The Wallabies are refusing to focus on a Michael Cheika reunion as they prepare for the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina.
The August 7 clash in Mendoza will be the first time the former Wallabies boss will match up against his successor since taking over the Pumas job.
Since then, Argentina have built confidence with a 2-1 series victory over Scotland.
Whilst the reunion is a natural talking point, the Wallabies have undergone a significant squad overhaul since Cheika’s last match at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and were keeping their focus solely on the job at hand.
“No, we don’t talk about it,” winger Tom Wright told reporters on Tuesday.
“I certainly wasn’t here when (Cheika was coach) or involved in camp. So for me personally, I don’t necessarily know any of the backstory mentioned there that (media) continually remind everyone of.
“If we’re too busy worrying about the opposition coach we’ve probably got our head in the wrong space preparation-wise.”
Backrower Pete Samu is one of the few left from the Cheika-era, handed his debut in 2018 against Ireland after the former Waratahs coach convinced him to return to Australian Rugby.
However, the pair reportedly had a falling out in the following year after Samu’s decision to attend a family wedding in early 2019 instead of a Wallabies training camp.
The Brumby was called straight back into the side for the first Test under Rennie in 2020, carving out a significant role in his side as the key finisher.
“It’s all behind me now,” Samu said on the incident. “I’m just grateful to be back in the set-up.
“Whatever happened in the past is in the past, I’ll still never know what happened there but yeah.”
Samu and the Wallabies were preparing for a vocal Mendoza crowd, the first time they will have played in South America in nearly five years.
“Argentina is a very passionate side and their fans get behind the team and I think that’s where they draw a lot of their energy from,” Samu added.
“We probably haven’t experienced that in a while so it’ll be pretty exciting to be out there this weekend and take the crowd in as energy-wise.”
Ian Foster backed as All Blacks coach, with Joe Schmidt named as assistant
The New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Board has given their full support behind Ian Foster as All Blacks head coach.
Ian Foster, alongside NZR chair Stewart Mitchell and chief executive Mark Robinson fronted the media at a press conference in Auckland on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Robinson and NZR general manager of professional rugby Chris Lendrum met with Foster to finalise conversations around where things sat after the first five All Blacks Tests of the year.
Mitchell said Foster provided management with his own recommendations and these have in turn been recommended to the board.
“[The board] have unanimously agreed they have absolute confidence that Ian and this coaching group are the right people to lead the All Blacks through until the World Cup. This has been privately and publicly validated by our players and various conversation with our high performance team.”
A recommendation that was agreed upon was for Joe Schmidt to be elevated to full time Assistant coach.
“Joe Schmidt has been on my radar, probably for a couple of years,” said Foster.
“We flagged at the start of this year that his role was to join us after the Irish series as an independent selector to replace Grant Fox and in addition he was going to do some opposition analysis work and work alongside myself in the strategy area.
“We started that after the Irish series and delighted with how that’s going. I have a great relationship with Joe.”
The All Blacks assemble in Christchurch on Sunday ahead of next weekend’s Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship clash with Argentina at Orangetheory Stadium.
Springboks name 34-man squad for Australian tour
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber on Monday named a 34-man squad for the Australian leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, with the uncapped Canan Moodie earning a call-up for his first tour in a settled national squad.
Nienaber said the touring squad, which features a good mix of youth and experience, was in line with the standard travelling squad for the Rugby World Cup and he believed that they were the right group of players to achieve what they set out to do in the two Tests against Australia in Adelaide (Saturday, 27 August) and Sydney (Saturday, 3 September).
Nienaber said he would make changes to the squad for the two Tests against Argentina in Buenos Aires and Durban as he looks to give his expanded group of players a chance to prove themselves with an eye on the Rugby World Cup which will be hosted in France next year.
“We have been working with a large group of players for the last few months and we believe this will pay off in the long run as we look to expand our depth for the Rugby World Cup and beyond,” said Nienaber.
“Since we are going on tour, however, we will take a group of players that is more in line with the size of a Rugby World Cup squad, and our thought process is that we will have two groups of players – one who will participate in the Australian leg of the competition and another for the Argentina matches.
“This way we can manage the players as well as possible on tour, while at the same time ensuring we continue to develop our depth and give the players opportunities to prove themselves with a little over a year to go before the Rugby World Cup kicks off.”
Moodie, who was called up to the squad as utility back cover following the suspension handed to wing Kurt-Lee Arendse for a dangerous tackle, is the only uncapped player in the group and will travel with the Springboks for the first time, providing cover at wing and fullback. His presence also fills the void left by Cheslin Kolbe, who is on the road to recovery from a broken jaw, which will see him only return for the last Test against Argentina.
With Bongi Mbonambi (hooker) ruled out for four weeks after suffering a knee injury at training last week, Deon Fourie will serve as back-up to Malcolm Marx and Joseph Dweba, while Damian Willemse’s versatility in the backline will see provide cover at flyhalf, centre and fullback.
“Bongi has been ruled out for four weeks, but Deon, who is an experienced hooker and flank, has been practicing his lineout throws with us, so we are confident that he will be able to fill that void for us in these matches,” said Nienaber.
“We are also excited to see how Canan slots in during the next few weeks and to see how he adapts to our structures and systems, and we believe he has the skills to slot in for Kurt-Lee and Cheslin.
“This is a settled group of players and includes a wide spread of experience and young players who have made their presence felt, and we believe that they have what it takes to guide us back on track in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship in the matches against Australia.”
The Springboks are currently on a short break and will depart on Thursday for the tour to Australia and Argentina.
“We are bitterly disappointed about the defeat against New Zealand last weekend, and we know that we have to be at our best to fight back in the next four matches of the competition to keep us in contention to win the tournament,” said Nienaber.
“We saw what Australia are capable at home last year and we know that we will be tested thoroughly.
“The last time we beat the Wallabies in Australia was in 2013, so we have a big mountain to climb over there, but that said, we have looked at our game against New Zealand and we know what areas we need to improve on, and we will put in the hard work on the field to iron out those aspects when we arrive in Australia.
“It is going to be a tough tour, but we know what our players are capable of, and we are determined to make our nation proud.”
Springbok touring squad:
Props: Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers), Vincent Koch (Wasps), Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92)
Hookers: Joseph Dweba (DHL Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears)
Locks: Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks), Lood de Jager (Wild Knights), Salmaan Moerat (DHL Stormers)
Loose forwards: Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz), Siya Kolisi (Cell C Sharks), Elrigh Louw (Vodacom Bulls), Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers), Duane Vermeulen (Ulster)
Utility forwards: Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat)
Scrumhalves: Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles), Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks), Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers), Cobus Reinach (Montpellier)
Flyhalves: Elton Jantjies (NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes), Handre Pollard (Leicester Tigers)
Midfielders: Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), Damian de Allende (Wild Knights), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins)
Outside backs: Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz), Canan Moodie (Vodacom Bulls), Warrick Gelant (Racing 92)
Utility Backs: Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Frans Steyn (Toyota Cheetahs)
Win over South Africa a ‘launching pad’ – Foster
Argentina’s record win over Australia on Sunday in the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship ensured the All Blacks could not afford to lower their sights or expectations.
Coach Ian Foster left the All Blacks’ post-Ellis Park celebrations to watch the second half of the Pumas-Wallabies Test and said Argentina looked good.
The All Blacks arrive home on Tuesday and have a break until the weekend before assembling in Christchurch to prepare for Argentina.
But they knew their win over South Africa was a starting point.
Foster said, “I was pleased with the way we dealt with the challenge. I’m pleased the team is growing through a bit of adversity.
“We wish the road was smooth all the time but, unfortunately, life does throw you a few curve balls. But, it’s how you respond to that, and so we’re working hard and [we] got some rewards.”
Foster said he was proud of the Johannesburg performance.
“You always know you are going to get some obstacles here. You look at three [losses] in a row, and that’s a bit of adversity that a lot of this group haven’t had, including me.
“But we have to fix it. Our mindset is about trying to move on and grow the team.
“We’ve got an absolute goal for a Rugby World Cup at the end of next year, and in many ways, this needs to be the launching pad for that.
“I’m not resentful about anything that has happened in the last three weeks. I’m disappointed we lost, but I also think that we’re using it the right way to fuel a team that’s united, and has a growth mindset, and just wants to play for this country.”
Foster had a sense of unfinished business with the team.
The win was not just about last week but about what they had done since getting together again after the Ireland series and working on clarifying aspects of their game.
“There’s no doubt we had to move some aspects of our game. We’ve been pretty open in sharing that. But, rest assured, we work hard at trying to improve.
“I know we got told what we’re doing wrong, but we’re working hard inside our camp to improve.
“We’re very proud at being part of this team, so the work we got last night was a reflection of a growth in a whole lot of aspects.”
Foster said he expected to receive feedback after the trip and would assemble with the team in Christchurch.
Reflecting on the public and media pressure in the coaching role, he said it was something you got used to, but that was sad.
“I get used to the personal side, but that’s the nature of the job. They’re the distractions that I ask the players to put to one side.”
It was the same when running out to play in front of a big crowd or when referees’ decisions went against them. The players had to put those types of things to one side too.
“In all honesty, I think the playing group has probably been demanding that of me. ‘Stop sulking, get on with it and do your job.’ Sometimes, the answer is in the simplicity of that.”
Foster said there was no manual for the coaching job. It was a case of trusting himself and the people he worked with and being open to all the ideas received while developing a plan.
He had done that while undergoing massive growth in the role.
“I’m a different coach to what I was 12 months ago. You’ve got to remember last year, we won 12 out of 13 games in a row, and no one was talking about us.
“So, what this team learns is when things go wrong you certainly hear it. It’s how we deal with that.”
Foster said the pressure on the side’s midfield had been a concentration for the selectors since the start of the campaign, partly because of the need to establish combinations while also coping in the absence of players like Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown.
They had introduced players in the front row in Saturday’s win.
Forward coaches Greg Feek and Jason Ryan deserved pats on the backs for their work, and so did the forwards.
“When forwards don’t get what they want in a Test match they are normally not nice to talk to for the next couple of days, and that’s because they take it personal, and we’ve got massive quality in that pack but it needed to lift and it has lifted.”
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