Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen to have surgery on Wednesday

Springbok No 8 and South Africa’s Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, Duane Vermeulen, is in a race against time to be fit for the Rugby World Cup following a diagnosis that he will require surgery on a neck injury.

The 29-year-old Vermeulen, who was also the SARPA Players’ Player of the Year and the Vodacom Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, consulted a specialist in Durban on the recommendation of the Springbok medical team.

The need for surgery was identified to give him the best possible chance to recover in time for the global rugby showpiece in England in September and October. The operation is scheduled for Wednesday.

“This is a huge setback for us, but as with any injury in the game it’s something that we simply have to overcome,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Monday.

“Duane is world-class, which was underlined last year when he was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year and nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year Award. He is one of the leaders in our squad and since making his debut in 2012, has become an integral member of the team.

“I really feel very sorry for him as he was hoping to have yet another huge season for the Springboks, but we’ve properly discussed the situation with him and our medical team, and the decision was taken to have the surgery now as it will be the best for him in the long run.

“We do have a number of great loose forwards available for selection, but with Willem Alberts also not available, this will be a good test of our depth.”

Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts said: “Player welfare is very important which is why we made the decision for Duane to undergo surgery. It’s the best option for his medium to long term career options.

“Duane will be put on an intensive post-operation rehabilitation programme within the Springbok setup and we will work tirelessly to get him ready for the World Cup.”

Issued by SARU Corporate Affairs

The All Blacks team for the historic Test against Manu Samoa in Apia on Wednesday July 8 has been named,

George Moala to make his Test debut on the wing. A further three new All Blacks have been named on the reserves bench: prop Nepo Laulala, halfback Brad Weber and midfielder Charlie Ngatai.

pic -George Moala

The team is: (with caps)

Starting XV:

1. Tony Woodcock (110)
2. Keven Mealamu (123)
3. Owen Franks (57)
4. Luke Romano (17)
5. Samuel Whitelock (62)
6. Jerome Kaino (56)
7. Richie McCaw – captain (137)
8. Kieran Read (72)
9. Andy Ellis (26)
10. Daniel Carter (102)
11. Charles Piutau (14)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (23)
13. Ryan Crotty (13)
14. George Moala
15. Israel Dagg (46)

Reserves:

16. Hikawera Elliot (3)
17. Wyatt Crockett (27)
18. Nepo Laulala
19. Brodie Retallick (36)
20. Matt Todd (2)
21. Brad Weber
22. Colin Slade (17)
23. Charlie Ngatai

The starting XV features a wealth of experience in the forward pack, with 638 Test caps up front, courtesy of a front row of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks; locks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano; and the familiar loose forward trio of Jerome Kaino, captain Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.

There are a further 224 Test caps in the starting backline, with halfback Andy Ellis returning to the All Blacks for the first time since 2011; Daniel Carter is at first five-eighth with Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty in the midfield. Moala is on the right wing, Charles Piutau is on the left and Israel Dagg is at fullback

On the bench, hooker Hikawera Elliot continues his remarkable rugby comeback after last playing for the All Blacks in 2012 and undergoing neck surgery in 2013. Wyatt Crockett joins Laulala as prop cover while Brodie Retallick will provide lock cover. Another returning All Black, Matt Todd, is loose forward reserve. In the backs, Colin Slade joins Weber and Ngatai as backs reserves.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said the team was excited by the numerous challenges that the Test against Samoa will pose.

“It’s exciting for the group to be playing this first ever All Blacks Test in Samoa and we know it’s going to be a special occasion. The Samoans will be incredibly physical and keen to put in a huge performance in front of their fans and we will have to play with high intensity and accuracy with plenty of physicality. We have had a good build-up this week and, with it being a new season and our first Test of the year, we have tried to keep things as simple as possible and now looking forward to getting our season underway.”

Meanwhile, All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and prop Joe Moody have been released to play for the Maori All Blacks, who will take on Fiji in Suva on Saturday 11 July. The remaining All Blacks squad members, except loose forward Sam Cane, who shouldered a heavy Super Rugby workload, will travel to Samoa.

The All Blacks and Samoa have played each other five times since 1993 and this is the first Test to be played in Apia. The last Test was on 3 September 2008 in New Plymouth. Current All Blacks who played in that match include Tony Woodcock, Jerome Kaino and Daniel Carter.

Fan frenzy for All Blacks supporters in Samoa

Rugby fans in Samoa will get to see their fair share of All Blacks with the team undertaking a number of fan events in Apia ahead of the All Blacks test against Manu Samoa on Wednesday.

The team flies into Apia on Monday night and has a full day of events planned, including a public parade and presentation, an official meeting with Samoa’s Head of State, a rugby skills session with local rugby kids and a schoolkids event with their official international partner UNICEF.

The fan activities kick off on Tuesday morning when a group of All Blacks players and management, including captain Richie McCaw, together with New Zealand Rugby President David Rhodes, Chairman Brent Impey and CEO Steve Tew players visit Samoa’s Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi.

Later that morning ten players will take part in a skills and drills session with 100 children at Marist Brothers School, for an event that promises to be a lot of fun for the rugby-mad youngsters.

At 12.00PM on Tuesday, Apia is expected to come to a standstill when both the All Blacks and Manu Samoa squads take part in a public parade. The teams will travel a short route through Apia in traditional open Samoan buses finishing at the Government Building in the centre of the capital for a presentation.

The fan activities wrap up ahead of the Test on Wednesday when a group of players visit some local schoolchildren for a UNICEF promotion on “Healthy Eating, Healthy Activity”

All Blacks Manager Darren Shand said: “The team is really looking forward to meeting their fans in Samoa ahead of this historic Test. We know it’s going to be a fantastic few days for the whole of the country and we look forward to seeing as many people as we can.”

Names of players for The World XV for Newlands Sat 11 july

Bakkies Botha will be joined by three more South African Test players in the confirmed World XV squad for their match on Saturday, July 11 at DHL Newlands in Cape Town against the Springboks.

The World XV squad boasts a combined total of 460 Test caps and represents six nations.

Rugby World Cup winning forwards Botha (Toulon) and Gurthrö Steenkamp (Toulouse) will be joined by the Vodacom Blue Bulls’ JJ Engelbrecht and Flip van der Merwe, as well as former Cell C Sharks hooker Craig Burden (Toulon), a Springbok tourist in 2012, in the 23-man squad which will be coached by former Wallaby and Crusaders mentor Robbie Deans.

The match will be the Springboks’ first of the 2015 season before a shortened Castle Later Rugby Championship. It will be a stern test for Heyneke Meyer’s team as they start their preparations for the Rugby World Cup later this year in England.

The inclusion of players such as Botha, Van der Merwe and Steenkamp, who appeared for the Boks against the World XV a year ago, will mean Meyer’s team will have their work cut out as their opponents are familiar with South Africa’s calls, plays and structures.

Experienced All Blacks Ali Williams and Carl Hayman will join Botha, Steenkamp, Burden and Van der Merwe in a powerful pack, that also includes 2014 European Player of the Year Steffon Armitage in the back row and England-qualified prop Petrus du Plessis.

In the backline, Engelbrecht will link up with Wallabies Luke Burgess and Lachie Turner, as well as France’s Maxime Mermoz and Maxime Machenaud.

In total, 10 members of the squad are from Toulon, who completed a hat-trick of European Cup victories when they beat Clermont 24-18 in last month’s final.

Deans, who will share the coaching duties with France’s Bernard Laporte, wants to give Meyer’s men a real examination before they take on the Wallabies in Brisbane the following week.

“As a coach you relish the chance to work with talented players and this World XV has the experience and quality to come together quickly and really test South Africa,” said Deans.

“Toulon have been a dominant force in Europe for the last three years and the South African contingent led by Bakkies Botha will want to be at least competitive against all their former teammates.

“We know we will need to match the physicality and intensity as well as the skill levels of one of the leading World Cup contenders and it’s a great challenge for myself, Bernard Laporte and the players to work on.”

The Springboks were made to work hard early on in their match against the World XV last year, but cut loose in the second half when they turned a slim 18-13 half-time lead into a victory by 47-13 in front of more than 30,000 spectators at DHL Newlands.

World XV squad

Backs
Delon Armitage (Toulon, England) 26 caps
Luke Burgess (Melbourne Rebels, Australia) 37
JJ Engelbrecht (Vodacom Blue Bulls, South Africa) 12
Mike Harris (Queensland Reds, Australia) 10
Maxime Machenaud (Racing Metro, France) 16
Maxime Mermoz (Toulon, France) 30
David Smith (Toulon) 0
Tom Taylor (Crusaders, New Zealand) 3
Lachlan Turner (Queensland Reds, Australia) 15
Rudi Wulf (Toulon, New Zealand) 4

Forwards
Steffon Armitage (Toulon, England) 5
Bakkies Botha (Toulon, South Africa) 85
Craig Burden (Toulon, South Africa) 0
Petrus du Plessis (Saracens) 0
Carl Hayman (Toulon, New Zealand) 45
Louis-Benoit Madaule (Bordeaux-Begles) 0
Alexandre Menini (Toulon, France) 6
David Roumieu (Bayonne) 0
Gurthrö Steenkamp (Toulouse, South Africa) 53
Jordan Taufua (Crusaders) 0
Flip van der Merwe (Vodacom Blue Bulls, South Africa) 35
Luke Whitelock (Crusaders, New Zealand) 1
Ali Williams (Toulon, New Zealand) 77

Highlanders upset Hurricanes to claim first Super Rugby title in Wellington

The Highlanders celebrate with the trophy after their Super Rugby final win.

PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

The Highlanders’ heroes have heaped heartbreak on the Hurricanes with a 21-14 Super Rugby final win in Wellington.

Sixteen years after losing the 1999 final, Jamie Joseph’s brave battlers pooped the party at Westpac Stadium in front of a capacity crowd of 36,558.

The Hurricanes drowned in a sea of high expectation, unable to play with the freedom and discipline that had marked their brilliant run to the final.

The Highlanders are 2015 Super Rugby champions after beating the Hurricanes 21-14 in the capital.

But the Highlanders didn’t blink, playing with unbridled instinctive freedom to become the first team to win the Super Rugby title from the quarterfinal stage.

They had knocked off the Chiefs in Dunedin, then bamboozled the Waratahs in Sydney, but few thought they could beat the regular season champion Hurricanes on their home patch.

A more deserved set of champions there has probably never been. Halfback Aaron Smith was brilliant, Waisake Naholo influential with a second half try, but it was the unheralded crew led by blindside Elliott Dixon and prop Brendon Edmonds who epitomised the southerners.

ROB JEFFERIES/GETTY IMAGES
Waisake Naholo of the Highlanders celebrates a try that helped his team to the Super Rugby title.

And it was Tasman replacement Marty Banks, the man dumped by the Hurricanes last season, who iced the win with a 78th minute drop goal.

It was a cruel finish for a Hurricanes side that was desperate to send off their senior players, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith included, with the title that’s eluded a generation.

It wasn’t to be and the ghosts of their 2006 finals loss in Christchurch now have unwelcome company. For Wellington fans the list of woe now stretches to seven lost provincial finals and two at Super Rugby level since 2000.

HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES
Hurricanes prop Ben Franks charges forward during the Super Rugby final.

The Hurricanes’ agony and that of first year coach Chris Boyd, ever the bridesmaid, was palpable on full time as yet another talented team fell short in Wellington. Even the crowd’s chants of “Jerry, Jerry” could not lift the Hurricanes over that final hurdle, but the late Jerry Collins would have loved every second of the final. The hits came thick and fast from the first minute to the last as the two sides battered each other into submission.

For the Highlanders there were heroes all over the park, from No 8 Nasi Manu, who soldiered through 50 minutes with one eye shut, to Dixon who played as though he had 360 degree vision. While the visitor’s off-loaded without fear and followed their instincts, the Hurricanes seemed uncertain how to approach the final, kicking for territory early, then being roped into a hectic game of quick taps and crazy counter attack.

The home team undoubtedly missed openside Ardie Savea, who had withdrawn with a knee injury before kick off, but these Highlanders probably would have beaten anyone.

Aaron Smith conducted a reckless pace as he has all season. It was unpredictable, scatter-gun, kick-chase rugby and nobody in the stadium had any idea where play would end up.

The Highlanders cleverly dropped their wings deep and Beauden Barrett was forced to run when his instinct were telling him to kick, putting his side under pressure in their own half. His opposite Lima Sopoaga was only too happy to bang over the penalties and a sideline conversion before halftime, while Barrett’s season long kicking woes continued with three costly first half misses.

The Hurricanes were having success getting around the corner from rucks with waves of runners eating up territory but, as they had during their semifinal against the Brumbies, they struggled to finish.

A string of breakout attacks came to nothing. Wing Nehe Milner-Skudder’s counter was spoiled by a Reggie Goodes knock on, halfback TJ Perenara’s quick lineout take was denied by a Ben Smith cover tackle, and an attacking scrum ended with a penalty.

Finally the Hurricanes found the line, Perenara firing a flat pass to Nonu, who dived past Josh Hohneck to make it 6-5.

But this was the Highlanders half and Dixon had the final say with a brilliant solo try on the stroke of halftime after a mix up between Perenara and Jeremy Thrush gifted them field position.

Dixon, unheralded at the start of the season, punctuated his rise to prominence when he beat no less than six Hurricanes on a 20 metre burst before plonking the ball half on the line, half on Milner-Skudder’s boot for a 13-5 lead.

The harder the Hurricanes tried, the more the match slipped away. Barrett found his kicking boots with three penalties, but it wasn’t enough and the Hurricanes long wait continues.

– Stuff

Highlanders cap off great Super Rugby comeback

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith makes a break during his side’s Super Rugby triumph against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday night.

How perfect was Saturday night’s Super Rugby final in Wellington?

Good weather. A sell out crowd. A game worthy of the occasion.

No villains. Half the heroes so low key they’re called Smith.

The Highlanders are 2015 Super Rugby champions after beating the Hurricanes 21-14 in the capital.

If the Highlanders hadn’t won, another bunch of good guys in the form of the Hurricanes would have.

The season suggested the Canes would become first-time champions, but the Highlanders, on TAB odds on two-to-one to lose, showed just how much they deserve to be at the top table. They were outstanding.

At halfback and first-five Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga were dominant. By comparison, with TJ Perenara under pressure from a fierce Highlanders pack, Beauden Barrett was unusually hesitant.

Hurricanes prop Ben Franks charges forward during the Super Rugby final.

Aaron Smith, as he has been all season, was amazing, whether holding up Canes prop Reg Goodes on the line, making a 45-metre clearing kick, or throwing panic into the Canes’ defence, and so giving Elliot Dixon the metre’s start he needed to score the try of a lifetime just on halftime.

In the rugby equivalent of a Mexican standoff it became clear the Canes were more likely to blink than the southern men, never better expressed than when Julian Savea decked a 100 percent try-scoring chance at 60 minutes.

Bravo to everyone involved in the Highlanders, who as recently as 2013 were licking their wounds after a truly awful season that saw them finish second-to-last, just ahead of the abysmal Kings from Port Elizabeth.

Praise where it’s due for the greatest Super Rugby comeback this century.

Jamie Joseph and his old team-mate Tony Brown brilliantly managed two vital elements for success.

First, over the last couple of years, came some solid gold selections. Prime examples? Joseph had been an Aaron Smith fan from the time he plucked the kid out of Manawatu to play for the New Zealand Maori side. He started picking him ahead of Jimmy Cowan when the idea itself seemed fanciful. Nobody in Auckland saw the potential in Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo. Joseph and Brown did.

The second key was in finding guys on the way up, men who would relish every challenge they faced, for whom round robin games against household names in opposing sides had the rush of a test match.

Start in the front row with tighthead prop Josh Hohneck, a man who provides what amounts to a big steel girder running through the Highlanders’ pack. Or consider lock Alex Ainsley, at 33 playing as if it’s his 10th season at this level, not as it is, his first, through to Nasi Manu, a man who fits the description a cycling coach once gave the great Kiwi rider Bruce Biddle, “this great big chest, with a huge heart pumping away inside.”

The tweak is that this is not just a brave, but a smart side. Unafraid to sometimes try something usually alien to a New Zealand team, in this case a dropkick to seal the game, they’re always conscious of exactly where they are on the paddock, and where they want to be.

To beat the Canes took an outstanding effort.

Their talent this year is all over the field. Start in the front row with Dane Coles, whose explosive running gives them a point of attack so unexpected, it’s like discovering Jeremy Thrush can drop kick 50 metre goals.

Add in massive, tough, tight forwards, dynamic loose forwards, superb halves, and then a back three with remarkable skills presented with such confidence no opposing line is safe.

First up tackling against an outfit like the Canes is essential. The Highlanders made them, they moved a highly experienced side around the field, kept them off balance, and thoroughly deserved an historic victory.

The wonderful tweak for Highlander fans is that this win is not remotely a last gasp. There’s a lot more where Saturday night’s effort came from.

– Sunday Star Times

Two injured players released from Springbok squad

Two injured players in the Springbok training squad, Frans Steyn and Pieter-Steph du Toit, have been temporarily released from the squad to continue their rehabilitation in Durban for the next few weeks.

pic Frans Steyn

Neither of them are expected to be fit for the Springboks’ first two matches of the season, next Saturday against the World XV in Cape Town and a week later against Australia in Brisbane. Steyn has a pectoral muscle tear, while Du Toit is recovering from a knee injury.

According to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer the decision to send Steyn and Du Toit home was taken with the best interests of the players in mind.

“We’ve discussed the way forward with the players, and all of us agreed that the best way forward at this stage is for them to get full-time rehabilitation at their home province, while our own medical team will keep very close tabs on their progress,” said Meyer.

“Both of them are still firmly in our plans going forward for the season and I really hope they can get back onto the field sooner rather than later. I’m confident the individual attention they will receive in Durban will be a massive benefit to them in the long run.

“We won’t be taking Frans or Pieter-Steph with us to Australia and will reassess their situation when we return from Brisbane.”

Two other injured players, Fourie du Preez (knee) and Duane Vermeulen (neck), will continue to do the bulk of their rehabilitation work with the Springbok squad.

Vermeulen was sent to Durban on Thursday to obtain another specialist opinion on his injury, but the final results will only be available at a later stage.

The other injured players who will remain with the squad, are Heinrich Brüssow (arm), Schalk Burger (groin), Lood de Jager (elbow), Willem Alberts (ankle), Cobus Reinach (hand), Jean de Villiers (knee), Patrick Lambie (neck), Lionel Mapoe (knee) and Jan Serfontein (hip and knee).

Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts said: “Most of these players are able to partake in field sessions, even though some of them can only do certain segments of the training, and we’re hoping to have them ready for selection sooner rather than later.

“A final decision on their availability for the match against the World XV will be taken on Monday, but it’s looking positive that a number of them will be declared fit for our season opener.”

DHL Stormers forwards coach Matt Proudfoot to move abroad -BIG in Japan

DHL Stormers forwards coach Matt Proudfoot has opted not to renew his contract with Western Province Rugby, but he might not be lost to the union on a permanent basis.

Proudfoot will be linking up with outgoing DHL Stormers head coach Allister Coetzee at Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers in Japan, but Director of Rugby Gert Smal remains hopeful of retaining his services on a consultancy basis, which would see him contribute to the ‘Tight Five Factory'; an innovative project which is aimed at identifying and developing tight five players from youth level and up within WP Rugby.

Proudfoot, 42, has served as forwards coach of both the DHL Stormers and DHL Western Province for the past seven seasons, which has seen the Cape team’s pack become one of the most feared units at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level.

In that time, the likes of unheralded juniors Steven Kitshoff, Scarra Ntubeni, Frans Malherbe, Vincent Koch, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Nizaam Carr have progressed into the Springbok ranks (either as Test players or squad members), with the DHL Stormers’ scrummaging power a huge boon in their recently-completed 2015 Super Rugby campaign.

Smal commented: “First and foremost, Matt deserves a lot of credit for what he has achieved here during his time as forwards coach of both the DHL Stormers and DHL Western Province.

“Like with Allister (Coetzee), it was always our intention to retain Matt’s services at WP Rugby, but, that said, you cannot stand in somebody’s way should they feel like a change after years of loyal service.

“I would like to thank Matt for his contribution here at WP Rugby and I am hopeful of him continuing as a consultant to our ‘Tight Five Factory’. I have already spoken to Allister Coetzee about that and we will make an announcement about that as soon as we have 100% clarity.”

Proudfoot moved to the Cape at the start of 2009, having been a successful coach of NWU-Pukke at national and Varsity Cup level, and he will be leaving the union with fond memories; which includes three South African Vodacom Super Rugby Conference titles and two Absa Currie Cup triumphs.

“It was a dream come true to coach at Western Province – the union and the DHL Stormers and DHL Western Province teams will always remain very close to my heart,” said Proudfoot.

“There comes a time for change, however, and although I am leaving I will be leaving with fond memories and many friendships and plenty of experience.

“I would love to stay involved in the ‘Tight Five Factory’ (project), as I believe it’s a project that has a lot of merit and could only benefit an already strong union like Western Province, so hopefully this won’t mean the end of my involvement here.”

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