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‘Light a fire’: Rennie looking to spark competition in O’Connor, Vunivalu ahead of World Cup

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Dave Rennie is looking for Reds duo James O’Connor and Suliasi Vunivalu to push their way into contention via Super Rugby as the Wallabies begin preparations for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Rennie has assembled a 44-player squad on the Gold Coast for the week, with the high-profile backs the major omissions.

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“It’s the advantage of a lot of injuries I guess, we’ve used a lot of players last year and there’s more competition for places now which is really good,” he told reporters

“We’ve got a couple of guys who would normally be in Japan recovering from long term injuries so it’s nice to have Quade and Samu in here.

“…It’s a massive year, it’s exciting. We’re going to light a fire over the next couple of days and work hard that we head up north in the best possible condition to play our best footy over the last four years.”

O’Connor was one of five flyhalves selected to start in 2022, however, found himself dropped from the squad altogether after a thumping defeat in Argentina.

An ankle injury ended his season early, with Rennie impressed with how the 32-year-old has applied himself to rehab.

“I had a good chat to ‘Rabs’ prior to us announcing the team,” he revealed. “He’s come back from injury, back training fully and actually in really good nick running quicker than we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

“He looks sharper so his focus is playing good Super Rugby and putting pressure on us to select him in the camp in April. That’s the message we’ve given to a number of fringe players.”

As for Vunivalu, Rennie pointed to the importance of providing the repeat efforts that have helped the likes of Nark Nawaqanitawase break out at Test level.

“Suli has got really clear messages,” he explained. 

“We need to see him run fast. We need to see him open up and repeat of speed efforts. We know his ability aerially is excellent. He needs to put in good performances at Super (Rugby) level. He had a couple of runs with Australia A and needs to build on it.

“What we saw from Mark Nawaqanitawase is a man who’s equally good (as Vunivalu) aerially, but is good all over the park. His speed and repeat speed was excellent as was his post-tackle work and his defensive work

“He grabbed his opportunity and played the best three games of his life at Test level. The challenge for him now is to make sure that he comes in and wants to be better. That’s the message he’ll get over the next couple of days.”

The Wallabies boss also confirmed Taniela Tupou was unlikely to feature in Super Rugby Pacific, with the priority maximising his game-time heading into the Rugby Championship.

“We’ll take over his recovery. He’ll still have a role to play at the Reds but not on the playing field,” Rennie added.

“…The first avenue (for his return) will be club Rugby, which I’m sure will excite Brothers. We plan on having a couple of Australia A games potentially. We’re just looking for the chance to get some footy into him.

“Hopefully he recovers a little quicker and he can play the back end of Super Rugby.”

Content & Images from – Australia Rugby


International

Savea back at the helm of the Hurricanes

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All Blacks loose forward Ardie Savea will captain the Hurricanes again for the 2023 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season.

Savea, who will have his 11th season in the side, will mark his first appearance in the competition by playing his 120th game.

The Hurricanes’ season opens against the Reds in round one.

Savea said: “I’m looking forward to the season, especially getting out to the communities, when we play in Levin against the Crusaders for our pre-season game and Palmerston North against the Western Force on Sunday, April 2.

“We’ve just moved into our new facility, and there’s something awesome about change; it’s brought in a lot of energy. It’s refreshing to come in and be in a new space alongside other professional teams. Hopefully, being here can help us move forward and prepare well for our games.”

The facility is part of the New Zealand Campus of Innovation and Sport at what was the Central Institute of Technology at Trentham and houses, several Wellington-based teams.

Coach Jason Holland was delighted to be able to call on Savea’s leadership ability again.

“Ardie is a special leader. He’s the sort of guy you want to follow in whatever he does. He’s worked hard at his leadership around all the small details, around how to get the best out of the people around him.

“He’s been good at driving us as a group, players and management, about being well-planned and clear in our roles in what we’re leading.

“Ards has a great relationship with all the boys and cares about them and the team and that shows in the way he leads.”

Content & Images from – New Zealand Rugby


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International

Marshall primed for Crusaders coaching opportunity

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James Marshall couldn’t escape rugby’s draw after retiring from playing and failed in his promised avoidance of the coaching ranks.

The former Super Rugby title winner with the Hurricanes has fitted into coaching so well that he will spend 2023 as backs coach for the Crusaders in Super Rugby Pacific.

Auckland-born Marshall started his rugby career with Tasman, but when missing a place in the Super Rugby structure, in a team or wider training group, he had a chance as a 20-year-old to play in Italy with Zebre.

It proved a stimulating experience in coping with playing a different style of rugby at a different level.

He returned to New Zealand six months later for another three seasons with Tasman before getting a chance in the Hurricanes’ wider squad. He had spent four years trying to get a place in the Crusaders.

“I could never crack it as a player but I’m here now as a coach,” he said.

“It is surreal to be here now. When I finished rugby, I promised my wife I wouldn’t get into coaching. We had moved around so many times during my career, even when I was playing for the Hurricanes moving to Taranaki every six months.

“We worked it out there were well over 20 houses we lived in throughout my career so when I got to the end of it I did say I wouldn’t be chasing the coaching dream, and I wouldn’t be moving the family around any more.”

However, back in Nelson, he got the chance to work with Andrew Goodman and Shane Christie, which gave him coaching work where he had decided to settle.

“Then a couple of years later,, I get a call from Razor [Scott Robertson] and it really throws a spanner in the works for my wife and when I got the opportunity, it was a no brainer. It’s such a good opportunity for me to learn and see where coaching can now take me.”

He contacted David Havili to see if he felt Marshall could do the job asked of him as backs coach and to see if he would have the backing of the players.

Havili got back in touch to say how much he thought Marshall could add to the environment. He also contacted some of his Hurricanes contacts and admitted being surprised at how supportive they were.

The Crusaders were one of the most successful sides in the sport’s history, and looking from the outside while playing, he had always wondered what went on and how they did it.

“It’s been impressive. It’s a well-run ship. Razor does a great job. Scotty Hansen, the detail he has on the rugby programme. Tamati Ellison, some of his coaching, it’s all world-class.

“It’s been awesome for me as a young coach to witness these guys at work and try and learn as much as I can off them.

“There’s also the players. It’s a pretty impressive squad when you look at it on paper and the chance to work with some world-class athletes and try and teach them as much as I can, but also try and learn from them,” he said.

Content & Images from – New Zealand Rugby


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6 Nations

RTÉ And Virgin Media Confirm Details Of Free-To-Air Six Nations Coverage

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RTÉ and Virgin Media Television today announced details of its joint Guinness Six Nations coverage, where the action will be free-to-air for supporters in the Republic of Ireland.

Kicking off on Friday, 3 February, this year’s Six Nations coverage will include all fixtures from Ireland’s Men’s, Women’s and U20 tournaments.

The partnership will see all games equally aired across both broadcasters again this year.

The 2023 Men’s Six Nations will open with Ireland v Wales on Virgin Media One, followed by England v Scotland on RTÉ2. Ireland will then take on current champions France on Saturday, 11 February.

The TikTok Women’s Six Nations will begin on Sunday, 26 March with Wales v Ireland.

Speaking at this morning’s launch at the Aviva Stadium, presenters Jacqui Hurley and Joe Molloy were joined on stage by members of their broadcast teams this year including pundits Rob Kearney, Fiona Hayes (Virgin Media Television), and RTÉ’s Jamie Heaslip and Hannah Tyrrell.

RTÉ also confirmed that Irish international and Munster player Simon Zebo will be joining their punditry team.

Commenting, Head of RTÉ Sport, Declan McBennett said: “With this being a great year for rugby, there is added excitement about this year’s Six Nations which RTÉ is once again bringing to sports fans all over the country free-to-air along with Virgin Media Ireland as part of our historic partnership which we launched last year.

“It’s going to be a huge year for Irish rugby and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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