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HurricanesThe Hurricanes could not have asked for a better start to the Super Rugby season, managing 6 wins from as many outings. They are in pole position on the combined standings and are expecting to improve even more as their rested players return.

“The boys are enjoying themselves because winning is way better than losing,” Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree told the NZME.

“But every week there’s something to fix and every week’s not perfect and we are looking to improve the whole time.”

Their defence has been the cornerstone of their success, with only 82 points being scored against them so far, 2nd to the Brumbies who have conceded a mere 80.

Their next challenge comes in the form of the Stormers who were beaten 39 / 21 by the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday. However Plumtree acknowledges the physical threat posed by the Cape outfit, boosted by their very own return of some key players.

“They’ll be hurting after what happened last week,” Plumtree said. “So we’ll be expecting them to respond pretty positively in terms of intensity.”

The Stormers may welcome back a couple of players, namely Duane Vermeulen, and Plumtree said they would bring the physicality associated with any South African team.

“We’ll have to really step up in the pack.”

The Hurricanes rested a number of All Blacks – Beauden Barrett, Ben Franks and Julian Savea – for last week’s game with the Melbourne Rebels but they will likely return this week. Hooker Dane Coles (elbow) also missed the win over the Rebels but is fit again.

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Neil Sorensen

Neil Sorensen

The New Zealand Rugby Union said they had contracted a specialist monitoring service to ensure match-fixing does not taint All Blacks, Super Rugby or domestic matches.

It said the Swiss-based company would use its fraud detection system to monitor betting around New Zealand fixtures for the next 2 years.

NZRU general manager Neil Sorensen said there was no suggestion match-fixing was a problem in New Zealand, but there was no room for complacency.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw

All Black skipper Richie McCaw on Thursday dropped the strongest hint yet he will retire after this year’s World Cup in England and bring his glittering career to an end.

The 34-year-old captain of New Zealand, the reigning World Cup champions, admitted he was considering hanging up his boots, but was not yet ready to make a definitive announcement, preferring to focus on the ongoing Super Rugby season with the Crusaders.

“Honestly, I haven’t made any final decision, but probably the likelihood is I’m not going to be playing next year,” McCaw said at a Crusaders training session, in comments published on New Zealand Rugby’s official website.

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Malakai Fekitoa

Malakai Fekitoa

Following his 2014 breakout season for the Highlanders and All Blacks, Malakai Fekitoa has re-signed with New Zealand Rugby for 2 years, extending his contract until at least the end of 2017.

Fekitoa’s commitment is a major coup for both New Zealand Rugby and the Highlanders and he joins a growing list of current All Blacks who have recommitted beyond this year.

He was 1 of only 4 players to play in all 17 Highlanders’ games last year, staking his claim on the No 13 jersey early with his eye-catching performance in the opening round of the 2014 Super Rugby Competition against his old team, the Blues.

He was also 1 of 2 players to play every possible minute for their team last season (1360 across 17 appearances), the other being Michael Hooper who played 1440, including the Final.

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World RugbyA strong second half saw Rugby World Cup 2015 hosts England storm back to beat Wales 21 / 16 in their Six Nations opener in Cardiff, a result which lifted them above Ireland back to 3rd in the latest World Rugby rankings.

According to the World Rugby (previously IRB), the victory sees England regain the mantle as the leading northern hemisphere nation in the rankings behind New Zealand and South Africa and they now sit 0.35 points above Ireland after their 26 / 3 victory over Italy in Rome had no impact due to the 11 places separating the teams.

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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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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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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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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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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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Wayne Smith appointed as All Blacks defence specialist

Wayne Smith appointed as All Blacks defence specialist

Wayne Smith will rejoin the All Blacks coaching staff ahead of next year’s World Cup as a defence specialist.

Smith, who was an assistant to Graham Henry between 2004 and 2011 and a key member of the coaching combination which won the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, has been assistant coach of the Chiefs team which has won two Super Rugby titles.

All Black head coach Steve Hansen said Smith is “one of the most astute coaches in the world” and having worked with him in the past he knows just how valuable he is to any team he is involved in.

“Smithy will add another dimension to what is already a strong coaching group in what will be a big year for us,” Hansen said.

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Dan Carter & Steve Tew

Dan Carter & Steve Tew

New Zealand and their All Blacks will lose a large number of experienced campaigners and key players after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, next year.

This was highlited due to the announcement this week by Dan Carter that he’ll be joining French Top 14 club Racing Metro after the Rugby World Cup next year, in England and Wales.

Carter, 32, signed a three-year deal with the Paris-based club which will basically mean the end of his All Black career.

However, Carter may not be the only one to leave New Zealand shores.

It appears that captain Richie McCaw, midfielders Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, veteran front-rowers Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu, loose forwards Jerome Kaino and Liam Messam and even Ben Franks, Cory Jane and Charlie Faumuina could also be considering high-paying, late-career stints overseas.

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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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Dan Carter

Dan Carter

Daniel Carter, world rugby’s leading points scorer and one of the greatest players to ever don the All Blacks jersey, is to leave New Zealand rugby at the end of the 2015 season.

The All Blacks and Crusaders flyhalf has announced he has signed a three-year deal with French Top 14 club Racing Metro. It will be Carter’s second stint in France after he played five games for Perpignan in 2008-09 during his sabbatical from New Zealand rugby.

32-year-old Carter said it was exciting to confirm his future post 2015.

“It’s going to be an awesome adventure for me and my family. Having visited France many times, including my time with Perpignan, I know what the French culture and their rugby culture is like and it’s something I really love.

“Having said that, it’s the immediate future that is exciting me at the moment. 2015 is going to be a big year and I’m looking forward to getting into it, firstly with the Crusaders and then hopefully with the All Blacks.

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New ZealandThe World Champions for the most part could pat themselves on the back and claim job well done, winning 12 from 14 and retaining all major titles that were on offer.

Not only did they win The Investec Rugby Championship and defend the Bledisloe Cup, but recently the All Blacks celebrated five years at the top of the world rankings.

Yet despite some mighty mental powers and impressive depth, tactically the team isn’t able to thrash sides as many of the predecessors have in the past.

A win is a win yes, but has the proverbial gab closed but gone unnoticed due to the continuation of results?

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Brodie retallick receives New Zealand Player Of The Year 2014

Brodie retallick receives New Zealand Player Of The Year 2014

All Black Brodie Retallick has backed up his World Rugby International Player of the Year award by being named the Kelvin R Tremain Player of the Year at the 2014 Steinlager Rugby Awards.

The 23-year-old’s outstanding form saw the 35-Test powerhouse lock join team mates Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino who have won the top honour in recent years.

The All Blacks who retained their number one world ranking for the fifth consecutive year, took out the Team of the Year for the fourth successive year while Steve Hansen earned his third successive Coach of the Year award.

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Dan Carter

Dan Carter

French club Racing Metro are reportedly winning the race to sign All Blacks star Dan Carter in a deal that is tipped to make him the highest paid player in the game with a £1 million contract.

European media is awash with speculation around Carter as the veteran No 10’s future beyond next year’s World Cup continues to grab headlines.

All the various sources were tipping glamour Paris outfit Racing Metro to lure Carter back to the French competition after his painful previous experience of an injury-plagued sabbatical in 2009 with Perpignan.

The Times suggested Carter ‘is close to becoming rugby’s first £1 million man’ with Racing Metro owner Jacky Lorenzetti prepared to ‘break the bank’ for a move that would finally end Carter’s All Blacks career.

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Dan Carter

Dan Carter

Dan Carter is still aiming to be a factor in the 2015 World Cup after an injury plagued couple of months that have seen him stuttering with form.

Cater now faces a nine-month race to regain the fine form he is capable of for the World Cup after an uncharacteristically below-par year-end tour.

The All Black flyhalf has decided sitting back on his laurels is no longer an option and that regular and consistent game-time will bring him back to his best.

“Throughout the tour my injury had healed. The body felt good but the game-time was lacking,” Carter admitted.

“That tour wasn’t the best situation to get regular game-time but it got me back in the environment, back into the team and a better understanding of the game we’re trying to play.

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Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen

Convincing Steve Hansen to extend his contract after the 2015 World Cup would ensure the All Blacks aren’t exposed by the exit of their experienced players, says Mike Eagle.

Eagle, who was New Zealand Rugby’s chairman between 2010 and early 2014, understands supporters may be nervous about the All Blacks coach being reappointed ahead of next year’s global tournament – something that has never happened before – but believed it should be endorsed.

Last month NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said discussions with Hansen, who replaced Graham Henry as head coach in 2012, were well underway and it was up to Hansen to decide if he wanted to sign a new deal.

While he hadn’t been privy to the discussions between Tew and the board, Eagle said it would foolish to wait until after the World Cup to start searching for a new coach if Hansen was prepared to stay.

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End Of Year ToursOnce again the four Rugby Championship teams have been and gone but this time they did not have it all their own way on their annual visit to the British Isles as it ended five wins apiece from the 10 Tests.

Ireland beat both South Africa and Australia, Wales downed the former and England the latter, and Scotland defeated Argentina.

Admittedly, the Pumas are not part of rugby union’s traditional southern hemisphere big three, and the incomparable All Blacks sailed through their Tests unbeaten, but even discounting the Scottish win over Argentina the matches against the three giants from the south only ended 5-4 to the visitors.

Former England and Lions great Jeremy Guscott has been out and about  during November and here he selects a XV for both the home nations and the Rugby Championship sides.

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All BlacksReigning champions New Zealand remained the team to beat less than a year out from the World Cup in England after yet another successful November campaign in Europe.

There’s nothing new in the All Blacks being the yardstick for the global game and their rivals will take some comfort in knowing New Zealand have yet to win the World Cup on foreign soil.

So the fact they were pushed close by both England (24-21) and Wales (34-16) this month before emerging victorious won’t have done the All Blacks any harm, nor will the success of a virtual second-choice side in preserving their unbeaten record against Scotland.

However, all these matches demonstrated how no team goes for the full 80 minutes quite like New Zealand, who have enviable depth.

England found themselves needing two scores in the closing stages against the All Blacks and managed one while Wales conceded 24 points in the final 17 minutes.

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AustraliaAustralia have slipped another place to fifth in the latest World Rugby Rankings with France, Japan, Tonga, Canada and Namibia also falling after defeats.

Australia’s 26-23 loss to Ireland on Saturday has seen the Wallabies slip another place to fifth – equalling their lowest ever position since the World Rugby Rankings were introduced in October 2003.

The Wallabies headed into the match in Dublin sitting just one hundredth of a rating point above England, but will now travel to Twickenham to face Stuart Lancaster’s men this weekend behind two northern hemisphere nations with Ireland strengthening their hold on third place with the win.

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Duane Vermeulen and Brodie Retallick - Brodie beat Duane and the other nominees as Player Of The Year 2014, after a monsterous season by the big brute of a lock.

Duane Vermeulen and Brodie Retallick – Brodie beat Duane and the other nominees as Player Of The Year 2014, after a monsterous season by the big brute of a lock.

Brodie Retallick becomes the fourth New Zealander to be named World Rugby Player of the Year, while the All Blacks and Steve Hansen also win awards.

New Zealand second row Brodie Retallick has been named the World Rugby Player of the Year 2014 by an independent panel, the fourth player from his country to win the prestigious award.The 23-year-old has enjoyed a fantastic year in the middle of the All Blacks’ pack and follows in the footsteps of teammates Kieran Read (2013), Dan Carter (2005 and 2012) and Richie McCaw (2006, 2009 and 2010).

He edged out Willie le Roux (South Africa), Julian Savea (New Zealand), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) and Duane Vermeulen (South Africa) for the award in a closely fought contest during a year of spectacular performances on the international stage.

The accolade completes a hat-trick of awards for New Zealand, as the All Blacks were named World Rugby Team of the Year 2014 for the eighth time and Steve Hansen the World Rugby Coach of the Year 2014 for the third year in succession.

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Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has clearly marked his team’s challenge, after again dominating world rugby in 2014 – winning an unprecedented back-to-back World Cup in 2015.

After crashing out in a shock defeat by France in the 2007 quarterfinals, the All Blacks stormed to World Cup glory on home soil in 2011.

Since then, they have been in awesome form, losing only one match this season, to the Springboks by two points, after having already wrapped up a third successive Rugby Championship.

And Hansen, speaking after his team produced a second half five-try fest to see off Wales 34-16 on Saturday, was in no doubt about what lay ahead for him and his charges.

“No one’s won back-to-back World Cups so we shouldn’t even be the favourites, but we will be because we’re the number one side in the world,” said Hansen.

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