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Wales Online
Wales Online
Katie Sands & Mathew Davies

Today's rugby news as Louis Rees-Zammit carried from field and George North reveals Wales player talks

Here are the latest rugby headlines on Saturday, November 26.

George North details senior player talks

George North says that Wales have had "a brutally honest" week ahead of an Autumn Nations Series finale against Australia.

Wales tackle the Wallabies just seven days after being humiliated by Georgia in Cardiff. It was arguably their worst result of rugby union's professional era, arriving just eight months after they lost at home to annual Six Nations strugglers Italy.

A fourth successive victory over the Wallabies would not erase memories of the Georgia debacle, but it should at least lift spirits ahead of a tough Six Nations opener against Ireland in just 10 weeks' time.

"I think this week has been a great example of the boys stepping up when we need to," Wales centre North said. "Obviously, last Saturday didn't go well and we were the first to put our hands up on that.

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"The reaction this week has been brilliant. The boys have been brutally honest, and that is what we needed to be, getting down to the hard graft. Without hyping it up, I think it is a must-win game for both sides. From our point of view, the autumn has not nearly been as good as we were hoping it to be, especially the results we've had."

North, who wins his 109th cap on Saturday, acknowledges that such defeats are unacceptable, with Wales' current world ranking of ninth reflecting a year when they have won just three Tests and lost eight.

"From a playing point of view and a squad point of view we cannot be at that level," he added. "Without sounding arrogant and above our station - and in fairness to Georgia they got the result - those are the games we expect to win and win well. And when you don't get that then it falls back on us and we have to take the heat when it comes. As a group of senior players, we spoke about it on Saturday and said we can't have that when we are trying to fight for World Cups and what have you. We have to be on the mettle every game."

North will line up alongside Wales debutant Joe Hawkins in the centre, with Owen Watkin ruled out through injury, and it's safe to say North has been impressed with the 20-year-old youngster so far.

"The young pup is doing well," he added. "Obviously he's been playing particularly well for the Ospreys and for the under-20s when he has played. He’s been absorbing as much as he can in this camp and deserves his place on the weekend. He's certainly an exciting player and he is very excited, he has been bouncing around the place, which is great.

"As a youngster in this squad, he’s doing everything that’s been asked of him, his standards have been great and his attention to detail and wanting to be better each time has been great to see."

Rees-Zammit carried from field

There was concern for Wales flyer Louis Rees-Zammit at the end of Gloucester's defeat to Harlequins on Friday night.

Rees-Zammit is not available for Wales this weekend as the game against Australia falls outside the Test window. He was therefore back for the Cherry and Whites for their clash with Quins at The Stoop but had to be carried from the field late on following a heavy airborne collision which left him in a heap.

He was attended to on the pitch for some 10 minutes having his hip seen to, according to The Telegraph, before being carried back to the changing rooms for further treatment. After the game, Gloucester head coach George Skivington painted a more positive picture, saying: “I think he’s OK, actually. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but he seems OK in there [changing rooms] now. So, fingers crossed.”

Scarlets beaten again

The Scarlets' first-half failings cost them dear as they slipped to a 36-19 defeat against a weakened Stormers side in Cape Town.

With South Africa and Wales both in action this weekend, the hosts and their visitors were shorn of their Test stars, although the Scarlets still fielded an experienced XV boasting the likes of Gareth Davies, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams and Johnny McNicholl.

However, Herschel Jantjies, Leolin Zas, Ernst van Rhyn and Hacjivah Dayimani secured a first-half try bonus for the defending URC champions, with Ryan Conbeer's touchdown the Scarlets' only response amid multiple wasted opportunities.

Dan du Plessis added the Stormers' fifth try shortly after half-time, before a brief Scarlets revival saw Tom Rogers go over and Conbeer add his second.

However, the damage had already been done, and Stormers fly-half Kade Wolhuter ended the match with 11 points from the tee, while Dan Jones and Rhys Patchell kicked two points apiece for the visitors.

Jones skewed a penalty as the Scarlets squandered an early opportunity to go in front, before a subsequent chance to put pressure on the Stormers' line also went to waste.

The Stormers - without their considerable Springbok touring contingent, which includes the likes of Steven Kitshoff, Evan Roos, Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse - punished those early errors when Jantjies stretched for the line under the posts in the 15th minute.

Wolhuter was left with a simple conversion and was on target again after a loose Scarlets line-out opened the door for the Stormers to launch a rapid counter-attack which was finished off by Zas.

The Stormers had their third try after 22 minutes when Van Rhyn powered his way between two defenders to touch down.

Dwayne Peel's men saw another golden opportunity go begging before finally getting off the mark when McNicholl's evasive run led to Conbeer going over.

McNicholl then produced a superb try-saving tackle to deny Cornel Smit at the other end, but Dayimani soon crossed for the bonus point and Wolhuter's kick and a subsequent penalty made it 29-7 at half-time.

Du Plessis weaved his way under the posts shortly after the restart, Wolhuter converting, but Rogers' try eight minutes later suggested there was still some fight left in the Scarlets, with Patchell successful from the tee and Conbeer quickly adding his second.

However, the Scarlets' fightback fell well short as they slipped to their sixth defeat in eight matches.

England still out for revenge

Eddie Jones insists that even three years on England are driven by the need to avenge their 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa.

The nations clash at Twickenham in Saturday's climax to the autumn with England retaining nine survivors from the 32-12 mauling by the Springboks in Yokohama.

Despite a 27-26 victory in last year's rematch, Jones is still haunted by the memory of his team failing to fire a shot against the Springboks and believes the players involved that day are also hurting.

"You never forget that moment when you're standing on the field and you see the opposition getting their gold medals," Jones said.

"You hear the crowd going crazy and you're standing there like a spectator. All the work you've done over a long period of time means nothing to you at that point in time.

"That never leaves you and there will always be something in the players who played in that game.

"You can never change the result but you can change the feeling you have and that's the opportunity for a number of our players this weekend."

Manu Tuilagi is among the nine who faced South Africa in 2019 and, while he made his debut 11 years ago, it has taken until Saturday's clash to reach the 50-cap milestone.

The destructive 31-year-old Sale centre has been troubled by a succession of significant injuries, including the torn hamstring that forced him off shortly after running in a try in the same fixture a year ago.

Yet, during this Autumn Nations Series, he has been able to string together three matches in a row to provide hope that he will be involved in next year's World Cup.

"It's not that Manu wasn't diligent before, but now he's much more deliberate about what's good for his body and what's not," Jones said.

"On one occasion, on his day off, he went and played golf and, for some reason, the golf swing aggravated part of his back.

"He's like that one-mile sprinter racehorse - his muscles are finely tuned and, if they are a little bit off, he can have problems."

While Tuilagi is now viewed as one of the most influential players in the game, the Lions centre faced deportation back to Samoa because of visa issues in 2010, one year after making his debut for Leicester.

"When I first saw him play for the first team against South Africa, he was 17 and bowling people over so you knew he was going to be a special talent because of what he could do at that age," former Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said.

"Then I found out he didn't have a visa and might have to go home - that was a slight issue. I was asked 'why aren't you picking him?' 'Not really sure I can tell you...'.

"We had to go to the union and then we got good backing from the Government and that got him where he is today. He could have been playing for Samoa.

"Back then he was so raw, so aggressive, but the thing with Manu is that he's a really intelligent rugby player. He understands the game really well. He is a very quick learner and that's why he's been so good."

Referencing the punches Tuilagi threw at Chris Ashton in 2011, Cockerill said: "Even as a youngster, you could tell him something once and he knows it. You add that to his physical capabilities and he's got a bit of edge hasn't he? Ask Chris Ashton."

'It not good for rugby'

Siya Kolisi has called for a resolution to Rassie Erasmus' stand off with World Rugby as South Africa's director of rugby prepares to miss another clash with England at Twickenham.

Erasmus completes a two-game ban on matchday involvement incurred for publishing a series of critical tweets about officials, some of which resulted in English referee Wayne Barnes being targeted with online abuse.

The suspension was imposed a month after Erasmus completed a year-long ban for publishing a video critiquing the performance of Australian referee Nic Berry during the 2021 Lions tour.

Former Springboks captain John Smit declared earlier this week that Erasmus' conduct had made the national team "so easy to dislike" and Kolisi admits it would be better for the game if the friction can be addressed.

"We are learning and hopefully something is reached where both parties are happy going forward and it gets resolved," South Africa skipper Kolisi said.

"It's good for rugby to have that kind of stuff resolved. We are all part of the rugby family and families do fight and don't see eye to eye at times.

"The most important thing is we can all invest in rugby and resolve it together and be stronger than it was before.

"We can all use difficult periods and adversity for good sometimes and hopefully something great comes out of this and there is a solution going forward between coaches and administrators.

"I hope something more positive comes out of it because it is not good for rugby in general.

"We don't think the world is against us. We are not the only team that has faced these challenges, every every single team has done, it's just different.

"Our slogan is let the main thing stay the main thing and the main thing is rugby. Everything else that happens is a sideshow, no one is more important than the team."

Kolisi, meanwhile, is flattered that England have copied the 'Bomb Squad' strategy that South Africa first used at the 2019 World Cup whereby forward dominance is retained through the use of high quality reinforcements off the bench in the second half.

"People had a problem with the Bomb Squad and now everyone's doing it. It's funny how the world works," Kolisi said.

"I just laugh. People had a lot to say when we did it and now it's becoming fashion. It works, that's the thing. It works.

"It will work for a team like England because they play similarly to how we play with the kicking game and everything.

"You have to work as a forward at all times, back and forth with the kicking. It's tough on the big guys so bringing on new guys with new energy who are as good helps.

"That's the important thing about the Bomb Squad - the bench should be as good as the guys that start."


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