Reece Hodge firms for All Blacks test as Michael Cheika cuts eight from Wallabies squad

Alex Broun 14/08/2018
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Reece Hodge could be wearing the No13 jersey against the All Blacks

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has today trimmed his squad to 28, ahead of the opening Bledisloe Cup clash at ANZ Stadium on Saturday 18 August.

Experienced trio Michael Hooper (hamstring), Scott Sio (shoulder) and Dane Haylett-Petty (knee) have all passed fitness tests to be available for Saturday night’s clash against the world’s number one side, New Zealand.

Hooper’s Waratahs team-mate Curtis Rona was among those cut, seemingly leaving Reece Hodge likely to play in the up for grabs outside centre spot, while Scott Sio has recovered from a shoulder injury to be included.

The other players to be cut from what was originally a 36-man squad were Jordan Petaia, Billy Meakes, Folau Fainga’a, Jermaine Ainsley, Rory Arnold, Caleb Timu and Sefa Naivalu.

Tom Banks and Jack Maddocks are the only two uncapped players in the squad with the versatile duo both edging closer to a Test debut.

Cheika said: “We’ll have some extra players in there on Monday and Tuesday, so we can get our training done and then I just think that I want to have a bit more focus on the group that’s going to play the game.

“I want the guys that are not playing in that given week to go and play some footy, whether it be Club or NRC, depending on the time of year.

“I just think that little bit of extra focus on a smaller group of players in there can build our alignment and cohesion.

“Everyone’s focused on the one task, everyone knows what their role is,” Cheika said.

The squad has just completed an intensive week-long camp in Cessnock and ]regathered at a fan day at Grantham Reserve, Blacktown on Sunday.

Wallabies 28-man squad for opening Bledisloe Cup clash

(Test caps, Super Rugby side and age)

Forwards

Allan Alaalatoa (23 Tests, Brumbies, 24)

Adam Coleman (23 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)

Ned Hanigan (13 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 23)

Michael Hooper (c) (82 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 26)

Sekope Kepu (94 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 32)

Tolu Latu (7 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 25)

Brandon Paenga-Amosa (3 Tests, Queensland Reds, 22)

David Pocock (69 Tests, Brumbies, 30)

Tatafu Polota-Nau (82 Tests, Leicester, 33)

Tom Robertson (21 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 23)

Izack Rodda (7 Tests, Queensland Reds, 21)

Pete Samu (3 Tests, Brumbies, 26)

Rob Simmons (85 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)

Scott Sio (46 Tests, Brumbies, 26)

Lukhan Tui (7 Tests, Queensland Reds, 21)

Taniela Tupou (4 Tests, Queensland Reds, 22)

Backs

Tom Banks* (uncapped, Brumbies, 24)

Kurtley Beale (74 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)

Israel Folau (65 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)

Bernard Foley (58 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 28)

Will Genia (90 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 30)

Dane Haylett-Petty (21 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 29)

Reece Hodge (27 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 23)

Marika Koroibete (11 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)

Jack Maddocks* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 21)

Nick Phipps (64 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)

Joe Powell (4 Tests, Brumbies, 24)

Matt Toomua (33 Tests, Leicester/Melbourne Rebels, 28)

*denotes uncapped

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Rugby Championship in focus: Under-performing Pumas must replicate Jaguares' success

Alex Broun 13/08/2018
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Nicolas Sanchez was in superb form against the All Blacks

With the opening round of the Rugby Championship looming this weekend, we are previewing each of the four competing nations. New Zealand have dominated the tournament, winning five of the six incarnations since Argentina were added to the enlarged Tri-Nations in 2012, but can the Wallabies, Springboks or the Pumas break the All Blacks’ dominance this year?

The Pumas record in the Rugby Championship has been woeful

The Pumas record in the Rugby Championship has been woeful

HEARTBEAT

Can it get any worse? When the Pumas were admitted to the enlarged Tri-Nations it was hailed as a glorious new era for Argentine rugby. But instead it proved the most hollow of false dawns. Since entrance was granted Argentina have finished last every year except 2015, and won just three matches out of the 33 contested, including one draw. The Pumas desperately need to find a way to turn it around. Can they ride on the back of the Jaguares’ success in Super Rugby to a much-improved performance in 2018?

KEY PLAYER

Experienced captain Agustin Creevy will carry the workload upfront but it is veteran fly-half Nicolas Sanchez who dictates what happens when the ball comes out the back. The 29-year-old playmaker enjoyed a celebrated run in French rugby with Bordeaux and Toulon before returning to join the Jaguares in their first season in 2016. He was instrumental to everything good the Jaguares did this year, finishing fifth of the top point scorers table with 161 points.

Emiliano Boffelli has been in superb for the Jaguares this season

Emiliano Boffelli has been in superb for the Jaguares this season

RISING STAR

Utility back Emiliano Boffelli was one of the most exciting ball runners in Super Rugby this year with 10 tries (sixth overall), 28 clean breaks (also sixth) and 65 defenders beaten (seventh). The Rosario-born 23-year-old is a homegrown talent having played all his rugby in Argentina to date, either with his hometown club Duendes or the Jaguares. Has played 14 times for the Pumas already, scoring six tries.

STRENGTHS

Traditionally the Pumas’ strengths are the pack, and especially at scrum time with the much feared “bajada” (or eight-man shove). But over the last few years there has been less focus on the set-piece in favour of an open ball-in-hand game plan, which has been entertaining but not effective in terms of results. However, Pumas have developed many enthralling ball runners.

WEAKNESSES

As new Pumas coach Mario Ledesma has openly admitted, the biggest problem with Argentina is their defence. A lack of application and organisation has seen them leak an average of 33 points per game in their last 12 matches. You simply cannot win Test matches regularly when you leak that many points. They need to tighten up this facet of their game.

Lots on his mind - new Pumas coach Mario Ledesma

Lots on his mind – new Pumas coach Mario Ledesma

COACH

After a superb season with the Jaguares in Super Rugby, where he took them to their first-ever playoff match, former Pumas hooker and Wallabies assistant coach Ledesma has been given the national reigns after the sudden departure of Daniel Hourcade after Argentina’s disastrous June series, where they lost heavily to an under-strength Wales (twice) and Scotland. Can he work the same magic in The Rugby Championship?

WHAT THEY SAID

“We need to get back to the fundamentals of our game.

The top teams have a very effective bench. That, for example, is the difference between the three great sides in the southern hemisphere and teams like France, Wales and England.”

– Mario Ledesma, coach

FORM GUIDE

L L L L W

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

2012: Last

2013: Last

2014: Last

2015: Third

2016: Last

2017: Last

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Former Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth declared fit to face Pumas in Durban

Alex Broun 13/08/2018
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Eben Etzebeth has been out for nine months with a shoulder injury

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has confirmed that 67-Test lock Eben Etzebeth is available for selection after missing the incoming series against England and Super Rugby due to injury.

The former Springbok captain has been out of action for nine months‚ after suffering shoulder nerve damage playing against Wales in Cardiff last November.

Due to problems with the nerve, his recovery hit several setbacks along the way taking far longer than expected.

Erasmus confirmed the news on Monday in Durban, where the team gathered in the build-up to the weekend’s opening Rugby Championship match against Argentina.

“Yes, Eben is available and we will be looking at starting him instead of playing him from the bench,” Erasmus said.

“We got the clearance from the specialist so he is ready to go.

“He is fit and strong and has been functional for a while, and he has been with us at Stellenbosch for a few weeks where he has been training full-on.”

Erasmus added that he will have to manage the game time of several players, especially those who have played a lot of Super Rugby this year.

“Players such as Elton Jantjies, Franco Mostert and RG Snyman have seen a lot of action and clocked a lot of playing time, so we will have to be sensible in how we manage them especially at the beginning of the campaign,” he said.

“It can mean that perhaps they would not be in the selection mix for this weekend. We are playing Argentina twice in two weeks, travelling over there next week, so we will have to factor all of those things when we look at the first two matches.”

Erasmus cautioned that Argentina will be a tough nut to crack over the next two weeks: “They have a new coach in Mario Ledesma, who will energise the team and if you look at how well the Jaguares performed this year – they were unbeaten on tour through Australasia and beat all of the South African teams – then there is no doubt that we are in for two very tough, competitive Pumas matches.”

The Springbok team to face Argentina will be names on Thursday evening (UAE time).

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