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Super RugbyA second week of pre-season games sees a much fuller schedule with the match of the weekend being the Bulls traveling to London to take on the Saracens.

During the week there is time for the Blues and the Chiefs to get their preparations underway in Whangarei on Thursday.

The weekend kicks off with the Cheetahs taking on another South African Conference rival in the Stormers at Newlands on Friday after they succumbed 13 / 30 to the Bulls in Polokwane last week.

The Cheetahs will also have a B-team at home in Bloemfontein getting ready to face the Griffons the following day.

On Saturday, the New Zealanders have a go at each other as the Hurricanes host the Crusaders in Manawatu before the champion Waratahs play a mixed club and University side.

The Western Force will be looking to back up their good showing against the Brumbies when they take on an Asia Pacific Dragons team.

Meanwhile, the Reds will look to unleash the likes of James O’Connor and Karmichael Hunt against the Melbourne Rebels.

The Brumbies then cross their conference to face the Highlanders as one of the New Zealanders 4 warm-up matches, this before the Lions test their squad in 2 games against the Leopards and the Pukke.

Finally, the big match sees the Vodacom Bulls at Allianz Park to take on Saracens, with the men from South Africa hoping to succeed where the Sharks and Western Province could not.

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Brendan McKibbin

Brendan McKibbin

English Premiership Rugby club London Irish have announced that they have signed Waratahs 2014 Super Rugby No 9, Brendan McKibbin, on a two-year deal.

McKibbin was part of the Waratahs squad that were crowned Super Rugby Champions last season and has 63 Super Rugby caps to his name.

Formerly of the Queensland Reds, Scotland born McKibbin made his debut for the New South Wales outfit in 2011 and went on to become their first choice scrum half amassing 234 points for the side in 59 appearances.

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Melbourne RebelsThe Rebels have named a 28 man travelling squad for this Saturday’s pre-season trial against the Reds in Cairns with a possible 7 debutants.

The Rebels take on the Reds at Barlow Park in Cairns in what will be the first opportunity for both Australian teams to see what they are working with.

The Reds will be looking to test out the likes of new recruit and Wallaby James O’Connor as well as the their 2 League converts in Karmichael Hunt and Duncan Paia’aua.

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Duncan Paia'aua

Duncan Paia’aua

Injured Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper has backed rookie Duncan Paia’aua to fill in as his replacement over the few first few months of the new season.

Cooper is set to miss the first 3 months of Super Rugby after fracturing his collarbone in a “freak accident” during a training match against the Reds’ Under 20 side.

And although former Wallabies flyhalf James O’Connor is in the Brisbane-based franchise’s squad, 20-year-old Paia’aua is the favourite to take over from Cooper.

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WhistleSANZAR has announced its referee squad for the forthcoming Super Rugby season with Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) and Jaco van Heerden (South Africa) promoted and in line for debut during 2015.

O’Keeffe started refereeing whilst at medical school in Dunedin and quickly progressed through the ranks. He has featured in the Heartland Championship, ITM Cup, as a Super Rugby assistant and at the 2014 Junior World Championship where he earned appointment to the final between England and South Africa.

His father Peter also refereed at provincial level and when he’s not in the middle, O’Keeffe practices as an eye doctor in Wellington, New Zealand.

Pretoria-born Van Heerden meanwhile is an Advocate to the High Court of South Africa and joins Super Rugby ranks having made rapid progress applying law on rugby fields throughout his home country.

The 32-year old handled himself with aplomb in his first Currie Cup match during the 2014 season and it was no surprise that he was awarded a semi final later in the year.

A University of Pretoria Law Graduate, Van Heerden played rugby for his university before later turning his attention to refereeing.

 

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Force vs Brumbies warm-upThe Force opened its 2015 Super Rugby pre-season campaign with a 31-21 victory over the Brumbies at McGillivray Oval on Friday evening.

The home side dominated the first half, transferring pressure into points with three unanswered tries to Luke Morahan, Chris Alcock and Marcel Brache to lead 17-7 at the break.

While the visitors claimed the better running of the third term, the Western Australians closed out the match with two tries in the final 20 minutes to run out 10-point victors.

Force head coach Michael Foley said there was some positive signs ahead of the club’s 10th season of Super Rugby.

“That first 40 was exactly what we wanted; it was a tough contest and we won that first 20 and came out on top at half time,” he said.

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Israel Folau

Israel Folau

Israel Folau could soon be making an appearance in the Waratahs – and even the Wallabies – midfield as he continues to be an unpredictable threat.

The fullback’s midfield ambitions have been given a major boost after Waratahs coach Michael Cheika green-lighted a move for his talented player.

Cheika was careful to put a long lead time on Folau’s dream of donning the No 13 jersey but said such a change would give the Waratahs – and possibly the Wallabies – the element of surprise against their rivals.

“It’s a different way of getting him the ball,” Cheika said.

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Nick Cummins

Nick Cummins

Western Force coach Michael Foley has revealed that Wallabies wing Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins will miss the first couple of Super Rugby matches as he needs surgery.

According to the Rugby Week website, Cummins left Western Australia to play in Japan last year for personal reasons, but he has been made available to play for the Force this season.

“Nick is having a little bit of minor surgery on his ankle at the moment,” said Foley.

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Quade Cooper

Quade Cooper

Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks after suffering a fractured collar bone during a training session at Ballymore Stadium on Thursday.

The 26-year-old playmaker, who was out for 16 weeks in 2014 due to an AC joint injury, will have surgery on Tuesday to repair the fracture, which occurred around the previous operation site.

Cooper’s AC joint injury occurred against the Rebels in May last year when he fell awkwardly on his left shoulder in a tackle.

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Melbourne RebelsThe Melbourne Rebels have selected a group of 5 players for their leadership group in 2015 but have delayed announcing their captain by a week.

Foundation Rebel Laurie Weeks and loose forwards Scott Fuglistaller and Scott Higginbotham retain their places from the 2014 leadership group, while Pat Leafa and Nic Stirzaker are added into the 5-man group for the first time.

Rebels’ Head Coach Tony McGahan believes the group will lead the Club with pride during the upcoming season.

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Braam van Straaten

Braam van Straaten

Most pundits would feel that expansive, all-out attacking play is what results in most tries. Or perhaps counter-attacking from turnovers.

However, in-depth analysis seems to suggest something very different.

Springbok Braam van Straaten says kicking for territory could become an even greater part of the game in this World Cup year.

Van Straaten, who played flyhalf and centre for the Springboks in 21 Tests from 1999 to 2001, said teams have done an enormous amount of analyses on where the most tries are being scored from.

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Western ForceThe Force has named a 31-man squad to tackle the Brumbies at McGillivray Oval this Friday night in the club’s opening pre-season fixture of its 10th anniversary season.

Friday’s match will provide the first opportunity for the club’s passionate ‘Sea of Blue’ to see the Force in action in 2015, with Tetera Faulkner and Kyle Godwin in line to make their first appearances since returning from the Wallabies’ Spring Tour, while Nathan Charles will make his comeback from a pectoral injury suffered in Australia’s loss to the All Blacks during their Rugby Championship match in August.

The club will unveil 4 of its new recruits, with back-rower Ross Haylett-Petty, lock / back-rower Steve Mafi, and winger Mitchell Scott in line to represent the Force for the first time. Associates centre Ammon Matuauto has also earned his first opportunity in a Force jersey, after being promoted to the side’s wider training group following an impressive National Rugby Championship season for the Perth Spirit.

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Braam van Straaten

Braam van Straaten

The obsession of some South African teams with size over skills could come back to haunt them when the Super Rugby season gets underway next month.

Springbok Braam van Straaten says space and not power is the key to winning the SANZAR showpiece.

Abraham Johannes Jacobus van Straaten, who played flyhalf and centre for the Springboks in 21 Tests from 1999 to 2001, said the intent of more teams is to keep the ball in hand and shift into space.

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BrumbiesThe Brumbies will field 8 Wallabies, including David Pocock, this Friday – when they head to Perth to face the Force in the first Super Rugby hit-out of 2015.

In the backs the likes of Matt Toomua, Nic White, Christian Leali’ifano, Joe Tomane and Henry Speight will all feature, while 2014 top-try scorer Robbie Coleman will also travel west for the game.

The Players’ Player of the Year, Jarrad Butler, fronts a strong pack of Brumbies forwards – including Pocock, who has been named for the first time since February last year when he suffered a ruptured ACL.

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Sekope Kepu

Sekope Kepu

Both Sekope Kepu (Waratahs) and Nic White (Brumbies), have added their names to the long list of Australian Players who will pack up and go play rugby in France after the Rugby World Cup of 2015.

 

Sekope Kepu:

Australian international prop Sekope Kepu has become the latest addition to the conveyor belt moving players from the Southern Hemisphere to France.

Kepu signed a three-year deal with ambitious Top 14 club Bordeaux-Begles.

The 28-year-old Wallaby – who will join after this year’s World Cup – is the second player from the Waratahs to join the club coached by former France captain Raphael Ibanez.

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Super RugbyThis week sees the Super Rugby teams take to the field in a number of pre-season games as the franchises look to get ready for the 2015 season.

In the South African conference there is understandably no cross-conference games, however The Bulls and the Sharks have decided to board the plane for England and France respectively as they take on Saracens and Toulon.

The Bulls will prepare for that match with a hit out against the Cheetahs in their traditional Polokwane warm-up game before flying to France.

The Cheetahs then travel to Cape Town to face off against the Stormers, while a supposed ‘B-team’ stays at home to tackle the Griffons.

The Lions’ pre-season looks to be a muted affair with two games against the Leopards and Varsity Cup team, the Pukke happening on the same day.

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WhistleSuper Rugby starts in a month’s time with a match in Christchurch with Nick Briant to referee it.

SANZAR has released the names of the referees for the first three Rounds.

Briant referees the first match in New Zealand, Angus Garner the first in Australia and Rohan Hoffman the first in South Africa.

Jason Jaftha was injured for 2014 and his fitness needs to be assured for this year.

Marius van der Westhuizen will be refereeing his first Super Rugby match overseas after reaching Super Rugby last year.

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RedsQueensland Rugby Union today announced prop James Slipper will captain the Reds for the 2015 Super Rugby season.

He will be supported in the role by two new vice-captains in Reds and Wallabies lock Rob Simmons and recent signing Karmichael Hunt.

Slipper takes over the role with the blessing of incumbent captain James Horwill, who after a number of discussions agreed the best long-term outcome for the future success of the Reds was to step down and allow the growth of the leadership within the team.

In 2014, Slipper was recognised by his Queensland teammates as the Pilecki Medal winner for Players’ Player of the Year and also claimed the Rugby Union Players’ Association Medal for Excellence – which is voted on by all Super Rugby players.

He was also vice-captain of the Wallabies throughout the 2014 Test season and said he was honoured to be given the title of Reds skipper.

“I’m incredibly humbled by this decision. I take great pride in playing for Queensland, so to be named captain is a great honour,” Slipper said.

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Radike Samo

Radike Samo

Wallaby and three-time Super Rugby champion, Radike Samo, will join the Melbourne Rebels for the 2015 Super Rugby season.

Samo, who moves to Melbourne from Kinetsu Liners in the Japanese Top League, has made 23 appearances for the Wallabies, and was part of the squad which finished third at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Speaking prior to moving to Melbourne, Samo said he was excited to join Tony McGahan’s group and have “one final crack at Super Rugby.”

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Karmichael Hunt

Karmichael Hunt

‘Football chameleon’ and new Reds recruit Karmichael Hunt has his sights firmly set on making the Wallabies World Cup squad.

Having started his career as a Rugby League player with the Brisbane Broncos, Hunt switched to playing Australian Rules in the Australian Football League for the Gold Coast Suns in 2011.

He signed for the Reds in the off-season and is expected to make his Super Rugby debut at fullback in the Round 1 clash with the Brumbies in Canberra.

He has made no secret of his World Cup ambitions, although he knows that he will have to prove himself at Super Rugby level first.

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Stephen Moore

Stephen Moore

Nic White and David Pocock will help lead the Brumbies as vice-captains in 2015, after head coach Stephen Larkham and captain Stephen Moore made the announcement on Thursday.

Both Pocock and White have proven leadership qualities having led professional sides on the big stage in the past.

White was named the Brumbies youngest captain against the Hurricanes in 2013, while Pocock has captained both the Wallabies and the Western Force.

A former Brumbies academy captain, White said he was thrilled to have been acknowledged with the vice-captaincy of the main squad.

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Kurtley Beale

Kurtley Beale

Kurtley Beale, one of the most controversial figures in Australia, ended months of speculation about his future by signing a one-year extension to his Wallaby and Waratah contracts.

The 26-year-old Beale, who has played 49 tests, was fined AU$40,000 for sending a offensive text message team business manager Di Patston in June, and escaped having his contract terminated because there wasn’t enough evidence he sent a second, more lewd message.

The text message scandal blew up on a flight from South Africa to Argentina during the Rugby Championship when Beale and Patston argued of the player’s inappropriate dress code.

Beale was suspended, and Patston returned to Australia and quit.

The fallout included coach Ewen McKenzie, who quit in October just days before the Wallabies left for a five-match European tour which Beale later joined.

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Super RugbyWith Super Rugby fast approaching it is important to have a look at what each of the teams are doing in their preparations and who they have at their disposal.

As the teams prepare for this brusing competition there is the oppourtunity to test out combanations as well as see how the new boys go.

The Sharks will travel to French champions Toloun to test out their game plan against the Galacticos of rugby while the Bulls will take on the Cheetahs in a traditional pre-season match in Polokwane.

The Australasian sides will also warm up against each other with the Highlanders setting up a comprehensive pre-season schedule due to the first round bye.

The ‘transfer market’ has made the upcoming Super Rugby season an exciting prospect with some big names in James O’Connor and Nick Cummins returning to Australia.

Menawhile, the Bulls have bolstered their squad with some excellent former Cheetahs players.

Finally, and unsurprizingly, Ma’a Nonu has made another move – this time back to the Hurricanes.

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James O'Connor

James O’Connor

Former Wallabies backline star James O’Connor is returning to Australian rugby after year-long exile in Europe, saying he has matured and is ready to resume his 44-Test career.

O’Connor was released from his Australian Rugby Union contract after a series of off-field incidents and forced to continue his career in Europe when shunned by local Super Rugby teams.

Now 24, O’Connor says he has grown up and is determined to leave behind his bad boy image.

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Michael Jones - new Brumbies CEO

Michael Jones – new Brumbies CEO

The Brumbies have appointed Michael Jones as the club’s Chief Executive Officer for the next three years, replacing Doug Edwards who resigned in December.

Jones returns to his hometown Canberra to tackle the role with the Brumbies having most recently held the Chief Executive’s position with investment banking and corporate advisory firm, Canterbury Hill Advisory in Sydney.

Jones said it was exciting to be back in Canberra working with an organisation he has followed closely his entire life.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity, there is a lot of work to get the Brumbies and community rugby to where I want it, but I’m excited by the challenge,” Jones said.

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Scott Higginbotham

Scott Higginbotham

Scott Higginbotham has become the latest to join a growing list of Wallabies that will head for the exit door after the World Cup this year.

The veteran back row forward, Higginbotham, confirmed on Monday that he will leave Australia after the World Cup, where he is in contention to represent Australia.

Higginbotham will take up a contract in Japan.

His departure follows on the news that James Horwill and Adam Ashley-Cooper will continue their careers in Europe beyond the 2015 World Cup.

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Nick PhippsScrumhalf Nick Phipps has signed a two-year contract extension with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU), which will keep him with the Wallabies and Waratahs until the end of 2017.

Phipps started all 14 of Australia’s Tests in the past year, taking his tally of Test caps to 28 – since his debut in 2011.

Wallaby coach Michael Cheika welcomed Phipps’ decision to sign, saying the 25-year-old is “someone who is prepared to do whatever it takes to make things happen and I am sure we will see that from him over the next three seasons”.

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Michael Hooper

Michael Hooper

Wallaby captain Michael Hooper has allegedly been involved in an incident with a friend whist at the New South Wales coastal Town of Byron Bay, where the police were called out, and Hooper’s friend charged.

The latest incident is just another in a long list involving Wallaby players that is perhaps indicative of the deep rooted problems facing the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in terms of player discipline off the field.

The ARU seem either uncapable, or unwilling to take the matters to heart and sort the issue (with their top players) out. A fact which must surely have an influence on Rugby Union’s endeavours to have the sport taken more seriously in a country where the sport lags far behing Aussie Rules, and Rugby League in terms of spectator support, and is battling to keep up with or ahead of Association Football (soccer) for bums on seats on a weekly basis.

Australia’s Nine Network

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Nick Cummins

Nick Cummins

Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins will return to the Western Force for the 2015 Super Rugby season.

Cummins, who has played 74 matches for the Western Australian club over the past seven seasons, was granted a release from his contract on compassionate grounds to join Japanese club, the Red Sparks, at the end of the 2014 Super Rugby competition.

However, the 27-year-old, who has been capped 15 times for the Wallabies, will return to the Force after being granted leave from his current contract by the Fukuoka-based club.

He will join the Force squad at the end of the Red Sparks’ season in early 2015 and will return to the Japanese club for the 2015 / 2016 Top League season.

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Michael Cheika - Wallabies coach

Michael Cheika – Wallabies coach

The penny has finally dropped. The Wallabies know they need to resolve their scrum shortcomings or they will fall short at the World Cup next year.

According to media reports in both Australia and New Zealand Wallaby coach Michael Cheika appears to be close to securing a ‘scrum guru’ to solve his team’s set-piece woes before next year’s World Cup.

After watching the Australian pack get pushed around by Wales and England on the end-of-year tour, Cheika flagged an overhaul of the Wallabies’ scrum.

Sources close to Cheika said he is poised to add a big-name “been there, done that” scrum technician to his coaching unit.

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Liam Messam - the boxer

Liam Messam – the boxer

Fiery All Black loose forward Liam Messam will return to the growing ranks of Rugby Union players dabbling in boxing as a pre-season pastime.

Messam, known for his abrasive approach to the game, will be on the undercard when superstars Sonny Bill Williams and Quade Cooper headline the action at the inaugural Footy Show Fight Night in Sydney next month.

Rugby League star Paul Gallen and rising Australian boxer Willis Meehan will also feature in the 31 January event.

Messam’s last entry into the square ring was a points defeat to Gallen in December last year, after he had also beaten Wendell Sailor in 2011.

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Michael Cheika

Michael Cheika

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika is unfazed about a possible mass exodus of players after next year’s World Cup, following the departures of veterans James Horwill and Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Lock James Horwill, captain at the 2011 World Cup, agreed to a three-year contract with English club Harlequins as he prepares for his first spell in English rugby.

On the same day, French Top 14 side Bordeaux announced they had agreed a two-year deal with wing Ashley-Cooper.

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James Horwill

James Horwill

Queensland Rugby has announced James Horwill has signed a three-year contract with English Premiership giant Harlequins.

Horwill will make the move to the famous London club following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which concludes in October next year.

He is currently the most-capped Queensland captain, having led the Reds on 69 occasions.

A modern-day champion of the Reds who led Queensland to the 2011 Super Rugby title, Horwill will make the 2015 Super Rugby season his 10th and his last and is determined to achieve success when he pulls on the Reds jersey for the final time next year.

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Akihito Yamada

Akihito Yamada

The Western Force has recruited Japanese international wing, Akihito Yamada for the 2015 edition of the Super Rugby competition.

The signing also coincides with the Force’s 10th season in the Southern Hemisphere tournament.

Yamada joins the Force as a concessional signing for one year, with each Australian club permitted to recruit one Japanese player in addition to their 35-man senior squad.

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