Heading in to Round 5 of Super Rugby Pacific, only the Brumbies and the Reds remain undefeated. They face off against each other this Friday in Canberra to see which team remains undefeated for the 2022 season. The matchup between Tom Banks and Jordan Petaia at fullback will be interesting ahead of Wallaby selection. Petaia played a great game there for the Reds in his first chance to run on with the 15 jersey. Both in attack and defence he imposed himself as a real contender for the Wallaby role there.
An injury ravaged Reds held out Fijian Drua at the weekend, ironically, it was a Fijian in Seru Uru that saved the Reds from an embarrassing result. Up four tries to nil with 15 minutes to go it looked like the Reds were heading for a bonus point victory until the visitors scored three unanswered tries in quick succession. With less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock the scores were locked at 28-all before Uru reached over from a maul to score a five-pointer taking the score to 33-28 to the Reds. That is not where the drama ended as Uru stole a lineout off the Fijians on the Queensland line at the fulltime mark to deny them drawing level or even winning.
Coach Brad Thorn said, “For our team, a game like that can be a challenge because there’s space and there’s opportunities but you’ve almost got to rein it in a little bit.
“Keep your patience, don’t overplay – that’s probably how I would assess that.”
Uru’s (pictured above) standout performance has made Thorn’s job a little bit harder this week with the expected return of captain Liam Wright in the position Uru was playing. It’s really a good headache to have knowing that the Reds have depth and that the guys will really put in for each other when their chance comes. That depth will be really tested on Friday when they come up against the Brumbies that are also in red hot form.
The rejection of the “Moana Pasifika“ bid to join the NZ Super Rugby Competition in 2021 by the NZ Rugby Union is hard to comprehend and shows a lack of willingness on their part to expand the Super Rugby Competition and to grow the game of Rugby Union in the Pacific Islands.
The ‘Moana Pasifika‘ offer had been prepared meticulously and presented with a feasibility plan that contained more than 100 pages of cost analysis, possible squads and coaching teams.
On the one hand the NZ Rugby Union have said that they are going to make losses of $100 Million, yet the ‘Moana Pasifika‘ proposal was expected to make a profit in their very first season! So how realistic was that expectation by the NZ Rugby Union? That being said the ‘Moana Pasifika‘ process showed through their projected sums that they could break even in 2021. The Pacific Islands has been a nursery for producing some brilliant All Blacks over a long period of time, you only need to look at twolegendary figures of the game inSir Bryan Williams andSir Michael Joneswho are a credit to the game of Rugby Union, are proud of their heritage and who have been passionately backing and campaigning for a ‘Moana Pasifika‘ side to join the Super Rugby since 1995.
It goes without saying what it would do for the development of Rugby Union in the Pacific Islands and how it would inspire and motivate young boys to follow their dreams if the ‘Moana Pasifika’ bid had been successful.
Now to make their vision a reality the ‘Moana Pasifika‘ bid may be forced to revise their offer and shift the team from their proposed base in South Auckland to Western Sydney and play in the Australian Super Rugby AU Competition.
It can only be hoped that the NZ Rugby Union will reconsider their decision on the ‘Moana Pasifika’ proposal, which has a lot of merit and look at it from all different angles.
The Queensland Reds have finally broken an 11 match hoodoo! After 7 long years, they have nailed arch interstate rivals the New South Wales Waratahs with a 32-26 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
In front of a sparse crowd, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Reds were out of the blocks early with their fearless leader, Liam Wright, going over in the sixth minute. Though, this was short lived when the ‘Tahs prop, Harry Johnson-Holmes, scrambled over the line in the tenth minute to level the score 7-all. A bruising affair ensued as the Reds scrum & line-out dominated resulting in two more tries for the home side to lead 19-7. However, last year’s Junior Wallabies’ No. 10, Will Harrison, slotted two penalties in the last six minutes before halftime to go to the sheds only 6 behind at 19-13.
Harrison’s sharp shooting landed another penalty goal early in the second half followed by Jack Maddocks slicing through a gap off the ruck to score under the posts. The visitors were now leading 23-19 only 8 minutes in.
A try to another 2019 Junior Wallaby, No.8 Harry Wilson, in the 64th minute that was converted had the Reds back in the lead at 26-23. Only three minutes later the Harrison boot equaled the score before the confident boot of James O’Conner took over, from an indifferent kicking display from Bryce Hegarty, to put the match out of reach with two penalties at the 75th & 80th minute mark to break the 26-all deadlock.
A fairly even match with the Reds having 57% of possession, 58% of territory and scoring four tries to two making them the deserved winners in a tough State verse State, mate against mate encounter.
James O’Conner said after the match: “It was an awesome effort by the guys. We dug deep and obviously winning it right at the end was amazing.”
Though he admitted: “We were pretty scrappy… There’s a lot to improve on.”
Special mention for debutante Tuaina Tualima coming on early in the first half for Angus Blyth. He definitely will benefit for the hour+ he had on the paddock.
What was billed as a double header with four nations involved turned out to be a fizzer due to coronavirus with a paltry 7335 swallowed by the cavernous 52,000-seat Suncorp Stadium. Not that the action on the field suffered. With the tenacious Sunwolves holding out the mighty crusaders in the first half nearly going to the break 7-all. It was only basic errors up against a far superior opponent that meant that the scoreline got away to14-49 loss, despite their numerical advantage of two players at the death. Jake Shatz said he was proud of the way his boys stuck it to the more fancied Kiwis and as the Japanese coach, Naoya Okubo, told me after the match that the camaraderie amongst his squad being away from their Tokyo base for so long has been great. Of course, having a few local Aussie members has helped and there has been no shortage of local clubs bending over backwards to provide training pitches non gratis.
The Reds, unaffected by the lower then normal turnout, proved my early assessment correct that this cohort will go places. Down 0-17 they dug deep to show the faithful that their 4-try haul against the Crusaders last week could be backed up scoring 41 unanswered points to win 41-17. Captain courageous, Liam Wright (picture courtesy of Brendan Hertel QRU), has put Michael Hooper on notice that his cushy multi-million dollar contract might mean he can purchase more houses on Sydney’s North Shore but he doesn’t haven’t a mortgage on the Wallabies position.
Another massive performance from Lukan Salakai-Loto, who told me after the match he prefers No. 6 for the Wallabies, and BrisbaneRugby favourite son Isaac Lucus added to the positives from this match ahead of Super Rugby going into a hiatus. And when live-wire halfback Tate McDermott came on the team lifted another notch.
The nomadic Sunwolves should make the Sunshine State their home base in their final Super Rugby season, moreover Townsville in the north with a new 25,000-seat stadium. It would be a win-win for all parties concerned starting with their match against the Reds on April 5. The north has been crying out for a Super Rugby match, something they haven’t experienced since 2006 and, as I reported last year, there is a healthy following of rugby union up there: https://brisbanerugby.com/2019/07/09/rugby-in-the-regions/.
With the onset of coronavirus tourism has had a huge setback and I’m sure Tourism & Events Minister, Kate Jones, would bend over backwards to help the Japanese team out. The extra Japanese eyeballs on the area would be welcome, especially if they played out the rest of their ‘home’ games there and their Tokyo supporters made there way to Tropical Queensland.
The Sunwolves are like ronin, or masterless samurai, although they are a motley crew of ex-pat Aussie, Kiwis, South Africans and some Japanese they do have some local Queensland representatives, such as captain Jake Shatz, to build some domestic support behind moving forward especially if they evolve into a team in Global Rapid Rugby next season. I know Tim Horan’s son Alex, who debuted for the Sunwolves two weeks ago in New Zealand, has two compatriots in Townsville at James Cook University that played Colts with him in Brisbane that would be getting behind the side.
Every cloud has a silver lining and if the Sunwolves play their cards right they may not have to disband after Super Rugby 2020. With Global Rapid Rugby starting up next month the Sunwolves could be part of the action next year. After Saturday’s 64-5 mauling by a resurgent Queensland Reds side they may be better suited to Global Rapid Rugby with a more open style of play that suits the Japanese team’s strengths. Holding onto players will be an issue, but with a swarth of ex-internationals calling Japan their rugby home there’s plenty of talent to draw from that well.
When Wayne Smith broached the idea of joining Rapid Rugby after the Reds’ match on Saturday night, he was stonewalled with a flat bat. However, that’s the Japanese way, i.e. to confront issues by not making decisions. Brisbanerugby spent 4 months beating our head against the wall after RWC2019 in Tokyo talking to various interested parties, gleaning much insight into how the JRFU is not interested with any expansion outside the rigid paradigm of their precious Top League. Despite this WE WILL continue to push their barrow.
Almost 12,000 people (official crowd 11,798) watched the first home match for the Reds at Suncorp Stadium last night; a 37% increase from the 8,600 that last year watched this fixture against the Sunwolves. Scoring 10 tries to 1, to win 64-5, is sure to bring the faithful supporters back and Brad Thorn said he was very excited about this team. He said, having someone like Hunter Paisami coming in for the injured Jordan Petaia was a revelation. A player in the mold that Thorn likes; trains hard with a good attitude.
Thorn has said earlier this season that his younger chargers have been progressing for a number of years, whether it be Schoolboys, U19s, U20s or NRC: “90% of our players have come through the system here in Queensland, which shows what we are trying to do here.”
The prodigal son, Jame O’Conner, erased his 2015 Reds nightmare last night as he orchestrated the Reds highest ever Super Rugby score; eclipsing there previous best 53-3 in 2011 against the Rebels..
How long has it been since the Reds have scored four tries in a match let alone the first half? Brad Thorn’s decision to position his best play-maker at 10 was a masterstroke. James O’Conner combining with a young back-line shows that the Reds will go deep into rebuilding the side for a crack at winning another title. I was re-mincing how Ewen McKenzie rebuilt the Reds in 2010 to win the Super Rugby trophy in 2011.
That first half in Buenos Aires against last year’s runner up was sublime, vintage Reds performance. The second half only added three points, so the hapless boys from Queensland went down 27-43 to the Jaguares.
Once again Bond University plays host to the Oceania Rugby U20s Championship with four nations represented this year: alongside Australia is New Zealand, Fiji and Japan returns replacing Tonga after non-attendance since 2015. This Championship has been held on the Gold Coast since 2015 and Oceania Rugby’s Competition Manager, Wayne Schuster said, “The Oceania Rugby U20s Championship serves to provide our premier U20s teams in the region the best preparation possible ahead of the World Rugby U20s Championship each year.”
Last Friday saw there first round take place with the Junior All Blacks 53-7 victors over Fiji and the Junior Wallabies 64-14 defeating a spirited Japanese outfit lead by Shota Fukui. Matches continue at Bond University for Round 2 on Tuesday April 30th. New Zealand take on Japan at 3pm with Australia against Fiji at 5pm. Saturday the action continues with Round 3: Japan v Fiji at 5pm and the Junior Wallabies v New Zealand at 7pm. Entry $5 Children under 12 free.
The World Rugby U20s Championship will be held in Argentina from June 4th~22nd, 2019.
With Japan being awarded this year’s Rugby World Cup, you could be thinking that the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) would be going out of their way to promote the game. On closer inspection it looks like quite the opposite.
Firstly, the JRFU basically cancelled the Top League Competition for the 2019-20 season, replacing it with two mini tourneys in 2020. Then they told SANZAAR in March that they really didn’t think Super Rugby was the best way to develop the national side and now former Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, call’s for the JRFU to be reformed after announcing his shock resignation last week as the organisation’s honorary chairman. He is the man responsible for Japan hosting RWC2019.
Mori-san is not the only one at odds with the JRFU, as former Japan national coach, Eddie Jones, reiterated with Kyodo News in Japan, yesterday, his opinion regarding the JRFU allowing the Japanese side the Sunwolves to be disabandoned after the 2020 Super Rugby season.
“If Japan wants to be a top 10 country in the world, which they do, they need their players to be prepared,” the current England coach, Jones, said.
“The purpose of the Sunwolves was to give opportunities for young Japanese players to prepare for test rugby, because ultimately like any rugby country you want your national team to be strong and your grassroots to be strong, and in between you work out the right structure.
“What Japan was missing was that opportunityfor younger players to go from a good domestic Top League into a higher level of competition without being exposed to test level, and the Sunwolves provided that opportunity. It hasn’t worked out for them and I think it is a massive opportunity missed.“
Eddie Jones speaking with Kyodo News’ Rich Freeman in Yokohama.
Remembering, of course, that Eddie Jones prepared the Japanese Team for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, so he knows what he’s talking about. Putting his chargers through a somewhat grueling experience on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu ahead of that tourney, they certainly reaped the glory with their win at RWC2015 in Brighton. To overcome the might of South Africa’s Springboks at rugby’s showcase tournament is the story of legends and a movie under the title of, ‘Miracle in Brighton,’ is already underway.
World Rugby Chairman, Bill Beaumont, has used the World Cup in Japan to promote rugby throughout Asia with a target of one million new participants. In December last year, Beaumont announced that this target has been achieved at a special event celebrating 50 years of Asia Rugby in Bangkok.
While the vast majority of those numbers have been in Japan, about 460,000. Many of which have been involved in one off tournaments such as the one I attended at the YC&AC grounds last September in Yokohama run by Australian Peter Gibson called the “Hero’s Cup” with former Japan captain Hitoshi Ono.
According to veteran rugby scribe in Japan and good friend, Rich Freeman, the inflated numbers for Japan are not telling the true story. As rugby numbers are actually on the decline.
“In the present way it’s structured it just doesn’t work. Schools are losing rugby clubs big time,” Freeman says.
“Rugby is struggling, especially at school level, so they’re going to have to change the way it’s structured.”
The main problem is that there are no consistent pathways, unless your child attends a rugby school and that is the only sport they are allowed to play 330-340 days a year. Those that don’t attend are going to feel left out after the World Cup with nowhere to play rugby.
“You’re going to have all these young kids saying, ‘Wow, I watched Beauden Barrett play and he did this, I want to play,’ but unless there are more clubs like Koji’s (Tokumasu) Shibuya Rugby Club, where are they going to go?”
Koji Tokumasu runs the Shibuya Rugby Club which is one of only a few clubs introducing Tokyo kids to the sport through tag rugby. He is a senior director for #RWC2019 organising committee and says the JRFU needs to pick up it’s act.
“Every Sunday we have over 300 under 12’s playing tag rugby and even if they don’t have the opportunity to play at school they can play at our club. I’m hoping and confident that will increase, so the Japan Rugby Union and schools should be prepared to open the door when this happens.”
The urgency for exposure is apparent with only six months before the Cup kicks off at Tokyo Stadium (Ajinomoto Stadium) on September 20th with Japan hosting Russia in Pool A. Many people I talked to in Japan last year were overawed by Japan’s success at the last World Cup in England four years earlier. Not just the win over South Africa, the match between Japan and Samoa achieved a television audience record of 25 million in Japan.