Wycliff Palu and Matt Giteau were Friday recalled to the Wallabies 31-man squad for next week's Rugby Championship decider against the All Blacks, with uncapped prop Toby Smith also drafted in.
Australia and New Zealand are level on nine points ahead of the August 8 Test in Sydney — effectively a final — and coach Michael Cheika has brought back two of his experienced big guns.
Veteran Giteau returns after being rested from Australia's bonus-point 34-9 victory over Argentina last weekend having taken a physical battering against the Springboks in Brisbane earlier this month.
Powerhouse No.8 Palu was rested from both the opening two Test victories to overcome injury niggles but has been deemed fit to face the All Blacks. A surprise was the call-up of 26-year-old Smith following a consistent Super Rugby campaign for the Melbourne Rebels.
"Toby has had a solid season with the Rebels, and has been working really hard while the group has been away," said Cheika. "Our intention was always to rest Wycliff prior to this camp, and he has come back in great shape and really eager to play."
Cheika added that the squad was starting to come together ahead of the September-October World Cup in England.
"We have been able to look at a few different combinations during the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship and the squad is starting to take shape," he said.
"In addition to the 31 players, we'll be bringing some injured and fringe players into camp to continue their rehabilitation and manage their return to play. It's important that they remain connected and contribute to the group."
Australia squad: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Scott Fardy, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Matt Giteau, Greg Holmes, Michael Hooper, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Stephen Moore (captain), Drew Mitchell, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, Nick Phipps, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, James Slipper, Toby Smith, Henry Speight, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane, Nic White.
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New Dubai Exiles director of rugby Jacques Benade is keen to stress his arrival is for the benefit of the entire club, not just the first team. The 45-year-old arrived in the UAE at the beginning of the month, having enjoyed a 15-year coaching career in Ireland.
The South African coached All-Ireland League side Malone RFC before moving on to Ballymena where he learnt from former British & Irish Lions legends Syd Miller and Willie John McBride.
Exciting times ahead as Dubai Exiles welcomes their new director of rugby Jacques Benade to the club. Register now at http://t.co/QBBn88XVph
— Dubai Exiles RFC (@DubaiExiles) July 24, 2015
Benade has come to Exiles with the aim of reversing the fortunes of the UAE’s most historic club, which has fallen on hard times in recent seasons. But despite his ultimate mission, Benade is at pains to point out his role as director of rugby encompasses far more than just the senior side.
“I’m meeting Toby Shore soon, the chairman of the mini and youth committee, and there is a lot of work I’d like to help out with there to grow that further,” he said.
“They’re doing excellent work there and I’m sure it is one of the best youth set-ups in the UAE, especially in Dubai. They had a team travelling to Northern Ireland earlier this year.
“They played against three of the country’s top schools and they competed with them really well. So, the standard of the young teams and the level of coaching here is very good.
“For me to come in and assist there will be magic. If I can come in there and work with the coaches, it will be brilliant for the club.”
Exiles finished fifth in the UAE Premiership last season, failing to qualify for the Gulf Top Six. They excelled in the post-Christmas Gulf Conference where they faced meagre opposition, such as Xodus Wasps, Kuwait and Muscat although.
At the Dubai Sevens, they made the quarter-finals of the Gulf Men’s League Trophy competition before being blown away 38-0 by champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
It may not be the full spectacle with it being a World Cup year, but try telling that to New Zealand and Australia rugby fans.
The All Blacks and Wallabies are both unbeaten as they go into this weekend’s Rugby Championship decider in Sydney looking to make it 3-0, the chance to earn the Bledisloe Cup, as well as bragging rights and an opportunity to set themselves up nicely for the Rugby World Cup in a little under two months.
It’s been a packed weekend of rugby, watch our summary, with action from the PNC and the Rugby Championship https://t.co/jigtj4bFor
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) July 27, 2015
Apart from winning, there’s plenty at stake and on offer for both sides.
Steve Hansen’s side possess a stunning record, winning 29 games, drawing one and losing just one in their last 31 matches since being beaten 38-21 by England nearly three years ago – their sole defeat in that time their 27-25 loss to South Africa in 2014’s Rugby Championship.
They also have a fourth straight Championship to chase, having dominated the southern hemisphere event since it debuted in 2012, replacing the old Tri Nations.
For Michael Cheika’s revamped Aussies, there’s the obvious carrot of beating the All Blacks to break their monopoly on the Championship.
Also, having made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the last 12 months off the field and with the vultures circling having not exactly shone on it, the Wallabies winning on Saturday would send out a warning signal to their rivals ahead of the World Cup that they are still a force to be reckoned with.
FROM RICHES TO RAGS
Earlier this month, they were hailing it as the greatest sporting day in the country’s history. The ‘Test that stopped a nation’.
Now, the Samoa Rugby Union is counting the cost of an historic first visit of New Zealand to the Pacific island – staring at a $1.5m loss from hosting the match
Richie McCaw and Co were given a rapturous reception by the islanders before given a serious run for their money on the pitch by the hosts as the visitors scraped a 25-16 win at Apia Park. And now, the Samoa RU is picking up the pieces after one of the happiest sporting moments in the history of the country left a sour taste.
The cash-strapped Samoa RU spent $3.4 million putting on the game, but Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi revealed the game collected just $1.9m in revenue, including gate takings and merchandise. The bulk of the money went towards the players’ allowances, even though many of Samoa’s foreign-based players committed to the game at their own expense.
“So there was a loss of $1.5m but that’s the reality faced by the union. The truth is that the union needs at least $10m every year for its international fixtures,” said Malielegaoi.
— iamjonnyking™ (@iamjonnyking) July 26, 2015
The loss means the union will likely seek aid from government bodies such as the Samoa International Finance Authority.
Samoa has a long history with New Zealand and has provided the world’s best rugby with some of its greatest players, including Frank Bunce, Tana Umaga, Jerry Collins, Bryan Williams, Mills Muliaina, Rodney So’oialo and Va’aiga Tuigamala.
Would it be too much to ask for the New Zealand Rugby Union to put its hand in its pocket and help their island brothers out? After all, Samoa has already done so much for the land of the long white cloud.
NO PLACE FOR IT
It’s a tough thing to admit that racism is not only still prevalent in sport, but on the increase. It can be said for football, but it also seems this is true in rugby too.
The Canterbury Rugby Union is working with Christchurch’s Lincoln University to try to identify who was responsible for racial abuse hurled at a Fijian player from the sidelines at the weekend.
— EatSleepRugby (@Eat_Sleep_Rugby) July 28, 2015
Sake Aca was playing for Christchurch Rugby Club in the Metro Grand Final against Lincoln and was the target of racial taunts during the second half at Rugby Park. The abuse reportedly came from a Lincoln University supporter and was said to have been so bad Aca asked the coach if he could leave the field.
Unfortunately for Aca he didn’t even have the consolation of a cup triumph, as Lincoln won the match 24-19. The Canterbury Rugby Union says the Christchurch club had made contact about the incident and the union is investigating the matter.
What’s worse is that it is not the first time something like this has happened. Similar allegations were made following a division one game between Mid Canterbury side Hampstead and North Canterbury outfit Saracens earlier this season.
THE GRASS IS NOT ALWAYS GREENER
There have been several interesting developments in UAE rugby this week. The first was that despite their emergence into a genuine force in Gulf rugby last season, it seems Abu Dhabi Saracens are still struggling to emerge out of the shadows of their more established capital city rivals, Harlequins.
South African Centre Pieter Morton announced his departure from Sarries this week, citing the development of his career as his major reason for picking Quins.
True, Quins have more of a presence in the city having been established in 1974, Sarries as recently as 2011. Their youth set-up is much more developed and they play in the impressive surroundings of Zayed Sport City, while Sarries are based on the outskirts of town, on the sandy surroundings of Al Ghazal.
Still, 2014-15 was a breakout year for Sarries, who improved dramatically throughout the season and capped their coming of age by being crowned West Asia champions.
Yet still, Morton chose to leave.
“The wolf on top of the hill isn’t as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill,” he posted on social media, claiming Sarries lacked the hunger of Quins. “Quins have a more professional set-up, like I’m used to in South Africa, they’re more advanced, have better facilities and at the of day I must think about myself.”
He’s entitled to his opinion and I’m sure the move will stoke up the rivalry even more ahead of the new season, but Sarries are a club on the rise and that will only continue.
RINGING THE CHANGES
Speaking of the new season, the UAE Rugby Federation made sweeping changes to how the new 2015-16 season will be rolled out. Gone is the elite Gulf Top 6, to be replaced by a nine-team competition renamed the West Asia Championship.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) July 26, 2015
Meanwhile, the UAE Premiership will feature home and away fixtures next season, meaning double the games.
There are pros and cons to the announcement. Last season, and in previous campaigns, the UAE domestic rugby season has been too staggered.
Just as players had gone through the gruelling UAE summer of pre-season and got ready for the campaign ahead, it was over. After the five Premiership games and the final, played on October 31, there was a gap of over a month until the Dubai Sevens – and that is only a three-day competition. After that there was another break of over a month until the GT6 started. So, in that sense, extending the Premiership season is a good thing.
However, the games will remain staggered, with rounds 1-7 played between September and November, and rounds 8-10 played in March and April. Also, unlike previous seasons, the new West Asia Championship will feature all six UAE teams instead of the top four Premiership teams that qualified for the GT6 in recent seasons. They will join Doha, Bahrain and Muscat from the Gulf Premiership and each team will play their opponents once.
The fact there is no incentive to qualify from the Premiership, other than winning that title of course, and that the West Asia Championship does not conclude the club rugby season in the Gulf, leaves a little to be desired.