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May 26, 2013

Parra out of France squad

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/26/2013

Clermont Auvergne scrum-half Morgan Parra has been ruled out of France's forthcoming tour of New Zealand after aggravating a thigh injury in his side's Top 14 semi-final defeat to Castres.

Toulouse No.9 Jean-Marc Doussain has been called up into the squad by coach Philippe Saint-Andre who face three Tests against the All Blacks in Auckland (June 8), Addington (June 15) and New Plymouth (June 22). "It is better that he (Parra) rests," said Saint-Andre.

May 13, 2013

Brawl mars ProD2 play-off clash

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/13/2013

Brive will tackle Pau at Stade Chaban Delmas in Bordeaux next Sunday in the ProD2 play-off final for a place in the Top 14.

Pau booked their place in the promotion showdown with a 30-16 victory over La Rochelle at the Stade du Hameau on Saturday. The game was marred by an all-out brawl that resulted in red cards for Pau's Marlon Solofuti and La Rochelle's Jordan Sénéca and Johan Wessels. The heated clash also saw yellow cards for Pau's Sylvain Charlet and La Rochelle's Christophe Lafoy and Franck Jacob.

Brive booked their place in the final with a 30-14 success against Aurillac at the Stade Amédée Domenech on Sunday. The winners of the play-off final will join ProD2 title winners Oyonnax in the top flight next season.

April 30, 2013

Toulon wrap up Habana deal

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/30/2013

Heineken Cup finalists Toulon have confirmed that South Africa wing Bryan Habana will be their latest big-name signing.

"After Australian wing Drew Mitchell, South African Bryan Habana will garnish the ranks of the Red and Black for the next two seasons,” the club said on its website.

Habana wants to remain in contention to add to his 83 Springbok caps despite his deal with Toulon meaning he has been removed from their list of contracted players. In recent years Ruan Pienaar and Francois Steyn have won caps despite not playing in South Africa.

April 22, 2013

Vincent Clerc blow for France

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/22/2013

France winger Vincent Clerc looks certain to miss their summer tour to New Zealand with a knee injury.

Clerc picked up the knock at the weekend against Clermont and confirmed on his Twitter account that he is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Clerc tweeted: "The news is not very good unfortunately. The injury will require several months off! Appointment early next season!"

The winger has previously ruptured cruciate ligaments in his other knee almost five years to the day, which also happened in a Top 14 defeat to Clermont. Clerc's injury means he will also miss Toulouse's last game of the regular season against Grenoble.

April 12, 2013

Saracens and Munster win semi-final coin toss

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/12/2013

Saracens and Munster have been assigned as the home teams for their Heineken Cup semi-finals against Toulon and Clermont Auvergne.

The two sides won the coin toss at European Rugby Cup’s offices in Dublin and so will use the home dressing rooms at Twickenham and Stade de la Mosson respectively.

Saracens also won the coin toss for jersey colours and so will wear their black and red shirts in the semi-final on April 28. Munster will wear their traditional red when they meet Clermont a day earlier.

April 10, 2013

Women's Six Nations format will not change

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/10/2013

The Six Nations Council have announced that the format of the Women's Six Nations will continue in its current format next year.

Reports suggested officials were considering introducing a two-tier competition with England, France and Ireland in the top division and Scotland, Wales and Italy in the lower division due to concerns about financial costs and the ability of some sides to compete. The competition adopted the same format as the men's Six Nations in 2007 with Ireland breaking England and France's stranglehold on the title earlier this year with a first ever Grand Slam.

In related news, Roger Lewis, the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union and Six Nations Council member, has been elected as the new chair of the Six Nations Women’s Game Sub-Committee. Lewis said: "I am delighted to accept this position. We will now positively harness the energy that has been generated by the recent debate and together take Women’s Six Nations rugby forward."

April 7, 2013

Paul Sackey returning to England

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/07/2013

Former England wing Paul Sackey is set to return to England once his contract with Stade Francais runs out at the end of the season, with a non-London club reported to be his destination.

Sackey, who won 22 caps, has been in France since 2010, first with Toulon and then Stade. However, after he announced that he wouldn’t be signing a new contract, he has been left out of the match-day squad.

“If anything I have trained even harder since they stopped picking me. I want to be ready for what lies ahead of me,” Sackey told The Rugby Paper. “I have no regrets about joining Stade. I was so excited to be coming to such a big club known all over the world and I’ve loved living in Paris.”

April 6, 2013

Ex-France prop warns of doping in rugby

Posted by James Bass on 04/06/2013

Former French international prop Laurent Benezech has claimed that doping in rugby is being overlooked and that action needs to be taken to avoid scandals similar to cycling.

"The evidence (of doping in rugby) is in front of our eyes but no-one's interested," former Harlequins and Racing Metro hooker Benezech told French newspaper Le Monde. "I notice no one has made reference to the recent letter sent by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby to clubs to alert them of the overuse of Corticosteroids. Rugby is in exactly the same situation that cycling was before the Festina affair.”

The Festina scandal is an infamous cycling doping case from 1998 in which a team member from the Festina race team was found to be carrying doping products. It resulted in a widescale crackdown on drugs cheats in the sport and helped bring in initiatives to get doping out of cycling.

April 4, 2013

France tee up midweek Blues clash

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/04/2013

The Auckland-based Blues have confirmed that they will face France in a midweek match during Les Bleus' trip to New Zealand this summer.

Philippe Saint-Andre's side will play three Tests against the All Blacks and they will also run out against the Blues on June 11. "It's wonderful to see the return of a mid-week match from an international touring side and all of us at the Blues are delighted to be hosting this special game against France at North Harbour Stadium," said Blues CEO Andy Dalton. "It's a great fit - having the Blues take on Les Bleus during their trip to New Zealand."

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan added: "This year has been huge for many of our young guys. They've had a baptism of fire of what Super Rugby is all about and now they get the chance to take on the French during the three week break. What a fantastic experience for all of us, including our fans."

March 28, 2013

Drugs tests fury for French rugby bosses

Posted by Martin Williamson on 03/28/2013

Provale, the body which represents rugby players in France, has reacted with disbelief at reports the sport returned the highest proportion of positive doping tests in the country last year.

On Wednesday, French anti-doping officials revealed rugby returned the most positives. A spokesman said: "If we take into account all the banned molecules present on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list [of banned substances] the sport which registers the highest percentage is rugby."

Click here for the full story

March 27, 2013

Pool-Jones steps aside at Stade Francais

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/27/2013

Top 14 side Stade Francais have announced that sporting director Richard Pool-Jones will relinquish control of the on-field affairs next season and return to his previous position of vice president.

Pool-Jones, a one-cap England international and former Stade Francais player, left the board room last year following the dismissal of Australian coach Michael Cheika but will hand over control of the squad to Christophe Laussucq and David Auradou with immediate effect.

The Paris-based club have struggled this year and currently sit 10th in the Top 14 table and 13 points adrift of the play-off places.

March 11, 2013

France add Alexandre Flanquart to squad

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/11/2013

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has added Stade Francais lock Alexandre Flanquart to his squad ahead of Saturday's game against Scotland.

Les Bleus are sweating on the fitness of Yoann Maestri with the second-row unable to train until Friday. Elsewhere, Saint-Andre has kept the same group of players who drew with Ireland on Saturday.

France squad:

Forwards: Vincent Debaty, Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Guilhem Guirado, Luc Ducalcon, Nicolas Mas, Yoann Maestri, Christophe Samson, Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir, Antonie Claassen, Louis Picamoles, Sébastien Vahaamahina

Backs: Maxime Machenaud, Morgan Parra, Frédéric Michalak, François Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Yoann Huget, Vincent Clerc, Maxime Médard

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.

March 4, 2013

Dimitri Szarzewski blow for France

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/04/2013

France will be without hooker Dimitri Szarzewski for Saturday's clash with Ireland.

He has suffered a thigh and shoulder injury and Perpignan’s Guilhem Guirado has been called up in his place. Szarzewski has started two of France's three matches so far in the Six Nations and it looks likely that Benjamin Kayser will be named at No.2 for their trip to Dublin.

"We made this change because Dimitri, because of his injuries, will not be able to train before Thursday. His participation in the game would then be 50-50," said coach Philippe Saint-Andre. "That's why we called up Guilhem so that he can train as of Monday with the group."

February 28, 2013

Pascal Pape to miss rest of Six Nations

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/28/2013

France lock Pascal Pape has confirmed on his Twitter account that he will miss the rest of the Six Nations.

Pape picked up a back injury in France's opening match of the championship against Italy on February 3. The original prognosis was that he should be fit for round three of the tournament, but he has now admitted defeat and has set his sights on returning in time to play Toulouse on March 23 for his club side Stade Francais.

The lock was named French captain ahead of the tournament but it seems likely that Thierry Dusautoir will now skipper Les Bleus into their final two games of the championship.

February 23, 2013

England U-20s hammer France

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/23/2013

England Under-20s hammered France Under-20s 40-10 at Sixways on Saturday night with skipper Jack Clifford bagging a hat-trick.

Two penalties from Henry Slade had put England into a 6-3 lead at the break and it was the home side who got the first five-pointer on the board thanks to a penalty try in the second-half. But despite being down to 14 men, with Etienne Dussartre in the bin, France pulled it back to 16-10 with Gabriel Lacroix going over.

That proved to be their final score of the match with Clifford running in a hat-trick and winger Henry Purdy also scoring to ensure that the home team bounced back from their round two loss to Ireland in style.

February 22, 2013

Gethin Jenkins to quit Toulon for Blues

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 02/22/2013

Wales prop Gethin Jenkins will return to the Cardiff Blues for the start of next season after negotiating an early release from his contract with French league leaders Toulon.

Jenkins signed a two-year deal with the Top 14 side at the start of the season but has been seen limited game time with former England international Andrew Sheridan their preferred option at loose-head. Wales head coach Warren Gatland has also raised concerns over his lack of fitness since crossing the English Channel.

"Gethin's experience will add to the team, he is very vocal on the pitch and I am sure that a lot of the youngsters will also be very vocal with him as well next year,” Cardiff Blues director of rugby Phil Davies said.

February 13, 2013

Player of Six Nations to be chosen via social media

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/13/2013

This year’s Six Nations Player of the Championship will be chosen with the aid of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Fans’ comments will be recorded via "social listening technology", scored and added to players’ technical statistics to compile a shortlist for the award which will then be circulated to supporters who will then be able to vote for their Player of the Championship.

Wales flanker Dan Lydiate was last year's award following a poll on the official Six Nations website.

February 4, 2013

Pascal Pape to miss Wales clash

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/04/2013

France have received a huge blow ahead of their match with Wales on Saturday following the news that their skipper Pascal Pape will miss the clash due to a back injury.

Pape captained France against Italy on Sunday but was forced to withdraw in the 58th minute of the match. Toulon's Jocelino Suta is set to be added to Les Bleus' squad in place of Pape and Philippe Saint-Andre will now have to look elsewhere for the team's captaincy.

Saint-Andre revealed in the aftermath of their loss to Italy: "I can tell already that Pascal Pape will be absent against Wales. He suffers from sciatica."

February 2, 2013

Castro ready for Toulon switch

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 02/02/2013

Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni has confirmed that he is close to becoming the latest player to join Toulon, but must wait for his club Leicester Tigers to reach an agreement with the French side.

The 91-time capped prop has a year remaining on his contract at Welford Road, but remains hopeful the two clubs can negotiate a deal.

"I have reached an agreement with Toulon but I still have a year on my contract at Leicester," the 31-year-old told ESPN Radio. "The two clubs are in the process of reaching a deal. In theory, all is sorted out. I should sign next week but I cannot say I am a Toulon player nor that I have left Leicester."

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."

January 29, 2013

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 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.

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

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."

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.

January 25, 2013

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.

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.

January 16, 2013

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

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.