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Consistency in Springbok selection for Pumas clash

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Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made only two changes to his starting team for Saturday’s final round Castle Lager Rugby Championship Test against Argentina at Hollywoodbets Kings Park in Durban, while he also opted to name six forwards and two backs on the replacements bench.

Experienced utility back Frans Steyn will start at flyhalf in place of the injured Damian Willemse, while Pieter Steph du Toit returns to the starting lineup at flanker in place of Franco Mostert, who will provide an impact off the bench.

The notable changes amongst the replacements are the return of hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who makes a welcome return from a knee injury, and Kurt-Lee Arendse, who has completed his suspension following a dangerous tackle last month.

Mbonambi will be joined by strong reinforcements in Vincent Koch (prop) and Duane Vermeulen (No 8), who join Mostert and Kwagga Smith as the forwards on the bench.

Faf de Klerk and Arendse, meanwhile, will provide cover amongst the backs, with De Klerk earmarked as the back-up scrumhalf and flyhalf cover, while Arendse will cover fullback and wing depending on how the match unfolds.

Frans Steyn will start at flyhalf in place of the injured Damian Willemse.

Frans Steyn will start at flyhalf in place of the injured Damian Willemse.

The Springboks are currently level on 14 log points with New Zealand on the Castle Lager Rugby Championship log and trail the All Blacks by 13 points on points’ difference. The Boks, however, will know exactly what they need to do in the match to clinch the title when they take the field as the All Blacks will host Australia in Auckland earlier in the day.

“We showed in the first half last week what we are capable of and our fighting spirit in the dying minutes was admirable,” said Nienaber.

“That made it easy for us to opt for continuity in selection in the starting lineup. Obviously the one change was injury enforced as Damian Willemse has been ruled out due to concussion, and we were pleased the calmness Frans Steyn brought at flyhalf when Damian left the field.

“The energy and enthusiasm Pieter-Steph has been showing at training has also been great, and we know what he is capable of in this loose trio, so I am sure he will make an impact among the loose forwards.”

Bongi Mbonambi has recovered from injury and is back in the Boks' match-23.

Bongi Mbonambi has recovered from injury and is back in the Boks’ match-23.

Of the decision to name a split of six forwards and two backs on the bench, Nienaber said: “We know what challenges Argentina will pose and we feel that this would be the best option for us for this match specifically.

“We have a group of hungry and talented players serving in the bomb squad this week and every player in the match day squad knows what is expected of them if we want to win the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.”

With the match essentially a final, Nienaber admitted that his team were ready for an epic battle, especially with Argentina and Australia also still in the title race depending on the outcome of the two matches.

“We viewed last week as a semi-final and this week as a final, but Argentina are a team that do not give an inch, and they never stop fighting as we saw last week,” said Nienaber.

“They defeated New Zealand away from home against the odds and they registered a convincing victory against Australia at home, so we know we are in for a massive battle.

Kurt-Lee Arendse is back from suspension.

Kurt-Lee Arendse is back from suspension.

“There will be a few keys to victory this week, and these include set piece dominance, using our opportunities and ensuring that we do the right things in specific areas of the field.

“It is all or nothing for us this week, and we have a team with several players who have won the Rugby World Cup and the British & Irish Lions Series, so they know it will take nothing less than a quality 80-minute effort to win this match and the competition.”

Nienaber expected another bruising battle against Los Pumas and said: “They are one of the teams whose patriotism radiates in their performances. They are strong in the set pieces and have talented backs and they will challenge us in every department.

“They also never give up, as they showed in the second half last week to bounce back from 22-6 down to 22-20, and they will draw a lot of confidence from that going into this match.

“This is a massive game for both teams, so we need to be switched on mentally and physically from start to end of the match.”

Vincent Koch will again provide cover off the bench.

Vincent Koch will again provide cover off the bench.

Springbok team to face Argentina in Durban:

15 – Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz) – 78 caps, 65 pts (13t)
14 – Canan Moodie (Vodacom Bulls) – 2 caps, 5pts (1t)
13 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 55 caps, 60 pts (12t)
12 – Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) – 65 caps, 45 pts, (9t)
11 – Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks) – 32 caps, 110 pts (22t)
10 – Frans Steyn (Toyota Cheetahs) – 77 caps, 156 pts (11t, 10c, 24p, 3d)
9 – Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks) – 9 caps, 10 pts (2t)

8 – Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers) – 17 caps, 0 pts
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) – 63 caps, 15 pts (3t)
6 – Siya Kolisi (captain, Cell C Sharks) – 70 caps, 35 pts (7t)
5 – Lood de Jager (Wild Knights) – 63 caps, 25 pts (5t)
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks) – 105 caps, 15 pts (3t)
3 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 53 caps, 5 pts (1t)
2 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 54 caps, 65 pts (13t)
1 – Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers) – 66 caps, 5 pts (1t)

Replacements:

16 – Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks) – 51 caps, 55 pts (11t)
17 – Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks) – 14 caps, 0 pts
18 – Vincent Koch (Wasps) – 36 caps, 0 pts
19 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 58 caps, 10 pts (2t)
20 – Duane Vermeulen (Ulster) – 64 caps, 15 pts (3t)
21 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 26 caps, 15 pts (3t)
22 – Faf de Klerk (Yokohama Canon Eagles) – 41 caps, 25 pts (5t)
23 – Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls) – 2 caps, 5 pts (1t)

STATS & FACTS

Springbok record against Argentina in South Africa:
Played 15, Won 14, Lost 1; Points for 550, Points against 272, Average score 37-17; Tries scored 65, Tries conceded 25; Highest score 73, Biggest win 60 pts (73-13), Win % 93%

Springbok record at Hollywoodbets Kings Park (overall):
Played 34, Won 21, Lost 10, Drawn 3; Points for 835; Points against 601; Tries for 87; Tries against: 59.

Springbok team records at Hollywoodbets Kings Park:
Biggest win: 101-0 v Italy on 19 June 1999
Most tries: 15 v Italy on 19 June 1999
Most conversions: 13 v Italy on 19 June 1999
Most penalty goals: 8 v New Zealand on 1 August 2009
Most drop goals: 3 v South America on 3 May 1980 and v Ireland on 6 June 1981

Milestones:

  • Eben Etzebeth will extend his run as the most capped Springbok player against Argentina with this match marking his 19th Test against Los Pumas from 2012 to 2022.
  • Following his two tries last weekend, Malcolm Marx is now the Springbok hooker with the most Test tries – 13. Bongi Mbonambi is second on the list with 11 Test tries.

Miscellaneous:

  • The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 809.
  • There are 318 caps in the backline with 491 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 292
  • The average caps per player in the backline are 46, the forwards 59, while the players on the bench average 36.

Content & Images from – South Africa Rugby


International

Mercer joins Barbarians line-up for Killik Cup clash this summer

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Mercer, 26, joins England’s most-capped men’s player Ben Youngs on the list of names already confirmed to play for the BaaBaas in the showpiece event at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday 22 June (kick-off: 5.15pm).

The Barbarians – led by Kiwi coach Robbie Deans – will face off against the Flying Fijians with the Killik Cup on the line, with tickets on sale now from TicketmasterTicketek or the RFU starting from £55 for Adults and £28 for Under-16s*.

Tickets for the event also include entry to the Qatar Airways Cup showdown between South Africa and Wales, with the two international heavyweights going toe-to-toe at 2.00pm, ahead of Barbarians vs Fiji.

Mercer began his career with Bath Rugby and was nominated for World Rugby Junior Player of the Year in 2017 after captaining England to an U20 Six Nations Grand Slam and the World Rugby U20 Championship final. 

He enjoyed two years filled with success in France following a move to Montpellier Hérault, where he won the Top 14 title and was named the league’s Player of the Year in 2022.

The explosive No.8 returned to England and the Premiership with Gloucester Rugby in the summer of 2023, and despite a two-month spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury, Mercer’s performances for the Cherry & Whites have continued to catch the eye – most recently delivering a man-of-the-match display against Exeter Chiefs to send Gloucester into the Premiership Rugby Cup final.

Mercer is relishing the prospect of another appearance in Barbarians colours this summer, and expects the sparks to fly against Fiji with both sides set on winning while also entertaining a bumper Twickenham crowd.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be involved with the Barbarians again this summer,” he said. “I loved the opportunity to represent the BaaBaas in November 2022 against the All Blacks XV; it was incredibly special to pull on that jersey for the first time and we were on the right end of the result as well.

“Moments and memories like that are the reason you play rugby, so it’s really exciting for me to play again this summer in what should be a brilliant match against Fiji.

“I think it will be two very similar outfits going head-to-head, two teams that want to play fast, exciting rugby.

“The Fijians were one of the best teams to watch at the recent Rugby World Cup, certainly the most-improved team there, and they’re going to want to come to Twickenham and put on a show once again.

“It’s going to be a great battle between the BaaBaas and Fiji on the day, so I’d definitely encourage rugby fans to get down there on June 22 to watch the games. With South Africa vs Wales on ahead of us as well, it should be an unmissable afternoon of rugby.”

This will be Mercer’s second time representing the BaaBaas following the Gloucester No.8’s Player-of-the-Match showing in the 35-31 Killik Cup victory over the All Blacks XV in November 2022, while he has also played against the Club on two occasions – for England in May 2018, and for Gloucester in October 2023.

Mercer added: “Everyone remembers what happens in the Barbarians’ matches, but the week beforehand is just as special as well. It’s all about getting to know each other as a group of players, creating bonds with different individuals who you haven’t played with before.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to Twickenham again – I’ve played there a few times now, but the stadium still has the same aura for me and every time you get to run out there is a privilege.

“Last time with the BaaBaas was at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, this time obviously it’s Twickenham, and being involved at venues of that calibre just goes to show what big occasions these matches are.

“BaaBaas matches are great learning opportunities as well. You’re training with some of the best players in the world, and all the coaches are world class. I had the pleasure of working with Scott Robertson and Ronan O’Gara last time – two of the very best in the business – and to work with Robbie Deans on this one is amazing, so I am really excited for that opportunity.”

General admission tickets are on now – visit TicketmasterTicketek or RFU to secure your seat.

Each ticket will cover entry for both South Africa vs Wales (K.O. 2pm) and Barbarians vs Fiji (K.O. 5.15pm) on Saturday 22 June, starting from just £55* for Adults and £28* for Under-16s. For a 10% discount on groups of 10 or more, please visitwww.eticketing.co.uk/rfu/events.

Hospitality packages are also available now, starting from £179 per person – visit www.twickenhamstadium.com to purchase now. 

*booking fees apply

Content & Images from – Barbarians Rugby


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6 Nations

Keenan’s Injury Rehab ‘Progressing Well’ As Ireland Squad Link Back Up Together

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Hugo Keenan was always confident that Ciaran Frawley would perform well against Wales last week, with the Skerries man marking his first start for Ireland by running in the hosts’ third try of the game.

Frawley deputised at full-back as Andy Farrell’s men made it three bonus point wins on the trot to extend their lead at the top of the Guinness Men’s Six Nations table to six points. Calcutta Cup winners Scotland are now their closest challengers.

It was a rare match for Keenan to miss, and such has been the ever-dependable Dubliner’s importance to the team during Andy Farrell’s reign, he has started 38 of their last 43 Tests. Only Jimmy O’Brien, Michael Lowry, and now Frawley, have stood in for him during that time.

Currently rehabbing the knee injury that he picked up against Italy, and with his sights set on returning against England on Saturday week, Keenan is hopeful of being available for selection for the trip to Twickenham.

“That’s the plan, hoping to get back for England. I was sad not to be out there at the weekend. Always tough watching from the stand, but rehab’s progressing well,” he said, speaking at an event to promote Energia’s #HalfAFan campaign.

“I’ve been worked hard. I’ve been in rehabbing the last day or two as well while the rest of the squad’s been off, so it’s always the annoying side of it, you don’t really get your days off.

“I’m happy with how it’s coming along, and progressing well. No (contact training), not fully quite there but we haven’t been in this week.

“We’re linking back up together tomorrow (Wednesday), we are going to be based in Energia (Park), then we’ve got the open training session (at the Aviva Stadium) on Thursday. Not too far off getting fully involved, so looking forward to being back.”

It is easy to forget that Keenan won four of his first six international caps on the wing, towards the tail end of 2020 and those uncertain Covid-19 times. Since then he has very much cemented himself as Ireland’s first choice full-back, and one of the best in the position worldwide.

Having been ever-present during last year’s Grand Slam-winning campaign and the Rugby World Cup, the 27-year-old is itching to get back to full fitness and ensure that it is only one game he has to sit out.

Commenting on the timeframe for his recovery, he explained: “I suppose the injury happened in the Italy game and four weeks from that would be the England game. I was trying to get back for the Wales match. It was just a week or two too early.

We sort of treated it – since we’ve known I’d be out – as a four-week injury. There was no point rushing me straight back into something I’m not ready for.

“So, I’m hoping to build up the load over the next 10 or so days leading up to it to get right for that one. You don’t enjoy the time on the sideline but hopefully it will be a case where I just miss one.

“It wouldn’t have been the worst timing because maybe sometimes a four-week injury in the middle of a Six Nations you miss three games rather than just one. Hopefully I’m getting lucky with that.”

Reflecting on how he sustained the injury, Keenan fell awkwardly in a 52nd-minute tackle from Italy replacement Giosuè Zilocchi. Just moments earlier, he had spearheaded a breathless attack from deep, breaking onto Craig Casey’s chip kick and bringing play close to the Italian 22.

“I saw him (Zilocchi) coming out of the corner of my eye, so I managed to get my legs off the ground, which meant a lot of the impact was taken, so it was nothing too serious.

“I tried to shake it off, but it probably wasn’t one I could have. We were in a comfortable position at that stage as well.

“You always are a small bit nervous, but we’ve got great doctors and great physios. They cleared my knee for a large part going into it (the scan), so I was pretty confident it was something pretty minor. I was reassured soon enough so it was all good.”

Frawley’s 80 minutes against Wales – ‘solid enough’ according to head coach Farrell – will certainly help to build more depth at full-back.

Jack Crowley got some game-time in the position against Italy, while of Ireland’s extended Six Nations squad, Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale have also had international starts at full-back.

Mack Hansen (shoulder) and O’Brien (neck) will add to those back-field options on their return from injury later in the year. In the meantime, Keenan praised his Leinster colleague for his performance last Saturday, but would understandably rather be out there himself as Ireland’s last line of defence.

“I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t been in that situation (sidelined for match week) too many times. I’ve had a good run of injuries.

“It’s something I don’t enjoy too much, I get nervous, I get worried. You can’t control anything when you’re on the side of the pitch, while when you’re in amongst it you’re distracted more, you’re just focused on the challenge in front of you.

“I thought Frawls went very well, didn’t he? It was great to see it. I don’t think anyone had any doubts about him, he’s an incredible footballer. We’ve all seen it for Leinster, and the small bits that he’s got a chance with a green jersey as well.

“He’s got a bit more time at 15, and I think there were probably a few question marks around who would play there with Jimmy and Mack out, but we were all very confident in him.

“It was great for him to get settled in early and get a try as well. I was delighted for him,” he added.

Energia ambassador Hugo Keenan was speaking as part of Energia’s #HalfAFan campaign. As proud partner of the Ireland Men’s and Women’s rugby teams, Energia understands that being a partner to both teams means showing support for both – so don’t just be #HalfAFan.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

‘It’s A Great Appointment’ – Farrell On Murphy’s Move To Ulster

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With Dan McFarland stepping down as Ulster head coach this week, it has been confirmed that Murphy will take over the role on an interim basis following the conclusion of the Under-20 Six Nations Championship.

The Ireland Under-20s are in title contention again thanks to two opening wins, with Murphy having overseen back-to-back U-20 Grand Slam successes and a World Rugby U-20 Championship final appearance in the last two seasons.

Farrell first worked alongside Murphy when they were defence coach and skills and kicking coach respectively, during Joe Schmidt’s coaching reign with Ireland.

The pair have kept up a strong connection with Murphy continuing for a short while as a specialist kicking resource for the senior squad, and the Under-20s often training with Farrell’s men during the Six Nations window.

“I think it’s a great appointment. I think Richie will do a fantastic job (at Ulster), his rugby knowledge is second to none,” commented Farrell.

“He is a very experienced guy that has been an assistant for quite some time and I know that he worked with us for a short period before we went to the Under-20s, but that was his next step to take that type of mantle on and do it his way.

He has certainly done a fantastic job. I mean, coaching the Under-20s is coaching in its purest form, it’s bloody difficult because of the swapping and changing the whole time each year.

“It shows exactly the quality that he’s got and his knowledge of the whole game. I think the players up at Ulster there will love him.

“His attitude is great but first and foremost I think they will respect his knowledge, definitely.”

McFarland was in charge of Ulster since 2018 and guided them to the PRO14 final two years later. They looked to be finding form again with a trio of wins over Racing 92, Connacht, and Leinster, coming into the New Year.

However, last Sunday’s poor 19-17 defeat at the Ospreys was their third loss in a row, leaving them eighth in the BKT United Rugby Championship, and came just a few weeks after failing to reach the last 16 of the Investec Champions Cup.

Assistant coach Dan Soper will take the reins for their next URC fixture at home to the Dragons on Saturday week, before Murphy comes on board for their two-match tour to South Africa where they will play the Hollywoodbets Sharks and the DHL Stormers.

The Bray man will have to quickly get up to the speed as the Ulstermen then travel to Montpellier in the EPCR Challenge Cup’s round of 16, just after Easter. Given the people involved, Farrell is confident they can turn things around at Kingspan Stadium.

“Look, it’s obvious that we want all the provinces playing at the top of their game. If that happens, it’s a special place to be but it doesn’t tend to happen that often, does it?

“One thing I know for sure is that Ulster have got a fantastic squad and good people up there. The lads that we have within our squad are exemplary to the province, as far as their attitudes are concerned whether they’re playing or not.”

A dislocated toe, suffered during that loss to the Ospreys, means Iain Henderson is unavailable for Ireland’s clash with Wales on Saturday. His Ulster colleague, Stuart McCloskey, is one of only two backs on the hosts’ bench as they opt to return to a six-two split.

New-look Wales, who lost their first two games to Scotland and England by a combined three points, come to Dublin with a squad that has accumulated 662 caps, compared to Ireland’s 1012.

119 of those caps are provided by George North alone, while 21-year-old Exeter Chiefs lock Dafydd Jenkins continues as captain, and Cardiff back rower Mackenzie Martin could make his debut off the bench.

Asked what he is expecting from Wales this weekend, Farrell replied: “Playing against Wales, you know it’s always going to be a scrap.

“You know that every single time Wales play against Ireland, it means probably a little bit more to them, I’ve been told (that) over the years.

“So we’re aware of that, and we also know as well that Wales historically have got better throughout the competition.

“We’re five weeks into it come the weekend, from when we first started training. We know that they’ll be better and hopefully we’ve used our time wisely as well.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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