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.
Eddie upbeat for ‘intriguing’ World Cup
Eddie Jones admits the Wallabies are in the chasing pack but still close enough to catch the favourites and win September’s Rugby World Cup.
Jones, after a 15-minute technical glitch, gave his first wide-ranging interview from England on Thursday after his shock appointment on Monday.
He said the battle to wear the No.10 jersey in France was wide open, touched on the side’s ill-discipline and current eligibility laws, assessed the health of the code in Australia and had a neat return-of-serve to rugby league powerbroker Peter V’landys in the latest code-war chapter.
But when asked if he genuinely thought the inconsistent world No.6 side could win the World Cup this year, he was serious.
“There’s no long term; the whole thing is to win the World Cup in 2023,” said Jones, who is on a five-year contract.
“We have to concentrate on areas that will make the biggest difference to the performance of the team and we have to get selection right.
“And we’ve got to create an environment where players are going to give that little bit more, because nobody knows how much they can give.”
Jones will have just five Tests to prepare his men before the Cup and he turned to racing parlance to assess the current power rankings.
He says feels there’s still time for the field to settle with the team who improves the most between now and October set for victory.
“At the moment France and Ireland, in a horse race they’re at the front on the top of the rise,” he said.
“But there’s still plenty of work to do.
“Australia and England are nestled behind them and the team that improves the most over the next nine months will win the World Cup.
“This is the most intriguing World Cup we’ve ever seen.
“Throw in the volatility of the refereeing at the moment with red and yellow cards.
“You’ve got all these things happening that give us this massive opportunity.”
He said every player would have a chance to “select themselves” in club rugby and that replacing Rennie before his contract was to expire at the end of this year wasn’t in his control.
“I wasn’t thinking, ‘I can do this better than Dave, or, I’m a better person’, it’s not that at all,” he said.
“It’s the fact that there was an opportunity there that as an Australian when you get a chance to coach your country you want to do it, mate.”
In a boost for James O’Connor’s hopes after he was cut from Rennie’s extended squad, Jones said he’d base selection on Super Rugby Pacific form and keep an eye on his foreign-based playmakers.
But Jones admits time isn’t on his side when it comes to settling on a preferred partnership, with rival five-eighth Quade Cooper’s recovery from an Achilles tear counting against him.
“We are going to have to decide quite quickly who we think are the best nines and tens and 12s, particularly, to try and build up that cohesion,” he said.
Springboks’ 2023 fixture list locked in
The Springboks will kick off a bumper 2023 season against Australia in Pretoria in July in the opening round of the shortened Castle Lager Rugby Championship and will face Argentina in Johannesburg in their final match on home soil before the build-up to their Rugby World Cup defence starts.
In August, the Boks will travel to Argentina to take on the Pumas before facing Wales and the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup warm-up matches in Cardiff and London in the final build-up to the global showpiece in France, which kicks off on the second weekend in September.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber’s charges will kick off the international season on Saturday, 8 July, with their opening Castle Lager Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, before travelling to New Zealand to face the All Blacks on Saturday, 17 July.
They will return to South Africa to wrap up their campaign against the Pumas at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg two weeks later, on Saturday, 29 July.
This will mark the first time since 2016 that the Boks host Australia in Pretoria, and the first time since 2013 that they take on Argentina in in Johannesburg, with South Africa having won both those fixtures, by 18-10 and 73-13 respectively.
The away match against Argentina is scheduled for Saturday, 5 August before they take on Wales at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, 19 August, and a second Test against New Zealand at Twickenham on Friday, 25 August.
South Africa will launch their Rugby World Cup title defence on Sunday, 10 September, against Scotland in Marseille, which will be followed by pool matches against Romania in Bordeaux (17 September), Ireland in Paris (23 September) and Tonga in Marseille (1 October).
The Rugby World Cup quarter-finals will be played on the weekend of 14/15 October, with the semi-finals on 20/21 October and the final on Saturday, 28 October.
“Loftus Versfeld and Emirates Airline Park are iconic stadiums, and we thoroughly enjoy the fanatic support from the home crowds at these venues, so we are thrilled to start off what is a vital season for the team at these stadiums,” said Nienaber.
“These Castle Lager Rugby Championship matches are going to be crucial as we look to get our Rugby World Cup season off to a good start and playing against New Zealand away and Australia and Argentina on the highveld will be ideal for our preparation.
“All three sides will enter the international spectacle in France among a handful of teams that will be considered potential contenders for the title, so we are expecting a thorough test throughout the campaign.”
SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus added that the match against the Pumas in Argentina ties in nicely with their RWC preparations: “Playing against Argentina in South America is unique as they have a very passionate home crowd that brings the best out of their team, so that environment will serve as good preparation for our team with an eye on the Rugby World Cup, especially after getting a taste of the atmosphere we can expect at the international extravaganza in our match against France in Marseille last November.”
Nienaber said the national coaches have been hard at work with their planning for the international season where they will look to build on an encouraging 2022 season: “The coaches have hit the ground running this year and we’ll continue to put in the hard yards as we attempt to ensure that we leave no stone unturned before the World Cup.
“We are on course in terms of finalising our planning for the season and we are excited about returning to the training field,” added the Springbok coach.
An announcement on the venues of the Tests in New Zealand and Argentina, as well as the Boks’ training camps will be made in due course.
Springbok 2023 fixtures:
Castle Lager Rugby Championship:
Saturday, 8 July – Springboks vs Australia (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Saturday, 17 July – Springboks vs New Zealand (venue TBC)
Saturday, 29 July – Springboks vs Argentina (Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg)
RWC warm-up fixtures:
Saturday, 5 August – Springboks v Argentina (venue TBC)
Saturday, 19 August – Springboks vs Wales (Principality Stadium, Cardiff)
Friday, 25 August – SA vs New Zealand (Twickenham, London)
RWC pool fixtures:
Sunday, 10 September – Springboks v Scotland (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)
Sunday, 17 September – Springboks v Romania (Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux)
Saturday, 23 September – Springboks v Ireland (Stade de France, Paris)
Sunday, 1 October – Springboks v Tonga (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)
Weekend of 14/15 October – Quarter-finals
Weekend of 21/22 October – Semi-finals
Saturday, 28 October – Final
Etzebeth named SA Rugby Player of the Year for ’22
Springbok centurion Eben Etzebeth has been voted SA Rugby’s Player of the Year for 2022 following a string of excellent performances by the experienced lock last year, while Canan Moodie won the Young Player of the Year award and Nadine Roos was named Springbok Women’s Player of the Year.
The 31-year-old Etzebeth, who made his Test debut in 2012 and reached his 100th Test against Wales in July earned the award for the first time after narrowly losing out to Springbok captain Siya Kolisi in 2021, but last season the towering lock was a constant star in the green and gold, along with fellow nominees for the top award in Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Frans Malherbe.
Moodie, who celebrated his Springbok debut last year with a superb try against Australia in Sydney while still an Under-20, was voted as the Young Player of the Year. He was nominated ahead of Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Jaden Hendrikse, Evan Roos and Henco van Wyk, underlining the rich vein of talent coming through in South Africa.
Nadine Roos highlighted her versatility in 2022 as she shone for both the national XVs and sevens teams in two Rugby World Cup tournaments, and she was rewarded for her brilliant form by being included in the World Rugby Dream Team after the RWC Sevens in Cape Town in September.
The other nominees were 2021 winner, Lusanda Dumke (flanker), as well as No 8 Aseza Hele, who won the award in 2019, as well as midfield stars Zintle Mpupha and Aphiwe Ngwevu.
Hard-working forward JC Pretorius won the award for Springbok Sevens Player of the Year during a season in which the Blitzboks won four tournaments and just missed out on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title. The other nominees were Selvyn Davids and Zain Davids.
Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who led the SA Under-20s to a clean sweep of four wins in the Six Nations U20 Summer Series in Italy, was named Junior Springbok Player of the Year, edging out team-mates Suleiman Hartzenberg and Ruan Venter.
The DHL Stormers, who won the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship, were voted as the Team of the Year, with John Dobson duly taking the award for Coach of the Year (Evan Roos was named Vodacom URC Player of the Season last year June). The other nominees in these two categories were the Springboks and Jacques Nienaber, and the Airlink Pumas and Jimmy Stonehouse.
The Airlink Pumas’ triumph in the Carling Currie Cup was reflected in the award for Premier Division Player of the Year, which was won by Sebastian de Klerk, who scored eight tries from outside centre during the season as the Lowvelders won the title from fourth spot on the log. He edged out provincial team-mates Willie Engelbrecht and Devon Williams for the title.
The award for Carling Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year was won by Down Touch Griffons scrumhalf Jaywinn Juries, who contributed a massive 169 points to the Northern Free Staters’ cause during the season which saw them not only win the competition, but also earn promotion to the Premier Division at the end of the season.
Dumke, who led the Border Ladies to a second successive Women’s Premier Division title, won the award for Provincial Women’s Player of the Year.
The OUTsurance Referee of the Year, for a second successive season, is Aimee Barrett-Theron, who represented South Africa at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Barrett-Theron also made her debut in the Vodacom URC, establishing her as one of the foremost women’s referees in the world.
Mr Mark Alexander, President of SA Rugby, congratulated the winners and applauded their achievements during a busy 2022 season.
“Eben has been a Springbok stalwart for more than a decade and it’s just amazing to see how he keeps getting better with age, playing with maturity and providing valuable leadership to the Springboks,” said Mr Alexander.
“The Boks are building on depth and experience with an eye on the Rugby World Cup later this year, and I think they are in a good space under the coaching of Jacques Nienaber and the captaincy of Siya, but Eben’s role can’t be underestimated as he is not only the most experienced member of the squad, but he also sets the example for younger players and was widely regarded as one of the best players on the planet last year.
“Looking at the quality of young talent coming through, Canan was deservedly voted as the Young Player of the Year, but the other names of the list of nominees are all expected to still make a major mark on South African rugby, which bodes very well for the future.
“The winners in the other categories for our national teams, Nadine, JC and Sacha, all deserve these accolades after superb performances during the season. Starring in XVs and sevens takes some doing and Nadine never missed a beat; JC was a constant star for the Blitzboks; and Sacha is another one of the upcoming crop of future stars.
“I would also like to congratulate John and the DHL Stormers on their magnificent achievement in winning the Vodacom URC, as well as Sebastian, Jaywinn and Lusanda for leading the way in our very tough provincial competitions.
“The new year is already in full swing, but there is still a lot of rugby to be played and all eyes will be on France in September and October when the Boks defend the Webb Ellis Cup. I would like to congratulate every winner on their awards and wish them well for the next year, but I would also like to thank all the players, young and old, their coaches and team management, match officials, administrators, all our loyal sponsors and all other role players for making 2022 a season to remember.”
The winners and finalists (where applicable) for 2022 are:
SA Rugby Player of the Year: Eben Etzebeth
Finalists: Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe
SA Rugby Young Player of the Year: Canan Moodie (Springboks / Vodacom Bulls)
Finalists: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Junior Springboks / South Africa ‘A’ / DHL Stormers), Jaden Hendrikse (Springboks / Cell C Sharks), Evan Roos (Springboks / DHL Stormers), Henco van Wyk (South Africa ‘A’ / Emirates Lions)
Springbok Women’s Player of the Year: Nadine Roos
Finalists: Lusanda Dumke, Aseza Hele, Zintle Mpupha, Aphiwe Ngwevu
Springbok Sevens Player of the Year: JC Pretorius
Finalists: Selvyn Davids, Zain Davids
Junior Springbok Player of the Year: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu
Finalists: Suleiman Hartzenberg, Ruan Venter
Team of the Year: DHL Stormers
Finalists: Airlink Pumas, Springboks
Coach of the Year: John Dobson (DHL Stormers)
Finalists: Jacques Nienaber (Springboks), Jimmy Stonehouse (Airlink Pumas)
Carling Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year: Sebastian de Klerk (Airlink Pumas)
Finalists: Willie Engelbrecht (Airlink Pumas), Devon Williams (Airlink Pumas)
Carling Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year: Jaywinn Juries (Down Touch Griffons)
Finalists: Jaiden Baron (Boland Kavaliers), Duan Pretorius (Down Touch Griffons)
Provincial Women’s Player of the Year: Lusanda Dumke (Border Ladies)
OUTsurance Referee of the Year: Aimee Barrett-Theron
Vodacom United Rugby Championship Player of the Season (announced last year): Evan Roos (DHL Stormers)
Finalists: Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), Marcell Coetzee (Vodacom Bulls), Warrick Gelant (DHL Stormers), Ruan Nortje (Vodacom Bulls), Vincent Tshituka
Oli Jager: Injury Update
Eddie upbeat for ‘intriguing’ World Cup
England team to face Scotland in Six Nations opener
What rugby is on and where to watch it October – December
Six Nations 2020 – Fixtures & TV Schedule
Farrell Names Ireland’s Six Nations Squad
Premiership1 week ago
Cowan-Dickie injury update
International1 week ago
Savea back at the helm of the Hurricanes
URC1 week ago
All You Need To Know | Benetton v Munster
Premiership1 week ago
TEAM NEWS – Sale Sharks v Bath Rugby
URC1 week ago
Smith, Goosen combine as Jacobs returns ahead of Scarlets outing
URC1 week ago
Ulster team named for visit of reigning URC Champions
Premiership1 week ago
Baxter issues Moon injury update
Premiership1 week ago
Irish name side for west London derby