Friday Rugby Five: Bench Ardie Savea? You can't be serious!

Did Eddie duck the tough Wallabies captaincy call? (2:46)

Sam Bruce & Christy Doran discuss Eddie Jones' decision to name Michael Hooper and James Slipper as co-captains, instead of going in a new direction. (2:46)

Another week, another seven days closer to the kick-off of Rugby World Cup 2023.

Excitement is starting to ramp up around the globe as the competing nations start to drop their respective kits, and supporters learn what jerseys they'll be wearing as they cheer on from the stands across France.

The feedback to the All Blacks' new kit has been, err, mixed.

As ever, there is plenty going on across the rugby world. Here are some of the stories you might have missed.


Ardie Savea has been one of the most dominant players of this current World Cup cycle, and has probably only been denied a couple of World Rugby Player of the Year Awards because of the extraordinary play of the little Frenchman from Toulouse: Antonine Dupont.

Savea has been a tower of strength in the back-row, his leg drive through contact and overall work rate almost unrivalled as he notched up back-to-back All Blacks Player of the Year Awards. And so it would be almost unthinkable that anyone would consider benching Savea, that is unless you're Jeff Wilson.

Wilson earlier this week called on the All Blacks to consider shifting Savea to the replacements and promoting in-form Chiefs No. 8 Luke Jacobson into the run-on side, as New Zealand continue to hunt for the right balance among their back-row forwards.

"I'm going to throw it in right now, I'm changing our No.8," Wilson said on Sky Sport's The Breakdown. "I'm actually changing the make-up of our bench, I believe that's how we'll win the World Cup.

"Around the world, the globe and how the game's being played, the nature of the physicality you need - if you want to be a defensive dominant team - your loose forwards have to be big men.

"We moved Ardie Savea to No.8 because we didn't have a solution in that position. [We need] specialists in specialist positions for me.

"I'm looking at a guy like Luke Jacobson... his consistency, his size, his ability to hit - I'm looking at a change.

"I'm looking at a change. I want impact from the bench and it's Ardie Savea for me."

While All Blacks coach Ian Foster is considered little chance of fulfilling Wilson's wishes, the comments of the former Test winger reflect a growing concern in New Zealand that the national team just can't get its back-row right.

With skipper Sam Cane sidelined for much of 2022, Dalton Papali'i made a real impact at Test level in the No. 7 jersey, prompting calls for the captaincy to be moved to Sam Whitelock on a permanent basis, after the Chiefs flanker had been sidelined with both concussion and injury issues.

No. 6, the jersey Savea filled in Japan in 2019, has also been a troublesome position for the All Blacks, with Samipeni Finau set to be the latest candidate trialled in the position in the Rugby Championship.

But it will be a huge surprise if Savea is shifted to the bench - he has been outstanding for both the Hurricanes and All Blacks since the last World Cup.


While it won't have been the only factor, it's likely Dave Rennie's inability to reduce the Wallabies' penalty counts and improve their woeful disciplinary record played a role in his sacking as Australia coach earlier this year.

The big question is whether Eddie Jones will have any more luck arresting that poor record, whether he can find a way to reduce the amount of needless Wallabies infringements, like those in Dublin last year when they gave away four neck-roll penalties in one half of rugby.

Wallabies fans can at least take some hope their side's discipline might be about to improve, after Nic White revealed they had been working with a referee on a daily basis during their training camp on the Gold Coast this week.

"It was [bad], yeah," White agreed when asked about his side's discipline in 2022. "We've had a referee in with us for every session, which has been a huge help, staying on top of that. Obviously [we've been] talking a lot about those penalties; I feel like a lot of them were through good intentions, just understanding that under pressure, that there's a feel to want to win back that momentum.

"[So] Just understanding that teams are going to have momentum against us, and what we can't do is give them free shots at us through discipline. So talking about it, training it, we've been training it plenty, and like I said having a referee at training to be on top of those things... it's an area that we feel like we can fix pretty quickly."

While referees seek to be as consistent as possible, it's only natural that they will see the breakdown or contact area through slightly different lenses and, perhaps inadvertently, adopt some focal areas.

Ben O'Keeffe, for instance, takes a hard line on players not rolling away from the ball at the tackle. When asked whether the Wallabies would look to work on that part of their game, or study up on O'Keeffe's perceived focal areas before he takes charge of their clash with the Springboks, White said the responsibility was on Australia to make sure they didn't continually offend.

"Not a whole lot [of study], no. We talk about what we can control, it's not something we go in looking to do. We control the way we want to play the game... we're looking to be disciplined in all areas of the game whether it's penalties, but also in the way we play the game."


Ireland and Leinster captain Johnny Sexton has been cited for his conduct towards the match officials following Leinster's defeat in the Heineken Champions Cup final, organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said on Thursday.

Reports Sexton could be sanctioned for his alleged misconduct emerged earlier this month, with Thursday's confirmation potentially throwing a spanner into Ireland's pre-World Cup plans.

French side La Rochelle secured a tense 27-26 victory over Leinster at Dublin's Aviva Stadium last month.

Despite being sidelined by injury, Sexton made his way onto the field following the match, and was captured on video engaging in a heated discussion with the officials.

Misconduct complaints have been lodged by the EPCR against Sexton and the club for failing to control him, with a video conference hearing scheduled for July 13.

If Sexton is found guilty, he may potentially face a ban. The 37-year-old is currently preparing for the World Cup with Ireland, which is set to take place in France at the beginning of September.



If there was any remaining doubt that the balance of power at Under 20 level had shifted to the northern hemisphere, it was wiped away completely on Thursday as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all suffered defeats to their Six Nations counterparts.

And Georgia made it a clean sweep of the Rugby Championship nations when they defeated Argentina.

But it was Italy's victory over tournament hosts South Africa that really set tongues wagging, the Azzurri continuing their improving play from recent Under 20 Six Nations tournaments with a 34-26 win in Paarl.

Crucially, the Italians also picked up a bonus point and will now head into their final Pool C game against Georgia with a wonderful opportunity to reach the semifinals of the Junior World Championship for the very first time.

The Junior All Blacks were meanwhile no match for defending champions, France, who powered their way to a 35-14 win earlier in the day in Paarl.

Tournament fancies Ireland were too strong for Australia 30-10.


Earlier this week, New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe revealed the disgusting abuse he had received on social media after officiating the Super Rugby Pacific final between the Chiefs and Crusaders.

Sadly, O'Keeffe also revealed that such abuse had become an all too familiar occurrence over the past few years, telling how he had learned to ignore much of what was said but that still didn't make it okay.

He was immediately supported by NZR boss Mark Robinson, and also found allies in All Blacks skipper Sam Cane - who received one of the three yellow cards O'Keeffe dished out in the final - and veteran hooker Dane Coles.

"I felt sorry for Ben. I have been on that side too, abuse on social media," Coles said.

"So it is always best delete it for a bit. As players we have a responsibility. Everyone is passionate about the game, but it is important that we kind of leave it where it was, and respect him.

"Abuse is not a great thing. Especially through direct messages from some muppets on social media - and it's not fun."

O'Keeffe was on the plane to Europe almost immediately after the final - won 25-20 by the Crusaders - to prepare for his next refereeing assignment.

But he did find time to discuss the sickening abuse and his performance in the final with radio station SENZ, putting his hand up for a missed forward pass in the first half in Hamilton.

"That was a clear forward pass that we missed from the Crusaders...It's my responsibility to get that," O'Keeffe told SENZ.

"What I actually noticed when I did my review is that I moved into the d-line as I transitioned. When the ball was passed behind me, I went in there too deep, so I was about four or five metres behind the d-line.

"We want to take half a step, get behind the d-line and as the defender comes through you move back with the defender, so you can quickly get back into what's a ball in line position, so you can get in line for those passes, and that's something I didn't do."