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Rugby News: Banks relishing clash with 'world class' Petaia, Scotland's Finn Russell shock, Louis Lynagh saga drags on

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17th March, 2022
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The subject of who is shaping as the Wallabies No.15 this year has been rumbling on this week, and is sure to be a huge talking point again after Friday night’s Brumbies vs. Reds clash in Canberra.

The Brumbies’ Tom Banks has started the season on fire and is considered favourite to land the role later this season should his form hold through the remainder of the campaign.

But Queensland coach Brad Thorn moved Jordie Petaia to the No.15 jersey last week at the Reds and he will stay there for the clash against the Brumbies.

Banks was full of praise for his Wallabies teammate and potential rival for a starting fullback spot when the Australians face England mid year.

The Roar experts Brett McKay and Harry Jones are joined by the Herald’s Iain Payten to discuss the No.15 battle and so much more in The Roar Rugby Podcast.

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“He’s a world class player,” Banks told reporters. “If you watched the game against the Drua, he was pretty good. So he’s obviously a massive threat.

“It’s about trying to take the ball away from him and try to take time and space away from him because we know what he can do. But not much changes in the way we’re trying to play.”

The match between the two unbeaten sides could well determine the top placed Australian team at the end of the SRP regular season, and Banks said the Brumbies were also mindful of the impact James O’Connor can have from No.10.

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“O’Connor is a massive threat,” Banks said. “He steers that team really well. If we can do a number on him we will go a long way towards winning the game.”

Banks said the battle of the back threes could prove decisive.

“You don’t want to kick them loose balls – they’ve got that really dangerous back three that all counter really well so it’s about being really smart and trying to put them under pressure in the right end of the field,” Banks said. “I’m no doubt they’ll do the same to us but it’s about trying to get on top early.”

The battle of the front three should be no less impactful, and Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has given a start to Folau Fainga’a at hooker.

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“He’s a big body, 115kg in the middle of the scrum there,” said McKellar. “His scrum work’s been really good, so we’ve picked him for that reason. He was good in the 15 minutes he played against the Tahs, really energetic, his work off the ball was excellent.

“His primary role this week is making sure we front up at set piece.”

Asked about the threat of Taniela Tuou and the Brumbies struggles in the set piece against the Reds last season, McKellar acknowledged his team faced a challenge but felt they were better prepared to meet it.

“Where our scrum is at this year we’re in much better place than where it has been in the past,” he said. “We scrummaged well for big portions of the game last year, it was just the last 20-25 minutes – the game down here we had quite a few injures and they got momentum off the back of it.”

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McKellar made four changes to his team and the Brumbies depth looks to set them apart, especially as the Reds struggle with injury concerns.

“James just controls the game really well, Taniela’s building and he’s obviously a threat at scrum time but if we do our jobs well then we should be okay,” said McKellar.

Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa is relishing his opportunity to resume the rivalry and take on a pack containing Tupou – the man he shared minutes with for the Wallabies last year.

“It’s been built over the last couple of years … we’ve got some of the best players going head to head so I think that’s awesome,”  Alaalatoa said.

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Allan Alaalatoa of the Brumbies

Allan Alaalatoa. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

“When you get the chance to think about it it still hurts a little bit (the Super Rugby AU final loss).

“We’ve got to nail our detail, channel that emotion and make sure we’re 100 per cent clear on what we’re going to do.”

He said Tupou was the Reds’ “powerhouse – someone that when he wants to turn it on, can really put pressure on.

“They’ll probably look to Nella to drive them so we need to do everything we can to stop him and guys like Harry Wilson and Jordy Petaia, just to name a few.”

Finn Russell dropped by Scotland for Ireland clash

Lions flyhalf Finn Russell hasn’t had the most commanding Six Nations so far but it is still a shock to see him as one of two players dropped for the final game against Ireland.

Coach Gregor Townsend called up the relatively inexperienced Blair Kinghorn.

Asked what Russell has done to merit being dropped, Townsend told reporters: “I’d prefer to focus on what Blair has done and how well he’s played and how he’s deserved his opportunity, which he certainly has with his performances throughout the season.

“We see this as an opportunity for Blair. He’s been in really good form. He wasn’t available for our match (in Rome) last week (due to personal reasons) but the week before that he played his best game of the season against Connacht.

“He’s come on twice off the bench and shown what he can do in that (Scotland number 10) jersey. He started (at stand-off) against Tonga and played really well and he’s built on that performance so we believe this is the right time, the right game for him to play in.”

Asked how Russell had reacted, Townsend said: “OK, yeah, fine. Like any conversation when you give someone news that they’re not starting, they’re initially disappointed but they support the team. Finn will support Blair, as he has done this week.”

Louis Lynagh saga rolls on

Louis Lynagh will have to wait to follow in the Test match footsteps of his dad Michael after being overlooked yet again for his England rugby debut by coach Eddie Jones.

Lynagh, 21-year-old son of the former Wallabies great, who has been in and around Jones’ set up for the past six months made the cut for England’s 28-man squad for the first time before Saturday’s match against France in Paris, leading to hopes he would get a first cap.

.Instead, Jones sprang a different surprise in his bid to stop France winning the Grand Slam, shifting fullback Freddie Steward to the wing and pushing George Furbank into the No.15 shirt.

After Max Malins was dropped from the squad, Lynagh looked to be in with a serious chance of wearing the number 14 jersey but Jones says that, even with the tactical shift, he’s picked what he believes is England’s strongest 23.

That leaves Lynagh still free to play for three countries – Australia, Italy and England, although the Poms are clear favourites and he should get a nod for the mid year tour down under.

Meanwhile Charlie Ewels, who was sent off just 82 seconds into the loss against Ireland has been suspended for three matches.

Damian Penaud has been brought back to play on the right wing for France in their bid to seal their first Slam since 2010.

Penaud missed the 13-9 round four victory over Wales after testing positive for COVID-19 but he’s recovered to take the place of Yoram Moefana in the only change to the starting XV for Saturday’s match.

France’s team selection has shown remarkable continuity throughout the Six Nations as 11 players have started all five matches, with all but one of the changes made in the tournament being forced by COVID.

Mack attack back

Canberra’s Mack Hansen has been restored to Ireland’s team to play Scotland.

The year-old former Brumbies winger was man of the match against Wales and scored an eye-catching try against France before being dropped for the win over England.

Not enough Chiefs

The Chiefs will be without a host of their top players for Saturday night’s Super Rugby Pacific match against Moana Pasifika in Auckland, with many of their first-choice squad unavailable.

The side will be without All Blacks Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Anton Lienert-Brown, Angus Ta’avao and Josh Lord for the match, with 17 players unavailable for selection.

Former Wallaby Christian Leali’ifano will make his first run-on start for Moana Pasifika.

Flyhalf Leali’ifano, who played 26Tests for the Wallabies between 2013 and 2019, and scrumhalf Jonathan Taumateine will form a fresh inside back combination. as the team goes into time management mode with three make up games on the horizon.

(With AAP)

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