Friday Rugby Five: Quade’s cash pinched in London

Rugby

The northern rugby season might be winding down, but with the Rugby World Cup now just a touch over three months away don’t expect things to quieten around Europe and the U.K.

And it’s full steam ahead down south, as Super Rugby Pacific enters its final round of the regular season this weekend.

Read on as we wrap up some of the stories you might have missed this week.

QUADE’S BARBARIANS CAMEO ENDS ON SOUR NOTE

The sight of Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi teaming up at No. 10 and 12 for the Barbarians, under Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, warmed the hearts of rugby fans back in Australia.

The fact that Kerevi only got through 19 minutes before coming off with a hamstring injury was less pleasing, but the powerhouse centre soon declared the niggle was just a “bump in the road.”

Barbarians weeks are always fun affairs and the game against the World XV at Twickenham was no different, with Wales great Alun Wyn Jones lining up the game’s final conversion. Sadly it sailed wide, but it was only a small blip on an otherwise enjoyable week for the players on and off the field.

However, it didn’t end all that well for Cooper. The Wallabies playmaker took to Twitter to reveal that 1,000 pounds had been stolen from his hotel room, before his luggage was lost on his flight out of London.

Hopefully for the 34-year-old, who will soon link with a Wallabies training group to prepare for the Rugby Championship, the luggage shows up soon enough and while nobody likes to be fleeced for cash, Cooper can probably handle what inflation has done to the price of a coffee back home in Queensland.

JONES DROPS BOMBSHELL THAT MAY OR MAY NOT EXPLODE

They call him Eddie Everywhere for a reason. And last week Jones could not have been happier to be piloting the Barbarians at Twickenham, while also finding time to talk to do multiple media hits in what was his first game back at the venue since his sacking as England coach.

That included appearing on the Evening Standard Rugby Podcast, where not only did he sing the praises of likely Giteau Law selection Will Skelton, but also flag the not-so-small note that he planned to step away after the World Cup – no matter where the Wallabies finish.

“I’m only coaching ’til this World Cup,” Jones said. “I’ve signed [until the end of 2027], but as I’ve made the mistake before, I’ve stayed too long. So we win the World Cup, it will be time to go. If we lose the World Cup, it will be time to go.”

Rugby Australia fully expects Jones to honour his contract through to 2027, while the man himself simply told the Sydney Morning Herald, he was focused on the job in France alone.

Jones has never been afraid to throw the odd hand grenade in the media, so any comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

But a man who might be squirming in his seat is RA chairman Hamish McLennan, who made the controversial call to dump Dave Rennie to repatriate Jones to the role he last held in 2005. In fact, with chief executive Andy Marinos already on the way out – his replacement Phil Waugh will soon be announced – there will be no one left but McLennan to bear the brunt of criticism should the Wallabies fail to reach at least the semis in France.

If they happen to stun the world and win a third Webb Ellis Trophy, however, then McLennan will rightfully be swimming in a pool of praise.

KOLBE FORCED OUT OF TOULON WITH A YEAR ON HIS CONTRACT

There is seldom a dull moment when it comes to France’s Top 14, with the league’s clubs and their array of enigmatic owners bringing as much colour off the field as on it over the past couple of decades.

While Toulon might not be the same juggernaut they were in the time of Matt Giteau, Jonny Wilkinson, Drew Mitchell and others, they still had enough class to claim this season’s European Challenge Cup, a triumph in which Springboks star Cheslin Kolbe played a key role.

But it hasn’t been enough for Kolbe to see out his deal, let alone earn a new contract, with news this week that he would be departing the club at the end of the current European season.

“The Rugby Club Toulonnais would like to thank Cheslin for his involvement with the Rouge et Noir since his arrival during 2021-2022,” a club statement read.

“The entire RCT team wishes Cheslin Kolbe the best for the future and an excellent World Cup, which he will prepare with the Springboks at the RCT Campus.”

Kolbe, in the same club statement, said that while he “would have liked to have stayed” the financial constraints at the club and injuries meant it was time to leave.

However, in a Twitter post, his true feelings were on display, the fleet-footed outside back writing: “An emotional couple of weeks it has been for me and my family. Some people might not understand, neither do I, but as I was told “its a business” [.] To put my feelings aside. Despite it all, I have tried my best. Sometimes our plans don’t always align with God’s plans for us.”

Kolbe was one of the stars of the 2019 World Cup, the winger icing the Springboks’ win over England in the final as he skipped down the touchline before stepping inside some hapless opposition forwards.

If fit, he looms as a key weapon once more. But having missed last year’s Rugby Championship through injury, and battled through the northern season, his passage to a spot in South Africa’s 23 might not be so serene.

SUPER RUGBY PACIFIC FINALS SYSTEM: FARCE OR FANTASTIC?

As the trans-Tasman relationship seemingly rises and falls like a roller coaster, officials in both Australia and New Zealand will be quietly chuffed that there are four games in this weekend’s final round of Super Rugby Pacific that can affect the final make-up of the playoffs.

Each of the Reds, Highlanders, Force, Rebels and Drua are chasing the final two places in the eight, while the Hurricanes can still sneak into fourth with a win over the Crusaders and the Brumbies slip up badly against Melbourne.

So only Moana Pasifika’s visit to Sydney is completely irrelevant, but that match has been given its own special billing as it will serve as Michael Hooper’s home farewell in a sky-blue jersey. The Waratahs on Friday announced Hooper had also been named captain, with regular skipper Jake Gordon named on the bench.

The finals system, which seemingly rewards mediocrity and losing regular season records, has therefore made this weekend must-watch action for fans of the competition, instead of say, a four- or six-team playoffs format, which would have rendered this weekend’s closing round almost meaningless.

That is a big win for broadcasters, too, and while hardcore fans might prefer that only those truly deserving of a finals spot proceed to the postseason, the fact that the TV executives front up the money that bankrolls the competition likely means an eight-team format is here to say.

It seems the perfect starting point for that elusive Super Rugby Commission, right?

WHITELOCK CONFIRMS CRUSADERS EXIT

For the past 15 years, the Whitelock name has been synonymous with the Crusaders as brothers Sam, Luke, Adam and Ben all spent time with the franchise. But it’s the All Blacks lock who has been the mainstay, that is until the end of the red-and-blacks’ run this season after revealing he is off to Pau.

A five-time Super Rugby champion with the club, as well as a former team captain, Whitelock will go down as an all-time great and will surely one day have his name added to the Crusaders’ Hall of Fame, which welcomed its inaugural members last Friday.

On Thursday, however, there was time to recall some of his fonder memories at Rugby Park in Christchurch, with coach Scott Robertson recalling Whitelock’s sneaky move on TJ Perenara that helped the Crusaders defeat the Hurricanes and with it win a place in the final against the Jaguares a week later.

“Hands of god, we call that. He just came in… that was a wee moment. I remember the next week, Jaco [Peyper] was the ref [for the final against the Jaguares]. He goes, ‘Sam, I would have penalised you for that.’

“He got away with one there, that’s the Midas Touch he’s got.”

Whitelock will link up with one of his brothers, Luke, at Pau next year, but also didn’t rule out perhaps one day returning to Christchurch for another stint in the famous Crusaders jersey.

“Never say never, someone like a John Afoa, I never thought he would be back. I’ve got a few greys and a little bit more hair than Johnny, but never say never, I could be back at some stage.”

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