New Zealander Dave Rennie has made the biggest call to date since coming on board as Wallabies coach by reappointing incumbent captain Michael Hooper to take his team forward.
While it’s a new dawn in Australian rugby, Rennie has opted for the experience and hard-nosed approach of Hooper to drive the Wallabies forward in the post-Michael Cheika era. The next generation of Australian leaders like Fraser McReight and Liam Wright will have to wait.
During Cheika’s six-year reign, the Wallabies coach was regularly accused of showing favourism and being “blue eyed” towards the Waratahs and, in particular, Hooper.
But Rennie’s decision emphatically smashes the pedestal that many think Hooper stands on.
Hooper – barring injury – will lead the Wallabies out against the All Blacks on October 11 at Sky Stadium in Wellington for his 100th Test. He will become the quickest player in Test history to reach the century milestone
Only George Gregan (59) and John Eales (55) have led the Wallabies on more occasions than Hooper (46), but Rennie’s appointment should see the openside flanker become the longest serving Australian captain in the nation’s history.
Ever since first addressing the Australian media on January 23, Rennie has made it crystal clear that he would pick his team first and captain next.
Form would be the driver of selection and for that reason he would wait until appointing his captain unlike the All Blacks who appointed Sam Cane as their skipper in May.
On Wednesday, Rennie said the decision to reappoint Hooper was an easy one given his consistency throughout 2020.
“I’ve been really impressed with Hoops,” Rennie said.
“We’ve spoken a lot over the past nine months and it’s highlighted his passion and commitment.
“He’s a good man with an outstanding work ethic and he’s a great role model for our young men coming through.
“He’s keen to lead, and is highly respected by the Wallaby family. In the end his appointment was a straight forward decision.”
Hooper became the youngest player in half-a-century when he was thrust into the role in 2014 as a 22-year-old when Stephen Moore went down with injury against the French in Brisbane.
Since then the boy from Manly has always said that captaincy is a “privilege” and not something he’s craved nor sought.
On being appointed, Hooper maintained that stance and added that he was encouraged by what was brewing at the Wallabies in the early stages of the Rennie-era.
“It’s an absolute honour to be the Wallabies captain and I want to thank Dave, the Wallabies management team as well as Rugby Australia for their support and endorsement,” Hooper said in a statement.
“It’s a privilege to wear the Wallabies jersey, I feel proud to lead my teammates and to represent those players that have before and all Australians.
“I’m really excited about this group and the direction we are heading. We have already spent some quality time together, defining who we are and what we stand for and what we play to achieve in the coming months.”
Last month former teammate Stephen Hoiles and current Wallabies teammate Matt To’omua told RUGBY.com.au that appointing Hooper as captain was a “no-brainer”.
“I think he’s been a great captain and I think he’s only going to get better,” To’omua said.
“Yes, it hasn’t been the most successful time but these are learning moments for him.
“I’d caution against (a change). He just has a wealth of knowledge and experience and that’s all a part of it.
“I look back to England in 2015 and then where they went to in 2019, I don’t think they get to the final in 2019 if they don’t experience that hardship and, to me, that’s how I see our journey with Australia as well.
Nor does the decision mean that Hooper will necessarily captain the Wallabies right throughout the four-year World Cup cycle.
Both of last year’s World Cup finalists switched their captains midway through the previous four-year cycle, with Springboks back-rower Siya Kolisi taking over Warren Whiteley in 2018 and England playmaker Owen Farrell from Dylan Hartley.
A similar situation could take place with the Wallabies, with Hooper to turn 29 next month.
Nonetheless, his appointment means that he will wear the No.7 against the All Blacks next month.
Just who joins him in the back-row remains far from clear, with Brumbies duo Rob Valetini and Pete Samu the favourites to complete the back-row.
Press release from Rugby Australia
A fertile breeding ground for international players
One of the significant features to come out of the Springboks’ Castle Lager Outgoing Tour this month – and the November international series in general – was how it underlined the role played by the Vodacom United Rugby Championship in breeding players for successful roles in their national teams.
Indeed, while Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was initially criticised for ignoring home based players who’d made their names in the Vodacom URC, by the end of the calendar year that had changed, with several newcomers who either first captured the eye in the 16-team cross-hemisphere competition or grew their game there, making an indelible mark.
Understandably, the 2021/22 finalists, the eventual champions DHL Stormers and the Vodacom Bulls, led the way when it came to providing breakout opportunities for players within their system.
Kurt-Lee Arendse, who scored the thrilling try that had Twickenham aghast and even England supporters marvelling at his pace and skill, was one such player.
Arendse made his debut for the Boks in the second Test against Wales in Bloemfontein in July, but it was after France-based Cheslin Kolbe was injured in the third and deciding game against the Welsh that Arendse got his chance to show that he could transfer his sublime form for the Bulls in the Vodacom URC onto the international stage.
He turned in a stellar performance in his first outing against the All Blacks in Nelspruit in August, with his pace and his mastery in the air being a constant thorn to the New Zealanders and he capped it with the opening try of the game.
Unfortunately, Arendse blotted his copybook when red carded following an unfortunate clash with an airborne Beauden Barrett and the injury sustained in that incident, plus the subsequent suspension, prevented him from playing for much of the rest of the Boks’ Castle Lager Rugby Championship campaign.
He did return though for the final game against Argentina in Durban as a replacement and in no time at all after he came on, Arendse scored one of his trademark tries, running it in from near the Pumas 10 metre line, off the last move of the game.
The Boks didn’t hit target in that game, and ended second in the Rugby Championship, but Arendse’s star shone, as it did again on the end of season tour.
Arendse was a big contributor to the great Bok counter-attacking that appeared to stun the French in Marseille, his opening try and then the follow up to complete the brace was a talking point when Italy were laid to the sword in Genoa, and then came the Twickenham highlight to the tour.
Arendse is being talked about as a special player, and it was in the Vodacom URC that he first got experience of playing against overseas players and overseas conditions.
Ditto his young Vodacom Bulls team-mate Canan Moodie, who made his Test debut at the age of just 19 as Arendse’s replacement during the international season. His excellent try, plucking a kick out of the air and then running 30 metres to score, was the turning point in the Boks’ favour against the Wallabies in Sydney and will be part of any end of year highlights package.
Moodie started the 2022 calendar year playing Currie Cup rugby for the Bulls, and made a big statement in his debut against DHL Western Province before quickly being elevated into the Vodacom URC team, where his potential was picked up by the national coaches.
Elrigh Louw was another Bulls player who has used the Vodacom URC as a platform to bid for national honours, and he played in the competition in its previous guise as the PRO14 when he was at the Southern Kings.
That was where Louw was first spotted by South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, probably on the recommendation of the then Kings DOR Robbie Kempson.
Louw played for the SA ‘A’ team in November, but in his absence the 2021/22 Vodacom URC Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year, Evan Roos, made full use of his opportunity.
With only the one cap earned in the second Test against Wales to his credit before the tour, Roos played off the bench in the destruction of Italy before transferring his Vodacom URC form to the international stage in London a week later. In that game, fellow DHL Stormers player Marvin Orie also showed he belongs at international level.
Although Orie had played for the Boks before, and was first capped while still at the Emirates Lions, this was his breakout year at international and he confirmed it at Twickenham, where no doubt his experience of being part of the winning Stormers effort in the Vodacom URC final helped his confidence.
His Stormers teammate Salmaan Moerat would have added more Bok appearances in 2022 were he not playing behind arguably the world’s finest lock, Eben Etzebeth, who will grace the Vodacom URC in the colours of the Cell C Sharks going forward.
Deon Fourie and Manie Libbok were two other DHL Stormers players who joined Roos and Moerat in making their Bok debuts this year, with Libbok looking the part as a replacement in Genoa.
Libbok is one of the Vodacom URC’s biggest success stories – not long ago he was struggling to establish himself in the starting teams of the Bulls and Sharks, but thanks to the platform given to him by the Stormers, he has grown into a genuine international quality player.
Which of course is exactly what Damian Willemse is now. The utility back had also played for the Boks before this year, and was with them as a replacement at the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.
But it was off the back of his Vodacom URC form, and the experience of being in the winning team, that Willemse took the bit properly between his teeth in the international season and made the graduation from fringe international player to the world class player he ended the year as.
And then there is Junior Springbok captain Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who we first saw when he played as a replacement in last season’s quarter-final, was selected to tour but didn’t play.
With Italy beating Australia for the first time, and Ireland going through the autumn internationals unbeaten, plus Scotland pushing New Zealand all the way before thumping Argentina and being unlucky not to beat the Wallabies at the start of this phase, it could be argued that the success of the Vodacom URC, and the impetus given to the competition by South African participation, was writ large.
Spencer looking to bring innovation to Sky Super Rugby Aupiki
Former All Blacks and Blues first five-eighths Carlos Spencer hopes to pass on the sort of rugby that marked his career as a backs coach for the Blues women’s side in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki in 2023.
The 99-time Blues’ pivot played 44 Tests for the All Blacks and 89 games for Auckland during his career spanning the turn of the century. He also played for Northampton and Gloucester in the English Premiership.
Since building his coaching record after completing his rugby-playing career in South Africa in Gauteng, he has coached in the Republic, the United States and the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Now he has taken the chance to join head coach Willie Walker and fellow assistant coach Linda Itunu with the Blues.
Spencer, 47, said: “When I was playing, I always liked to bring a bit of innovation and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking to the table. Now, as a coach, I want to encourage and help grow those same traits in our Blues wahine.”
Like most of New Zealand, he was caught up in the Black Ferns’ World Cup success, and he anticipates there will be a follow-on effect in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki.
“You’ve seen the rise of women’s rugby and the way the public got right in behind the Black Ferns.
“We’re at an exciting juncture for the sport, and I’m looking forward to getting involved and doing what I can to help grow and support women’s rugby.”
“I’ve known Willie [Walker] for a while. We’ve thrown the touch ball around and have a good relationship. He’s done some fantastic work with the Auckland Storm in the Farah Palmer Cup, and I’m looking forward to exchanging ideas and getting the backline humming.
“I don’t know Linda, but have seen her exploits on the field for many years with the Black Ferns – she was an enforcer on the field,”
Blues chief executive Andrew Hore said having Spencer on board with the Blues organisation was special, and was an example of harnessing the resources available within the franchise’s region.
Constructive talks between World Rugby, Erasmus
World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin and World Rugby Director of Rugby Phil Davies met with South Africa Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus on Thursday and held positive discussions regarding recent events and match official communications in general.
Views were exchanged resulting in a better understanding of the respective positions.
There was agreement that further dialogue was needed in terms of enhancing the process that operates between teams and match officials to ensure all can play their part in creating great spectacles and avoid frustration but in a way that underpins the respect for match officials, coaches and players.
Further dialogue will continue after today’s final Springbok test of the year.
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