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Super Rugby

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Conrad Hoffmann

Brumbies scrumhalf Conrad Hoffmann has returned to play for the Sharks in this year’s Currie Cup, the Durban team announced via their official website.

The 26-year-old played for the Sharks between 2011 and 2012 after joining from Western Province.

His career was hampered by injuries before getting a lifeline at the Brumbies this year. However, a lack of game time at the Australian side has seen Hoffmann return to the Sharks ahead of the Currie Cup season.

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The Brumbies believe they can be the first Super Rugby team to tap into the American market, with coach Stephen Larkham to go on a research mission to the US to evaluate untouched talent at universities.

The two-time champions are setting up a “USA Brumbies” academy system based at Arizona State University. Potential recruits will train in the US with the aim of earning a Super Rugby spot.

Larkham and commercial academy manager Nick Leah will fly to the US in September for camps in New Jersey, Minnesota and Arizona to find the best talent for the program.

It’s part of an academy relationship the Brumbies have set up with international teams, which already includes the Papua New Guinea national side and Japanese team Kubota.

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The inspiring scene of the movie Invictus came to life on the Waratah’s training pitch.

It was like a scene out of the movie Invictus.

After the Waratah’s final training session before Saturday’s Super Rugby final, Adam Ashley-Cooper dropped to a knee with the entire squad huddled around him, arm in arm, and recited a poem he wrote himself.

The rhyming stanza lasted for 20 minutes and was met with rapturous applause at its conclusion.

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TEMPER, TEMPER: Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is known to get hot under the collar on occasion.

The Waratahs trained in the open in Sydney today and the pressure on coach Michael Cheika was obvious as he oversaw the team’s final significant practice session before Saturday’s Super Rugby final against the Crusaders.

Already on the equivalent of a good behaviour bond after incurring a suspended six-month ban by SANZAR for abusing a cameraman during the Waratahs’ loss to the Sharks in Durban, the notoriously volatile head coach was again irritated when a photographer took images of lineout drills.

“What if I come to your work and start f…king photographing you?” Cheika shouted at the photographer situated behind the goal posts at the Kippax ground near Allianz Stadium.

That message got through but soon afterwards the 47-year-old noticed another photographer at the other end of the field, prompting Cheika – in more conciliatory tones – to ask the Waratahs’ media manager to warn him to stop shooting.

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Phil Waugh believes that the Waratah pack can dominate the Crusaders

Former Waratahs captain Phil Waugh says the Waratahs pack can “dominate” the Crusaders in the crucial forward battle, if their mental game is spot on.

Waugh, the state’s most-capped player, rejected speculation from sections of the New Zealand media that the seven-time Super Rugby champions would have the Waratahs on toast at set-pieces in Saturday’s final at ANZ Stadium.

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RELAXED: Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty prepares to board the plane to Sydney for the Super Rugby final against the Waratahs.

He barely blinked during the white-knuckled flight over the Southern Alps and Ryan Crotty isn’t worried about what lies ahead in Sydney, either.

Strong westerly winds caused lively turbulence for the Crusaders’ Air New Zealand jet as it flew over the South Island’s spine yesterday, resulting in the pilot reducing altitude and slightly deviating the flight path to give his passengers a smoother voyage.

Given some of the hairy situations they have endured on the field the Crusaders have become accustomed to wild rides, so like his team-mates Crotty could only fasten his seat belt and wait for the bumpy ride to end.

It’s that sort of resolve coach Todd Blackadder will want from his men during Saturday night’s Super Rugby grand final against the Waratahs.

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Richie McCaw eyes toughest of Sydney test

It couldn’t be a more familiar sight. The Crusaders, Super Rugby’s most successful team, arriving to play in another final and Richie McCaw, the most capped All Black ever, sporting a freshly stitched gash under his eye.

The team from Christchurch is after its eighth title and, even away from home, bookmakers are taking three times the money from punters on a Crusaders win.

The Crusaders have history on their side, having beaten the Waratahs in two previous Super Rugby finals.

But this time they are in Sydney, where they haven’t played all season, and McCaw is paying no attention to past records.

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Stephen Larkham

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham

He has played just five games in two seasons, but the ACT Brumbies are keen to start negotiations with injured Wallabies captain David Pocock to keep him in Canberra beyond next year’s World Cup.

The Brumbies are already planning for the future just days after being bundled out of Super Rugby title contention by the Waratahs.

Coach Stephen Larkham revealed his intent to start negotiations with Pocock, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander and Pat McCabe, whose contracts expire at the end of next season.

Larkham also hopes to have his back-room staff finalised in the next month, including appointing another assistant coach with breakdown expertise to replace director of rugby Laurie Fisher and a team manager.

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Out in force: The Waratahs are hoping to create a sea of blue at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night against the Crusaders.

A State of Origin-esque sea of blue, an Australian Super Rugby crowd record and the biggest take-up of corporate packages since the Manchester United exhibition match say ANZ Stadium will be the furthest thing from a ”neutral venue” when the Waratahs take on the Crusaders this Saturday.

As Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder and countless New Zealand pundits latched on to the notion the All Blacks’ 54 per cent win record at the Homebush Bay venue would take the sting out of the Waratahs’ home ground advantage this weekend, match organisers were putting the finishing touches to a plan to ensure it will do anything but.

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Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder

Todd Blackadder cannot believe the Waratahs have ditched their fortress to chase the almighty dollar.

If Crusaders coach Blackadder was in counterpart Michael Cheika’s shoes he would never allow anyone, or any amount of cash, to persuade him to give up home advantage for a Super Rugby grand final.

Rather than play Saturday night’s much-anticipated match at Allianz Stadium, where they have been unbeaten all season, the Waratahs have agreed to relocate to the less familiar – but bigger – ANZ Stadium at Olympic.

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Injured Waratahs captain Dave Dennis has revealed some of the secrets which have helped the Waratahs make the grand final this year.

Dennis gave an insight into the Waratahs unique strength and conditioning programme as well as the culture which Michael Cheika has created.

“We have been challenged probably physically more than we ever have as a playing group by Cheik. I think it’s well documented the work we did in the pre season running up hills around Coogee or running around Centennial Park.”

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Big Will Skelton

The men they call “Big Will” and “Jackpot” could hold the key to Waratahs glory against the Crusaders on Saturday, so great has been their impact this season.

Giant lock Will Skelton has been nothing short of a revelation. At 135kg and 203cm, the 22-year-old does wrecking ball with finesse.

While Jacques Potgieter, the South African enforcer with flowing locks, has earned cult hero status at Moore Park.

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CrusadersThe Crusaders’ forwards, who provided the platform for their semifinal victory over the Sharks with a dominant performance that at times embarrassed the big South Africans, are targeting an improved effort for Saturday’s final against the Waratahs.

Like the Sharks, the Waratahs’ pack is extremely big – lock Will Skelton weighs 137kg – but there is a suspicion they can be brought down to size with aggression and firepower, something this Crusaders outfit has in abundance.

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Henry Speight

Henry Speight

AustraliaWinger Henry Speight will be sidelined for a month by a hamstring injury and has been replaced in the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship by Peter Betham.

Fijian-born Speight was included in the squad last week despite not becoming eligible to play for Australia on residency grounds until 11 September, halfway through the tournament.

The tackle-busting winger sustained the injury in the second half of the Brumbies’ Super Rugby semifinal defeat to the Waratahs last Saturday.

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WP se BreierNet ingeval julle nie die grappige gevoel kry nie, hierdie is net ‘n grap, en nie bedoel om ernstig opgeneem te word nie!

Gister het ons n artikel geplaas van Frans Ludeke se “brief aan Oom Murray”.

Ons het egter dit net regverdig gevind om darem nie ‘n vooroordeel te wys teen die Bulls nie, so hier is ‘n “brief” wat Allister al vroeg in die Super Rugby seisoen ook aan Oom Murray geskryf het.

Geniet hom!

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Tatafu Polota-Nau

HEAD STRONG: Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has learnt to think about tackling instead of diving in head first.

Tatafu Polota-Nau eventually realised kamikaze-style tackling was jeopardising his lifespan as a professional footballer, so the Crusaders should be relieved he has toned down a suicidal approach to defending ahead of Saturday’s Super Rugby final.

The last time Polota-Nau played the Crusaders in 2012, the now 29-year-old was prone to suffering self-inflicted damage – the trade off when the abrasive NSW Waratahs and Wallabies hooker aimed up on a ball carrier or hit a ruck.

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WaratahsThe Waratahs have reached the final of the 2014 Super Rugby Tournament.

One may be excused for thinking that the team consists of 23 players and maybe half a dozen more as back up, but that’s not quite the full picture.

Ever wondered how many people are really behind the scenes to see that the 23 on the field are primed and ready to go?

We take an exclusive look at the full management team of the Waratahs.

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Corey Flynn

GETTING READY: Corey Flynn, who leaves for French club Toulouse after the Super Rugby season, hopes to collect his fourth title before he departs Christchurch.

Corey Flynn concedes there’s nothing like a jolt of electricity to help determine a career path.

Things are trucking along pretty nicely for the 33-year-old these days but if he wasn’t a professional rugby player he isn’t certain what occupation he would have chosen after leaving Southland Boys’ High School.

Well, he is sure about one thing: He wasn’t going to work in an industry where he risked getting zapped from bare wires.

“I was looking at an electrical apprenticeship but that wasn’t my forte,” Flynn reflects. “Electricity scares the hell out of me because you can’t see it and I took a couple of boots.”

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Adriaan Strauss

Adriaan Strauss

Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss has broken his silence, saying he is excited at the prospect of moving to the Bulls at the end of the season.

The Bulls officially announced the move on Monday, but Strauss revealed exclusively to the supersport.com website that his decision was taken to further his career.

Strauss signed a two-year contract to move to the Bulls, following fellow Cheetahs players Trevor Nyakane and Lappies Labuschagné who will also line up for the Pretoria franchise in next year’s Super Rugby competition.

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Andy Ellis & Willi Heinz

IN TANDEM: Andy Ellis, left, has played in rotation with Willi Heinz in the Crusaders No 9 jersey.

Andy Ellis is not the world’s best number nine. He is not even rated in the top three half backs in his own country by the All Blacks coach.

But the 30-year-old scrapper may well be the most influential player on the pitch in the Super 15 final.

Ellis is a very good gauge of how the Crusaders are travelling. When Ellis is going well, the Cantabs are going well.

When Ellis is searching for his game and his energy, the Crusaders often become stilted, predictable and unsure of themselves.

The little big man – do all half backs have a Napoleon complex? – was superb in the semifinal against the Sharks.

The Crusaders deliberately shortened their kicking game to put the Sharks backfield under constant pressure and Ellis was at the forefront of the tactic.

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Colin Slade

SYDNEY HERE WE COME: Colin Slade, right, makes a point while chatting to his Crusaders team-mates at training yesterday.

Getting ditched from the All Blacks wasn’t how Colin Slade wanted to prepare for his first Super Rugby grand final.

He can’t do anything about his omission from Steve Hansen’s Rugby Championship squad but the first five-eighth could think of better ways to begin what should be one of the most memorable weeks of his career as the Crusaders focus on meeting the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night.

The timing might have been terrible but one thing is certain: Slade isn’t going to have a whinge about it.

“I had probably prepared myself, a little bit, for it,” Slade shrugged.

“It’s a bit of a numbers game isn’t it? You can’t take everyone.”

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WaratahsCrusadersA look back at a handful of classic contests between the Waratahs and the Crusaders this century.

2001: Waratahs 25-22 Crusaders

The last time the Waratahs defeated the Crusaders was way back in 2001 when the Waratahs ended the Crusaders hopes of defending their Super 12 title and kept their own semi-final hopes alive.

In the tight match-up it took over 35-minutes for the first points to be scored before the Waratahs lead 10-3 into half-time.

The Crusaders hit the Waratahs hard during the second half to take the lead 17-15 for the first time during the match, but a converted try and penalty to Matt Burke put the Waratahs out of reach with a 25-17 lead, while a missed conversion to Ben Blair saw the side fall three-points short 25-22.

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Greg Growden

Greg Growden is the Sydney Morning Herald’s senior rugby writer. He has been reporting on the game for over thirty years. He is also the author of nine books including A Wayward Genius, which was described by The Guardian’s Frank Keating as being among the 100 best sporting books of the twentieth century. His most recent book is Jack Fingleton; The man who stood up to Bradman.

Right from the start, covering New South Wales Waratahs has been a rollicking, unpredictable, wisecracking experience.

It was May 1981, the Sydney Morning Herald’s rugby writer, Jim Webster, was on the other side of the country covering a golf tournament, and someone – anyone – was required to cover the NSW-Manawatu match.

The only person who had not hidden himself away from the gaze of the Herald sports editor was the misfit in the drip-dry shirt completing the greyhound form guide; and so five minutes later I was off to T.G. Millner Field.

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BlackadderIn the mould of Blackadder, no not that one, you are thinking of Todd, I’m talking about the other one, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has a cunning plan… to emulate Jake White and get his possible reasons for potential failure on record 4 days before kick off.

White complained about how skewered and unfair the competition is for the sides ending outside of the top 2 spots. White though, as a cunning strategist, is small fry compared to the brilliance that is Cheika.

Cheika, realizing that because his side ended top of the combined log and therefor he couldn’t use the “we didn’t get an extra week’s rest” excuse, had to dig really deep, and boy, he didn’t disappoint.

In a move that would put Kasperov to shame, he has hatched a plan so cunning that not even Blofeldt could have thought it out.

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Matthew Burke

Matthew Burke

With just one match of the Super Rugby season remaining, who have been the standout players for the year?

Matthew Burke reveals his top 12.

Choosing ten players proved tough, so I called on my chief researchers to help me out and, not surprisingly, the majority of the players that feature have played a part in the finals. We got down to 12, so here they are, in no particular order.

Do you agree with his choices?

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 Nathan Charles

Nathan Charles: Extended his deal with Western Force

Australia hooker Nathan Charles has signed a new deal to stay with the Western Force until the end of 2016.

Charles started every game for the Perth side this season and was rewarded for his club form with a first call into the Wallabies squad, making his debut against France in Melbourne earlier this summer.

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Michael Cheika

HAPPY MAN: Waratahs coach Michael Cheika shares a joke with his players at training this week.

The coach who has overseen the revival of the Waratahs declined to ratchet up the pressure on Crusaders counterpart Todd Blackadder today, by doubting the seven-time Super Rugby champions are stressed from not winning the title since 2008.

Michael Cheika appeared in a typically jovial pre-match mood as the Waratahs continued their preparations for Saturday’s clash between the competition’s first and second-ranked teams at ANZ Stadium.

During a wide-ranging preamble, Cheika neglected to play mind games with Blackadder, another former hard-nosed forward.

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Adriaan Strauss

Adriaan Strauss

Trevor Nyakane

Trevor Nyakane

Lappies Labuschagne

Lappies Labuschagne

Jamba Ulengo

Jamba Ulengo

The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd is pleased to announce the signings of Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Pieter Labuschagne and Jamba Ulengo.  All three forwards will join the Vodacom Bulls on November 1st, 2014, while Ulengo has already started training with the Vodacom Blue Bulls.

Springbok hooker Strauss, who captained the Toyota Cheetahs in recent seasons, was South Africa’s Vodacom Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2013 and returns to Loftus Versfeld, where he made his Vodacom Super Rugby career in 2006 after a seven year absence. He has signed a two year deal.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw

Crusaders flanker Richie McCaw knows from past experience, both sweet and bitter, that a crucial moment can decide Saturday’s Super Rugby final result against the Waratahs in Sydney.

“When it comes down to one or two moments, the teams that are good enough to take those opportunities are the ones that win,” the All Blacks captain said.

“If you drop your guard for one or two moments, you’ll come second.”

He will be making his eighth Super final appearance, the first being in 2002 against the Waratahs when the Crusaders won the competition for the fourth time.

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