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Rugby News: 'Got pretty big there for a bit': Slipper's Taniela update, Fainga'a joins Force, Quade ready for Samu reunion

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28th June, 2022
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Wallabies veteran James Slipper has been sharing his training load between tight and loosehead positions and declared Taniela Tupou touch and go for the first Test.

The Wallabies are being tight-lipped about their 23 for the match in Perth on Saturday, but Tupou is considered a near certainty to miss out with his ongoing calf injury.

Slipper has played the vast majority of his Tests at loosehead but looks the back up option to Allan Alaalatoa at tighthead if Tupou is ruled out.

Slipper did give one promising update – saying Tupou would definitely play some part in the series even if he falls short this week.

James Slipper against France

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

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“I’ve been covering both sides. There’s been a few niggles in the squad, so I’ve had to make sure I know both sides, the roles, and the detail around that and just be prepared for whatever I have to do whether I play 1, or 3 or on the bench,” Slipper said on Tuesday.

“With the size of the tight heads rolling around these days – Nella, Pone and Allan – it’s the toughest position on the field. It’s a real important cog in the scrum and in the line out. In a perfect world, I’ll be playing loose head but there’s a chance I’ll be sliding across as well.”

He was forced to “slide across” last year on the spring tour as Ollie Hoskins came in as cover off the bench. Slipper said that was a “disjointed week” but this time he’s had a better chance to prepare.

“[Time] in the game definitely helps. I played a lot of the early part of my career at tighthead but that was with the old scrum laws. Slightly different but I’ve had time in the saddle there. So it does give me a bit of confidence but to make that clear, I’m a loosehead,” Slipper said.

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On Tupou, Slipper said: “He’s touch and go. He’s had what 10 weeks out, missed most of the Super Rugby trans Tasman the big fellow got pretty big there for a bit!

“He’s looking good, now. He’s been training pretty hard. And he’s just working hard on his calf. So I think he’s touch and go but he’ll definitely take part in the series at some stage.”

The Australians are aware of the importance of making a fist of the set piece against the tourists.

“It’s very hard to win a game for your country without a functioning set piece so we’ve been doing a lot of work on that,” Slipper said.

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“England back themselves in that area, so we’re going to have to be on our game to not only compete with them but try and get over them.

“It’s one thing saying it, another doing it so we’re going to have to make sure we roll up the sleeves and whoever gets given the jersey goes there and does a job.”

Slipper reflected on his Test debut against England in 2010 when he came off the bench and struggled, being party of a penalty try concession, although the Wallabies ground out a win.

He shrugged off suggestions this was a revenge mission for that day.

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“It’s not about proving them wrong. It’s about the way we want to play the game,” Slipper said.

“We talk internally about what’s important for us. At no stage do I make it personal. That debut was a long time ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.

“It wasn’t a great night for me that night. So it’s one to park. It’s irrelevant what other people say it’s, what happens out in the field, and the team that has a strong set-piece, goes a long way to winning the game.

“The backs can carry on as much as they like about how much they’ve scored tries but it’s pretty tough to score tries off a set piece that isn’t working or functioning. Every team in the world knows that, it’s just a matter of going out there and delivering it.”

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England have won the past eight matches against Australia, a stat that Slipper said was hard to explain.

“We were really disappointed with our performance last year on the spring tour and the amount of mistakes we did,” Slipper said.

“Our set piece wasn’t great, they really put us under a lot of pressure. Since the 2015 World Cup, we’ve just missed the jump on them. They beat us in the collision area. They beat us in the discipline game. They’ve got a fair few sharpshooters who can score threes and really get the scoreboard ticking.

“I think, the complete game we probably haven’t nailed against England in the last five or six years. And what it does, is it sets up a really good series.”

Fainga’a leaves Brumbies for Force

Wallabies hooker Folau Fainga’a has confirmed his move from the Brumbies to the Force, signing with the Super Rugby club and Rugby Australia until the end of 2024.

Fainga’a has 25 Test caps since his debut in 2018 and was a member of the 2019 Rugby World Cup team.

“I’m super excited to re-sign with Australian Rugby and to join the Western Force from next year,” the 27-year-old said in a statement.

Folau Fainga'a of the Wallabies charges

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

“They’re a team that from the outside, looks to be heading in a really positive direction and I’m looking forward to working with the coaching staff over there in 2023.

“Right now though my focus is here with the Wallabies and preparing for what’s going to be a really tough series against England which kicks off this weekend.”

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said: “Folau’s re-commitment to Australian Rugby is a positive one.

“A strong scrummager and excellent thrower, Folau’s been a consistent feature of our team over the last two seasons.

“He’s a popular member of the squad and the most experienced rake in the country which makes him an important part of our group moving forward.”

Bobby braced for battle

Rob Valetini is expected to start against England in Perth on Saturday, but in what position will come down to Dave Rennie’s call on his forward balance.

For what it’s worth Valetini suggests he slightly prefers No.6, where he excelled for the Brumbies this season.

Rennie seems to have two major options – Rob Leota at 6 and Valetini at 8, or Harry Wilson at the back of the scrum and Valetini at blindside flanker.

“I don’t really have a preference. I guess I play different roles,” Valetini told reporters. “At Brums, I’m pretty happy with where I am at 6 and getting the ball second phase.”

Regardless of where he plays, Valetini knows set piece dominance will be key in the series and he’s confident in the Wallabies’ pack power.

“I think for us it’s a part of our Wallabies DNA,” Valetini said.

“We’ve talked about it the last couple of weeks during our camp that we want to win that physical battle and it goes a long way to winning the game, so I guess going into this series we need to be physical and we know that if we win that physical battle it will go a long way to winning the series.”

He said the pack had been focussed on “things we can control. Mostly set-piece, through lineout and scrums. I guess, just trying to be physically there through our forwards, eight v eight and deliver good ball to our backs.”

There are 15 Brumbies in the Wallabies squad and coach Dan McKellar is on board fulltime, and a titanic battle is shaping against a powerful England forward group.

“We know they have a good set piece and flourish off the back of that so, for us, it’s about manning up there, especially in scrums and lineouts and with the maul as well,” Valetini said.

Cooper heading back to Japan

Quade Cooper says his immediate plan is to remain in Japanese rugby, but he’s excited to be back with the Wallabies and set to resume his partnership with damaging centre Samu Kerevi.

“At this stage, Japan is where I’ll be. I haven’t had any conversations otherwise. I’m looking forward to the opportunity with my club, we won the promotion-relegation games, so we’re going up to div one this year, so that will be an exciting challenge,” said Cooper.

“It’s been a challenging few years for us to be able to get up there, with Covid and things like that. With our competition, where there’s a promotion-relegation, it meant quite a lot to everyone involved with our club to finally get back to division one and they have a plan for the next four years to be able to compete for the div one title.”

He said he wasn’t sure when his contract expires but believes it to be early next year.

Quade Cooper in Wallabies camp 2022 (Andrew Phan/Wallabies media)

Quade Cooper in Wallabies camp (Andrew Phan/Wallabies media)

As for reuniting with Kerevi, Cooper said: “It’s going to be exciting if we get the opportunity to play together again.

“It was great building that partnership last season. But, again, there’s players who are in some red hot form between the guys who play in Australia and us boys who play in Japan.

“I know the last week everything’s been quite hotly contested, coaches are keeping everyone on their toes by swapping and changing the bibs and who is matched with what person.

“When the team’s announced, everybody’s hoping that your name is called out. But, in saying that, we’re all about upholding each other and pushing each other to be the best we can so we have the best opportunity. There’s no guarantees in any of this, so we’ve just got to do the best that we can to make sure we’re prepared no matter whose name is called.”

Cooper, who spoke about his relationship, forged on Instagram with England young gun Marcus Smith, expects the return of Owen Farrell at No.12 for England to take pressure off the youngster.

“It  shouldn’t change the way he operates too much,” said Cooper. “They’re both extremely talented players. Having a guy like Owen Farrell outside Marcus would take a lot of pressure off him in terms of game-calling.

“Being his eyes and ears and the way we call, we have a first five-eighth and second five-eighth, having those two who are genuine No.10s being able to operate together, it makes for a difficult task of trying to work out where the main ball-playing source is going to come from. They’ll work it out, so we’ll try to work it out ourselves.”

Fiji gold medal winner swaps rugby for football

Brentford have appointed former England and Fiji rugby sevens coach Ben Ryan to a new role of director of elite performance at the club.

Former Nottingham halfback Ryan, 50, who guided Fiji to Olympic sevens gold at Rio 2016, will work alongside head coach Thomas Frank.

Brentford director of football Phil Giles told the club’s official website: “Director of elite performance is a role I think will help us reach even higher levels of performance across both players and staff.

“After a thorough recruitment process, Ben emerged as the outstanding candidate.

“He brings huge experience of how to reach elite level across a range of sports and has a coaching background which will help him work effectively with Thomas.”

Ryan, who studied at Cambridge and Loughborough universities, was head coach of England Sevens for six years before taking up the same role with Fiji when rugby sevens was introduced to the Olympics for the first time in Rio.

He was also awarded the highest honour in Fiji – Companion of the Order of Fiji – for his role in helping the country win their first-ever Olympic medal and his face also appears on coins and bank notes in the South Pacific archipelago.

Spain decision upheld

Spain’s appeal against their disqualification from next year’s Rugby World Cup in France for fielding an ineligible player during the 2021-22 Rugby Europe Championship has been dismissed.

“The Independent Appeal Committee reviewed the original decision of the Independent Judicial Committee based on the evidence that was before it,” World Rugby said in a statement.

“Having considered detailed submissions from the Spanish Union and World Rugby, the Independent Appeal Committee dismissed the appeal.

The committee said that with respect to World Cup qualification, the 10-point deduction applied to the European qualification table by the Independent Judicial Committee stands, meaning Romania qualify as Europe 2 into Pool B replacing Spain.

Portugal replaces Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament in November 2022.

The Spanish Rugby Federation’s (FER) board of directors said in April that three members of Alcobendas Rugby Club falsified a copy of the passport belonging to Gavin Van den Berg, who is of South African origin, in order to make him eligible to play.

Spain secured a World Cup berth for the first time since 1999 after finishing second in the Rugby Europe Championship (REP) but were disqualified from next year’s tournament in France for fielding Van den Berg in two matches in the qualifiers.

World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, launched an investigation after a complaint about Van den Berg’s eligibility was filed by Romania, who had missed out on automatic qualification after finishing just behind Spain.

FER vice president Jose Maria Epalza said Romania had handed World Rugby a photograph of Van den Berg at a wedding in South Africa in 2019 two weeks before he had supposedly left for Spain, according to the date in the copy of the player’s passport supplied to the federation.

In order to be eligible, Van den Berg would have needed to spend 36 months residing in Spain, including at least 10 months in each year.

Van den Berg, however, had spent more than two months out of Spain in 2019. He has not commented on the allegations but an independent judicial committee said his travel stamps had been tampered with without the knowledge of Spain or the player.

(With AAP)

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