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Rugby Union

Last night, Melbourne has witnessed their own Rugby team winning another game this time v Highlanders in the form of the Rebels and they now sit in 4th place on the ladder with a bye next week before they resume to go all in & hopefully have their first taste of Finals footy. Although they did play in the Qualifying Final back in 2020 v QLD Reds under a temporary Super Rugby AU comp when COVID interrupted our daily lives at the time & the Waratahs weren’t doing much good back then.

However, questions will still need to be answered by Rugby Australia amid the Rebels still being broke as whether or not if they have the resources including the talent pool to support as many as five teams? It’s been a long-running debate that saw two teams end up in the hole including the ACT Brumbies whose existence will not be taken away anytime soon thanks to their decorated history regularly up front that reflects long-running success. There’s another team that won’t be in for the axe at all is the NSW Waratahs whose history is also so strong in a Rugby dominated state/market that goes back to hundreds of years despite their mediocrity over the last couple of years; Same goes to the Queensland Reds – so rule both of them out too as removing those big influences & RA investing more into the Brumbies, Rebels & even Western Force won’t help that much.

While we’d like to go back to the way things were when the Wallabies were oh so good with just three teams in the 1990s and early 2000s, it won’t happen since the world has changed over time with most professional sports here having an excellent national footprint. At the end of the day, it’s still going to be five teams without needing to axe a team again under a few conditions – if the Rebels get cut, 1. I’d to see a like-for-like replacement with the Jaguares coming back this time as a Melbourne-based team by inheriting most of the Rebels players with a few Los Pumas Internationals coming over and 2. Western Force gets some help from Japan and merge with the Sunwolves while still playing most of the games in Perth.

That way, we will able to meet the goal of having all five Australian Super Rugby teams thriving against the long-dominating New Zealand counterparts. Plus, the talent pool will be stronger as ever which in turn will get more quality Australian Super Rugby players coming from all five teams for the benefit of the Wallabies returning to its former glory by winning games & silverware again while expanding overseas selection availability since the Springboks won back-to-back recent World Cups under this model including the next crop of local grassroots kids who will learn massively from the seasoned Internationals playing here.

And hopefully no more fighting after consistently losing to the All Blacks over the last 20 + Bledisloe Cup editions while experiencing the worst World Cup campaign ever where they exited the group stages for the first time last year in France as the worst thing can happen is for RA to face someone in the courtroom yet again like the Force back in 2017, The end.

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Round 8 is now done and we are at the halfway stage of the 2024 Super Rugby Season with one more shortened series of four games next weekend while some teams will undertake the required week-long off the field and all 12 teams will then look to bring it home non-stop towards the end of this regular home and away portion. For now, let’s look back what happened over the past month between Rounds 5 to 8 when we finished March while having an Easter long weekend before entering April and the clocks have moved back an hour with all cold game nights ahead after Daylight Savings was over one week ago.

New Zealand teams

Hurricanes still strong albeit Cam Roigard’s knee injury that will keep him out of the field for six months as let’s see if that unbeaten run continues with games coming up v Fijian Drua as well as two Aussie teams like Brumbies & Waratahs. What else? Blues also on the same wavelength as the Hurricanes where they got the Brumbies next up followed by the Reds and Rebels, so won’t be easy when facing Aussie opposition but they should be alright though with 1-2 wins mainly v Reds and Rebels. Chiefs also not bad despite some losses lately v Crusaders in Christchurch a few weeks ago as well as the unbeatable Hurricanes just now & they have a good next series of matches which we will expect to see them again at Finals time. Then Highlanders have shown that they can always stay in the game but four losses over the last month isn’t a good look whose progress is still in the rebuilding phase which will take a bit more time. And on the Crusaders, great to see them win at last two weeks ago v Chiefs. Although they were unlucky v Waratahs again the other day thanks to Will Harrison’s last-minute drop goal, but they are on the right track though lately as they still need to win the rest if the Saders want to play Finals this year.

Australian teams

ACT Brumbies are still unstoppable who currently sits 2nd with games coming up v the Top 2 such as Blues next Saturday and the Hurricanes after that. Can they be the top ranked side in this comp other than being just the best here that saw them accomplish regular semi-finals over the last couple of years? We’ll see. Melbourne Rebels, on the other hand, got away with really good wins off the back of the Waratahs as that team so far can only win v the new-look Crusaders, as well as Fijian Drua who still struggle away from home and of course, the Highlanders by a comfortable margin. They now sit 4th amid financial problems at the start of this year as nothing is still guaranteed whether if they will be back playing next season & beyond.

Plus, the Queensland Reds good start under Les Kiss has turned sour in recent weeks after three straight losses to the Western Force, ACT Brumbies and now Moana Pasifika. The good news is they are still within the Top 8 bubble in 6th but bad news is they need to win games again if Queensland wish to do well in the Finals and not let it slip out with fear like last year when Brad Thorn had his course as head coach. Meanwhile, the NSW Waratahs are still struggling other than winning games v the Crusaders and they too have a series of tough matches ahead after next week’s bye like Chiefs, Hurricanes and also the Brumbies again. And while the Western Force was fortunate to celebrate the rare home win v Reds, they still haven’t been at their best despite having lots of experienced players. Looking ahead, the run-in fixtures doesn’t look any good to them as an outside finals berth looks less likely but surely they will get some wins at home though like Crusaders, Drua and Waratahs.

Pasifika teams

We all know that the Drua like the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels can have a strong home crowd impact which reflects their impressive winning record there but not so much away from home. They got the Hurricanes and Moana Pasifika coming up at home soon to close out April, so this could mean business for them to get back on track to stay inside the Top 8 bubble and hopefully play Finals again like they did during their sophomore campaign last year. And what about Moana Pasifika? They made some excellent progress at last as seen in the early rounds of 2024, although they had some heavy losses recently until Moana beat the Reds the other day but that was against the top teams. They will need at least 3-4 wins now in order to enjoy their first finals experience as long as the ladder doesn’t change that much over the next 4-6 weeks, but again Moana is making some gradual progress on their third year before they can be more like Drua and win more games in the long run.

Post-Notes

All in all, the New Zealand teams are still dominating Super Rugby as the Crusaders downfall should only last this season while Australia has made some great progress too – including a couple of upset wins against some of the established or original foundation teams should I say – with the Brumbies and Rebels being their best so far in 2024. Nothing much will change as wouldn’t mind a couple of more upsets and other team wins that isn’t a New Zealand team or from somewhere in the bottom four, but the only exception we might see is for the Crusaders to win all the remaining games as they can & make the Finals just inside the Top 8 by the time we wrap up Round 12 before all 12 teams will then become eight teams after Round 15.

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Week 7 of the 2024 Super Rugby Season wrapped up with the ACT-NSW rivalry between the Brumbies and Waratahs at GIO Stadium in Canberra where it was a quiet and defensive focused first-half with the Brumbies holding a 10-point lead after a series of penalty goals by the two teams but No.9 Harrison Goddard has got Canberrans on the board right at half-time with his first TRY of the night, 16-6. Then the Brumbies went on to build on their good first-half with an excellent 2nd-half performance of a few tries on the board that sums up their 5th straight win of 2024 while the Waratahs might have secured the one and only TRY but struggled mightily despite their good defensive structure earlier on as the full-time score was 40-16.

It’s a hard pick with so many Brumbies players performing at their best tonight v Waratahs but how good was Corey Toole who was so electrifying that made the most of his team’s unbelievable 2nd half counter-attacking performance on the left wing at No.11. It’s not just his explosive finishing and slick passes that puts Toole on the front foot but he can also cover everything in between including defense as he deseves the step up into Wallabies level soon enough. Then shoutout to James Slipper who plays on the front row at loosehead for the Brumbies after he just became the most capped Australian Super Rugby player of 178 caps & he too had a great game to keep a great eye of the Waratahs earlier on while giving his team winning penalties and big scores to help the Brumbies stay ahead. He’s so important on and off the field with a plethora of experience alongside a high standard of physical and mental toughness required both at Super Rugby and Wallabies level as credit to him on turning the Brumbies into a regular finals contender since he came over from the Reds back in 2019. Now look out Blues and Hurricanes, they are gunning for the top spot now & hopefully the Super Rugby trophy later in June. But first, they got the week-long off for next week before the Brumbies head to Auckland v Blues on a Saturday night for Week 9.

And Charlie Gamble did the best he can to hold the Waratahs glue together on the openside back row at No.7 with excellent defensive contribution to turn the game over including some attacking intent which reaped rewards along the way, especially when going up against an outstanding Brumbies team who controlled really well with possession. It’s just a shame that his team’s attack wasn’t on par with the Brumbies backline in the 2nd half when it comes to the lead, having built some defensive stability throughout the opening 40. Once again, the Waratahs still haven’t won in a while that goes back to Round 2 last month v Crusaders whom they will be facing up next this time at home (Allianz Stadium in Moore Park) on Friday night.

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It’s been another close game to finish Round 6 of the 2024 Super Rugby Season, but this time it was between the 1st and 2nd best Australian Super Rugby teams right now as the Brumbies were able to shut down the Queensland Reds just in time ahead of the final hooter on their home turf once again (Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane) by just one point in the end, 19-20. The first-half was quiet with both teams opening their respective tries before Noah Lolesio snuck a successful penalty goal where Tom Lynagh couldn’t do for the Reds not long before half-time, 7-10. Yes, the Reds were able to get themselves back on track with a penalty TRY followed by another big score. But then they couldn’t stop a destructive Brumbies attack and also their scrambled defnese with plenty of mistakes being made under pressure and that was the game itself, with the Reds having to suffer another loss in recent weeks after losing to the Western Force last Saturday while the Brumbies took the win once again.

Tom Wright was outstanding from the back at No.15 tonight for the Brumbies following his two TRY performance at Suncorp Stadium v the Queensland Reds. He offers pretty much everything that you need to know every time he has the ball such as kicking out of trouble as well as his defensive contribution and most importantly in attack where he can beat his man 1 on 1 while getting the job done with blistering pace. Then Noah Lolesio put in an unbelievable performance in the No.10 Brumbies shirt whose conversion kicks has been spotless that gave them a slight advantage while prioritising for the best of the team. It’s so important for Noah to emphasise this which is so crucial for his team to spot the Reds isolated and scrappy attack before he was able to open up his attack easier and also in defense too, particularly through the latter stages of the 2nd half.

The Brumbies are still by far the best Australian Super Rugby team and it’s kinda a surprise not seeing them both play at the World Cup in France last year which was a disaster as new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt will look to get them back in the squad for the 2nd half of 2024. Now can they go all the way and stand themselves out as the best of Super Rugby this year? We’ll see having lost once to the Chiefs back in Round 2 (Super Round) but for now, they got the Waratahs next Saturday.

And Josh Nasser has made an immediate impact off the bench that puts the Reds back on track in the 2nd half – one was a penalty TRY followed by a TRY himself. He was able to correct some of the team’s mistakes from earlier on which was so crucial when the starting hooker Matt Faessler didn’t do well at line-out time but their scrappy discipline unfortunately allowed the Brumbies to bounce back before they were closed out under pressure with time running out against the clock at the end there. The Reds haven’t been bad which reflects their good start of the year but losing games isn’t a good look lately as they now got a break next week & then hopefully get back to winning games again starting with Moana Pasifika.

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It was a high scoring game with a huge encouraging performance from the home team as the Western Force has just secured their first win of 2024 v the Queensland Reds at HBF Park in Perth after a winless first couple of games. They were able to get the ball rolling as many as three tries that puts them way in front throughout the first half, although the Reds finally got their first big score not long before half-time as the scoreline was 28-5. Now the Reds again thought they are back on track thanks to another Tate McDemott TRY but then the Force continued to increase their lead over time where they have absolutely dominant all along even though the Reds were able to pick up some late points towards the end, 40-31. After five rounds, the Reds drop to fifth while the Force push the Crusaders to last & now into 11th just behind the Waratahs (10th) by two points.

Hats off to Bayley Kuenzle who was unbelievable on the wing tonight for the Western Force, even though he usually specialises at 10 or on the centre. But again, his Super Rugby experience & physicality is something the opposition couldn’t underestimate where he always keeps on moving as his two TRY performance alongside his excellent defensive work has put the Western Force on the front seat all along for his team’s first win of 2024 – such an excellent team player. There’s another good player with Super Rugby experience who is doing really well back home in Perth also for the Force and his name is Carlo Tizzano who plays on the openside back row at No.7. He is someone the Reds didn’t enjoy every time he locked up the Reds attack in defense whose form was isolated before he and his team made the most out of their quick and electrifying attacking passage of play including two tries for himself. After a winless first couple of rounds, he and Bayley credits the strong home crowd at HBF Park as they will look to give back more good wins from here starting with the Fijian Drua away next Saturday.

And Reds’ No.9 co-skipper Tate McDermott did the best he can to keep up the scoreboard where his team fell short following his own two TRY performance in between half-time. The attacking build-up is there to see where he knows where to find his men on the counter as promised from the beginning, but then a few poor executions allowed the Force to swoop successfully in return where the Reds were vulnerable at their own end before it was too late with little time remaining. The Reds had a great start under Les Kiss (new head coach) until now which wasn’t easy after making the few hours trip to Perth as they will do so again on the way home before another tough test ahead v the high-flying Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday.

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Yesterday afternoon, the best of the Shute Shield and Hospital Cup winners have gone head to head to show who’s the best of Club Rugby in Australia for another year this time between Randwick v Wests Brothers at Crosby Park in Queensland. It was a very close one to watch with the Wests Brothers leading Randwick in the first half 17-8, although the Galloping Green were so close including the last minute on what has been an improved 2nd half performance but the winner has returned to a Queensland team since Easts three years ago with the Australian Club Championship Trophy in Wests Brothers following a match-winning TRY that kept the Wicks away from snatching their lead through the end 25-18.

Congratulations to Wests Brothers who deserves to take out the win with a couple of great players in there as this is the fifth time now that they won this trophy since 2010 v Sydney University, having fell short to the Northern Suburbs back in 2017 & even to Randwick several times before in the 70s & 80s until they finally answered their decades-long revenge now which is incredible. Meanwhile, tough to see the Wicks fall short where things would’ve been better from the beginning to give themselves a good advantage rather than come back from behind until it was too difficult to pull off at the last minute. But they are still the most successful side to win six times in the Australian Club Championship with unfinished business ahead under head coach Stephen Hoiles after a championship-winning Shute Shield campaign last year & Kurtley Beale also returned on the field in the Galloping Green for the first time in a year after going though a lot of his personal challenges.

The 2024 Club Rugby season will be back in a few weeks time with both QLD Hospital Cup and NSW Shute Shield Competitions beginning on Saturday April 6 through 18 weeks of regular-season rounds plus a few weeks of Finals.

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What you need to know so far after one month or Week 4 of 15 in the 2024 Super Rugby Season?  Let’s begin with the New Zealand teams who still enjoy plenty of success except one team at the moment despite a huge off-season overhaul. The Hurricanes have been outstanding with no losses so far on top, Chiefs still enjoying success after topping the table & then fell short at the Grand Final bar the Reds loss last weekend, the Blues aren’t that bad without Beauden Barrett only for this year, Highlanders making some encouraging progress after they missed out the Finals last year & the defending champs Crusaders are a completely different team now with four straight losses & as well as a lengthy injury list.

Meanwhile in Australia, things aren’t that bad over here as there’s plenty more to prove after a disastrous year in this sport including an early exit from the World Cup. The Reds new era under coach Les Kiss has been so far, so good other than the last minute Super Round loss v Hurricanes, as well as regular semi-finalists Brumbies still going strong. Plus, the Waratahs may have taken the odd win v the new-look Crusaders also at the Super Round but have unluckily lost lately both on home turf. Western Force still hasn’t won yet despite injecting more Super Rugby experience & although the Rebels has won some games, but only against Force & Moana on what might be their last season since they’re broke.

And Moana Pasifika has made the step up  with some success after a slow first two years, while the Fijian Drua might have also won v Crusaders on home soil in Fiji last weekend but still have unfinished business to prove if they wish to play in the Finals once again in June this year.

Looking at the next four weeks, things won’t change much unless the Crusaders finally climb back up from the bottom that will shake up the ladder a bit. I would be a bit surprised though if we will manage to see just a few shock upsets here & there.

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It was a scrappy & close match-up to watch tonight at Allianz Stadium in Moore Park with the Waratahs having the first points off the penalty goal conversion after a scoreless first half hour but it was the Blues who led the way with the one and only TRY not long ahead of half-time 3-7. Then nothing much changed at all where the Blues added another TRY and despite seeing the Waratahs dominate possession in the last 10-15 mins thanks to a late TRY, it still wasn’t enough to upsurp the Blues with less than 60 seconds left on the clock with the final scoreline, 10-12. Waratahs will now fly to Suva, Fiji ahead of their next game v the Fijian Drua next Saturday while the Blues will travel to Christchurch v the Crusaders later on the same day.

Caleb Clarke has been a very important player tonight on the Blues left wing where he never stopped running back and forth as being tested defensively while he worked his magic with the ball on hand such as making a few quick kicks as well as displaying excellent physicality every time he smashes through the Waratahs defense. It goes to show how valuable he is to the side in order to keep the Blues winning trajectory with the eye of lifting the championship having fired off really well so far this season apart from their defeat last week to the Hurricanes, although there’s still a long way to go especially when going up against a completely new Crusaders team next Saturday night who so far hasn’t won any games yet. Meanwhile, Ofa Tuʻungafasi had a great first half performance where he kept the Waratahs quiet while helping his side get off the mark on the front row at loosehead. He too is also incredibly physically strong in all areas such at scrum time, line-out time, attack when adding pressure to the opposition and also in defense to try & turn things over his way for his Blues team. Yes, things might not be the same later on when he had to come off the bench when the Waratahs dominated the last 10-15 mins alone but his contribution has been key to the Blues staying ahead above the Waratahs tonight. And how about a special shoutout to Jay  Fonokalafi who scored a late TRY on his Super Rugby debut with 1-2 mins left off the Waratahs bench as the reserve hooker thanks to a winning penalty line-out. He is someone who plays for the Western Sydney Two Blues in Shute Shield and also has a day job in concreting which is an unreal story for him to get his chance to showcase himself at the highest level and sure there’s more to come from the 27-year-old. But for now, the team just couldn’t make the most of their attack for the majority with a mix of ill-discipline despite a late fightback where it’s been too little, too late to get over the line under pressure.

No.7 and No.8, Perese with Reilly Waratahs Jay reserve hooker

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What a game that is after the Queensland Reds has bounced back from their narrow loss to the Hurricanes during extra time at Golden Point last Sunday to an unreal close win v the ladder-topping Chiefs side tonight on home turf (Suncorp Stadium) in Brisbane. The first half saw both teams going side-by-side with the Chiefs opening the scoring account first with two penalty goals in between the one big score but it was the Reds who hold the home ground advantage going into half-time by four points, 15-11. Now the Chiefs never backed away without a fight when they regained the lead not long after the break (15-16) but then the Reds closed in by a one point trail via penalty goal before they regained the lead and was able to lock the Chiefs up despite the opposition’s huge patient attacking play as the clock ticks down for the win they truly deserved at full-time, 25-19. The Reds will now head back to Melbourne on Friday v Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park whose other team’s form has been great after back-to-back wins but only v Western Force & Moana Pasifika, so let’s see if the Reds stay winning or it’s the Rebels time. Meanwhile, the Chiefs will head back home to FMG Stadium in Waikato next Saturday night v Fijiian Drua & that team continued the Crusaders’ worst start to 2024 with three straight losses after another home win earlier today in Lautoka, 20-10.

Harry Wilson has played it with pride after he was outstanding tonight in the No.8 Reds jersey, having demonstrated excellent physicality alongside an excellent physical stature to ensure that the Chiefs will have a hard time getting past him. It led to a few tries off the back from the counter-attack where he was able to get behind them as well as a few try-saving opportunities in defense including the last 10-15 mins & he held off well under pressure thanks to their small lead. It all goes to show that he has unfinished business left age 24 where he helped Wests Brothers win the QLD Hospital Cup last year but was also ignored last year by the Wallabies – let’s hope he can keep on going under the radar of Joe Schmidt.

The next Harry spotlight within the Reds squad is Harry McLaughlin-Phillips who made an immediate impact in the reserve No.10 role after he came on for Tom Lynagh earlier in the 2nd half. His conversion kicks through the two posts have been spotless while he made some creative attacking play through the channels such as that cross kick where Josh Flook was able to get the job done & help the Reds fight back up and stay ahead for the lead up front. Looks like competition is heating up there which is healthy to see as part of the blueprint Les Kiss wants to see at Ballymore & McLaughlin-Phillips is one of the young No.10 players who is here to learn and be the best he can be at age 19.

And Shaun Stevenson wasn’t bad on the Chiefs right wing position and he can do whatever he likes with the ball in hand alongside tremendous pace at his prime thanks to his team’s scrambled defensive work as well as the patient attacking build-up going forward. If he played at full-back then it would’ve been a different story where Stevenson can make the Chiefs attack more dangerous with Damian McKenzie in it at 10 and that is something the Chiefs might need to consider next game. Yes, they showed some good fight and attacking threat that kept them in contention all game but they just didn’t get the best out of their finishing play unfortunately when trying to stop the Reds from walking away for the win.

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So there we have it, the NSW Waratahs have just defeated the reigning champions and the winningest team in the competition Crusaders after a 13-point win at AAMI Park in Melbourne, 24-37. At the start, the Crusaders got away with the opening points but it was the Waratahs who dominated the majority of the opening half where they came back into the dressing room full of optimism at the break, 10-23. In the end, nothing much has changed despite some improved Crusaders performance later on off the back of a few new faces from the bench before it was too little, too late to close in under pressure. This is the Waratahs’s night tonight where they continued to pick up the opposing team’s misfiring attacking play including the ill-discipline that turned into more big points before the win was there comfortably against a championship-winning team who is right now on the rebuilding phase. It’s a much-needed win for the NSW side as there’s still plenty left to prove going into Round 3 with the Highlanders at home (Allianz Stadium) next up in Moore Park on Friday & for the Crusaders, they have still yet to win after two rounds now as they will fly again this time to Fiji next Saturday v the Fijian Drua.

Here comes the Waratahs all-rounder in cricket terms who plays in the half-back position in Jake Gordon at No.9 following his outstanding performance tonight v the reigning champs Crusaders. He’s in tremendous shape in his prime right now along with tremendous Super Rugby experience on offer to make the most out of the Waratahs attack, having interrupted the Crusaders passage of play a few times throughout tonight before he quickly cashed it in for the sake of the team with great rewards including a TRY for himself. Forming a great partnership next up within the Waratahs at No.10 is Tane Edmed where he was a huge influence both as the leading conversion kicker and a creative attacking player through the middle. He just doesn’t hesitate every time he has the ball with the licence to thrill and play around to get past the oppositon gate such as processing that cross kick including the quick passes before he finds his man to finish it off for him while adding the extra points & he can also be a handy contributor in defense under pressure and that was key to getting the best out of his on-field game. Before we go to the Crusaders at the other end, shoutout to head coach Darren Coleman who has brought the Waratahs back into life from the day he walked into Daceyville at the start of 2022. Yes, he is a man who is under pressure right now but again, he knows the NSW Rugby system more than anyone & losing him this early won’t go down well as this team is under a off-field renovation too. And Sevu Reece has worked so hard more than anyone for the Crusaders down on the wide right. He never stops running back and forth when covering up both in attack and defense, especially when he came back after a long lay-off from his knee injury last year where his contribution has been missed. But despite a great start, some of his new players simply needs time at this top level since a few key players have moved on during the off-season thanks to a plenty of ill-discipline as well as the passage of open play being so isolated that reflected the team’s loss tonight v Waratahs.

CRUvWAR #SuperRugby #Crusaders #NSWWaratahs #JakeGordon #TaneEdmed #SevuReece #Rugby #RugbyUnion #DarrenColeman

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