Five talking points ahead of this week’s games in Super Rugby:
Folau won’t go to ground
High-flying Wallabies fullback Israel Folay isn’t likely back out of any aerial challenges as he returns from his one-match ban, NSW Waratahs assistant coach Simon Cron says.
Folau was suspended over a mid-air challenge with Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony in the final Test in Sydney a fortnight ago but is free to play against Japan’s Sunwolves on Saturday.
There has been plenty of debate around World Rugby’s decision with New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett, who was hurt in a similar incident with Frenchman Benjamin Fall, also calling for clarity around rulings.
“We and Izzy made the decision to appeal it because it’s what’s best for the game,” Cron said. “You’ve got to keep that in the game because it’s such a great part of the game.”
“If you have a look at the best in the world at it — your Beauden Barretts, your Izzy Folaus, they’re going to want to keep it in the game. If you’re both going for the ball it’s pretty clear.”
A win over the Sunwolves will guarantee the Waratahs a spot in the Super Rugby finals and give them peace of mind before a final clash against the ACT Brumbies on July 14.
Stadium honour for 200-up Crockett
Ex-All Black Wyatt Crockett will play in a stadium temporarily named in his honour when he becomes the first player to reach 200 Super Rugby appearances on Friday.
The Canterbury Crusaders have renamed their home ground “Wyatt Crockett Stadium” for the game against Otago Highlanders, when All Blacks captain Kieran Read will also make his first start of the season after back surgery.
Crockett, nicknamed “Crockzilla”, has played all his Super Rugby with the Crusaders winning three championships since his debut in 2006, including last year’s title.
“I am honoured to have represented a team that I am immensely proud of for the past 13 years,” said Crockett, who also has 71 Test caps and was part of the All Blacks’ World Cup-winning squad in 2015.
“To have the opportunity to reach 200 games at home, in front of my family and friends, is something I know I’ll look back on fondly.”
Read will start for the first time this year for the Crusaders after he was sidelined by back surgery in late 2017.
From school rugby to Reds centre
The struggling Queensland Reds have turned to Jordan Petaia, one of the the youngest players in Super Rugby, to answer their injury crisis in Friday’s game against the Melbourne Rebels.
Petaia, 18, has impressed on the wing this season but will be tested in the defensive hot seat of outside centre against the Australian conference title-chasing Rebels in Brisbane.
He was playing outside centre in schoolboy rugby less than 12 months ago and steps into the breach after Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi suffered a ruptured bicep this week.
That news comes on top of knee injuries to outside-centre options Chris Feauai-Sautia and Izaia Perese.
“We’ve had bit of an injury toll in that position but, in saying that, it’s an opportunity for Jordan Petaia,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said.
“He has done a fantastic job in his first year of Super Rugby and hasn’t been overawed with it and forced his way into the starting side.”
Blues target derby drought
Auckland Blues hope to take advantage of Wellington Hurricanes’ late-season stumble to break their long drought against New Zealand opposition on Saturday.
Tana Umaga’s men have not won a New Zealand derby since February 2016, but are coming off a strong win over Queensland Reds and face a Hurricanes outfit looking vulnerable after three losses on the trot.
While their play-off hopes are over, it offers the Blues a chance to restore some pride and avenge a 36-15 loss to the Hurricanes last month.
The Hurricanes, who until recently were competing with the Canterbury Crusaders for top spot, are desperate to arrest their slide and keep themselves in the running for a home quarter-final.
Bulls at a gate
Loose forward Marco van Staden says the lowly Northern Bulls desperately want to avenge their 30-point hiding by title challengers Jaguares when they clash in Pretoria.
“We want to get them back for what they did to us in Argentina,” said the rising star of South African rugby, referring to the 54-24 mauling in May.
Van Staden said the Bulls wouldn’t make any tactical changes despite a three-match losing streak in which they also fell at home to ACT Brumbies and away to Sunwolves.
“We are not going to change the way we have been playing all season. We have analysed the three defeats and know what must be rectified to turn the tide.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)