Hospital Cup Finals Series

Easts semi win
Easts celebrate with their fans on the hill after defeating Souths 25-17 in the minor semi. Photo courtesy of QRU

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.

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UQ Wins the Minor Premiership

Minor Premiers UQ
UQ Rugby Team Photo: CJ via Instagram

Round 18 completed the regular season for 2018 with no change to the top four which will contest the finals series from next week at Ballymore. Uni will play GPS in the major semi-final and Easts will take on their finals nemesis, Souths, in the minor semi after being thumped by GPS yesterday 39-5.

UQ Red Heavies defeated Souths Magpies 33-14 at Chipsy Wood to not only take the minor premiership, but also the Welsby Cup.

Welsby Cup at Souths
Welsby Cup Photo coutesy of Souths rugby on Facebook

Premier Rugby Still Showing Local Support for Our Game

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.

Kate Jones Ashgrove
Honourable Member for Ashgrove, Kate Jones. Photo courtesy of The Courier Mail.

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.

Scotty Higgenbothem Wests
Scott Higgenbotham playing for Wests. Photo courtesy of Premier Rugby

May the Fourth Be With You

Last Friday, May 4th, 2018, an ambitious and bold move by Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest to breath life back into the Western Force rugby union side that was last year unceremoniously axed from Super Rugby. Amongst the fireworks, skydivers and an aboriginal performance, Nib Stadium, packed with 19,466 diehard locals, once again witnessed high-quality provincial rugby in Perth. The largest crowd in Australia for provincial rugby for quite some time witnessed Western Force 2.0 defeat a fast-paced Fiji Warriors outfit 24-14 in the first of seven “exhibition” matches in the genesis of World Series Rugby. Just like the Star Wars prequels, re-envigorating rugby union in this country is something the Force may be with you. Rugby Australia and World Rugby have initially given Forrest the green light with his vision and will be waiting with baited breath to see if this venture can bring life back to a code losing relevance in the plethora of winter sports in this country biting off ever bigger chunks of the finite pie of attracting an ever decerning public.

First try in World series Rugby
Marcel Brache scores for the Western Force during the opening match of World Series Rugby against Fiji Warriors at Perth’s nib Stadium. Picture: AAP

The fact that Twiggy Forrest’s name was plastered all over the event with constant references to him over the stadium’s public address system certainly did not warrant a torrent of social media protests after the event. If it was not for Forrest, top class provincial rugby would be anathema to the Western Australia public and the aspirations for young rugby players of a pathway to the Wallabies, in the West, would be cut off. That the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) under CEO Gary Flowers had the foresight to award the fourth Super Rugby franchise to Perth ahead of Melbourne in 2004 was visionary for building the game there. They cited “people power” as the deciding factor and that grew to the ‘Sea of Blue’ eclipsing the fan base of the other Australian Super Rugby franchises.

Bankwest-backs-the-Force
Twiggy Forrest with Bankwest Managing Director Rowan Munchenberg and Captain Ian Prior. Photo courtesy of Western Force

I hope Raelene Castle is taking note of “people power” in the West for a code that has over 120 years of history with RugbyWA being founded in 1893. That masterstroke by the ARU to award Perth the fourth franchise in 2004 and in one stroke could taketh away in 2017 shows destain for what had been created over 12 years. If the blueprint by Forrest to harness that “people power” in the West and fund expansion of the game into the Asia-Pacific region can only be a healthy option for the code. To fund teams from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga is really appealing after the pillaging that has gone on for rugby talent from predominately New Zealand and Australia to other nations around the rugby globe. Not even Rupert Murdoch has been game to enter the Pasifika market an obviously rugby-mad region due to a lack of financial gain.

Raelene Castle Gilbert
Rugby Australia CEO, Raelene Castle. Photo courtesy of AAP

To have a stronger rugby footprint in the economic powerhouse that is Asia leading up to next year’s World Cup in Japan (with matches played in Hong Kong and Singapore) is whetting interest by World Rugby. To be able to market the sport which was warmly embraced last week by Singapore in the recent HSBC World Sevens Series tournament there and obviously Hong Kong is a hotbed of rugby interest, especially the last weekend of March (now the first weekend in April), for over 30 years. And Japan has a very fervent schoolboy and university participation rate and company teams with open chequebooks.

This is an exciting time for rugby union and Twiggy’s vision could go down as a watershed in the annals of a code desperate to maintain relevance in a saturated sporting landscape that is Australia. Rugby Australia should become more involved in what is happening in the West, especially if reports out of South Africa that they want to pull out of Super Rugby are true. New Zealand will support anything rugby in the region so I have no fear that we will lose our cross Tasman rivalry. It is only onwards and upwards and as they say in the West, “May the Western Force be with you”.

Final squads confirmed for action-packed Brisbane Global Rugby Tens

All 12 elite men’s squads and the four women’s teams that will contest the 2018 Brisbane Global Rugby Tens have been confirmed.

Julian Savea, the second-highest All Blacks try scorer of all time, will spearhead the Hurricanes’ challenge, while young tyro George Bridge will lead a raw but talent-packed Crusaders side in the spectacular day-night tournament at Suncorp Stadium on Friday and Saturday.

Bridge starred at the 2017 tournament as the Crusaders made it to the final without dropping a game, only to be defeated at the final hurdle by the inspired Chiefs.

The Crusaders side also features Ethan Blackadder, the highly-rated son of former All Blacks captain and Crusaders legend Todd Blackadder.

“It’s awesome to be heading to Brisbane once again for the Tens,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said.

“Last year’s tournament provided some valuable lessons for us leading in to the start of the Super Rugby season, and I’m confident we have a side full of exciting young talent who will be keen to showcase their skills against some quality opposition.”

Drawn in Pool C, the Crusaders begin their campaign with a showdown against Savea’s Hurricanes,  followed by a match against Will Genia’s Brumbies on Friday evening. They then meet Olympic Sevens champions Fiji in their final match of pool play on Saturday afternoon.

The Hurricanes’ squad boasts former New Zealand Sevens star Ben Lam and exciting back Jonah Lowe who scored a hat-trick of tries in last week’s pre-season win over the Crusaders in Greymouth.

Up front, young try-scoring prop  Alex Fidow – one of Wellington’s Bash Brothers  – will add plenty of grunt to the pack.

The 2018 edition of the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens brings together some of the biggest names in the global game alongside some of the brightest stars of the future.

A star-studded Pau line-up featuring seven former All Blacks (including Conrad Smith and Carl Hayman), former Wallabies captain Ben Mowen and former England flanker Steffon Armitage is one of the major drawcards of the 2018 event.

The extensive line-up of internationally-capped players competing this weekend also includes Will Genia (Rebels), Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane (Panasonic Wild Knights), Samu Kerevi, Taniela Tupou (Reds), Henry Speight, Andrew Walker (Brumbies), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Liam Messam, Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs), Elliot Dixon, Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) and George Moala, Akira Ioane (Blues).

The 2017 edition of the tournament featured the likes of breakout stars Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, who both went on to play for the All Blacks against the British & Irish Lions.

This year’s intake of thrilling prospects is led by the likes of Crusaders captain Bridge, Fidow and rising Blues star Caleb Clarke, the son of former All Blacks star Eroni Clarke.

The 2018 wildcard class is headlined by the return to the Blues of ‘King’ Carlos Spencer, while Carl Hayman (Pau), Drew Mitchell (Waratahs), Andrew Walker (Brumbies), Adam Freier (Rebels) and Pita Alatini (Highlanders) will also make cameo appearances back in the professional ranks.

The 2018 tournament also features an expanded four-team women’s competition, presented by Wallace Bishop.

Teams from Queensland, New South Wales, the Brumbies and Rebels will play a full round of pool matches followed by a grand final.

The Brisbane Global Rugby Tens is supported by the Queensland Government through Tourism and Events Queensland and Brisbane City Council through Brisbane Marketing.

BNZ Crusaders squad for Brisbane Global Rugby Tens:                             
Jone Macilai, George Bridge (C) Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, Jack Stratton, Zach McKay, Brett Cameron, Tima Faingaanuku, Ngane Punivai, Richard Judd, Andrew Makalio, Billy Harmon, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Jordan Manihera, Hamish Dalzell, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Ben Morris, Dylan Nel, Harrison Allen, Nathan Vella

Hurricanes squad for Brisbane Global Rugby Tens
Julian Savea (c), Brayden lose, Ben Lam, Alex Fidow, Fraser Armstrong, Tolu Fahamokioa, James O’Rielly, Murray Douglas, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Will Mangos, Liam Mitchell, Sam Henwood, Chase Tiatia, Finlay Christie, Jamie Booth, Losi Filipo, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Malo Tuitama, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Jonah Lowe, Trent Renata, Hunter Prescott

Fiji squad for Brisbane Global Rugby Tens
Joeli Veitayaki, Rautnaisa Navuma, Mosese Ducivaki, Viliame Rarasea, Filimoni Seru Camaitovu, Mosese Ducivaki, Peni Raidre, Albert Tuisue, Serupepeli Vularika, Jone Manu Taufaga, Aparosa Tabulawaki, Timoci Senaite, Ifereimi Tovilevu, Lepani Rayala, Inia Tawalo, Veremalua Vugakoto, Kalivate Tawake, Vesi Rarawa, Timoci Sauvoli, Levani Kurimudu, Frank Lomani, Enele Malele, Chris Kurandrani, Penasio Kunabuli, Fabiano Rogovakalali, Eroni Mawi.

See full squad lists HERE

Brissy Tens 2.0

Brissy 10s, 2018

Once again, in the rejigged Brisbane Global Tens, the River City plays host to a star-studded line-up of Wallabies, All Blacks, Super Rugby champions past and present for two days of action-packed abridged rugby with 10-a-side players on the field. As last year’s inaugural event proved the record heatwave was sapping on the players and having lots of subs was essential. This year the organisers, Duco Events, have decided to tweak the program to play afternoon/evening matches on Friday and Saturday.

Backing up from last weeks electric HSBC Sevens International event last weekend in Sydney where both Australian teams won their respective tourneys, Tens bridges the gap between fast-paced 7s and the more technical 15-a-side game. Five man scrums means grunt is needed with space out wide for electric backs to impress. However, seeing Brumbies prop, Ben Alexander, have a run with space at last year’s competition was a highlight. This year we have another mobile prop in Taniela Tupuo for the Queensland Reds, which will be great to see in action.

Last night at the Reds intra-squad trial and Twilight Fan Day, Brad Thorn had a few words on the upcoming 10s tournament,

The Tens provides a good opportunity for the players to put into action what they’ve worked on throughout the pre-season. 

“We’ve got three pre-season fixtures this year, we felt it was important to give everyone an opportunity to showcase their skills. It’s a good reward for their hard work. 

“Last year’s tournament was fast and physical and provided a good challenge a couple of weeks out from the season. No doubt the guys are looking forward to getting out there in front of our home fans.”

As a precursor to the 2018 Super Rugby competition, both the Australian and New Zealand franchises will showcase their respective 2018 squads alongside the international sides of the Robbie Deans’ Panasonic Wild Knights from Japan, the All Black-studded powerhouse Pau from France and rugby entertainers Fiji rounding out the 12 teams. The 4 teams from Australia, 5 teams from New Zealand combined with the three overseas teams making three even Pools: A, B & C of four.

Pool A: sees the Queensland Reds, Auckland Blues, Melbourne Rebels and Panasonic Wild Knights fight it out. In Pool B: last year’s champions the Chiefs play the Waratahs, Highlanders and Pau. Pool C: sees the Brumbies, Crusaders, Hurricanes and the newcomers, Fiji. This format will run in conjunction with a women’s competition from the four Australian franchises of Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies and Rebels.

The ambassadors for this competition are Kurtly Beale from the Waratahs, Julian Sevea from the Hurricanes and Liam Messam from the champion Chiefs outfit. Also, the French side, Pau, provides former All Black greats Conrad Smith, Colin Slade and others plus former Wallaby captain and Brisbane rugby product, Ben Mowen. Another Brisbane rugby great, Reds & Wallaby hero, Digby Ioane playing for Panasonic Wild Knights says he’s keen with a post on Instagram: “Come support the boys at Suncorp next week. Up the Wild Knights!”Rugby 10s 2018

Vale Stan the Man

It is with great sadness that this week has seen the passing of legendary Wallaby No. 594, Stanislaus Josef Pilecki, the “Pole” from Queensland. Stan was a larger than life character I had the fortune to watch play out at Ballymore in the early 1980s. I was astounded by the fact that he was 36 and still playing for Australia, thinking that playing in the front row may add to your longevity to your career, not realizing that prop forward was the hardest position.

In recent times I met him a few times on his beloved Moreton Island where he had a sort of bungalow place that he brought rugby teams over to train. He talked often about how he loved being involved in rugby, especially his cherished time with the Bulldogs at Wests on Sylvyn Road.

Having played over 100 times for Queensland and his name will be forever immortalised in the Pilecki Medal given to the best performing Queensland Reds player of the season.

What is the Relevence of Rugby Union in Australia?

From little things, big things grow.”

 

Paul Kelly

 

Watching rugby leagues gala event, the Dally M Awards, live from The Star in Sydney, tonight, one questions what is the future of a code that has been relegated to “boutique” status that rugby union now occupies. Queensland and New South wales are the only true “rugby” states in the Australian landscape with the Australian Football League (AFL) dominating the rest. I am reminded of a guy from Melbourne I was talking to in China, in 2011, and how he remarked that it was incredible to him that Australia did so well in rugby union when most of the country does not understand the game; at the time we were ranked No. 2 in the world behind the New Zealand (who went on to win their second World Cup later on that year).

 

A stark contrast to our near neighbours, New Zealand, that absolutely worship the code from Auckland to Bluff. I remember visiting there in the late 1990s and being amused by the New Zealand Herald’s coverage of news being dominated by rugby union. Even the real estate pages making note of All Black legend Murray Mexted (1979~86) selling a property in Auckland. So often I scan the Courier Mail in the hope that there’s a least some mention of rugby union amongst the voluminous coverage of rugby league and more often then not there is not any.

 

Mal Meninga (Kangaroos Coach) made a great speech praising the exploits of Dally Messenger, from which the awards are taken. Reiterating the fact that this rugby union great was instrumental in the creation of rugby league in this country over one hundred years ago. Built on mateship and looking after the guy who was injured on the weekend playing the game he loves without any recompense from his employer. Once rugby union became professional in October 1995, the relevance of rugby league would then come under question. However, this was not to be, the stranglehold of that code has on the eastern states of Queensland and New South Wales were to prove too strong. The fact that the State of Origin has such a powerful following in those two states, akin to the AFL grand final in the rest of the country, that to supplement it would be sacrilege.

 

Growing up in a decidedly pro-rugby union family the code has always been my passion. To pull on my high school’s 1st XV jersey was an honour that I will cherish to the grave. The opportunities and friendships that it has created for me throughout the world bodes testament to a code that has relevance, just maybe not so much in my home country, Australia. Having played in Canada, USA, Japan, France and even China has opened my eyes to a sport that is truly an international game and growing stronger and broader every year. There is not an international bar in Asia worth its salt if rugby union games are not telecast, sadly that is not the case in Brisbane. I have driven to several pubs on a Friday night trying to find a venue showing the Super Rugby, despite the local Queensland Reds playing, to no avail.

 

After what I described as our annus horribilis the code will surely resurrect itself and hold a prominent position on the Australian sporting landscape. If it takes billionaire, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, in Western Australia to inject the capital to garnish more interest in rugby with his IPRC than that is not a bad thing. There will surely be more pain before a silver lining, but the code will survive and hopefully come out better for the anguish that has been caused in 2017.

 

CJ

Editor-at-Large

 

Super 18 Rugby Format is a Farce

The farcical Super 18 Rugby Competition has reached an all time low with the two protagonists now decided for the Super 18 Final, the Lions and the Crusaders.
What doesn’t sit right at all here and the fact that the whole Super 18 Competition is totally flawed is that the Lions never had to play any of the New Zealand teams thereby giving them a huge and unfair advantage.
Could somebody please explain to me how the current format of the S18 Competition can be deemed as a level playing field when the Jaguares, Kings, Lions or Sharks didn’t have to play any of the N Z teams through 17 Rounds of the S18 season?and how a Team which has played in a far inferior Conference (just take a look at the final standings on the table at the completion of the S18 Season) should be allowed to have a Home Quarter Final, Semi Final and Final?
For the Crusaders to now have to travel 11,500 kilometres to Johannesburg to play the Super 18 Final at High Altitude because they finished on equal points with the Lions (65) after the Home and away Season, even though they played in a far Superior Conference, but had only 7 bonus points compared to the Lions who had 9 seems like a travesty of Justice.
It’s little wonder then that the Credibility and Integrity of the Super 18 Rugby Competition has been brought in to question for a while now.
As a proud and passionate All Blacks supporter I hope that the Crusaders can draw on all of their resolve, self belief , superb skills, athleticism and will to win to defeat the Lions, if they do it will be a truly remarkable and memorable achievement with the odds stacked heavily against them.
Until SANZAR changes the current format of the S18 Competition and has every team play each other at least once through the Home and away Season then the Integrity and merit of the Super 18 Winner will continue to be brought in to question.

 

G Jacobs

Reds v Crusaders ’16

The Reds Super 18 season is pretty much done and dusted, however moving forward tomorrow’s match in Christchurch is a chance to erase the thrashing they received there last year. As I stated earlier in the season, this side has the cattle, just lacking a lead drover.

With Richard Graham’s instant dismissal after the Queenslanders suffered a disastrous start to the 2016 season with two heavy losses from two matches; Ballymore’s swift action has reignighted the Reds’ players passion. The two head coach policy of Nick Styles and Matt O’Conner has been rewarded with success on the scoreboard and wins under their belt. Two matches that they should have won were the draw against the Auckland Blues and loss against the NSW Waratahs, both at Suncorp. The Blues match was in the bag with five minutes to go when the Reds replaced Andrew Ready to win greater dominance at scrum time, which they did resulting in a penalty. The kick for touch and resulting line-out was the correct option, but the poor throw into the line-out resulted in the Aucklanders’ turnover to rampage back into the match. Blues Head Coach, Tana Umanga, complained after the match that a poor refereeing decision by Andrew Lees to not allow advantage, that ended up with a try being scored under the posts. Later analysis showed a clear knock on by a Kiwi player.

Those two losses should have gone down as wins in the log and positive results are what the Reds fans deserve. They will desert the drowning ship in droves if massive losses become the norm, once again. Jake McIntyre & Sam Greene will be great Reds players of the future, but what is needed is a senior No. 10 to come in and motivate what is already the crystallisation of a winning Super Rugby franchise. My suggestion two years ago was to bring Frederic Michalak in, Tony Shaw thought it a great opportunity moving forward, but Sam Cordingly refused the opportunity. Now Freddy has contacted me and wants a second crack, especially if John Mulvihill is appointed head coach.