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Australian Rugby

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Matthew Burke

Matthew Burke

The school term has finished and the report cards have been dispatched.

This makes it as good a time as any to deliver a summary on how the Wallabies have fared since Ewen McKenzie took over the top job 14 months ago.

Record wise, the Wallabies are on an impressive run, winning 11 of their past 12 games, but the goal has to be to win against the top nations, South Africa and the All Blacks.

They have achieved one of those two desired outcomes.

Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons I have observed during the opening stages of the McKenzie era:

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Super Rugby TropheeSuper RugbyCrusaders vs Rebels to get the season underway in Christchurch on 13 February.

Defending champion Waratahs to start at home against the Force in Round 1.

Anzac Centenary weekend sees all 10 Australian and New Zealand teams in action across Round 11 (two derbies and three Trans-Tasman clashes).

Waratahs host the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium in a Round 15 re-match of the record-breaking 2014 Super Rugby Final.

All five South African teams are in action on home soil during Rounds 1-3.

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SuperBruOnly 4 points separated the All Blacks from the Bokke in Wellington, but, as expected, New Zealand were the victors.

Australia managed a 7 point win against the Pumas so there were no surprises for Round 4 of the Rugby Championship.

There we many positives to be taken out of the game from a South African perspective, the biggest being the form of Handré Pollard playing in his first real big Test.

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Sparse Crowd

Empty spaces – Yet another sparse crowd has the ARU concerned.

On a humid morning in February, Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver took the microphone and made the extraordinary declaration that 2014 was the year of the Waratahs.

Not a ball had been kicked, no one knew which Kurtley Beale would turn up in round one and, though they boasted the best and most expensive playing roster in the country, this was the Waratahs, after all.

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Ewen McKenzie

TROPHY HUNTING: Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie is in a confident mood ahead of his side’s clash with the Springboks in Cape Town.

Australian coach Ewen McKenzie says the Wallabies have ”one hand” on the Mandela Challenge Plate as they gear up for a Cape Town clash against the Springboks – but admits the passionate home crowds could snatch the silverware away.

Australia edged out the Springboks 24-23 in their first clash of 2014 earlier this month in Perth.

“There’s no question – South Africa is hard to play in South Africa,” McKenzie said on Friday.

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Will Skelton

Will Skelton in action for NRC club Sydney Stars.

Warathahs coach Michael Cheika has defended Will Skelton’s work ethic after the giant lock was left out of the Wallabies tour party to build fitness in the NRC.

Skelton’s conditioning came under the spotlight on Wednesday when Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie said a decision had been made to get more games under his belt after playing only 106 minutes of rugby since the Super Rugby final.

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British & Irish LionsThe Australian Rugby Union is attempting to lure the British and Irish Lions back Down Under for a money-spinning kick-off to their 2017 tour of New Zealand.

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver has revealed bold plans for a one-off Lions blockbuster which would go some of the way to recouping lost revenue from next year’s World Cup season.

The Lions provided a massive cash injection to the code last year when they played nine games around the country to packed houses, including a drought-breaking 2-1 Test series victory over the Wallabies.

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Will Skelton

Concerns over Will Skelton’s fitness ensured he will be left behind from Wallabies tour.

Will Skelton is already triple-XL. The challenge is ensuring his supersub role doesn’t lead to another “X” or two, according to Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie.

Concerns about dwindling fitness as a bench specialist, and the linked issue of not being a lineout jumper, were on Wednesday identified as the reasons behind Skelton being left out of the Wallabies’ squad to tour South Africa and Argentina next week.

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Nick Cummins

Baabaa boy … Nick Cummins will play against the Wallabies.

The Wallabies are set to face one of their own at Twickenham after Nick Cummins agreed to wear the black and white of the Barbarians against Australia in November.

Little more than two months after he left Australia for Japan’s Top League, Cummins has agreed to play for the invitational side in the November 1 fixture that kicks off the Wallabies five-week spring tour of Europe, his manager said.

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Spiro Zavos

Spiro Zavos

When Steve Hansen says the laws of rugby need to be revised, modified and made easier to play, to referee, and to understand, the rugby world should take notice.

The All Blacks under Hansen’s adroit coaching are in an era even more golden than previous great eras.

They are not only playing winning rugby, they are playing rugby the way it is supposed to be played – with courage, physical strength, high skills and the intent to score tries while stopping opponents from doing so.

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Will Genia

Recall: playmaker Will Genia has been named in the touring squad for the Wallabies’ trips to South Africa and Argentina.

Will Genia and Benn Robinson have been called up to the injury-hit Wallabies for their two-week tour of South Africa and Argentina.

With no less than 13 players ruled out through injury, McKenzie has turned to two assured Test performers to boost the Wallabies for two tough Tests on the road.

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Henry Speight

The Australian government has granted Henry Speight’s family visitor visas to watch him play rugby.

Brumbies cult hero Henry Speight has vowed to “give everything I’ve got” to help the Wallabies become an international powerhouse after the Australian government ended years of heartache by granting his family visitor visas.

Fijian-born Speight’s five siblings were reunited for the first time in seven years on the weekend, with Davila and Jerry allowed into the country just days after Speight became eligible to play for Australia.

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Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan

What a difference a week makes…

 

The Rugby Championship:

We saw 2 very good test matches, particularly the All Blacks vs Springboks game, played in the Cake Tin.

It was played at tempo for the duration of the match and was superbly refereed by Jerome Garces. Chalk and cheese between what we saw last week.

He seemed to be able to make his decisions with ease, without pressure, and for the most part they were well timed, and accurate. He added huge value to a compelling test match which was deservedly won by the All Blacks.

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Amy Perrett

Amy Perrett of Australia gives a decision.

When I shared a laugh and a chat with Amy Perrett, nearly six months ago, she, like almost everyone else in women’s rugby, had her sights firmly trained on the World Cup in and around Paris during early August.

England subsequently claimed the trophy, and the tournament served to enhance the rapid growth the women’s game continues to enjoy.

Perrett is no stranger to rapid growth. Aged just 25, the Sydneysider has established herself as one of the top referees in the women’s game and a prize commodity for the Australian Rugby Union.

Back on that gloomy March afternoon in Edinburgh, where she was preparing to take control of a Six Nations clash between Scotland and France, she spoke softly of making the cut, of winning selection for the World Cup panel.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw scores against the Springboks.

Thinus Delport acknowledged that New Zealand’s superior experience and mental strength was the difference as they earned a late victory.

He said: “It’s that winning mentality – not panicking, staying calm, making the right decisions.

That’s what it boils down to. One simple error at this level and the game changes.

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Tatafu Polota-Nau

No good: Ewen McKenzie talks to Tatafu Polota-Nau at halftime.

The Wallabies may have denied Argentina on the Gold Coast, but they could travel to South Africa without the man who helped make the 32-25 victory possible.

Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, whose assured set piece work helped deny the Pumas their customary scrum dominance in the first half at Cbus Stadium, has injured his left ankle and is in “serious doubt” for the Wallabies’ final two Tests of the Rugby Championship.

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AustraliaArgentinaWallabies (14) 32 / 25 (7) Los Pumas (Final Score)

The Australian Wallabies and Argentinian Pumas did battle in Round 4 of The Rugby Championship at

Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast at 12:00 SA Time (20:00 AEST, 07:00 ARG Time, 10:00 GMT).

This was the live match discussion Article.

The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 on TV in SA.

*******************

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Matthew Burke

Matthew Burke

With the recent pedantic display of refereeing, it pains me to say that the World Cup could turn into a game of whistle-blowing, ruining the experience for the spectators and more importantly the players.

Some of the technical refereeing that has been on display has eliminated any “feel” for the game.

Right now, the blokes in the middle are trying to put on their best show to be chosen to get a gig in England in 2015. But who is judging their performance so they get to secure a position as a top whistle-blower?

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All Blacks vs SpringboksI must admit I was (and still am) furious about the Springbok loss in the last minute of the match last week against the Wallabies from Australia. Specially with the constant box kick tactics.

I hate losing but can accept it if the team plays proper rugby. I get furious when the team plays below potential because they are too scared or too careful. I thought that the Springboks played below what they are capable of, last week.

I am not a fan of kicking your possession away.

I played for the university Under 20 team in the 1980′s mosly as flyhalf and inside centre, in a time when Naas Botha was the ‘role model’ of flyhalf play in South Africa. I worked hard at my kicking game because Naas sort of set the template for flyhalf play in those days, but rarely kicked in matches because I just disliked the idea of kicking hard earned possion away. Nevertheless, I scored or created tries on occasion by utilzing the high kick and charge.

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SuperBruRound 3 of the Rugby Championship ended in heartbreak for the Springboks when they went down to Australia by 1 point in the final few minutes of what was not an entertaining match at all.

The referee, the yellow card to Bryan Habana, the failed touchfinder by Morné Steyn and various other reasons have already been dissected and discussed, so we won’t dwell on those.

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George Clancy

In the spotlight: George Clancy

SANZAR are looking to bring in a challenge system in order to combat refereeing errors, with each team allowed three per game.

Following in the footsteps of cricket and tennis, teams would be able to challenge a referee’s decision, while the TMO would be used only for these challenges, leaving the on-field referee to make the rest of the calls.

There are currently concerns that referees are hiding behind their TMOs at the moment, rather than making their own decisions, and the official in charge would now be responsible for deciding on tries and incidents of foul play.

The news comes after a weekend where both Rugby Championship games featured controversial refereeing decisions, with Argentina denied a perfectly good try when Pascal Gauzère called a knock-on on a charge-down from Leonardo Senatore.

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Taniela Tupou

Taniela Tupou’s decision to snub the All Blacks has attracted derision in New Zealand.

The Reds is set to sign barnstorming teenage sensation Taniela ‘Tongan Thor’ Tupou.

The Reds are understood to be close to finalising a deal for the New Zealand-based 18-year-old who has been chased by four countries and two rival Australian franchises.

If the signing comes off, it will be a massive boost for Australian rugby and cap an impressive fortnight for the Reds, who announced two weeks ago that they have recruited James O’Connor and Karmichael Hunt for next year.

Tupou revealed earlier this week that he would reject offers from the NZRU to defect to Australia, where his older brother lives and plans to guide his career.

The NZRU held last-minute meetings with Tupou in a bid to change his mind but he has not wavered.

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ArgentinaArgentina have dumped both their starting wingers as they aim for a maiden Rugby Championship victory on Saturday night against the Wallabies on the Gold Coast.

The Pumas have made three changes to the run-on side which fell 28-9 to the All Blacks last weekend, with suspended lock Tomas Lavanini replaced by the youthful Matias Alemanno in the only alteration to their powerful forward pack.

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Tony Johnson

Tony Johnson

The Rugby Championship is, many would argue, the pre-eminent event of its type outside the World Cup.

It may lack the history, and maybe even some of the ingrained tribalism of the Six Nations, but more often than not since 1996 it has featured the top three ranked teams in the world, and many of the best players on the planet.

It has produced some of the most thrilling, spectacular matches ever played, in front of some of the biggest crowds ever to watch the sport.

It is an elite showcase of the game, and it deserves better than what we saw at the weekend.

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Matt Giteau

Wanted man… Matt Giteau playing for Toulon.

Matt Giteau has long been lost to the Wallabies for next year’s World Cup, but the bidding in French rugby for his services speaks volumes about his value as a player.

Giteau, an established star in the Top 14 champion Toulon club in the south of France, has reportedly become the target of the Paris-based Racing Metro club with a €1 million ($1.4 million) a year offer reportedly on the table.

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WhistleIt has been widely acknowledged that the standard of refereeing in the Rugby Championship this past weekend was less than stellar. All lovers of the game, from fans through to coaches and players, are justifiably exasperated by such result-affecting calls by refs.

Sadly, this is not the first time and, probably, won’t be the last time the rugby world is incensed by sub-standard refereeing performances – unless something proactive is done to address what is a very real problem.

What is missing in all the blustery huffing and puffing though, are solutions or suggestions that the IRB (or World Rugby) can use to address the problem.

So here are my suggestions. My solutions. As just a passionate lover of the sport. See if you agree or disagree. Pick them apart. Point out their weaknesses. Tell me why they won’t work. No hard feelings. All I ask is that for every criticism, you offer an alternative solution.

Hopefully with all the traffic Rugby Talk.com is attracting these days, someone of influence will read all our comments and maybe… just maybe… do something positive with them.

I believe a three-part solution will sort out most of the issues but, like anything, there has to be the political will to address and sort out the problem instead of worrying about offending egos or apportioning blame.

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AustraliaWaratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau will play his 50th Test after being named for the Wallabies to start against Argentina in his first match since the Super Rugby final.

Polota-Nau injured the medial ligament in his right knee in the Waratahs’ historic title win five weeks ago and has been gunning for a comeback ever since, joining the Wallabies 10 days ago to finish his rehabilitation in camp.

He made it through a contact session on the weekend, ran with the side at training on Monday before being named to start on Tuesday in his 50th Test appearance and his first Test since the Wallabies’ final triumph against France in June.

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Josh Mann-Rea

Not quite Julia Roberts, but still a happy hooker – Josh Mann-Rea

Josh Mann-Rea has saved the number of the Wallabies coach in his mobile phone so he never again thinks he’s being pranked with a call-up every rugby journeyman dreams of.

Not getting on as a reserve against South Africa last weekend for the most unlikely Wallabies debut of the professional era has only slightly dented the fairytale that Mann-Rea calls “my wild ride”.

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Taniela Tupou

The “Tongan Thor”, Taniela Tupou

‘Tongan Thor’ Taniela Tupou has urged his “haters” to calm down after he confirmed his sensational defection from New Zealand to Australia.

The 18-year-old will join an Australian Super Rugby team next year after rejecting a landmark offer from the New Zealand Rugby Union, which for the first time in history bid top-up money to a sign a schoolboy.

Tupou, the hottest teenage prospect in world rugby, officially ended New Zealand’s hopes of retaining his services on Monday, telling the Daily Telegraph: “I will be coming to Australia, it is the best thing for my family”.

Watch the video of Tupou in action below

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South AfricaYes, Irish referee George Clancy made some howlers at the weekend, but the Springboks should really have no excuses for losing to Australia in Perth.

The Wallabies sneaked a 24-23 victory after at one stage trailing 23-14 in the second half.

The performance of Clancy was no doubt below par, but the decision-making and poor execution of skills of the Springboks should also be highlighted.

Here are FIVE key moments which cost the Springboks in their Rugby Championship Test against the Wallabies in Perth:

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Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan

Do I really need to confirm what everyone else already knows… This was not a good weekend for referees!

We are operating in a system where I have said that these type of weekends are not avoidable and until key elements of the system are exposed, and then adequately addressed, this will continue into the future.

The referees are not getting it right, and it is pointless saying after the fact, that things need to be looked at, when the writing was on the wall from the get go.

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Greg Growden

Greg Growden

The Wallabies have at last beaten someone perched above them in the world rankings.

It has taken awhile.

But if the Australian players and management seriously start believing they are back on track then it’s time for them to take some ‘truth pills’.

Their one-point win over the Springboks was deeply flawed, exposed many of their inherent weaknesses including a lack of discipline, and showed their fundamental skills are at best average.

The Wallabies can also no longer carry on about being a luckless team, as they received the benefit of a string of dreadful decisions from referee George Clancy, who should have his whistle confiscated after such a diabolical performance. The Springboks have every right to cry foul as they were victims of numerous Clancy blunders.

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