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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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Dan Carter

Dan Carter

Dan Carter has dismissed concerns about a calf strain and told the Crusaders coaches he wants to play the Super Rugby pre-season match against the Hurricanes in Eketahuna on Saturday.

Following the frustrations of last year, when he suffered a small fracture in his lower leg in the Super Rugby Final against the Waratahs and failed to reclaim his All Blacks flyhalf spot on the November tour of Chicago and Britain, Carter is eager to quickly get things going in World Cup year.

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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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Billy Guyton

Billy Guyton

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder will have to put his faith in some young and inexperienced scrumhalves for the start of the Super Rugby season with Andy Ellis involved in Japan and Willi Heinz out with a broken leg.

A season-ending leg injury to Willi Heinz has propelled former Hurricane Billy Guyton into the Super Rugby spotlight for the Canterbury team.

There was a collective groan around Timaru’s Alpine Energy Stadium as Heinz broke his left fibula attempting a tackle in the second quarter of the Crusaders pre-season hitout against the Highlanders on Saturday.

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Willi Heinz

Willi Heinz

The Crusaders appear set to be without Willi Heinz for the Super Rugby season after the scrumhalf fractured his leg in a trial against the Highlanders on Saturday.

Last year’s beaten finallists fell 29-26 in Timaru, however the scoreboard will be of little concern to Todd Blackadder’s troops, whose depth will to be tested ahead of their season-opening clash against the Rebels on 14 February.

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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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Nick Mallett

Nick Mallett

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett says England made a mistake by not appointing him and New Zealander Wayne Smith as coaches 3 years ago.

Mallett, 58, was in line for the England head coaching job but lost out to Stuart Lancaster.

In an interview with The Times, Mallett said he would have appointed Smith as his assistant coach had he got the England job.

Smith was the All Blacks’ assistant coach when they won the 2011 Rugby World Cup and also helped the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.

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Sean Maitland

Sean Maitland

Scotland international Sean Maitland will join London Irish next season.

Maitland, who signed for the Warriors in October 2012, has made 38 appearances for the club and has scored 11 tries during his spell in Glasgow.

The 26-year-old winger has 15 caps and 2 tries for Scotland.

Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend said: “Sean has played a big role at the club over the last 3 years and we wish him all the best when he leaves at the end of the season.

“There is still a lot of rugby to be played between now and then and I’m sure he’ll want to leave the club on a high in the summer.”

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CrusadersNew Crusaders captain Matt Todd will lead a very inexperienced team south to Timaru to take on the Highlanders in the first pre-season outing on Saturday.

The team to play in this port city in the southern Canterbury region of New Zealand is made up of current squad members, wider training group members and some players who have been involved in the pre-season as part of the Crusaders apprenticeship system.

The game will be played in 4 quarters with rolling substitutions.

None of the Crusaders’ frontline All Blacks – Dan Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Israel Dagg, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Richie McCaw, Luke Romano, Colin Slade or Kieran Read – will feature in the match.

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John Schwalger

John Schwalger

Hurricanes prop John Schwalger, nephew of Mahonri Schwalger, has sustained further blood clots on his lungs and has been ruled out for a majority of the Super Rugby campaign.

The All Black first suffered the ailment, originally believed to be a chest infection, last year and played only 6 games for the Hurricanes.

He also skipped Wellington’s dismal NPC campaign.

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Charlie Faumuina

Charlie Faumuina

All Black prop Charlie Faumuina has bucked the trend and re-committed to the Blues and New Zealand Rugby to the end of 2017.

One of the most mobile props in the game, 28-year-old Faumuina has established himself as a dominant and versatile tighthead, with the ability to play both sides of the scrum.

He has re-signed to play in New Zealand in 2016 and in 2017.

New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew welcomed Faumuina’s recommitment as a great result for the All Blacks and Blues.

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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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BlitzbokkeNeil Powell, the Springbok Sevens coach, admitted on Tuesday he will have to make some tough choices when announcing his touring party of 12 players for the next two World Sevens Series tournaments in New Zealand and the United States.

The Wellington Sevens takes place on 6 and 7 February in the New Zealand capital and will be followed by the Las Vegas Sevens a week later, where the South Africans are the defending champions.

Despite the absence of Cheslin Kolbe as a result of Super Rugby commitments with the Stormers, Powell still has a very strong group of players to choose from.

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Jerry Collins

Jerry Collins

Former All Blacks captain and back-row forward Jerry Collins has joined second-flight French club Narbonne as a stop-gap for the injured Rocky Elsom, the club said on Monday.

Narbonne’s player-owner Elsom, a former Wallabies captain himself, has an injured shoulder that will sideline him for three months. The 34-year-old Collins has played in France before, at Toulon in the 2008-2009 season, after seven seasons at Wellington.

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ScotlandHugh Blake has become the latest player to join the Kilted Kiwi brigade, joining his fellow countrymen Blair Cowan and Sean Maitland in the Scotland squad. It came as a big surprise to see Blake’s name on the team sheet as the Junior All Black and Highlander, now getting his first call up to a Scotland squad, only joined Edinburgh in December last year.

He played in an ‘A’ team fixture for Edinburgh against Glasgow Warriors on 22 December and had to leave the field injured, suffering from concussion following a knock to his head which knocked him out for a bit. Flanker Blake (1.87m and 102kg) has yet to appear for the senior Edinburgh team and what makes his inclusion even more baffling is that he was introduced as being recruited for a trial period on his arrival in Edinburgh.

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Tim Nanai-Williams

Tim Nanai-Williams

Versatile Chiefs back Tim Nanai-Williams, while pushing for qualification to play for Samoa, could be forced to choose club over country.

The 25-year-old is pursuing a loophole through the international Sevens circuit that will allow him to play for Samoa at the World Cup later this year because his parents were born in the islands.

If his Chiefs team make a deep run in the Super Rugby play-offs however, he will miss the historic test match between the All Blacks and Samoa in Apia this July.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made it clear that Nanai-Williams will be putting his franchise first in the event of a clash as they will still be in the Super Rugby window.

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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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Chris Boyd

Chris Boyd

Unlike other New Zealand franchises the Hurricanes will not rest their All Blacks back for the opening Rounds of Super Rugby.

New Zealand Rugby Union have given them dispensation over the other 4 New Zealand sides due to their demanding opening schedule, in which they play two matches in South Africa and one in Australia.

Coach Chris Boyd said it just means they will give their All Blacks an opportunity to rest later in the competition.

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Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams has been given a May deadline to confirm his availability for New Zealand’s Sevens team that will compete at the Olympic Games next year.

Williams, who is currently preparing for another boxing bout, is one of several high-profile All Blacks on the wishlist of NZ Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens.

The others are brothers Julian and Ardie Savea, Liam Messam, Charles Piutau, Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and Victor Vito.

Of that group, only Williams has no previous Sevens experience.

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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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Ali Williams

Ali Williams

All Black legend Ali Williams vowed to spend his time fishing and hunting after announcing his retirement from the game.

The 33-year-old New Zealand international lock joined European and French champions Toulon at the beginning of last season, after a career spent with the Blues and Crusaders.

“I’ve enjoyed every day that I’ve played rugby and I’m still enjoying it to the end but my body’s said enough is enough,” said Williams.

“There’s huge motivation to go out on a winning note but like anything you can’t look to the prizes, you have to look to the processes for the next few months to try to get to the prizes.

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Peter Saili

Peter Saili

New Zealand flanker Peter Saili has signed for French Top 14 side Bordeaux-Begles, club president Laurent Marti confirmed on Friday.

Saili, 27, who recently left Blues after 5 years and 71 Super Rugby matches with the club, has penned a 2-and-a-half year deal with the western French side.

Saili, who will join his new club later this month, is the second Blues player to sign for Bordeaux after compatriot Luke Braid, who arrives next season for 2 years.

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George Moala

George Moala

Blues’ George Moala has been found guilty of assault with intent to cause injury and common assault following a nasty brawl in 2012.

George Moala was found guilty of assault with intent to injure. He was found not guilty on two other charges of assault.

The 12-person jury took about five hours to deliver its verdict at the Auckland district court but not before posing a question seeking clarification on the definition of intention.

On hearing the verdict for George Moala, family members and supporters of the Moala brothers in the courtroom sat in shocked, tearful silence.

The Moala family made no comment outside court, and neither did George Moala’s lawyer Paul Wicks.

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Tom Coventry

Tom Coventry

New Zealander Tom Coventry has been appointed as the new head coach of London Irish for the 2015 / 2016 season, the English Premiership strugglers announced on Wednesday.

The 48-year-old, who is currently assistant coach of New Zealand team the Chiefs, will succeed former director of rugby Brian Smith, who has been released early from his contract on compassionate grounds.

“The owners have a clear vision of where they want to take the club,” Coventry told the London Irish website.

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Jeremy Thrush

Jeremy Thrush

Ben Franks

Ben Franks

Just like in South Africa and Australia, the New Zealand list is rapidly growing, of All Blacks players who are making preparations to depart New Zealand after Rugby World Cup 2015.

Jeremy Thrush is the lastest to already have announced he has signed up North, for Gloucester… but that is not all, with news that Ben Franks is thought to be next to go. It is believed that Ben Franks is ready to sign with English Club, London Irish.

Recent articles we have hosted seems to indicate that the extent of the exodus North is just as rampant in Australia and also in South Africa.

 

The list of players who are going or are suspected to be in the thows of following their departing countrymen are:

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Matt Todd

Matt Todd

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has named Matt Todd as the captain for the opening Rounds of the Super Rugby competition.

Todd has been preferred over more illustrious teammates, in the absence of All Blacks Kieran Read and Whitelock, for the opening 3 fixtures – against the Rebels, Highlanders and Chiefs.

Regular skipper Read is taking a mini-sabbatical and while Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are also captaincy candidates, they looks set to miss the opening week as well.

In the national pecking order Todd sits 3rd behind McCaw and Sam Cane, but this endorsement recognises the esteem in which he is held, particularly by Crusaders’ teammates and management.

“Matt Todd is going to captain the team in Kieran Read’s absence,” Blackadder said.

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New ZealandEight All Blacks will miss the Round 1 of Super Rugby as the World Cup in September looms over the tournament.

All 5 New Zealand Super Rugby teams face the difficult balancing act of spelling their All Blacks for 2 games each in order to keep them fresh for the World Cup defence this year.

New Zealand Rugby high performance manager Don Tricker, All Blacks strength and conditioning trainer Nick Gill and physiotherapist Peter Gallagher this week visited Super Rugby bases to map out a player-management plan.

The Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs decided to rest a selection of their All Blacks in the opening Round starting on 13 February.

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George Moala

George Moala

The Blues’ pre-season preparations continue to be disrupted by unwanted distractions.

The New Zealand Media and Entertainment services reported that Blues player George Moala went on trial on Monday for a late-night incident that took place more than a year ago.

This follows last Friday’s reports that the Blues’ Super Rugby pre-season training almost ended in disaster, when close to 30 players had to be fished out of the water by sea rescue.

According to the NZME report Moala is on trial for an attack on two men in a boozy nightclub brawl. He stands accused of having continued the assault on one as he was carried away, bleeding profusely.

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BluesThe Blues’ Super Rugby pre-season training almost ended in disaster on Friday, when close to 30 players had to be fished out of the water by sea rescue.

This happened when a training session in the Hauraki Gulf went wrong, with two waka swamped by waves during a paddle from Takapuna Beach to Rangitoto Island.

The team had been planning to paddle nearly five kilometres across to Rangitoto in the Hauraki Gulf then run to the summit, but the training exercise was cut short.

The team tweeted about the embarrassing outcome of the pre-season trip – which, though unpleasant, did not cause any major problems.

Coach John Kirwan also issued a statement to the New Zealand media, confirming that all team members had escaped unharmed following the scare.

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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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Chauncy Welliver

Chauncy Welliver

American heavyweight boxer Chauncy Welliver has promised to be in shape for his clash with Sonny Bill Williams and is 1 000% sure he will beat the All Blacks star.

Sonny Bill Williams, 29, will make a long-awaited return to the ring against Welliver in Sydney on Saturday 31 January, ending a two-year absence since his controversial points win over South Africa’s Francois Botha.

Welliver, 31, has never looked in the best of shape and weighed 137kg for his last fight against Alexander Ustinov in Moscow last month, which he lost by unanimous decision.

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