Hurricanes Michael Fatialofa, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara and Blade Thomson show off their rainbow laces.
Hurricanes players have continued the support for diversity and inclusion in rugby, with four players pictured after Friday night’s match against the Blues with their rainbow-laced boots.
All Black Ardie Savea shared a photo on his Instagram account post-game of himself, fellow international TJ Perenara and team-mates Michael Fatialofa and Blade Thomson in the Eden Park changing rooms following their 36-15 round 13 win, holding up their colourful footwear.
Savea had also tagged the NZ Falcons – an Auckland-based gay and inclusive rugby team – which had initially also provided laces to Chiefs players, who first wore them in the match against the Reds in Brisbane on April 21.
The sporting of the laces is in response to the controversial views about homosexuality being made on social media by Wallabies and Waratahs player Israel Folau.
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Perenara had taken a stand against Folau early in the piece last month, and had donated $500 to the Falcons, who were fundraising towards a tournament next month.
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith takes the ball into contact the last time they hosted the Lions in Dunedin, in 2016.
Kiwi rugby fans will want nothing more than to see the Highlanders stomp all over the Lions in Dunedin on Saturday night.
Because it has not been forgotten the Johannesburg-based outfit didn’t play a single Kiwi team on their way to the playoffs last year, a constant gripe for fans of the five New Zealand sides during the 2017 season.
Super Rugby is flawed, they said. Wait until they play New Zealand teams, they said.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger had plenty to ponder after his side’s 38-12 loss to the Sharks last weekend.
So you can imagine their relief when a change of format, and the return of a 15-team competition, ensured an entire conference wouldn’t go through another regular season without fixtures against Kiwi opposition.
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A year after going 14-1 before losing the final to the Crusaders at home, the 6-5 Lions have lost to the Crusaders and Blues in Johannesburg and the Hurricanes in Wellington.
DARRIAN TRAYNOR/GETTY IMAGES
The Lions will be without star hooker Malcolm Marx on Saturday night.
You can almost hear some New Zealanders saying “I told you so”.
The Highlanders now get a chance to kick them where it hurts most, and it would be beyond naive of the Lions not to expect a fired up opposition at Forsyth Barr Stadium, given the 38-12 beating they copped from the Sharks in Durban last weekend.
“The reaction has been good,” Mauger said. “Everyone was a little bit embarrassed by the performance.
Lions centre Lionel Mapoe tackles Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo during the teams’ semifinal in Johannesburg in 2016, won 42-30 by the Lions.
“It showed in this game if you’re not where you need to be mentally going into a game, or probably our ability to react after that first seven or eight minutes when we were down 14-0, then you’re going to get hurt.”
Both sides are missing key players ahead of the first match between the teams since the Lions beat the Highlanders 42-30 in their 2016 semifinal in Johannesburg.
Most notably, the Highlanders are without halfback Aaron Smith, who is sitting the match out as per All Blacks requirements, and loose forward Liam Squire (broken thumb), while the Lions will be without hooker Malcolm Marx.
Marx, who tore his hamstring against the Hurricanes last weekend and is expected to miss up to six weeks, has scored more tries (seven) than any other Lion or Highlander, and it goes without saying he will be missed as the tourists attempt to snap the Highlanders’ 10-match winning streak under the roof.
“It [no Marx] is not going to change the way they play the game,” Mauger said. “We’re preparing for another physical battle, and we’ll make sure we control the parts of our game that feed our game. It’s going to be important to play in the right parts of the field, and getting our territory right.
“I think the Lions are still as dominant [as last year]. They are still a very powerful force up front, they score a lot of their tries through their lineout maul.”
The Highlanders didn’t arrive back in Dunedin until Tuesday morning and, unsurprisingly, have had a lighter week of preparation than usual.
If they are to avoid slipping further behind the Crusaders and Hurricanes at the top of the New Zealand conference standings, a vastly improved defensive effort from the one which allowed the Sharks to dot down five times is a must.
That will be easier said than done against a team which has ran in 54 tries in 11 games this season, 21 more than the Highlanders (nine games).
“Also, one thing we probably didn’t execute well enough last weekend was our ability to hold the ball when we had opportunities. Just making good decisions around our offloads. Our skill execution will allow us to put more pressure on them than we were able to last week,” Mauger said.
AT A GLANCE
Highlanders v Lions
Saturday, 7.35pm, Dunedin
Referee: Angus Gardner
TAB odds: Highlanders $1.32, Lions $3.35
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Tevita Nabura, Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Luke Whitelock, James Lentjes, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon (cc), Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Josh Dickson, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Josh Renton, Josh Ioane, Sio Tomkinson
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert (captain), Cyle Brink, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Johannes Jonker, Robbie Coetzee, Dylan Smith. Reserves: Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, Jacobie Adriaanse, Lourens Erasmus, Marnus Schoeman, Dillon Smit, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sylvian Mahuza
Super League sides are also targeting the winger because of his try scoring exploits
LUKE Briscoe may seal a Super League move by booking a place in rugby league history.
Several clubs, including Salford, are thought to be tracking the winger, who broke Martin Offiah’s modern day mark by scoring a try in his 16th consecutive game in the Championship clash against Toulouse.
Now Eric Harris’ all time record of 17, set in 1937, is in his sights against Hull in tonight’s Challenge Cup tie – and succeeding may tempt a top flight club to make a move.
“To overcome a record set by one of the greatest players to ever play rugby league is obviously very special,” said Briscoe, brother of Leeds star Tom.
“I am mindful of Eric Harris’ record and will be doing all I can to beat it.”
Meanwhile. Tom Johnstone may be asked to put his hand up for both England and Scotland after club boss Chris Chester was appointed national rugby league chief.
The Wakefield winger is currently aiming for a spot in Wayne Bennett’s side to face New Zealand in Denver next month after making the Elite Performance Squad south of the border.
But he is eligible for the Scots as he was born in Germany where his father was serving with the Scots Guards, meaning he was technically born in Edinburgh.
And rugby league’s qualification rules mean players can pick a tier one nation – England, Australia or New Zealand – and a tier two nation, which Scotland’s Bravehearts come under.
Chester is joint head coach of Scotland along with Featherstone’s John Duffy, replacing Steve McCormack after a poor World Cup last year.
NOT SO SUPER
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Quade Cooper has not dropped off the Wallabies’ map entirely but attack coach Stephen Larkham says they won’t be picking him out of club rugby.
Cooper is playing for Souths in Queensland Premier Rugby after Reds coach Brad Thorn told him he wasn’t required at training in the preseason, despite being contracted until 2019.
Both the Rebels and Brumbies have spoken to Cooper about the possibility of him making a move, but the playmaker opted to stay in Brisbane, and has been vocal about his desire to return to the Reds.
Cooper’s chances of a Reds return were effectively publicly quashed by Thorn on Wednesday, when the coach said Queensland wouldn’t stand in Cooper’s way should another franchise come knocking.
Cooper’s absence at Super Rugby level makes Australia’s lack of flyhalf depth obvious, with patchy performances from Melbourne’s Jack Debreczeni and Queensland starter Jono Lance moving overseas next season.
Youngster Hamish Stewart has shown some promise, but none of the starting 10s appear to be pushing incumbent Bernard Foley too hard.
Though Larkham said there were sometimes exceptions, the Wallabies weren’t likely to be selecting Cooper unless he was playing at the top level.
“I wouldn’t say it’s out of the picture, but at the moment, no, we’re looking at Super Rugby players,” he said.
“There’s three guys who were in the squad last year (as possible flyhalves) – Bernard (Foley, Reece Hodge and Kurtley Beale were our three five-eighths and the other two (Hodge and Beale) were outside, playing different positions.
“You look at his (Cooper’s) contribution to the team on the field, there’s no doubt he’s good enough to play for Australia and make an impact at that level.”
Though a Super Rugby move appears Cooper’s only option, Larkham said no one at the national level would be pushing him in any direction.
“I guess it’s up to him,” he said.
“I would love to see him playing Super Rugby, there’s no doubt about that.
“I’ve always enjoyed my time with Quade, I think he’s a magnificent player and I certainly want to see him playing at that next level, which will hopefully then we’ll be able to play for Australia again.”
Larkham also said Israel Folau’s retention was a priority for Australia as the World Cup nears, with the fullback recently linked with a possible move to the Queensland Reds.
“Anyone in the top 25 players in Australia at the moment is very important to us, with the World Cup a year away,” Larkham said.
“Our preparations have started and Israel’s certainly a player that we would love to keep in the game.
“He’s a spectacular player and i enjoy working with him and certainly enjoy watching him play.”
The Waratahs are keen to keep Folau in NSW, despite a string of recent controversies.
The Wallabies play their first June Test on June 9 in Brisbane, against Ireland. Buy tickets here
Cape Town – Chiefs coach Colin Cooper says it is difficult to imagine a Super Rugby competition without the participation of South African teams.
The New Zealanders are in Cape Town where they are preparing for Saturday’s clash against the Stormers at Newlands.
There has been a noticeable frustration, particularly among South African supporters, over the current state of Super Rugby.
Crowd attendances remain a problem, though the Stormers and Bulls did pull over 30 000 people to Newlands last weekend, while the perceived inconsistency when it comes to officiating has also left consumers frustrated.
Then, earlier this week, SANZAAR was forced to squash rumours that South Africa’s franchises were plotting their exit from the competition for more lucrative options up north at the end of the current broadcast deal, which runs until 2020.
Lions president Kevin de Klerk was also quoted this week as saying that the money on offer from Europe could impact on the future of South African franchises.
For Cooper, though, Super Rugby just wouldn’t be the same without the South African sides.
“I can’t imagine that,” Cooper said.
“I don’t know what it is, but Super Rugby has been around for so long and South Africa, New Zealand and Australia have really formed the competition.
“All the countries, particularly South Africa and New Zealand, have been rewarded for the tough competition that it is.
“The travel is probably the negative of the competition, but I’m sure the people above (SANZAAR) can organise it so that the travel is not such a major factor.”
Cooper stopped short, though, of saying that there were concerns over the quality of the Super Rugby product as a whole.
“I don’t sense that frustration from the public,” he said.
Public perceptions aside, Cooper believes that the South African teams have improved significantly this year.
“They’re looking dangerous,” he said.
“I think all the South African teams are playing a more balanced game with expansiveness and using their set piece.
“I think South African rugby is looking exciting and looking good.”
Chiefs tour squad:
Karl Tu’inukuafe, Sam Prattley, Angus
Ta’avao-Matau, Jeffrey Thwaites, Sosefo Kautai, Nathan Harris, Liam
Polwart, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Brodie Retallick, Tyler Ardron, Luke
Jacobson, Pita Gus Sowakula, Michael Allardice, Liam Messam, Jesse
Parete, Matt Matich
Brad Weber, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Jonathan
Taumateine, Damian McKenzie, Marty McKenzie, Solomon Alaimalo, Johnny
Faauli, Anton Lienert-Brown, Charlie Ngatai, Sean Wainui, Alex
Nankivell, Shaun Stevenson, Toni Pulu
Champions last season when they finished second in the table behind Wasps, they have topped the table for the first time having been the most consistent team. They suffered only a minor wobble in the Premiership, surprisingly losing at home to Worcester, but failed to make the knock-out stage of the European Champions Cup having been grouped with Leinster. There is no team in England better at retaining possession than the Chiefs who are rarely in panic mode, but they are stripped of romance.
Verdict: Set for the grandest of finals against Saracens.Paul Rees
Final league position: 2nd
There was a point in the season when Saracens, the pre-eminent club in England this decade, looked like slipping out of the top four. They lost three Premiership matches in a row at the end of last year with back-to-back Champions Cup defeats to Clermont Auvergne in between, their squad depth plumbed by international calls and injuries. They lost their European crown in Leinster and they look more fallible than they have for some time, but they still take some beating. And next year their Lions will have a louder roar.
Verdict:Still the standard bearers.PR
Final league position: 3rd
They can point to two reasons why they have not booked a home semi, as was the case last year. Their tendency to build a comfortable lead and then let teams back into the match has been remarkable in its consistency, and while all sides have been hit by injuries, they were particularly so in late September and early October. With Danny Cipriani, Willie le Roux and Christian Wade all shining, their backs were lethal but they look a big lump or two short up front. Recent rumblings of discontent only add to the sense that the next chapter in Wasps’ history will be a significant one. Stopping Saracens in the semi-final would appear beyond them.
Verdict:If not a major step backwards, certainly sideways. The Premiership title would be a huge ask for a team so accommodating in defence.Gerard Meagher
Final league position: 4th
A remarkable achievement for the Falcons to reach the playoffs and Dean Richards and his coaching staff deserve all the plaudits they receive. Richards has recruited shrewdly and instilled belief and while Exeter may prove too strong, they will give it an almighty crack at Sandy Park and their away form has been a significant part of their success. The victories over Sale and Leicester, to book a last-four spot, summed up their season and we can only hope that Richards is given the finances to sustain Newcastle’s development.
Verdict:The story of the season – if they can make it to Twickenham it will be one for the ages.GM
Final league position: 5th
Finishing outside the playoffs for the first time since 2004 is not good enough for a club of Leicester’s pedigree. It would have helped had Ben Youngs, George Ford, Matt Toomua, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May and Telusa Veainu been simultaneously fit and available but the Tigers seldom had the dominant forward platform which was their trademark. Mark Bakewell’s arrival as forwards coach brought an improvement there but they are not even the best team in the Midlands.
Verdict: Nothing to write home about. Robert Kitson
Final league position: 6th
Nine tries against already-relegated London Irish on the final weekend could not disguise another season of mediocrity. Todd Blackadder argues that injuries played a part but, as he concedes, “we all know we will have to do better next season.” The fact remains that Bath have made the play-offs only once in the past eight years, while the decision not to renew the faithful Matt Banahan’s contract is a head scratcher.
Verdict: Still less than the sum of their expensive parts.RK
Final league position: 7th
Three heavy defeats in their final four matches ended any hope of reaching the playoffs but this may prove the season where they stirred. It must be remembered that Johan Ackermann arrived on the eve of the the season with barely time to discover his surroundings but he has given his side a freedom to play and some conviction. He recruited well and the signs for next season are promising.
Verdict: Lifting the Challenge Cup on Friday would be tangible evidence of their progress.GM
Final league position: 8th
The Sharks are on the up and will be disappointed to have missed out on Champions Cup qualification. The shrewd recruitment of Jono Ross and Faf de Klerk made a difference and there are some highly talented academy players emerging. Must produce their tough-to-beat home form more often away; three losses in their opening four league games did not help either.
Verdict: Deflating finish to an encouraging campaign.RK
Final league position: 9th
Uncanny similarities with Quins: Premiership champions since return from relegation then a gradual, remorseless slide. Every season since 2011, Saints have suffered at least one humiliation. This season they have come thick and fast, starting on day one. Even then, though, they managed somehow to reach the top of the table by the end of September. By Christmas they were in 10th and Jim Mallinder had gone.
Verdict: New start desperately required, and they’ll get one with Chris Boyd.Michael Aylwin
Final league position: 10th
In October, John Kingston claimed he had 28 players unavailable after a home win against Worcester that moved Quins briefly into third. On Saturday, the number was 20 after a fifth defeat in a row condemned them to 10th. It has been a season of horror for Quins. Presumably those absentee figures include every last body eligible to lace a boot, but even by the standards of this season of injuries it represents extenuating circumstances. And now Kingston has gone.
Verdict: Ravaged by injury, but their worst finish since relegation in 2012.MA
Final league position: 11th
Will be favourites for relegation next season, but don’t be surprised if they avoid it. On the field, they play with increasing confidence and will be bolstered by astute signings, particularly among the backs, who should be as deadly as any. Their real problems lie off the field. If English rugby is unsustainable, Worcester are as shocking an example as any, their losses ballooning to over £8m in the year to June 2017. They remain up for sale.
Verdict: Could become everyone’s second favourite team, if they continue to exist.MA
Final league position: last
Their return to the Premiership started with a bonus point victory over Harlequins at Twickenham, but it only proved a portent for the latter. Irish had a (slightly) stronger squad than when they were relegated in 2016, but found themselves further behind. It was an achievement to keep the relegation issue alive until the penultimate weekend, but if they are to have a future in the top flight, regardless of the debate over relegation, they need to find a ground that will provide income on non-match days.
Verdict:Their future hinges on where, rather than how, they play. PR