Barrett still eying All Black No.10 jersey


Beauden Barrett hopes to remain in contention for New Zealand’s No.10 jersey by impressing in Japan’s Top League, as he was unveiled as a Suntory Sungoliath player in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Part of Barrett’s contract with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) allows him to play a sabbatical overseas, and the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year has joined Suntory for the 2021 Top League season, which begins next week.

Despite taking a year out from Super Rugby and the spotlight of playing at home, the 29-year-old is eager to impress All Blacks boss Ian Foster and claim the No.10 jersey, having featured heavily at fullback in recent years.

“I have got a little bit of work to do in terms of slotting back into that role (flyhalf),” Barrett told reporters.

“I think one would expect me to play a little more at No.10 and that is certainly something I am aspiring to do back in New Zealand for the All Blacks.”

Barrett is one of a number of high-profile foreign players who have joined Japanese clubs this season, including compatriots Kieran Read, TJ Perenara and Ben Smith.

Barrett could have chosen to play a season in France where, as a non-exempt foreign-based player, he would have ruled himself out for contention for the All Blacks. But he chose Japan in large part because that would allow him to better prepare for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“It isn’t Japan versus France at all. It was about 2023,” said Barrett.

“I am really happy about the decision that I made.”

Top League, which was completely scrapped last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, is due to begin next weekend and Barrett said all the players were prepared to be flexible should the virus disrupt the league schedule.

Since arriving in Japan late last year, Barrett has also been working on his Japanese and was asked to say a few words on Wednesday.

He mustered a few phrases, much to the pleasure of the Japanese media.

“Gosh, I have been put on the spot,” he said. “I promise you I am better (at Japanese) than what I am presenting right now.”





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Why Rennie thinks Hodge could be a long-term No.10


“Reece’s selection is as much around the goal-kicking and other aspects to get him on the field with James coming back,” Rennie said. “Rabs [O’Connor] hasn’t kicked a lot of ball in the last month so Reece will have the goal-kicking duties and do a lot of touch-finding and so on. He’s played a lot in the back three, he’s played a lot of fullback for the Rebels, so it’s not an unfamiliar position.”

Hodge steered Australia to victory against the All Blacks in Brisbane and was one of the side’s better performers in the 15-15 draw against Argentina a fortnight ago in Newcastle.

But the big question moving forward is whether Hodge, who has now played in every backline position for the Wallabies except halfback, is a genuine five-eighth prospect.

He has made just three appearances there at Test level and rarely been used at No.10 by the Rebels but when asked what his best position was, Rennie made the call that five-eighth could be his home.

“I think he could be really good as a 10,” Rennie said. “He’s a big man, [has] a big kicking game, can carry in those transitional areas, defends well in there. If he could square things up and play on top, he’s got all the attributes. He’s done a really good job for us.

“We’d really like him to play more 10 [at the Rebels]. You’ve obviously got Matt To’omua who has played a bit of 10 for them but we see him more as 12 who plays 10. That would be great but they may decide to play Reece in midfield or elsewhere. We’ll certainly have conversations but in the end those guys will do what they need to do for what’s in the best interest for their side and I’m OK with that.”

Rennie has one win, two draws and two losses to his name ahead of the final hit-out of the year.

Near misses in Wellington and Newcastle still sting and Rennie will be desperately hoping that if Australia get in a position to win the game, they don’t let it slip.

“We’ve had a couple of Tests we should have won and didn’t. We ended up drawing them. That’s frustrating but the key for me is we learn from it,” Rennie said. “A win on the weekend will mean that we’ve got more to build on but certainly we had a chance for silverware if we got it right a couple of weeks ago.

“We’ve talked a lot about this being a springboard to next season [and] not talking about it being the last Test of the year.

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“When we were up 15-6 [against Argentina] we needed to force them to play and chase the game a bit. If we’d plugged the corners even for another five minutes it would have made a difference. Ultimately what we want is just a quality performance.”

The match could be Rob Simmons’ final Test in a gold jersey given he has signed a contract to play for London Irish.

Despite having more than 60 Tests to his name and being eligible to return for the Wallabies, Rennie indicated that next year wanted to pick the bulk of players from within Australia.

“We’re not going to bring an enormous amount of players back from overseas,” Rennie said. “It will really depend on where we’re really thin. Ideal scenario is that we’re grabbing everyone from our competition. To that end, it could be his last.”

Wallabies (1-15): Scott Sio, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Matt Philip, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (c), Harry Wilson, Nic White, James O’Connor, Marika Koroibete, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright, Reece Hodge

Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valetini, Jake Gordon, Irae Simone, Tom Banks

Argentina (1-15): Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Julian Montoya, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Matias Alemanno, Marcos Kremer, Santiago Grondona, Facundo Isa, Rodrigo Bruni, Felipe Ezcurra, Nicolas Sanchez, Emiliano Boffelli, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Matias Orlando, Bautista Delguy, Santiago Carreras

Reserves: Jose Luis Gonzalez, Mayco Vivas, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Lucas Paulos, Francisco Gorrissen, Gonzalo Bertranou, Domingo Miotti, Santiago Chocobares

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O’Connor set for Wallabies recall at No.10


James O’Connor is tipped to regain the Wallabies’ No.10 jumper for Australia’s final Test of the year on Saturday night against Argentina.

Knee and foot injuries have sidelined O’Connor from their past three Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations outings.

But the 30-year-old is expected to make his comeback as chief playmaker against the Pumas, with the versatile Reece Hodge set to move to fullback at the expense of Tom Banks.

Hodge has been a stand-out during his two appearances at five-eighth, man of the match in the Wallabies’ upset win over the All Blacks in Brisbane and going within a whisker of booting Australia to victory over the Pumas in their last-start draw.

But he’s seen more of a stop-gap than permanent No.10, with O’Connor favoured to return as five-eighth after overcoming his injury troubles.

In another tick of approval, though, Hodge will likely start as fullback after Banks failed to produce his dynamic best in his three Tests starts this campaign.

O’Connor’s inclusion is unlikely to be Dave Rennie’s only tinker after the first-year Wallabies coach has shown a penchant for change during his five-Test tenure.

Lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto is available for selection after recovering from his ankle strain and could slot into the second row following a gruelling six Tests in eight weeks for the Wallabies.

The All Blacks have one hand and four fingers on the Tri Nations trophy, with the Wallabies needing to beat the Pumas by 101 points.

It’s a mathematical possibility for the Wallabies that won’t happen at BankWest Stadium.





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James O’Connor here to stay as Wallabies No.10 after years of running away


Even this season, O’Connor saw himself as a No.12 but after discussions with the Reds and realising what he really wanted to do, being the man in charge at No.10 appealed more.

“After that [British and Irish Lions] series … I just didn’t have the understanding I do now of how to control the game,” O’Connor said. “I felt I went into my shell and didn’t fire my shots as I had at Super Rugby before.

I always knew in the back of my mind 10 was the goal.

James O’Connor

“In terms of running away, I didn’t want to play 10 any more, so I moved to 15 and played a little bit on the wing. I always knew in the back of my mind 10 was the goal.

“I made 12 a good home for the time being. I learnt all the skills there and what I needed from my 10 and from my outside backs. It’s been a natural progression as I’ve matured, using my mind more and less of my body, and playing more for the team than looking as an individual.”

Even at the World Cup last year, when he was used mostly at outside-centre, O’Connor felt he was undervalued.

“It did frustrate me because I couldn’t give my all,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t involved as much as I would have liked. You want to go out there knowing you’ve done the job. I went back to the drawing board with one of my coaches and we sat down and chatted about how I could take my game forward. [The conversation] was [around] if the opportunity came up to step up at 10.

“The COVID break for me was pretty big in terms of the amount of analysis I put into my personal game. I just watched the most efficient 10s in the world and got my skillset up to scratch.”

Asked if shifting to No.12 was an option this weekend in the absence of the injured Matt To’omua, O’Connor said it was a “possibility” but suggested lining up at No.10 would be better for the team.

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“I feel like this is my best spot to give my all,” he said. “I’m comfortable there now and I feel like I’m bringing my own element to 10 and really enjoying it.”

O’Connor’s combination with halfback Nic White has been largely blemish-free from two starts. The duo will need to be on from the first whistle if Australia are to win game three and take it to a decider in Brisbane.

“There’s some areas we can tweak but, for a lot of that, I thought we played pretty bloody well and left a lot of points out there,” White said of the 27-7 loss at Eden Park. “Are we good enough? Yeah. Do we have confidence within ourselves and within the group that we can do it? 100 per cent.

“We now know that if we’re not right there, against a good All Blacks team, just those couple of per cent off in a couple areas, they’re very good and can hurt you.”

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Wallabies team confirmed, All Blacks pick Richie Mo’unga at No.10


With James O’Connor picked to wear the coveted gold No.10 jersey, Rennie has confirmed he will blood 20-year-old Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio, who has been named on a 5-3 bench.

Jordan Petaia won’t play given he is still under an injury cloud.

Utility back Reece Hodge, with 39 Tests to his name, is set to come off a Wallabies bench that also includes Waratahs halfback Jake Gordon, who has been given the nod over fellow No.9s Tate McDermott and Joe Powell.

Elsewhere on the bench, Jordan Uelese has been picked as Australia’s back-up hooker, Brumbies duo Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa are the reserve props, while 100-Test veteran Rob Simmons and one-Test rookie Rob Valetini round out the first Wallabies matchday 23 of the year.

“It’s a privilege for me to be able to announce the first Australian side of the year and especially to name a number of players who will wear the gold jersey for the first time,” Rennie said in a statement.

“I’ve been impressed with how quickly the squad has come together. There’s a good group of men here and the last three weeks has given us a chance to work hard and learn more about each other.

Hunter Paisami training in New Zealand. Credit:Rugby Australia/Andrew Phan

“We need to demonstrate that brotherhood and connection on Sunday.”

Meanwhile, the All Blacks have gone with Richie Mo’unga at five-eighth and named Beauden Barrett at fullback.

The Kiwis have named a largely experienced starting XV led by Sam Cane, plus three potential debutants off the bench in second-rower Tupou Vaa’i, loose forward Hoskins Sotutu and winger Caleb Clarke.

New Zealand has held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003.

More to come

Wallabies (1-15): James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Matt Philip, Harry Wilson, Michael Hooper, Pete Samu, Nic White, James O’Connor, Marika Koroibete, Matt To’omua, Hunter Paisami, Filipo Daugunu, Tom Banks.

Bench: Jordan Uelese, Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Rob Valetini, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Reece Hodge.

All Blacks (1-15): Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge, Jack Goodhue, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett.

Bench: Dane Coles, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Nepo Laulala, Tupou Vaa’i, Hoskins Sotutu, TJ Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown, Caleb Clarke.

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No.10 Lolesio in mix for Bledisloe debut


New Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is considering Noah Lolesio for a Test debut at No.10 in New Zealand next month after the Brumbies playmaker’s eye-catching return from injury in Saturday’s Super Rugby AU finale.

Rennie has played match-maker in his first Wallabies camp, pairing 20-year-old Lolesio with Queensland Reds No.10 and experienced international James O’Connor as roommates in the Hunter Valley.

O’Connor – Once the bad boy of Australian rugby – debuted for Australia as an 18-year-old and can provide unique insight as a 30-year-old now back in favour.

Lolesio and O’Connor could be competing for game time in the Bledisloe Cup opener in Wellington on October 11, with fellow playmaking option Matt Toomua still recovering from a groin injury suffered in the Super Rugby semi-final.

Toomua and Melbourne Rebels teammates Dane Haylett-Petty (groin) and Jordan Uelese (shoulder) are rehabilitating injuries while Reds backline gun Jordan Petaia (hip) is another injury concern before the Wallabies’ eight-Test stretch across 10 weeks.

Rennie said all four were still in the mix to play against the All Blacks next month, and will travel to New Zealand on Friday, but that Lolesio had done everything in his power regardless to demand a debut.

“Clearly we rate him highly, that’s the reason we picked him prior to that final and he hadn’t played for 10 weeks,” Rennie said.

“He’s courageous, confident and he made a real difference to the Brumbies.

“It’s another step up here isn’t it.

“He’s impressive though, he’s asking plenty of questions and is rooming with James O’Connor.

“They’ve been talking a lot about the game, about the role and yep, he’s got a chance of starting that first Test and we’ll see how things pan out.”

With time of short supply and a 44-man squad in camp, Rennie selected who shared rooms this week.

He’s also matched captain Michael Hooper with fellow No.7 and former Junior Wallabies skipper Fraser McReight, who impressed in his rookie professional season.

“We always wanted young guys with the older guys, to get a chance to get to know them better, get an arm around them,” Rennie said.

“It’s a big side, easy to go two or three days without speaking to each other, so we’re making an effort and the old boys are getting their arm around the young fellas and showing them the way.”





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Matt Toomua v Noah Lolesio in potential Wallabies No.10 showdown


Rennie could also look to Lolesio and Harrison, both of whom have starred for the Junior Wallabies, while Force playmaker Jono Lance will want to remind people he hasn’t returned home from overseas just to make up the numbers.

If he gets quick ball and is allowed to flatten up and bring his running game into it, he’s a dangerous player.

Brumbies coach Dan McKellar on Matt Toomua

Saturday’s Canberra showdown has an extra dimension given Toomua played 88 of his 99 Super Rugby games with the Brumbies.

In the teams’ round two showdown back in February, it was the young gun who showed up his former teammate.

“[It] was probably one of his better games and, fair play, they outplayed us and he outplayed me that game, he was great,” Toomua said.

“Me being part of the Brumbies for so long and then seeing him develop, you see they develop their players right, particularly in that position.

“He doesn’t play the role where there’s heaps of pressure mounted on him. He has a dominant forward pack, he plays his role very nicely, and he attacks where he needs to. It’s a really good development example for young halves.”

Matt Toomua at Rebels training before the Super Rugby AU opener against the Brumbies.

Matt Toomua at Rebels training before the Super Rugby AU opener against the Brumbies. Credit:Melbourne Rebels

No one is expecting a 47-Test Wallaby to settle for a repeat of February’s 39-26 loss lying down. Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said Toomua’s versatility made him a threat.

“He’s an important player of theirs … he was good for them in their last couple of games against the Highlanders and the Lions in particular,” McKellar said.

“If he gets quick ball and is allowed to flatten up and bring his running game into it, he’s a dangerous player, so we need to make sure we defend well and limit those opportunities.”

Lolesio is the bolter for the prized Test jersey after an assured start to the first Super Rugby iteration.

McKellar was keen to keep a lid on the hype around his 20-year-old playmaker.

“We keep him grounded. He’s had some good publicity and he’s at the start of his career. Great players aren’t made off the back of half a dozen good games,” McKellar said.

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“But he keeps himself grounded, he’s got a work ethic and an attitude where he just wants to get better and better. It’s great when any young player comes in and performs at this level, he’s had some learnings as well over the first seven weeks of Super Rugby.

“But he knows he’s just getting his career started. He’s had a good block now to work on his individual game and understand that he belongs at this level and he’ll be ready to step up again.”

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The forward battle will determine who has the easier night in Canberra, with the Brumbies fielding an all-Wallaby front row in James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a and Allan Alaalatoa, with a fourth Wallaby, Scott Sio, off the bench. No.8 Pete Samu will also be hoping to reprise his damaging pre-COVID form.

Brumbies (1-15): James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Darcy Swain, Murray Douglas, Rob Valetini, Tom Cusack, Pete Samu, Joe Powell, Noah Lolesio, Tom Wright, Irae Simone, Tevita Kuridrani, Andy Muirhead, Mack Hansen. Res: Connal McInerney, Scott Sio, Tom Ross, Lachlan McCaffrey, Will Miller, Issak Fines, Bayley Kuenzle, Len Ikitau.

Rebels (1-15): Matt Gibbon, Jordan Uelese, Pone Fa’amausili, Matt Philip, Michael Stolberg, Josh Kemeny, Richard Hardwick, Michael Wells, Ryan Louwrens, Matt Toomua, Marika Koroibete, Billy Meakes, Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Dane Haylett-Petty (c). Res: Efitusi Maafu, Cameron Orr, Jermaine Ainsley, Trevor Hosea, Esei Haangana, Rob Leota, Frank Lomani, Andrew Deegan.

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