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Rugby News: JOC expected to miss Super finals, 'human mullet' Dolly out of England tour, Izzy Folau relegation threat

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23rd May, 2022
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Injured playmaker James O’Connor is expected to be sidelined for a month, ruling him out of Queensland’s Super Rugby Pacific finals campaign and racing the clock for the Wallabies Test series against England.

O’Connor was on Monday diagnosed with a low grade hamstring tear after suffering the injury during the second half of the Reds’ 34-22 victory over the last-placed Moana Pasifika on Friday night.

The 30-year-old had only returned the week previously from a knee injury with his absence keenly felt by the Reds, whose season went off track with a four-game losing streak.

The undermanned Queensland now face an even tougher prospect to travel to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders in the final round clash on Friday night.

Sitting seventh, they may also meet the Crusaders at Orangetheory Stadium again in the quarter-finals the following weekend.

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Another scenario would see the Reds take on the Brumbies in Canberra in week one of the play-offs.

Queensland say O’Connor is an outside chance to return for the semi-finals or final should they make it that far. 

The Reds have battled a torrid injury toll with fellow Wallabies stars Hunter Paisami and tighthead prop Taniela Tupou in the casualty ward.

Centre Josh Flook dislocated his shoulder against Moana Pasifika.

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Loose forwards Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight as well as cross-code winger Suliasi Vunivalu have also spent time on the sidelines.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who was in the stands at Suncorp, will name his 36-player squad in two weeks.

Brumbies five-eighth Noah Lolesio, who himself has battled some injuries, is healthy again and has found form to help steer his third-placed team into the finals.

He and Quade Cooper will likely vie to wear the Wallabies No.10 jersey in the opening Test against England on July 2 in Perth if O’Connor is unable to prove his fitness.

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Dolly suffers blow

Australian-born Nic Dolly’s hopes of lining up for England against the Wallabies in July have been dashed with the hooker suffering a serious knee injury.

The 22-year-old was last month included in Eddie Jones’s pre-tour training squad after earning an international debut against South Africa last November.

Born and raised in Sydney’s north, Dolly made some junior representative teams but his pathway to Super Rugby appeared to have stalled.

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On a visit to his English grandparents he turned out in club rugby in a bid to keep fit and was then recruited by Sale, before joining Leicester last year where he caught the eye of Jones.

Dubbed the ‘human mullet’ for his long blond locks, Dolly said he hadn’t previously had aspirations of playing for England despite his grandfather being “rugby mad”.

“I never had aspirations, when I was younger,” Dolly told reporters last year.

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“I didn’t really see a professional pathway in Australia … the choice was made for me in a sense.

“I had nothing really to go back to in terms of rugby back in Australia and so the obvious decision was to repay the country that have given me the opportunity.”

But his plans for a homecoming in England’s three-Tests series in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney were wrecked after he was stretchered off during Leicester’s win over Newcastle.

Dolly’s left knee folded into the turf when he was body-rolled off the ball by Falcons prop Adam Brocklebank, who was sin-binned.

While Leicester awaited the results of scans, the England Rugby Football Union released a statement replacing Dolly in the squad, which went into three-day camp to begin tour preparations.

“Nic Dolly (knee) and Lewis Ludlam (thumb) were injured in their club matches this weekend while Joe Launchbury is taking some time to recover from knocks received in recent games,” the RFU said.

“Bath’s Ewan Richards has been called up for his first involvement in a senior men’s camp, along with Saracens’ Nick Isiekwe and Gloucester’s Jack Singleton.”

Wallabies stars in Japan finale

The Australian influence on Japan Rugby League One has manifested itself on the inaugural final, with Samu Kerevi’s Suntory Sungoliath set to meet the Robbie Deans-coached Saitama Wild Knights next Sunday.

Suntory reversed a 27-3 loss to the same opponent three weeks ago to fend off Toshiba Brave Lupus 30-24 on Saturday while Saitama had too many guns for Bernard Foley’s Kubota Spears in Sunday’s semi-final, coasting home 24-10.

The results mean the arch-rivals will reprise last year’s Top League final, which the Wild Knights won 31-26, to tie Suntory on five titles apiece from the 20-year duration of that competition.

Joining Kerevi on the Suntory playing staff is the former Queensland Reds’ lock Harry Hockings.

Deans, who coached the Wallabies to the No.2 ranking for the bulk of his six-year tenure in charge, is surrounded by Australian-born or Australian-schooled players on the Saitama roster.

As well as Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete who joined this year, and veteran former Wallaby lock Dan Heenan, the Australian-schooled Japanese Test trio of loose forwards Jack Cornelsen and Ben Gunter and centre Dylan Riley are also at the club.

So too is imposing former Melbourne Rebels junior Esei Ha’angana, who starred in Sunday’s win after gaining a rare start in the absence of English test lock George Kruis.

The semi-final represented an incredible 31st on-field success in a row for Deans’ men, a run that dates to the 2019 qualifying series.

This includes a convincing 34-17 win over Suntory during the qualifying round.

Should the Wild Knights take next weekend’s final, it would represent the fifth title of Deans’ association with the club, matching the number achieved by Super Rugby’s most successful coach during his nine seasons leading the Crusaders.

Standing in the way is a Suntory outfit that showed its mettle to hold Toshiba scoreless for the final 20 minutes, after some trickery from All Black utility back Damien McKenzie had helped establish a six-point lead.

The Brave Lupus were simply unable to deny McKenzie the time and space to limit his impact on the game, a mistake that won’t have gone unnoticed by the Wild Knights.

Meanwhile Israel Folau is facing possible relegation in his debut season in Japan after NTT Communications lost the first leg of its promotion/relegation playoff on Saturday.

The Shining Arcs, who are coached by the former NSW Waratahs boss Rob Penney, must make up an eight-point deficit in next week’s second leg after falling 33-25 to the Mitsubishi Dynaboars.

The other promotion/relegation match saw NEC’s director of rugby, former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, gain his first on-field win as the Green Rockets overpowered Honda Heat 33-10, to take a commanding advantage into the return game.

The winners of the promotion series will join Quade Cooper and Will Genia’s Kintetsu Liners in the top division next year after Kintetsu gained automatic promotion by winning the second-tier title.

© AAP

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