Northland’s Rush gets Blues squad nod
A fresh face with a familiar name is the Blues’ newest recruit for the 2023 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season.
Northland blind-side flanker Rob Rush, son of former All Black and Sevens legend, Eric Rush, has joined the squad for the first time.
Rush attended Saint Kentigern College in Auckland, living and playing in the Blues region with club stints at East Tamaki, East Coast Bays and Kaeo as well as Northland representative level teams.
In his own unique way, Rush explained what it means to be selected in his first Blues squad.
“I was definitely cheering, but also grateful to be part of the boys for the coming season,” said Rush.
“As a newbie to the squad, I can’t wait to pick the brains of those who’ve been around the barracks for a while. At the same time, I’m not going to back down to them. I can’t wait for everything to kick off.”
Blues Head Coach, Leon MacDonald, said Rush’s selection presented a real opportunity to grow as a rugby player.
“Rob had a really good season for Northland and has honed his craft in the Blues region for many years now. He is a real physical presence on the side of the scrum and has an immense engine and work-rate. We’re excited to see what he can do in a Super Rugby environment.”
MacDonald was equally excited to confirm the remaining names to represent the Blues in 2023 – a squad laden with All Blacks and Super Rugby experience.
“To have a largely settled group returning is very pleasing and means we won’t be starting from scratch, not only from a playing point of view but for team culture also.”
Rush along with prop, Josh Fusitu’a and outside back, Caleb Tangitau are the only new names to the Blues squad for 2023.
Fusitu’a went to school at Auckland Grammar and came through the Blues development programme. He came into the Blues as a replacement player in 2022, making his debut against Moana Pasifika.
Meanwhile, Tangitau joins the squad having represented the All Blacks Sevens team in 2022. He won a bronze medal at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and most recently a silver medal at the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens.
“We’ve injected some youth into our ranks such as Rob and Josh in the forwards and Caleb in the backs. The key for those younger squad members will be to soak everything up, to learn from the more experienced players and to grow as individuals,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald is also well aware Blues fans are keen for their team to bring home the title in 2023.
“Obviously we want to go one further, I know the boys will come into Blues HQ ready to hit the pre-season with some purpose – we know the hard work starts this side of Christmas. We took some really promising strides last season, so for me as a coach it’s about building on what went well while also bringing some fresh thinking and ideas to the table.”
Blues 2023 Squad
Adrian Choat (Auckland), Sam Darry (Canterbury), Kurt Eklund (Bay of Plenty), Josh Fusitu’a (Auckland), Alex Hodgman (Auckland), Akira Ioane (Auckland), Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau), James Lay (Auckland), Dalton Papalii (Counties Manukau), Taine Plumtree (Wellington), Marcel Renata (Auckland), Ricky Riccitelli (Taranaki), Tom Robinson (Northland), Rob Rush (Northland), Anton Segner (Tasman), Hoskins Sotutu (Counties Manukau), Cameron Suafoa (North Harbour), James Tucker (Waikato), Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), Ofa Tuungafasi (Northland), Soane Vikena (Auckland).
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki), Finlay Christie (Tasman), Caleb Clarke (Auckland), Corey Evans (Auckland), Taufa Funaki (Auckland), Bryce Heem (Auckland), Rieko Ioane (Auckland), AJ Lam (Auckland), Sam Nock (Northland), Stephen Perofeta (Taranaki), Harry Plummer (Auckland), Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki), Zarn Sullivan (Auckland), Caleb Tangitau (Auckland), Mark Telea (North Harbour), Tanielu Tele’a (Auckland), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Auckland)
TITO COMPLETES BLUES COACHING PICTURE
New Zealand rugby icon, Paul Tito, completes the Blues coaching staff picture today, signing on as Assistant Coach for the 2023 season.
Tito comes to the Blues off the back of successful coaching stints with Georgia, who claimed victory over Wales in the recent autumn international window and for the past two seasons has been Forwards Coach at the Wellington Lions who are the current NPC title and Ranfurly Shield holders.
He takes over from Ben Afeaki who has taken an exciting opportunity with Rugby New York in Major League Rugby in the United States.
“I’m looking forward to getting stuck in with the boys this season,” said Tito.
“It’s an exciting squad Leon and his fellow coaches have put together. There’s a lot of consistency in personnel which I think is a really good thing – I’m sure they’ll be hungry after last season and want to go one better.”
Tito brings 12 years of professional playing experience to the role while in recent years has filled coaching roles with Taranaki, Western Force, Wellington Lions and internationally with Georgia.
After seven years playing for the Hurricanes, he went overseas and linked up with the Cardiff Blues from 2007 to 2012, making 124 appearances and captaining the side to European Challenge Cup and EDF Energy Cup wins.
He said both his playing and coaching experiences will help bring something new to the role at the Blues.
“I’ve been around rugby for a while now so I’m looking forward to imparting what I have learnt over the years to this vibrant and exciting group of Blues forwards. As a former lock, I’ll have a focus on the lineout, from what I’ve seen there’s a good foundation to build from and I’ll also add my little bit of spice to the equation,” he said.
Blues Head Coach, Leon MacDonald, is looking forward to linking up with the man known as ‘Fish’. “I played against Paul a lot back in the day – he was always a dogged and hard working opponent,” MacDonald said.
“I’ve been impressed with what he’s done from a coaching standpoint in recent years, you only have to look at Georgia’s recent win over Wales and Wellington’s success to see the impact someone like Paul can have on a group.”
Queensland Reds announce 2023 Super Rugby Pacific Squad
The Queensland Reds have confirmed their playing squad for the 2023 Harvey Norman Super Rugby Pacific competition.
Queensland’s roster remains largely unchanged from last year’s campaign, with just three players from outside the 2022 program – Luke Jones, Connor Anderson and Phransis Sula-Siaosi – added to the 37-man squad.
More than 90% of the squad (34 players) have made their way to Super Rugby through the Queensland Rugby pathway, having represented Queensland at U18s or U20s level, or played in the StoreLocal Hospital Challenge Cup, National Rugby Championship or Queensland Rugby Challenger Series.
The squad is Queensland’s most experienced in five-years with the roster boasting 1067 Super Rugby caps.
Up to 13 players will potentially have played 50 games for Queensland by the end of 2023 – the most since 2015.
Five players in the squad have already reached their Queensland half-century, with Filipo Daugunu, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Taniela Tupou and Liam Wright having achieved the 50-cap milestone.
A further eight – Angus Blyth, Jock Campbell, Sef Fa’agase, Harry Hoopert, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Jordan Petaia and Hunter Paisami – will also have the chance to reach the mark this season.
The squad features 12 capped Wallabies, as well as 10 players who represented Australia A this year.
Queensland will also welcome former All Black Kane Hames to the coaching staff, completing the coaching group alongside Head Coach Brad Thorn and Assistant Coaches Jim McKay, Phil Blake and Mick Heenan.
Hames brings over a decade of coaching and playing experience at both International and Super Rugby level to Ballymore.
Reds General Manager – Professional Rugby Sam Cordingley said: “We are proud of the Queensland pathway connection within the 2023 Reds Squad.
“We have been building on our collective experience for a number of years, which has heightened expectation.
“We welcome this ahead of a significant year for the club as we celebrate 140-years of Queensland Rugby.
“We’re pleased to welcome Kane to Ballymore. He is another great asset within our experienced coaching team.”
The Reds commenced their first block of pre-season training at Ballymore this week ahead of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.
Queensland will play five home games at Suncorp Stadium next year, with two at Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium, including a Round 1 blockbuster against the Hurricanes.
Secure your 2023 Reds membership via https://bit.ly/3UP1YDJ.
Queensland Reds 2023 Squad (in alphabetical order)
- Connor Anderson – Wests – Brisbane State High School – Everton Park Roosters
- Richie Asiata – Easts – Anglican Church Grammar School
- Floyd Aubrey – GPS – Marist College Ashgrove
- George Blake – Bond University – The Southport School – Fasi Maufanga Eels, Tonga
- Angus Blyth – Bond University – The Southport School – Casuarina Beach Rugby Club
- Wilson Blyth – Bond University – The Southport School – Casuarina Beach Rugby Club
- Jock Campbell – University of Queensland – The Southport School – Inverell Highlanders
- Lawson Creighton – Brothers – Padua College
- Filipo Daugunu – Wests – Dogotuki District School, Fjii
- Sef Fa’agase – Sunnybank – Shailer Park State High School – Beaudesert Warriors
- Matt Faessler – Brothers – Toowoomba Grammar School – USQ Saints
- Lopeti Faifua – Wests – Saint Kentigern College, Auckland
- Josh Flook – Brothers – St Joseph’s Nudgee College – Brothers
- Mac Grealy – University of Queensland – Downlands College – Souths Toowoomba
- Isaac Henry – Wests – Brisbane Boys College – Kenmore Bears
- Harry Hoopert – Brothers – Toowoomba Grammar School – Dalby Wheatmen
- Spencer Jeans – Bond University – The Southport School – Gold Coast Eagles
- Luke Jones – Wests – St Pius X College – St Ives Rugby Club
- Tom Lynagh – University of Queensland – Epsom College – Richmond Rugby Club
- Tate McDermott – University of Queensland – Sunshine Coast Grammar School – Flinders Rugby Club
- Fraser McReight – Brothers – Brisbane Grammar School – Albany Creek Brumbies
- Josh Nasser – University of Queensland – St Joseph’s Gregory Terrace – Easts
- Zane Nonggorr – Bond University – The Southport School – Gold Coast Eagles
- James O’Connor – Brothers – St Joseph’s Nudgee College – Brothers
- Hunter Paisami – Wests – Mangere College, Auckland
- Jordan Petaia – Wests – Brisbane State High School
- Ryan Smith – Brothers – St Patrick’s College Shorncliffe – Caboolture Snakes
- Phransis Sula-Siaosi – Souths – St Joseph’s Nudgee College
- Keynan Tauakipulu – Wests – Saint Kentigern College, Auckland – Kenmore Bears
- Kalani Thomas – University of Queensland – Ipswich Grammar School – Souths
- Taniela Tupou – Brothers – Tonga College Atele – Kalapu Hufangalupe, Tonga
- Seru Uru – Wests – Ratu Kadavulevu School, Fiji – Namoli Rugby Club, Fiji
- Connor Vest – University of Queensland – Grafton High School – Grafton Junior Rugby Club
- Suliasi Vunivalu – Wests – Saint Kentigern College, Auckland
- Harry Wilson – Brothers – St Joseph’s College Gregory Terrace – Gunnedah Red Devils
- Liam Wright – Easts – Anglican Church Grammar School – Easts
- Dane Zander – University of Queensland – St Joseph’s Nudgee College – Albany Creek Brumbies
*Players’ senior club, high school and junior club are listed.
Queensland Reds 2023 Coaching Staff
- Brad Thorn – Head Coach
- Jim McKay – Assistant Coach
- Phil Blake – Assistant Coach
- Mick Heenan – Assistant Coach
- Kane Hames – Assistant Coach
Highlander greats to join Management Team
Former Highlanders’ co-captains Nasi Manu and Ben Smith have joined the 2023 Highlanders’ management team.
Manu, who co-captained the team with Smith to a Super Rugby Championship in 2015, has joined in an operations and player mentoring role. Manu who battled cancer in 2019 before returning to play for Tonga and Otago also played for mid-Canterbury in this year’s Heartland Championship. As yet he has not called time on his playing career.
“The opportunity to work in a club that I love with and to mentor some younger players was too good to turn down. I don’t know if it signals the end of my playing days just yet, at the moment I am just excited about being able to continue to work in rugby and with the Highlanders,” said Manu.
Highlanders General Manager of Rugby, Greg O’Brien, said Manu is widely respected within the club by both past and present players.
“Nasi came here in 2010 and had an immediate impact on everyone at the club – his engaging approach off the field and uncompromising play on it certainly left a lasting impression. Nasi’s professional attitude and passion for the club will provide a positive influence for many of our up-and-coming players. His unique perspective and inspiration come from a guy who has been there and done that in rugby terms,” said O’Brien.
Highlanders’ legend Ben Smith has already dabbled in coaching having worked with the Otago NPC Squad during the 2022 NPC season and is looking to extend that experience with the Highlanders. He will be working with the team for two days a week focusing on the back three counterattack.
“I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy coaching, or if the players would respond to my style of coaching, however I certainly enjoyed my time with Otago and was encouraged enough to commit some time to the Highlanders. As most people would probably guess, this region and this club mean a great deal to me,” said Smith.
Highlanders Head Coach Clarke Dermody was keen to utilise Smith’s knowledge if possible.
“Ben has only just retired from a great rugby career, and I knew he probably wasn’t likely to want to commit all his time to coaching straight away. As one of world rugby’s best counter attackers from fullback he understands the role of the back three in detail and the knowledge he will be able to impart to our players will be invaluable.”
Between Smith and Manu they have over 200 games in the Highlanders’ colours and know what it takes to be successful and combined with the new coaching group, their collective presence around the clubrooms should provide the class of ’23 with all the support they need.
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