Circumstances created by Covid-19 have provided Damian McKenzie with only his second start at first five-eighths for Saturday’s Fortinet Rugby Championship Test in Brisbane against Argentina.
In the absence of Richie Mo’unga on paternity leave, and only he and Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks tour group as specialist first five-eighths, McKenzie has been entrusted with the playmaking role against an Argentine side looking to make up for a disappointing loss last week.
McKenzie with 34 Tests – 13 as a substitute and 20 starting at fullback – played his only other starting role at first-five against France, at Dunedin, in 2018. That was a 49-14 victory where McKenzie crossed for two tries and landed seven conversions.
McKenzie said Brisbane this weekend was an opportunity to have a chance in the position. He was comfortable taking it on after starts in Super Rugby, with the Chiefs, and as a substitute in Tests.
“It’s a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Preparing for the role was not too different from the approach he took when playing fullback. But he now had the ‘keys to the bus’, so it was about getting his game management sorted.
Confidence built during the week’s preparation for a game, and he had concentrated on nailing that during the build-up.
What was different about starting was the requirement to break the opposition down instead of coming on as a substitute when play tended to open up more, something that suited his natural running type of game.
Beauden Barrett had been working with him during the tour, and learning from him had helped him be confident in what he could do on the field.
“As a driver, I want to be in the game as much as possible, so it’s about creating opportunities for other people around me and just making sure I’m in control and driving the team around the park where it needs to be.
“It’s different, but that’s not to say I’m going to chuck everything I know out the window and go to be a robotic player. I’ve still got to play my game,” he said.
With Chiefs team-mate Quinn Tupaea starting outside him at second five-eighths, McKenzie said they would be looking to play their games and not try to be anyone else.
“Quinn had a great season for us carrying the ball so we’ll look to do the simple things well and stick with what we know. If we can do that I’m sure everything else can flow off and we can put some good stuff together,” he said.
Saints sign Wallabies star
Northampton Saints are delighted to confirm the signing of Australian international lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto ahead of the 2022/23 season.
The 6’6” second row – who clocks in at 116kgs and can also line up in the back row – has 30 Test caps to his name for the Wallabies, and will arrive at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens following the conclusion of the 2022 Super Rugby campaign.
After representing Sydney’s Western Suburbs rugby league side at age-group level, Salakaia-Loto came through the Colts and Shute Shield teams for Randwick, also getting selected for Australia in the 2015 and 2016 World Rugby Under-20s Championships.
He signed his first professional contract with Queensland Reds in 2015 and has since enjoyed a stellar seven-year Super Rugby career, making 64 appearances in the competition to date.
His form for the Reds was rewarded with a Test debut for Australia against South Africa in 2017; Salakaia-Loto then notched up five appearances at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and has also taken his Rugby Championship tally to 12, but the 25-year-old is now relishing the prospect of proving his ability in the Gallagher Premiership.
“I am incredibly excited to be signing for Northampton Saints, a prestigious Club which is known around the world and boasts a long history of success,” Salakaia-Loto said.
“I’ve heard that Franklin’s Gardens is an amazing place to play rugby, and for a long time now, I have wanted to test myself in the Northern Hemisphere.”Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
“The Northampton squad is already filled with talent and I’m just looking forward to getting over to England later this year to try to develop my game, and help the team win some trophies.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for me and my family, so I can’t wait to pull on a Black, Green and Gold jersey for the first time.”
Saints’ incoming Director of Rugby, Phil Dowson, added: “First and foremost, Lukhan is a big man and a phenomenal athlete, who in the lineout can both jump and call as well. From a set-piece point of view that’s a massive feather in his cap as he can get in the air in attack and in defence.
“But he’s also got a fantastic skillset with a background in rugby league; he’s fast and has got the ability to move and offload the ball too, so he possesses all the credentials he needs to be a real handful in the Gallagher Premiership.
“He’s still a young man at 25, but is really highly regarded within the Australian environment and comes to Franklin’s Gardens with international experience – so he’s a very exciting signing for us and I’m sure he will add a huge amount to the group.”
Samu extends Brumbies & Wallabies stay
Wallabies and Brumbies backrower Pete Samu has re-signed with Australian Rugby until the end of 2023.
Born in Melbourne, 30-year-old Samu has settled at the Brumbies after a unique Rugby story saw him play in Cornwall in the United Kingdom straight out of school before returning to play for Randwick in Sydney, followed by a stint in New Zealand where he won two Super Rugby Championships with the Crusaders.
He was lured home in 2018 to the Brumbies where he again tasted Super Rugby success in 2020.
Known for his athleticism, speed and skill, the versatile backrower made his International debut in 2018 against Ireland but narrowly missed selection in the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
He has since gone on to wear the Wallaby gold 19 times, starting at openside flanker against Wales in the side’s final Test of 2021 and will chase a maiden Rugby World Cup berth in 2023.
Wallabies and Brumbies backrower, Pete Samu said: “I’m really happy to have my future sorted out early on in the year so I can focus on playing my best Rugby for the Brumbies in Super Rugby Pacific.”
“I’ve loved my time here at the Brumbies since coming over in 2018, it’s a special club and my family and I are really settled here in Canberra.
“I feel I’ve got a lot of improvement left in my game and to be able to work alongside world class coaches like Laurie (Fisher) and Dan (McKellar) week in week out will help me achieve that.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said: “Pete’s a great team man and we’re thrilled he’s extended his commitment to Australian Rugby.”
“His athleticism and speed are a point of difference across the backrow and we think his best footy lies ahead of him in the gold jersey.
“He’s had an unorthodox journey to get to where he is and you can see how motivated he is to make the most of his opportunities.”
Brumbies coach, Dan McKellar said: “It’s great for the Brumbies to have Pete locked in for another season.”
“He’s got a point of difference in attack you don’t see from many backrowers and when he’s healthy and on form, he’s a genuine match winner.
“He bought into what we’re about here at the Brumbies from very early on and he’s extremely popular, both within our group and among our members and supporters so we’re all thrilled to have him in a Brumbies jersey until the end of 2023.”
Beale return to Australia confirmed
Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs are delighted to announce Kurtley Beale will return to home soil after committing to Australian Rugby until the end of 2023.
Currently plying his trade in France’s Top 14, Beale has featured in 95 Tests for the Wallabies and was most recently called into the national set up by Dave Rennie for the side’s Spring Tour in the United Kingdom.
The versatile Beale can cover a range of positions across the backline but has been predominantly seen at fullback during his last two seasons playing for his French club, Racing 92.
A member of the past three Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup squads, Beale’s return puts him squarely in the frame to become just the third Australian to feature at four World Cup tournaments.
The 33-year-old is currently the second most capped NSW Waratah with 148 Super Rugby games across 11 seasons for the club.
Beale will return to the Wallabies and Australian Rugby following the conclusion of the 2021 French Top 14 season and will be available for the 2022 Wallabies’ International season and the Waratahs’ 2023 Super Rugby Pacific competition.
Returning Wallabies and NSW Waratahs back, Kurtley Beale said: “I’m really happy to be returning to Australia and would like to thank RA and the Waratahs for allowing me that opportunity.”
“There’s nothing better than representing my state and my country and I’ll be working hard to earn the right to do both when I return to Australia.
“From what I can see the Waratahs and the Wallabies are building really strong cultures and environments and I’ll be looking to contribute as much as I can to ensure that continues.”
Rugby Australia CEO, Andy Marinos said: “We’re really pleased that Kurtley is returning home and committed to Australian Rugby to the end of the 2023 season. “
“His decision is especially significant given the current Rugby player market and speaks to his desire to represent both the Waratahs and the Wallabies again. We remain determined to be successful and play a brand of rugby that delivers results and engages fans. Kurtley has shown this in his career to date and we are excited to see the continued impact he can have as we build towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“Kurtley’s return certainly adds depth and experience to Australian Rugby, in positions that provide an opportunity to showcase his skill and diversity. With a new Super Rugby competition and a packed home Test season against Tier 1 nations, there is a lot to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead from both Kurtley and the teams he plays in.”
NSW Waratahs Head Coach, Darren Coleman said: “It’s going to be great having Kurtley back not only for the team but for the NSW Rugby public.
“He’s an excitement machine and his ability to play multiple positions is a real asset for us.”
“I’ve had a long association with Kurtley dating back to 2006 and he’s a really positive guy to have around.
“I feel he will be a great mentor for some of our young backs as they progress through their professional career.”
Born: 6 January 1989
Place of birth: Blacktown, New South Wales
Super Rugby debut: 2007 v Brumbies, Canberra (NSW Waratahs)
Super Rugby caps: 148 (NSW Waratahs); 14 (Melbourne Rebels)
Test debut: 2009 v Wales, Cardiff
Test caps: 95