The head spins when trying to decipher the power plays that are emerging as global rugby’s landscape gets ready for a sizeable shake-up.
Who needs to work with who to succeed? Is all what it seems, or are there ulterior motives? Where do the financial imperatives end and the public relations pitches start?
Of course, the Super Rugby axing of Japan’s Sunwolves is all just speculation for now as we wait for SANZAAR’s official announcement on the future of the competition later on Friday.
However, it’s all but certain that the Sunwolves – in their fourth season in Super Rugby – will say sayonara from the top-tier southern hemisphere competition at the end of 2020.
The mail is that SANZAAR want to go for a 14-team competition, with a new broadcast deal set to be negotiated to start in 2021.
That would likely result in a return to a round-robin format, meaning the end of the unpopular conference system.
Simpler. Easier. It’s apparently what the fans have been telling them in their marketing surveys and focus groups.
Hayden Parker reacts after a Sunwolves loss. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images for SUNWOLVES)
The speculation is that the Sunwolves might find a home in what could be described as a second-division Asian Super Rugby competition run in conjunction with Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby.
The demoted Sunwolves would join the Western Force, Fiji, Samoa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and potentially a second Australian team.
One of the more intriguing details of the media speculation was that according to the Sydney Morning, the new Asian Super Rugby set-up would be a SANZAAR-endorsed competition part-owned by Forrest, Australia’s mining billionaire.
Why would SANZAAR – an organisation whose members are the South African rugby union, the New Zealand rugby union, Rugby Australia and Argentine rugby union – feel the need to endorse a competition that includes teams almost entirely outside their membership?
The only one that falls inside the catchment membership, the Western Force, is the same one that SANZAAR flicked a few seasons ago.
Needless to say, Force players, fans, coaches and administration would prefer to flick the bird to SANZAAR and Rugby Australia.
But perhaps this has the potential to become a symbiotic relationship.
How? The teams that the Asian Super Rugby competition would consist of are from nations that don’t easily attract a big rugby following.
Even if rugby is Fiji’s national sport, its small population of about 900,000 and being a relatively poor country means their power at the negotiation table is fairly weak.
Idealistic rugby fans might not like it, but these factors matter to administrators as they map out the structures of a new competition.
Maybe more directly these factors matter to broadcasters, who want lots of passionate fans with high disposable incomes to tune in to matches, and advertisements.
Perth, Hong Kong and Singapore include people with high disposable incomes, but their rugby markets are relatively small.
Even Twiggy, with all his business nous and golden touch, would struggle to sell an Asian Super Rugby competition to broadcasters.
The markets are small and they don’t – and won’t – have enough big-name players to give the competition kudos, despite Twiggy’s insistence that they will soon sign a slew of global rugby stars.
Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)
There’s curiosity and admiration to have the courage to change some rugby rules to jazz up the game and increase ball-in-play time, but it would take a decent gamble for broadcasters to do a deal.
So who could help? SANZAAR, who have a public image problem. They’ve tried their best to spark up Super Rugby through expansion, but it’s been a failure.
They got all bloated, and then had to trim down. The damage was that they peed off not only the folk from Perth, but also players and fans from two South African teams: the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs and the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings. And now, the Sunwolves.
The most ardent critics would say that SANZAAR have treated them as their play things, and then when it hasn’t worked out as they had hoped, booted them to the kerb with little love. There isn’t a whole lot of goodwill from rugby fans towards SANZAAR.
The recent Super Rugby axings have left many to view them as cold-hearted. They’ve been accused of being aloof, with little public communication and interaction.
How could SANZAAR redeem themselves and show the region that they care? How could they prove that they’re not all about banking the biggest broadcast contract, but are sincerely motivated to ensure the health and sustainability of rugby in the Asia-Pacific?
By packaging up two broadcast deals. That is, they go to the negotiating table soon to sell the rights to the new 14-team Super Rugby competition as well as the second-tier Asian Super Rugby competition.
It’s both or nothing. The broadcasters can’t take one without the other.
There are practical reasons why this could work well, particularly in terms of scheduling to prevent overlaps in kick-off times between the two competitions.
The member unions from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji and Samoa – along with Twiggy – would surely embrace this kind of collaboration if it eased the financial load of kickstarting their new competition.
It may even mean SANZAAR taking a hit financially to get the Asian competition some media exposure and give it a chance to grow. But it’s a burden they may have to bear, even in the strange circumstances in which only one of the four nations within SANZAAR would have a competing team.
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It might prove to be good business to make it their business, because marketing surveys and focus groups wouldn’t be necessary to confirm that rugby fans would want SANZAAR to show some love for their neighbours in the Pacific and Asia.
The news that Australia will support Sheikh Salman’s bid for re-election as Asian Football Confederation president was both predictable and utterly depressing.
Fox Sports commentator Simon Hill cut straight to the chase when he wrote on Tuesday that Football Federation Australia “blew it” by endorsing a candidate who remained conspicuously silent while his erstwhile countryman Hakeem al-Araibi languished in a Bangkok prison cell.
Hill has a way of getting straight to the point – he’s a journalist who understands the nuances and intricacies of every part of the game – and it’s hard to disagree with a single word he wrote.
The trouble is, as Hill pretty much pointed out, what else could we expect?
Football as a global game has been so lost for so long now that we’ve been conditioned to accept the almost weekly body blows as a matter of routine.
The faces change but the villains are always the same.
Gianni Infantino was elected president of FIFA in the wake of arguably the most damaging scandal in the history of sport, yet he’s even more obsequious than his deluded predecessor Sepp Blatter.
FIFA boss Gianni Infantino (Photo: AP)
FIFA – the body charged with the task of protecting the game – will literally ruin the World Cup.
It’s supposed to be the pinnacle of international sport, yet FIFA aims to undermine the entire qualification process by making the finals a 48-team affair where presumably everyone receives a participation medal.
And they’ll do so by trashing traditional timeslots and doing deals with whomever it takes to get whatever shady business they’re doing this week over the line.
Why? Because it’s not enough that the World Cup generates billions in revenue, it needs to rake in tens of billions in revenue – for reasons no one ever explains.
I guess someone’s got to pay for the gravy train that is modern football?
But the news rarely gets much better the closer you get to home.
I doubt Adelaide United fans would be so disappointed with the revelation that the Reds will not be extending coach Marco Kurz’s contract if only they had some sort of clarity around who actually made the decision.
A sober analysis of Kurz’s time in charge would suggest that results haven’t been as impressive as they could have been.
Yet Kurz – who’s been hamstrung by Adelaide’s ever-tightening purse strings – bleeds red in every sense of the word.
Adelaide coach Marco Kurz (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Here is a coach who will stop at nothing to defend his players, who has copped fines and risked suspensions and brought nothing but colour and passion and intensity to the A-League, and what does he get for it?
A shove out the door from a shadowy ownership group comprising members no one seems to know the identity of.
Perhaps the trick is to just tune out the nonsense and enjoy the spectacle as much as is humanly possible.
I was thinking as much when I watched the highlights of Barcelona annihilate Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin last weekend and saw the home fans respond by giving Lionel Messi a standing ovation.
Messi – who is not only the best footballer on the planet, but twice the player Cristiano Ronaldo has ever been – is one reason we can still enjoy the beautiful game.
Even without winning a World Cup the Argentine will go down as arguably the greatest player to have ever played the sport, and at this stage of his career all you can do is simply stand and applaud – even if he’s just destroyed your team.
And supporting the football in your own backyard hopefully helps overcome the bitterness of all the murky global politics, which is why this weekend’s Football Writers’ Festival in Jamberoo is such a worthwhile initiative.
Football still has the ability to enrapture its fans.
But sometimes you can’t help but sit back and wonder when it was, exactly, that the beautiful game became so difficult to like.
Pakistan will field a massively-weakened ODI team missing five star players in the five-match series starting today, giving Australia a golden chance to build further momentum for the World Cup.
For this series Pakistan will be missing captain Sarfraz Ahmed, their best pace bowler Hasan Ali, their top all-rounder Shadab Khan, and two of their three standout batsmen in Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman.
Pakistan also will be without a sixth valuable player in 19-year-old pace prodigy Shaheen Afridi, who has averaged 19 with the ball in his 19 limited overs international matches.
As a result, Pakistan will field an inexperienced and vulnerable squad featuring four uncapped players, giving Australia their easiest ODI series in more than two years.
That’s not to suggest Pakistan will be pushovers, rather a reflection of how insanely difficult Australia’s ODI fixture has been, with 24 of their past 27 matches being against the top two ranked teams – England and India.
They may be ranked sixth in the world in ODIs but Pakistan are an unpredictable and dangerous team. This was underlined in the 2017 Champions Trophy, which Pakistan entered as rank outsiders only to thrash hosts England in the semi-finals and then destroy India in the final.
Sarfraz Ahmed celebrates Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Since that rousing performance Pakistan’s form has been patchy. They have won just two of their five ODI series in that time, and were thrashed 5-0 in New Zealand.
At home in the UAE, however, their record is more formidable having won 12 of their past 20 matches.
It is Australia, though, who long have been Pakistan’s biggest nemesis in ODI cricket. Some 17 years have passed since Pakistan last defeated Australia in an ODI series. Since then they have a horrendous 6-28 win-loss record against Australia in this format.
This history counts for little, however, as these teams have played just one ODI series in the past four-and-a-half years. That last series was in January 2017, with Australia hammering Pakistan 4-1.
Pakistan’s shaky batting line-up let them down in that series. Nowadays they boast an incredibly-strong top order due to the presence of Azam, Zaman and ul-Haq, who combined have made nearly 5,000 runs at 54 in their ODI careers, with an incredible 16 tons from just 111 matches.
Australian fans will be familiar with Azam, who was outstanding during the 2017 ODI series in Australia, making 282 runs at 56. He is a huge out for Pakistan, as is Fakhar the dangerous hitter who normally gives their top order a fear factor.
In the absence of that gun pair, huge responsibility now rests on the blade of ul-Haq.
The 23-year-old has made an extraordinary start to his ODI career with five tons from just 21 matches.
Rather than relying on big shots, the left-handed opener focuses on racking up 1s and 2s – he has scored only 33 per cent of his ODI runs in boundaries, one of the lowest rates of any current batsman.
He will need to have a good series against Australia because, beyond their star top three of ul-Haq, Azam and Fakhar, Pakistan have had no consistent contributors with the bat over the past 18 months.
After bowling to a commanding and vastly experienced Indian batting line-up in their past eight ODIs, Australia’s bowlers will face a comparatively simpler task against Pakistan.
How will Australia go against Pakistan? (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
So, too, will the visiting batsmen. Pakistan’s pace unit is greatly weakened by the absence of tearaway left armer Afridi, and attack leader Hasan Ali, who has a fantastic ODI record of 77 wickets at 24.
Australia’s batsmen will also be relieved not to have to tackle hugely-skilled young leg spinner Shadab Khan, who has averaged 18 with the ball against them from six T20Is.
Australia may be coming off a remarkable series win in India, but it is only weeks ago that they were considered a team in crisis. Which makes this series against a second string Pakistan line-up very difficult to read.
Tayla Harris has thanked her heavyweight supporters after the AFLW star’s powerful call for change which has disarmed internet nasties and fuelled a possible rebrand for the sport.
Harris has endured a whirlwind 48 hours after a photo, taken by Michael Wilson, of her playing for Carlton had been set upon by online bullies.
The 21-year-old was strident and selfless in calling out the abuse.
“If I can stand up here and say something about it and start the conversation … if that helps one person or heaps of people, then that’s what I want to do,” Harris said on Wednesday at Ikon Park.
Harris succeeded in galvanising support for the causes of de-sexualising images of women in sport and reducing online abuse.
Thousands of fans have voiced their support for Harris in the same online forums previously populated by abusive men.
Fellow AFLW stars, Matildas captain Sam Kerr and even Prime Minister Scott Morrison have backed Harris on social media and in spoken comments.
Kerr took aim at Channel Seven, which deleted the picture in response to the online attack, tweeting “THE PROBLEM WAS NOT THE PHOTO”, before the broadcaster apologised and re-posted the image on social media.
Champion cyclist Anna Meares called the image “incredible”.
Premiership-winning Adelaide captain Erin Phillips led the support from around the league.
“There is a lot of trolls that get away with things that shouldn’t be allowed,” Phillips said.
“But in saying that, what a fantastic response from the community to get behind Tayla … it has empowered her. And it has shown to the community, to Australia, that it’s unacceptable to troll and put people down.”
One fan went so far as to have the image tattooed on his right arm.
At a media conference on Thursday, the prime minister called the abusers “cowardly grubs who need to wake up to themselves”.
The AFL has also celebrated Harris’ actions, adopting a silhouette of the image in place of the AFLW logo.
Harris responded on Thursday by posting her thoughts on Twitter.
“THANKYOU!! Everyone who messaged, posted, commented and shared recently. Things have changed … if you’re not with us, you will be left behind,” she wrote.
It’s 2015 and I’m sitting on a lounge chair in the living room watching my nation’s team, the Socceroos, holding out to beat South Korea 2-1 to win the Asian Cup.
It was a thrilling match, and when Troisi scored the winning goal in the 105th minute, everyone used that celebration that you only use on very special occasions, whether it be bouncing on your seat, holding you hands to your mouth in pretend disbelief or – in my uncle’s case – sitting perfectly still but voicing a very dignified “F*** yeah!”
He was sitting next to me throughout the match, and when the players were celebrating, he took a moment to speak his opinion on the future for football in our nation.
He said: “It’s taken years for us to reach this point” and “It’s only going to get better from here”.
He got it partly right, we have come a long way, but any loyal supporter would know that that latter one has not become reality yet.
That’s not to say it won’t happen, but since Asian Cup glory, the team has failed to impress on numerous occasions.
Australia haven’t fired since lifting the Asian Cup in 2015. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Youth development, football culture and the health of the A-League are changes we need to make to improve our odds of winning.
So, what happened after the Asian Cup?
Well, to put it simply, a dodgy World Cup qualification campaign that we barely got through, a disappointment of a World Cup and failing to make it deep into the recent Asian Cup.
Let’s start with the World Cup qualifiers, shall we?
Do we even want to? It was 17 months of good signs, pain and embarrassment all at the same time.
Every article on the subject talks about how we were unlucky or deserved the win, but that can’t be right if we regularly under-performed, can it?
From the loss to Jordan 2-0 to the consecutive draws against Saudi Arabia, Japan, Thailand and Iraq, it was clear that it was going to get rough.
It gets better though, as seven months later we drew against Syria in the play-offs.
Oh but don’t worry, we beat them after extra time in the second match. That’s convincing enough by our standards right? No?
Only beating Syria 3-2 on aggregate is not good enough for Australia. We went on to qualify, but we had made the process way harder than it had to be.
The World Cup performance was better, but it clearly showed that we couldn’t make possession count or finish our chances.
Now, some may say that we should have drawn against France, our first opponents. The stats show that the two sides almost had equal possession of the ball, however the Frenchmen were far more clinical.
France were able to punt 13 shots at Matty Ryan while we barely squeezed in four. Five of theirs were on target, but only one of ours was, and that was a penalty.
Sure, the second goal they scored was only in by the length of Benjamin Pavard’s mop, but they were bound to get ahead with all the chances they were creating.
The following 1-1 draw with Denmark was far better, and gave us hope of progressing to the knock-out rounds.
One thing that needs to be recognised, however, is that the only goals we had scored by this point had been from penalties and not open play.
Australia nil, Peru 2. Disappointing.
All the hype around progressing had rapidly built up to this point, and it fizzled out just as quick.
Fifty-three per cent of possession, 14 shots at goal, and nothing to show for it. Once again, Australia controlled the game, but couldn’t produce a good result.
Australia failed to progress to the knock-out stages of the World Cup. (SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The 2019 Asian Cup campaign was an uneventful one.
A 1-0 loss to Jordan in the opening round and defeat at the hands of UAE in the quarter-finals solidified that we wouldn’t progress any further.
“We would have liked to score, but on that pitch it’s very difficult to get in behind teams,” skipper Mark Milligan said after the penalty shoot-out defeat of Uzbekistan.
“We’re (going) back onto a grass pitch, not a concrete car park.”
Yeah, may as well blame the pitch I guess.
I mean, it can’t be your fault, can it?
It was just an average Asian Cup performance overall. We beat lower-level sides but failed to impress when it really counted.
This is why all this nonsense is happening: the constant shuffling of managers.
It went from Ange Postecoglou to Bert van Marwijk then to Graham Arnold. It’s hard for a team to change playing styles in such a short period of time.
All possession and not enough goals.
This common trend in our performances in the past three campaigns demonstrates we lack a star forward who can capitalise on the amount of possession we achieve.
The centre forward position is regularly shifted among players but none have proven themselves reliable.
Not enough players playing high level football. Apart from Aaron Mooy, Matty Ryan, Robbie Kruse and Matt Leckie, none of our players are playing in the top flight of any of the five major European leagues.
Aaron Mooy is one of the few Aussies playing in a top European league. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
This lowers the quality of our game greatly, especially against world-class opponents.
Disinterest in football.
This is disconnected from the current squad, but poorer attendances at A-League games has been continuing for the past two years, with numbers falling.
This isn’t good for the state of our domestic league or the national squad, as they are built off of the public.
If kids aren’t interested in the Socceroos, then what hope have we got for the future?
Lack of football culture. Many kids in Australia are introduced to football through under-five kick-around sessions at their local park.
It’s seen as play and not taken very seriously until much later in the child’s life, that is, if that child does start taking it seriously. Many don’t.
In a country like Brazil, full of world-class players, kids start playing and taking football seriously from the day they learn to walk.
Former pro player and grassroots coach Tom Byer said: “If you get them by a certain age, they develop. To bridge that gap is nearly impossible for other kids… when I read biographies from Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez – all of them attribute their technical ability and early success not to any coach, but the father”.
This difference in culture greatly improves the child’s chances of becoming a world-class player.
We as a country have lacked – and still do lack – that quality, which can explain why our players’ touches aren’t as sharp as the players in top European national teams.
Overall, it is clear that we need to revitalise our nations interest in football, provide competitive environments for children from a much earlier age and develop a consistent, strategic game strategy for our national team.
The team has “been dealt a devastating blow”, wrote AFL.com’s Callum Twomey, with the captain “expected to require a knee reconstruction after suffering an injury.”
“(He) twisted awkwardly… and immediately grabbed for his left knee in pain.”
“He was helped from the field by trainers and left (the) stadium on crutches after the (game. The team) confirmed after the match they feared ‘the worst’ for the All-Australian defender.”
The coach said: “He’s no good. [We] think it’s bad news, unfortunately.”
“As you’d expect it’s quite shattering. But we know what sort of person he is and what sort of character he is so he’ll bounce back, but it’s sad news.”
He “will have scans on the knee with the club expecting them to reveal a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which will cast doubt over his future in the game.”
The coach spoke to Twomey about the task that the team faced without their defensive captain.
“We’re really close and they’ll be hurting tonight, and not just because of the loss but they’ll be hurting more for (him). We all will be.
“It’s my job to pick them up early, and we’ve already had that chat at the end of the game. We’re definitely ‘glass half-full’, and today’s just one of the 22 rounds and we’ve just got to look forward to next week.”
One of the other veteran players put the loss of their captain in perspective.
“He’s our spiritual leader, he’s the actual leader, he’s everything to us. We don’t know [the severity of his injury] yet and we’ll wait and see what happens, but you never like to see your teammates get carried off like that,” he said. “We have to support him and get around him and I know this footy club and this playing group will do so.”
Months later, that footy club and that playing group won the premiership, and the coach gave his championship medal to that injured captain.
The Western Bulldogs lifted the premiership cup in the absence of captain Bob Murphy. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
The captain was Bob Murphy, the coach was Luke Beveridge, and the “footy club and playing group” was the 2016 Western Bulldogs, who put their captain on a pedestal that motivated their drive through four games as underdogs in September to a legendary AFL title.
But the story and quotes above may very well have made you think the topic of conversation was Alex Rance of the Richmond Tigers, who also injured his knee in the third quarter on Thursday night.
The blow very likely knocks the five-time All-Australian key defender out of the entire 2019 campaign and knocks the Tigers from the role of likely flag favourite to one of four or five equals who are all slightly flawed but have the tools to win the 2019 AFL premiership.
Over the summer, we all pointed out that a lack of depth might be the undoing of Richmond this season.
But they have a talented defensive line beyond “the Legend of Tagger Rance” (look it up if you don’t get the pun) – David Astbury, Nathan Broad, Brandon Ellis, Dylan Grimes, Bachar Houli, Oleg Markov, Kamdyn McIntosh, Jayden Short and Nick Vlastuin.
Will they have to re-shuffle? Of course.
But they’re mostly veterans, and they’ve had Rance’s example to work under for as long as they’ve been with the Tigers.
And they will still have Rance’s example, because he’ll still be there to serve as a temporary unofficial coach, just as Bob Murphy was for the Doggies three years ago.
Alex Rance is a man of character, just as Murph was and is. He’ll be there, probably in part out of a misplaced sense of ‘guilt’, as if he’s somehow ‘betrayed’ his beloved team by getting injured.
If you question that, watch what he did at the end of the Carlton game last night. He came out with ice on his knee and sat on the bench, acting as if it was just a minor sprain, to give his team confidence and a joyful boost on the field when they had lost most of their lead to an upstart Blues team.
The Tigers pulled away in the fourth, winning by 33.
If you still question that, watch the interview with Channel Seven after the game, where he spent the conversation speaking about his team-mates, his club, and how exciting he is about his team in 2019.
If you didn’t speak English, or if you didn’t listen closely, you’d come away thinking he’d gotten a turf burn on his kneecap instead of starting the 12-month-long road of pain, pitfalls, and perspiration that awaits him in rehabbing that injured ACL.
An injured Alex Rance consoles Tigers team-mate Jack Riewoldt. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos/Getty Images)
His mugging for the sideline photographer reminded me that his life is so much more than his footy or his physical health. When other players came to console him after the game, it looked more like it worked the other way around – he was the one consoling them.
That’s why he so valuable to the Richmond Football Club.
And that’s why he’ll still be valuable to the team in 2019, because that part of Alex Rance is still working for the Tigers, even without functioning ACLs.
In 2016, the Western Bulldogs won their first title since the 1954 days of Footscray and a young Ted Whitten, in large part using Robert Murphy as their object d’affection.
Last year, the West Coast Eagles lost superstar Nic Naitanui to injury and budding star Andrew Gaff to brain cramp and suspension, yet won the title when the rest of the team stepped up, in part in their honour.
Why can’t the 2019 Richmond Tigers lose their superstar backman to injury, and then do as the Bulldogs and Eagles have done before them and use that loss to serve as their motivational talisman that spurs them to ‘win one for Alex’?
The Crusaders will try to evoke the spirit of their extraordinary Super Rugby campaign in 2011 when they return to the field against the Waratahs on Saturday.
Captain Sam Whitelock said his team are still coming to terms with last Friday’s terror attack on Christchurch in which a gunman claimed 50 lives at two mosques.
Their scheduled match against the Highlanders the following day was abandoned after distraught players were consulted and Whitelock said their preparation for the match in Sydney had a surreal feel to it.
He compared it to their reaction in the immediate aftermath of another tragedy, the devastating earthquake of February 2011 that killed 185 people in Christchurch.
After that team abandoned their next game, they embarked on a remarkable campaign in which they played every game outside Christchurch before losing the final to the Queensland Reds.
“A few of us older boys have been putting some thoughts and feelings across to try and help everyone out,” said veteran All Blacks lock Whitelock, who was in the 2011 team.
“It’s been a great week to really get the boys tight and to make sure they’re in a good space to go out and perform this weekend.”
It will be Whitelock’s first appearance of the year for the unbeaten competition leaders after an extended off-season break.
He was thankful to have captaincy duties to perform this week, taking his mind off last week’s horror.
“Once I’ve talked about it, I can look at the rugby stuff but everyone’s got different emotions,” he said.
“It’s about making sure you’re aware of that and if you recognise someone’s probably feeling a bit down, get alongside them, help them out.”
Coach Scott Robertson has named a team close to full strength for the Sydney Cricket Ground clash, although five-eighth Richie Mo’unga and in-form lock Scott Barrett are rested after starting the first four games.
CRUSADERS: David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Brett Cameron, Bryn Hall, Whetu Douglas, Madd Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (capt), Quinten Strange, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Res: Andrew Makalio, Harry Allan, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Ereatara Enari, Mitchell Hunt, Will Jordan.
Melbourne have lost some major star power for their Super Rugby clash with the Sharks with skipper Dane Haylett-Petty out injured while the Rebels are also missing three other Wallabies players for the clash in Durban.
Haylett-Petty suffered ligament damage to his toe during last round’s heart-breaking loss to the Lions in Johannesburg and while he doesn’t require surgery, will be out for up to six weeks.
Will Genia, Adam Coleman and Marika Koroibete are among the Test stars rested under the Wallabies rotation policy while in an indication of his World Cup prospects, Fijian-born No.8 Isi Naisarani has also been rested after recently qualifying to play for Australia through residency.
Haylett-Petty has been replaced at fullback by Jack Maddocks, with Sione Tuipulotu getting his first start this season in the centres with Tom English shifting to the wing for the game which kicks off at 0215 (AEDT) Sunday.
New captain Angus Cottrell steps in for Naisarani, while Michael Ruru replaces Genia at halfback.
Former Reds centre Campbell Magnay has been named for his Rebels debut having overcome an ankle injury suffered playing in Japan’s Top League.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels downplayed the changes, still confident of a break-through win in South Africa.
“Jack Maddocks has played a fair bit of time at 15 and he’s comfortable there and it’s a great opportunity for Sione Tuipulotu to come into the team, who really deserves his chance,” said Wessels.
The Rebels blew a dream chance to beat the Lions, giving up a 28-point lead, however their quest wasn’t helped by a 20-1 penalty count which is the most lopsided in Super Rugby history.
Wessels said he’d sought out Super Rugby officials for assurance that it was likely a one-off under inexperienced whistleblower Egon Seconds.
“I don’t think in the history of Super Rugby a team’s only got one penalty in a game,” Wessels said.
“We wanted to confirm that there weren’t any systematic issues in our game with the referees and they’ve given us feedback that there aren’t.
“We’ve got Rasta Rasivhenge, who’s obviously an experienced referee and I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”
Rebels: Jack Maddocks, Reece Hodge, Sione Tuipulotu, Billy Meakes, Tom English, Quade Cooper, Michael Ruru, Angus Cottrell, Richard Hardwick, Luke Jones, Matt Philip, Ross Haylett-Petty, Sam Talakai, Anaru Rangi, Matt Gibbon. Res: Robbie Abel, Tetera Faulkner, Pone Fa’amausili, Rob Leota, Brad Wilkin, Harrison Goddard, Campbell Magnay, plus one TBC.