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Daily Archives: January 5, 2014

Solly graps another “King”

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alan-solomonsEdinburgh coach Alan Solomons bolstered his playing ranks by luring another player away from his former team, the Southern Kings.

One-time Springbok Andries Strauss will add some much-needed depth to the Edinburgh midfield.

He will join fellow former King Cornell Du Preez and several other South Africans – Carl Bezuidenhout (Pumas, the most recent signing before Strauss), Wicus Blaauw (from Biarritz and the Stormers before that), Willem (WP) Nel (Cheetahs) and Izak van der Westhuizen (Cheetahs).

Strauss have signed on with Solomons’ growing band of South Africans till 2016.

The 29-year-old made 56 appearances in Super Rugby – having plied his trade for the Cheetahs, Sharks and last year for Solomons as stand-in captain at the Kings.

The two-time Currie Cup winner and Super Rugby semifinalist has also represented South Africa in the IRB Sevens World Series – featuring in the inaugural Edinburgh tournament in 2007 – and for the Boks against the Barbarians in 2010 at Twickenham.

Brother to Leinster and Ireland hooker Richardt Strauss, Andries Strauss arrived in the Scottish capital at the weekend.

Subject to medical examination he will begin training with the squad on Monday, January 6, at the start of a new chapter in an already impressive career.

“I’m very excited to be here,” said Strauss.

“I said during the world Sevens series that, if there was a city in the UK that I’d like to play rugby in, then it’d be Edinburgh, so I’m very happy to get this chance in one of the best cities in the world.

“I’ve spoken a lot to my brother Richardt [Strauss] about the strength of the Pro12 and European Cup and how they compare to Super Rugby so it’s a massive opportunity for me to experience a different side of the rugby world.

“Hopefully my experience in the southern hemisphere will benefit me when playing here.

“This is a new team set-up so my first focus is to put in a lot of hard work and not focus on anything else but that.

“My first goal is to become part of a side which has been quite successful this year, and by that I mean settle in to the group and get to know the guys as quickly as possible.

“I’m looking forward to getting on to the pitch and training again, putting the boots back on and getting the body into a couple of contact situations.

“Once I’ve done that I’ll refocus my goals in terms of what I want to achieve with this team.”

A product of the prestigious rugby school Grey College in Bloemfontein, Strauss represented South Africa through the age-grades and joined the Free State Under-20 side in 2003.

He was included in the Cheetahs’ senior squad for the 2004 Vodacom Cup competition, before moving to Durban to join the Sharks the following year.

He represented the province at all levels, making more than 100 appearances for the Sharks in four years – across the Super Rugby, Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup (Natal Wildebeest) competitions.

He then spent two seasons with the Cheetahs alongside Edinburgh forwards Willem Nel and Izak van der Westhuizen, before securing a move to the Kings, where he started 13 of their 16 matches, most of which as captain, in Solomons’ then Super Rugby side.

The Edinburgh coach, Solomons, welcomed the signing, citing both the short and long term benefits of the new recruit.

He said: “This is very good news for Edinburgh.

“Strauss is a very mature player with a lot of Super Rugby and Currie Cup premier division experience. He did a fantastic job as captain for the Kings.

“He’s a big boy, is genetically strong and his conditioning is superb. He’s a natural athlete in that sense and will make a valuable contribution to Edinburgh Rugby, both in terms of playing and leadership.

“It’s fantastic that he joins us now because he is immediately available for this season and will be totally au-fait with everything for when the new season starts, which makes a huge difference.

“We want to go into next season, particularly with a guy like that, being completely comfortable and established.”

By: Rugby365

O’Connor to return next January

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James O'ConnorWallaby James O’Connor is hot property in Europe at the moment, but it has been confirmed he will return home to Australia next January.

O’Connor went into a self-imposed exile last year after being dumped from the Wallaby squad by coach Ewen McKenzie and had his contract torn up by the Australian Rugby Union over his ongoing alcohol-related transgressions.

The 23-year-old, who has played 44 Tests for Australia, found a new home at English Premiership outfit London Irish and has been a regular feature since his Premiership debut against Northampton Saints on November 3.

London Irish Director of Rugby Brian Smith admitted he is doing all he can to keep hold of O’Connor, after the talented Wallaby back’s masterclass helped down Worcester Warriors on Saturday.

O’Connor scored his first Exiles try and kicked 17 points to pull his new side further clear of Worcester at the foot of the Premiership – extending the gap to 14 points and lifting them above Newcastle Falcons.

The 23-year-old arrived at the club in October on a deal until the end of the season and while he is already being linked with a host of European clubs, Smith hopes he will stay where he is.

“James is a world-class player and I think you saw that,” he said.

“He’ll go back [to Australia] in January 2015 and play in rugby in Australia and for the Wallabies in the build-up to the World Cup.

“He’s 23 years of age and he should be playing for his country.

“He put his hand up today and controlled the back-line. We knew they were going to pepper him with high balls and he also managed to score a try so we’re really happy with him.

“He’s fitting in well. He’s part of our strategy group that we have – he heads up the kick chase and counter-attack squad. He’s coming from the cutting edge of international rugby and he’s got some good ideas.

“We’re hoping to keep him until January 2015, but there are some French clubs throwing ridiculous money at players. For Toby Flood to leave Leicester, who are one of the wealthiest clubs in this league, shows a lot. The real big money is in Japan and France.

“These guys aren’t making decisions on a hundred pounds or even ten thousand pounds – French clubs are offering double what we can. We’ve put our best foot forward and the biggest deal that I’ve seen to try and look after him but France can blow us out of the water if they wanted to.

“It comes down to the player and what they want to do and James has his heart on playing for the Wallabies again. He’ll start that in Jan 2015 – we’ve got him for the rest of this season and, if we’re really fortunate, the start of next as well.”

The defeat left Worcester Warriors 11 points behind their nearest rivals, now Newcastle Falcons, at the foot of the table. And director of rugby Dean Ryan admitted he was expecting more from his side after their recent improvement.

“We didn’t manage the game well enough. With the weather conditions as they were we knew there wasn’t a huge amount of rugby to be played,” he said.

“We knew it was about managing field position and managing the set-pieces and we came second in both. We were driven in the lineout, which created pressure, and we lacked discipline which gave them field position.

“It’s really disappointing because that’s Worcester of six or seven weeks ago. I thought we had cleaned up our act but today that didn’t come through, which is really disappointing at such a crucial time.

“We knew how big today was and I don’t think we managed that very well and we can’t hide from the pressure that Irish put us under. There’s no point trying to dress it up, we didn’t cope well enough.

“With the weather how it was it puts a magnifying glass under three or four parts of your game and we probably lost two out of those three today, which effectively led to the result.

“We’re aware that the longer it [run of defeats] goes on the harder it gets but we’re not giving up.

“We’re pretty tight as a team and we’re really disappointed with that performance. We’re aware that we’ve got Leicester in the next Premiership game at Sixways and we’re going to give it a real crack.”

By: Rugby365

Boudjellal: Toulon are ‘prize idiots’

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An interception try from Fiji wing Alipate Ratini two minutes from full-time, converted by Julien Caminati, handed Grenoble a dramatic 22-21 victory over Toulon in Top 14 action on Saturday.

The last-gasp defeat even left Toulon’s outspoken president, Mourad Boudjellal, wondering if coach Bernard Laporte would even be at training on Monday, such was the latter’s disappointment at the result.

“We’re prize idiots,” Boudjellal blasted after his side’s first home defeat in almost a year.

“We’ve got to get it into our heads that we’re no longer European champions, nor of anything else. We’re no longer talking about first or second place but to finish in the top six in the Top 14.”

Boudjellal, well known for often-emotional outbursts, added: “I hope the players will be able to regroup. My main concern is whether Bernard [Laporte] will be at training on Monday.

“He’s disappointed with many things in rugby: the refereeing which sometimes verges on amateurism and the sport which he no longer recognises since he returned to it.

“He’s far away from his loved ones [his family live in Paris] and I can tell you that he’s had a gutsful.”

The European champions looked to have sealed the win thanks to seven Jonny Wilkinson penalties that had given them a 21-15 lead at the 78th minute.

But Grenoble have proven themselves to be doughty fighters this season and they duly stuck to their task this time around to claim their first victory at Toulon since 1999.

When Wilkinson, the veteran Englishman who was a World Cup winner back in 2003, fired out a late pass on the left wing with an overlap abegging, Ratini read it perfectly, came out of the line and claimed the ball.

There was to be no catching the former Fiji 100m sprint champion, Caminati stepping up to kick the decisive conversion from in front of the posts.

Laporte was left fuming as, in the build-up to the interception, referee Laurent Cardona had indicated that he was playing advantage for Toulon, though that did look to have run its course by the time Wilkinson flung out his pass.

Grenoble, who were surprise 28-26 winners over Toulon the first time the two sides met this season, had four Valentin Courrent penalties and a Fabien Gengenbacher drop-goal to their credit before the dramatic denouement.

Toulon threw the ball around in a desperate attempt to get out of their own half following Ratini’s late effort, but replacement forward Florian Faure caught hold of Delon Armitage with the full-back isolated, forcing the turnover and causing Grenoble coach Fabrice Landreau to burst into tears.

Racing-Metro suffered another shock defeat in their topsy-turvy season, going down 6-0 to promoted Oyonnax in a match played in terrible conditions.

Having beaten Clermont 13-9 in the European Cup, Racing upset Toulon 14-3 at home in the league last weekend.

Yet that apart, it has been a poor season for the expensively-assembled Parisians and two penalties by Regis Lespinas was enough for Oyonnax to scrape a valuable win.

Rock-bottom Biarritz went down 18-6 to Stade Francais, while Perpignan bucked a five-match losing run with a 20-8 victory over Bayonne.

Castres closed to three points off leaders Clermont after an uninspiring 15-9 win over struggling Bordeaux-Begles on Friday.

This weekend of Top 14 action comes ahead of back-to-back European Cup matches that complete the pool stages over the next two weeks.

Results:
CA Brive-Corrèze 15-9 Montpellier Hérault
Biarritz Olympique 6-18 Stade Français
Oyonnax 6-0 Racing Métro 92
Perpignan 20-8 Aviron Bayonnais
Toulonnais 21-22 Grenoble
Castres Olympique 15-9 Union Bordeaux-Bègles

By: Rugby365

Welsh crisis deepens

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Regional Rugby Wales on behalf of the four Welsh regions, the Scarlets, the Ospreys, Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues issues the following statement in order to establish important facts and provide clarity regarding the future of Welsh regional rugby.

  •The Rugby Champions Cup will bring the biggest increase of funding into the Welsh game in five years.  It will increase funding to the Irish clubs and protect the Scottish clubs.  Bringing in £12m in three years into the Welsh game does not threaten the Six Nations or bring about its demise.

  •In only two months, the Welsh Regions have themselves, negotiated the biggest increase in funding for Welsh Rugby of the last five years and are simply asking the WRU as the governing body for support in this.

  •The WRU not only has full responsibility, but is also contractually obliged to negotiate competition revenues and TV distribution revenues under the Participation Agreement.  The WRU has failed miserably to negotiate equitable and fair revenue distribution for Welsh clubs in line with clubs in England and France.

  •The ERC Accord finishes this year and the WRU’s latest proposal for a replacement to exclude the English clubs includes six undefined French clubs and maintains an unequal distribution of revenue to the Welsh clubs.  Given the other opportunities that now exist, it is an inferior competition. The proposed competition would only be available on Sky TV, not terrestrial television, as is the case with the existing European competition.

  •It’s disappointing that the WRU’s disrespectful response to another significant and positive proposal from the Regions (as it was to the real PRGB last year) is once again to engage in a vitriolic and disingenuous attack on the Welsh Regions; with the purpose of detracting attention away from the real issues Welsh regional rugby is facing and that need addressing urgently.

  •The Regions would question why the WRU are scaremongering about a break away.  This has never been mentioned by the Regions who have only asked for positive support as outlined in their most recent statement of 31st December. As stated then; it continues to be the absolute intent and strong desire of RRW and the Regions to work with the WRU in progressing such a positive position for the next five years of professional Rugby in Wales, or indeed to discuss any proposals WRU themselves may have that could provide an even stronger platform for sustainable and competitive professional rugby across Wales.     

  •It is incredulous to the Welsh Regions that the WRU refused to discuss any item in the current Participation Agreement before its deadline of 31st December but is now willing to offer a “new agreement” on different terms.   Equally it is yet to be explained by the WRU why bringing an additional £12m into the game by the Regions, is not in the best interests of Welsh rugby.

  •It would seem from the recent correspondence from the WRU to clubs in Wales that their focus is all about control and not the best interests of Welsh rugby.

  •RRW and the Regions, through no choice of their own, have been forced to consider every alternative to secure a sustainable future for regional rugby in Wales; and have worked tirelessly to be able to plan their futures positively based on new options in the absence of any concrete proposals on income and distribution for Europe or the PRO12 league.

  •The proposed “one-off payment” of £1m for the recruitment, retention and development of Welsh international players was always linked to a requirement for the Regions to sign an extension to the Participation Agreement.  In the Regions view, it was purely a hollow stunt because it always carried impossible conditions.