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January 31, 2013

Referees to clamp down in Six Nations

Posted by James Bass on 01/31/2013

Referees in this year's Six Nations have been instructed to crack down on infringements at the scrum and to promote more attacking play.

A "highly-positive" meeting of coaching and refereeing representatives in London produced no new areas of emphasis for referees from those previously given priority status by the International Rugby Board - the tackle, offside at the breakdown, offside from kicks, the scrum and the maul.

However, it was agreed that referees would focus on ensuring quick ball "was not prevented illegally by defences, with tacklers, assistant tacklers and arriving players all obliged to show compliance". In addition, coaches were told that "front rows must be more compliant" at scrum time "as referees have been instructed to be less tolerant of infringements in this area".

Referee Nigel Owens, who will take charge of two matches during the Six Nations, said: "From a referee’s perspective a meeting like this makes a big difference for everyone to be on the same wavelength in terms of what is expected from us and by us. There is a clear direction for the tournament in terms of giving teams a chance to play attacking rugby while penalising foul play. So it’s certainly of benefit to get together as a group in order to improve the product that is the 6 Nations and get that extra per cent out of everyone on the park."

Thierry Dusautoir gets nod over Nyanga

Posted by James Bass on 01/31/2013

Former captain Thierry Dusautoir looks set to start for France against Italy on Saturday after fellow flanker and Toulouse team-mate Yannick Nyanga was released from Phillipe Saint-Andre’s squad for the Rome clash.

Dusautoir sat out the autumn internationals with a knee injury but has recovered well and now looks set to pack down alongside Fulgence Ouedrago and Louis Picamoles at the Stadio Olimpico. However, the captaincy is set to stay with lock Pascal Pape who retained the honour for the Six Nations having impressed while deputising for Dusautoir in the autumn.

"Philippe Saint-Andre and his assistants Yannick Bru and Patrice Lagisquet have decided to keep Thierry Dusautoir in the squad for the match against Italy for the first day of the Six Nations and to send Yannick Nyanga back to his club,” said a spokesman at the French Rugby Federation.

Dougie Hall insists victory is within Scotland's grasp

Posted by James Bass on 01/31/2013

Scotland hooker Dougie Hall is confident that hsi side can clinch victory against England on Saturday and end a 30-year losing streak at Twickenham.

"England are playing some of the best rugby I have seen in a long time and Twickenham is a bloody hard place to go and get a win," Hall told The Edinburgh Evening News. "It can be done and who is to say this is not the time to do it?

"The Six Nations is such a hard competition, especially at the start when nobody really knows how competitive any side actually is. This would be one of our best wins ever given how long it has been since the last success at Twickenham."

Bath quash speculation over Francois Louw

Posted by James Bass on 01/31/2013

Bath coach Mike Ford has dismissed rumours that Francois Louw will be heading to Toulon at the end of the season.

Recent reports suggested that the South African flanker was being scouted by the French club but Ford insists that Louw will see out the three-year contract he signed in 2011. “There’s no truth in that speculation,” Ford told the Western Daily Press. "Francois is with us and is signed for next year."

Fellow countryman Michael Claassens has also been linked with a move away from the Premiership side but Smith said there had been no progress made on that front.

Eli Walker targets key role for Wales

Posted by James Bass on 01/31/2013

Wales winger Eli Walker has ramped up the pressure on his team rivals saying that he is determined to play a key role in the forthcoming Six Nations.

The Ospreys star was drafted into the national squad earlier this month on the back of some eye-catching form on the domestic stage and while a hamstring injury has sidelined him for this weekend's Six Nations opener against Ireland, he is determined to put some pressure on regulars George North and Alex Cuthbert.

"It’s definitely a goal to be capped," he told the Western Mail. "I’d like to think I’m not here just to make up the numbers but to put pressure on the other guys. I’d like to think we feed off each other."

"I don’t know about it being daunting," he added. "I have known George a long time, since Wales Under-16s. He’s a great guy and a very good player. He always was, as we came up through the ranks. Cuthbert and George are big and powerful guys. I like to think I have got speed in my game. I’m a different type of player I suppose."

May and Mullan named in Saxons line-up

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/31/2013

Jonny May and Matt Mullan have been drafted into the England Saxons starting line-up for Friday night’s clash with Scotland A in Newcastle.

Gloucester winger May takes over from Wasps' Christian Wade and Worcester Warriors’ prop Mullan replaces Gloucester's Nick Wood at loose-head. Head coach Jon Callard has kept changes to a minimum following last week’s 14-10 win against the Ireland Wolfhounds in Galway in the hope of erasing the memory of last year's 35-0 defeat to the Scots.

England Saxons: Elliot Daly (London Wasps); Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Joel Tomkins (Saracens), Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins), Tom Biggs (Bath Rugby); George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens); Matt Mullan (Worcester Warriors), Joe Gray (Harlequins), Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints), Graham Kitchener (Leicester Tigers), George Robson (Harlequins), George Kruis (Saracens), Will Fraser (Saracens), Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers, captain).

Replacements: Rob Buchanan (Harlequins), Nick Wood (Gloucester Rugby), Kieran Brookes (Leicester Tigers), Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers), Jamie Gibson (London Irish), Joe Simpson (London Wasps), George Lowe (Harlequins), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Cian Healy and Mike Ross sign new deals

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/31/2013

Ireland props Cian Healy and Mike Ross have signed new contracts with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Healy, 25, has penned a three-year deal lasting until 2016 while Ross, 33, has agreed fresh terms that expire in 2015. "It's a very strong sign for Irish rugby to have such important players to both the Leinster and Ireland teams committing their futures to remain playing here," IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said.

"The market place for players continues to be a competitive one, but the IRFU and the provinces will continue to work to retain the best players in Ireland."

Ireland strike TV rights deal with Sky Sports

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/31/2013

Sky Sports will show Ireland’s autumn internationals from November 2014 as part of a new four year deal with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

The satellite pay-TV company, that already owns the broadcast rights for England's end of year matches, has also been awarded the rights to show the autumn internationals played by France and Italy from 2014. The IRFU has also signed a new agreement with RTE Sport for exclusive free-to-air broadcast rights for Ireland's autumn internationals until 2017.

January 30, 2013

Cardiff Blues bring in Liam Davies

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

The Cardiff Blues have completed the signing of scrum-half Liam Davies on a short-term deal.

Davies has spent time at Brive, Scarlets, Ospreys, London Welsh and the Dragons and will play for the Blues until the end of the season. "Liam is a player that I am familiar with having coached him as a 19 year old in the Scarlets," Blues coach Phil Davies said. "He is a very talented scrum half who has a great pass, a good kick and does the basics well.

"He played alongside Andy Goode in Brive and has come home looking for an opportunity to play. He will give us extra cover at scrum half for the rest of the season with Rob Lewis having returned to London Welsh on a loan spell."

Ryan Wilson captains Scotland A against Saxons

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

Glasgow Warriors' Ryan Wilson has been named Scotland A captain ahead of Friday night's match in Newcastle against the England Saxons.

The XV features seven Test-capped players including Bath's Tom Heathcote. And there is also a place in the side for Saracens' Duncan Taylor who starts on the wing.

Scotland A: Greig Tonks (Edinburgh), Duncan Taylor (Saracens), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Nikki Walker (Worcester Warriors), Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby), Sean Kennedy (Glasgow Warriors); Alasdair Dickinson (Sale Sharks), Steven Lawrie (Edinburgh), Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors), Tom Ryder (Glasgow Warriors), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors)

Replacements: Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Shiells (Newcastle Falcons), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Robert McAlpine (Edinburgh Rugby), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors), Jamie Stevenson (London Scottish), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh Rugby), Dougie Fife (Edinburgh Rugby)

Not considered due to injury: Ross Rennie (Edinburgh Rugby), Peter Horne, Chris Cusiter, Chris Fusaro, Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (London Irish).

George Ford targets regular first-team rugby

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

George Ford is hopeful that his decision to leave Leicester Tigers will lead to more regular rugby next season.

Ford is reportedly on the verge of joining Bath Rugby ahead of next season and he is hopeful that the move away from the Tigers, where he frequently found himself on the bench with Toby Flood starting, will pay dividends. "It is difficult when you are on the bench and you are coming on for 10 or 20 minutes each game. Playing a full 80 minutes is what I need to be doing really," Ford told Press Association Sport. "Like any young player, you need to be playing and the more you play the better you get.

"For any young player who is willing to learn and progress in their career they need to be playing as much as they can. It was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make and I didn't take it lightly. Young players need to be playing to learn and develop. It (my situation) is no different to any young player."

Saracens take euro quarter to Twickenham

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

Saracens have opted to play their April 6 Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at Twickenham.

There were suggestions that the Aviva Premiership club wanted to play the RaboDirect PRO12 team at their new Allianz Park home but chairman Nigel Wray has opted for Twickenham.

"It is absolutely clear that people want to see big teams playing big matches at big stadiums, and that is precisely what we will deliver at Twickenham," Wray said. "We did consider the option of playing this showpiece match at Allianz Park, our brand new home stadium in NW4, but, in consultation with local residents and our partners at the London Borough of Barnet, we have decided to settle at the new venue before applying to stage a one-off event with a larger capacity.”

Munster duo out until March

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

Munster's Doug Howlett and Felix Jones have both undergone minor knee operations and will be back fit in March.

Stephen Archer, who limped out of the game against Cardiff with a dead leg, is expected back in training next week but is a doubt for the match with Edinburgh on February 9 while James Downey, who is struggling with a rib injury, is also likely to miss the RaboDirect PRO12 clash at Musgrave Park.

Scotland's Euan Murray re-signs with Worcester

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

Worcester Warriors' prop Euan Murray, who arrived at the club in October, has put pen to paper on a new long-term deal with the Aviva Premiership side.

"Euan has made a very good impression in the short space of time he has had here," Warriors coach Richard Hill said. "It is not easy for someone coming in mid-season, but he has settled in remarkably well and is working well with the other front row forwards. He gives us that strength in depth in the front row which is something that clubs like Northampton and Leicester have always had. You have got to have a very powerful scrum to be successful in this league; you can't get away from that.

"Euan is good in very defence and carries strongly in the loose; he is a genuine all-round player. We are very pleased he has committed to the club because he is of true international class and up there with the very best of them in his position."

RFU to receive review findings

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

The five-month review into England’s elite structure will be presented to the Rugby Football Union board on Wednesday by Sir Ian McGeechan and Peter Keen.

Keen and McGeechan’s review focused on improving the management structures of England's age-group teams and was established in the aftermath of England’s failed 2011 World Cup campaign. Reports suggest that there are no radical calls for change contained within the report, with any recommendations unlikely to be serious enough to warrant a vote by the board.

The Telegraph reports that Rob Andrew, the RFU’s professional rugby director, will keep his job but claims that his influence over the senior side will diminish over the coming years.

Tigers chairman predicts salary cap increase

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

Leicester Tigers chairman Peter Tom claims that in the wake of the lucrative BT broadcast deal which comes into play next season, which includes rights to the Aviva Premiership and English club's European games from 2014, he expects the salary cap to be increased.

"I have never been in favour of the salary cap and I am still not," Tom told the Leicester Mercury. "I understand why it is there. Lots of people say it provides a service but it's up to the (Premier Rugby) board to decide what is carried.

"We are entering into a period where a new deal has just been done with the English players and BT have signed a good deal with English clubs, so I would be very surprised if we don't see the salary cap move up. And I would be surprised if it didn't happen next year."

Andy Short agrees to Bristol move

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

Worcester Warriors centre Andy Short has agreed to a move to Bristol ahead of next season and will join the Championship side for two years.

I’ve been impressed with Andy since watching him play for the England U20s,” said head coach Liam Middleton. “His potential is great, but more importantly his driven and ambitious character fits well with the culture at Bristol. Andy has the ability to play in the centre and on the wing, posing a try-scoring threat through his pace, power and footwork. His defence is strong both in the thirteen channel and on the wing."

January 29, 2013

Peter O'Mahony pens new Munster contract

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/29/2013

A matter of days after Leinster's Jonathan Sexton announced he would be leaving Ireland, his international team-mate Peter O'Mahony has opted to pen a new two-year contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

O'Mahony will stay at Munster until the end of the 2014-15 season and he will look to add to his 43 appearances for the province and eight caps for Ireland. "I am delighted to have my future sorted and to commit to Munster," O'Mahony said. "It has been a really enjoyable journey so far for me in my career and the last two seasons in particular have been exciting, from breaking into the Munster team and captaining the side and then earning my first cap for Ireland.

"I'm thoroughly enjoying my rugby at the moment and feel there is much more that we can achieve with Munster and Ireland over the next couple of years and I wanted very much to be a part of that."

Saxons add Phil Swainston to the mix

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/29/2013

The England Saxons have called up London Wasps prop Phil Swainston to the squad ahead of Friday's match with Scotland A.

Swainston replaces Gloucester's Shaun Knight who has returned to his club to have treatment on a sore left knee.

Four re-sign with Worcester Warriors

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/29/2013

Worcester Warriors have announced that four of their players have re-signed with the club.

Hooker Ed Shervington, prop George Porter and back row duo Sam Betty and Richard de Carpentier have all put pen to paper on new contracts. The four forwards join Jonny Arr, Chris Pennell and Josh Drauniniu who have also recently pledged their playing futures to Worcester.

Harlequins confirm Paul Doran-Jones capture

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/29/2013

Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins have announced the signing of Northampton and England prop Paul Doran-Jones on a two-year contract.

He will step into the shoes left by James Johnston who will join Saracens at the end of the season. “While we were disappointed to lose James Johnston we recognise the need to have an experienced player to come in to supplement the existing tight head talent we have at the club in Will Collier and Kyle Sinckler," Conor O'Shea said. "With that in mind we are very fortunate to be able to bring in a player of Paul's ability.

“Not only is Paul talented, at his age he will only get better. He comes from a fabulous club and has been coached by one of the best forwards coaches in the country so I have no doubt he will add greatly to what we have at Harlequins."

London Welsh duo pen new contracts

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/29/2013

London Welsh have received a mid-season boost with the news that skipper Jonathan Mills and prop Arthur Joly have both signed new two-year-deals.

“Jonathan has stepped up to Premiership level and has performed to a consistent standard," London Welsh coach Lyn Jones said. "He has led by example as captain and has shown that when he’s on the field he’s a true Premiership player.

“Arthur has proved himself to be a very popular member of the squad, impressing all when he’s played. He’s still a young French prop who has a huge amount to learn about the game, but he’s got the basics in place and he’s going to prove a very good signing for London Welsh.”

Mathieu Bastareaud in the frame for France

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/29/2013

Philippe Saint-Andre has included Toulon's Mathieu Bastareaud in the matchday squad ahead of Sunday's Six Nations clash with Italy.

Bastareaud last played for France in 2010 and is named alongside the likes of Thierry Dusautoir, who has sat out Test rugby since last season's Six Nations, and Luc Ducalcon, who has not played for Les Bleus since the 2011 World Cup.

France Squad:

Forwards: Vincent Debaty, Yannick Forestier, Benjamin Kayser, Dimitri Szarzewski, Luc Ducalcon, Nicolas Mas, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape (captain), Romain Taofifenua, Damien Chouly, Thierry Dusautoir, Yannick Nyanga, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Louis Picamoles

Backs: Maxime Machenaud, Morgan Parra, Frederic Michalak, Francois Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Benjamin Fall, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Yoann Huget, Maxime Mermoz

January 28, 2013

Wasps bring in Matt Mullan

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/28/2013

Wasps have announced the signing of Worcester's loose-head prop Matt Mullan ahead of next season.

The 25-year-old is currently part of the England Saxons squad and he is relishing the chance to play in a new environment. “I have had a great eight years at Worcester and leaving your home town club is always hard," Mullan said. "However I felt the time was right for a new challenge and I am looking forward to joining up with London Wasps next season. As a club with lots of other aspiring young English players, I hope to be part of a successful side there in the coming years.”

London Welsh sign Gonzalo Tiesi

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/28/2013

London Welsh have strengthened their options at centre with the signing Argentina’s Gonzalo Tiesi.

Tiesi, 27, has previously enjoyed spells in the Aviva Premiership with London Irish and Harlequins and joins London Welsh from Buenos Aires side San Isidro Club. Capped 32 times by Argentina, Tiesi made his international debut in 2004 against South Africa and featured at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.

London Welsh head coach Lyn Jones said: "The signing of Gonzalo Tiesi is a very significant one by the club. He’s a proven and very experienced Premiership player who has had positive spells at London Irish and Harlequins in the past. He’s also a player of true international quality and he proved himself again over the autumn period with Argentina. We look forward to Gonzalo adding a great deal to the playing and training environment at London Welsh."

January 27, 2013

France lose Lauret for Six Nations opener

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/27/2013

Biarritz flanker Wenceslas Lauret has withdraw from France's Six Nations squad.

The 23-year-old has pulled out of France's opening clash against Italy with concussion and has been replaced by uncapped Toulon forward Pierrick Gunther.

Lauret suffered the injury during Biarritz's Top 14 defeat to champions Toulouse on Friday. He follows full-back Brice Dulin and winger Vincent Clerc in pulling out of France's opener due to injury.

Six Nations ponder bonus points

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/27/2013

The Six Nations could introduce a bonus-point system in the near future.

Six Nations chief executive John Feehan says discussion over introducing a bonus-point system, which is currently employed in most major club competitions, are “on-going”.

“We are reviewing the subject on an on-going basis,” Feehan told the Rugby Paper. “One position in the final table can mean a difference of hundreds of thousands of pounds. We have done a lot of research and if we were to go to the bonus points, it may not necessarily be the model as used by European Rugby Cup.

“The review about bonus points is on-going. It’s a question of whether they will add or subtract to the Championship. That’s the discussion.”

Moody: Kvesic must leave Worcester

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/27/2013

Former England captain Lewis Moody believes Matt Kvesic needs to leave Worcester to enhance his international chances.

Kvesic, who was called up to England’s Six Nations squad as injury cover, is set to make an announcement over his future in the next fortnight with his Worcester deal due to expire in the summer.

The 20-year-old is rumoured to be on the brink of signing for Gloucester and Moody, the former England and Leicester and Bath flanker, believes a move to a team competing at the top of the Aviva Premiership and in the Heineken Cup is essential for the young flanker.

“I know how hard Worcester are working to improve but if Matt wants to make that next step then he needs to be playing consistently on the biggest stage,” Moody told the Rugby Paper. “To impress the coaches they want to see how you can cope in the pressurised environments, the big Heineken Cup games that really test you as a player at all times.”

Toby Booth promises more 'attractive' Bath

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/27/2013

Coach Toby Booth insists Bath will develop a more “attractive” style to entertain spectators at the Rec.

Bath lie eighth in the Aviva Premiership table and some fans have voiced their frustration at the attritional style of play employed by director of rugby Gary Gold and his coaches since they took over in the summer.

But Booth told the Rugby Paper: “We set out standards higher but we’re still in the fight and are trying to establish a Bath style. We’re a little disappointed, of course, but the challenge is to turn narrow losses into wins and beyond. We’re trying to establish a way of playing that means we can adapt to any situation.

“We’ll cut out cloth accordingly, but we want to bring back a style attractive to spectators.”

Corry demands stricter eligibility rules

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/27/2013

Former England captain Martin Corry has called for the rules on international eligibility to the toughened up to prevent players switching national allegiances.

The Mail on Sunday reports that almost a quarter of the players named in Six Nations squads were born outside the country they will represent. Prime examples of the increasing trend include Bristol-born Olly Kohn’s recent call up to the Wales squad and New Zealand-born Sean Maitland’s swift rise into the Scottish ranks.

“You have to pick the best players you have available within the rules but I firmly believe the rules need to be looked at, in particular the residency rules,” Corry told the Mail on Sunday. “The wider issue is that European employment law means there are too many overseas players in the Premiership and that is damaging the English side.

“Is there a problem with the law? Absolutely there is. For me it should be about where a player learned their rugby trade. Someone like (Samoan-born) Manu Tuilagi has spent the majority of his development in England. I have no problem with that. It's the residency rule I'd like to see extended to more than three years.”

Saint-Andre slams 'crazy' fixture list

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/27/2013

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has hit out at the workload on top players following a spate of injuries to his squad ahead of the Six Nations.

Saint-Andre will name his match-day squad on Monday for France’s opening Six Nations fixture against Italy on February. But he has already lost to injury winger Vincent Clerc, centre Gael Fickou, and fullback Brice Dulin.

Hugo Bonneval, Maxime Medard and Adrien Plante have all been called up but Saint-Andre remains angry about the heavy fixture list that saw the Top 14 clubs playing a week before the start of the Six Nations competition.

"Playing 32 to 38 games a year is crazy, it's stupid and dangerous," Saint-Andre is reported as saying in the Independent on Sunday. "But Bernard Laporte [the former France coach] was saying the same thing 12 years ago."

January 26, 2013

Tom Croft given all-clear following injury scare

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/26/2013

England flanker Tom Croft has been cleared of serious injury after lasting just 11 minutes of Leicester's 34-8 Anglo-Welsh Cup victory over Wasps at Welford Road on Saturday.

The 27-year-old suffered a back injury on only his second start since returning from eight months on the sidelines after a shoulder operation but Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said it was not serious. "Crofty just got a knee in his back and it was a bit bruised and a bit tight in the soft bit between his hip and spine," Cockerill said. "It was just bad luck, one of those things. He needed to play but that's life. It's nothing serious, just a bang."

There was not such positive news for his team-mate Tom Price who was taken to hospital after being knocked unconscious on his debut. "He is at the hospital. He is not very good," said Cockerill. "It was his neck. He was unconscious and struggling. He has got movement in his hands and feet and, hopefully, he will be okay."

Dusautoir relishing chance to prove his worth

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/26/2013

Former France captain Thierry Dusautoir is relishing the chance to prove his worth to coach Philippe Saint-Andre and reclaim his place in the side for the forthcoming Six Nations campaign.

The Toulouse flanker missed the end of year internationals with a knee injury and saw the captaincy pass to lock Pascal Pape, who will also lead France into the Six Nations, while Fulgence Ouedraogo impressed in the No.7 shirt during Les Bleus' recent victories over Australia, Argentina and Samoa.

"It is imperative that I demonstrate all over again I deserve being in the squad, it is something I find stimulating," Dusautoir told AFP. "We are competitors after all, having doubts cast over you is part of the job. Today, I am swept up by this challenge. Just like a young rookie, I am going to work hard to get back into the France team."

Vincent Clerc ruled out of Italy clash

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/26/2013

Vincent Clerc has withdrawn from France’s squad for their opening Six Nations clash against Italy next weekend with a thigh injury.

The 31-year-old, who has scored 34 tries in 64 Tests, suffered the injury in the second half of Toulouse’s 19-14 Top 14 win against Biarritz at Stade Ernest Wallon on Friday night and will be sidelined for eight to ten days.

Clerc has been replaced in the squad by uncapped Stade Francais winger Hugo Bonneval. The 22-year-old, who has only started five games for Stade this season, is a surprise call up ahead of the likes of Alexis Palisson.

"Hugo is a young player full of talent that has been on our radar," said head coach Philippe Saint André. "He will join our group after Vincent Clerc's withdrawal and will discover how we work. I hope Vincent recovers quickly and can be competitive as soon as possible."

Scarlets duo sign new deals

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/26/2013

Props Phil John and Emyr Phillips have signed new deals with the Scarlets.

John, 31, has agreed a new two-year deal while Phillips, 25, has committed his future to the Scarlets for a further three years. However Wales Sevens international Rhodri Gomer Davies, who has also played for Northampton and the Dragons, has been forced to retire through injury.

Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby said: "Emyr is a key part of our future and has proved himself to be an excellent professional when handed opportunities in recent years. He is progressing quickly and will flourish given the competition that still exists in our squad at hooker.

He added: "Phil has been outstanding for us this season and working with Danny (Wilson) has brought a real focus to his work in the scrum. He was celebrated for reaching 250 appearances against Clermont last weekend and with more than 13 years service for Llanelli and the Scarlets, is an example of the loyalty this club engenders in its players."

John Smit rubbishes Sarries exit rumours

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/26/2013

John Smit has rubbished reports suggesting he is about to leave Saracens.

The former South Africa captain, who retired from international rugby after the World Cup in 2011, has been linked with a short-term move to the Stormers, who are struggling with a long injury-list ahead of the new Super Rugby season, as well as a move to French Top 14 side Toulon.

But Smit has written on his Twitter page: “To all the questions out there, I'm not going to Stormers and never was, just an inexperienced journo talking nonsense. I'm contracted to @Saracens and loving it here. Good luck to all our teams in the Super 15."

France call up Maxime Medard

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/26/2013

France have called up Toulouse fullback Maxime Medard ahead of their Six Nations opener against Italy next weekend following an injury to Castres' Brice Dulin.

Dulin, who has started France's last five games, pulled out of the squad after suffering a hamstring injury during his side's Top 14 loss to Bayonne on Thursday night with Medard now in line to win his first cap since last year's Six Nations having recently recovered from a knee injury.

"With league games so close to the start of our competition, we have to expect this kind of news," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said in a statement.

Zac Guildford to miss Super Rugby season

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/26/2013

All Blacks winger Zac Guildford will miss the Crusaders’ 2013 Super Rugby campaign as he undergoes treatment for personal issues.

The 23-year-old, who made the last of his 10 appearances for New Zealand last June, has a history of alcohol-related problems and is facing an investigation following an incident in Christchurch earlier this month.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said: "Zac's withdrawal from the Crusaders means they are able to concentrate on preparing for their 2013 season, and Zac will be free from rugby to concentrate on resolving his personal issues. We will remain in touch with Zac to monitor his progress and will address the issue of misconduct at the appropriate time."

Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder insisted the Super Rugby franchise would support Guildford, though it remains unclear when he will return to the game.

January 25, 2013

Olly Kohn handed surprise Wales call-up

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

The Welsh Rugby Union has handed Harlequins' lock Olly Kohn a surprise call up to the Wales squad ahead of the Six Nations.

With second rows Alun-Wyn Jones (shoulder), Luke Charteris (knee) and Bradley Davies (ankle) all currently unavailable and Ian Evans battling to overcome a knee injury, Kohn, who qualifies through his late grandfather, could be drafted straight into action against Ireland on February 2.

Receiving the call-up was surreal, and I can't wait to join up with the squad this weekend," Kohn said. "It is a really proud moment for me and a great opportunity to show what I can do."

Wales caretaker coach Rob Howley said: "We looked at Olly when we initially selected the Six Nations squad, and we have brought him in now as we believe he will be an experienced addition. He is a strong ball-carrier and dominant at the set-piece, and it will be good to see him in the international environment."

Andy Hazell returns to Gloucester XV

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

Veteran flanker Andy Hazell is back in the Gloucester team after he served his 14-week suspension.

Hazell was suspended following the red card he collected in Gloucester's ill-tempered Amlin Challenge Cup clash with Mont-de-Marsan in October. But with his ban up, he returns to the side ahead of their match with Northampton on Saturday. Tonga's Lua Lokotui will also make his debut for the side.

Worcester announce Paul Warwick capture

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

Worcester Warriors have announced the signing of Australian fly-half Paul Warwick from Stade Francais.

Warwick, who has also turned out for Munster, will link up with the Warriors at the end of the season and is equally adept at fullback but it looks like coach Richard Hill will want him to play at No.10. "I want Paul to play outside half because he will bring other people into the game. Players will improve around him," Hill said.

"He can put people through holes, can beat defences and offload in the tackle. Everybody will be able to play off him and he is an unselfish player who will bring the best out of the Warriors. Paul is a versatile player and attack minded, he is someone who will look to really fire our back line."

Rob Webber to make Bath debut

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

Bath have handed a debut to hooker Rob Webber ahead of their Anglo-Welsh Cup clash with Exeter on Saturday.

Webber signed for Bath in the summer but suffered a shoulder injury. He has since lost his place in England's elite player squad but he is relishing the chance to get back out onto the field. "I'm chuffed to bits to be getting my first start," Webber said. "Bit nervous after such a long time out, but I just need to get amongst it, do the basics well and build game by game to get back to the standards I expect of myself."

London Irish bring in duo on short-term deals

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

London Irish have bolstered their ranks with the signing of two hookers on short-term contracts - Mike Mayhew arrives from Newcastle while Davey McGregor joins from Coventry.

The pair have been fast-tracked into the London Irish side with Mayhew starting for the Exiles against Worcester on Sunday and McGregor looking to get some game time from the bench.

France sweat on Brice Dulin's fitness

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

France and Castres fullback Brice Dulin looks set to miss part of the Six Nations due to an injury he suffered in the clash with Bayonne on Thursday.

Dulin left the field in the 52nd minute with a hip injury and their Castres Laurent Labit has confirmed that the fullback will probably need surgery. If he is ruled out, then France could turn to Toulouse's Maxime Médard or Clément Poitrenaud as a replacement.

Scarlets duo pen new contracts

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

The Scarlets have re-signed two of their front-rowers on to new deals. Hooker Emyr Phillips has signed a new three-year deal while prop Phil John has also extended his stay with the Welsh region.

"Emyr is a key part of our future and has proved himself to be an excellent professional when handed opportunities in recent years," Scarlets boss Simon Easterby said. "He is progressing quickly and will flourish given the competition that still exists in our squad at hooker.

"Phil has been outstanding for us this season and working with Danny [Wilson] has brought a real focus to his work in the scrum. He was celebrated for reaching 250 appearances against Clermont last weekend and with more than 13 years service for Llanelli and the Scarlets, is an example of the loyalty this club engenders in its players. As a region we are grateful for all he has committed during this time and for the level of performance he has brought to the Scarlets jersey this season in particular."

In related news, Scarlets centre Rhodri Gomer-Davies has been forced to retire after failing to recover from a knee injury.

Bayonne and Biarritz contemplate merging

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

Bayonne supremo Alain Afflelou has revealed that he has held talks with his counterpart at Biarritz Serge Blanco about a possible merger between the two teams for European competitions.

Both teams failed to progress out of their groups this season with Biarritz finishing second in their Heineken Cup group and Bayonne out of the running in their Amlin Challenge Cup pool. With that in mind, Afflelou is keen on the idea of the two teams forming a Basque team for European matches which they hope will improve their prospects.

"There all kinds of things we could do in terms of economy of scale, " the Bayonne boss told L'Equipe. "Maybe one day, a common stadium. And why not a single team in the European Cup."

Matt Kvesic linked with Gloucester move

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

Worcester Warriors back-row Matt Kvesic is reportedly on the verge of agreeing to a move to their Aviva Premiership rivals Gloucester.

Reports in the Worcester News claim that Kvesic, whose contract is up at the end of the season, is set to join the likes of Miles Benjamin and Tom Wood in deciding his future lies away from Sixways. The openside, who is currently training with England, is also understood to be wanted by Bath but Gloucester seems to be his favoured destination.

The same newspaper also claims that prop Matt Mullan will leave Worcester at the end of the campaign with Wasps the favourites to land his signature.

Delon Armitage hit with eight-week ban

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

Toulon fullback Delon Armitage has been suspended for eight weeks for his tip tackle on Montpellier's Pierre Berard in Saturday's Heineken Cup match.

Armitage was shown a yellow card at the time for the tackle but was later cited. "The judicial officer upheld the citing complaint and found that Armitage had committed an intentional tip tackle," said the ERC. "He determined that the act was in the mid-range of the IRB's (International Rugby Board's) sanctioning regime (eight weeks) and in line with the IRB's memorandum on deterring tip tackles, and taking into account the player's previous disciplinary record, he added a further two weeks.

"Due to Armitage's remorse and his good conduct during the hearing, the judicial officer then deducted two weeks before imposing a suspension of eight weeks."

Claassens opts for Bristol move

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/25/2013

Worcester Warriors back Errie Claassens will join RFU Championship side Bristol at the end of the current campaign.

Claassens has made 26 appearances for the Warriors but with his current contract coming to an end in June, he has opted to move down a division to Bristol. "I was shown around the club and I had a good feeling about their ambition. Everything felt right," Claassens told the BBC. "You hear what people say about Bristol and it's all good stuff. When you see the ambitions they have for the club, you want to be a part of that.

"It's a wonderful opportunity and something to look forward to."

January 24, 2013

Connacht secure Exeter's Aly Muldowney

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

Connacht have announced the signing of Exeter Chiefs second-row Aly Muldowney on a three-year contract.

"Aly is a player we have looked at for some time; our coaching staff have watched him a lot and identified him as one of our key recruitment targets," Connacht CEO Tom Sears said. "He is a very physical, ball carrying Irish qualified lock who gets through an enormous amount of work and we have managed to get him to Connacht ahead of stiff competition from several sides in the Aviva Premiership and elsewhere.

“We are putting a great deal of work into a recruitment for next year and finding a leading Irish qualified player to bolster our options in the second row was one of the priorities. We are looking to recruit further at lock and other positions and are looking at a number of potential signings before next season."

Amlin Challenge Cup quarters unveiled

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

Tournament organisers have announced the dates and kick-off times for this season's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Gloucester will launch the quarter-final round when they tackle Biarritz at Kingsholm on Thursday, April 4 (8pm), with two games scheduled the following evening - Perpignan v Toulouse (7pm) and Wasps' Adams Park appointment with Leinster (8pm). The quarter-finals are concluded on Saturday, April 6 when Bath tackle Stade Francais at the Recreation Ground (1pm).

Scotland secures monster kit deal

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

The Scottish Rugby Union has ended its association with Canterbury and has signed a deal with Italian kit manufacturers Macron. The Bologna-based company will supply Scotland's home and away kits, from the 2013 autumn internationals, as well as club sides Edinburgh and Glasgow's strips.

"Macron are a hugely ambitious company and very strong in football. But the thing that clinched it for us it that they want to make Scotland their flagship brand in the rugby market," SRU chief executive Mark Dodson said. "They share our values and want to globalise the brand. This is a multi-million pound deal - the largest in the SRU's history - over four years, so we are delighted."

Wolfhounds name James Coughlan as skipper

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

Ireland head coach Declan Kidney has named eight uncapped players in the starting XV ahead of their match with the Saxons on Friday.

Ulster duo Paddy Jackson and Paul Marshall form the half back partnership and are joined in the backline by Robbie Henshaw and David McSharry. Up front Mike Sherry packs down between the recently capped Dave Kilcoyne and Michael Bent. Lewis Stevenson is named at second-row alongside Devin Toner while Kevin McLaughlin and the uncapped Tommy O'Donnell completes the backrow with Coughlan.

Ireland Wolfhounds: Robbie Henshaw, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Dave McSharry, Luke Fitzgerald, Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Michael Bent, Lewis Stevenson, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Tommy O'Donnell, James Coughlin

Replacements: Damien Varley, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Ian Keatley

Heineken Cup quarter-final dates confirmed

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

The organisers of the Heineken Cup have confirmed the dates of the four quarter-finals. Kicking off the weekend of knockout rugby are Clermont Auvergne as they host Montpellier at the Stade Marcel Michelin on April 6. Later in the day sees Ulster travel to Saracens with the venue yet to be confirmed, though Sarries are keen on playing the match at their new Allianz Park home.

On Sunday, Harlequins entertain Munster at the Stoop with Toulon's clash with Leicester Tigers, at a venue not yet confirmed, finishing off the weekend of rugby

Heineken Cup quarter-finals:

Saturday April 6:

Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier, Stade Marcel Michelin 15.40 (GMT)

Saracens v Ulster Rugby, Venue TBC, 18.30

Sunday April 7:

Harlequins v Munster Rugby, Twickenham Stoop 14.00

Toulon v Leicester Tigers, Venue TBC 16.30

Mullan set for Warriors exit

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

Worcester Warriors boss Richard Hill has confirmed that Matt Mullan is set to leave the club at the end of the season.

Mullan, who is on the bench for the Saxons for their match with the Irish Wolfhounds on Friday, made his Aviva Premiership debut for the Warriors back in 2007, but this season looks set to be his last at Sixways.

“I think it is looking very unlikely Matt will be with us, to be perfectly honest," Hill told the Worcester News. "You can’t say anything until it is done and we’re told one way or the other, but I’m not holding out too much hope at this moment in time, which is a shame, but you never know. If there is a lot of speculation about a player, that is when I start to worry because there is no smoke without fire.”

England Saxons name side to face Wolfhounds

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/24/2013

England Saxons head coach Jon Callard has named host of fresh faces in his side to tackle the Ireland Wolfhounds at The Sportsground in Galway on Friday night.

London Wasps centre Elliot Daly and Saracens centre Joel Tomkins get the nod in the backline while Saracens duo George Kruis and Will Fraser are the debutants up front at blindside and openside respectively. Four more replacements are also set to make their first appearances at this level with former England U20 trio Rob Buchanan (Harlequins), Shaun Knight (Gloucester Rugby) and George Lowe (Harlequins) joined by ex-Rugby League international Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby).

England Saxons: Elliot Daly (London Wasps); Christian Wade (London Wasps), Joel Tomkins (Saracens), Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins), Tom Biggs (Bath Rugby); George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens); Nick Wood (Gloucester Rugby), Joe Gray (Harlequins), Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints), Graham Kitchener (Leicester Tigers), George Robson (Harlequins), George Kruis (Saracens), Will Fraser (Saracens), Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers, captain)

Replacements: Rob Buchanan (Harlequins), Matt Mullan (Worcester Warriors), Shaun Knight (Gloucester Rugby), Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers), Jamie Gibson (London Irish), Joe Simpson (London Wasps), George Lowe (Harlequins), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Exeter Chiefs sign Welsh winger Tom James

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/24/2013

Exeter Chiefs have signed Cardiff Blues winger Tom James on a two-year deal.

"Signing for Exeter Chiefs is a great move for me," said James, 25, who has 10 Wales caps. "They are a team that I've watched come up to the Premiership over the last few years and do really well."

"Exeter are clearly an ambitious club and having talked to the coaches about where they want to go and also the plans for the stadium, I felt I wanted to be a part of it all and experience something different."

Moore and Alexander agree new ARU deals

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/24/2013

Brumbies front row duo Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander have put pen to paper on new contracts with the Australian Rugby Union until at least the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

"I've still got a lot that I would like to achieve both with the Brumbies and the Wallabies, and I can't do that by heading overseas," said 30-year-old Moore, Australia's most-capped hooker.

Alexander, 28, said: "While we (the Wallabies) might not be ranked number one in the world at the moment, I truly believe we have the potential to get there."

Andrew Strauss addresses England squad

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/24/2013

Former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss and Jessica Ennis' coach Toni Minichiello have become the latest high-profile speakers to address the England squad.

Strauss, who steered England to the No.1 Test ranking for the first time, and Minichiello, who orchestrated Ennis' London 2012 Olympic gold medal-winning performance, spoke to Stuart Lancaster's squad at their Leeds training base as part of their preparations for the forthcoming Six Nations.

Strauss and Minichello, who were asked to give the squad an insight into handling high expectations and still delivering a top-class performance, follow the likes of Tour de France-winning cyclist Bradley Wiggins and former England footballer Gary Neville.

January 23, 2013

Plante replaces Fickou in France squad

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/23/2013

Perpignan winger Adrian Plante has been drafted into France's Six Nations squad following an injury to Toulouse's Gael Fickou.

The uncapped Plante gets the call-up with Fickou struggling to shake off the ankle injury he picked up on Heineken Cup duty earlier this month. The revised 33-man squad will be trimmed to 23 next Wednesday ahead of their championship opener against Italy in Rome on February 2.

Revised France squad:

Forwards: Vincent Debaty, Thomas Domingo, Yannick Forestier, Benjamin Kayser, Guilhem Guirado, Dimitri Szarzewski, David Attoub, Luc Ducalcon, Nicolas Mas, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape (captain), Jocelino Suta, Romain Taofifenua, Damien Chouly, Thierry Dusautoir, Wenceslas Laurey, Yannick Nyanga, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Louis Picamoles.

Backs: Maxime Machenaud, Morgan Parra, Frederic Michalak, Francois Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Jean-Marcellin Buttin, Vincent Clerc, Brice Dulin, Benjamin Fall, Adrien Plante, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Yoann Huget, Maxime Mermoz.

Cockerill confirms Ford move to Bath

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/23/2013

Leicester Tigers boss Richard Cockerill has revealed that fly-half George Ford will leave the Aviva Premiership club at the end of the season.

Ford's contract is up at the end of the season and he is currently second-choice No.10 at the club behind Toby Flood. Cockerill claims that Ford will join Bath, where his father Mike works, despite coach Gary Gold denying that a deal has been done.

"I have been told by him and his advisors that he is going to go and sign for Bath," Cockerill told the Leicester Mercury. "From a Leicester end, it's disappointing because you want your best young players to stay.

"If players choose to move on because they don't want to stay and fight for their spot, that's cool. But George has had plenty of game time and Toby Flood is a very good player. We pick on merit at Leicester."

Heaslip reveals captaincy delight

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/23/2013

Jamie Heaslip has revealed that he was so happy to have been named Ireland captain that he wanted to kiss coach Declan Kidney.

Heaslip has been appointed skipper for the tournament even though Brian O'Driscoll, who has filled the post on a permanent basis since 2004, is fit after recovering from an ankle injury. "I'm still wet behind the ears so it's great, I'm buzzing. It's really exciting to come here," Heaslip said. "I found out about the captaincy last Wednesday evening. Declan gave me a call to go and see him.

"In I went and after a bit of chit chat he asked me to do the job and I nearly had to stop myself jumping across the table to kiss him, which would have made it really awkward in a room with just two guys! I was really proud and humbled by it all. There were all sorts of emotions flying around."

Worcester bring in Pumas' Leonardo Senatore

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/23/2013

Worcester have completed the signing of Argentinian back-rower Leonardo Senatore on a two-year deal.

The Warriors have also announced that fullback Chris Pennell has penned a new contract. Senatore has 17 caps for the Pumas and turned out for them during the Rugby Championship on five occasions. Senatore also has Top 14 experience having played for Toulon last season.

Gold denies Bath deal for Ford

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/23/2013

Bath Rugby boss Gary Gold has denied that a deal has been done to bring Leicester Tigers fly-half George Ford to the club.

Reports on Tuesday suggested that Ford has informed the Tigers that he does not want to re-sign with the club with his contract up at the end of the season. And the Leicester Mercury claimed that Ford has decided that his future lies at Bath, but their boss Gold has denied that a deal is in place.

"Obviously George is a good player and I'm not going to bury my head in the sand and say that he isn't, but there's no deal in place," Gold told the Bath Chronicle. "The simple situation is that we are not allowed to be speaking to players like George because he is covered by a movement management protocol. He hasn't signed with the club and at this stage we are not allowed to have a conversation with him. We are an easy club to label him to but we've got Tom Heathcote and Stephen Donald under contract here."

Quins confirm Stoop as euro venue

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/23/2013

Harlequins have announced that they will play their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster at their home ground the Twickenham Stoop.

There were suggestions that Quins could be tempted to switch the venue to Twickenham, a ground a matter of metres away and also where Harlequins had played various home grounds in the past, but they have opted to stay at their traditional base.

"The Stoop ranks among the finest club rugby grounds not just in this country, but also in Europe and is perfectly capable of hosting big occasions such as this quarter-final." said Harlequins CEO David Ellis. "Our players have worked hard to secure a home quarter-final and our loyal supporters have backed them every step of the way. It is only right therefore that we play the match where our players and supporters are most comfortable."

January 22, 2013

European Player of the Year longlist revealed

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

European Rugby Cup (ERC) has unveiled the longlist for European Player of the Year. The panel (consisting of five individuals from the media side of rugby) has picked 15 players based on their form in the first six rounds of Amlin Challenge Cup and Heineken Cup action.

Wasps' Joe Launchbury is the only representative from the Amlin Challenge Cup with the other 14 coming from the Heineken Cup.

The Longlist: Steffon Armitage (Toulon), Rory Best (Ulster), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), Mamuka Gorgodze (Montpellier), Charlie Hodgson (Saracens), James Johnston (Harlequins), Joe Launchbury (London Wasps), Morgan Parra (Clermont Auvergne), Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster)

Scotland monitor Beattie and Denton's fitness

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

The Scotland medical staff are keeping a close eye on back-row duo David Denton and Johnnie Beattie's fitness after the pair reported for international duty injured.

Denton hurt his knee playing for Edinburgh at the weekend while Beattie has a wrist injury. Their team doctor James Robson is confident both will be in the frame for selection ahead of their match with England on February 2.

A number of other Scotland players were also carrying knocks, although Grant Gilchrist (ankle sprain), Tim Visser (foot), Ruaridh Jackson (rib), Sean Lamont (rib), Pat MacArthur (ankle sprain) and Chris Fusaro (groin) were all expected to play some part in training at Scotstoun Stadium on Tuesday.

London Irish welcome Setaimata Sa

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

London Irish will welcome rugby league convert Setaimata Sa into the squad this week.

The transfer of Sa to the Exiles was announced in the summer but Visa issues have held up his move from the Catalan Dragons to the Aviva Premiership. He previously played union in New Zealand but switched to league in 2006 where he turned out for the Sydney Roosters.

“It has been a long process but we a delighted that Sa can now join up with the squad," London Irish's director of rugby Brian Smith said. "He is itching to be involved and the squad is looking forward to having him on board. Once he gets the hang of playing rugby union again there will be no better all round midfielder in the country.”

Ireland confirm Wolfhounds squad

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

Ireland have included Leinster winger Luke Fitzgerald in the Wolfhounds squad ahead of their match with England Saxons on Friday evening.

The match will give the players a chance to prove to Ireland boss Declan Kidney that they should warrant a place in the first XV for their Six Nations opener against Wales on February 2 and Fitzgerald is set to pull on the national jersey for the first time in over a year. There are also call ups for Isaac Boss, Tom Court and Andrew Trimble while Iain Henderson, David Kilcoyne and Michael Bent also get the nod.

Ireland Wolfhounds squad: Michael Bent Leinster), Isaac Boss (Leinster), Darren Cave (Ulster), James Coughlan (Munster), Tom Court (Ulster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Ian Keatley (Munster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Paul Marshall (Ulster), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), Dave McSharry (Connacht), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Mike Sherry (Munster), Lewis Stevenson (Ulster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Damien Varley (Munster)

Connacht draft in Munster hooker

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

Connacht have bolstered their hooker resources with the signing of Sean Henry from Munster.

He has penned a two-year contract and prior to his three-year stint at Munster, he turned out for Connacht at youth and U20 level. And after just six appearances for Munster, he will journey back to Connacht at the end of the season.

Connacht CEO Tom Sears said: “We are delighted to have been able to bring Sean back to his home province and have no doubt he will bring real quality to our squad and increase the competition for a place at hooker. He was very highly regarded at Munster and it is great news that he sees his future with Connacht.”

Five of Harlequins' hotshots re-sign

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

Harlequins have announced that five of their promising young players have re-signed with the Aviva Premiership club.

Fullback Ollie Lindsay-Hague, prop Darryl Marfo, back-row Joe Trayfoot, centre Charlie Walker and No.8 Jack Clifford have all penned new deals, much to the delight of academy manager Tony Diprose. He said: “They are critical to the continued success of the club, demonstrate the wealth of talent coming through and I have no doubt that they will all play a major role in working to keep Harlequins at the top of the game in England and Europe.”

Worcester to test the water with GoalScan

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

The Worcester Warriors have confirmed that they will test new technology that will determine whether a ball goes through the posts or not.

Named GoalScan, the technology, created by IA Technology Ltd, generates an electronic curtain which, when intruded by a rugby ball, transmits a signal to the ref. It will also, if required, activate flashing lights within the bar, LCD units and television monitors. Warriors chairman Cecil Duckworth has thrown his weight behind the proposals saying: “Hopefully it will be accepted by the IRB and I give the project my wholehearted support.”

Tigers standing firm on Martin Castrogiovanni

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

The Leicester Tigers are adamant that Martin Castrogiovanni’s proposed switch to Toulon is far from done.

Castrogiovanni still has a year left on his contract but the Top 14 big-spenders have reportedly lined him up to bolster their front-row options. But Tigers CEO Simon Cohen is standing firm.
"We have always said that there needs to be two elements in place for any transfer to go ahead," Cohen told the Leicester Mercury. "Firstly, we need a satisfactory transfer fee and, secondly, Martin Castrogiovanni needs to come to us and say that he wants to leave.

"We have had an initial and preliminary discussion with Toulon about a transfer fee and there is no agreement in place at this moment. We won't have a discussion with Martin Castrogiovanni about what he wants to do until an agreement is in place."

George Ford set to leave Tigers

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

Leicester Tigers fly-half George Ford has informed his bosses that he will leave the Aviva Premiership side at the end of the season, according to reports in the Leicester Mercury.

Ford has long been linked with a switch to Bath, where his father and former England coach Mike Ford works, and he has now reportedly confirmed that he will not re-sign with the Tigers. The newspaper claims that the Leicester hierarchy offered him a lucrative two-year contract but with Toby Flood still regularly in possession of the No.10 jersey, Ford has decided to look elsewhere.

If Ford does journey to Bath then he will have to compete with young Scotland half-back Tom Heathcote for the fly-half shirt while ex-All Black Stephen Donald is also on their books.

Wasps add fresh faces to squad

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

London Wasps have added a scrum-half and a centre to their resources for the rest of the season.

Former Northampton scrum-half Stuart Commins is drafted in while Moseley's centre Charlie Hayter is also added. Wasps boss Dai Young explained the additions saying: “These are two positions in which we needed to add depth. We’re losing two centres – Andrea Masi and Elliot Daly – to international duty in the coming weeks and with a long-term injury to Lee Thomas, adding another centre to the squad was important. Charlie has been very good at Championship level so we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.

"With Joe Simpson with the England Saxons for a few weeks combined with the fact that we haven’t replaced Nic Berry, who retired earlier in the season, we also needed another scrum-half and Stuart has good experience and has fitted in well so far.”

January 21, 2013

Delon Armitage back in the dock

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/21/2013

Former England full-back Delon Armitage has been cited for an alleged tip tackle during Toulon's Heineken Cup defeat against Montpellier on Saturday.

Armitage was yellow-carded by referee Alain Rolland following the first-half incident. European Rugby Cup announced on Monday that Armitage will face a disciplinary hearing in Dublin on Thursday.The range of punishments for tip tackles vary between four weeks at the low end to a top end punishment of 52 weeks.

ERC also announced that Rovigo forward Jean Francois Montauriol had been cited for allegedly stamping or trampling on Perpignan lock Guillaume Vilaceca in last Thursday's Amlin Challenge Cup encounter. Racing Metro flanker Antoine Battut, meanwhile, will face a disciplinary hearing on Thursday following his sending off for striking a Munster player with his knee at Thomond Park yesterday.

Fionn Carr returns to Connacht

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/21/2013

Leinster winger Fionn Carr has opted to return to Connacht and will link up with the province ahead of the 2013-14 season.

Carr joined Leinster in 2011 but after two seasons with the province, he has decided to re-sign for Connacht, the team who he scored 34 tries for and in the process, cemented himself as their all-time leading try-scorer. And their CEO Tom Sears is relishing the chance to see the winger-come-fullback back in the green of Connacht.

“Everyone at Connacht is delighted to be welcoming Fionn back to the Sportsground," Sears said. "He enjoyed huge success here in his first spell and we are confident he will hit those heights again and make a big impact next season. He is a proven try scorer with the ability to do something special and he will add more quality to the hugely talented back line we have. Fionn’s recruitment is one of several key signings we anticipate making in the coming weeks and months.”

Shingler brothers reunited at Scarlets

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/21/2013

The Scarlets have been served a double boost with the news that Wales international Aaron Shingler has signed a new deal while brother Steven has re-joined from London Irish.

Steven has penned three-year deal and is hopeful that his time at London Irish, who he joined from the Scarlets in 2011, will put him in good stead for the Welsh region. "I've had some great experience from my time at London Irish and it's been good for me to play in the intensity and physicality of the Premiership," Steven Shingler said. "During my time at London Irish, I've been lucky to work with and learn from some great people like Mike Catt who have pushed me forward and improved my game. My aim before leaving Llanelli was to get experience and plenty of rugby and I hope to achieve 50 appearances for London Irish and that can only be great experience for me going forward."

Aaron, who was heavily linked with a switch to the Blues, has four Wales caps to his name and his coach Simon Easterby was delighted with the news. "Aaron is a committed professional, his career is on the rise and it's been good to see his quick progress at international level as well as with us at Parc Y Scarlets," Easterby said. "He's a strong, athletic and intelligent player and will be an important to us as a senior figure in our pack as he gains more experience at the top level of the game.

Ireland add seven to training squad

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/21/2013

Fresh off the back of a busy weekend of Heineken Cup rugby, Ireland boss Declan Kidney has added seven players to the squad ahead of the Wolfhounds' game with the England Saxons on Friday evening.

Five of Munster's contingent have got the nod with James Coughlan, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Tommy O'Donnell and Ian Keatley all getting the call up. Two of Leinster's squad have also been added - Rhys Ruddock and Kevin McLaughlin. Ireland also considered Ulster's Roger Wilson and Leinster's Richardt Strauss but the pair are injured.

The Wolfhounds play on Friday while Ireland's first match of the 2013 Six Nations is on February 2 against Wales.

'Byrne can be a Lion again'

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/21/2013

Clermont Auvergne boss Vern Cotter believes fullback Lee Byrne can force his way into the British & Irish Lions reckoning.

Byrne is back in the Wales squad having last played for the national side in 2011 and Cotter claims the fullback, who has impressed in the Top 14 Orange this term, is playing the same sort of rugby that saw him earn a call-up to the Lions' 2009 tour to South Africa. “Lee has been great for us, very, very professional and he has had good performances to back it up," Cotter told Wales Online. “I think it is a bonus for the Welsh team and I wouldn’t take him out of Lions contention either if he gets a couple of games.

“He is very solid under the high ball, he has still got his speed, he can still break tackles, he is not shy in the contact, he has got a great boot and has got all that experience at 32. I am very pleased for him and for the Welsh team as well. I think it is a wise move.He is a Welsh player, he loves his team, loves his country and he was disappointed not to be pulled back in.

"He probably needed a change too to freshen him up and I think it has done him good coming to France and seeing things from another perspective. It has made him a better player, at least I think so, and got him out of a bit of a rut that he might have been in when he was playing in Wales for the Ospreys.

Jamie Roberts backs Wales to hit top form

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/21/2013

Wales centre Jamie Roberts is confident that his side can end a run of seven straight defeats and rediscover the form that carried them to a Six Nations Grand Slam last year.

Roberts missed the agonising series defeat to Australia last summer but was back in the Wales midfield for a disappointing end of year campaign that saw them slump to four straight defeats - including an embarrassing loss to Samoa. On the eve of their Six Nations opener against Ireland in Cardiff on February 2, Roberts is in a positive mood.

"We know that if we click, if we can rekindle that spirit and momentum, we can repeat that feat,” Roberts told the Western Mail. "The bookies may not have us down as favourites, but, at the end of the day, we know what we can achieve."

He added: "What we need to do is learn from it, then put it behind us completely and we will do that. Losing four games in the autumn, well, we know that just wasn’t acceptable by the standards we have set ourselves. But, going into this competition, we can rediscover the environment that brought us success last year."

Matt Kvesic out to grab England chance

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/21/2013

Worcester flanker Matt Kvesic is determined to make the most of his England call-up having been drafted into the training squad after a series of injuries.

Kvesic, 20, steps up from the Saxons along with Saracens lock Mouritz Botha following injuries to Exeter flanker Tom Johnson (knee) and Northampton forward Calum Clark (shoulder) during the latest Heineken Cup action. Harlequins wing Ugo Monye will also train with the squad while players involved in games over the weekend are assessed including Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns who picked up a knee injury.

"I have been fortunate to have a run of games at Warriors, and now I am delighted to get the call from England," Kvesic told Worcester's official website. "It would be fantastic to get the opportunity to feature in the Six Nations, but my priority now is meeting up with the team, keeping my head down and working hard to try and make that a reality."

January 20, 2013

Shane Williams backs Eli Walker to shine

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/20/2013

Wales legend Shane Williams has backed rising star Eli Walker to make an impact in this year's Six Nations.

Williams, Wales' all-time leading try-scorer, sent his fellow wing a congratulatory message on Twitter following the in-form 20-year-old's international call-up that read: "Congrats on selection pal. When you put that red shirt on make sure you play with same confidence and you’ll tear it up!"

Walker is grateful for the support of his former regional team-mate. He told the Western Mail: "He’s an outstanding player and a great friend as well,” he said. “He’s definitely someone to look up to. I’d like to think I have learned a thing or two as he is any winger’s hero in Wales and in world rugby. I was fortunate to have a few years training with him coming through the academy and then stepping up to the senior squad."

Zac Guildford facing fresh misconduct charge

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/20/2013

Crusaders winger Zac Guildford has voluntarily withdrawn from his side's preparations for the new Super Rugby season after a late-night incident at a residential home in Christchurch last weekend.

The 23-year-old All Blacks international, who has hit the headlines for a string of off-field issues in the past 18 months including a drinking binge in the wake of New Zealand's Rugby World Cup triumph in 2011, has admitted being involved in the incident and has chosen to remove himself from the team environment while the matter is considered by the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and the Crusaders.

NZRU Chief Executive Steve Tew said: "We and the Crusaders were very disappointed to learn of this incident. As a result, the NZRU has initiated misconduct proceedings against Zac. We will be meeting with Zac and his representative in the following week to discuss the matter, and next steps. As his employer, we want to ensure that the process respects Zac's right to a fair hearing so we do not wish to comment further at this stage."

January 19, 2013

Connacht boosted by early arrival of Pat Lam

Posted by James Bass on 01/19/2013

Incoming head coach Pat Lam will bolster Connacht's coaching staff earlier than expected after it was announced he would join the Irish province before the end of the season.

The 44-year-old was originally set to join Connacht's setup at the beginning of June, but will now work alongside current head coach Eric Elwood for the final three matches of the side's RaboDirect PRO12 campaign.

Lam said: "I'm delighted to be able to get to Connacht early, spend some time with Eric, the coaching staff and the players before the season finishes and start looking ahead to next season."

Connacht wrapped up their Heineken Cup campaign with a 25-20 win over Zebre to finish third overall in Pool 3 and are currently 10th in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Lewis Moody backs Chris Robshaw to kick on

Posted by James Bass on 01/19/2013

Former England captain Lewis Moody has thrown his support behind current skipper Chris Robshaw and believes he is exactly the right person to lead the side into the Six Nations.

Moody, who preceded Robshaw as England skipper, believes that the criticism his successor received for some of his decision-making in the autumn will help him develop as a player and is confident he will continue to grow into the captaincy role.

"I have been very impressed with Chris, he has done an outstanding job," Moody told Press Association Sport. "He came in for some criticism in the autumn for his decision-making, but leadership is not something you just suddenly become accustomed to after a handful of games. He is relatively young and he will continue to learn. He is improving game on game. All you can do is perform and that is all you can ask of your captain."

January 18, 2013

Billy Vunipola suffers knee injury

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/18/2013

Billy Vunipola suffered a knee injury during Wasps’ win over the Dragons in Wales on Thursday night but director of rugby Dai Young was quick to calms fears of a long-term absence.

The Wasps No.8, who is due to train with England ahead of the Six Nations and recently announced his departure to Saracens for next season, hobbled off during the second half of Wasps' 20-19 victory.

But Young said: “It’s a collision injury, it was knee on knee when he carried. It’s swollen up a little bit and we don’t know how serious it is at the moment, but it’s not ligament trouble so hopefully he won’t be too bad.”

Richard Hibbard hailed as 'best in Europe'

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/18/2013

The Ospreys' Richard Hibbard is the best hooker in Europe and a certainty to tour Australia with the British & Irish Lions next summer, according to former Wales hooker Jonathan Humphreys.

Hibbard has been in impressive form in the RaboDirect PRO12 and the Heineken Cup this season and is set to vie with the Scarlets' Matthew Rees and Ken Owens for the Wales No.2 jersey during the forthcoming Six Nations. But Humphreys, the Ospreys' forwards coach, is in no doubt as to who is in pole position.

"I think he is the best hooker in Europe," he said. "I'm biased but I spend my life looking at opposition, looking at other hookers' strength and weaknesses.[If it were up to me to pick [for the Lions] - yes he would be there."

Sean Holley to join Scarlets coaching team

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/18/2013

Former Ospreys head coach Sean Holley will join the Scarlets coaching staff during this year's Six Nations.

Holley has been drafted in by Scarlets boss Simon Easterby who will be without backs coach Mark Jones for the next couple of months after he was asked to join the Wales set-up for the course of the forthcoming championship.

Easterby said: "To have a coach of Sean's experience, expertise and technical ability at a key time for us is vital as Mark goes away on Wales duty. Mark has contributed a great deal to our rugby environment and team this season and deserves his opportunity with Wales, and we are pleased to support the national set-up and his coaching development."

Williams insists Justin Tipuric cannot be ignored

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/18/2013

Former Wales international Martyn Williams believes Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric must start the Six Nations opener against Ireland on February 2.

The in-form Tipuric is vying for the openside berth currently occupied by captain Sam Warburton but Wales caretaker coach Rob Howley has revealed he may deploy both players in a back-row also fset to include No.8 Toby Faletau. Williams believes Tipuric's form and creativity cannot be ignored.

“Can Sam and ‘Tips’ play in the same back-row? That’s the big question," Williams told the Western Mail "Probably the one thing I thought we struggled with in the autumn was creativity and ‘Tips’ sees a pass or he will see something no other player will see – and that’s backs included. He has forced the selectors’ hand really and they can’t ignore him anymore. Sam has been named as captain so he’s going to play, but it’s a big call playing both of them because the back-row is all about balance.

"...They would be an absolute nightmare to play against at the breakdown because they’re both so good there. But it’s the biggest call Wales are going to make because the rest of the side more or less pick itself.”

Leeds ordered to replay Plymouth fixture

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/18/2013

The Rugby Football Union has ruled that Leeds Carnegie must replay their controversial Championship fixture with Plymouth Albion.

Leeds won the original fixture 34-16 but it was mired in controversy after referee Matthew Carley ordered uncontested scrums after just 13 minutes of the game due to concerns about the recently re-laid playing surface.

Following an RFU review into the game they ruled that Carley had had "correctly ruled the pitch was not safe for scrummaging" with the game set to be re-arranged between February 1-3.

Toulon eye Tigers prop Martin Castrogiovanni

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/18/2013

Leicester Tigers have reportedly opened talks with French side Toulon about the possible transfer of prop Martin Castrogiovanni.

The Italian international is contracted at Welford Road for at least another season but L'Equipe is reporting that officials from the Premiership club met with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal this week to discuss a deal. The French giants already have a wealth of front row talent on their books in the form of props Carl Hayman, Andrew Sheridan and Gethin Jenkins.

Alex Corbisiero plays down concerns over injury

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/18/2013

England prop Alex Corbisiero has rubbished the suggestion that he is suffering from a "degenerative" knee injury.

Corbisiero's troublesome injury was recently described that way by London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith but the player himself insists that comment was misleading. "Degenerative is definitely incorrect and it was maybe the wrong phrase to use," Corbisiero told PA Sport. "It is not really any effect on my career or anything like that. It just needs time to get 100%."

The 24-year-old will miss the start of England's Six Nations campaign but is hoping to play some part in the championship. "My knee will get better, it will settle down. I have been reassured by everyone," he said. "It has been a frustrating injury for me, to come back from my surgery and have it flare up again. I am letting it settle down to get 100% healthy so I can push on again. I can't rush it. I am hoping to be back playing in the next couple of weeks."

January 17, 2013

O'Gara hit with one-week suspension

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/17/2013

Ireland and Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara has been hit with a one-week suspension.

The ban means he will miss Munster's key Heineken Cup clash with Racing Metro on Sunday but he will be free for Six Nations duty. He was cited for allegedly kicking Edinburgh's Sean Cox during their Heineken Cup match at the weekend but Judge Jeff Blackett, who was presiding over the case, found O'Gara guilty of tripping rather than kicking Cox.

Racing Metro fail in Sexton and Carter bids

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/17/2013

Racing Metro owner Jacky Lorenzetti has described chances of his team signing Jonathan Sexton as "tiny" and also admitted that his side have lost out in their bid to recruit Dan Carter.

Lorenzetti's big-spending Racing Metro have already secured Soane Tonga'uiha, Juandre Kruger and Brian Mujati ahead of next season but they have missed out on Carter and Sexton. Talking to Sport 365 about Carter, Lorenzetti said the fly-half "will perhaps do a short stint in Japan" and that "he won't come to Europe".

Racing have also been linked with Sexton, but that move does not appear to be on the cards. "The Irish are the Irish. They're very attached to their homeland," Lorenzetti said. "They often have a strategy of blowing their own trumpet and using other clubs, notably the French, who are renowned for paying well, to raise the stakes, up the bidding and better negotiate their contracts in Ireland. If I have helped Sexton to better negotiate his contract, then why not? The chances of Sexton coming to France are tiny and to Racing ever more so."

Michael Claassens blow for Bath

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/17/2013

Bath scrum-half Michael Claassens is set for three to four weeks on the sidelines, which will prompt their boss Gary Gold into looking for short-term half-back cover.

Claassens has damaged his thumb but Gold is hopeful that he will return in time for their Round 13 clash against Worcester on February 9. His setback leaves Bath with just two No.9s - Mark McMillan and Chris Cook - at their disposal so Gold will look for an injury joker.

“It is quite a concern," Gold told the Bath Chronicle. "We’ve got Macca and Cooky but we are thin now, really thin. We will probably have to look at bringing in a replacement.”

Tom Varndell pens new Wasps deal

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/17/2013

Wasps flyer Tom Varndell has signed a new contract that will keep him at the club for the "next few seasons".

Varndell has been in electric form for the Aviva Premiership side so far this term and has scored 13 tries in 16 games. Varndell's re-signing comes hot on the heels of Chris Bell's decision to stay with the team and will give Wasps fans some cheer after Billy Vunipola announced earlier this week that he will join Saracens at the end of the campaign.

Ryan Jones hopeful of winning fitness battle

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/17/2013

Wales forward Ryan Jones is confident of being fit for the start of his side's Six Nations defence against Ireland on February 2.

The back-row or lock dislocated his thumb during the Ospreys' Heineken Cup draw with Leicester last weekend and was told he faced a four-week lay-off. But Jones is hoping to defy the medics and hand Wales caretaker boss Rob Howley a timely boost as he bids to combat a growing injury list.

"Medics have said anything up to four weeks, but, with a bit of luck, I should heal pretty quickly," Jones told the Western Mail. "I won’t know what it’s going to be like until the strapping is removed next week. I want to play and I’m loggerheads with the doctors at the moment. It’s only a thumb – I have got another one."

Ferris vows to come back better than ever

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/17/2013

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is confident he will return from ankle surgery a better player.

Ferris, who won the last of his 35 Test caps against England in last year's Six Nations, went under the knife last month after picking up the injury on RaboDirect PRO12 duty with Ulster. But he insists he is winning his fitness battle and is targeting a mid-February return while also hoping to play some part in this year's Six Nations.

"I'm the strongest I've ever been in the gym and personally I feel absolutely fantastic, so I just can't wait to get back out there," he told the Irish Independent. "When I do get back out there, I think I'll be better than I was when I left off."

O'Driscoll set for Wolfhounds run out

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/17/2013

Brian O'Driscoll is reportedly set for his first Ireland 'A' outing later this month in a bid to prove his fitness ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations.

O'Driscoll has only recently returned from a three-month lay-off due to ankle surgery and the Irish Independent reports that he will feature for the Ireland Wolfhounds against England Saxons on January 25 in order to get some much-needed game time. O'Driscoll is likely to be joined in the line-up by fellow full internationals Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O'Brien.

January 16, 2013

England call on McGeechan

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

British & Irish Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan will help England in their build-up to the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland on February 2.

McGeechan, who is currently Leeds' executive chairman, will assist Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team in the week running up to their match against Scott Johnson's Scotland. And despite McGeechan's Scottish roots, the former Wasps and Bath coach is adamant that he will stay loyal to Lancaster's men.

McGeechan told the Daily Express: "It's a privilege to be asked and to be able to watch and to be allowed an insight, but I will not take that knowledge elsewhere."

Bath confirm Toulon interest in Claassens

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Bath Rugby boss Gary Gold has revealed that scrum-half Michael Claassens is in discussions with Toulon about a move at the end of the season.

Claassens' contract is up at the end of the current campaign and Top 14 big-spenders Toulon have been linked with a move for the half-back. They are preparing for life without Jonny Wilkinson, who looks set to retire in the summer, and could sign Claassens to step in at No.9 which would free up Frederic Michalak to shift to fly-half.

"He's been open and honest with us and he is in talks," boss Gold told the BBC about Claassens. "I'm sure Michael will tell us as soon as anything can be confirmed."

Deans eyes 2013 clean sweep

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is relishing the chance to take on the world's best in 2013 but he will not prioritise the British & Irish Lions tour over the Rugby Championship.

Australia welcome the Lions for a three-Test series in June and July and will then embark on the Rugby Championship in August. And Deans is targeting victory on both fronts rather than focusing on one over the other.

"They will both be great experiences for our players but both are stand-alone competitions," Deans told ESPN. "One is not preparation for the other, nor is the Rugby Championship title any less of an incentive for our players than beating the Lions. What I can say is that we have a massive year ahead for the game in Australia. It is one that our players, and the Australian public, are very excited about.

Doran-Jones set to join Harlequins

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

On the day Northampton confirmed the signing of Alex Corbisiero ahead of next season, their coach Dorian West has revealed that they are likely to lose England prop Paul Doran-Jones to Harlequins.

The Saints announced Alex Waller and Tom Mercey’s decisions to re-sign with the club earlier on Wednesday and also announced the recruitment of Corbisiero. But West believes that Doran-Jones will depart the club to fill the gap left by James Johnston at Harlequins.

“It’s pretty common knowledge that we’re losing Soane [Tonga'uiha] and Brian [Mujati] to Racing and I think we’re losing Doran-Jones to Harlequins as well,” West told the Northamptonshire Telegraph. “But we’ve got three good, young props we’ve signed there and we’re looking to add to those.”

Wasps name strong XV for Dragons

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Wasps boss Dai Young has refrained from fielding a second-string side for their match against the Dragons on Thursday despite his team already having booked their quarter-final spot.

Young wants his team to go into the knockout stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup with a home quarter-final to their name and he is fielding a team packed with internationals for their trip to Rodney Parade.

Wasps: Hugo Southwell (c), Christian Wade, Elliot Daly, Andrea Masi, Tom Varndell, Nick Robinson, Charlie Davies; Zak Taulafo, Tom Lindsay, Phil Swainston, Joe Launchbury, Marco Wentzel, Sam Jones, Jonathan Poff, Billy Vunipola

Replacements: T Rhys Thomas, Tim Payne, Will Taylor, James Cannon, Matt Everard, Joe Simpson, Stephen Jones, Chris Bell

Chris Bell extends with Wasps

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Wasps have secured centre Chris Bell on a new contract. The Aviva Premiership side had to cope with Saracens' capture of their star No.8 Billy Vunipola earlier this week but they will be pleased with Bell's decision to re-sign.

Dai Young, Wasps' director of rugby, said: “Chris has been excellent since he came here and worked very hard to get back from a tough injury. That work is being rewarded now and he’s put in some fine performances this season. We are delighted he’s committed his future here.”

Bell added: "I love playing for Wasps and the decision to extend my contract was an easy one to make. I believe under Dai Young we will continue to improve and I am very excited about the future of the club and hope to be a big part of it.”

Williams pens new Harlequins deal

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Harlequins winger Tom Williams has signed a new deal that will see him stay with the Aviva Premiership champions until the end of the 2014-15 season.

Williams has scored 52 tries for Quins and has also turned out for the England Sevens side. Quins boss Conor O'Shea was delighted with Williams' decision to stay at the club. "Tom's form over the last 12 months has been outstanding and we are all really looking forward to him continuing that over the coming years," O'Shea said. "Tom has already played 185 times for the club and at 29 has some great years of rugby ahead of him. He is one of the club's original academy graduates and his willingness to work with our younger players has had a big impact on their development."

Williams added: "I am delighted to be staying at Harlequins for a further two years. The opportunity to contribute to a club playing such an exciting brand of rugby with a group of ambitious and talented players made the decision to stay an easy one."

Warriors flyer Josh Drauniniu re-signs

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Worcester Warriors have received a boost ahead of their match with Bizkaia Gernika following the news that Josh Drauniniu has penned a new long-term contract.

Drauniniu has scored 12 tries in 18 games for the Warriors and coach Richard Hill believes he is one of the best three wingers in the country. "Josh came to Warriors as a very raw player with a huge amount of ability and natural talent, particularly in attack," Hill said. “His game needed refining to become a top Aviva Premiership player and credit to him he has worked exceptionally hard during his time here, especially with Phil Larder on his defence.

“Josh has become a very good defender and has filled some big boots since the departure of Miles Benjamin and Marcel Garvey last year. In attack he is now even ore hungry for the ball and is a real predator. I think he has finally realised just how good a player he can be and I rate him as one of the best attacking wingers and in the top three in the country."

Glasgow and Troy Nathan part ways

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Glasgow Warriors centre Troy Nathan will leave the club after their Heineken Cup clash with Northampton Saints.

Nathan has found his first-team opportunities limited this season and both he and coach Gregor Townsend have decided that it is in the centre's best interests if he seeks another club. Nathan joined the Warriors in 2011 and has made 17 RaboDirect PRO12 appearances for the Scottish club.

"I'm sorry to be leaving before the end of the season," Nathan said. "I've enjoyed my time in Glasgow and I wish the Warriors squad all the best with the current campaign and beyond. I haven't found another club yet, but I've never been fitter and I'm optimistic about the future."

French rugby mourns Eric Bechu

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/16/2013

Montpellier have confirmed that coach Eric Bechu passed away on Tuesday at the age of 53 after a long battle with cancer.

Bechu, who was joint coach at the Top 14 club alongside Fabien Galthie, helped guide the club to their first French league final in the 2010-11 season but in December 2011, fell ill. "Eric Bechu has departed, battling as he always had done during his life, as he had always taught our players and the many others he had coached over the years to do," the club said in a statement. "We will keep him close to our hearts, the victories, the defeats as well, and the extraordinary adventure that we experienced alongside him in the past few years.

"We will remember him for being a man of values: those of rugby and those of life as well. Our thoughts are with his wife and two daughters at this painful moment. Farewell Eric."

January 15, 2013

Fotuali'i hopes to agree Ospreys deal

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 01/15/2013

Ospreys scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has given the club reason to believe that he will remain with them.

"I'd be very pleased to stay," Fotuali'i said. "We have a great bunch of boys here and the future excites me a lot. My focus in on helping out on and off the field. We're out of Europe but there are positives to come out of the campaign. Everyone is buying into what the coaches are doing. Everyone is getting on board."

"Without any shadow of doubt we need the likes of Kahn and Biggs [Dan Biggar] to help build the group we have," head coach Tandy said. "We're hopeful of keeping both of them. Kahn's world class and great to have around on the training field because his influence rubs off on the younger players. Not only is he a great ball player, he also understands what we want from a game, runs it well and is huge defensively."

Wasps coach annoyed by Vunipola departure

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 01/15/2013

London Wasps coach Dai Young has revealed that his club had little idea that Billy Vunipola was in talks with Premiership rivals Saracens.

“We are clearly hugely disappointed," Young said. "Billy is a player that the club identified some time ago as one with huge potential and he’s been developed by London Wasps, despite a period when he struggled with illness and injury, into one of the brightest young talents in English rugby.

“During our contract talks, the player had been adamant that he did not want to leave the club but we know he was under pressure for family reasons to go and join his brother at Saracens. We did everything in our power to keep Billy. Although we had heard the whispers about him going to Saracens, we were only officially informed yesterday afternoon that Billy was leaving and he had previously signed for them."

Morne Steyn set to join Stade Francais

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 01/15/2013

South Africa fly-half Morne Steyn is reportedly set to sign for French aristocrats Stade Francais.

Steyn, 28, is contracted to the Blue Bulls until October, but he is hopeful that he can negotiate a premature exit at the end of the Super Rugby season, so that he can line up for the start of France's Top 14 in September.

"There is a deal on the table and we're waiting for final paper work," Styen's agent Johan van Greune told Eyewitness News Sport. The final decision to move to Stade Français has also not been taken by Morne. His contract to play for the Bulls is until the end of this year.

"We're waiting for a pre-contract from Stade Français, and then I need approval from the Bulls so that he can leave after Super Rugby, because obviously his contract is until the end of October. So, there are still a few things to be done before there's an actual contract signed."

Steyn will continue to make himself available to Springboks' coach Heyneke Meyer, similar to the way his compatriots François Louw, Ruan Pienaar, Heinke van der Merwe, Gurthro Steenkamp and Schalk Brits have done in the past year. "Morne has spoken to Heyneke and they have discussed this," Van Greune added. "Obviously it is difficult to make commitments from Heyneke's side. That's one of the reasons he [Steyn] chose to go to France. It does open the door for him to play for the Springboks in the future."

If he does sign he will be the latest player to move to the Top 14 after Juandre Kruger joined Racing Metro, and Bryan Habana signed for Toulon, in the past month.

Harlequins shrug-off Johnston exit

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 01/15/2013

Premiership champions Harlequins have confirmed that prop James Johnston will be leaving the club at the end of the season, but feel they have enough depth to cope with his departure.

Johnston will sign for fellow-London side Saracens at the end of the season. The 26-year-old moved to the south-west London side in 2009 from Richmond and so far has made 88 appearances, including the victorious 2012 Premiership final. However, Quins director of rugby Conor O'Shea admitted that his side could not match his demands, but welcomed the chance to bring through another academy graduate.

“We are very disappointed to lose a player of James’ ability,” O’Shea said. “He has developed greatly since he joined us four years ago and I’m sure he is destined for great things in the game. Unfortunately, given the constraints of the salary cap, we were unable to meet his financial expectations so he has decided to move on at the end of the current season.

"We’re in the fortunate position of having two of the most exciting, young tight heads props in the country coming through our system in Will Collier and Kyle Sinckler and we are confident that we will be able to recruit another experienced front row forward to complement them shortly.”

Chris Robshaw named writers' Player of the Year

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 01/15/2013

England and Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw has capped his breakthrough year by being voted Rugby Union Writers’ 2012 Player of the Year.

The 26-year-old was handed the England captaincy at the start of 2012 and led the team to second place in the SIx Nations during which their only defeat came to Grand Slam winners, Wales. He then became the first Harlequins captain to lift the Premiership trophy as the team from south-west London tore into Leicester Tigers to win their maiden title with a 30-23 victory in the Premiership final.

His came in for some criticism as England could only draw the third Test on a three-Test June tour to South Africa and his decision making came under fire in consecutive November losses to Australia and South Africa. However, he finished his year on a high as England became the first team to beat New Zealand since they won the World Cup in 2011 with a rampant 38-21 victory at Twickenham.

There was also a special award for former Wales and British Lions fly-half Cliff Morgan.

Citing threatens O'Gara's Six Nations

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 01/15/2013

Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara could miss the start of Ireland's Six Nations campaign after he was cited for allegedly kicking Edinburgh second-row Sean Cox

The incident occurred midway through the second half of Munster's 26-17 victory at Murrayfield and soon after O'Gara was replaced by Ian Keatley. O'Gara will have his case heard in Dublin on Thursday and if found guilty faces a likely ban of between four and 12 weeks.

Ireland begin their Six Nations campaign away to Wales on February 2. They then play England in their first match at the Aviva Stadium a week later, on February 10.

Also having their cases heard on Thursday are Racing Metro centre Fabrice Estebanez, who stands accused of striking Saracens' David Strettle and Stade Francais lock Juan Cruz Guillemain, who must answer charges that he headbutted Grenoble's Fabien Alexandre.

January 14, 2013

Vunipola and Johnston agree Saracens switch

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/14/2013

Saracens have announced the signing of Quins tight-head prop James Johnston and Wasps No.8 Billy Vunipola.

The highly-rated duo will make the switch ahead of next season on "long term contracts" in a major coup for Premiership side who have also announced that a host of players have also re-signed for the club including the England duo of prop Mako Vunipola, Billy's brother, and winger David Strettle. In addition, Richard Wigglesworth, Eoin Sherriff, Will Fraser, Ben Spencer, Nils Mordt, Duncan Taylor, Ben Ransom and James Short have also put pen to paper on new deals.

Ulster suffer Williams injury blow

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/14/2013

Ulster No.8 Nick Williams has been ruled out for eight weeks with a knee ligament injury suffered during their Heineken Cup victory over Glasgow at Ravenhill on Friday night that ensured their place in the quarter-finals of the competition.

There was better news for centre Paddy Jackson (ankle) who is responding well to treatment while winger Craig Gilroy (head) is following the necessary return-to-play protocol. It is hoped that both players will be available for selection for this weekend’s final pool game against Castres Olympique.

Folau left out of Wallabies' training squad

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/14/2013

Australia have stepped up their preparations for the visit of the British & Irish Lions by naming a 49-man training squad - that does not include high-profile recruit Israel Folau.

Folau, who joined the Waratahs last month from Australian Rules Football having already excelled in rugby league, was widely expected to be fast-tracked into the national set-up but it appears he will have to earn his place having been omitted from what has been described as a 'logistics camp'.

There are seven uncapped players in the squad: Melbourne Rebels centre Mitch Inman, Reds flanker Jake Schatz, utility back Ben Lucas, Rebels locks Hugh Pyle and Cadeyrn Neville, and Brumbies half-backs Nic White and Christian Lealiifano. Brumbies captain Ben Mowen and Waratahs winger Lachie Turner were both surprise omissions while veteran Reds forward Radike Samo and Western Force half-back Brett Sheehan also miss out.

"It doesn't guarantee them anything," an Australia Rugby Union spokesman told AAP. "If you're not here it doesn't mean you're not a Wallaby this year - it comes down to what you do on the field. There's nothing to stop Israel Folau going out there and playing the house down to make the team."

Queensland Reds (16): Saia Faingaa, James Hanson, James Slipper, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Will Genia, Ben Lucas, Quade Cooper, Ben Tapaui, Anthony Faingaa, Mike Harris, Dom Shipperley, Digby Ioane, Luke Morahan.

Waratahs: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell.

Brumbies: Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Dan Palmer, David Pocock, Nic White, Christian Lealiifano, Pat McCabe, Joe Tomane.

Melbourne Rebels: Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Mitch Inman, Cooper Vuna.

Western Force: Salesi Ma'afu, Hugh McMeniman, Ben McCalman, Nick Cummins.

Parling extends contract with Tigers

Posted by James Bass on 01/14/2013

Leicester second row Geoff Parling has ended speculation regarding his playing future by signing a new contract with the Premiership side 'beyond the end of this season'.

The 29-year-old England international had been linked with a possible move away from Welford Road but has now joined the likes of Tom and Ben Youngs, Graham Kitchener, Steve Mafi and Julian Salvi, in extending his stay at Welford Road although exact details were not disclosed.

Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “We told Geoff that he has always been part of our plans going forward and it is very good news that he has decided to stay with us. He has been an important guy for us over the last four seasons and is now an established international player too."

Cockerill plays down injury fears

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/14/2013

Leicester boss Richard Cockerill has moved to ease fears over injuries suffered by the England duo of Manu Tuilagi and Tom Youngs during the Tigers' Heineken Cup draw with Ospreys on Sunday.

Centre Tuilagi limped out of the game with an apparent ankle injury and was later seen in a protective boot while Youngs also handed England coach Stuart Lancaster a scare with a calf injury. But Cockerill was quick to play down the significance of the injuries and backed both players to be fit for the showdown with Toulouse next weekend. "Manu has tweaked his ankle and has a bit of a tight calf, Tom had some cramp in his calf but both will be fit next weekend.’" Cockerill said following the Liberty Stadium clash.

January 13, 2013

Biggar to re-sign with Ospreys

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/13/2013

Wales’ Dan Biggar has revealed that he is on the brink of penning a new three-year deal with the Ospreys.

Biggar has been linked with a cross-Channel move and in the process, following in the footsteps of Jamie Roberts and Gethin Jenkins in opting for a move to France. But Biggar, who is the favourite to take the No.10 shirt for Wales during the forthcoming Six Nations, wants to stay at the Ospreys.

"We are in advanced talks and I am hoping to get something sorted over the next couple of weeks," Biggar told BBC Wales. "I am very happy here. The three things I am asking myself are: Am I happy, am I going financially looked after and are we a competitive side? All three of those things have matched, so as long as we can get something signed in the next few weeks, I will be very happy."

Exiles give Smith vote of confidence

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/13/2013

London Irish chief executive Andy Martin is adamant that coaching duo Brian Smith and Glenn Delaney’s jobs are safe even if the side get relegated from the Aviva Premiership.

The Exiles are currently eleventh in the table and five points clear of Sale Sharks who lie at the foot. It has been a dismal campaign for Smith’s men and they face the prospect of losing many of their star names in the summer with Jonathan Joseph strongly linked with Bath and Alex Corbisiero with Northampton. But Martin will keep the faith with Smith and Delaney even if they are playing in the Championship next term.

“We’ve got total faith in Brian and Glenn,” Martin told the Rugby Paper. “They’ve signed up for a three-year project and they’re doing exactly what we asked them to do. We’re building the business, we’ve changed the academy and they’re doing a good job. We’ve got very clear objectives to be a sustainable and be a competitive Heineken Cup team, and nothing has changed.

“It hasn’t gone as well as we’d hoped this season, but we’ve only had four or five months of the new guys together. Everyone’s pretty calm and Brian’s doing a great job. There are signs that when we click, we are going to be very good.”

January 12, 2013

Ferris hopeful of Six Nations action

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/12/2013

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is hopeful of playing some part in the 2013 Six Nations as he battles to recover from his latest injury setback.

Ferris underwent surgery on an ankle injury before Christmas and has not played for Ireland since last year’s Six Nations defeat to England. But Ferris is hoping to run on the injury next week and he has his sights set on turning out for Ulster in mid-February. If his comeback goes to plan, then Ferris could pull on the green shirt of Ireland before the end of the Six Nations.

"It is 10-12 weeks. I'm in week five, so, hopefully, in five, six weeks I'll be back at it," Ferris told the Irish Independent. "That's the target. If I was fit and ready to go in the middle of the Six Nations, it would be pretty hard to go into an international, but thankfully, there is a week off and then a week on and then another off before the last two games. It is week-on-week, we'll see how we're progressing and it is going well so far."

January 11, 2013

Warriors hopeful star duo will stay

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/11/2013

Worcester Warriors managing director Charlie Little is optimistic that England Saxons Matt Kvesic and Matt Mullan will re-commit their futures to the Aviva Premiership side.

Both forward's contracts are up at the end of the season and they are likely to be on the radar of other Premiership clubs. But Little is adamant that the Warriors have the right set-up in place to secure their best talent.

“I sincerely hope both of them will still be here next season," Little told Worcester News. “They wouldn't just go to any club, they would only leave here for a handful of clubs and they know that we clearly want them here and it is in both parties’ interests to know the outcome as soon as possible.

“It would be wrong of us just to assume they will sign — we’re into silly season now and the players and their agents have got to do what they have to do. When they look round and see what’s on offer at other clubs, it won’t be money, facilities or structure that will take a player away from Worcester, which is encouraging.”

IRB to push TMO trial worldwide

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/11/2013

The International Rugby Board has confirmed that from next season, the current trial of the extension to the Television Match Official's (TMO) powers will be pushed worldwide.

The Aviva Premiership and the Currie Cup have trialled the extension so far and the IRB claims that they have been "highly successful". And following this, in both domestic and international matches next season, the referee will be able to call on the TMO to check for possible evidence of foul play mid-match. The referee can also check whether certain tries can be given by asking the TMO to "review up to two phases (rucks or mauls) before the ball is grounded in the act of scoring" to see if there is any reason why the score cannot be given.

The two phase aspect to that area of the TMO's powers is different to that of the trial in the Premiership. Referees in that competition were permitted to look back further but the panel responsible for the trial - the Laws Representative Group - deemed the Currie Cup's trial of restricting the referee to a more limited time-frame of just the two phases to be more successful.

Ashley Beck blow for Wales

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/11/2013

Ospreys centre Ashley Beck will miss the start of Wales' Six Nations campaign with an ankle injury.

The 22-year-old picked up the injury during the Ospreys' PRO12 victory over the Dragons on New Year’s Eve but the region has only now confirmed that the ligament damage will keep him out of action for 6-8 weeks. As a result, Beck, who scored on his last international appearance against Samoa in November, has been ruled out of contention for the Six Nations opener against Ireland in Cardiff on February 2 and probably the subsequent clashes with France and Italy.

There has been better news for Wales and the Ospreys with the return to fitness of Justin Tipuric. The flanker has overcome a shoulder problem and will start the crunch Heineken Cup clash with Leicester on Saturday.

Dog eats Tovey's passport

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/11/2013

Cardiff Blues back Jason Tovey will miss his side's Heineken Cup clash with French giants Toulon this weekend after his dog ate his passport.

The Western Mail reports that Tovey's eight-month-old labrador mauled it so badly it was deemed unusable. Blues officials feared there wasn’t enough time to get a new passport issued and as a result he will miss his side's high-profile trip to the Stade Mayol.

"Buster is always chewing things but usually it's my sock and shoes," said Tovey. "As soon as I saw the passport I thought I'd never get through airport security with it. I was dreading telling my team coach, I didn't think anyone would believe me."

And for proof of the mauled passport, then click here.

January 10, 2013

RFU investigate Championship clash

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/10/2013

The Rugby Football Union has launched a review of into last weekend's Championship fixture between Leeds Carnegie and Plymouth Albion that went to uncontested scrums after just 13 minutes.

PA Sport reports that match referee Matt Carley made the decision after early scrums collapsed when Headingley Carnegie's new £1million pitch began cutting up.

In a statement, the RFU said: "The RFU is reviewing the circumstances that led to the RFU Championship fixture, Leeds Carnegie v Plymouth Albion, on Sunday January 6 moving to uncontested scrums after 13 minutes of play. A statement will be made in due course."

Leeds' 34-16 bonus point victory took them fourth in the Championship table but Plymouth boss John Roberts was left puzzled by the game-changing ruling. "I've never seen anything like it," he told the club's official website. "Our players were fine with it and wanted to carry on scrummaging. I am not sure what will happen next, but if the pitch wasn't good enough to play on, it shouldn't have been played on."

Votu in line to make Chiefs bow

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/10/2013

The Exeter Chiefs are ready to unleash Fijian flyer Watisoni Votu in the Anglo-Welsh Cup with the 27-year-old's visa issues seemingly sorted. Votu has been linked with the Chiefs since the summer but Rob Baxter has had to wait to finally get his man. But it seems that Votu is now ready to pull on the Chiefs jersey.

"It seems everything is finally good to go," Baxter said. "It has taken a while to get everything sorted, but now we're looking to getting him up and running probably in the upcoming Anglo-Welsh Cup games and see where he goes from there."

January 9, 2013

Powell faces month out after breaking hand

Posted by James Bass on 01/09/2013

Sale boss Steve Diamond has confirmed to the Manchester Evening News that Andy Powell will be out for at least a month after breaking his hand in training.

The Sale back-row is expected to miss both Heineken Cup matches against Montpellier and Cardiff, as well as the Aviva Premiership clash with Harlequins at the end of the month.

Tigers move for South African lock

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/09/2013

Leicester Tigers have agreed a deal to sign South African-born lock Sebastian De Chaves, according to reports in the Leicester Mercury. The lock is in line to replace fellow South African Rob Andrew rather than England second-row Geoff Parling who is rumoured to be on Gloucester's radar.

De Chaves is currently on Mont-de-Marsan's books in the Top 14 but he revealed on Twitter that he had penned a deal to join the Tigers.

Blues handed Andrews boost

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/09/2013

Wales prop Scott Andrews has signed a two-year contract extension with Cardiff Blues. And the Blues also announced today a new deal for back-row forward Josh Navidi.

Andrews, who made his international debut against the Barbarians in 2011, featured for Wales during the recent autumn Tests and is expected to be named in the squad for this season's Six Nations Championship.

"I have been here since I was 16, and I didn't want to look elsewhere as I am happy at the Blues," Andrews said. "We have a lot of young boys mixed with some top internationals who are contracted for the next few years, so slowly we are producing a good core. It will be exciting to see it progress over the next few years."

Navidi has pledged his future to the Blues until 2016.

January 8, 2013

Will Genia and James Horwill winning fitness battles

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/08/2013

Will Genia and James Horwill remain on course in their comebacks from injury but they will not be rushed back ahead of a massive year for the Australia pair.

Horwill is on track to be fit for the Reds' opening Super Rugby clash with the Brumbies in Canberra on February 16 while Genia's recovery from a knee reconstruction is ahead of schedule. However Reds coach Ewen McKenzie insists they will be cautious about Horwill's return to action and refused to put a date on Genia's comeback.

The influential pair will be crucial to the Reds' hopes in this season's Super Rugby and to Australia's chances in the Test series against the British & Irish Lions as well as the Rugby Championship.

On Genia's progress, McKenzie said: "I don't have a fixed date (for his return) but he has tracked very well. His rehab has been perfect ... possibly ahead of schedule."

McKenzie added: "He (Horwill) is on track - we haven't rushed him. It's been methodical and very positive."

Players rally around Fourie

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/08/2013

England internationals past and present have voiced their support for Hendre Fourie after the former flanker revealed he is facing deportation to South Africa.

The 33-year-old, whose 18-month-old son Hendro was born in England, has been in the country for eight years, playing for Rotherham, Leeds and Sale and winning eight Test caps. However, he was forced to retire last week because of a shoulder injury and consequently had his contract cancelled by the Sharks, meaning his visa is no longer valid. Upon hearing of Fourie's plight, many of his peers took to Twitter and started a campaign to support him using the hashtags #FourieToStay or #SaveShrek.

Harlequins and England fullback Mike Brown, scrum-half Danny Care, wing Ugo Monye, Gloucester No.8 Ben Morgan, Saracens fly-half Charlie Hodgson, Biarritz wing Iain Balshaw and London Irish's Shane Geraghty were among those to post the messages on their Twitter accounts.

January 7, 2013

Kieran Low extends contract with Irish

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/07/2013

London Irish lock forward Kieran Low has extended his contract with the Premiership club for a further two years.

The 21-year-old, who has made 12 appearances for the Exiles this season, has been labelled as "one of the most naturally gifted players" that director of rugby Brian Smith has worked with. "He’s a big fella with excellent skills and plenty of desire," said Smith. "If he keeps his feet on the ground and continues to work hard, I have no doubt that he’ll play for England. He’s a terrific player and more importantly a passionate London Irishman. I’m delighted he’s extended his contract with us."

Australia expect O'Driscoll-inspired Lions

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/07/2013

Australia's coaching coordinator Tony McGahan expects Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll to spearhead the British & Irish Lions' quest for a series victory over the Wallabies later this year.

Former Munster coach McGahan told the Irish Independent: "O'Driscoll is a player who can win a match with one moment of magic and I am certain he will be a part of the touring party that travels to Australia."

He added: "If Brian is fit then he will, I am sure, be a big part of the Lions tour. Brian is a player who commands huge respect on this side of the world. What he has achieved with Leinster and, in particular, with Ireland is well known in Australia. He is a player who has certainly been a marvellous player for a long number of years and he continues to be."

Bath dismiss Ford speculation

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/07/2013

Bath coach Toby Booth has rubbished speculation linking the Premiership club with a move for Leicester fly-half George Ford.

Reports suggested that the 19-year-old Ford, currently the second choice playmaker at the Tigers behind Toby Flood, would make a high-profile switch at the end of the season but Booth has insists they are unfounded."His father, Mike [Bath’s defensive head coach], should know and he hasn’t signed with us, he wants to stay at Leicester. And George is categoric about that. And that is direct from Mike," Booth told the Daily Telegraph.

"George wants to fight it out with Toby Flood because this was a very important period for him in December and January, because he wanted to go head to head with Flood and try to prove himself at Leicester. That’s as far as we know, and I think it is well-documented that there are talks with him to try and renew his contract and as far as we know, he’ll be a Leicester player. What he does and the decisions around that are purely based on what he does in January-February when Flood is available.”

January 4, 2013

Manning-Cooper joins World Cup team

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/04/2013

World Cup organisers England Rugby 2015 have turned to another former Olympics official to fill a key role within their organisation.

Joanna Manning-Cooper has appointed as ER2015's new communications and marketing director having previously acted as head of public relations for the London 2012 Olympics.

Debbie Jevans, chief executive of ER 2015 and herself a former London 2012 executive, said: "We want Rugby World Cup 2015 in England to be the best World Cup ever. With less than 1,000 days to go to the tournament we are strengthening our senior team, and Joanna has been appointed following a competitive recruitment process for this important new role within the ER 2015 leadership team. Joanna did an exceptional job for London 2012 and her skills and experience in major sporting events will be a great asset as we promote Rugby World Cup 2015 to the world."

Scotland bring in Ryan and Scott

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/04/2013

Scotland have drafted in Dean Ryan and Steve Scott on interim contracts for the forthcoming Six Nations.

Ryan and Scott will work alongside temporary boss Scott Johnson throughout the tournament and will link-up with fellow coaches Matt Taylor, Duncan Hodge and Massimo Cuttitta in Scotland's backroom staff. Ex-Gloucester boss Ryan, who was recently appointed as a consultant for RaboDirect PRO12 side Dragons, will take charge of the forwards while Scott, who was sacked by Sale earlier this season, will take on the skills coach position.

Lancaster praises 'winner' Fourie

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/04/2013

England coach Stuart Lancaster has paid tribute to Hendre Fourie after the former Sale flanker announced his retirement from the game on Thursday. Lancaster coached Fourie, who won eight caps for England under Martin Johnson, at Leeds and he is adamant that Fourie will succeed in whatever post-rugby career he opts to head into.

“Andre Bester did a great job in identifying and developing Hendre at Rotherham and when I signed him for Leeds he proved to be an outstanding player, showing that by rising to achieve full England honours," Lancaster said. “I am sure that he will go on to be successful in life because he is a real competitor and a winner.”

January 3, 2013

Lions trio return for Leinster

Posted by Martin Williamson on 01/03/2013

Leinster have included Ireland stars Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney in the XV for their match with Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Friday evening.

The trio, who were all capped by the British & Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2009, have all been sidelined recently but Joe Schmidt has included all three Ireland internationals in his line-up

Zebo pens new Munster deal

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/03/2013

Ireland international winger Simon Zebo is one of nine players to have agreed new terms with Munster that will keep him at Thomond Park until the end of the 2015-16 campaign.

The 22-year-old, who made his Test debut against New Zealand last summer, is joined by No.8 James Coughlan, hooker Mike Sherry, lock Dave Foley, back-row Paddy Butler and flanker Sean Dougall in penning a new contract. The group also includes three players who were on development deals - JJ Hanrahan, Dave O'Callaghan and Luke O'Dea.

Munster boss Rob Penney was delighted with the news and said: "I think it gives the organisation real security going forward having that number re-committing to the group. Its a real positive sign that the lads believe in what's happening here and can see a future here for themselves."