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Rugby News: Wallabies prop flies home, Hodge happy in shadows, Burger says Akira can’t mix it with Boks

Australia have suffered yet another blow ahead of the second Test against Argentina with Allan Alaalatoa flying home.

The prop left camp due to a family bereavement, opening the door for  Pone Fa’amausili to make his debut from the bench behind Taniela Tupou.

James Slipper has been used on that side of the scrum previously but other injury issues mean he is expected to stay at loosehead.

With Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi injured long term, the absence of Michael Hooper, and injuries to Angus Bell and Dave Porecki, the loss of Alaalatoa further stretches the Aussie contingent.

“Every squad goes through periods where they are unlucky,” said Reece Hodge on Wednesday.

“Some teams get lucky through periods and they win, but the best teams win when they are going through periods that are quite tough.

“We have gone through one over the last two or three months but the fact we are developing great depth in the squad, and the next-man-up mentality we are developing, that will go a long way to hopefully getting performances together that we can be proud of.

“But also the most important thing in Test match rugby is winning matches.”

Hodge has made it clear he’s not interested in an extended run as a Wallabies No.10 after stepping in following the devastating loss of Cooper last weekend.

Rennie called on his Mr. Fixit again to come on after 48 minutes to replace Cooper, who suffered a serious Achilles rupture, but Hodge is ready to hand over playmaking duties to Noah Lolesio or James O’Connor on Sunday.

Hodge’s versatility won him a place alongside Jake Gordon as one of two backs in Rennie’s 6-2 bench split and it will be intriguing to see if the coach sticks with the same tactic this week, having watched his side finish strongly over the top of Argentina in Mendoza.

“I think at the moment I’m just happy to play that utility kind of position and week to week I’ll fit in wherever needed,” Hodge said on Wednesday.

“Eight weeks ago I missed out on the squad for (the) England (series) and for me every opportunity to be in the Test squad is a privilege.

“I enjoyed getting extended minutes on the weekend despite being so gutted for Quadey sustain that injury but I genuinely am willing to play wherever the team needs me.

“If we were to sit down now and say that I could contribute as part of the match-day squad heading into a World Cup, then it’s something I’d be happy with; I’m just thrilled to be back in the squad.”

Reece Hodge (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Hodge acknowledged Cooper’s loss was significant but reiterated the Wallabies’ mantra of ‘next man in’.

“Quade’s a very experienced player and he’s an expert at getting the best out of people around him so we’re not hiding the fact that it’s a massive loss for us.

“But Noah steered us to a series win against France last year and was very solid in that England series as well.

“And then James has played 50-plus Tests and his form at the start of Super Rugby season for the Reds was outstanding; he was probably one of the best players in the competition early on so we’ve got two really good options heading into the game this weekend.”

O’Connor appears to be at a crossroads as far as his international career goes. He got game time in the Brisbane Test against England but was well below par, then left out of the two games since then.

Iain Payten of the Sydney Morning Herald joined The Roar rugby experts Brett McKay and Harry Jones from the Wallabies tour in Argentina for a deeper review of the win in Mendoza, the impact of Michael Hooper’s sudden withdrawal and a look ahead to the second game of the tour in San Juan.

“Rabs has got his body in really good shape and he’s been training well the last month and really pushing for selection,” Hodge said. 

“Whether it’s him or Noah who get the nod heading into this weekend we’re confident that both of them are in great physical shape and both training really well so whoever steers us around will have the full confidence of the squad.”

Akira can’t mix it with big Boks

Springboks great Schalk Burger has given a sobering assessment of Akira Ioane, saying the All Blacks No.6 isn’t suited to playing against South Africa.

Burger, a 2007 World Cup winner, said of Ioane: “I’d pick him for certain games, especially when he can dominate in the wide channels.

“He’s like another back, such a nice skill set. But against the Boks, I don’t see him enough mixing it with our big boys, and that’s where you’ve got to fight fire with fire, I think, against this Bok defence.”

Burger said Scott Barrett was better suited to the flanker position against the Boks.

“He’s quite an explosive ball carrier,” Burger said.

“Even though he’s a lock at heart, you need someone to go through the guts.

“We throw it back to a Jerome Kaino of old, against the Boks he’s going to front up for 80 minutes.”

Burger said ABs skipper Sam Cane’s judgement appeared to be clouded by his form issues.

“It’s hard when you’re a captain in any side and you’re not playing your best and you’ve got a lot on your shoulders and I think that’s where Sam Cane is at,” Burger told Sky Sport.

“So it’s quite hard to free yourself up, because that pressure just sits there. I think it clouds your judgement on decision-making where the team’s at within a game.”

Cane, meanwhile, is bracing for a hostile reception as ever at Ellis Park as the Boks aim to add to the All Blacks’ woes.

“There’s another 30,000 people than last week. The air will be a little thinner,” Cane said.

“It’s a hostile environment, and I think we quite like playing in places like this that really test you.

“I’ve said it before, it’s like the 15 out there versus the 15 Springboks plus the whole crowd, so it’s a massive challenge.”

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

He said he was expecting the Boks to continue kicking the ball high at the All Blacks.

“Of the 15-odd contestable kicks [in the first Test], we only took five of them, so they have great success in that area, and I expect them to keep going there,” said Cane.

“They had good success at the breakdown. We’ll expect them to roll out a lot of the same stuff, but it would be a little naïve if they weren’t looking for other opportunities, so we’ve just got to prepare the best we can.”

Cane added his team was confident an upturn in fortunes was close.

“There’s a trophy on the line, we’re playing at Ellis Park, and we’re desperate to want to improve and put out better performances than we are, so there’s as much on the line as there’s ever been.

“The frustrating part is that it is not quite translating to the field yet. But one thing I know is, that as long as we are putting all the right steps in the preparation we’ll get there, it will come.”

Eddie in the headmaster’s office

Eddie Jones has been rebuked by the Rugby Football Union for suggesting English rugby is too reliant on private school boys.

Jones told a newspaper that “you are going to have to blow the whole thing up” because the current process creates “closeted” players who lack “resolve”.

An RFU statement said: “RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney spoke to the England head coach, Eddie Jones, on Sunday and confirmed the RFU’s position on the valued role the independent [fee-paying and private] sector plays in the player pathway.

“The most recent England men’s squad contained players who have benefited from time within independent schools, including Maro Itoje and Henry Arundell, as well as many from the state sector including Jonny Hill and Courtney Lawes.

“As a union, we are always working to broaden the appeal and accessibility of rugby union to boys and girls from a wide range of backgrounds,” it added.

Of the starting 15 that defeated Australia in last month’s series decider in Sydney, eight were either partially or fully educated at private schools with eight from government schools.

Jones told the i newspaper: “If you have only been in a system where you get to 15, you have a bit of rugby ability and then go to Harrow [one of England’s leading private schools on a sports scholarship].“Then for two years you do nothing but play rugby, everything’s done for you. That’s the reality. You have this closeted life.

“When things go to crap on the field who’s going to lead because these blokes have never had experience of it? I see that as a big thing… When we are not on the front foot our ability to find a way to win, our resolve, is not as it should be.”

Vermeulen returns for ABs battle

Springbok star Duane Vermeulen is back for his first Test of the season with selection to face the All Blacks on Sunday (AEST).

Vermeulen missed the three-Test series against Wales and the Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand in Nelspruit after he had knee surgery in mid-June following his United Rugby Championship campaign with Ulster.

The 36-year-old’s inclusion means that Jasper Wiese moves to the bench in place of lock Salmaan Moerat.

Vermuelen said he is mentally prepared for the match but harbours some doubts over his fitness.

“It is international rugby, so mentally you always have to be switched on,” Vermeulen said.

“I was out for a bit and I spoke to the coaches and work through the line-outs [and set-pieces], so being mentally switched on is probably the easy part for me because I have been in the game for a number of years.

“But regarding the physical side, we just have to wait and see.

“I’ve been out of action for the last six to eight weeks, and we playing at altitude.

“But we have a strong group of guys and I’m going to give it my best and see how far I can push myself.

“Fortunately we have capable replacements.”

Vermeulen will go up against All Blacks No.8 Ardie Savea, the team’s best player this season.

“Ardie and I both play at No.8, but, we play different styles,” Vermeulen said. “We play more as loose trio combinations and we have our ways of dealing with individual players.

“So for is not about one-on-one battles but it’s a team effort and performance.”

Vermeulen is one of five changes to the Boks’ starting line-up for the second Test.

The Springboks cruised to a 26-10 victory in the first Test in Nelspruit last weekend – their biggest win over the ailing All Blacks in 94 years – and were forced into two of the changes.

Jesse Kriel comes in on the wing for the suspended Kurt-Lee Arendse while Jaden Hendrikse will start at scrumhalf after Faf de Klerk was concussed in the opening minute of the last match. Hershel Jantjies comes onto the bench as scrumhalf cover.

The two other switches are both in the front row of the scrum as Bongi Mbonambi comes in for Malcolm Marx at hooker and Ox Nche replaces Trevor Nyakane at prop.

“We made a few changes to the team, but Duane, Jesse and Herschel are all experienced players who know our systems well and have been stalwarts for the Boks,” coach Jacques Nienaber said in a media release from South African Rugby.

“Ox has also shown his ability to make his presence felt in the front row, so he is back in the mix.

“Duane has a massive presence on the field and there is no bigger game for him to make his comeback from injury than facing the All Blacks.

“He is an enforcer on attack and defence and we know he will give everything against a physical All Blacks team that are desperate to bounce back strongly from a challenging run of results.”

Kriel will form a back three with fellow wing Makazole Mapimpi and Damian Willemse, while Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende continue their partnership in the midfield. Flyhalf Handre Pollard retains the No.10 jersey.

Vermeulen will pack down with Pieter-Steph du Toit and captain Siya Kolisi at the back of the scrum, while Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth are at lock. Frans Malherbe makes up the front row with Mbonambi and Nche.

“Our focus is on improving our game and ensuring that we build on our form from last week,” Nienaber said.

“We had an honest assessment of our performance and while there were several positives, there are areas that we need to make a step-up in and it will be vital to get that right before we travel to Australia and Argentina for the away leg of the tournament.”

South Africa:  Damian Willemse, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Jaden Hendrikse, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche. 

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese, Kwagga Smith, Hershel Jantjies, Willie le Roux.


Rugby – The Roar 

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