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May 17, 2013

Wilkinson up for top European award

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/17/2013

The shortlist for the prestigious European Player of the Year award has been confirmed with Clermont dominating the final five.

Clermont and Toulon will go head-to-head at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday as they battle for European rugby’s biggest prize and players from the two sides dominate the shortlist. Clermont’s Julien Bonnaire is nominated alongside Wesley Fofana and Sitiveni Sivivatu while Toulon’s Jonny Wilkinson also gets the nod. Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip, who will line-up against Stade Francais on Friday night in the Amlin Challenge Cup final, completes the five-man list with the winner to be announced after the Heineken Cup final.

The successful player will follow in the illustrious footsteps of Leinster pair Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien – winners in 2012 and 2011 respectively – while Munster's Ronan O’Gara was the inaugural recipient of the honour as the leading player over the first 15 years of both tournaments.

May 8, 2013

Rolland handed Heineken Cup final whistle

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/08/2013

Alain Rolland has been named as the referee for the Heineken Cup final between Clermont Auvergne and Toulon in Dublin on May 18.

It will be Rolland's first Heineken final since the 2004 game between Wasps and Toulouse, with his assistants being fellow Irishman George Clancy and England's Wayne Barnes. Top Welsh official Nigel Owens, meanwhile, will control the Amlin Challenge Cup final between Leinster and Stade Francais in Dublin on May 17.

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 24, 2013

Stade Francais sign Van der Merwe

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/24/2013

Leinster prop Heinke van der Merwe will leave the province at the end of the season after signing for Stade Francais.

The four-cap South African prop has been rotating with Cian Healy in the province's front-row but this season will be his last in Dublin having signed a two-year deal with the Parisians.

April 19, 2013

Referees confirmed for euro semi-finals

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/19/2013

The body in charge of European rugby has confirmed the four officials who will take charge of the two Heineken Cup semi-finals and the last four of the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Welsh referee Nigel Owens will preside over Clermont's game against Munster in Montpellier on April 27 while Alain Rolland will take the whistle for Saracens' Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulon at Twickenham the following day.

And in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals, George Clancy is the official for Perpignan's match against Stade Francais while Wayne Barns is in charge of Leinster's match against Biarritz on April 27.

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 7, 2013

Johann Muller out for season

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/07/2013

Ulster captain Johann Muller is out for the rest of the season after injuring a bicep in his side’s Heineken Cup quarter-final loss to Saracens.

Prop John Afoa meanwhile will miss their match against Newport-Gwent Dragons after he had to return to New Zealand. He had only returned from New Zealand three days before the match with Saracens after attending the birth of his daughter.

Ulster are currently second in the RaboDirect PRO12, a point behind leaders Glasgow Warriors with three matches remaining.

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

Schmidt keen to secure Heineken Cup future

Posted by James Bass on 04/06/2013

Leinster director of rugby Joe Schmidt believes that everything should be done to save the Heineken Cup after recent talks over the competition’s future came to a standstill.

The English and French clubs are at loggerheads with rivals from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy over the format of the competition and the automatic qualification rules for certain countries. The tournament is set to come to a close by the 2014-15 season if an agreement cannot be made between the warring factions.

"You cannot have a product that is this good and not continue it," Schmidt said. "The Premiership clubs are pretty well represented this year. Leicester, Saracens and Harlequins all have great shots.That inevitably will get enthusiasm and clubs will want to do what their supporters want to see. Therefore, with competitions like this, I just don't think people are going to allow to let it slip."

April 2, 2013

Simon Zebo nearing injury comeback

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/02/2013

Munster are set to receive a huge boost ahead of their Heineken Cup quarter-final with Harlequins on Sunday with the news that Simon Zebo is closing in on his return to fitness.

Zebo broke a bone in his foot playing for Ireland against England in the second match of this season's Six Nations and was not expected to play again until mid-April. But according to reports in the Irish Examiner, Zebo came through Monday's training session unscathed and will be asked to up the ante ahead of Sunday's match for the rest of the week.

The newspaper also reports that Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray will both in the frame to face Harlequins on Sunday.

March 22, 2013

Elsom and Rossouw bolster Toulon's Heineken Cup bid

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/22/2013

Rocky Elsom and Danie Rossouw have been added to Toulon’s Heineken Cup squad ahead of their quarter-final clash with Leicester on April 7.

The former Australia captain and South African World Cup winner are among the new players registered for the latter stages of the Heineken Cup. Saracens have included flanker Jacques Burger and Nicholas Auterac in their squad while Leicester have called up Kieran Brookes, Michael Noone and Scott Steele.

Bath have added former Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer to their Amlin Challenge Cup squad ahead of their quarter final with Stade Francais on April 6, along with hooker Rob Webber and Ben Skirving.

March 19, 2013

Heineken Cup quarter-final referees named

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/19/2013

France’s Romain Poite will referee Saracens’ Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at Twickenham on April 6 after European Rugby confirmed the officials for the fixtures between the last-eight.

England's Wayne Barnes will be in charge of the first quarter final when Clermont Auvergne face Montpellier at Stade Marcel Michelin. France’s Jerome Garces will officiate Harlequins’ clash with Munster while George Clancy will referee Toulon against Leicester at Stade Félix Mayol – both of which are on April 7.

"We will be asking the match officials to continue to focus on key areas of the game in order to allow a contest for the ball by both teams and to give the ball-carrying team the space to play within the laws," ERC match official performance manager Donal Courtney told the ERC website.

"The officials will be reminded to effectively manage all aspects of the scrum, as well as tackle and ruck situations, in particular where players wilfully go off their feet to prevent a fair contest for the ball. They will also be asked to be strict on issues of foul play, especially dangerous tackles, and to be vigilant for lineout maul obstruction and for players going offside from kicks."

February 28, 2013

Stephen Ferris goes under the knife

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/28/2013

Ulster and Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris has undergone an operation to clear up his ankle joint.

Ferris is not expected to play any competitive rugby again this season and is a massive doubt for June's British & Irish Lions tour to Australia. He suffered an ankle injury against Edinburgh back in February and following his initial operation, the medical staff were hopeful that he would be fit in time for the Six Nations. But after further investigation, the injury was deemed to need a second operation.

His prolonged spell on the sidelines means that the negotiations over his new contract, with his current deal coming to an end in the summer, with the Ireland Rugby Football Union have been delayed, according to reports in the Irish Times. To obtain a central contract the player must be a frequent starter for Ireland which could count against Ferris due to his recent injury record.

February 27, 2013

Ospreys - 'There is no money for signings'

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/27/2013

Ospreys coach Jonathan Humphreys has ruled out the possibility of the region adding more players in the summer as “there is no money”.

The Welsh region will lose Kahn Fotauli’i to the Northampton Saints at the end of the season but it looks unlikely that they will draft in a high profile replacement. "We would love to spend in the summer but there is no money," Humphreys told the BBC. "There is no money at all for us and that comes from factors like having the least funding of anybody. Therefore, there is no money left to go and strengthen."

While Glasgow bolstered their squad with the signing of Richie Vernon on Tuesday, Humphreys admits it is frustrating to see other teams being able to recruit. "Look at Glasgow, they have gone on a helluva run purely on the strength of their squad," Humphreys added. "It is huge. Leinster will be the same. Munster next year will have the ability to go and get more players. Everybody is going to get stronger."

February 26, 2013

Ulster rocked by Paddy Wallace blow

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/26/2013

Ulster will be without centre Paddy Wallace for the rest of the season after it was confirmed that he has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.

Wallace suffered the injury to his left knee during their match against Glasgow on Friday and Ulster have said that his "injury will require surgery and a significant period of rehabilitation". The news will come as a huge blow to the province as they are still very much in the mix for RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup glory.

February 19, 2013

Lobbe a doubt for Heineken Cup quarter-finals

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/19/2013

Toulon are sweating on the fitness of Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe after he ruptured his spleen at the weekend.

He was hauled off the pitch in the 44th minute of Toulon's 51-6 victory over Montpellier and faces six weeks on the sidelines. According to reports, he will not need surgery but the tackle has left him with minor internal haemorrhaging.

The French club are hopeful that he will be back in action for their match with Clermont Auvergne in mid-April but he is likely to miss their euro clash with Leicester on April 7.

February 8, 2013

Toulon to host Leicester quarter-final at the Mayol

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 02/08/2013

Top 14 league leaders Toulon have been granted permission to host their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leicester Tigers on Sunday April 7 at their Stade Felix Mayol home.

The Cote d’Azur side have satisfied tournament organisers by increasing their stadium’s capacity to above the 15,000 minimum required for a quarter-final.

It means all venues for the last eight are confirmed. Clermont Auvergne host Montpellier at the Stade Marcel Michelin and Saracens meet Ulster at Twickenham on April 6, while Harlequins welcome Munster to their Twickenham Stoop headquarters a day later.

January 30, 2013

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.”

January 25, 2013

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."

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."

January 24, 2013

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

January 23, 2013

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)

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.

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.

January 11, 2013

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.