A review of the debutants from the weekend’s action, a new record for King Richie, and a multitude of squad changes ahead of this week. Hold on to your hats!
FIRST TIME’S A CHARM
As always during the first week of the end-of-year test window, a host of new players make their grand entrance to the international area. This past weekend an astonishing 29 players made their bow, though Frederico Sousa’s decision to select nearly an entirely new Portuguese team certainly bloated the numbers. For some this will be a memory to savour for a long time, for others maybe not so much.
Two young Irish talents will not soon forget their maiden voyage in the green jersey. Jack McGrath made most people’s team of the week with a tremendous performance against an admittedly ramshackle Samoan side, and Dave Kearney not only got to play alongside his brother, he scored two tries to boot.
On the other side of the pitch two Samoan replacements were new caps. Faifili Levave was a late inclusion on the replacements bench after bizarrely being omitted from the side initially, and he immediately made a thumping tackle to remind his coach of his folly. Isaia Tu’ifua also made his debut, though he too might be wondering why Fautua Otto was called onto the pitch before he was, despite Tu’ifua being named in the original squad and Otto being an injury call up during the week. Time to get your house in order Samoa!
Santiago Cordero made his much anticipated debut as a replacement for Juan Imhoff against England. He didn’t get many opportunities to shine but looks to have a bright future ahead of him.
In Tbilisi, Benoit Piffero came on for injured Ray Barkwill after the dust up in the first half. With first choice rake Ryan Hamilton seemingly held together by silly putty and Barkwill now crocked, alarm bells must be ringing for coach Kieran Crowley who is left with only Piffero and 19 year old Djustice Sears-Duru, himself a specialist prop, to cover hooker. Tighthead Jake Ilnicki also made his official debut after featuring against the Maori a week ago.
The selection of Scottish u20 flyhalf Tommaso Allan in the Italian squad caused a bit of a stir amongst the Murrayfield faithful a couple weeks back, but Allan looks certain to stick around the Azzurri side for years to come after impressing in the last quarter in Turin. The Italians haven’t had an attacking flyhalf since… well it’s been a while anyway, unless you count Craig Gower’s brief rugby union career.
Three players arrived on the test scene in a tight game in Bucharest. Hearty utility forward Dorin Lazar come in late as a sub for Romania, so too Tonga hooker Suliasi Taufalele, on just in time to see teammate Eddie Aholelei gift three points to the Oaks. Second row Uili Kolo’ofai should have made his debut many moons ago and finally joins the Tongan setup at the age of 31.
Rabah Slimani, the squarely built tighthead from Stade Francais, didn’t look at all out of place as he subbed in for Nicolas Mas in Paris, while in Cardiff the Springboks handed caps to Frans Malherbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit, with the latter tipped to play a starring role in the not-too-distant future.
Three Americans played their first games for the senior Eagles side against the Maori. Lock Tai Tuisamoa and winger Tim Maupin both started after enjoying strong ARC tournaments, while flanker Kyle Sumsion had a memorable debut for the wrong reason, knocking himself in a tackle after being on the pitch for barely 60 seconds! It’s unclear whether caps will be awarded for the match, despite the opposition being of a higher calibre than nearly every other team the Eagles play between World Cups.
Finally on to Lisbon, where nine new players kicked off their Lobos careers, and another three featured for Fiji. Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Levani Botia both touched down on debut, while Alex Rokobaro earned his first international sin binning after killing the ball after only 8 minutes of action. Props Bruno Medeiros, Joao Almeida, and Bruno Rocha; lock Rafael Simoes; flyhalves Francisco Almeida and Luis Salema; centres Miguel Leal and Pedro Bettencourt; and lastly winger Duarte Moreira all won first caps for Portugal.
One last little tidbit – Bettencourt was the youngest player to feature on the weekend, aged just 18 years and 356 days, while his captain Joao Correia was the second oldest at 35 years 82 days. The oldest was Japanese second row Hitoshi Ono, who has Correia beat by three months.
ALL HAIL KING RICHIE
Richie McCaw set a new world record on Saturday, captaining his country for the 86th time and eclipsing the previous record holder Brian O’Driscoll by one. A particularly lamentable New Zealand columnist recently suggested that McCaw be permanently replaced by Kieran Read as All Black captain, hinting that Sam Cane might soon usurp the great man as first choice openside. In the wake of yet another outstanding performance it’s fair to say that this is not a universally accepted position.
CASUALTIES OF WAR
There’s a long list of drop outs following a combative weekend, so it’s probably best to refill your coffee cup before reading further.
Wales look to be the biggest losers from the weekend, losing two vital members of the squad until the new year. Tighthead Adam Jones has been ruled out with a calf injury, while centre Jonathan Davies is set to have surgery on a pectoral muscle that could threaten the start of his Six Nations tournament. Wales have now lost both of their Lions centres with Ashley Beck or James Hook in consideration for the new vacancy.
Liam Williams, who came off second best following a collision with human battleship Bismarck du Plessis, is out with concussion and prop Scott Andrews damaged a neck in less than 10 minutes of time filling in for Jones. Rhys Patchell (shoulder) and Eli Walker (hamstring) have been returned to their clubs for rehabilition, with call ups for Scarlets prop duo Rhodri Jones and Samson Lee, as well as Dragons outside backs Hallam Amos and Tom Prydie.
The English prop stocks are being tested to their limits as Lions looseheads Mako Vunipola and Alex Corbisiero, both suffering from knee damage, have both been ruled out of the forthcoming New Zealand test. Matt Mullan from Wasps has been called up as cover, with Joe Marler hopeful of being cleared of concussion in time to start. Wingers Marland Yarde (hip) and Christian Wade (hamstring) remain on the shelf, but in better news scrumhalf Ben Youngs is fit and available this week.
Keith Earls looks set to miss the entirety of Ireland’s test series with a knee complaint, and Chris Henry is a fresh casualty from the Samoan encounter after coming off with a pulled hamstring. Leinster pair Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Jennings have been summoned as replacements.
Maxime Mermoz has been left out of the French squad for Friday’s match against Tonga, so too Camille Lopez who faces suspension following an incident in Perpignan’s loss to Oyonnax on Saturday. Freddie Michalak comes in as flyhalf cover, with Fulgence Ouedraogo also added having recovered sufficiently from a shoulder injury.
Scotland have lost key centre Matt Scott to a broken hand, and there are injury concerns for Ryan Grant (concussion), Alastair Kellock (concussion), Duncan Weir (groin), Tim Swinson (shoulder), and Greig Laidlaw (calf). In response Scott Johnson has called up nearly every Scottish-qualified player in professional rugby, adding Ross Rennie, Byron McGuigan, Tom Brown, Lee Jones, Jack Cuthbert, and Leeds fullback Stevie McColl to an already bloated squad.
Georgia will have to face the United States without their entire first choice back row of Dimitri Basiliaia, Viktor Kolelishvili and Mamuka Gorgodze. Basilaia’s broken finger will keep him out of action for two months. Kolelishvili was sent off following a terrible head-high tackle on Canadian flyhalf Liam Underwood on the weekend and is expected to be suspended for several weeks. Gorgodze broke his hand in the ensuing brawl but managed to play on, which partially explains his poor performance in the match. Merab Kvirikashvili and captain Irakli Machkhaneli are also injury doubts, prompting a call up for 2007 World Cup star Giorgi Shkinin, newly recovered from a long term injury. Tarbes lock Giorgi Nemsadze, a surprise exclusion from the initial squad, has also been recalled.
Canadian captain Tyler Ardron is also expected to miss the Romanian match with an automatic suspension following his red card, and there are injury clouds over Underwood (concussion) and hooker Ray Barkwill (leg).
The Americans lost Toby L’Estrange to a foot injury against the Maori, while Scott LaValla was also ruled out of the tour with a bad neck. London Irish flanker John Quill has recovered from June knee surgery and provides a boost to the back row.
Romanian coach Lynn Howells has added uncapped Timisoara pair Gabriel Conache and Marian Drenceanu to the squad ahead of the Canadian game. Conache, a specialist flyhalf, is expected to replace his clubmate Valentin Calafeteanu in the lineup after the experiment of selecting the latter out of position was a failure.
Fiji are pleased to welcome former captain Netani Talei back into the squad after resolving his visa issues, but Samoa’s misery looks set to continue as both Logovi’i Mulipola and Daniel Leo were ruled out of the rest of their tour. To make matters worse George Pisi has been handed a hefty six week suspension for what looked like a borderline tackle against Ireland, and both Brando Va’aulu and Tusi Pisi are questionable following their head-on-head collision on Saturday. No replacements have been named as of yet.
EDIT: Census Johnston has been ruled out for the entire tour. Anthony Perenise and Ken Pisi have been called up to the Samoan squad.
Finally Japan have added Panasonic utility back Yasuki Hayashi as cover for Harumichi Tatekawa, and 7s cap Kilryong So to fill a wing spot against Gloucester.
To see the updated squad lists use the links below, and of course don’t forget to check out the regularly updated international depth charts, found only on this site!