England playmaker Freddie Burns joins Highlanders, Wallabies’ Marvel-figure to be binned under Eddie Jones, Sydney Sevens

Australia rugby sevens, featured, Highlanders, Rugby, Rugby Union, Wallabies

An old English pro is heading to New Zealand while ‘Wazza’, a cartoon superhero brought to life by Dave Rennie, is set to be killed off.

Elsewhere, former international referee Nigel Owens has had his say on the Rugby Football Union’s decision to ban tackles above the waistline in amateur rugby.

And Australia’s men’ and women’s sevens teams have dusted off the cobwebs ahead of this weekend’s Sydney Sevens.

That and more in today’s rugby news!

English Premiership winner to play in Super Rugby

Former England playmaker Freddie Burns has signed with the Highlanders for the 2023 season.

The 32-year-old has been added to the Highlanders’ list to give them some experience and depth in their playmaking stocks.

It comes less than a year after the veteran playmaker slotted a field goal to seal the Leicester Tigers’ astonishing comeback, as they edged out Saracens to win the English Premiership.

Freddie Burns, who led Leicester Tigers to a Premiership victory over Saracens at Twickenham on June 18, is heading to the Highlanders in New Zealand. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

The Highlanders already have a number of 10s in their squad, but first-choice playmakers Mitch Hunt has not played since May while Marty Banks and Cam Millar are at opposite stages of their careers.

As such, Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody has lured Burns to the club.

“I actually talked to Mitch mid-NPC just to say that potentially we’re going to look for someone else to take the pressure off,” Dermody said.

“So we weren’t put in a position where I guess both parties felt like we had to rush Mitch back in.

“Mitch is in a great place. He’s come back after Christmas full of confidence and ready to go, and we’ve had some pretty good contact sessions. He’s progressing well, but as we know it only takes one instance [of injury], and then it would be a shame to put those under guys under pressure.”

Burns, who was a part of England’s 38-21 win over the All Blacks in 2012 and played against the rugby powerhouse nation during their 2014 tour is a well-known character in the Premiership, said he was excited to compete a competition he watched as a youngster.

“As a young lad I grew up watching Super Rugby in the early hours of morning,” he said.

“To have the opportunity to represent such a prestigious club as the Highlanders in the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season is a huge honour. I look forward to getting started and adding to the group both on and off the field.”

‘Wazza’ on the way out

A Marvel-inspired figure called Wazza that hung inside the Wallabies’ changerooms is set to be binned.

On Monday, the Australian revealed that Wazza, ushered through under former coach Dave Rennie, is unlikely to be used by Jones.

Dave Rennie’s Marvel-inspired Wallabies figure, Wazza, is set to be binned under Eddie Jones. Photo: The Australian/Supplied

According to The Australian, Rennie encouraged the Wallabies to brainstorm a figure and the product was designed by a Kiwi graphic designer close to the New Zealand coach.

Two iterations were designed, which originally had Wazza holding the Bledisloe Cup before the second one had the figure pointing to a map of Australia with Indigenous cultural motifs, kangaroos, a shadow of a Digger in a slouch hat, Polynesian cultural motifs, and lightning and fire in the background.

“Yes, I am aware of Wazza,” Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan told The Australian.

“The past is the past from what I know, the team has moved on, it’s a new day for the Wallabies.”

Jones, instead, could focus on the Digger spirit.

“I think what always ties Australians together is that Digger spirit, that is fighting for each other,” Jones told The Weekend Australian.

“And the question now is; how do you make that spirit relevant in a more diverse Australian ­society?”

Nigel Owens

Nigel Owens says there is much still to learn about the RFU’s tackle height changes to amateur rugby. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

Ex-ref questions RFU law change

Last week’s announcement by the RFU that all amateur rugby will move to a below-the-waistline law ruffled many feathers.

It led to a bombardment on social media, with some saying the move would be the “death of rugby” as we know it.

Nigel Owens, too, has questioned despite acknowledging the need “to make the game as safe as it possibly can be.”

In a column for The Telegraph, Owens said the shift of law would be difficult to police and questioned whether it was practical, too.

“Is it ‘refereeable’?” Owens asked.

“What happens, for instance, if a ball-carrier bends at the hips, from close range, aiming towards the ground? That’s what happened in the Championship trial in England, having spoken to people about it. When one team was defending close to the goal-line, the ball-carrier was diving towards the ground to score. There’s no way you can tackle an attacker below the waist in those instances. My concern is that the ball-carrier will go so low that it will be impossible for a defender to stop them. So, do defenders just have to allow attackers to score in those instances? Or pray for a miraculous try-saving tackle every time? That’s unrealistic.

“The law change mentions, too, that ball-carriers who drop their body height when approaching a defender will be penalised. When you’re running with the ball and a tackler approaches, naturally you will adapt a bracing position to feel more secure. It’s not feasible to expect ball-carriers to maintain an unnatural, bolt-upright body position when bracing for contact.”

Aussies sevens sides become the hunted

Australia’s men’s and women’s teams have some ground to make up if they are to repeat the feats of last year’s World Series Sevens success, as the tournament moves to Sydney.

John Manenti’s side were knocked out in the quarter-finals by the USA, losing 28-14.

Shortly after, the women, coached by Tim Walsh, were edged out by the USA, who won a nail-biter 10-7.

“We don’t like losing but it comes with the territory of being the hunted,” Walsh said.

“We provided exposure to some inexperienced combinations and situations, which will provide real value moving forward.”

The Hamilton Sevens were won by Argentina, who stunned the home nation 14-12.

Australia rallied well to beat Fiji (26-19) before beating Ireland 26-17 to seal fifth. It leaves Manenti’s side on 52 points for the season, nine behind front-runners New Zealand.

While on the women’s side of the draw, New Zealand smashed the USA 33-7.

Australia’s women were far too strong for Ireland, winning 33-17 to take the bronze medal.

The bronze medal was crucial, with New Zealand (58) opening up a four point lead over their trans-Tasman rivals on the overall standings.

The Sydney Sevens is a three-day event, kicking off on January 27.

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