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Internationals

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New ZealandMajor adjustments are not a familiar theme with the All Blacks but that’s exactly what the backline confronts in Argentina this week.

Under Steve Hansen, a consistent selection policy has prevailed. Players must earn their respective chances, or wait for injury to open the door.

This week Aaron Cruden’s ill-advised bender and a lack of depth at second five-eighth will force two serious changes to the inside backs.

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Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith

Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith

Conrad Smith has spoken highly of his midfield partnership with Ma’a Nonu after the pair equalled the world record for caps as a midfield combination in New Zealand’s 14-10 win over South Africa earlier this month.

Sadly, the broken arm suffered by Nonu during the first half in Wellington means they will have a long wait before getting the opportunity to improve on the 55-Test landmark shared with Irish centres, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.

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Victor Matfield

Victor Matfield wins a lineout ahead of an Australian rival in Perth two weeks ago.

South Africa’s aggressive new breakdown tactics will leave them exposed to penalties and short on tacklers out wide, the Wallabies believe, while Australia’s forwards coach Andrew Blades has taken aim at Victor Matfield for trying to manipulate referees.

The Wallabies woke up in Cape Town to headlines of their scrum “tricks” and articles suggesting they manipulated referees into giving them penalties rather than earning them.

And still ringing fresh in their ears is Matfield’s comments after his side lost 24-23 in Perth three weeks ago, in which he questioned the legality of the Wallabies’ tactics in stopping the Boks’ rolling maul.

Blades brushed off the barbs as Australia prepares to face South Africa this weekend at Newlands, where they have not won since 1992.

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John McFarland

Springbok defense coach John McFarland

The Springboks want to keep the Wallabies guessing over who will fill the blindside flanker’s role for them in Saturday’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship clash at Newlands for as long as possible.

The Bok team is to be announced at lunch time on Wednesday, and more clarity will probably be offered on what the starting line-up will look like in Saturday’s match when the Boks train in a session that is open to the media and public at Cape Town Stadium on Tuesday.

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JanSerfontein

Jan Serfontein

Jan Serfontein is hoping to see more attacking ball this weekend than he has in his first two Tests at outside centre for the Springboks.

Having played all of his rugby at No.12, Serfontein was picked outside captain Jean de Villiers in the two Rugby Championship away defeats to Australia and New Zealand which saw him make more of an impact on defence than attack.

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Nigel Owens

Nigel Owens

Wales’ Nigel Owens will be the man with the whistle for the Springboks’ must-win Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Newlands on Saturday.

Kick-off is at 17:05 SA Time.

In a tournament blighted by sub-standard officiating, Heyneke Meyer’s men will be hoping Owens has a controversy-free match as they look to keep their title hopes alive with a bonus-point victory in Cape Town.

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Rory Kockott

Happy man: Rory Kockott

Castres scrum-half and new France squad member Rory Kockott has revealed that playing for Les Bleus has always been his aim.

The South African joined Castres in 2011 and has been a roaring success in the Top 14, guiding his club to two league finals and one title.

Having now qualified on residency, Kockott has been named in France’s squad for the upcoming November Tests.

There has been much speculation over the last year as to whether Kockott would play for his adopted country or be selected by the Springboks, but now his decision is clear.

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Andrew Mehrtens

Andrew Mehrtens

Everything changes now for Beauden Barrett.

There’s a lot for the young All Black to get his head around as he receives an unexpected opportunity to make his move at No 10.

Aaron Cruden’s unfortunate night out in Auckland on Saturday, and his subsequent omission from the All Blacks’ trip to Argentina and South Africa, might end up hurting twice as much.

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Pieter de Villiers

Bok scrum coach, Pieter de Villiers.

The scrumming travails that dominated the headlines and media copy after the two Castle Rugby Championship matches against Argentina are now behind the Springboks and quickly receding from memory, according to their scrum coach Pieter de Villiers.

The unedifying sight of the much vaunted Bok scrum backpedalling in the Salta match against the Pumas, as well to some extent as the game before that at Loftus, precipitated a wave of panic among South African supporters.

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Francois Louw

Six weeks out: Francois Louw

Springbok flanker Francois Louw underwent surgery on Monday after he injured his neck in the Rugby Championship Test against New Zealand in Wellington.

Team doctor Craig Roberts told reporters in Cape Town on Monday that Louw had suffered a pinched nerve in his neck, and would be sidelined for about six weeks.

“Francois initially took a knock to his head, and the scans showed damage to a nerve in his neck. He has had surgery today on the (affected) disc and that should relieve the pressure (on the nerve),” said Roberts.

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Kurtley Beale

The Wallabies have tasted endless defeat at Cape Town since 1992.

As if beating the Springboks and Pumas on their home turf is not onerous enough, it also involves a road trip from hell.

The Wallabies will this week discover the logistics involved in getting to South Africa, Argentina and then back home can send everyone around the twist.

Countless Wallabies can vouch for the fact it is an itinerary fraught with danger. But it is always memorable – and for many past and present Wallabies it ranks among their career highlights. You certainly never forget it.

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Lizo Gqoboka

Lizo Gqoboka is one of three young, up and coming players that have been selected to attend the Springbok Training Camp ahead of their final two matches in the Rugby Championship.

Gqoboka, along with Nizaam Carr, Seabelo Senatla, will join the camp this week.

“They are three promising young players we’ve identified and we’d like to expose them to the Springbok ethos while also having a look at what they can do in training,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

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Tom Taylor

CALLED UP: Tom Taylor gets another shot with the All Blacks after Aaron Cruden was left out of the team following a boozy incident.

Canterbury’s Tom Taylor has been called into the All Blacks after Aaron Cruden was dropped following his boozy night out in Auckland.

Taylor made a composed starting test debut against the Wallabies in Wellington at first five-eighth last year, kicking four penalties and a conversion in the 27-16 win.

He will provide back-up to Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade in the pivotal role over the next two weeks as the All Blacks attempt to secure their third straight Rugby Championship title in La Plata and Johannesburg.

Taylor last played for the All Blacks in November in the 54-6 rout of Japan in Tokyo and has since struggled for form this season, being used in almost every position in the backline by the Crusaders.

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Aaron Cruden

Aaron Cruden

Aaron Cruden’s pocket as well as his pride will take a hit in the wake of a boozy night in Auckland, while he can also expect to face a New Zealand Rugby Union misconduct hearing.

The All Blacks flyhalf has expressed his “embarrassment” and “shame” after missing the All Blacks flight to Argentina and subsequently losing his place in the squad for Rugby Championship tests against the Pumas and South Africa.

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Aaron Cruden

Aaron Cruden photographed with two bar staff at The Zookeeper’s Son on Saturday night.

First-five Aaron Cruden will miss matches against Argentina and South Africa after a late night drinking incident.

Aaron Cruden was found keeping his head down at his Hamilton home today – over 10,000 kilometres away from his All Blacks team-mates – after he was kicked off the trip to Argentina for having a late night drinking session in Auckland.

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Schalk Burger

Tough competitor: South African enforcer Schalk Burger is an opponent not easily forgotten, says Phil Waugh.

If Schalk Burger plays for the Springboks against the Wallabies on Saturday after being recalled from his club in Japan, Michael Hooper can expect a bruising encounter he will long remember, warns former Australian Test flanker Phil Waugh.

Waugh, who played against the barnstorming South African 23 times during his Test career, said: “Every time I played Schalk there were plenty of fists in the face both ways; but it was always a healthy competitiveness.

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Rory Kockott

Rory Kockott

France head coach Philippe Saint-André has named five uncapped players in his squad for November’s Tests, with Rory Kockott included.

Props Uini Atonio and Xavier Chiocci, back-row Charles Ollivon and wing Teddy Thomas are the new players joining Kockott in the Les Bleus mix.

Kockott is one of just two scrum-halves in the group, joining Sébastien Tillous-Borde while Camille Lopez, Remi Tales and François Trinh-Duc are the 10 options available to Saint-André.

Saint-André has dispensed with the services of loosehead Thomas Domingo and back-row forwards Antonie Claassen and Fulgence Ouedraogo while Maxime Machenaud, Dimitri Szarzewski and Morgan Parra also miss out.

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Ben Smith

Ben Smith appears capable of successfully filling just about any position in the All Black backline.

Ben Smith’s talents might be appreciated more if he rebranded his image and called himself Benji Smith.

A couple of things became clear about Ben Smith last week.

The first is that he’s probably the most natural and best-equipped footballer New Zealand has produced in the professional age.

The second is that he’s in danger of that fact never being widely acknowledged.

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Eben Etzebeth

Rise to the top – Eben Etzebeth.

Eben Etzebeth isn’t your average 22-year-old. South Africa’s young lock is viewed as absolutely pivotal to the team’s future.

That’s not a status which is simply handed out either. In his 27 caps so far, Etzebeth has seamlessly fitted into Test rugby.

We seem to live in an age of young locks beginning to dominate Test rugby; Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, Sam Carter, with Pieter-Steph du Toit to come.

There’s little now at the international level that Etzebeth hasn’t experienced, including a prolonged lay-off through injury.

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Taine Randell

Taine Randell

Last week we reached the one year landmark before next year’s World Cup.

The All Blacks’ run since their breakthrough success on home soil has been nothing short of extraordinary. They’ve lost only one game in that time and over the last two years alone forged a 21-test unbeaten run.

Twelve months is a long time in rugby. Just look at the turnaround of the Highlanders this season. So much can happen in that time. Predicting what will happen is almost impossible, but here goes.

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Steve Hansen

TOTAL FOCUS: Steve Hansen knows a thing of two about leadership.

The All Blacks may have been grounded in Auckland overnight after their flight to Santiago was cancelled, but their ambitions remain sky-high as they look to keep alive an unbeaten run dating back to November, 2012.

Former coach Sir Graham Henry created a few ripples when he suggested the world champions could do with some adversity ahead of their defence of the global crown next year in England.

Henry spoke of the benefits that come from regathering the forces following a defeat and wondered aloud if the All Blacks, who have lost only one test under Steve Hansen, might be the better for the introspection that follows a loss.

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Bryan Habana

Bryan Habana

Currently away with the Springboks, Bryan Habana hasn’t been distracted by the outlandish statements of Mourad Boudjellal at Toulon.

Habana will be in line for his 102nd cap against the Wallabies in Cape Town next weekend, but the Toulon owner earlier this week demanded that Habana along with Bakkies Botha and Argentina’s Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe return to play for their club.

Perhaps Habana wasn’t distracted because those kind of outbursts from Boudjellal aren’t new. In the same week he also raised the possibility of cancelling Leigh Halfpenny’s contract.

“It’s not up to me to decide on going back. We have the right lines of communication. SA Rugby have been working hard behind the scenes to address the rumours that have been going around this week,” Habana exclusively told Planet 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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Steve HansenAll Blacks coach Steve Hansen can see where his predecessor, Sir Graham Henry, is coming from.

But Hansen wants his team to continue improving without the need of a loss as a wake-up call.

Henry, with Hansen as an assistant, steered New Zealand to the World Cup title in 2011.

However, 12 months out from the start of their defence, Henry is worried they might get too used to winning and believes some adversity, namely a loss, might have benefits.

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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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Brendan Venter

Brendan Venter

While local rugby supporters should feel genuine pride after the Springboks went toe-to-toe with the All Blacks away from home, the reality is that, in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.

The chasm between the top two sides in world rugby appears to be narrowing. However, if Heyneke Meyer’s men are to scale the summit, I believe their work ethic off the ball must improve markedly.

While I’m not questioning the players’ character and commitment, I would challenge each of them to analyse the game objectively and ask themselves: Did I chase the kicks hard enough, did I defend with sufficient integrity when the All Blacks played the ball wide and was my discipline sound?

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Frans Steyn

In the wilderness – Frans Steyn.

He hasn’t ruled it out completely, but Springbok centre Frans Steyn says it’s unlikely he’ll play international rugby again.

Steyn, 27, shocked the rugby fraternity in June this year when he made himself unavailable for Springbok selection shortly before a Test against Wales in Durban, after playing against a World XV in Cape Town the previous week.

It emerged that his decision to pull out of the Springbok squad was due to a monetary dispute with the South African Rugby Union (SARU) regarding his image rights, which were handled by a third party.

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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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Richie McCaw & Sir Graham Henry

LET’S DO IT AGAIN: Sir Graham Henry reckons Richie McCaw and his All Blacks can repeat their 2011 World Cup heroics next year.

Sir Graham Henry believes Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have the ingredients to carry out a historic defence of the Rugby World Cup at next year’s tournament in England.

Henry delivered New Zealand their second World Cup at home in 2011 following their victory as hosts of the inaugural tournament in 1987.

No team has won back-to-back titles and no All Blacks side has triumphed away from home.

But, a year out from next year’s tournament, Henry is backing the current side to buck history.

“For sure, but it won’t be easy,” warned Henry who oversaw the quarterfinal disaster in 2007 before redeeming himself.

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New ZealandWorld Cup-winning coach Graham Henry has committed the ultimate sin in rugby-mad New Zealand, suggesting it would not hurt the All Blacks if they lose a game before they defend the Webb Ellis trophy next year in England.

The All Blacks have lost just once since Steve Hansen succeeded Henry after the successful World Cup campaign in 2011, winning 32 of their 35 Tests. They have also drawn twice with Australia.

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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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Rugby World Cup 2015The Wallabies quest for an unprecedented third Rugby World Cup crown is now just 12 months away with Thursday marking the one year countdown to the game’s showpiece event.

The eighth edition of the tournament will bring the game’s elite together in England and it will again be the All Blacks who start as red-hot favourites.

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