Free State Cheetahs see off Blue Bulls

The Free State Cheetahs got their Currie Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 43-27 victory over the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Friday evening.

The men from Bloemfontein started on the front foot and won a penalty just three minutes in when the Blue Bulls strayed offside. Tian Schoeman lined up the penalty attempt and successfully slotted it between the poles for an early 3-0 lead.

The visitors scored the first try of the game in the eighth minute. After setting up the lineout driving maul and making some yards, number eight Henco Venter realised there were no Blue Bulls defenders covering the space behind the maul and broke clean through before running 20 metres to dot down. Schoeman added the extras.

Soon after, the hosts hit back. Johnny Kotze made the break downfield before being brought down 20 metres out. The ball was recycled to the right wing with Manie Libbok playing an excellent long pass for Cornal Hendricks, who had a simple finish in the corner. Libbok failed to convert with the score 10-5 to the Cheetahs.

The Free State Cheetahs regained the ascendancy, however, and were camped on the Blue Bulls' try-line for a full ten minutes after winning a scrum penalty. Finally, they were rewarded for their dominance when Bernhard Janse van Rensburg scored in the right-hand corner after the ball was swung wide and Rosko Specman got sucked in on defence.

In the 33rd minute, the visitors had their third. Junior Pokomela made the break and was halted just short before the ball was recycled to Janse van Rensburg, who showed great strength to power over from close range despite the attentions of three Blue Bulls' defenders. Schoeman converted for a 22-5 lead.

Just before half-time, the hosts scored a morale-boosting try to take with them in to the interval. After winning the penalty, the ball was kicked to the corner. From there, they set up the lineout driving maul with Ruan Steenkamp applying the finishing touch.

It was a very scrappy, stop-start beginning to the second half with knock-ons and scrum resets aplenty chewing up the time.

In the 52nd minute, the Cheetahs dotted down with their first sniff of the second half. Scrum-half Tian Meyer's kick and chase forced Kotze in to making a terrible clearance which gifted the visitors a lineout five metres out, from which they set up the driving maul. The ball was recycled from there with Louis Fouche eventually touching down at the base of the post. Schoeman converted for a commanding 29-12 lead.

But a piece of individual brilliance from Specman soon afterwards got the Bulls back in to the game. The Blitzboks star found space on the overlap down the left wing, weighted his kick ahead expertly and collected brilliantly to complete the finish.

But the Blue Bulls had no answer to the Free State Cheetahs' driving maul, with Jasper Wiese going over at the back of another thunderous rolling maul on the hour mark as Schoeman added the two points from the tee for a 36-17 lead.

The visitors scored their sixth try five minutes before full-time when Darren Adonis dotted down on debut when he pounced on a loose kick and chase from the Blue Bulls and ran untouched for thirty metres to complete the finish.

But there would still be time for the Blue Bulls to score two consolation tries. First, Johan Grobbelaar scored off the back of a lineout driving maul and then Conrad van Vuuren finished off a flowing team try after the hooter.

Blue Bulls - Tries: Hendricks, Steenkamp, Specman, Grobbelaar, Van Vuuren. Con: libbok

Free State Cheetahs - Tries: Venter, Janse van Rensburg 2, Fouche, Wiese, Adonis. Cons: Schoeman 5. Pen: Schoeman.

Blue Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Roelof Smit, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 Ruan Nortje, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Dylan Sage

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Louis Fouche, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tiaan Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Gerhard Olivier, 22 Dian Badenhorst, 23 Darren Adonis

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Christoper Allison
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans

Griquas edge Pumas in Kimberley thriller

The Griquas claimed their second successive Currie Cup win with a 32-29 victory over the Pumas at Tafel Lager Park in Kimberley on Friday evening.

The Griquas started on the front foot and held possession for four minutes before opening the scoring with a beautiful individual effort from Anthony Volmink, who broke between two tackles in midfield and stepped his way superbly past Kobus Marais before running comfortably in under the posts as George Whitehead added the extras.

The Griquas were enjoying overwhelming dominance and Whitehead added another three points in the 19th minute after Pumas flanker Jeandre Rudolph was penalised for offside to extend the lead to 10-0.

However, the Pumas fought back thereafter and scored their first try in the 25th minute. The Mpumalanga-based side turned over the ball deep in Griquas' territory which allowed Morne Joubert to find space on the overlap down the right-hand side and bash past last defender Whitehead for the score. Marais missed the conversion with the score 10-5.

The hosts thought they had scored their second try in the 35th minute when Gideon van der Merwe dotted down after a series of powerful carries from the forwards but the TMO check revealed that Khwezi Mona had knocked the ball on in the build-up.

The Griquas started the second half as they started the first - in the ascendancy. After winning a penalty at scrum-time, Whitehead kicked for the corner and the hosts set up the driving maul, which made good ground. The ball was recycled through the phases before Eduan Keyter came off the left wing and ran a good inside line to scythe through the Pumas' defence untouched to dot down.

The visitors hit back immediately through Andrew Beerwinkel, who burrowed his way over from close range. But the game swung back the Griquas' way. Pumas' fly-half Marais committed a poor error, kicking the ball out on the full from inside his 22 after it was taken back.

Once again, the hosts kicked for the corner and set up their tried and trusted driving maul, which was halted just before the try-line but Ewald van der Westhuizen forced his way over the try-line with a smart pick-and-go for a 22-12 lead ten minutes in to the second half.

Marais cut the deficit to seven on the hour mark with a penalty goal after the Griquas strayed offside. But soon afterwards, the hosts took the scoreline out of the Pumas' reach once again when scrum-half Zak Burger made a wonderful sniping break and popped the ball to Andre Swarts, who completed the finish.

Soon after, the Pumas hit back as the topsy-turvy nature of the game continued. Etienne Taljaard made a scintillating break down the left wing and popped the ball on the inside to Ashlon Davids, who played the final pass for Ryan Nel to dot down.

With ten minutes to go, the Pumas levelled matters on the scoreboard at 29-29. Tinus de Beer was penalised for offside and the visitors kicked for the corner before setting up the driving maul which was brought down just a couple of metres out. The ball was recycled through the phases before Alwayno Visagie powered over from close range as Marais added the extras.

But the Kimberley side made sure of victory with a De Beer penalty and then another superb individual try from Volmink, who outsprinted the Pumas defence from the half-way line to cap off the victory in impressive style.

Griquas - Tries: Volmink 2, Keyter, Van der Westhuizen, Swarts. Cons: Whitehead 3. Pens: Whitehead, De Beer.

Pumas - Tries: Joubert, Beerwinkel, Nel, Visagie. Cons: Marais 3. Pen: Marais.

Griquas: 15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Michal Haznar, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Eduan Keyter, 10 George Whitehead (captain), 9 Zak Burger, 8 Neill Jordaan, 7 Sias Koen, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 AJ Le Roux, 1 Khwezi Mona
Replacements: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Mox Mxoli, 18 Johan Momson, 19 Zandre Jordaan, 20 Chriswill September, 21 Tinus de Beer, 22 Bjorn Basson, 23 Ruan Kramer

Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Morné Joubert, 13 Ryan Nell (captain), 12 Henko Marais, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Kobus Marais, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Carel du Preez, 6 Jeandré Rudolph, 5 Stefan Willemse, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Marné Coetzee, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Andrew Beerwinkel
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Hilton Lobberts, 19 Phumzile Maqondwana, 20 Ashlon Davids, 21 Chris Smith, 22 Alwayno Visagie, 23 Morgan Naude

Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Johre Botha
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe

Los Pumas name starting XV for All Blacks opener

Argentina have named their starting XV for the Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand at Estadio Jose Amalfitani on Saturday.

Only tighthead prop Juan Figallo and fly-half Nicolás Sánchez are the starters who play for clubs other than the Super Rugby finalists.

Sánchez forms a half-back combination with Tomás Cubelli while Jerónimo de la Fuente and Matías Orlando once again combine in midfield.

The back three sees an all-Jaguares trio line up as Ramiro Moyano and Matías Moroni are the wings with Emiliano Boffelli at full-back.

Up front Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and Agustín Creevy join Figallo in the front-row while Guido Petti and Tomás Lavanini are the lock duo.

Finally the in-form Pablo Matera continues alongside club-mates Marcos Kremer and Javier Ortega Desio as the Pumas look for their first win over New Zealand this weekend.

Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 23 Joaquín Tuculet

Date: Saturday, July 20
Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 15:05 local (19:05 BST, 18:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Reece to make All Blacks bow

The All Blacks have named five uncapped players in the matchday 23 to face Argentina in their Rugby Championship opener in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

Sevu Reece will make his All Blacks debut when he starts on the wing in the team’s opening Rugby Championship clash of 2019.

The matchday 23 sees a blend of experience and youth with five uncapped All Blacks named. Including Reece there’s the uncapped Atu Moli and new All Blacks Luke Jacobson, Josh Ioane and Braydon Ennor, who are all named on the bench.

Balancing that is the experience of lock Brodie Retallick, captain Sam Cane at openside flanker, half-backs Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith at full-back.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said the team has had a good week’s preparation after travelling from New Zealand last weekend.

“As always, with the first game of the season, we’ve worked hard on building our relationships, re-establishing our connections and combinations and getting clarity in our roles. We’ll continue to nail the details further in training throughout the week so that we are bright, clear and excited to play with real intensity come Saturday,” he said.

“It’s going to be exciting to watch how the new All Blacks perform along with their more experienced teammates. The team is a mixture of experience and raw enthusiasm, which I’m sure everyone is looking forward to seeing come together and play.”

Hansen added: “We have the utmost respect for Argentina. We know that we’ll be facing a confident, physical side. Their players will have taken a lot of confidence and self-belief from the Jaguares Super Rugby season, and with the inclusion of their overseas players, there will be added excitement to their group. They will see this game as a massive opportunity to make a statement and it will be our job to make a statement of our own.”

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Jordie Barrett, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tuungafasi
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Braydon Ennor

Date: Saturday, July 20
Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 15:05 local (19:05 BST, 18:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Naisarani to make Wallabies debut

Rebels number eight Isi Naisarani is in line for a Test debut after being named in the Wallabies' starting XV to face the Springboks at Ellis Park on Saturday.

Naisarani is the only debutant in the starting side but the XV looks very different to its last outing, with just 10 of the 23 from their 2018 season-ending match against England named to play.

Waratahs prop Harry Johnson-Holmes is a shock inclusion in the 23 while James Slipper and Nic White both make long-awaited returns to the international arena.

Tom Banks’ start relegates Kurtley Beale to the bench while Rebels full-back Dane Haylett-Petty will line up on the wing.

Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani will team up in the centres with Kerevi also taking on vice-captain responsibilities for the first time.

Johnson-Holmes is a surprise addition to the bench, after arriving in Johannesburg late on Wednesday local time, less than three days out from the match.

Allan Alaalatoa was ruled out with a foot injury, following the departures of looseheads Scott Sio (adductor) and Tom Robertson (ankle).

Hooker Jordan Uelese will play his first Test in nearly two years after battling his way back from a knee reconstruction this season.

Wallabies head coach Cheika revealed his side was itching for its first run of 2019.

“This is an opportunity for our team. We really want to begin building momentum to take us towards our goals in 2019,” he said.

“The players are impatient to play at Ellis Park where our Wallabies haven’t had an opportunity to play for quite a while.

“We know we go into the game as heavy underdogs but most of the players have had a touch over three great weeks of training to prepare, so really they just can’t wait to get out and get into the battle.

“I’m feeling a lot belief and commitment from the people in this Wallaby squad. They’ve all invested a tonne of effort into our preparation and I know the 23 men selected to represent us all on Saturday will do us proud.”

Australia: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Kurtley Beale

Date: Saturday, July 20
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 local (16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Two uncapped players in Boks' starting XV

Two uncapped players have been named in the Springboks' starting XV for Saturday's Rugby Championship opener against Australia at Ellis Park.

Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse) and Herschel Jantjies (Stormers) are the only two uncapped players in the starting team, while Lizo Gqoboka (prop, Bulls) is also set to earn his debut off the bench.

Eben Etzebeth takes over the captaincy from regular skipper Siya Kolisi, who is recovering from a knee injury, while Aphiwe Dyantyi was also not considered for selection because of a hamstring injury. It will be Etzebeth’s 12th Test as Bok captain.

Elstadt is picked at flank in a loose trio that also includes the experienced duo of Pieter-Steph du Toit (46 caps) and Francois Louw (65 caps). Jantjies will play alongside the 33-cap Elton Jantjies in a new-look half-back combination.

On the bench there is also a return to the Bok fold for a number of familiar faces as Erasmus casts his net wide with the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad in mind. They are Ulster loose forward Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, scrum-half), the mercurial Frans Steyn (Montpellier, utility back) and Dillyn Leyds (Stormers, utility back).

The Springbok pack for Saturday’s match on the Highveld is hugely experienced, sharing 394 caps, and is expected to the lead the charge against the wily Wallaby forward unit. Etzebeth has 75 caps to his name, his lock partner Lood de Jager is set to make his 39th appearance while Tendai Mtawarira has already played in 107 Tests.

South Africa: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds

Date: Saturday, July 20
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 local (16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

WP not taking Sharks lightly despite Griquas result

Western Province are not reading too much into the Sharks' surprising 37-13 Currie Cup defeat to the Griquas last week, as they look to make it two wins in a row to kick off their campaign.

Province are preparing to take the Sharks on in Durban on Saturday night with the two teams having experienced vastly differing fortunes on the opening weekend of the season.

While the men from the Western Cape are riding high following an impressive 20-5 win over the Bulls, Sharks fans will still be wondering just what exactly went wrong against the Griquas at Kings Park last Friday.

Still, it wasn't that long ago that the Sharks showed what they were capable of on attack when a late try from Lukhanyo Am saw them through to the Super Rugby play-offs at the Stormers' expence.

With the memory of that defeat still fresh in their minds, Stormers defence coach Norman Laker is adamant they are heading to Durban expecting a titanic tussle.

“To be honest what happened to the Sharks against Griquas is not what they stand for and we know that. They will be up for it and ready to bounce back this weekend and we are expecting that,” said Laker.

“In the last 10 minutes of the Super Rugby game against us they started to present on attack very impressively and they showed us then what they could be capable of. How they got that winning try. We weren’t good in the last 10 minutes against them and we are looking at that. We have to improve a few things so they don’t stretch us so much.”

While the Sharks won't have the likes of Am, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi and Andre Esterhuizen available for them this weekend, they do welcome back JP Pietersen following an overseas stint, while Aphelele Fassi, Kobus van Wyk and Lwazi Mvovo are more than capable of punishing any opponents out wide.

“What we know from Super Rugby is they definitely have a bit more of an attacking game than they had previously," said Laker. "They don’t just kick through their 9, 10 and 15 anymore. But they do still have good kickers. Whether it is Cameron Wright or Louis (Schreuder) at scrumhalf, Curwin Bosch at flyhalf and Fassi at fullback all have kicking ability that can trouble us so we need to be able to adapt to both games. We have got to prepare well.”

Kolisi return sooner than expected

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi is set to make a return from injury sooner than expected.

Kolisi has been on the sidelines for the last couple months following a knee injury. However, coach Rassie Erasmus revealed that he is progressing nicely and is aiming to run on for Western Province in the Currie Cup before the end of the month.

Following that, Erasmus is hoping the forward can get two test matches under his belt before the Rugby World Cup starts in Japan.

"Siya will stay with us until after Saturday's Test and then go home and the good news is he could be back sooner than expected," Erasmus told The Star.

"He could run out for Western Province in two weeks' time, and then we'd be confident to get him back for the last two Tests before we fly out to Japan."

The Springboks host Australia in the opening match of the 2019 Rugby Championship at Ellis Park on Saturday.

Sharks eager to atone for shock first-round Currie Cup loss

The Sharks will look to bounce back from their disastrous 37-13 defeat to the Griquas on the opening day of the Currie Cup when they host Western Province at Kings Park on Saturday.

While the Durban-based outfit frequently blew hot and cold during the recent Super Rugby season, looking fantastic the one week and decidedly average the next, few could have expected them to look so out of sorts in their opening match of the Currie Cup campaign.

Sharks backline coach David Williams has emphasised the importance of bouncing back on home soil and erasing all memory of that disappointing opening-round defeat.

"Playing at home again after a big home loss adds a lot of spice to this game for us. The guys don’t just owe it to the fans to deliver but also to each other," said Williams.

"Set piece wise Western Province were very impressive against the Bulls. Set piece is a massive focus for them and is a point of strength in their game, and we see it as a strength of our game as well. If we can match them there hopefully the game will open up and we can get our backs into the game. The hurt the guys are feeling will carry us a long way and we know the quality we can deliver, I know we can go well this weekend."

In trying to probe the reasons for the Griquas defeat, Williams admitted the Griquas chose the right gameplan in the wet conditions, and that the home side had gotten things wrong.

"Well done to Griquas for how they approached the game, especially with the way they kicked," he said. "Forty-two kicks on a rainy night in Durban is probably the right way to play."

Nevertheless, the Sharks will opt against panicking and making wholesale changes to their gameplan, particularly if it stays dry this weekend.

"Nothing will change this week in how we want to play. We said from the outset that this is a growth tournament for us, it is about blooding players and we have an identity we want to see on the field and that identity must be good enough to win rugby games, so we will still stick to what we are about."

The Sharks can ill afford back-to-back losses to start off their campaign, as this year's Currie Cup features only six rounds, but Williams is adamant they haven't given up their title hopes.

"Not taking anything away from Griquas, who put us under pressure and forced mistakes, but time in the saddle always makes a difference, although that is not an excuse. We know we are better than what we delivered on Friday night," he added.

Coetzee takes over from Teichmann as new Sharks CEO

The Sharks have confirmed that Eduard Coetzee has been named as their new CEO, taking over from former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann.

Teichmann was in the role for three years and was praised by Stephen Saad, the chairperson of the Sharks Board of Directors, for bringing 'stability' to the union.

"Gary came in at a challenging time for Sharks Rugby and not only brought stability and leadership to the role, but also a strong business background at a time when sport is indeed big business," said Saad.

"Although Gary will vacate his current position, he will remain actively involved at the Sharks where he will impart business and leadership advice and engaging with key stakeholders, with Eduard enjoying a sounding board offered by Gary. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Gary for his invaluable contribution to the Sharks and more specifically for the principled approach he took and the strong work ethic that accompanied everything he did."

Coetzee was formerly COO of the club and is a former player. The 39-year-old has a Masters in Business Innovation from UCT's Graduate Business School and is currently studying for his doctorate.

Reacting to his appointment, Coetzee stated: "I am extremely humbled to be appointed as the next CEO of the Sharks. My strategy will be to build on the platform and stability created by Gary during his tenure. The basic business principles of corporate governance and financial controls are non-negotiable fundamentals in our business and will be amplified going forward.

"However, as a strategy I believe that people process culture, culture is my strategy and it needs to be worked on daily in order to be effective. Driving the Sharks culture will create unity from top to bottom. When the chips are down, absolute alignment is key... a strong culture will align individuals in a tough environment like professional sport."

Saad concluded: "Eduard's strong working relationship with Gary over the last three years means his elevation to CEO will be a continuance of a vision to take The Sharks franchise from strength to strength as a sports team and as a business. We will all be there to support him every step of the way."

Van der Walt joins player exodus

Sharks loose forward Philip van der Walt is the latest in a growing number of players to sign with overseas clubs after being snapped up by Newcastle Falcons on a three-year deal.

The 30-year-old will arrive on Tyneside in the coming weeks upon receipt of his visa as the Falcons ready themselves for life in the Championship.

Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Philip’s signing is great news for the club because he brings us experience, leadership and a huge amount of ability in a key area of the team.

“He is renowned as a ball player at number eight but relishes the physical aspects of the game, and he will also give us another top line-out option as well as being able to play in the second-row.”

Van der Walt played his first provincial rugby as a teenager with South Africa’s Eastern Province, going on to enjoy a successful six-season spell with Free State Cheetahs, also playing Super Rugby for the Cheetahs.

Spending a year in France with Biarritz, he joined Natal Sharks the following season, captaining the side and going on to play Super Rugby for the Sharks.

Playing for Japanese club Canon Eagles prior to rejoining the Sharks for this year’s Super Rugby campaign, Van der Walt spoke of his enthusiasm at becoming a Newcastle Falcons player.

He said: “I am very excited to join the Falcons.

“I am looking forward to meeting the team, learning from their experience and contributing as best as I can.

“It is a whole new experience for my family and I. We have never been to the UK and we are looking forward to experiencing Newcastle, its people and the change in environment.”

Van der Walt forms part of a summer influx which also includes USA lock Greg Peterson (Bordeaux-Begles), Tonga wing Cooper Vuna (Bath), lock Darren Barry (Worcester), prop Mark Tampin (Ealing), lock Sebastian de Chaves (London Irish), lock Toby Salmon (Exeter) and centre Gareth Owen (Leicester).

Rugby Championship Preview: Springboks

With the rise of Argentina and Rassie Erasmus employing a rotation policy, the Springboks are predicted to struggle in the upcoming Rugby Championship.

South Africa’s four Super Rugby sides – the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers – will not be happy with their overall performance in that competition as they were outshone by the tournament’s surprise package, the Jaguares, who finished as the conference winners.

Although that should serve as motivation for the Springboks to do well in the Rugby Championship, that is easier said than done as the tournament will be used largely for experimentation and trial purposes ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

However, the Springboks should be in a confident mood as they head into this year’s competition as there were signs of improvement under the guidance of head coach Rassie Erasmus in 2018. Erasmus has put systems in place which has helped the Boks’ cause and although they should be competitive in the Rugby Championship, their ultimate goal is to do well at the global showpiece in Japan later in the year.

Last year: After another underwhelming season in 2017, Erasmus took over the coaching reins from Allister Coetzee at the start of 2018. There were immediate signs of improvement as the Springboks claimed a 2-1 win over England in their three-Test series in South Africa which boosted confidence levels ahead of the Rugby Championship.

Although they started their Rugby Championship campaign with a 34-21 victory over Argentina in Durban, it was not a convincing display and they suffered a 32-19 defeat in the return match in Mendoza. Their campaign hit a crossroads when they also lost their next match (23-18) against Australia in Brisbane.

That result put plenty of pressure on Erasmus and he even admitted that a heavy defeat in their next match – against New Zealand in Wellington – could put his job on the line. But against all odds the Boks delivered an excellent performance to claim a deserved 36-34 win – their first triumph against the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009.

That result brought a feelgood factor back into the game in South Africa and the Boks continued to impress by beating the Wallabies 23-12 in their next match in Port Elizabeth.

That set them up nicely for their final clash against the All Blacks, who had already secured the title ahead of the Test in Pretoria. South Africa came agonisingly close to repeating their Wellington heroics as they led 30-13 midway through the second half before a stunning fightback helped the world champions to a 32-30 win.

Despite that loss, the Boks still finished in second position in the standings.

This year: With the tournament being reduced to just three matches per team and with the World Cup looming on the horizon, it’s difficult to predict how things will pan out as the competition progresses.

Erasmus has already admitted that he will juggle his players to ensure they reach their peak at the World Cup later in the year. He also hinted that he would field an under strength starting line-up in their tournament opener against the Wallabies in Johannesburg ahead of away matches against the All Blacks and Pumas in Wellington and Salta respectively.

With a draw like that and the Boks unlikely to field several of their first-choice players in that opening game against the Wallabies, things do not not look too encouraging for Erasmus and his charges.

As usual, South Africa’s forwards will have a big role to play but their backs will have to improve as they have hardly set the world alight in recent years.

2018 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year Award winner Aphiwe Dyantyi has been ruled out of their opening encounter with Australia but his absence should not be a big setback as South Africa have plenty of depth out wide.

There have been recalls for the overseas-based Frans Steyn, Cobus Reinach and Marcell Coetzee, whose experience should prove valuable to the cause and they will be expected to make an impact especially in close matches.

Ones to watch: If the Boks want to make an impact on this tournament, they will rely heavily on first-choice scrum-half Faf de Klerk to do well. The Sale Sharks man is a vital cog in the Springboks’ wheel as he is a good link between forwards and backs and also a key playmaker. The 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year nominee provides a slick service to his outside backs and can change the course of a match with a moment of magic. Bok fans will be praying that he stays injury free this year.

Another player who will be vital to the Springbok cause is Lions hooker Malcolm Marx. The 25-year-old, who was also rewarded with a World Rugby Player of the Year nomination last year, is one of the world’s best players in his position and his superb breakdown skills, dynamic ball-carrying and outstanding athleticism make him a genuine threat to opposing defences.

Prediction: It’s difficult to see the Boks doing well this year as they have an unfavourable draw and should start their tournament opener against the Wallabies as underdogs if – as expected – they don’t play their big guns in that Test. Away matches against the world champions and a fast improving Argentina side will also be very difficult encounters. Fourth place.

Fixtures:

Saturday, 20 July: vs Australia (home)
Saturday, 27 July: vs New Zealand (away)
Saturday, 10 August: vs Argentina (away)

Blue Bulls boosted by Van Staden return

Springbok Marco van Staden has been released by the Springboks and will start for the Blue Bulls when they clash with the Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.

Powerful loose forward Van Staden has been deemed surplus to requirements for the Boks' opening Rugby Championship encounter with the Wallabies at Ellis Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

What may be the Springboks' loss is certainly the Bulls' gain as they also welcome Wiehahn Herbst back in to the starting XV after the prop was a late withdrawal for the 20-5 opening-day defeat to Western Province at Newlands last Friday due to the birth of his child.

Roelof Smit takes the pace of the injured Wihan Vosloo in the starting lineup while Andries Ferreira comes in for Lood de Jager, who has been recalled to the Bok squad to face the Wallabies.

Head coach Pote Human is well aware of the fact that it won't be an easy task against a Cheetahs side that enjoyed a bye last weekend and will be well-rested as a result.

“We need to be at our best," Human said.

"The Cheetahs will be well-rested and have some really good players available. They will be very keen to get their season starting. We have to start well, keep playing well and finish well in this one.

"We created some chances last week, but with some of our phases not functioning as it should have, we never really managed to force dominance. That needs to change this weekend."

Blue Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Roelof Smit, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 Ruan Nortje, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Dylan Sage

Reds bring in O'Connor

The Queensland Reds have confirmed that they have signed former Wallabies playmaker James O’Connor for the next two seasons.

O’Connor will return to Ballymore after signing with Queensland and Rugby Australia through 2021 following two seasons with Premiership club Sale Sharks.

The 29-year-old boasts 44 Test caps and has scored 223 international points after he made his Australian debut in 2008 as the second-youngest debutant in Wallabies history at 18 years and 126 days.

Born in Southport on the Gold Coast, O’Connor scored 44 points in 12 matches for the Reds during the 2015 Super Rugby season.

Rugby Australia Director of Rugby Scott Johnson said: “James has immense rugby talent. He started his career in Queensland and this is a chance for him to show his full potential for his home state.

“Now is the time for James’ rugby to do the talking. He’s come home for the right reasons to play rugby and to help develop our rugby programs.

“He’s matured and understands the leadership roles both on-and-off the field. He’s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process.

“We want to back the man to be the player we know he can be.”

Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) CEO David Hanham said: “We’re pleased James will return to Ballymore after two successful years with Sale in the English Premiership.

“In our discussions with James, he’s been very open with us around the opportunity he had in northern England to reassess areas of his life and to re-evaluate his approach to professional rugby.

“The feedback from Sale is that he’s been a strong contributor both on and off the field and we believe that he’s a different person to the player that left Ballymore in 2015.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming him home and watching his contribution to the Reds in 2020. I know he’s determined to put his best forward for this state.”

Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “James has represented his country at the highest level. He’s got more than 70 games of Super Rugby experience and has played rugby in some of the top European competitions.

“His time in England has seen him mature as a player and a man.

“He’s been playing at inside centre for Sale this year but offers great versatility to our backline. He’s a Queenslander and as a group, we welcome James back to Ballymore.”

O’Connor is excited to return to the Brisbane-based outfit.

“Firstly, I just want to say how grateful I am to be given this opportunity again,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of work put in behind the scenes and a lot of guys have shown faith in me so all I’m focusing on right now is putting my best foot forward. I have a bigger ‘why’ now and that is what fuels me. In saying that, I’m excited to be back here.

“Even at 29, I’m still learning and we’re really pushing each other. It’s been an intense hit the last few weeks, but I think I’m in a lot better place physically.

“I’m a Queenslander. I was born there. I started playing rugby there. It’s where the dream began. I think a big part as well is that I owe Queensland the best version of myself. I came back last time and I wasn’t in the best place mentally, but also physically I was quite broken, so I couldn’t produce and perform the rugby I wanted to for the team.

“I’m finally ready to return and make amends. I want to do right by the team and the fans, and I intend to deliver the very best of my energy. If I can help the team get back to the top of the sport and if we can bring success back to Queensland, that would be a dream for me.

“The last time I returned, I thought I was ready to repair some of the mistakes I made but also reach my rugby potential, but it was too rushed. I didn’t recognise how much pain I was still in mentally, in saying that, I wouldn’t change it because I was guided to the correct mentors.

“I’ve been on a journey ever since to understanding my true self and how I’m meant to use my privileged position in rugby. I see now that rugby is a gift and I want my journey back to inspire possibly other young men out there who may be a little lost in the world right now. If I can make it back from adversity, then so can you.

“I think 12 is my position. I’ve been playing there the last two years and I’m most comfortable there. I think it’s best with the style of Rugby I play and the way I have developed being overseas. Also, I’m now a bit of a nugget so I fit in there quite nicely.

“But of course, I will cover anywhere in the backline – whatever the team needs. It would simply just be an honour to put the shirt back on again. I would play prop if I had to.”

The St Joseph’s Nudgee College product became the youngest-ever Super Rugby debutant at age 17, when he came off the bench for the Western Force against the Reds in 2008.

He played four seasons with the Perth-based club and then signed a two-year deal with the Melbourne Rebels in 2012, before heading overseas to European Rugby in 2013.

O’Connor played 14 games with Premiership side London Irish and then signed with French rugby powerhouse Toulon the following year.

He returned to Australia with the Reds in 2015, before leaving for a second European stint with a grand total of 525 Super Rugby points across 71 career games.

O’Connor played another season of Top 14 rugby with Toulon and then moved to the north of England with Sale Sharks.

During the past two seasons at Sale, O’Connor scored three tries in 31 matches for the club – including 25 games of Premiership Rugby.

Cheetahs sign four new players

The Cheetahs have bolstered their playing stocks after announcing the acquisition of four new players for their upcoming PRO14 campaign.

The Bloemfontein-based outfit have contracted Sharks utility back Rhyno Smith, Western Province loose forward, Chris Massyn and Griquas duo Chris Smit (centre) and Wilmar Arnoldi (hooker).

Smith will be heading back to the Cheetahs on a three-year contract after previously playing for them in the PRO14 during the 2018/19 season on a loan deal. He was a star player for the North West University in the Varsity Cup and for the Leopards in the Currie Cup First Division, played for the Toyota Cheetahs on a loan deal.

Massyn joins the Cheetahs on a two-year deal and usually plays on the flank. He led the University of Stellenbosch to the 2019 Varsity Cup title. He has the rare distinction of captaining two Varsity Cup teams to the title after previously also leading the University of Pretoria in 2017. He has also played for the Blue Bulls and Boland Cavaliers. The 25-year-old is known for being destructive with the ball in hand and difficult to deal with at the breakdown.

Smit, who joined the Griquas earlier in the year after winning the 2019 Varsity Cup with the University of Stellenbosch, will be joining the Cheetahs on a two-year contract. The centre, who can also play at flyhalf, is cool-headed on the field and has a good distribution game which has caught the attention of many coaches in South Africa. He will be turning 24 in August and was named as the 2019 Varsity Cup Player of the Tournament.

Arnoldi, will also join the Cheetahs on a two-year deal from Griquas. He was a star-performer for North West University for three years before joining Griquas in 2017. During his time at university he also represented the Leopards in the Currie Cup First Division. In 2017, Arnoldi was named in the Varsity Cup Dream Team.

All four of these players are currently playing for their respective provinces in the Currie Cup and will link up with the Cheetahs at the conclusion of that competition.

Basson injury blow for Blue Bulls

Blue Bulls prop Matthys Basson has been ruled out for the remainder of the Currie Cup season with a Grade 3 AC joint injury.

Basson sustained the knock in the 20-5 defeat to Western Province at Newlands on Saturday. Meanwhile, loose forward Wian Vosloo injured his rib in the first half and is viewed as a major doubt ahead of this Friday's clash with Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld.

The good news for coach Pote Human is that scrum-half Marco Jansen van Vuren is back in contention after recovering from a pectoral injury, while flank Roelof Smit is almost certain to be available after passing a concussion test and recovering from a neck injury picked up in that loss to Province.

Fourie delighted with Pienaar signing

New Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie believes the signing of Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar represents a major coup for the Bloemfontein franchise.

Pienaar left the Sharks in 2010 to join Ulster in Ireland where he played between 2010 and 2017 before joining Montpellier for two years between 2017 and 2019.

And Fourie said he was delighted to have the 88-Test veteran on board.

"I feel he'll add a lot of value. He has so many years of experience playing in northern hemisphere conditions. He played for Ulster for a long time. He is a quality player with the needed experience and I think we need it.

"We've got good players in our system but we also lack experience. The better and more experienced players always get bigger offers from other provinces... there are times we can't always afford them... so it's valuable for us to have a player like Ruan next season," Fourie said.

Fourie has taken over from Franco Smith as Cheetahs coach for the 2019/20 PRO14 season, with the latter taking on the role as head coach of Italy's national team.

The Cheetahs suffered in the PRO14 last season as a result of losing a host of key players in the previous season, but Fourie is expecting the current crop to perform better having had time to gel.

"Most of the players who played in the past campaign are again available for the upcoming season. Many of them got their first taste of PRO14 rugby last season. So I believe the experience they gained will prove advantageous," he said.

Fourie did, however, admit there was a lack of experience in the squad, with a number of seasoned operators having been poached by the South African Super Rugby franchises.

"I'm trying to further strengthen the squad. We lack depth in a few positions and we should get answers on possible new signings within the next few weeks. It's important for me that we strengthen the squad.

"We're also busy with an agreement with Griquas that we can use some of their players during the PRO14 - when they're not playing. That would give us more depth and quality of personnel."

World Rugby amend scrum law

World Rugby have made an amendment to the scrum law to minimise the ‘axial’ or rotational load on front-row players on engagement.

The amendment to Law 19.10b outlaws the practice of front-rows placing their heads onto opposition players’ shoulders between the call of ‘bind’ and ‘set’ on engagement, and is effective immediately following approval by World Rugby’s Executive Committee after a recommendation of the international federation’s Rugby committee to adopt key outcomes from the recent Laws Review Group (LRG) meeting in London.

The amendment is driven by research and evaluation undertaken by New Zealand Rugby, the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association presented to the LRG.

The research has identified increased level of axial or rotation loading on front-rows’ cervical spines during the current scrum engagement sequence. The project also featured input by international front-row players including Ken Owens (Wales), Rory Best (Ireland) and Jamie George (England).

The amendment builds on the sport’s successful focus on reducing the risk of injury at the scrum following the 2013 revision to the scrum engagement sequence, which has delivered a 25 per cent reduction on compression forces, a significant reduction in scrum injuries and a more stable scrum.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby is committed to an evidence-based approach to injury-prevention at all levels of the game and the scrum has been at the forefront of that approach.

“This latest small, but important amendment to the scrum law based on robust research could have significant welfare benefits for front-row players at all levels and therefore the World Rugby Executive Committee was overwhelmingly in favour of approving the Rugby Committee’s recommendation into law.”

The Executive Committee has also approved amendments to the High Tackle Sanction framework following feedback from the recent World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina. Following input from tournament officials, it was agreed to simplify the framework by removing reference to direct or indirect contact and streamlining the questions once a shoulder charge or high tackle had occurred. The framework can be viewed here.

The Executive Committee also approved an amendment to the mandatory mid-range sanction in the Regulation 17 sanction table to include both head and/or neck: “Any act of foul play which results in contact with the head and/or neck shall result in at least a mid-range sanction.”

Dyantyi ruled out of Wallabies clash

The Springboks' preparations for the Rugby Championship have hit a hurdle with the news that wing Aphiwe Dyantyi has been ruled out of Saturday's opener with Australia because of injury.

Dyantyi has returned to the Golden Lions in Johannesburg where he will undergo rehabilitation for a hamstring injury, the Springbok management announced on Monday.

The injury has ruled Dyantyi out of the start of the tournament at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg against the Wallabies.

The Bok speedster, who won the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year Award in 2018, picked up the injury during training on Friday and will consult a specialist later on Monday to discuss treatment options and a possible timeframe of return to action.

Bok managment confirmed that a replacement for Dyantyi wlll not be called upon as they have sufficient cover in the training squad, who are currently in camp in Johannesburg.

The Boks regrouped in Johannesburg on Sunday evening to continue with their preparations for their Test against Australia. Rassie Erasmus, the SA Rugby Director of Rugby, will announce the Springbok matchday squad on Wednesday.

Strauss signs with the Bulls

South African-born Scotland international Josh Strauss is leaving Premiership club Sale Sharks with immediate effect to join the Bulls.

Strauss, who is in the Scotland World Cup training squad, and Sale Sharks have come to a mutual agreement so that he can be released from his contract two years into a three-year deal with the club.

The 32-year-old joined Sale Sharks in the summer of 2017 after signing from Scottish PRO14 side Glasgow Warriors. The South African born number eight made 46 appearances in all competitions during his time at the club, scoring five tries in total.

Sale Sharks said they would like to wish Strauss and his family all the best for the future and would like to thank the player for his fantastic contribution to the club.

Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Steve Diamond said: “I would like to thank Josh for his endeavours over the last two years with the club, we wish him every success for the future, and good luck at the World Cup with Scotland in September.

“I am sure he will be a huge success at his new club, and he is welcome back to Manchester anytime.”