Rugby News: Wallaby with ‘drive for perfection’ inks new deal, Kepu loses captaincy, Farrell says ‘au revoir’ to England
Wallabies hooker Dave Porecki has extended his deal with Australian rugby.
The New South Wales Waratah has agreed a two-year extension to the deal ending later this year, meaning he will stay in Australia until the end of 2026.
Porecki is the Wallabies’ most recent captain – having been called up to the role for the final three pool games at the World Cup after the injury to Will Skelton.
Porecki was one of two players – along with Rob Valetini – who started every Wallabies Test in 2023.
“I couldn’t be happier to re-sign with the NSW Waratahs and Australian Rugby for a further two years,” said Porecki, who rejoined the Tahs in 2020 after five years playing in the English Premiership.
“Since returning home I’ve been able to achieve some of my personal goals, but I know I’ve got plenty more to contribute and will be continuing to work hard to be part of successful teams.
“I’d like to thank those at Rugby Australia and the Waratahs for backing me and I’ll be doing all that I can to repay that faith over the next few years.”
Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh said in a statement: “To have a player and person of David’s calibre re-commit long-term is hugely positive for Australian rugby.
“Dave’s been a consistent performer for the Wallabies since returning home and we’re looking forward to seeing him continue to represent his state and country with pride over the next three years.”
NSW Waratahs Coach Darren Coleman said: “For David to have started in every Test in 2023 and finish the World Cup campaign as captain speaks volumes to the value he can add to a playing group.
“He’s measured, mature and has a drive for perfection. He puts his body on the line week in, week out.
“David is also a keeper of standards in our group and is a great mentor to the other hookers in our program. It’s a great signing for the Tahs.”
Kepu replaced as Moana Pasifika skipper
New Moana Pasifika coach Tana Umaga changed the captaincy at the club with Blues recruit James Lay replacing former Wallaby prop Sekope Kepu as skipper for the fresh season.
Kepu, who made 110 Test appearances for the Wallabies, was unable to play last year because of injury.
Lay, a Samoa international, said he had the backing of Kepu and another ex-Wallaby Christian Lealifano, who stood in as skipper during Kepu’s absence.
“I’ve been impressed with how they’re leading the team. I can take a step back and allow them to deliver key messages as well,’’ Lay said.
“I got some nice personal messages from the boys in that group, and they just said they’ve got my back no matter what. They’re here to support me with whatever we need.
“As a team we want to put in performances that our people will be proud of. We want our fans and our people to look up to us and get behind us in what we’re trying to achieve.
“For me I just need to focus on being the best version of myself and hopefully the others will follow.”
Farrell casts shadow over England future
England five-eighth Owen Farrell has joined French side Racing 92 on a two-year-deal, the Top 14 club said on Monday (Tuesday AEDT).
The move to France, effective from on July 1, potentially ends Farrell’s international career after he decided to take a break from representing his country for mental health reasons.
Farrell, 32, has played 112 matches for England and scored 10 tries. He was part of the side that won three Six Nations titles and reached the World Cup final in 2019.
The former England captain joined Premiership Rugby side Saracens in 2008 as a teenager, and has represented them in 237 matches.
“This is one of England’s greatest-ever players, greatest-ever captains. Any team in the world would miss an Owen Farrell,” England coach Steve Borthwick told reporters earlier this month.
“But the work he has done to help create a foundation over these last months, to help re-set the England team and move forward, that is part of his legacy through this (Six Nations) tournament.”
Farrell’s Saracens teammate Jamie George will skipper England in the upcoming Six Nations Championship, which kicks off on February 2.
Six-time French Top 14 champions Racing 92 are top of the table in their ongoing league campaign, with 40 points after 12 matches. They lead second-placed Begles-Bordeaux by four points.
George embraces England pressure
Jamie George hasn’t been put off from accepting the England rugby captaincy by the treatment of Owen Farrell.
George said at the Six Nations launch on Monday (Tuesday AEDT) that he was ready for the pressure that took a dire toll on Farrell.
Farrell, captain since 2018, made himself unavailable for mental health reasons. He was mercilessly booed during the World Cup in France last year despite leading England to a second straight medal and replacing Jonny Wilkinson as England’s all-time highest point-scorer.
“I have a good understanding of what might be out there to come, but at the same time I’m also hopeful that we’ve learned a lot of lessons from the Owen situation,” George said.
“So I’m hopeful for a much more positive environment to be able to work in.
“I’m not hiding away from the fact there is additional pressure and responsibility. I personally think that pressure is a privilege.”
Farrell was one of the first to congratulate George on his appointment this month. George said he wanted to take the captaincy on the spot but England coach Steve Borthwick told him to talk to family, mull the job over a weekend. George said he rang Borthwick as soon as Monday rolled around.
“For me, there are so many positives that come with this. This is the greatest achievement of my life,” George said.
“Stepping out on the field in Rome (in England’s opener on February 3 against Italy) is going to be one of the best moments that I will ever experience. I felt like it was a decision that if I had turned down for other reasons I would have absolutely regretted because I’m at a good stage of my career to step up and take this on.”
England were one of five teams to change captains after the World Cup.
Defending champions Ireland plumped for flanker Peter O’Mahony following the retirement of Jonathan Sexton; France went with No.8 Gregory Alldritt following Antoine Dupont’s decision to try and win a Paris Olympics medal in sevens; Wales picked Dafydd Jenkins after injuries to co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake; and Scotland chose co-captains Rory Darge and Finn Russell after taking the armband off Jamie Ritchie.
Only Michele Lamaro was retained by Italy.
Former Munster captain O’Mahony has previously led Ireland 10 times when Sexton wasn’t around, and wasn’t expecting the armband ahead of James Ryan, Iain Henderson or Caelan Doris.
“It is pretty important around the place, and certainly on matchday, that you have that type of person in the dressing room, and Peter is certainly one of those,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell said.
“He will do the country proud.”
Ireland begin their title defence in Marseille on February 2 against title favourites France in the tournament opener, while Wales will host Scotland in the other game.