SYDNEY, Australia, Feb 21 – Five talking points ahead of Super Rugby’s second round of matches this weekend:
– The biggest loser –
Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn has hailed Feao Fotuaika as a “feel-good story” after naming the big prop to make his debut against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.
The 25-year-old shed a colossal 16 kilos in pre-season to earn a crack at Super Rugby after being told he must lose weight.
“Feao is a feel-good story. He was out of shape and on the verge of giving up the game,” said Thorn.
“We identified him playing club rugby last year and his transformation since has been something to admire.
“Feao has dropped 16 kilos in the pre-season and his scrummaging is now very dominant.”
He joins a heavyweight pack loaded with five Wallabies — Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Caleb Timu.
– Don’t bet on Nonu –
Ma’a Nonu may have ambitions to rejoin the All Blacks at this year’s World Cup but bookies are not convinced.
The two-time World Cup winner has returned to Super Rugby after three years in France and played in the narrow Auckland Blues loss to Canterbury Crusaders last weekend.
But the blockbusting centre will be 37 when this year’s tournament rolls around and New Zealand’s TAB bookmakers rate him a 20-1 outsider to pull on the famous black jersey again.
Winger Rieko Ioane is the shortest-price player — at an unbackable 1-10 — to make the team.
And Nonu’s dream suffered a further blow Thursday when the Blues left him out of the 23-man squad to play Coastal Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
– Bad boy Beale’s back –
Controversial Kurtley Beale will return to the NSW Waratahs starting line-up at number 12 against the Sunwolves in Tokyo after breaking his silence over two videos showing him in the presence of an unknown white powder.
Beale has apologised after footage from three years ago showed him laughing as a man snorted the powder — the latest in a string of misdemeanours during the Wallaby’s career.
Beale, who was dropped by the Wallabies for the final Test of 2018 for disciplinary reasons, conceded the videos — which surfaced online last month — had been “a bad look” for the game.
“I apologised at the time and now my full focus is on the Waratahs and adding my bit to hopefully a successful campaign,” he said.
Beale’s captain Michael Hooper and coach Daryl Gibson will both hit half-century milestones in Saturday’s match.
Hooper will mark his 50th game as captain, while Gibson will bring up the landmark as head coach.
– Lions wary of wounded Stormers –
The Golden Lions are expecting a chastened Western Stormers side to hit back hard when the two face off in the South African derby in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Newlands-based Stormers were stampeded 40-3 by the Northern Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, while the buoyant Lions celebrated a first ever victory in Argentina 25-16 against the Jaguares.
“We’re expecting a backlash,” said Lions attack coach Neil de Bruin this week. “Playing against them in Cape Town is always difficult, but they’ll be up for it even more.
“There’s a lot of pride in rugby and they’ll be going all out to prove last weekend’s performance was a mis-step. We’re going to have to be at our best. We’re under no illusions that it’s going to be a very difficult match.”
– All Blacks rest plan has problems –
The All Blacks’ plan to nurse top players through the rigours of Super Rugby to protect them for the World Cup is already facing problems after just one round.
The New Zealand Herald reported that rugby chiefs wanted All Blacks to play no more than 60 minutes in the first three rounds to ease them through the often brutal all-Kiwi derbies.
But 16 of the 26 All Blacks who played in the first round exceeded the quota, including Waikato Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick who had to leave the field after suffering a head knock in the 67th minute.
New Zealand Rugby are also insisting Super Rugby clubs don’t play their internationals for more than five consecutive matches and give them at least two games off, creating a dilemma.
“Players want to play, and they want to do the right thing for their teammates, so they are often reluctant to limit their minutes or leave the field,” the Herald said.