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Internationals

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James O'Connor

James O’Connor: The worst of the three Amigos.

Yes, I know that James O’Connor has been a prat.

An official at the ARU who had to deal with him all the time told me that O’Connor was the worst of the Three Amigos – O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper.

He would encourage and lead his mates into trouble and then, somehow, slide away unscathed, while the other two copped the blame and the punishments.

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Conrad Smith

TOUGH TEST: Conrad Smith says the All Blacks will need to be smarter in coming to terms with Argentina’s unique style of rugby.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it seems Conrad Smith has missed his old mate Ma’a Nonu during the midfield pair’s enforced break up.

The old firm has been closed for business since Smith broke his hand during the second June test against England, but seems likely to reopen for business against Argentina on Saturday.

Nonu and Malakai Fekitoa had a run during the third test thrashing of England in Hamilton, and again during a dour 12-12 draw against Australia in Sydney while Smith attended the birth of his first child.

Then in Auckland, Smith and Ryan Crotty teamed up for the Bledisloe Cup bash as Nonu sat out with a bruised shoulder.

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 Argentina

Argentina gave a good account of themselves in Hamilton last year and pride themselves on their work at the set piece.

Steve Hansen has challenged his forwards to repeat their devastating display against Australia when they meet Argentina in Napier on Saturday.

The All Blacks arrived in Hawkes Bay yesterday ahead of their Rugby Championship test against the Pumas, with coach Hansen wasting little time in putting the acid back on his big men as they prepare for what he called one of the best scrums in the game.

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Bernard Foley

Ewen McKenzie is set to give Bernard Foley a shot in the Wallabies No 10 jumper.

Australian vice captain James Slipper says the Wallabies’ pack must shoulder some of the responsibility for Kurtley Beale’s underwhelming performance at five-eighth in Auckland 10 days ago.

After a two-Test experiment with Beale and Brumbies halfback Nic White at the helm of the Wallabies’ back line, Ewen McKenzie is set to debut the Super Rugby title-winning combination of Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps on Tuesday when he names the side to take on South Africa at Paterson’s Stadium.

But in a week in which the entire Australian line-up will be out to repair the Wallabies’ badly bruised reputation, Slipper leapt to Beale’s defence and said the pack had to give their back line generals something to work with.

“He’s a class player. We all know what he can do,” the Wallabies prop and Stan Pilecki medallist said.

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Brodie Retallick

NO COMPROMISE: All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick is not one to take a backward step on the rugby field.

Brodie Retallick’s eyes light up at the prospect of locking horns with a similarly built opponent with a shared interest in physical destruction.

The All Blacks lock will likely get a chance to reacquaint himself with young Argentine lock Tomas Lavanini during Saturday’s Rugby Championship test at McLean Park.

Lavanini, a 21-year-old colossus at 2.04m and 129kg, caught Retallick’s eye last year during a stint with the Chiefs Super Rugby academy in Hamilton.

“He was definitely a physical player,” Retallick recalled on Monday. “I remember seeing a video clip where he knocked someone out just cleaning them out [of a ruck].

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Jannie du Plessis & Morné Steyn

Jannie du Plessis & Morné Steyn

There was nothing surprising about Springbok flyhalf Morné Steyn focusing on the scrum as he prepared to depart with the squad at the weekend for what will be a testing Australasian leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.

The scrumming was not the only area of concern for the Boks during the June internationals and in the two Championship matches against Argentina.

But it was an aspect that fell short both against Wales and the Pumas, and those who know the South African rugby psyche, will understand the ripple effect that the scrumming humiliation at the hands of Argentina in Salta would have sent through the team.

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Keven Mealamu

MENTOR: Keven Mealamu imparts some knowledge to All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith.

Keven Mealamu says he isn’t done yet, not by a long shot.

As another round of hand wringing about the country’s lack of depth at hooker kicks off, Mealamu has reiterated his desire to be part of next year’s World Cup campaign.

Dane Coles’ looming absence from part, or all, of the All Blacks’ trip to Argentina and South Africa later this month for the birth of his partner’s child has again highlighted the dearth of options available to coach Steve Hansen.

Bay of Plenty’s Nathan Harris was the next cab off the rank, but after that it was anybody’s guess.

“We’ve been bringing people in and out of the environment,” Hansen said.

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Sam Cane

IN THE WARS: Sam Cane has hardly played since he discovered a small fracture in his knee before the test season kicked off in June.

Sam Cane could have been excused if he sneaked off to find a heavy punching bag in Napier yesterday to vent some frustration.

It was hard not to feel a little sorry for the 22-year-old openside as the All Blacks assembled ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship match against Argentina.

That’s because around about the same time the All Blacks were being welcomed by 1200 fans at Napier Airport, Cane’s Bay of Plenty teammates were preparing to play Taranaki in a national provincial championship match in New Plymouth.

The thought of an extended run a game of rugby must consume a player who has seen just 40 minutes of action this year, but, unlike 10 of his All Blacks teammates, he was not released for provincial duties.

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James O'Connor

James O’Connor makes a break for French club Toulon against Racing Metro at the weekend

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has denied reports that James O’Connor demanded a guaranteed World Cup spot to return to Australia.

McKenzie said O’Connor’s decision to leave a rich contract with Toulon signals an improved attitude.

O’Connor was revealed as a new signing for the Queensland Reds on Friday night. But unlike fellow recruit Karmichael Hunt, the ARU did not give him a financial top-up.

Playing in exile with Toulon, O’Connor reportedly demanded a spot in the Wallabies squad for next year’s World Cup from McKenzie or he’d stay with the French champions.

An unnamed source told L’Equipe: “James has two options. Either McKenzie guarantees him a place in the squad for the World Cup … or James feels that he is being recalled simply to make up the numbers, with no guarantees, in which case he will stay at Toulon.”

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Will Skelton

Will Skelton on the charge for the Sydney Stars against Melbourne Rising at Leichhardt Oval.

Will Skelton is eager to do battle with the “big boppers” of South Africa after turning in 80-minute audition for the Sydney Stars in their loss to Melbourne Rising at Leichhardt Oval.

Whether the rugby equivalent of a fight scene from Jurassic Park — 140kg Skelton duelling with South Africa’s lumbering monsters — occurs at the start or the end of the Test in Perth remains to be seen, but the big lock did what was asked of him by seeing out the entire match.

It wasn’t a pleasant Sunday for the Stars — pumped 45-13 by Melbourne — but Ewen McKenzie said if Skelton was to be considered to start against South Africa, the impact player needed to display a capacity to play 80 minutes.

The Waratahs’ super-sub hadn’t done that in more than three months but came through comfortably.

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South AfricaSpringbok coach Heyneke Meyer expects higher standards in Australia than his side achieved against Argentina.

Although they beat the Pumas at home and away, neither of the wins were convincing with torrential rain slowing them down in Pretoria before they got out of jail in Salta.

Meyer admitted that he was not satisfied with their two performances thus far, and added that they will have to lift their standards if they are to get the better of a competitive Wallabies outfit.

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Taine Randell

Taine Randell

On merit, history suggests Sonny Bill Williams will play second fiddle to Ma’a Nonu again.

The only time Williams genuinely cracked the All Blacks was when Nonu had a wretched run with injury. He was No 1 by default. At the last World Cup he was a bit-part player at best.

In terms of the exemption he was granted to be picked for the end of year tour without having to play in the NPC for Counties Manukau, I’m not in favour of it.

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Ewen McKenzie

Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie still believes that his side’s thrashing by the All Blacks at Eden Park last Saturday was an “aberration” rather than a confronting measure of the gulf between the two sides.

McKenzie is playing down the need to make sweeping changes to his line-up despite the Wallabies 51-20 loss to the world No.1 New Zealanders in the Rugby Championship.

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Matthew Burke

Matthew Burke

I always find it interesting how people think they need to reinvent the wheel. They think they can make it work better when in fact it is spinning around just nicely as it is.

The wheel I am speaking of is the Waratahs combination at five-eighth and inside centre, and the fact that it wasn’t used for the Wallabies for the opening two games of the Rugby Championship.

Publicly Kurtley Beale was happy about his selection at five-eighth and I am sure he was in his preferred position, but I wonder if privately he ever thought, “have I spent enough time in the role?”

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SuperBru LogoRound 2 of The Rugby Championship and Round 3 of the Currie Cup is done and dusted!

No real surprises with the results, except the huge margin the All Blacks smashed the Wallabies by, and the fact that the Bokke hardly scraped their way to a 2 point win.

The Springboks have struggled in Argentina the past three years, but most pundits thought the Bokke would at least still be closer to a 10 point margin better than the Pumas, even on a bad day.

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The 1995 All Blacks

LINGERING PAIN: The 1995 All Blacks look on after losing the World Cup final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.

The awful truth about the Wallabies’ hammering last weekend is that by 2015 the All Blacks could roll out an entirely different back line and dish it out all over again.

Wallowing in pessimism? Perhaps, but look at the stockpile of talent that wasn’t even in the 23 in Auckland that, in theory, they could select next year.

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Warren Whiteley

Warren Whiteley

Willem Alberts has been ruled out of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship tour to Australia and New Zealand and will be replaced in the 30-man squad by Warren Whiteley.

Alberts missed both Test victories against Argentina because of a hamstring injury and he underwent a fitness test on Thursday afternoon.

Although his hamstring is recovering well, he experienced some nerve irritation in his lower back and was sent for scans.

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Willie le Roux

Springbok flyer, Willie le Roux

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux says he has settled in the role coach Heyneke Meyer has entrusted him with.

Le Roux has become a popular player in South Africa since making his Test debut against Italy in Durban in 2013.

His attacking influence has given the Springbok backline an expansive approach as he’s played a playmaker’s role in a number of tries scored over the past year. He’s also scored seven tries in his 17 appearances.

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Michael Hooper

DEJECTED: Wallabies captain Michael Hooper trudges off Eden Park after his team was hammered by the All Blacks on Saturday night.

Test captain Michael Hooper says the Wallabies will hear a few home truths when they come back together for the first time since one of their worst losses to the All Blacks.

Hooper, who scored one of the Wallabies’ two late tries at Eden Park last weekend, described the side’s performance as ”terrible” and way off their best.

After a few days to stew on the 51-20 drubbing – he still has not watched a replay – Hooper said the Wallabies had to bounce back.

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IRBThe International Rugby Board will become World Rugby from 19 November 2014 as part of a major rebranding programme.

The new brand, including a new logo, will be launched at the IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition in London on November 17-18.

Global Rugby participation has boomed by more than two million to 6.6 million players over the past four years, driven by the commercial success of Rugby World Cup, the IRB’s development strategies and record investment, strong and vibrant Unions and Rugby’s re-inclusion in the Olympic Games.

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Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan has questioned whether the Springboks understand the nuances at scrums and breakdowns.

Despite winning 33-31 in Salta at the weekend, the Bok front row suffered humiliation at the hands of Argentina, with the reputations of Jannie du Plessis and Gurthro Steenkamp taking serious body blows.

Kaplan noted this when he analysed the Boks’ performance on his website, www.ratetheref.co.za.

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Israel Folau

Wanted man… Israel Folau playing against the All Blacks.

The risk of losing star Wallabies like Israel Folau after the 2015 World Cup has prompted the Australian Rugby Union to change its rules to allow overseas sabbaticals.

The Australian Rugby Union will dangle a sizeable carrot to lure the country’s top players to sevens in the lead up to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

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Tony Johnson

Tony Johnson

Not until we get into the next group of games will we have some perspective and context in which to put the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship.

The All Blacks’ forward strength will be tested when they take on the Pumas and their physicality will be tested against the Springboks.

A win in either away game will put the Bokke in a powerful position, the Wallabies will have to bounce back from their thumping defeat at Eden Park or face an exit from calculations, and we will find out how many of their bullets Argentina has fired already.

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Brendan Venter

Brendan Venter

For all the criticism I levelled against Argentina for their negative play in the Loftus Versfeld test, in stark contrast, they deserve a world of credit for their impressive display in Salta.

In theory, the second-ranked Springboks should have destroyed the side placed 12th in world rugby. However, in practice, three main factors determine the outcome of a match:

They are, your own team’s performance, the performance of the opposition and, last but not least, the standard of officiating delivered by the assigned referee on the day.

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Argentine scrum

The Argentine scrum in action.

When on song, the Bajada is basically pornography to us flat eared folk who have done battle in the front row.

And on Saturday against the Boks, it was at its titillating best!

There are two defining characteristics of the Bajada – a scrum technique used by the Argentinians … One is that all the power is directed into the hooker, meaning that they scrum as an imaginary arrow pointing inwards from either side of the 8th man.

The other, and perhaps more important characteristic of the Bajada, is the ‘coordinated push’, which sees them act on a three part call.

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Argentina scrum

How Jannie Du Plessis and Gurthro Steenkamp saw the Argentina scrum

There are two things that we can take from the second round of the Rugby Championship 2014.

  1. The All Blacks are clearly not ‘on the slide’. In fact if anything they are on the up and up and all the 12-all draw did was to inspire them to dick punch the Wallabies in their faces, hard.
  2. The Pumas’ ‘Bajada’ scrum is a thing of beauty, unless you are the Springboks, then it is a thing of nightmares.

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Tom Wood

Tom Wood makes ground against the All Blacks in the summer.

Northampton flanker Tom Wood has said that the England squad has been told they have to get much fitter in the light of their series whitewash by New Zealand in the summer.

In an interview in the Daily Telegraph, Wood said that one of the issues is that the week-in, week-out club game no longer prepares players well enough for the rigours of the international game.

“International level is dramatically different to the club game,” he said. “We have been shown data that illustrates that.

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IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 - EnglandA New Zealand radio station has been criticised after running a competition to see how far its male listeners will go to win tickets to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The Edge offered tickets if two heterosexual male friends got married. “We’ve done stranger weddings, naked weddings, same sex weddings but this is the first one that we know will end in divorce,” the station said in its promotional material.

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Kurtley Beale and his Waratahs teammates

Feeling good: Kurtley Beale and his Waratahs teammates celebrate their Super Rugby triumph

The Waratahs are hopeful of locking in off-contract playmaker Kurtley Beale within a fortnight.

Coach Michael Cheika said he wasn’t taking anything for granted, but was reasonably confident of re-signing the 43-Test back for another season.

“It looks like it’s going better, so hopefully something’s going to happen there in the next week or two,” Cheika said.

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Steve Hansen & Sonny Bill Williams

‘ONE OF THE BEST’: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen shares a moment in 2012 with favoured player Sonny Bill Williams.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made it clear that Sonny Bill Williams will be on the end of year tour, though there are no guarantees he will play any games.

Hansen has voiced his views on the controversial decision to get Williams instantly into the All Blacks selection mix on his return from rugby league, even though he may not have played for his Counties Manukau union. His selection would be against ordinary New Zealand Rugby regulations.

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