Brumbies legend Stephen Larkham will return to the club as head coach for the 2023 and 2024 Super Rugby Pacific seasons.
Brumby 13, Larkham played 116 times in ACT colours from 1996 to 2007, winning two Super Rugby titles, and joined the club’s coaching staff in 2011.
Larkham began his first stint as head coach in 2014 alongside current assistant coach Laurie Fisher, becoming head coach in 2015 before departing after the 2017 season to take up a full-time role with the Wallabies.
The Rugby World Cup winner will continue in his coaching role at Munster in Ireland for the remainder of their season and will return to the Brumbies in July with Dan McKellar joining the Wallabies full-time at the end of the 2022 season.
Brumby 13, Stephen Larkham said: “It’s exciting to know I’ll be returning home to the Brumbies and to Canberra with my family after finishing up my time in Ireland.”
“Playing for the Brumbies as a Canberra local was obviously a special time in my life and the club were very supportive in my transition into coaching so I want to thank Phil (Thomson, CEO) and the Brumbies board for giving me this opportunity to come back and represent the club again as head coach.
“I’ve developed and learnt a lot both as a person and as a coach in these past couple of years, and I’m looking forward to bringing that experience back to the Brumbies to ensure their continued success.
“Moving forward for this season, I’ll be supporting the Brumbies as always from here in Ireland but my only focus now is on finishing off my time with Munster on a high.”
Brumbies CEO, Phil Thomson said: “This is a very good appointment for the Brumbies, and we’re delighted to be able to bring Stephen home to the club which he has served so well as a player and as a coach.”
“Stephen has been integral in the Brumbies history and while it will be difficult to replace Dan, having Stephen re-join to continue on his exceptional work over these past four seasons, five at the end of 2022, is fantastic for the team and the club.
“Through the recruitment process, Stephen proved to be the strongest candidate, and his appointment gives us an opportunity to continue the progress we have made on the field, and what we can add to that in 2022.
“Making this appointment now puts us in a position where we have certainty for the players, and it is also important that we have continuity and stability for our existing staff and the organisation moving forward.
“With this process now completed, the team and organisation can now fully focus on the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season.”
Fijian Drua confirm coach and initial signings
Former All Blacks assistant coach Mick Byrne will be the first head coach for Fijian Drua in next season’s Super Rugby competition.
Byrne, who was part of the All Blacks’ World Cup-winning coaching team in 2011-15, specialised in kicking and taking of high kicks for the side. But he also worked as a skills coach for the Wallabies, Japan and Scotland, and he was an assistant coach with the Blues in 2012-14.
His appointment is for two-years.
Byrne said: “I have followed and admired the way Fijian teams play the game over my coaching career. It’s a style of play that puts the joy of rugby at its core, and I’m very excited to help our club showcase this to the world when the new Super Rugby season starts.
“None of us are under any illusions that it will be easy. We understand the challenges ahead of us in this first season based away from home.
“But within that challenge likes the opportunity to grow stronger as a team and club. It will allow us to be patient with our players, help them find their way and naturally grow into the game we want to play.
“It will be that brand of exciting Fijian rugby that our players and fans love, but with clinical aspects to it in both attack and defence. It will be hard work in our first two seasons but the journey will be rewarding and enjoyable,” he said.
Fijian Drua interim chief executive Brian Thorburn was delighted to secure Byrne.
“He is a seasoned professional and shone through the intensive selection process by displaying real passion for the club and Fijian rugby, and by outlining solid plans for success both on and off the field.
“Mick prioritises maintaining a respectful and cordial relationship with players, staff and partners, which is particularly important for us.”
Also confirmed in the coaching unit is Fiji’s Sevens sides strength and conditioning coach Nacanieli Cawanibuka who will be the head of athletic performance.
“His work ethic, discipline and commitment is world-class,” Thorburn said.
Cawanibuka shared in Fiji’s two Olympic gold medal Sevens wins and several World Sevens titles.
On the playing side Olympic gold medalist Ratu Meli Derenalagi, a former Fiji Sevens captain, has signed with the side along with wing Vinaya Habosi, prop Meli Tuni, utility back Serepepeli Vularika and Tasman Mako forward Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta.
They join five players named in the initial signings: Olympic gold medalist and utility back Napolioni Bolaca, hooker Tevita Ikanivere, wing Onisi Ratave, who is playing for Bay of Plenty in the Bunnings NPC, loose forward Nemani Negusa and halfback Simione Kuruvoli, who played for Fiji against the All Blacks in the July Steinlager series.
World Rugby to introduce contact training restrictions
World Rugby and International Rugby Players (IRP) have published new contact training load guidance aimed at reducing injury risk and supporting short and long-term player welfare. The guidance is being supported by national players’ associations, national unions, international and domestic competitions, top coaches and clubs.
Earlier this year, World Rugby unveiled a transformational six-point plan aiming to cement rugby as the most progressive sport on player welfare. These new best-practice guidelines focus on the intensity and frequency of contact training to which professional rugby players should be exposed and have been shaped by consultation with players and coaches as well as leading medical, conditioning and scientific experts.
While the incidence of training injuries is low relative to that of matches, the volume of training performed means that a relatively high proportion (35-40 per cent) of all injuries during a season occur during training, with the majority of these being soft tissue injuries. Since the training environment is highly controllable, the guidelines have been developed to reduce injury risk and cumulative contact load to the lowest possible levels that still allow for adequate player conditioning and technical preparation.
The guidelines are based on a global study undertaken by IRP of almost 600 players participating across 18 elite men’s and women’s competitions, and a comprehensive review of the latest injury data. This reveals that training patterns vary across competitions, with an average of 21 minutes per week of full contact training and an average total contact load of 118 minutes per week. A more measured and consistent approach to training will help manage the contact load for players, especially those moving between club and national training environments. The research supports minimising contact load in training, in order that players can be prepared to perform but avoid an elevated injury risk at the same time. The guidelines aim to help strike that balance.
New ‘best practice’ training contact guidelines
World Rugby and International Rugby Players’ new framework [https://www.world.rugby/the-game/player-welfare/medical/contact-load] sets out clear and acceptable contact guidelines for training sessions, aiming to further inform coaches – and players – of best practice for reducing injury risk and optimising match preparation in season. The guidance covers the whole spectrum of contact training types, considering volume, intensity, frequency and predictability of contact, as well as the optimal structure of sessions across the typical training week, including crucial recovery and rest periods.
Recommended contact training limits for the professional game are:
- Full contact training: maximum of 15 minutes per week across a maximum of two days per week with Mondays and Fridays comprising zero full contact training to allow for recovery and preparation
- Controlled contact training: maximum of 40 minutes per week
- Live set piece training: maximum of 30 minutes set piece training per week is advised
The guidelines, which also consider reducing the overall load for players of particular age, maturity and injury profile (in line with the risk factors and load guidance published in 2019), will feature in the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup player welfare standards.
Instrumented mouthguard research programme to inform effectiveness
World Rugby is partnering with elite teams to measure the ‘real life’ effect of these guidelines (in training and matches) and assess the mechanism, incidence and intensity of head impact events using the Prevent Biometics market-leading instrumented mouthguard technology and video analysis to monitor implementation and measure outcomes.
The technology, the same employed in the ground-breaking Otago Rugby Head Impact Detection Study, will deliver the biggest ever comparable bank of head impact data in the sport with more than 1,000 participants across the men’s and women’s elite, community and age-grade levels. The teams that have signed up so far are multiple Champions Cup winners Leinster, French powerhouse Clermont Auvergne and Benetton Treviso while discussions are ongoing with several other men’s and women’s teams across a range of competitions.
World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “This important body of work reflects our ambition to advance welfare for players at all levels of the game. Designed by experts, these guidelines are based on the largest study of contact training in the sport, developed by some of the best rugby, performance and medical minds in the game. We believe that by moderating overall training load on an individualised basis, including contact in season, it is possible to enhance both injury-prevention and performance outcomes, which is good for players, coaches and fans.”
World Rugby Director of Rugby and High Performance and former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt added: “Training has increasingly played an important role in injury-prevention as well as performance. While there is a lot less full contact training than many people might imagine, it is our hope that having a central set of guidelines will further inform players and coaches of key considerations for any contact that is done during training.
“These new guidelines, developed by leading experts and supported by the game, are by necessity a work in progress and will be monitored and further researched to understand the positive impact on player welfare. We are encouraged by the response that we have received so far.
“We recognise that community level rugby can be an almost entirely different sport in terms of fitness levels, resources and how players can be expected to train, but the guidelines can be applied at many levels, especially the planning, purpose and monitoring of any contact in training.”
International Rugby Players Chief Executive Omar Hassanein said the guidelines are being welcomed by players: “From an International Rugby Players’ perspective, this project represents a significant and very relevant piece of work relating to contact load. We’ve worked closely with our member bodies in gathering approximately 600 responses from across the globe, allowing us to have sufficient data to then be assessed by industry experts. The processing of this data has led to some quite specific recommendations which are designed to protect our players from injuries relating to excessive contact load. We will continue to work with World Rugby as we monitor the progress of these recommendations and undertake further research in this area.”
Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster, who was involved in reviewing the study and advising the development of the guidelines, said: “We have a responsibility to make the game as safe as possible for all our players. For coaches, optimising training plays a significant role in achieving that objective. It is important that we do not overdo contact load across the week in order that players are fresh, injury-free and ready for match days. These guidelines provide a practical and impactful approach to this central area of player preparation and management.”
Ireland international and IRP Head of Strategic Projects and Research Sene Naoupu said: “While this is the first step of the implementation and monitoring process, it is an incredible outcome that shows just how much players care about this area. It also provides a foundation to review and determine future direction of implementation across the game, within an evidence-based injury-prevention programme for performance and welfare.”
World Rugby is also progressing a wide-ranging study of the impact of replacements on injury risk in the sport with the University of Bath in England, a ground-breaking study into the frequency and nature of head impacts in community rugby in partnership with the Otago Rugby Union, University of Otago and New Zealand Rugby, and further research specific to the professional women’s game. All of these priority activities will inform the decisions the sport makes to advance welfare for players at all levels and stages.
Super Rugby Pacific Tournament Announced
Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby have formed a new partnership to deliver Super Rugby Pacific from 2022.
The world’s best provincial competition will kick off a new era in 2022 following a new joint venture partnership between Rugby Australia (RA) and New Zealand Rugby (NZR). Set to kick-off on 18 February 2022, the new 12-team Super Rugby Pacific competition welcomes the introduction of Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika who will join the five Australian and five New Zealand sides.
The competition structure for Super Rugby Pacific will be as follows:
- 12 teams (alphabetical order) with Blues, Brumbies, Chiefs, Crusaders, Fijian Drua, Highlanders, Hurricanes, Melbourne Rebels, Moana Pasifika, NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds, Western Force
- 18-week competition window from 18 Feb to 18 June 2022 and 24 February to 24 June 2023
- 91 matches in total
- Teams will play 14 regular season matches with each team to host seven matches
- Teams will play 8 teams once and 3 teams twice with a focus on derby matches
- One competition table with teams ranked 1 to 12 based on competition points
- Three-week playoff format involving the top eight teams on the overall competition table with quarters, semis and final as follows:
- Quarterfinals – 1 v 8, 2 v 7, 3 v 6 and 4 v 5 with the top-ranked team hosting
- Semi-Finals – top-ranked quarter-final winner hosts against lowest-ranked quarter-final winner & 2nd highest ranked quarterfinal winner hosts 3rd highest ranked winner
- Final – top-ranked semi-final winner hosts the other semi-final winner
The Fijian Drua had previously competed in Australia’s National Rugby Championship [pictured below], winning the title in 2018. Their inclusion was confirmed thanks to the support of Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby as well as that of the Australian Government’s PacificAus Sports program.
Fiji Rugby Union will announce where Fijian Drua home matches will be played shortly, while Moana Pasifika will play their home fixtures primarily in New Zealand. Super Rugby Pacific’s two new entrants will play each other twice in the first two seasons with other examples where teams play twice to be determined by a seeding process based on 2021 results, with an emphasis on local derbies.
Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos said: “We’re thrilled to confirm the competition model for next year and beyond and want to thank NZR for their hard work and effort along with Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika for their patience, and the effort that has been put into their proposals.”
“I want to thank Nine and Stan for their endorsement of the competition as well as Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the Australian Government for their terrific support. This is a game-changer for Rugby in the Pacific, and indeed, the rest of the Rugby world. We have seen the brilliant rugby that Fiji play in all formats of the game and their inclusion will make this new competition one of the toughest in the world,” Marinos said.
New Zealand Rugby General Manager Professional Rugby & High Performance Chris Lendrum said: “We are entering an incredibly exciting new phase for rugby in the Pacific region. The trans-Tasman rivalries are crucial to our sport in the Southern Hemisphere, and the existing Super Rugby clubs have built a wonderful history and legacy over 26 years.”
“Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua will add an enormous amount of energy, skill and talent to the competition, not to mention a passionate support base. The Pasifika nations have added so much to world rugby over the years and this is an opportunity to enhance the standing of Pasifika rugby.”
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