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Vermeulen back as Malherbe earns 50th Bok cap

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Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made five changes to his starting lineup – two of which were injury enforced – for their second Castle Lager Rugby Championship clash against New Zealand in Johannesburg on Saturday, where Frans Malherbe (prop) will mark the significant career milestone of running out in his 50th Test for South Africa.

The three rotational switches made by Nienaber see bruising No 8 Duane Vermeulen return to the Springbok squad after recovering from surgery to his knee, where he takes over from Jasper Wiese, while Bongi Mbonambi slots back in at hooker after Malcolm Marx earned a start last week to celebrate his 50th Test cap, and Ox Nche takes over from Trevor Nyakane at loosehead prop.

The two changes in the backline see Jaden Hendrikse coming in at scrumhalf for Faf de Klerk, who has been placed on a return to play protocol after suffering concussion in the team’s 26-10 victory against New Zealand last week, while Jesse Kriel will start on the right wing in place of Kurt-Lee Arendse, who also suffered concussion and has been released from the squad after being handed a four-week suspension for a dangerous tackle in the match.

While Mbonambi and Marx switch roles between the starting team and replacements bench, Vermeulen’s inclusion sees Wiese take the role of an impact player in place of lock Salmaan Moerat, while Herschel Jantjies fills the void left by Hendrikse’s promotion to the starting team.

Ox Nche will start at loosehead prop this weekend.

Ox Nche will start at loosehead prop this weekend.

“We made a few changes to the team, but Duane, Jesse and Herschel are all experienced players who know our systems well and have been stalwarts for the Boks,” said Nienaber.

“Ox has also shown his ability to make his presence felt in the front row, so he is back in the mix.”

Nienaber said they were mindful of the fact that Vermeulen is returning from injury, but he said this prompted him to tweak his forward cover on the bench.

“Duane has a massive presence on the field and there is no bigger game for him to make his comeback from injury than facing the All Blacks,” said Nienaber.

“He is an enforcer on attack and defence and we know he will give everything against a physical All Blacks team that are desperate to bounce back strongly from a challenging run of results.

“Jasper is also a warrior, and we know that he will have an equally strong presence when he takes the field.

Duane Vermeulen will play in his first Test of the year on Saturday.

Duane Vermeulen will play in his first Test of the year on Saturday.

“Jesse has played over 50 Tests, and he has been waiting in the wings for his chance. He’s played wing for us before, so we know what he can bring to the game, and we are also excited to welcome back Herschel, who has played an immense role to help prepare the playing squad for the last two Tests.”

Nienaber lauded Malherbe for his achievement of reaching a half century of caps and said: “We are very proud of Frans, and it is up to the team to make it a memorable occasion for him by giving their all to register a victory.

“Frans’ work ethic is fantastic and although he is quiet off the field, he certainly makes his presence felt on the field.”

Nienaber expected a massive onslaught from New Zealand on Saturday despite the All Blacks suffering their second biggest defeat yet against the Springboks last week (16 points – one less than their biggest ever defeat of 17 points).

“New Zealand are similar to the Springboks in the sense that they do not give up,” said Nienaber.

“They fought until the end against us at the Mbombela Stadium last week and we expect nothing less from them on Saturday.

Jesse Kriel will take over at right wing from Kurt-Lee Arendse.

Jesse Kriel will take over at right wing from Kurt-Lee Arendse.

“They have quality players within their ranks and given the rich history between the sides in Johannesburg and their desperation to turn things around after a few disappointing results, we know we are in for a massive challenge this weekend.

“Our focus, however, is on improving our game and ensuring that we build on our form from last week. We had an honest assessment of our performance last week, and while there were several positives, there are areas that we need to make a step-up in, and it will be vital to get that right before we travel to Australia and Argentina for the away leg of the tournament, so this is a vital match for us.”

Springbok team to face New Zealand in Johannesburg:
15 – Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) – 19 caps, 12 pts (1t, 2c, 1p)
14 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 52 caps, 60 pts (12t)
13 – Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks) – 29 caps, 25 pts (5t)
12 – Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) – 61 caps, 35 pts (7t)
11 – Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks) – 28 caps, 100 pts (20t)
10 – Handre Pollard (Leicester Tigers) – 63 caps, 649 pts (7t, 88c, 141p, 5d)
9 – Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks) – 5 caps, 5 pts (1t)

8 – Duane Vermeulen (Ulster) – 61 caps, 15 pts (3t)
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) – 61 caps, 25 pts (5t)
6 – Siya Kolisi (captain, Cell C Sharks) – 66 caps, 35 pts (7t)
5 – Lood de Jager (Wild Knights) – 59 caps, 25 pts (5t)
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks) – 101 caps, 15 pts (3t)
3 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 49 caps, 5pts (1t)
2 – Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks) – 51 caps, 55 pts (11t)
1 – Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks) – 10 caps, 0pts

Replacements:
16 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 50 caps, 55 pts (11t)
17 – Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers) – 62 caps, 5pts (1t)
18 – Vincent Koch (Wasps) 35 caps, 0 pts
19 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 54 caps, 5pts (1t)
20 – Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers) – 14 caps, 0 pts
21 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 22 caps, 5 pts (1t)
22 – Hershel Jantjies (DHL Stormers) – 22 caps, 25 pts (5t)
23 – Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz) – 75 caps, 65 pts (13t)

Springbok record against New Zealand:

Played 102; Won 38; Lost 60; Drawn 4; Points for: 1651; Points against: 2108, Tries scored 158; Tries conceded 230; Highest score 46-40 in Johannesburg (2000); Biggest win 17-0 in Durban, 1928. Win % 37%. 

Milestones:

  • Handre Pollard is the second highest point scorer against New Zealand with 136 points in 13 Test matches, just 3 points less than Morné Steyn with 139 points in 13 Test matches.
  • The very first Test match at Ellis Park was played against New Zealand on 21 July, 1928. New Zealand won this opening Test match 7-6.
  • To date a further 13 Test matches between the Springboks and All Blacks were played at Ellis Park, with the Springboks’ winning nine of those 14 Tests, while the average score in these matches was 23-21.
  • The first Test match against New Zealand in South Africa took place on 30 June, 1928 at Kingsmead in Durban. The Springboks won that match 17-0, the biggest winning margin against New Zealand until today.

Miscellaneous:

  • The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 715.
  • There are 257 caps in the backline with 458 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 334 caps.
  • The average caps per player in the backline are 36, the forwards 57, while the players on the bench average 41.

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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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6 Nations

Wales team to face Ireland in Dublin named

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Senior men’s head coach Warren Gatland has named the Wales side to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the third round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations on Saturday 24 February (KO 2.15pm live on ITV and S4C).

There is one change to the starting XV that played England at Twickenham on 10 February, with Sam Costelow returning for Wales at fly half.

Among the replacements back-row Mackenzie Martin is in line to win his first senior cap this weekend and would become the 1,200th Wales men’s international.

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Tight-head prop Dillon Lewis would be making his first appearance of this Championship if called on from the bench.

Gatland said: “We are excited to go out to Dublin and test ourselves against one of the leading sides in world rugby. It’s a challenge we are relishing.

“We’ve made steps in the last couple of games and now it’s about building on that, learning from those experiences and taking that into this weekend.

“It’s about continuing to work hard, looking for accuracy in our performance across 80 minutes and also keeping our discipline.”

Wales senior men’s team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 24 February KO 2.15pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C.
15. Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 56 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 119 caps)
12. Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 34 caps)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 16 caps)
10. Sam Costelow (Scarlets – 9 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 55 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 27 caps)
2. Elliot Dee (Dragons – 48 caps)
3. Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby – 4 caps)
4. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 14 caps) Captain / Capten
5. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 53 caps)
6. Alex Mann (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
7. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 15 caps)
8. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 45 caps)

Replacements

16. Ryan Elias (Scarlets – 40 caps)
17. Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Harlequins – 54 caps)
19. Will Rowlands (Racing 92 – 30 caps)
20. Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
21. Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 19 caps)
22. Ioan Lloyd (Scarlets – 4 caps)
23. Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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