’s Leagues Club close to his Kogarah home, however, due to the possibility of me to help to facilitate a scrum academy in Japan, he decided to switch venues to the more salubrious, Le Sands Restaurant, looking out over the beach of Botany Bay.
An idea he has had since 1988, is developing scrum academies around the world in places such as Argentina, Italy and France. With my appointment as an advisor to the RWC2019 Fukuoka Committee and my status as a Client Manager to Japan, the inclusion of Japan whetted his appetite. The conversation flowed and I began taking copious notes on the back of the menu, then graduating to the paper tablecloth. Topo also joined in writing on the table cover and forthwith grabbed the paper when we left to destroy the evidence.
When I returned to my friend’s apartment in Kogarah, I was high as a kite, having experienced a day that can be only described as euphoric, the greatest day of my life.
NB. Certain names will remain anonymous to protect the guilty.
I have booked the plantation room at the Pineapple Hotel for the 9th of November, 2018, almost exactly 30 years from when we departed Brisbane for Sydney, Hawaii, LA and eventually arrived in Vancouver where we played our first match. Dress code will be smart casual and if you have any clothing from the tour that would be great (Mickey Mouse ears included for Fast Cars). Also, if you have any photos, I will be setting up a Facebook event, so that they can be uploaded and shared around. The original party was around 41, so I endeavour to try to contact everyone individually, however, if you know someone from the tour please let them know. Costs for the three-course meal and drinks package will be $100, which is really good value. Of course wives, girlfriends and partners are allowed to attend this unique event in the club history.