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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."

March 24, 2013

Murrayfield to get artificial pitch?

Posted by James Bass on 03/24/2013

The Scottish Rugby Union is considering installing a semi-artificial pitch at Murrayfield in the future similar to that used at Twickenham.

Murrayfield could potentially follow the trend of using “plastic” pitches, such as the one recently put in at Saracens’ ground Allianz Park, in order to save on maintenance costs and increase the number of matches played at the ground.

The home of England Rugby currently uses a hybrid pitch which combines grass interwoven with plastic and a spokesman from the SRU says they will be looking into the option.

“Scottish Rugby is always keen to explore innovation and new technology and we have an internal team looking into the subject of artificial pitches at present. Their work is under way and they will seek to evaluate the success of other grounds/developments and the costs of such projects."

March 20, 2013

Wales winger Alex Cuthbert suffers hamstring injury

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/20/2013

Wales winger Alex Cuthbert will be out for at least the next four weeks with a hamstring injury.

Cuthbert, who helped Wales to the Six Nations title by scoring two tries in the championship decider against England at the weekend, suffered a grade two hamstring strain in the first thirty minutes of the match in Cardiff.

The 22-year-old is expected to be sidelined for between four and six weeks.

Scotland expect Michalak to escape punishment

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/20/2013

The Scottish Rugby Union say they expect France stand-off Frederic Michalak to escape punishment for his fracas with full-back Stuart Hogg in Saturday's final Six Nations fixture.

Michalak appeared to throw several punches at the Glasgow number 15 when they clashed three minutes into the second half at the Stade de France, but Welsh referee Nigel Owens let both players off with a warning at the time.

And the SRU now say Toulon man Michalak will avoid further censure after the deadline for him to be cited by the Six Nations disciplinary panel passed without the incident being raised.

An SRU spokesman said: "The Six Nations appoints independent citing commissioners to oversee discipline matters at Six Nations games. Citing therefore is a matter for that independent commissioner, who has 48 hours from the end of a match in which to cite. As that period has elapsed it would appear there is no citing from the France v Scotland game."

Wales' Dan Lydiate close to return from injury

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/20/2013

Wales flanker Dan Lydiate is set to return to action before the end of March following a six-month injury lay-off.

The 25-year-old fractured his ankle while playing for the Newport Gwent Dragons and subsequently missed Wales’ autumn international at the end of last year and this year’s triumph in the Six Nations.

Lydiate, who was Six Nations player of the tournament in 2012, is set to return for the Welsh derby with the Scarlets on March 30.

Halfpenny defends Croft in spit spat

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/20/2013

Wales' Leigh Halfpenny came to the defence of Tom Croft tonight by confirming the England flanker did not spit at him during Saturday's Six Nations decider.

Croft was on Tuesday forced to deny spitting at the Wales wing during the Millennium Stadium clash after coming in for fierce criticism on social networking sites. Croft wrote on Twitter: “Just to clarify, I did NOT spit on @LeighHalfpenny1 during the Eng v Wal match, I think it's disgusting and has no place in the game."

Halfpenny wrote on Twitter: "Guys, just to confirm @tomcroft6 didn't do what's being alleged of him. He's a top bloke and a great player!"

March 19, 2013

England' Tom Croft denies spitting at Leigh Halfpenny

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/19/2013

England flanker Tom Croft has denied suggestions that he spat at Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny during the Six Nations defeat in Cardiff.

The 27-year-old was accused by a number of Twitter users after a video clip showed him standing over Halfpenny at a ruck and appearing to hold the Welsh player’s head down.

But Croft strenuously denies the accusations, and wrote on Twitter: "Just to clarify, I did NOT spit on @LeighHalfpenny1 during the Eng v Wal match, I think it’s disgusting and has no place in the game."

Wales triumph reaches record TV audience

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/19/2013

A record 1.1million television viewers in Wales watched Rob Howley’s team lift the Six Nations title on Saturday.

The peak audience of 1.1 million during the Wales’ victory over England is the third highest TV audience in Wales this century.

The Welsh Rugby Union has welcomed the BBC Wales figure as evidence that rugby union remains at the “heart and soul” of the nation.

Chief executive Roger Lewis said: “On Saturday Wales was one. A nation came together in a passionate display of unity. Together we celebrated possibly Wales’ finest ever rugby occasion.”

March 17, 2013

Ireland Women complete Grand Slam

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/17/2013

Ireland Women claimed their first Six Nations Grand Slam thanks to a 6-3 win over Italy on St Patrick's Day.

A day after their male counterparts slumped to defeat in Rome, fullback Niamh Briggs' two penalties settled a hard-fought game in Ireland's favour. Italy's Veronica Schiavon had kicked the hosts into an early lead, but the Irish battled back to complete the clean sweep.

Elsewhere, a 76th minute try for winger Sally Tuson handed England Women a thrilling 20-16 victory against Wales. The result means England finish third in the table with France claiming the runners-up spot.

March 16, 2013

England U-20 claim Six Nations title

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/16/2013

England Under-20s have been crowed Six Nations champions for an unprecedented third time in a row after an impressive 28-15 win away in Wales at Eirias Park on Friday night.

The tie was on knife edge for large parts of the game and Wales fly half Sam Davies was a constant threat with the boot, but two tries from flanker Harry Wells and one from wing Jack Nowell gave England the win, as fly half Henry Slade added 13 points with the boot.

Departing Head Coach Rob Hunter said: “It’s a massive achievement and the guys deserve all the credit – they’re a hard working group and this trophy is their reward for the work that they have put in. Wales gave it a real go and full credit to them, we never felt comfortable.”

Captain Jack Clifford added: “I’m so happy for all of the boys and all of the management, everyone works so hard and to end up with this trophy as captain is a dream come true. Massive credit to the Welsh though, at no point did we feel like the game was won until the final whistle blew.”

March 15, 2013

Dean Ryan to quit Scotland post

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/15/2013

Scotland forwards coach Dean Ryan has confirmed he will step down from his post following his side's final Six Nations fixture against France on Saturday.

The former England international has served as an assistant to caretaker coach Scott Johnson since January but will return to his media commitments with Sky Sports next week. "I've always been here only for the Six Nations. I'm contracted to Sky and I'll be working there next week. That has never changed and never was going to," he told PA Sport.

"But I have loved my time here. It's a great group. I'm humbled they have allowed me to come in and prepare them for Test matches. It's been fantastic. We have got some wins, which always makes life easier. It's been fun."

England and Wales to play under closed roof

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/15/2013

England's Six Nations showdown with Wales will be played under a closed roof at the Millennium Stadium.

Both sides have agreed the roof will be shut with heavy rain forecast on Friday and showers continuing into Saturday evening.

Wales held their final training session on Friday under the roof before England also took to the pitch.

Victory would see England secure the Grand Slam while Wales can still win the retain the Six Nations title if the beat their rivals by eight points.

March 14, 2013

England players poised to scoop £2.3m jackpot

Posted by Martin Williamson on 03/14/2013

England’s 23-man squad are poised to share a jackpot of at least £2.3  million if they defeat Wales in Cardiff on Saturday and clinch their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

The article says that any player who has been involved in all five of the Six Nations matches will receive a pro-rata bonus of a minimum of £25,000 – a combined total for the squad of £575,000 - rising to £40,000 if the team win all of their autumn Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand this year.

With each squad player also being paid £15,000 per game in match fees, that would take the total for those who played throughout the Six Nations to £100,000 if they beat Wales.

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 9, 2013

Ireland secure Women's Six Nations championship

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/09/2013

England defeated Italy 34-0 on Saturday with the result ending the Azzurri's unlikely hopes of securing the Six Nations trophy.

Ireland will now go into next weekend's match against Italy as champions and the women in green will be chasing a Grand Slam. Ireland downed France 15-10 on Friday evening to make it four from four and Italy were the only team who could catch them if they had managed to beat England.

But it was Gary Street's women who came away with a 34-0 win over Italy and they now sit on four points alongside Italy and France. England crossed for six tries with Roz Crowley grabbing a double with the other scores coming from Joanna McGilchrist, skipper Sarah Hunter, Sally Tuson and Emily Scott.

England U-20 smash Italy to set up Wales decider

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/09/2013

England Under-20 ran in seven tries to beat Italy Under-20 52-7 and set up a winner-takes-all clash with Wales next Friday.

Sam Hill, Callum Braley, Tom Stephenson all touched down while Exeter Chief’s Jack Nowell scored twice and the defending Six Nations champions were awarded two penalty tries in front of 8000 fans at Franklin’s Gardens. Exeter’s Henry Slade kicked 17 points.

Head coach Rob Hunter said: “It may sound churlish to say that we’re unhappy after putting 52 points on the board but the reality is that we know we can play better. Italy were big and they were physical, and to be fair, on a slippery surface they forced us into making mistakes. Next week is a big game, and we’ll certainly be working very hard over the next few days to make sure we deliver a strong performance against Wales.”

Meanwhile Wales Under-20 secured a 42-17 victory over Scotland Under-20 as they ran in five tries to their opponent’s two. Ireland under-20 beat France Under-20 22-5 with Tom Daly kicking 17 points.

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 4, 2013

Scotland draft in Euan Murray and Strokosch

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/04/2013

Scotland have added Euan Murray and Alasdair Strokosch to their squad ahead of the weekend's match with Wales.

Strokosch has been out of action since round one due to injury while Murray missed their win over Ireland due to his Christian faith. David Denton misses out for Scotland due to a knee injury while Ryan Wilson is called up.

Scotland team:

Forwards: John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier), Kelly Brown (Saracens), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), Alasdair Dickinson (Sale Sharks), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Gray (Sale Sharks), Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall (both Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester), Rob Harley, Alastair Kellock, Moray Low, Pat MacArthur (all Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors), Tom Ryder (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Jon Welsh and Ryan Wilson (both Glasgow Warriors)

Backs: Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Castres), Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby), Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne, Ruaridh Jackson, Sean Kennedy (all Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby), Sean Lamont, Sean Maitland, Peter Murchie, Henry Pyrgos (all Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott, Tim Visser (both Edinburgh Rugby), Nikki Walker (Worcester Warriors) and Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors)

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

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.

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 26, 2013

Italy opt for same again

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/26/2013

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has decided against making any changes to his squad for their final two Six Nations clashes against England (March 10) and Ireland (March 17).

Captain and No.8 Sergio Parisse has been omitted due to the 30-day ban he picked up last week for abusing a referee while on Top 14 duty for Stade Francais but continues to train with the squad as he awaits the result of his appeal.

Forwards: Martin Castrogiovanni, Lorenzo Cittadini, Alberto De Marchi, Andrea Lo Cicero, Michele Rizzo, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Davide Giazzon, Joshua Furno, Quintin Geldenhuys, Francesco Minto, Antonio Pavanello, Robert Barbieri, Mauro Bergamasco, Paul Derbyshire, Simone Favaro, Ratu Manoa Seru Vosawai, Alessandro Zanni.

Backs: Tobias Botes, Edoardo Gori, Kristopher Burton, Luciano Orquera, Tommaso Benvenuti, Paolo Buso, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, Tommaso Iannone, Andrea Masi, Luke McLean, Luca Morisi, Giovanbattista Venditti.

February 25, 2013

Ford fitness boost for Scotland

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/25/2013

Scotland hooker Ross Ford is expected to be fit for his side's next Six Nations clash with Wales at Murrayfield on March 9.

Ford picked up a facial injury during his side's 12-8 victory over Ireland on Sunday but team doctor James Robson has offered a promising prognosis. "Ross was treated at Murrayfield, then one of our match-day doctors, Gerry Haggerty, took him to St John’s Hospital in Livingston, where he was cared for by one of their plastic surgery specialists," he said in a statement.

"He received multiple stitches to the wound and was able to return to the team hotel last night. Our expectation is that with ongoing good care and attention to the wound, Ross should be available for consideration for the Scotland v Wales game."

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.

Wales and Scotland U-20s claim wins

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 02/23/2013

Wales maintained their unbeaten run in this year's Under-20 Six Nations with a 25-10 victory over Italy in Viterbo on Saturday.

Daniel Thomas and Rhodri Williams notched tries for the visitors who also claimed a penalty try. Italy hit back after half-time through Maxime Mata-Mbanga' but Sam Davies’ kicking kept the them at arm’s-length.

At Netherdale, Scotland claimed their second win of the championship with a 21-20 victory over Ireland. Wing Damien Hoyland scored his second try of the match five minutes from time that fly-half Tommy Allan converted for the win.

February 21, 2013

Cian Healy appeals ban

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/21/2013

The Irish Rugby Football Union has formally appealed the three-week ban handed to Ireland prop Cian Healy earlier this month.

The loose-head was found guilty of stamping on England's Dan Cole during Ireland's 12-6 defeat at the Aviva Stadium on February 10 and therefore ruled out of his side's subsequent Six Nations clashes against Scotland and France. An independent disciplinary committee decided that Healy's actions should be categorised as a mid-range offence in terms of seriousness, which carries a sanction of five weeks.

The committee also allowed the maximum two weeks of mitigation, but by handing down a suspension of three weeks, recognised the player would not have played for his province last weekend and the ban was therefore scheduled to end at midnight on Sunday, March 10. The appeal relates to, among other things, the specific period covered by the three-week playing suspension and is expected to be held next week.

February 20, 2013

Wales release nine ahead of Italy Test

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/20/2013

Wales have opted to release nine players back to their regional teams as they prepare for Saturday's Six Nations clash with Italy in Rome.

The list includes Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler, who was on bench duty when Wales beat France in Paris on February 9. Shingler is joined by his Scarlets team-mates Matthew Rees, Josh Turnbull and Tavis Knoyle, while Scott Andrews, Josh Navidi and Andries Pretorius return to the Cardiff Blues. Ryan Bevington and James King also head back to the Ospreys.

Wales named their team for the Test on Tuesday.

Toby Faletau rubbishes Dragons exit rumours

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/20/2013

Wales and Dragons No.8 Toby Faletau has dismissed rumours that he will leave the region at the end of the season.

Bath Rugby have been heavily linked with the No.8's signature but he still has another year left on his contract. There were reports on Tuesday that Faletau had told the Dragons he was keen to leave, but he is adamant that he wants to stay at the region and see out his deal.

"I've still got another year at the Dragons so I'm not sure where that speculation has come from,” Faletau told Wales Online. "I'm still there next season. I've got another year left. I'm here at the Six Nations now. It’s one step at a time."

February 18, 2013

Scotland bolster squad for Ireland

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/18/2013

Scotland boss Scott Johnson has added 13 players to his squad ahead of this weekend's Six Nations match versus Ireland.

Due to the match being played on a Sunday, Euan Murray misses out due to his Christian faith, but Johnson has retained the other 22 who played against Italy.

Additional players:

Forwards: Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Tom Ryder, John Barclay (all Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson and Richie Vernon (Sale Sharks), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby)

Backs: Sean Kennedy, Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Peter Murchie (all Glasgow Warriors), Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby), Nikki Walker (Worcester Warriors).

The Scotland team to play Ireland is due to be announced on Wednesday.

February 16, 2013

Six Nations glory not out of reach says Faletau

Posted by James Bass on 02/16/2013

No.8 Toby Faletau is confident that Wales are still in the running for this year's Six Nations.

The 22-year-old was part of the Welsh side that overturned France 16-6 last weekend to kick-start their campaign and break a losing streak of ten games. Rob Howley's side will face Italy next Saturday and Faletau reckons Wales will be able to kick on from the French win and challenge for Six Nations glory.

“Winning makes such a difference,” Faletau told the Western Telegraph. “Coming in on Monday for training, the atmosphere was better already compared to the week before after losing to Ireland. We think it (winning the Six Nations) is still on but we’ve got to take each game as it comes.”

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.

Wales sign new deal with Admiral

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/13/2013

The Welsh Rugby Union has extended its sponsorship deal with insurance company Admiral through to 2015.

Admiral, Wales' only FTSE 100 listed company, first appeared on the national team's jersey in 2010, and the two-year extension to the existing deal will take the partnership through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

February 8, 2013

Late try sees Ireland U20s beat England rivals

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 02/08/2013

Wing Rory Scholes scored a try five minutes from time to earn the Ireland U20s a 16-15 win over their England U20s in Athlone on Friday night.

England appeared set for victory after five penalties from fly-half Henry Slade but Tom Daly scored his third penalty in the 63rd minute to bring Ireland into touching distance and the centre’s conversion of Scholes’ try gave Ireland the win.

Elsewhere, Scotland U20s defeated Italy U20s 30-17 in Galashields .

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 3, 2013

Ireland delay team announcement

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/03/2013

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has delayed naming his side for Saturday's Six Nations showdown with England until Friday to give his battered squad time to recover from their opening 30-22 victory over Wales.

No.8 and captain Jamie Heaslip has a cut leg and centre Gordon D'Arcy a dead leg while centre Brian O'Driscoll had several stitches inserted into a head wound and prop Mike Ross finished the Millennium Stadium clash with severe cramp.

A precautionary scan revealed no damage to fullback Rob Kearney's back, but substitute centre Keith Earls will see a specialist later this week to assess a shoulder problem.

Kidney plays down Grand Slam talk

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/03/2013

Despite seeing his side produce an impressive display against Wales on Saturday, Ireland boss Declan Kidney has dismissed any notion that his charges are Grand Slam contenders.

Ireland beat Wales 30-22 at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, but when asked about whether his team are now in line for the clean sweep, Kidney would not be drawn. "I don't buy into that," Kidney said. "That's only a myth at this stage. Look at how well England have been going – and they're firing away against Scotland just now.

"If you look at the second half today, we have an awful lot of work to do. We also have France at home and they're playing well too. And we have to go to Murrayfield as well. We lost the last time we were up there, before the World Cup."

February 1, 2013

England U20s open with win over Scots

Posted by James Bass on 02/01/2013

England U20s secured a 15-6 victory over Scotland U20s in their opening Six Nations encounter in Plymouth.

Prop Luke Cowan-Dickie went over in the 74th minute to secure England the win after what was a fairly even contest. The home side started well and were awarded a penalty try after 29 minutes, capitalising on a yellow card given to Scotland flanker Ruaridh Leishman. The Scots responded with two penalties from fly half Tomasso Allan and at half time England were up just 7-6. A penalty from fly half Henry Slade put them 10-6 up with 18 minutes to go, leaving Cowan-Dickie to add the extras and put England on course for their third consecutive Six Nations title.

Elsewhere, Wales U20s snatched a narrow 17-15 victory over Ireland U20s at Parc Eirias. A second half try from Welsh full back Dion Jones proved crucial as Ireland moved to within two points with just five minutes remaining thanks to a penalty from centre Tom Daly. Both teams traded blows in the first half and the break it was 6-7 to the visitors but 12 points from the boot of Davies helped keep the scoreboard ticking along and put Wales third overall in the championship after the first weekend of action.

And France U20s claimed a hard-earned 13-6 away win against Italy U20s. The French notched up all their points in the first half through a try from fly half Enzo Selponi and three kicks from the boot of full back Vincent Mallet. Italy's points came from Edoardo Padovani, who kicked two penalties, but it was not enough to prevent France from taking the win.

RFU issue rugby betting warning

Posted by James Bass on 02/01/2013

The Rugby Football Union has reportedly informed all personnel including the England squad that they face being banned from betting on all forms of rugby as part of the International Rugby Board's efforts to prevent a match-fixing scandal.

The Daily Telegraph reports that players and officials will no longer be allowed to place a bet of any kind “on any rugby in the world” or share inside or confidential information to any third parties. The IRB are rolling out a new anti-corruption and betting education programme in a bid to avoid the kind of betting scandals that have blighted other professional sports such as cricket. The IRB also introduced a regulation last month that established a scheme of enforcement and sanctions that apply “across the game at Test and professional rugby level”, which include zero tolerance of corruption with potential life bans.

"Match fixing and corruption is a threat to all sports and while there is no history of prevalence in rugby," said IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset. "It's important that we continue to review our regulations to ensure that they are fit for purpose in safeguarding the rugby community from such threats."

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."

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."

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

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).

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."

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

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.”

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.”

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."

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."

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 24, 2013

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

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.

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."

January 22, 2013

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.

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)

January 21, 2013

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.

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."

January 19, 2013

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

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.”

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.

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."

January 15, 2013

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 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

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.