Les Bleus hoping for master stroke, Pocock to spur Wallabies, Jaguares become Pumas and Siya Kolisi brings in a new chapter for the Springboks.
Here are out talking points for the first weekend of June internationals:
France hoping for ‘masterstroke’ against All Blacks
Underdogs France are looking to pull off a trademark “masterstroke” against the All Blacks when they open their three-Test series on Saturday, captain Mathieu Bastareaud said.
France memorably upset New Zealand at the 1999 and 2007 Rugby World Cups but they haven’t arrived in the best of shape, after finishing fourth in this year’s Six Nations.
Bastareaud, who has a chequered record in New Zealand after falsely claiming he was assaulted in Wellington in 2009, described the All Blacks as “a mythical team and jersey”.
But despite the overwhelming odds facing them, he said France were still eyeing their first win in nine years against the triple world champions.
France were the last team to overcome New Zealand at Auckland’s Eden Park, way back in 1994, since when the hosts are unbeaten in 40 games — including the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, when they edged Les Bleus 8-7.
“We are here because we think we can challenge them. A win would be a masterstroke,” said Bastareaud, who said he preferred to leave his personal history in New Zealand aside.
Pocock return to spur Wallabies against Irish: Cheika
Australia coach Michael Cheika says he is looking forward to the return of David Pocock to spur the Wallabies to victory over Six Nations champions Ireland in Brisbane on Saturday.
The influential Pocock — playing his first international since taking a Rugby sabbatical last year — will play in the unfamiliar position of blindside flanker, with skipper Michael Hooper preferred at openside.
The second-ranked Irish are on the crest of a wave, having won their last 12 internationals and this year’s Six Nations tournament, but have not won in Australia since 1979.
Cheika, who coached Irish province Leinster to their first-ever European Cup in 2009, said Pocock’s leadership was invaluable but warned that breakdown turnovers would be at a premium against the well-organised Irish.
“We all talk about Poey’s (Pocock’s) on the ground work but that’s going to be very hard against Ireland,” he said.
Jaguares become Pumas as Argentina crave success
The Jaguares became Pumas this week and Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade hopes they can take stunning Super Rugby form into two Tests against Wales, the first on Saturday.
Jaguares, effectively the national team, compete out of Buenos Aires in the annual southern hemisphere franchise competition and their recent form has been a revelation.
After only two victories in their first seven matches, they have won six in a row, including a shock triumph in New Zealand over two-time Super Rugby champions Waikato Chiefs.
When Super Rugby took a break to accommodate Test Rugby, Hourcade called up all 23 Jaguares who helped defeat the Sharks to the national squad, known as the Pumas.
Hourcade is desperate for success after two horror international seasons following an impressive fourth place at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
After 127 years, Kolisi opens new Springboks chapter
After 127 years, 478 Tests and 60 white captains, Siyamthanda ‘Siya’ Kolisi will open a new chapter in South African Rugby on Saturday when he leads the team against England.
The 26-year-old captain and flanker of the Stormers is set to be the first black Test skipper of a traditional world Rugby powerhouse.
Injuries to captain Warren Whiteley and stand-in Eben Etzebeth created a leadership void, and new coach Rassie Erasmus opted for soft-spoken, media-shy Kolisi in a three-player contest.
“I like him,” says the coach. “He is quiet, he is humble, he is nice and physical. I am really excited about what Siya can offer to us.”
Erasmus insists Kolisi was not chosen because of his colour amid constant government pressure to deliver a national Rugby team that better reflects a population that is 92 percent black.
“I have always known Siya as a great player and a great leader — the fact that he will become the first black captain of the Springboks is definitely just a bonus.”
An agreement has been struck between the national Rugby body and the government that 50 percent of the team at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan will be black.
It’s a bumper weekend of International Rugby and we picked out six players to watch as the Boks host Eddie Jones’ England, France face the might of the All Blacks at Eden Park, Ireland try to break their drought in Australia and Argentina take on a new-look Wales.
There are some world class stars trying to re-assert their authority at Test level, brand new faces making just making their mark and pace-men hoping to carry their Super Rugby for into the international arena.
Here are six players to watch:
Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Australia v Ireland)
He’s yet to play a test but the 22-year-old Reds rake has already endeared himself to Australian rugby fans with his down-to-earth attitude and abundant personality. Thrust in to the starting No2 spot due to the retirement of Stephen Moore, the non-selection of Tatafu Polota-Nau and the injury to Jordan Uelese the former garbage man, landscaper and theology student has his big chance this Saturday.
Joey Carbery (Ireland v Australia)
With Ireland coach Joe Schmidt deciding to rest first choice fly half Johnny Sexton for the first Test a lot of pressure falls on the shoulder of Auckland-born No10 22-year-old Carbery. The Irish are favourite but any mistakes from Carbery will be pounced on by a desperate Wallabies pack. Off the field Carbery’s forced switch to Munster is also causing headlines for the wrong reasons.
Duane Vermeulen (South Africa v England)
The backrow battle between the Springboks and England is set to be titanic and whoever comes out on top in the No8 match-up – Vermeulen v Billy Vunipola – will go a long way to determining who wins the series opener. South Africa have a new look to their pack and they desperately need the big Toulon eighth man to lead from the front.
Owen Farrell (England v South Africa)
England have hit a bad patch with four losses in a row (Scotland, France, Ireland and the Barbarians) and the wheels definitely seem to be coming off Eddie Jones’ all conquering side. The man entrusted with righting the ship is his captain, and best player, the Saracens No10. England certainly have the talent but it will up to Farrell to make sure they have the focus and urgency to pull off a much needed test win.
Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina v Wales)
The 23-year-old Jaguares pace-man has been in outstanding form in Super Rugby this season, sitting third on the top try-scorers list with 10 tries. His devastating finishing has played a big part in the Argentinian team making a run to the playoffs. Boffelli has been switched to fullback for the Wales test and the Pumas will need his superb finishing if they are to continue their winning streak at international level.
Beauden Barrett (New Zealand v France)
It may seem a ridiculous statement to make but the Hurricanes superstar, the World Rugby Player of the Year for the last two years, is fighting to hold on to the All Blacks No10 jersey. Such is the depth of New Zealand rugby that Barrett’s spot is under threat from the Crusaders Richie Mo’unga and the Chiefs Damian McKenzie. Barrett will want a big game to claim back his status as the first choice No10.
The Munster flanker skippers his country for the fourth time at Suncorp Stadium as they look to build on their Grand Slam success in the spring.
Joe Schmidt has made six changes to the team that beat England to secure that success in March with Carbery starting at fly-half ahead of Johnny Sexton, who is on the bench, while Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, John Ryan, Jordi Murphy and Robbie Henshaw come into the side.
There is plenty of focus on 22-year-old Carbery, who last week confirmed that he would be moving from Leinster to Munster next season.
O’Mahony has encouraged all of the players who have come into the side to rise to the challenge.
Joey Carbery to start at outhalf for Ireland against Australia https://t.co/Ku7b4p1zvg— Irish Times Sport (@IrishTimesSport) June 6, 2018
“We talk about guys being able to slot in and of building a squad and guys having to take their opportunities. These are the opportunities that you can’t let pass you by,” the Corkman said.
“This is the standard of Rugby that you want to be playing at and with the squad that we’ve built, certainly over the last two or three years, we always say that guys should slot in seamlessly and that’s the way we run things.”
O’Mahony, who captained the Lions in the first Test against New Zealand last year, has been impressed with the way Carbery has responded to his surprise inclusion.
“It’s been great. He’s an incredible footballer,” he said.
“He’s really grown into that leadership role. I suppose over the past two years he’s been getting better and better and he’s a big character in the squad, which you need from your 10.
“I think he’s growing all the time and it’s a huge opportunity for him tomorrow.”
Australia are determined to begin their season by taking a 1-0 lead in the series and coach Michael Cheika has brought David Pocock back into the team after his hiatus last year.
Reds pair Caleb Timu and Brandon Paenga-Amosa will make their debuts in Brisbane, while Crusaders flanker Pete Samu is likely to join them off the bench.
Captain Michael Hooper has called on his team to bring a positive approach to the clash.
“We’d be silly not to run the ball with some of the strike power we’ve got,” he said.
“We’ve got a really fit team – forwards who want to work and get over the advantage-line.
“We’ve a mobile back row and we’ve seen during the Super Rugby season some of the damage that the backs can do and some of the form that our play-makers are in.
“We’ve got to be smart in how we do it.
“Some of this stuff needs a little bit of a tweak sometimes in how we relieve pressure at times because we know that the Irish are good – they build pressure.
“We saw what they did to some teams in the Six Nations, how they can put up a kick anywhere on the field and keep putting pressure on you so how we deal with that is critical.”