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Rugby News: Suli setback for Reds, All Blacks rotation boost for Aussies, Moody's blues, Latu link to Tahs

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28th April, 2022
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Queensland Reds winger Suliasi Vunivalu has suffered another setback in his return to rugby, having been ruled out of their match against Chiefs on Friday.

Coach Brad Thorn confirmed Vunivalu would be replaced by Filipo Daugunu in the starting lineup with Floyd Aubrey in line to make his debut from bench.

The club has been smashed by injuries in recent weeks with Jordan Petaia considered not fit enough to return with a hamstring issue, and James O’Connor out for the next month.

Vunivalu, a former Melbourne Storm NRL star, has suffered significant time on the sidelines with injury and only returned to action two weeks ago. He was poor last weekend and succumbed to hamstring issues agai.

Thorn said they had no choice but to be cautious.

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“He has some tightness in his hamstring so we’re just making sure he’s in a good space with that,” Thorn told reporters.

“He was a short week (after playing on Saturday … better to be safe than sorry.

“We were looking to play him but (he felt) a little bit of tightness, so we’ve got to be smart about these things.”

News Corp reported Thursday that Vunivalu was the latest Super Rugby star to be on the radar of clubs in Japan and floated the idea that he could even play against the Wallabies for Fiji at the next World Cup.

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Injuries have so far wrecked his chances of representing the Wallabies meaning his international eligibiity is still open.

It is a massive moment in the career of Aubrey, a high school star from Murgon in Queensland who went to boarding school at Marist College Ashgrove and knocked back offers from NRL clubs to stay in the Reds pathway.

He played with the Ashgrove-based GPS club and reportedly pursued a plumbing apprenticeship while training and playing in the Reds academy system.

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All change for NZ teams

All Blacks rotation has thrown up some interesting selections for the Kiwi teams’ Super Rugby Pacific battles against their Australian rivals this weekend and the Waratahs look to be a clear beneficiary.

The Crusaders are resting All Blacks No.10 Richie Mo’unga along with fellow Test players Ethan Blackadder, Braydon Ennor and George Bridge. The Crusaders have the depth to make up for the losses, however with Will Jordan and David Havili returning to the side that swamped the Rebels in the second half last weekend.

Mo’unga’s situation is intriguing, having sat out the opening two rounds of the season already.

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The Blues are also affected with All Blacks Rieko Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu, Nepo Laulala and loose forward Tom Robinson heading home on rest duty, but the loss of those is more than made up by the return of Akira Ioane for his first appearance of the season and of Caleb Clarke after his three week suspension.

Akira Ioane returns at blindside flanker with the Blues on an eight game winning streak – the first time they’ve done that since 1997.

“It’s great to have him back. When you see him on the field he’s a real presence,” coach Leon MacDonald said. “He’s a great athlete, he’s moving really well and excited about getting back on the grass. It’s added some confidence to the team.

“He’s a proven performer. Last year we saw some performances from him that were game changing. Him at his best is as good as you can get in terms of his ball carries and defensive work. He’s also a leader in his own way. He’s a big part of the culture of the team so to have him back out there is huge for us.”

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Also boosting the Blues for their match against the Force are captain Dalton Papalii, halfback Finlay Christie, front-rowers Kurt Eklund, Ofa Tuungafasi, Alex Hodgman, Luke Romano, Bryce Heem and Zarn Sullivan.

Special guestGreg Clark joins The Roar experts Harry Jones and Brett McKay to discuss Fijian Drua’s first season in Super Rugby. Stream here or in your podcast app of choice

Clarke, in particular, can’t wait to rip in.

“He’s done his time tough. He’s hated watching,” MacDonald said of Clarke. “Every day he’s been counting down to being available again so he’s pretty excited about playing this weekend.”

MacDonald defended the rotation policy.

“It’s always the challenge,” said MacDonald. “The simple answer is you can’t play the same 23 for 18 weeks in a row. It just doesn’t work like that. We’ve got All Blacks rests we have to get in so we’re trying to balance that and get cohesion but it’s also a good thing for us. As the season goes on you need players who are game ready if we get injuries.”

Moody blues

Veteran All Blacks loosehead prop Joe Moody has been ruled out for the rest of the year placing his international future in considerable doubt.

Moody ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in the Crusaders’ loss to the Blues two weekends ago and the prognosis was confirmed by the club on Thursday.

The 33-year-old spent most of last Test season sidelined with plantar fasciitis and it will require a massive effort to comeback from surgery in time to make 2023 World Cup contention.

Last year Ian Foster picked George Bower, Ethan de Groot, Karl Tu’inukuafe as specialist looseheads during the extended of Australia, the United States and Europe and they are the likely candidates for the Ireland Tests.

Moana Pasifika seeking Force forfeit

Moana Pasifika’s CEO has refused to rule out seeking a forfeit from the Force after being left high and dry last weekend.

The team only learned on their arrival into Melbourne that the Force, with 25 players and staff affected by Covid, couldn’t field a team for the game.

The last-placed newcomers have been disproportionately hit by the virus – with four games affected and a stretch of six games in three weeks earlier this season.

Pelenato Sakalia told the Sydney Morning Herald he was in no rush to lock in a new date for the round 10 match. The Herald said “Sakalia did not rule out pushing for a forfeit from the Force, which is used in the UK Premiership and in other sports.”

“There is plenty of time in coming weeks for myself, SANZAAR, New Zealand Rugby and the Force to work through what are our options. Yes, rescheduling is an option people have put on the table,” he said.

The Roar Rugby podcast will return on Friday with a special edition talking to Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Maugher and two of the team’s stars.

Tolu Latu to Tahs?

There has been speculation in France that controversial Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu is about to sign for the Waratahs after his latest indiscretions in Europe.

The French report was unsourced and contained few concrete details, and a Latu return to the Tahs seems an obvious link to make.

It will be intriguing to see Darren Coleman’s view on a player ripped apart by the owner of his current club after receiving an 11-week ban this month.

Stade Francais owner Hans-Peter Wild told L’Equipe that Latu is still struggling with alcohol issues.

“We talk about discipline and Latu is still sent off against Racing,” he said.

“Latu is a problem… mostly an extra-sporting problem with alcohol. You have to admit it, otherwise you will never solve the problem.

“Latu spends more time off the field than on it and, with regard to young people, it is not a good example.

“He has to heal himself, reorganise his life. We can help him, but as with any addiction, Latu is like an elephant in your living room. To solve the problem, you have to take out the elephant and not take out the objects that break.”

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