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May 29, 2013

Tickets hard to sell for Lions tour opener

Posted by Martin Williamson on 05/29/2013

Over a third of the tickets for Saturday’s game between the Barbarians and the British & Irish Lions in Hong Kong remain unsold less than three days before the match.

Although all three Tests in Australia sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale and several of the tour matches are also close to being full houses, the game in Hong Kong has proved a harder sell, largely because of high ticket prices. Tickets for the weekend range from £62.50 to £107.50.

May 22, 2013

Warren Gatland to coach Stoke City?

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/22/2013

Following Tony Pulis' departure from Stoke City on Tuesday, bookies are offering odds on British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland to take up the job at the Potters.

If you fancy an outside bet on Gatland, then you can get odds of 5000/1 on the Kiwi to step into Pulis' shoes. And if you feel he is unlikely to take up the role, then you can also have a flutter on Sir Clive Woodward and Martin Johnson who are both available at 500/1.

Digby Ioane a doubt for first Lions Test

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/22/2013

Wallabies winger Digby Ioane could miss the first Test against the British & Irish Lions after undergoing a knee operation this week.

Ioane went under the knife on Wednesday in an attempt to clean up some articular cartilage in his left knee. The official Australia Rugby Union Twitter account described Ioane's chances of making the first Test against the Lions on June 22 as 'touch and go'.

The news will come as a huge blow to the Wallabies who are already facing the Test series without hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and flanker George Smith.

May 14, 2013

Who has the biggest neck in the Lions squad?

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/14/2013

The British & Irish Lions got suited and booted on Monday ahead of their summer tour to Australia with Manu Tuilagi confirmed as having the largest neck in the squad.

Tuilagi's neck measured in at an impressive 20.5in, according to the Daily Mail - a full four-and-a-half inches bigger than the average British man's. In terms of chest, it was Wales prop Adam Jones who dominated that field with his measuring in at 51.5in when he was fitted for his suit.

May 8, 2013

Lions fears over Wales duo allayed

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/08/2013

Wales duo Alex Cuthbert and George North will be fit for British & Irish Lions duty after suffering injuries at the weekend.

Cuthbert tore his hamstring while on Wales duty against England and pulled out prior to Cardiff Blues’ match against Ulster on Friday but he claims it was just a “precaution”. He added: "Phil Davies decided I should not risk it and it was probably a sensible idea because there was nothing much on the game. The rehabilitation has been going well but it is important I don't rush things with such an important couple of months going up."

And North was forced off with a rib injury against Treviso on Friday but Scarlets boss Simon Easterby allayed any fears for the wingers’ well being. "George has trained this week. He took a heavy bang to the sternum but he's been good,” explained Easterby. "There are a few sore bodies and we will probably wait until Thursday before naming our team."

May 5, 2013

Hook frustrated but not surprised by Lions snub

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 05/05/2013

James Hook admits he was not surprised to be overlooked for a place in the British & Irish Lions squad to tour Australia.

The Perpignan fly-half, who has won 70 caps for his country, believes he does not fit into the style favoured by Lions and Wales head coach Warren Gatland and his assistant Rob Howely.

"They go for big players just to get over the gainline - that's probably why in the last two years I haven't figured in the plans," Hook said. "I love playing for my country, but it's really frustrating that obviously I don't fit in to the coach's plans.

“But I'm not going to say I'm turning my back on international rugby because I love playing for Wales so much and there's so many players out there that would rip someone's hand off to play for Wales just once.”

May 2, 2013

James Hook to get Barbarians call-up?

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/02/2013

The Barbarians have invited Wales fly-half James Hook to play in their end of season tour matches.

Hook was left out of the British & Irish Lions squad for their tour to Australia and was also omitted from the Wales party for their trip to Japan in June. If Hook does accept the call up from the Barbarians then he could line up against England on May 26 and potentially versus the Lions in their match in Hong Kong on June 1.

Barbarians secretary Alan Evans has previously said he hopes to have four Welsh players in the squad for their end of season tour and Hook could get the chance to prove to Warren Gatland what he is missing out on following his omission from the 37-man squad for this summer’s trip to Australia.

April 19, 2013

Jonathan Sexton returns for Leinster

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/19/2013

Ireland No.10 Jonathan Sexton has been handed the fly-half berth for Leinster's RaboDirect PRO12 match against Zebre on Sunday.

Sexton has been sidelined since Ireland's Six Nations match against England in which he picked up a hamstring injury. As he neared his return, he then sustained a torn tendon in his foot but with Warren Gatland set to unveil his British & Irish Lions squad in 11 days, Sexton will hope to prove to the Lions' backroom staff his he is worthy of a place in the touring party.

In other team news, Brian O'Driscoll skippers the side while Cathal Marsh could make his debut for Leinster if he gets his chance from the bench.

April 7, 2013

Chris Ashton feeling renewed

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/07/2013

Saracens wing Chris Ashton has said he feels he has answered his critics after he came in for criticism for his performances in the Six Nations.

The 26-year-old was criticised for poor defence that allowed France, Italy and Wales to run in tries, but since he returned to club colours he has found his stride again and scored tries in successive matches against London Wasps and Ulster.

“I wanted to come straight back in and I wanted to play and prove a point to myself more than anything,” Ashton said. “The past few weeks have gone well. People in the team are providing space and backing me, and that's all you need sometimes. It gives you confidence.

“Sometimes you have got to realise that opportunities in games are few and far between, but I got a try last week and one this week, so I hope it can carry on.”

April 6, 2013

Young backs Wade for Lions tour

Posted by James Bass on 04/06/2013

London Wasps director Dai Young has backed winger Christian Wade to live up to expectations if picked as a bolter for this year’s British & Irish Lions Tour of Australia.

The 21-year-old scored two tries in Wasps’ 48-28 Amlin Challenge Cup loss to Leinster on Friday in front of Lions coach Warren Gatland and England coach Stuart Lancaster. If not chosen for Lions duty he would be sure to travel with Lancaster’s side to Argentina in June.

"Whether he is in a white shirt or a red shirt he won't let anyone down," Young said. "He has got electric feet. He can make space when there's none there and he has got the ability to beat people when the space is not there.

"He is not afraid of playing against players of reputation or size - he rises to the occasion. I certainly think he will go on a tour. I am sure he will do a good job."

March 28, 2013

Ferris weighing up Japan move

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 03/28/2013

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is reportedly contemplating a move to the Japanese Top League after he turned down a pay as you play contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

The 2009 Lion has been afflicted by knee and ankle injuries over the last 12 months and the 27-year-old has only played four times for Ulster this season.

He hasn’t featured for Ireland since their 30-9 loss to England in the final round of matches in the 2012 Six Nations and The Irish Independent reports that it is this run of injuries that prompted the IRFU to make an offer that was linked to his ability to feature in matches.

If he does move to Japan he will follow the likes of James Haskell, Sonny Bill Williams and Brad Thorne who have made big money moves there in recent years.

March 24, 2013

Tindall and Evans to play for Barbarians

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/24/2013

The Barbarians have announced Rugby World Cup winner Mike Tindall and former All Blacks fly-half Nick Evans as the latest recruits for their 2013 tour that includes clashes against England at Twickenham and the British & Irish Lions in Hong Kong.

Tindall, currently a player/coach with Gloucester, will perform the same role with the Baa Baas and will be joined by another Premiership star in the form of Harlequins playmaker Evans. Also confirmed for the tour is Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini who helped propel the Azzurri to two victories in this year's Six Nations.

Last month, the Barbarians announced the first batch of names for what is shaping up to be a world-class squad. Sergio Parisse, who led the Barbarians to victory over Wales and England two years ago, returns to Baa-Baas' colours. Other debutants for the famous touring club include Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i and France No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy. Springbok Jaque Fourie, who helped the Barbarians to beat New Zealand in 2009, is named at centre.

Tour manager Derek Quinnell said: "This year's summer tour is a very important one for our club. It is a great honour to play the Lions as well as England and we are very conscious of the need to invite the strongest possible squad to do justice to two great fixtures. As the weeks go by and national squads are selected and domestic cup and league competitions reach their final stages, we are monitoring who will be available to us. We then decide on the best balance of our squad in all positions and will make further announcements in due course."

March 20, 2013

Umaga: Dispute with O'Driscoll is over

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/20/2013

Former New Zealand captain Tana Umaga claims he and Brian O'Driscoll have "buried the hatchet" over his infamous spear tackle during the 2005 Lions tour.

O'Driscoll, who was the Lions skipper on the tour, dislocated his shoulder when Umaga and Keven Mealamu tackled him just seconds into the first Test. The injury ended O’Driscoll’s tour and the Lions went on to lose the series 3-0.

The Lions were furious with the tackle and O'Driscoll claimed it was a "cheap shot”, though an independent citing commissioner ruled that the All Black pair had no case to answer.

"As you can see he obviously got over it, he's back playing," said Umaga. "We've buried the hatchet. We've spoken a couple of times and have bumped into each other. We moved on, obviously (we) did very well in that series and it (the row) is a bit disappointing, but it's obviously what they wanted to achieve. They probably wanted something to override their disappointing performance over there."

March 12, 2013

Will Genia returns for the Reds

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/12/2013

Reds scrum-half Will Genia will play against the Western Force on Saturday in what will be his first appearance since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in September.

The news will come as a timely boost to the Wallabies ahead of their Test series against the British & Irish Lions this summer but Genia will only play the first-half of the match. "Hopefully from then on I will be playing the full 80," Genia said. "I said they would have to handcuff me at half-time because I will want to get back out there. But I have to be smart, build up the endurance. It would be wise just to keep it to 40 minutes."

For the full story on Genia's comeback - click here.

March 10, 2013

Edwards: Warburton right back in Lions frame

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/10/2013

Wales great Gareth Edwards says flanker Sam Warburton is back among the leading contenders to tour Australia with the British & Irish Lions this summer.

Warburton impressed on his return to the Wales side as Rob Howley’s men kept their hopes of retaining their Six Nations title with a 28-18 win in Scotland. The 24-year-old has previously been tipped as a possible Lions skipper but did not resume the captain's role as he took over from Justin Tipuric at openside flanker at Murrayfield.

Edwards, the inspirational scrum-half of the 1960s and 70s, told the BBC: "I think he fully deserved the man-of-the match award. He had a lot of pressure on him but he delivered the goods.

"He was very physical and great in the tackle area. Lots of questions were asked - should Tipuric have been left out? - but we have the beauty of two outstanding young players. I thought Sam Warburton really put himself back into the frame as far as the Lions is concerned as well. He really had an outstanding match."

March 8, 2013

Paul O'Connell set for playing return

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/08/2013

Ireland and Munster lock Paul O'Connell is set to make his long-awaiting comeback from a back injury next week.

O'Connell, who has made just two appearances for his province this season, had surgery to rectify a bulging disc in his back on New Year’s Eve and was expected to be sidelined for 3-4 months - but he has recently returned to training with Young Munster and is expected to play some part in Munster A's interprovincial clash against Leinster on Tuesday.

His sooner-than-expected return raises hopes he may by fit for Munster's Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Harlequins on April 7 and gives him a chance to prove his form and fitness ahead of the announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad that is expected on April 30.

March 6, 2013

Warren Gatland coaches Stade Francais

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/06/2013

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland reportedly took charge of Stade Francais' Tuesday morning training session.

According to reports in the French press, the session focused on the breakdown with clearing out rucks and winning ball prioritised. Stade Francais are currently coached by Richard Pool-Jones but there has been no official confirmation of why Gatland took charge of the training session.

Barbarians confirm quintet will face Lions

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/06/2013

The Barbarians have unveiled five players who will take on the British & Irish Lions in June.

Italy duo Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni have been given the nod and will feature alongside Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i. France No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy has also been included while South Africa’s Jaque Fourie will provide some inspiration in the centres. The Barbarians tackle England on May 26 and will then face the Lions on June 1.

Barbarians team manager Derek Quinnell said: "It is a great honour to play the Lions as well as England, and we are very conscious of the need to invite the strongest possible squad to do justice to two great fixtures. As the weeks go by and national squads are selected and domestic cup and league competitions reach their final stages, we are monitoring who will be available to us. We then decide on the best balance of our squad in all positions and will make further announcements in due course."

February 18, 2013

Lions tickets sell out in minutes

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/18/2013

Tickets for the British & Irish Lions' eagerly-awaited Test series with Australia later this year sold out within 15 minutes of going on sale to the public on Monday.

An Australian Rugby Union spokesman said all of the undisclosed public allocation - with prices ranging from ranging from A$95-A$295 (£63-£196) - were snapped up for the Melbourne (June 29) and Sydney (July 6) with tickets for the Melbourne showdown (June 22) selling out in similar time when they went on sale an hour later.

February 17, 2013

Lions fans face ticket price hike

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/17/2013

The Australian Rugby Union are being accused of hiking up prices for tickets for the test series with the British & Irish Lions.

The Rugby Paper reports that Lions fans are being charged up to £300 for tickets with a face value of £61 due to levies from the ARU and Lions Ltd, the umbrella company for the British & Irish Lions. The ARU are said to be charging £200 per ticket with the Lions adding a further £100 royalty to cover the costs of running the tour.

However Lions chief executive John Feehan told the Rugby Paper: “Most of the tickers we are getting from the ARU are costing us £200 each – there are some as low as £70, but not very many. We have no say in the ticket pricing, none whatsoever. We are passing on the cost as it is, effectively.”

February 10, 2013

Gold tips Kyle Eastmond for Lions call-up

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/10/2013

Bath boss Gary Gold insists that Kyle Eastmond is very much in the British & Irish Lions frame after starring in their victory over Worcester on Saturday.

The versatile Eastmond has played in the centres, on the wing and at fly-half for Bath this term and Gold believes the rugby league convert has a lot to offer the Lions. "Kyle will create havoc if he is taken out to Australia, but I'm not sure the Lions coaches are bold enough to want to go with someone like that," Gold told the Rugby Paper. "In 2009, I coached against the Lions and they brought Keith Earls as a wildcard.

"With Kyle's league background, his passing skills, his pace and the hard fields of Australia, it would be a great call. We're playing around with a couple of ideas and letting Kyle attack from 12. He's a prodigious talent, outstanding. We need the ball in his hands."

February 8, 2013

Quade Cooper wins first boxing bout

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/08/2013

Australia and Reds fly-half Quade Cooper made a spectacular start to his professional boxing career with a first round knock-out of Barry Dunnett in Brisbane on Friday night.

Cooper survived an early onslaught from Dunnett before rallying and flooring his opponent with a right cross in the closing moments of the opening round to claim the win. "I had so much fun out there I didn't want to leave the ring," said Cooper. "I'm just happy right now. It was great to have one round but I do want to get out there and do it again."

Trainer Shannon King was impressed with what he saw from his high-profile recruit who will return to the Super Rugby stage later this month. "I told him to throw a certain combination and he did that and he knocked him out," he said. "I have never had a fighter who listens like him and I think he has a huge future. We are talking about a second fight in seven months, or in his off-season, but rugby's his priority."

In the main event, former All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams extened his unbeaten record to six wins with a controversial points victory over South African Francois Botha. The WBA international heavyweight contest was scheduled for 12 rounds but was ended after 10 in bizarre circumstances and with Williams clearly struggling.

February 5, 2013

James Horwill to make Reds return

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/05/2013

The Reds and Australia have received a huge boost with the news that James Horwill is set to play his first competitive match since last May after being named in the XV to face the Chiefs on Friday.

The Wallabies skipper tore his hamstring against the Brumbies and subsequently missed the Rugby Championship and the autumn internationals. But with the British & Irish Lions tour on the horizon, Horwill is hopeflul that he will bounce straight back into the swing of things with the Reds.

"I'm a terrible spectator at the best of times, so it's a huge relief to be out of Team Rehab and in a position to play once again," Horwill said. "We've been extremely diligent in not rushing the rehab process to ensure that my hamstring would be ready for when the Super Rugby season kicked off."

February 3, 2013

Croft sets sights on Argentina tour

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/03/2013

Leicester Tigers' flanker Tom Croft has conceded that he is more likely to be on England's tour of Argentina come the summer than with the British & Irish Lions in Australia.

Croft was one of the standout performers on the Lions' 2009 tour of South Africa but after enduring a year where he has spent most of it on the sidelines through injury, Croft admits that his chances of touring with the Lions are slim.

"There's a Lions tour of Australia and an England tour to Argentina," Croft told the Rugby Paper. "My goal is probably to get on that England tour. After the injury I've had, if I could squeeze in a Six Nations match or two that would be a bonus. Then, if I can have a good run of form, I might get a call for Argentina."

January 24, 2013

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."

January 21, 2013

'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.

January 18, 2013

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."

January 16, 2013

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.

January 7, 2013

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."