Harry Johnson-Holmes’ hopes of playing in the winter Tests have been dashed with the Waratahs prop suffering a serious Achilles injury at camp during the week, while there was further bad news for Tahs teammate Jed Holloway.
Holloway is expected to at least miss the first Test in Perth having forced his way into contention, and he will be replaced in the squad by Ned Hanigan, initially picked for Australia A duty.
Johnson-Holmes is facing a considerable time on the sidelines with the Wallabies saying on social media: “Unfortunately, Harry Johnson-Holmes has suffered a long-term Achilles injury at training this week.”
England have one concern of their own with Jonny May testing positive for Covid, although Eddie Jones said he was still hopeful of May being available for Saturday’s Test.
Jones faced the media on Friday night and it was a benign affair, although he faced questions over his relationship with Samu Kerevi and potential conflict of interest.
The English media has seized on comments made by Kerevi that he is in constant contact with Jones through their relationship formed in Japanese club rugby.
Jones’ dual jobs as England coach and a consultant with Suntory Sungoliath has stuck in the craw of the English media, and Kerevi’s comments exposed the coach to further grilling this week.
It seems naïve to suggest that a man of Jones’ experience would be offering up state secrets to a Wallabies player, and that his dealings with Kerevi are anything other than the usual collegiate chat that exist between sports people who are both friend and occasional foe. Yet the English media keep gnawing on the bone.
“I don’t think that’s the case mate, I don’t see any contradiction,” Jones said when asked about a conflict.
“I am a rugby coach, I like to help players. I enjoy coaching players. I don’t think there is any contradiction there.”
Jones was happier when talking about Wallabies No.10 Quade Cooper.
“Quade I was lucky enough to coach in his first year out of school at the Queensland Reds, and he is a talented No.10,” said Jones.
“He plays flat to the line and is a very good pass selector, and has a clever kicking game and he has that ability to never die with the ball. He always gets the ball out of the tackle which gives them second phase, to play off that possession, which is always dangerous.”
Jones said Cooper and Kerevi’s combination suited the “Dave Rennie-style of rugby,” Jones said.
“A lot of lateral ball movement that Dave likes,” he explained. “Kerevi gives them a lot of go-forward around the end of the lineout and the middle of the field, and sometimes through the ruck.
“He has been in good form for the last two years and I think he benefited from the experience of playing with the Australian sevens, where he has come back with a new level of fitness and maybe a stronger commitment to his fitness, which has allowed him to express himself more on the field.”
Jones is protecting an 8-0 record against the team he once coached, including a clean sweep in 2016, but played down the significance of his personal domination.
“We don’t start with any advantage, it is not like the Stawell Gift where we get a 20 metre start from the opposition because of the opposition,” Jones said.
“We have had good players in the team and have been able to play a style of rugby that probably doesn’t suit Australia, and counteract their strengths.
“Australian rugby is traditionally attacking, they like to move the ball, there is a lot of lateral ball movement and we have been able to counter that. And then find ways to score points against them.”
Jones also discussed how he saw Australia using their kicking game, and tipped Freddie Steward would become a key weapon in returning ball.
“I’m sure Australia won’t be encouraging too many line-outs. Their pattern against us is that they don’t kick out,” Jones said.
‘That’ll bring Freddie into the game and I’ve never seen a young guy develop as much as he has.”
And finally, he had a rallying cry for a squad that includes 10 players from the 2016 whitewash.
“‘Australia is a place where you can become a special team. It’s a great opportunity for the players to be part of something special,” Jones said.
“We’re going to have to be really aggressive against the Aussies because they come at you. In every sporting event where the Aussies are successful, they’re coming at you.
“e’ve got to make sure we go at them which takes a lot of courage.”
England flyhalf Marcus Smith will carry a load of expectation on this tour and his combination with Owen Farrell could prove key.
Smith is likely to start at 10 with Farrell at 12 for the first Test.
The pair played together in the win over the Wallabies in November, although Farrell’s season was hit by ankle injuries.
“Owen’s a brilliant player. I loved playing with him in the autumn,” Smith told reporters.
“He’s a massive competitor and wears his heart on his sleeve. More than that, he’s got brilliant vision and skills at the line.
“We trained together a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. I’ve loved learning off him and bouncing ideas off him.
“We complement each other nicely – we both see the game pretty similarly.
“Hopefully I can be there to get the best out of him and allow him to show his skills on the park. Hopefully he can also allow me to show the best of me.
“Hopefully we can put our competitive edge together to try and get a Test series win. Both of us want to do that. We’ve spoken long and hard about it.”
Smith said he was well aware of what the England-Australia rivalry means to both sides.
“The England and Australia rivalry is obviously huge, not just in rugby but in cricket and all other sports,” Smith said.
“My dad instilled in me as a young kid that there is a lot of rivalry and confrontation in those games.
“I remember when I was younger in the Philippines, my grandparents lived in England.
“We grew up in the Philippines and my step grandad actually flew over from England to watch the Ashes.
“He watched all five Test matches in a pub called The Heckle and Jeckle in Manila. I don’t know what my dad was doing, but he was missing work to watch it too with the time zone!
“It’s been instilled in me and my two younger brothers for a long time. Mum has had to buy in as well! It’s one of those rivalries you want to be a part of.”
The All Blacks have several injury concerns ahead of their first Test against Ireland next Saturday.
The NZ Herald reports that concerns surrounding Aaron Smith’s groin and Jordie Barrett’s heavily-strapped knee at training this week could yet affect coach Ian Foster’s ability to name his preferred starting side, with both considered “touch and go.”
Barrett is reportedly more likely to feature but he and Smith will need to pass fitness tests to prove their readiness.
Meanwhile Caleb Clarke and Rieko Ioane (hamstrings) and Sam Whitelock (broken thumb) are expected to receive the all clear.
Wallabies hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa has enjoyed Top 14 title triumph in his first season in French club rugby, reports Reuters.
The former Queensland Reds rake came off the bench to play most of the match for Montpellier as they dominated Castres to win the final 29-10 at Stade de France in Paris, claiming their first top-tier domestic title.
Three tries in the opening 12 minutes set up the victory against more fancied Castres 29-10 as they provided a superb display of incisive attack and stoic defence on Friday night.
It was sweet revenge for Montpellier, who lost to the same opponents 29-13 in the 2018 decider but this time never looked like giving up the crown as their dominant first half effort laid the platform.
Wing Arthur Vincent, lock Florian Verhaeghe and fullback Anthony Bouthier all crossed for tries as the their early blitz provided the perfect send-off for retiring hooker Guilhem Guirado, the influential former France captain able to leave the game with his hands on a trophy.
Castres managed a consolation score with five minutes remaining through centre Vilimoni Botitu, but were left to rue a nervous and error-strewn start as they were bullied at the set-piece and the breakdown.
“We outperformed them massively and it was a great performance from the lads,” Montpellier number eight Zach Mercer said at the post-match presentation.
“That’s the best start we’ve had all season. The boys were passionate, every pass stuck. We were clinical. What an outstanding team this is, especially when you consider that last year they were fighting relegation.”
Castres looked shellshocked as they failed to withstand Montpellier’s onslaught and their start went from bad to worse when they lost flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta to injury inside 15 minutes.
But as woeful as Castres were, Montpellier were excellent at exploiting their opponents’ nervous beginning with slick handling and huge intensity in the collisions that set the tone.
They got the opening try when Vincent crossed in the corner after Mercer’s superb grubber kick, with their second score a sniping effort from Verhaeghe as he dived over a ruck.
Rampant Montpellier got a third from their third visit to the their opponents’ 22 as Vincent fed Bouthier with a clever reverse-pass and they led 23-3 at the break.
Castres were much improved in the second half and camped in Montpellier territory, but scrambling defence and a lack of a clinical edge meant they were kept at bay.