Dylan Hartley has been omitted from the British and Irish Lions squad for this summer’s tour to New Zealand.
Hartley is the third successive England captain to miss out, following in the footsteps of Chris Robshaw and Steve Borthwick, but the RBS 6 Nations champions still supply the largest contingent, numbering 16 players.
Head coach Warren Gatland has selected a 41-man squad for the 10 fixtures culminating in a three-Test series against New Zealand, including surprise call-ups for Ireland full-back Jared Payne, England wing Jack Nowell and Wales back row Ross Moriarty.
Hartley has lost out to England team-mate Jamie George, who has been selected despite acting as understudy at hooker for his international captain Rory Best and Ken Owens.
Despite reports of his inclusion, there was no place for two-time tourist Jamie Roberts but Jonathan Joseph has made the cut as one of the centres.
There are two Scots present in wing Tommy Seymour and full-back Stuart Hogg, with the remainder of the squad made up of 12 Welshmen and 11 players from Ireland.
Loosehead props: Joe Marler (England); Jack McGrath (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England)
Hookers: Rory Best (Ireland); Jamie George (England); Ken Owens (Wales)
European rugby is heating up with the Championship Cup and Challenge Cup trophies being the focus now and we had some great matches over the weekend.
Clermont knock out Toulon
Clermont will face Leinster in the Champions Cup semi-finals after they saw off Toulon 29-9 in a gritty quarter-final win on Sunday.
Two tries were scored and they went to Noa Nakaitaci and Damien Penaud, with Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez’s boots also helping to set up a last-four clash with the Irish province in Lyon over the weekend of April 22-23.
Europe’s top-tier has generally produced an excellent spectacle at the last eight stage. The teams have opted for verve and ambition over conservatism, but these sides proceeded to serve up a dire contest.
Even accounting for the sodden conditions, in an opening period which ended locked at 6-6, try-scoring openings were in short supply. They had to be content with two penalties apiece for Parra and Leigh Halfpenny before the Clermont scrum-half edged the hosts ahead after the interval.
Halfpenny once again equalised from the tee before Auvergne finally broke through when Nakaitaci crossed the whitewash. After that try Toulon seemed to lose heart and Damian Penaud’s final minute effort confirmed their passage into the last four, where they will face Leinster.
It is an encounter which will not live long in the memory. With the inclement weather forcing errors, these Top 14 outfits looked to the power game early on and never altered those tactics.
Clermont were the first to display their physicality, forcing an infringement after four minutes from which Parra took them ahead.
They had a further opportunity to increase that buffer but, after the scrum-half skewed his effort wide, the visitors managed to gain some much needed territory.
Like Toulon, Auvergne also struggled to maintain their discipline without the ball and Halfpenny was more than happy to line up shots at goal. He missed his first attempt at the uprights but was on target soon after as the three-time champions levelled matters.
As the half wore on, continuity remained an issue with both teams lacking any sort of attacking structure. That was demonstrated by Laurent Delboulbès’ rather comical intervention after the prop got in the way of team-mate Éric Escande’s pass.
He knocked on and then compounded the mistake by conceding a penalty in attempting to win the ball back – an effort Parra easily converted.
That advantage was soon cancelled out, however, when Halfpenny kicked his second three-pointer as the teams went into the break level.
The second half produced much the same fare. Both outfits relied on their packs and the kicking game of their half-backs to find field position, but neither could really assert any control.
Parra and Halfpenny continued the pattern of the match by trading penalties in the third quarter before Clermont finally broke the deadlock.
For one of the few times in the match, they managed to keep possession, forcing Toulon to commit bodies to the ruck. That opened the space on the outside and Nakaitaci benefited, touching down for the decisive score.
Toulon were rudderless and, after Lopez’s drop-goal and Parra’s penalty ended the game as a contest, Penaud went over late on to seal Clermont semi-final berth.
For Clermont: Tries: Nakaitaci, Penaud Cons: Parra 2 Pens: Parra 4 Drop Goal: Lopez
For Toulon: Pens: Halfpenny 3
Saracens set up Munster showdown
Saracens put on a masterclass of knockout rugby against Glasgow on Sunday as they won 38-8 to book a Champions Cup semi-final spot.
The victory sets up a mouth-watering clash with Munster at the Aviva Stadium as tries from Chris Ashton (2), Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt scored their tries. Owen Farrell was man-of-the-match after an 18-point haul.
Mark McCall’s men were outstanding before the break, opening up an 11-point buffer through Ashton’s first try and three Farrell penalties.
Finn Russell did get the Scottish outfit on the scoreboard in the first-half and Lee Jones’ effort reduced the arrears seven minutes into the second period, but Sarries were ultimately too strong.
Bosch ended the game as a contest with a score 20 minutes from time before Barritt and Ashton rubber-stamped the win with a three-pointer, despite a late Ryan Wilson consolation.
Glasgow have come a long way under the stewardship of Gregor Townsend but they struggled to handle the sheer ferocity of the defending champions.
After making the quarter-finals for the first time, this proved to be a step too far, despite their battling qualities keeping the scoreline close in the early exchanges.
Sarries created opportunities at will in the opening 10 minutes and could have scored two tries when Ashton and Sean Maitland crossed the whitewash out wide.
However, following some excellent cover defence by the visitors, both were adjudged to be in touch and the Englishmen had to be content with a single Farrell penalty.
The Warriors’ rearguard excellence was then rewarded with a Russell three-pointer, but the pressure was unrelenting and successive efforts off the tee by the hosts’ stand-off took Saracens 9-3 in front.
Townsend’s men were failing to stop the Premiership outfit on the gainline and they were finally breached after another flowing move.
Forwards and backs combined before Barritt’s superb offload found Ashton and the Toulon-bound wing did the rest, weaving inside one attempted tackle and touching down.
Farrell’s missed conversion meant that the damage was not quite as severe as it could have been at the interval, but their head coach required a response in the second period.
It was one he duly received. Russell almost scampered away after a rare Sarries’ error but they were not to be denied for long as the fly-half’s cross-field kick was collected by Jones, who handed off Ashton and went over.
Glasgow knew that there would be a response from the home side and once again they failed to cope. To their credit, the Warriors were gallant in defence but they had to break at some point and Bosch took advantage when the hole opened for him.
Farrell then made it a three-score game from the tee and it was the lead Saracens needed to open up. They displayed some wonderful hands in the last few minutes and deservedly touched down twice more via Barritt and Ashton to complete a fine performance.
Townsend’s side did have the final word through Wilson but it was very much Sarries’ day.
Despite two yellow cards for wing Josaia Raisuqe, Stade Français advanced to the Challenge Cup semi-finals after defeating the Ospreys 25-21.
The Welsh region finished the pool stages with a perfect 30 out of 30 points to qualify as top seeds, but they were stunned in the second half at the Principality Stadium after two quick tries for Stade Français from Raphaël Lakafia and Julien Arias.
This despite having Raisuqe receive two yellow cards, one in each half, the first for a stamp on Ospreys wing Keelan Giles that deserved a straight red.
Raisuqe’s actions aside Stade showed great heart on the road to a rare away victory, one week on from defeating Toulon at home, with key figures in the pack including France prop Rabah Slimani, Wallaby lock Hugh Pyle and workhorse Antoine Burban all impressing.
Expected to dominate proceedings given Stade’s poor form and away record, the Ospreys opened the scoring through a Dan Biggar penalty in the 12th minute.
Biggar thought he had scored a try soon after only for Keelan Giles’ pass to be ruled as forward by the TMO, before Raisuqe’s first yellow card. Instead it the was the visitors who scored next, through a Jules Plisson penalty.
Zurabi Zhvania was an unlikely first try scorer, powering his way over out wide for Stade, who led at the break 8-6 after Bigger knocked over a second penalty – with a third effort coming back off the post right before the interval.
Plisson was on-point with his second penalty, stretching the lead to five points, but a Josh Matavesi try pulled the Ospreys back into the contest.
Raisuqe’s second yellow card allowed Biggar to restore the Ospreys lead with a third penalty, making it 14-11, but Stade then turned the game thanks to Lakafia collecting Plisson’s well-weighted cross-field kick to score.
And all of a sudden Stade were then in the box seat after Pyle broke clear, chased down by Biggar before offloading to Julien Arias for the Top 14 outfit’s third score.
Ospreys were then left chasing the game, despite having dominated large portions of the match, and even with Tyler Ardron’s late effort the visitors clung on for a surprising victory.
For Ospreys: Tries: Matavesi, Ardron Con: Biggar Pens: Biggar 3
For Stade Français: Tries: Zhvania, Lakafia, Arias Cons: Plisson 2 Pens: Plisson 2 Red Card: Raisuqe
Young guns star for Leinster
A superb first half showing laid the platform as Leinster moved into the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup following an excellent 32-17 triumph over Wasps in the last eight.
Leo Cullen’s men dominated the opening period and appeared to have the game won by half-time after Isa Nacewa, Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw all crossed the whitewash.
Jimmy Gopperth’s penalty was the English outfit’s only score before the break and they also struggled at the start of the second half.
Johnny Sexton kicked another three-pointer to extend their buffer and at that point the match was effectively over. Christian Wade and Gopperth went over to give Wasps hope but Fergus McFadden’s touchdown completed the victory.
Knockout rugby is meant to be a tight contest but the opening half-hour, between two attack-orientated teams, proved to be a free-flowing affair.
It was mainly the hosts that showed their hand, though, and their big runners were causing problems for the small Wasps backline.
Conan and Sean O’Brien were magnificent and the Irish province deserved the 8-0 advantage given to them by Sexton’s penalty and Nacewa’s try. Joey Carbery was another to enjoy the wide open spaces and the full-back’s superb cut-out pass set up the winger’s score.
The visitors were struggling to find their fluency and when they did – after a Kurtley Beale break sent Willie le Roux clear – the South African international inexplicably dropped the ball across the whitewash.
That was a costly error, despite Gopperth reducing the arrears from the tee soon after, as Leinster scored their second try. Once again Carbery was the instigator, finding space on the right hand side for McFadden to break clear before good support play by Conan saw the number eight scamper over.
Henshaw then touched down following a stolen lineout and a 22-3 buffer at the interval was what Cullen’s side deserved for their dominance.
The Irish province maintained their momentum in the early stages of the second period and a Sexton penalty made the task even harder for the Premiership outfit.
To their credit, Wasps improved and a piece of individual brilliance by Wade got them back into the contest before another solo effort, this time from Gopperth, made it an eight-point game with 20 minutes remaining.
Questions were now being asked of the three-time European champions but they answered them magnificently and McFadden’s late try sealed their semi-final place.
For Wasps: Tries: Wade, Gopperth Cons: Gopperth 2 Pens: Gopperth
A conversation this week with respected French television pundit Thomas Lombard ended on a note about money, and to be more specific, how now having millions of Euros is no longer enough to succeed in the Top 14.
Not when you are up against clubs backed by billions of Euros.
Toulon’s spending spree on top internationals at the start of the decade propelled them to a trio of European titles and one domestic trophy in three years. Yet even having made the Top 14 final last season, losing out to Racing 92, their outlook has changed.
Mourad Boudjellal’s fortune of €40 million is no longer enough to compete with Racing, owned by Jacky Lorenzetti whose total worth is about €1 billion, and Montpellier, who are owned by Mohad Altrad, worth €2 billion. Europe’s most successful big spenders are now being comprehensively outspent.
The model that has given Toulon so much success has died, something which both Boudjellal and Diego Dominguez, the coach sacked earlier in the season, have acknowledged in a stuttering season.
Without question the retirements of Carl Hayman and Ali Williams weakened a commanding pack, but too much time has passed to keep falling back on that excuse.
Toulon and Boudjellal’s mindset with the appointment of Fabien Galthié is to restart and rebuild.
Munster seal semi-final spot
Munster booked their place in the Champions Cup semi-finals after they beat Toulouse 41-16 in a deserved victory at Thomond Park.
The Irish province began the encounter on the front foot and went 13-3 ahead through John Ryan’s converted try and a pair Tyler Bleyendaal penalties.
Jean-Marc Doussain, who had earlier kicked a three-pointer, added two more as the French side kept themselves in contention at the interval.
CJ Stander’s score and successive Bleyendaal efforts off the tee maintained the hosts’ control on the encounter, but Toulouse refused to go away and Paul Perez’s touchdown reduced the deficit.
Munster, however, had done enough and, after their fly-half kicked a fifth penalty, Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway finished off an excellent day for Irish rugby.
Toulouse, once the giants of French rugby, are struggling in the lower reaches of the Top 14 and are now out of Europe. They reside in 10th position in the table and, despite making it to the quarter-final stage, were not at all convincing in the Champions Cup.
That lack of form was duly exposed by an high-tempo home side early on, who took advantage of Francois Cros’ rash attempt at a charge down to build a 10-0 lead.
The number eight was yellow carded after just one minute for elbowing replacement scrum-half Duncan Williams, an act of recklessness which allowed Munster to kick deep into the opposition’s 22.
Williams, starting in place of the injured Conor Murray, dusted himself off and set about inching the hosts towards the line. The forwards battered away before the dam eventually burst when Ryan crossed the whitewash next to the left upright.
Bleyendaal kicked the conversion and then added a penalty, but the visitors gradually grew into the contest and reduced the arrears via Doussain’s effort off the tee.
Munster’s fly-half restored the 10-point buffer before the French outfit’s gargantuan forwards exerted their influence and forced Rassie Erasmus’ men to infringe.
Successive penalties by Toulouse’s stand-off in the final eight minutes of the half duly enabled them to go into the break with a genuine chance of upsetting the odds.
However, another blitz by the Irishmen kept the visitors on the back foot. Bleyendaal was on target from the tee before Stander, a man that typifies the province’s spirit this season, touched down from close range.
Following another penalty from the home side’s fly-half, Munster’s pathway to the last four appeared set, but Perez’s controversial try – where Yoann Maestri’s forward-looking pass to the wing was deemed flat – set up a nervous final quarter.
Munster responded well to that setback, though, and Bleyendaal took them 11 points in front. With Toulouse now overplaying, Sweetnam and Conway took advantage of some loose play by the visitors to complete a fine win.
Bath and Gloucester reached the Challenge Cup semi-finals following respective victories over Brive and Cardiff Blues on Saturday.
Bath 34-20 Brive Recreation Ground
In a thrilling first 40, it was Bath who had the lead by half-time after tries from Taulupe Faletau, Tom Homer and Semesa Rokoduguni put Bath 20-6 up at the break.
Faletau’s second threatened to open the floodgates but two tries from Fabien Sanconnie made it a much tighter scoreline than it looked like it could be at half-time.
A breathtaking late Rokoduguni try ensured the hosts secured the 34-20 win and booked their spot in the final four of the Challenge Cup.
With a semi-final spot on the line, Rhys Priestland kicked Bath to an early lead inside the opening 10 minutes with a penalty, making the most of the hosts strong start at The Rec. Gaetan Germain levelled soon after though, with Brive getting themselves back into the game after a strong rebuild from the restart.
Germain gave the visitors their first and only lead of the afternoon with a second penalty, his kick cannoning off the right side of the posts to make it a 6-3 advantage. That didn’t last for long though.
Priestland had the Brive back line running in circles before offloading to Kahn Fotuali’i, whose quick hands fed Faletau and allowed the number eight to go sailing over the line for the opening try. Priestland’s extras took Bath to double figures and more was to come in the remaining 15 minutes of the half.
An attacking line-out on 22 for the hosts saw Bath combine superbly as they bore down on the line, with Rokoduguni instrumental in the build up. Possession was given to Jonathan Joseph and his flick helped to get Homer over the line, a nice birthday present for the now 27-year-old. The conversion was wide but try number three followed barely a minute after the restart.
Zach Mercer’s quick break again saw the ball move into the arms of Joseph, and he was again provider to set Rokoduguni up for his 50th try in Bath colours, making it a 20-6 lead at the break.
Try four came just three minutes into the second half and Faletau was at the double to increase the advantage. He found the space to break in between the middle of the defence who seemed to part open for him, and Priestland added the two.
But things weren’t rosy for the hosts after that, with the expected victory put very much in doubt due to a resurgent Brive side.
A pick and go from Sanconnie caught Bath napping, and he crossed the line to get the French side back into it. And a second Brive try really made the home crowd pay attention. They used the maul perfectly to cause panic in the Bath defence and Sarconnie got his second in 10 minutes as the conversion took Brive back to within seven points as the score stood at 27-20.
The game threatened to go either way from then on with neither side dominant at one end or the other, but the longer the half wore on, the more it looked like Bath would be able to see the victory out.
And when in doubt, there’s always that man Rokoduguni to call upon. He had the sleekness to evade seven challenges on the way through, handing defenders away and grounding to remove any doubts and finish the scoring, booking Bath’s semi-final spot in the process.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Matt Banahan, 11 Tom Homer, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tom Ellis, 6 Zach Mercer, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Kane Palma Newport, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Nathan Catt Replacements: 16 Joe Graham, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Ben Tapuai
Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Taku Ngwenya, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Seremaia Burotu, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Matthieu Ugalde, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Fabien Sanconnie 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 Said Hireche, 5 Arnaud Mela, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Francois Da Ros, 1 Vivien Devisme Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Karlen Asieshvili, 18 Soso Bekoshvili, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Dominiko Waqaniborutu, 21 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22 Thomas Laranjeira, 23 Sevanaia Galala
In the third of four semi-finals, the Kingsholm faithful were treated to an exhilarating first 40 as the sides went into the break with Cardiff Blues 23-20 up.
Alex Cuthbert opened the scoring for the visitors before Ross Moriarty levelled. Tom Marshall and another from Cuthbert sent the sides level, with a Gareth Anscombe drop goal putting Cardiff slightly in front.
Jonny May gave Gloucester a one point lead after the break and tries from Marshall and Mark Atkinson wrote the hosts into the final four. Henry Purdy went over at the end to finish it at 46-26.
The visitors started well on top and after running close three minutes in, they didn’t have much longer to wait for the opening try. Coming just five minutes into the evening, Tau Filise carried the ball through the centre before it eventually found Cuthbert, who batted Billy Burns away to go over for the opener. It didn’t last long though as Moriarty levelled from the next attack. Richard Hibbard spilled possession seconds before but a one handed pick up and go saw him slam down.
Cardiff Blues’ lead was restored from a penalty via Steven Shingler, but Burns kicked level again from in front of the posts to make it 10 apiece. Neither side were able to take a firm grip of the tie though, with three pointers following for each within a couple of minutes of each other. And by the time half-time came around, two tries ensured they were still inseparable.
Shingler was caught napping at the back and failed to hold off Billy Twelvetrees’ run through the middle, which provided the opportunity to feed it through to Marshall who ran over to put Gloucester in charge. But a yellow card changed things again, as Gloucester lost Josh Hohneck for failing to roll away five minutes before half-time. And the man advantage saw Anscombe use the dummy run of Shingler to feed Cuthbert who grabbed his second. A drop goal on the brink of half-time gave the visitors a slender lead as Anscombe kicked through from 40 metres.
A perfectly set second 40 didn’t start with the same tempo and free flowing points scoring as the first, but it was a perfect situation for Cardiff Blues as they stretched their lead to six points. Shingler kicked through after Blues had the better of the second half, and the loss of Hohneck gave Cardiff a perfect platform with half an hour to go.
Gloucester burst back into the game though and went ahead courtesy of May. He had plenty of space to move into after Twelvetrees’ intelligent kick found him on the other side, and a step inside bamboozled Matthew Morgan. Twelvetrees two made it 27-26 to the hosts and that lead increased.
Cardiff Blues’ well set lead was dismantled with a fourth Gloucester try with less than 20 to play. A gap at the back of the line-out gave Willi Heinz an age to decide what to do with it, and it was eventually presented to Marshall who span inside a challenge to extend the advantage, with Twelvetrees making it an eight point lead.
And the dream quickly turned into a nightmare as try five arrived for the rejuvenated hosts. With the ball taken up to the five yard line, replacement Atkinson threw a big dummy Rey Lee-Lo’s way to just wander over and kill off the contest with 10 to play. And right at the death, a sixth try put the icing on the cake for the Cherry and Whites. A floated ball from Henry Trinder fell into the arms of Purdy and he finished the evening off in style as Gloucester sealed a spot in the final four with a 46-26 win.
For Gloucester: Tries: Moriarty, Marshall 2, May, Atkinson, Purdy Cons: Burns, Twelvetrees 4 Pens: Burns, Twelvetrees Yellow Card: Hohneck
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Ben Morgan 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paddy McAllister Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 John Afoa, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Mark Atkinson, 23 Henry Purdy
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan , 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Tau Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins, Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Kieron Assiratti, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Sion Bennett, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Aled Summerhill
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France) Assistant Referees: Alexandre Ruiz (France), Pierre Brousset (France) TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
A Jérémie Maurouard brace helped La Rochelle claim a 32-22 victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Friday.
La Rochelle made it into the Challenge Cup semi-finals after their impressive away win over the Scottish side.
Edinburgh were poor in the first half conceding four tries in the first 35 minutes with Jérémie Maurouard scoring two, Arthur Retiere and Steeve Barry also crossing to set up their victory before the half-time whistle went. While Brock James penalties kept the score board ticking in his side’s favour.
Tries from the home side came through Scotland Internationals Ross Ford and Hamish Watson but it was not enough to overturn La Rochelle’s powerful early start.
Maurouard’s tries were both in the first 12 minutes with the French side revealing the power in their forward pack. James’s conversions made the score 14 points and quite imposing 13 minutes into the fixture.
Edinburgh got their first points of the game when inside centre Phil Burleigh dotted down making the score 14-5 before Jason Tovey kicked over the conversion.
The away side hit back quickly though as Scrum-half Retiere then crossed the line for his side’s third try of the game with James missing the extras.
Ford scored just before the end of the half after a strong maul to barge over and Watson scored seven minutes later after Viliame Mata off loaded to the flank which would be the last try of the match.
James and Weir traded penalties for the rest of the game but the damage was done in the first half for La Rochelle claiming the win.
Six nations is done and dusted as Europe focus on the Championship and local leagues from last week on.
Here is all the latest from Europe…..
Stade Français ended a turbulent fortnight by getting back to winning ways at home to Toulon at the Stade Jean Bouin on Sunday.
A match full of indiscipline ended with both sides having three players yellow carded, including five front-rowers overall.
Waisea Nayacalevu and Mathieu Bastareaud were the respective try scorers for either side, but it was the boot of Stade fly-half Jules Plisson which proved to be the difference after he landed four penalties.
For Stade Français: Try: Nayacalevu Pens: Plisson 4 Yellow Cards: Van der Merwe, Slimani, Alo-Emile
Brive kept alive their chances of making the play-offs when they claimed a thrilling 28-25 win over Montpellier at Stade Amédée Domenech on Sunday.
In a topsy-turvy encounter, in which the lead changed hands on several occasions, Montpellier thought they had won the match after Bismarck du Plessis scored a try five minutes before full-time but Brive secured the result thanks to a try in injury time from Sevenaia Galala.
Germain slotted two penalties which gave his side a 6-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes but Montpellier struck back via an Alexandre Dumoulin try in the 27th minute after Joe Tomane and Akapusi Qera did well in the build-up.
Try: Galala Con: Germain Pens: Germain 7
Tries: Dumoulin, Nagusa, B du Plessis Cons: Steyn, W du Plessis Pens: Steyn 2 Yellow Cards: Reilhac, Willemse
Racing 92 27-24 Clermont Auvergne
Grenoble 21-20 Castres
Lyon 52-7 Bayonne
Pau 13-23 La Rochelle
Bordeaux-Bègles 20-11 Toulouse
Racing 92 27-24 Clermont Auvergne Stade Pierre Mauroy, Villeneuve-d’Ascq
Racing 92 ended a turbulent couple of weeks by withstanding a late Clermont Auvergne fightback and emerging 27-24 triumphant in Lille.
It was the Parisians’ first encounter since their proposed merger with Stade Français collapsed and they dominated the opening period.
Dan Carter, criticised for his recent performances, was in fine form and helped guide the hosts to a deserved 20-0 advantage. The fly-half kicked two penalties and added conversions to Leone Nakarawa and Chris Masoe tries before Clermont increased the intensity at the start of the second period.
Paul Jedrasiak barged over and Stephen Brett scored a three-pointer, but Juan Imhoff’s effort appeared to have secured the win, particularly when Benson Stanley was sent off for a second yellow card.
However, Maxime Machenaud was sin-binned and Clermont reduced the arrears via a penalty try and Alivereti Raka’s touchdown, but Racing held on.
Tries: Nakarawa, Masoe, Imhoff Cons: Carter 3 Pens: Carter 2 Yellow Card: Machenaud
Tries: Jedrasiak, penalty try, Raka Cons: Brett 3 Pen: Brett Yellow Cards: Stanley 2 Red Card: Stanley
Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Casey Laulala, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Eddy Ben Arous Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Manuel Carizza, 19 Antonie Claassen, 20 James Hart, 21 Remi Tales, 22 Joe Rokocoko, 23 Cedate Gomes Sa
Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Nick Abendanon, 13 Damian Penaud, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Camille Gerondeau, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Etienne Falgoux Replacements: 16 Yohan Beheregaray, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Fritz Lee, 20 Charlie Cassang, 21 Atila Septar, 22 Alivereti Raka, 23 Davit Zirakashvili
Referee: Laurent Cardona Assistant Referees: Sebastien Minery, Thomas Dejean TMO: Eric Briquet Campin
Grenoble 21-20 Castres
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble
Stand-in fly-half David Mele was the hero as Grenoble secured a late 21-20 victory over Castres to give their survival hopes a boost.
Mele was called up late on following the withdrawal of Jonathan Wisniewski through injury and the pivot was outstanding in their triumph.
It was plain sailing for the hosts in an attritional opening 43 minutes as Mele kicked four penalties and two drop-goals for an 18-6 advantage over the play-off chasers, who were indebted to Benjamin Urdapilleta and Rory Kockott for their scores.
On the hour-mark, the relegation-threatened side still held a 12-point buffer but Yannick Caballero touched down to put the game in the balance.
Castres were then awarded a penalty try, leaving Grenoble suddenly two points in arrears, but Mele stepped up and converted his third drop-goal attempt to snatch the win.
Pens: Mele 4 Drop-goals: Mele 3 Yellow card: Saseras
Grenoble: 15 Fabien Gengenbacher, 14 Lucas Dupont, 13 Maritino Nemani, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Edward Sawailau, 10 David Mele, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Mahamadou Diaby, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Heguy, 1 Sona Taumalolo Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Dylan Jacquot, 18 Mathias Marie, 19 Henry Vanderglas, 20 Lilian Saseras, 21 Thomas Jolmes, 22 Clement Gelin, 23 Ali Oz
Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 David Smith, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Steve Mafi, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Antoine Tichit Replacements: 16 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Victor Moreaux, 19 Mathieu Babillot, 20 Antoine Dupont, 21 Julien Dumora, 22 Thomas Combezou, 23 Damien Tussac
Referee: Tual Trainini Assistant Referees: Laurent Millotte, Patrick Beuriot TMO: Philippe Bonhoure
Lyon 52-7 Bayonne Matmut Stadium, Venissieux
Lyon plunged Bayonne further into the mire and in the process effectively secured their own Top 14 status after thrashing the basement-dwellers 52-7.
The game was seemingly over after 12 minutes with Facundo Isa, Toby Arnold and Thibaut Regard all crossing the whitewash for a 21-0 advantage before Freddie Michalak added a penalty on the half-hour mark.
With the Basque-based outfit facing the mercurial scrum-half in fine form, their defence continued to splinter at regular intervals and Gloucester-bound Carl Fearns was the first to touch down in the second period.
Kade Poki finally got the visitors on the scoreboard but the hosts maintained their pressure on the opposition rearguard and Arnold went over for the second time.
A penalty try followed and Napolioni Nalaga completed the rout in the last minute as Lyon moved onto 46 points in the table.
Tries: Isa, Arnold 2, Regard, Fearns, penalty try, Nalaga Cons: Michalak 5, Beauxis 2 Pen: Michalak
Try: Poki Con: Meret Yellow Card: Iguiniz
Saracens kept up the pressure on Wasps and Exeter at the top of the table after thrashing Bath 53-10 at Allianz Park on Sunday.
Both sides were boosted by the presence of several returning internationals from Six Nations duty but in the end, Sarries got better as the game progressed and eventually outscored their visitors by a whopping seven tries to one with Chris Ashton scoring two of those for the hosts.
The win means Sarries are now just one point adrift of Exeter Chiefs, who are in second place, while tabletoppers Wasps are six points ahead of the champions after their win over Worcester Warriors earlier on Sunday.
Tries: George, Goode, Maitland, Brits, Barritt, Ashton 2, B Vunipola Cons: Farrell 5 Pen: Farrell
Try: Watson Con: Ford Pen: Ford
The East Midlands derby was full of drama on Saturday while Exeter fought back to defeat Sale and Harlequins hammered Newcastle.
Exeter 30-25 Sale Sandy Park, Exeter
Exeter Chiefs bounced back from a half-time deficit to beat Sale 30-25 at Sandy Park.
Second place Exeter’s first 40 was one nobody saw coming as Sale stormed into a strong lead midway through the half. Three first half penalties a conversion from AJ MacGinty propped up the scoreline after Denny Solomona’s solo run from 70 metres.
But Kai Horstmann and Luke Cowan-Dickie dragged Exeter back into the tie and ensured they were only 12-19 down after the disastrous opening.
Olly Woodburn extended the lead with a third try after the break, and Don Armand got a fourth after nipping through challenges and going in under the posts.
MacGinty was in great form and kept hopes alive for Sale with five tries, but Henry Slade’s conversions were followed by a string of penalties as any chance of a Sale comeback continued to slip away late on.
Sale pushed hard late on in search of the losing bonus point and got it late on, but it was mere consolation after throwing away a strong start.
Try: Solomona Cons: MacGinty Pens: MacGinty 6
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand (c), 6 Kai Horstmann, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 James Short
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (c), 7 Tom Curry, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison Replacements: 16 Ben Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Josh Charnley
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Paul Burton TMO: Geoff Warren
Harlequins 53-17 Newcastle Falcons The Stoop, London
Harlequins went on a seven try rampage at The Stoop as they demolished Newcastle 53-17.
Falcons went ahead early on as Sonatane Takulua went over four minutes in, but Rob Buchanan’s try and Nick Evans three pointer gave the hosts the advantage.
The hosts stretched their lead before the break thanks to Mike Brown, who grabbed the second try before Juan Pablo Socino saw yellow. And that provided the perfect chance for Quins to get number three with Joe Marchant stealing possession and going over for a 27-10 lead.
And the second half got even worse for Falcons as they soon lost reach of a Harlequins side who got three more tries in the first 20 minutes. The bonus-point arrived a couple of minutes in, with Marland Yarde benefitting from Brown’s work in the build up.
Mat Luamanu and Danny Care added to the try total in a dominant start to the second 40, with a late Falcons try from Mark Wilson counting for very little.
Tim Swiel took Quins past the half century with their seventh try as a miserable afternoon for the visitors continued right to the last.
Tries: Buchanan, Brown, Marchant, Yarde, Luamanu, Care, Swiel Cons: Evans 6 Pen: Evans 2
Tries: Takulua, Wilson Cons: Takulua, Delany Pen: Takulua Yellow Card: Socino, Olmstead
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Dave Ward (c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 George Merrick, 3 Will Collier, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Callum Chick, 5 Mark Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ben Harris, 18 David Wilson, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Michael Young, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Chris Harris
Referee: Tom Foley Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales, Adam Leal TMO: Keith Lewis
Aaron Mauger’s final match as head coach of Leicester saw him leave on a high, with a 36-31 win over East Midlands rivals Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.
The battle of the East Midlands is always an interesting one and with this being Mauger’s last match at the helm, it was always bound to be a memorable too.
A big scoring first 40 saw Saints go into the break 22-16 to the good after three first-half tries. The first came barely a minute in as a long kick was claimed by Nafi Tuitavake after the bounce and he went through for the opener.
Tigers pulled it back when Adam Thompstone went through to level, but it didn’t last long before Ahsee Tuala got Saints second as the clock ticked past 10 minutes.
Two penalties and a drop goal from Freddie Burns ensured Leicester were never out of sight but a third try from Louis Picamoles ensured it was Saints half.
But following their woeful start to the first half, Tigers put it right early in the second. Ben Youngs found room on the left to go over and the conversion from Burns put Tigers a point ahead, although Myler restored the lead with a couple of penalties.
Saints were arguably the better side but failed to make the most of possession and territory, with Leicester often threatening to go up the other end. They also wasted chances with the boot as Owen Williams found his radar to be off.
And Leicester did turn the game around late on as Lachlan McCaffrey went over with 10 left to play after JP Pietersen was held up metres from the line. Williams conversion put Leicester two points ahead. Myler struck back with another three to make it a one point gap in Saints favour.
But they couldn’t hold onto the lead and it changed hands for the final time as Williams kept his nerve and his angles to fire through two more penalties for a 36-31 win.
Tries: Thompstone, B Youngs, McCaffrey Cons: Burns, Williams 2 Pens: Burns 2, Williams 2
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ben Foden, 13 Nafi Tuitavake, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Tom Wood (c), 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Jamie Gibson, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Ken Pisi
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 J P Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 1 Ellis Genge Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Ben White, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Jack Roberts
Referee: Greg Garner Assistant Referees: Andrew P Jackson, Roy Maybank TMO: Stuart Terheege
Wasps see off 14-man Worcester
Wasps consolidated their position at the top of the table when they claimed a 40-33 win over Worcester Warriors at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday.
Although the home side held the upperhand for large periods, the complexion of the match changed in the 46th minute when Worcester right wing Bryce Heem received a red card for upending Willie le Roux in an aerial challenge.
At the time the sides were level at 19-19 but Heem’s departure allowed Wasps to take control of proceedings and in the end they outscored the Warriors by six tries to five.
For Worcester Warriors:
Tries: Heem, Adams 2, Alo, Willison Cons: Mills 4 Red Card: Heem
‘Tigers win a fitting tribute to Mauger’
Leicester Tigers sent off Aaron Mauger in fine style with a thrilling win at Northampton and Geordan Murphy believes it was a fitting tribute to the departing head coach.
Mauger was told this week that he had been replaced as the top man at Tigers by Matt O’Connor but stayed on to mastermind their thrilling 36-31 win at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
The Tigers shipped three tries in the first half to Saints as Nafi Tuitavake, Ahsee Tuala and Louis Picamoles all went over.
But they rolled up their sleeves and turned the tide in the second half, Ben Youngs and Lachlan McCaffrey adding to a first-half try from Adam Thompstone.
And in the end it was Owen Williams who held his nerve with two late penalties to seal victory and give Mauger the perfect send off.
Munster made light work of Zebre in Parma while Leinster were pushed all the way by Cardiff Blues in Dublin.
Zebre 14-50 Munster Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
A rampant Munster ran in seven tries in Italy as they dispatched Zebre on the road. Rassie Erasmus’ men continued their push to secure a home semi-final with a dominant win in Parma.
The home side never looked like getting into the game, with Muster dotting down three times in the opening 25 minutes. Man of the match Niall Scannell, Tommy O’Donnell and Ronan O’Mahony all got on the scoresheet to effectively put the game to bed before the half-hour mark.
Zebre did manage to hit back before half-time with a converted try courtesy of Derick Minnie, but a Tyler Bleyendaal penalty ensured Munster kept their momentum going into the break.
The gulf in class was even more evident after half time, with O’Mahony and Rory Scannell running in tries number four and five for the visitors.
Despite losing scrum half Marcelo Violi to the sin-bin, Zebre did cross the try line for a second time, Lloyd Greef clawing a score back to cut Munster’s lead to 22 points.
But Munster continued to press and grabbed their sixth and seventh tries through replacement prop James Cronin and hit 50 points.
The emphatic win keeps Munster in the race for a top two spot, with fellow high flyers Leinster also picking up a win over Cardiff Blues.
For Munster: Tries: N Scanell, O’Donnell, R O’Mahony 2, R Scannell, Cronin 2 Cons: Bleyendaal 4, R Scannell Pens: Bleyendaal
Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Kayle Van Zyl,13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Valerio Bernabò (c), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Bruno Postiglioni Replacements: 16 Sydney Tobias, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Guglielmo Palazzani
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Dave O’Callaghan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 David Johnston, 23 Dan Goggin
Leinster edged out Cardiff Blues in a wonderful game at the RDS Arena to maintain top spot in the PRO12.
It was the hosts who opened the scoring Wonderful hands from Dan Leavy to gather a kick through and power over after four minutes, Ross Byrne converting from out wide to give Leinster an early seven-point lead.
Cardiff hit back quickly with a try of their own from Tomos Williams. A lovely break from Blaine Scully was finished off under the posts by the scrum half, with Steven Shingler’s conversion levelling the scores.
With both sides looking good on attack, the next 20 minutes passed without much incident. Eventually it was the hosts who struck next, scrum-half Luke McGrath sniping around a ruck to dot down.
Despite being put through the wringer by Leinster, the Blues managed to keep the deficit to a single score going into half time.
Leinster had a try chalked off early in the second half, and the Blues were quick to respond with Williams crossing for his second try of the afternoon after a lovely counter attack from the visitors.
The home side took the lead for a third time with a penalty from Byrne, but again Cardiff responded in kind. Another blistering counter attack from the Welsh side was finished emphatically by Sion Bennett.
Leinster scored their third try with 15 minutes to play. The Irish forwards rumbled over the line and after a TMO decision lock Ross Molony was credited with the score. Byrne was unable to convert meaning Leinster lead by a single point to set up a nervous final ten minutes.
The win keeps Leinster ahead of rivals Munster, with Ospreys set to kick off later this evening.
Tries: Leavy, L McGrath, Ross Molony Cons: R Byrne 2 Pen: R Byrne
For Cardiff: Tries: T Williams 2, Bennett Cons: Shingler 3
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Isa Nacewa (c), 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Fergus McFadden
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 Blaine Scully (c), 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Corey Domachowski Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Sion Bennett, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Tom James
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU) Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Richard Kerr (Ireland) TMO: Stefano Penné (FIR)
Treviso claimed only their third win of the campaign when they beat the high flying Ospreys in Treviso and Glasgow secured a home victory over Connacht.
Treviso 13-5 Ospreys Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Eight points from the boot of Tito Tebaldi secured a shock win for Treviso over Ospreys in Italy.
After a period of early dominance from the home side, Treviso opened the scoring. Despite a missed penalty opportunity from Tebaldi, inside centre Alberto Sgarbi dotted down to capitalise on his sides’ momentum.
Tebaldi atoned for his earlier miss and added the extras to give Treviso a seven-point lead after 20 minutes.
Despite a lacklustre first half performance from the Ospreys, they would not go into the break empty handed.
A break from Sam Davies was neatly finished off by young starlet Keelan Giles, the winger’s score cutting Treviso’s leas to just two points at half-time.
After the break, Ospreys continued to press but were unable to add to Giles’ try. Treviso broke the stalemate on the hour mark with a penalty from Tebaldi.
With seven minutes to go, Tebaldi kicked his second penalty of the evening to take Treviso eight points clear.
The loss means Steve Tandy’s men fall to third in the standings after Munster and Leinster both picked up wins.
Try: Sgarbi Con: Tebaldi Pens: Tebaldi 2
Try: Keelan Giles
Treviso: 15 David Odiete, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Marco Lazzaroni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Dean Budd (c), 4 Filippo Gerosa, 3 Simone Ferrari, Luca Bigi 2, 1 Federico Zani Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, Alberto Porolli 17, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Guglielmo Zanini, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, Tommaso Benvenuti, 23 Luke McLean
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (c), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 James King, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Tyler Ardron, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Jay Baker, 23 Jonathan Spratt
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales) Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy) TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Glasgow 35-24 Connacht Scotstoun stadium
Glasgow kept pace with the pack at the top of the PRO12 table with a convincing 35-24 win over Connacht.
Connacht came out of the blocks firing and opened the scoring with a try from Niyi Adeolokun. A break from Tiernan O’Halloran was powerfully finished off by the winger.
A penalty from Finn Russell a few minutes later to settle Glasgow’s nerves, and they began to build into the game. Their first try was quick to follow, hooker Corey Flynn powering over from close range.
The visitors hit back with a penalty of their own from Craig Ronaldson, before their captain John Muldoon crashed over the try-line to re-establish Connacht’s lead.
A Russell penalty just before half-time kept Glasgow to within two points heading into the second half.
At the start of the second half, a second penalty from Ronaldson edged Connacht in front, before Glasgow crossed for their second try. A break from Russell culminated with him stepping through the Connacht defensive line to score.
The Irish province’s momentum came to a halt when fly half Jack Carty was shown yellow for a high tackle. Glasgow were quick to take advantage, with scrum-half Ali Price darting around the resulting scrum to score his sides third try.
With Connacht back to a full compliment, it was Glasgow’s turn to go a man down. Lock Tim Swinson was shown a red card for a reckless tackle, Ronaldson adding three points from the subsequent penalty.
Despite the handicap, Glasgow were able to extend their lead, a Peter Horne penalty taking them out of single score range.
A Carty penalty closed the gap back to six with a few minutes to go, but it wouldn’t be enough for the away side.
There was still enough time for Glasgow to secure the bonus point. Veteran winger Sean Lamont crossed in the corner to put the game beyond doubt.
For Glasgow Warriors:
Tries: Flynn, Russell, Price, Lamont Cons: Russell 3 Pens: Russell 2, Horne Red Card: Swinson
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Peter Horne (c), 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Matt Smith, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Brian Alainu’uese, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Alex Allan Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Lewis Wynne, 21 George Horne, 22 Alex Dunbar, 23 Peter Murchie
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 James Cannon, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 John Cooney, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Josh Rowland
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales) Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Bob Nevins (Scotland)
Cardiff head coach Danny Wilson expressed his pride at his players’ showing in their loss against Leinster on Saturday as attention turns to a European Challenge Cup quarter-final with Gloucester.
The Blues slipped to a nail-biting 22-21 defeat to the Irish province in Dublin and had opportunities to snatch a result.
Leinster dominated large periods of the hard-fought encounter and had the edge up front but the Blues defended heroically and struck for three counter-attack tries with deadly precision.
Messerschmitt-Willie Special Report
Willie Le Roux did superbly to gather a high ball, but crashed heavily to the ground after a collision with Bryce Heem. Replays of the clash weren’t pleasant viewing, with Le Roux landing on his head, and Heem was shown a red card for the incident. After several minutes of treatment, Le Roux was able to walk off unassisted and was replaced by Josh Bassett. Bassett immediately featured prominently in a passage of play which almost brought the bonus point try, before a penalty was conceded a few metres from the line.
The Six Nations may be over but the European season is getting into the business end of the season with all the different leagues and Championships moving into the final group stages and play-offs.
Here is all the news in a nutshell from Europe
Leicester Tigers have announced that Matt O’Connor is to return to the club as head coach, with Aaron Mauger departing.
O’Connor won three Premiership titles in his previous spell with the Tigers up to 2013 and has subsequently worked with Leinster, Queensland Reds and Tonga.
He will begin his new role at Leicester in early April, subject to visa.
Premiership club Bath have signed hooker Joe Graham on injury cover until the end of the season.
The 29-year-old joins the club from Rotherham Titans after spells with Yorkshire Carnegie and Newcastle Falcons.
Graham will link up with the squad this week, and follows recent signings Chris Brooker and Nathan Charles as the Bath look to cement their place in the top four of the Premiership.
The club have been hit hard by injuries to Ross Batty and Tom Dunn in recent weeks.
Bristol have captured the signing of Australian international Luke Morahan ahead of the 2017/18 season.
The utility back – who can play wing, full back and centre – has three caps for the Wallabies, as well as starring for Australia Sevens.
Morahan is an established Super Rugby performer, representing Queensland Reds and Western Force.
“Luke is an impressive player with excellent technical abilities. He’s got a lot of raw pace and versatility and can play across the backline,” head coach Mark Tainton said.
Eddie Jones says his England squad is moving in the right direction and wants to be the first side to win three straight Six Nations titles.
England defended their Championship with victories over France, Wales, Italy and Scotland, however missed out on the chance to defend the Grand Slam with defeat to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin over the weekend.
Jones will now use the summer tour to Argentina to improve the depth of the squad, but admits he is satisfied with their progress this year.
Alex Tait says Newcastle Falcons are refreshed and ready to attack the last phase of the Premiership season as they head to Harlequins on Saturday.
The 29-year-old full-back is just two games away from his 200th competitive appearance for his home club, and heads down to the capital with a full tank following a brief mid-season break.
“Sometimes during the season when you’ve got that week-to-week pattern it’s good to have a short time away to recharge the batteries,” Tait told the Newcastle website.
Leinster have received positive news on Josh van der Flier, Isa Nacewa and Seán Cronin ahead of their PRO12 match against Cardiff Blues.
The trio could return on Saturday while Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty added that all 16 Ireland players are being assessed case by case.
Van der Flier (AC), Nacewa (knee) and Cronin (hamstring) all took part in training last week and were expected to step up their recovery again on Monday ahead of further assessment later in the week.
Northampton Saints have announced the signing of Piers Francis into the club’s squad ahead of the 2017/18 season.
Francis caught the eye of the Auckland Academy while playing club rugby and was quickly gaining experience in the National Provincial Championship for Auckland and Waikato.
After a short stint in Edinburgh, Francis was back in New Zealand and impressing for Tana Umaga at Counties Manukau, so much so that he was drafted into the Blues’ squad for 2016.
Francis’s playmaking abilities in his 11 appearances earned him the Rookie of the Year honours for the Super Rugby outfit, and later in the year he was at fly-half guiding Counties Manukau to a first win over Auckland at Eden Park in 39 years, en route to the Mitre 10 Cup semi-finals.
Montpellier head coach Jake White is set to further his career in Japan according to South African media reports.
According to a Netwerk24 article, three sources have confirmed that representatives of Top League outfit Toyota Verblitz visited White in Montpellier this week to finalise his appointment.
It is also reported that England head coach Eddie Jones, who was Japan’s coach during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, recommended White for the position at Verblitz.
Jones was a technical advisor for the Springboks when they won the 2007 World Cup in France under White’s guidance.
Ospreys have announced that former Ulster, Northampton and Ireland hooker, Allen Clarke, will arrive as their forwards coach next season.
Clarke will report for duty at Llandarcy Academy of Sport for pre-season, replacing Chris Gibbes in the role. Gibbes confirmed in January he will leave the Ospreys at the end of the season to head home to New Zealand and become head coach at Mitre 10 Cup side Wellington Lions.
Clarke will join the Ospreys from PRO12 rivals Ulster, where he has enjoyed success as both player and coach over the last 20 years, either side of a five-year spell as Irish Rugby’s High Performance Manager. He also had eight years as a player in England at Northampton Saints.
Romania pulled off a surprise win over Georgia in Bucharest on Sunday, in the process after some confusion lifting the 2017 Rugby Europe Championship title.
Romania’s win means they lifted the Antim Ivireanu Trophy, contested between the two sides, for the first time in seven years.
But despite Georgia initially being announced as the tournament winners, the trophy in fact goes to Romania because of the head-to-head record between the two sides in the tournament.
As a result Romania end Georgia’s six-year run as champions.
Veteran back Catalin Fercu gave Romania the perfect start with a try in the third minute, after good work from Florin Surugiu, to give the Oaks a 5-0 lead.
This was not a day for normally reliable kickers Florin Vlaicu and Merab Kvirikashvili, with Vlaicu missing two attempts and Kvirikashvili one.
But a 37th-minute try swung the lead the way of the visitors, Merba Sharikadze going over with Kvirikashvili converting to make the score 7-5 to the Lelos at half-time.
Vlaicu found his radar in the 51st minute to put Romania back infront, landing an important penalty, setting up a nervous finish with Kvirikashvili missing two chances to put Georgia back into the lead, as Romania clung on to win 8-7.
Despite Romania’s win moving them level onto 19 points with Georgia, it was Milton Haig’s side who celebrated lifting the title for a seventh straight year due to having the better points difference.
Elsewhere in the final round of the tournament Spain cruised past Belgium with a 30-0 victory in Madrid.
Brad Linklater got the scoring underway with an early penalty before Ignacio Villanueva crossed in the tenth minute for Spain’s first try, converted by Linklater for a 10-0 lead.
Outside centre Fabien Perrin was the next man over for Spain, Linklater converting again, and by the time Linklater added a penalty in the 26th minute Spain were well and truly out of sight, ahead 20-0.
However the second half posed plenty of problems for Spain, after tighthead prop Jesús Moreno was red carded for a dangerous tackle, before Perrin followed him with a yellow card a minute later, reducing Spain to 13.
Belgium were unable to get on the scoreboard during that period, with Ilaitia Henare Kalo Kalo Gavidi the next to score for Spain.
And Linklater’s penalty in the 67th minute put a seal on the contest, making it 30-0 as Spain rounded off the tournament in style by finishing in third place.
Finally the game between Russia and Germany on Sunday saw Russia win comfortably, by a score of 52-25 having only led 12-7 at half-time.
Tries from Ramil Gaisin and Denis Simplikevich meant Russia went in ahead at the break, cancelling out Raynor Parkinson’s effort.
But the second half was all Russia, as Dmitry Gerasimov grabbed a brace along with scores from Evgeny Elgin, Vasily Artemyev and Dmitry Krotov.
Russia finish the tournament in fourth while Germany, after plenty of promise with that win at the start of the tournament over Romania, finish in 5th.
Kings prop Schalk van der Merwe is set to join Ulster on a two-year deal after Super Rugby.
Van der Merwe earned 25 Super Rugby caps for the Lions in 2014 and 2015, and then had a stint with Montpellier in France before joining the Kings.
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss said had been impressed by the performanes of Van der Merwe.
‘In addition to his excellent scrummaging, he will give us some much-needed physicality in the loose, and this will be a major plus for us in the seasons ahead. He has a hard edge and he’s determined to work hard to nail down a starting place here at Ulster.’
This week sees the Six nations return for the final matches and the focus will be on England to see if they can equal New Zealand record of consecutive wins against trier one nations.
Here is all the news from around Europe and results over the weekend…..
Ireland wing Andrew Trimble has been ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations after he injured his hand in Ulster’s win over Treviso in Belfast on Friday.
The 70-Test veteran broke a bone in his hand in his side’s 19-7 triumph and will miss the upcoming matches against Wales and England.
Trimble came off the bench in Ireland’s 19-9 win over France in their Round Three clash in Dublin.
He will be joined on the sidelines by second-row Ultan Dillane, who will undergo surgery this week for an ongoing shoulder issue. Dillane will be ruled out of action for eight to ten weeks.
Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards rued missed opportunities after his side’s loss to Saracens on Sunday.
The Saracens claimed 35-27 win over Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park after scoring five tries to Newcastle’s three.
Richards believes his side could have used their opportunities better in the fixture.
“We are disappointed but it’s probably a measure of where we are at this moment in time,” Richards told reporters.
Stade Français ended their three-match winless run when they claimed an emphatic 32-9 victory over Bordeaux-Bègles at Stade Jean Bouin on Sunday.
The home side were full value for this win as they outscored UBB by three tries to none with all their five-pointers notched in the first half and Jules Plisson also deserves special praise as he finished with a 17-point haul courtesy of a conversion and five penalties.
La Rochelle moved into the driving seat in the Top 14 standings when they claimed a 27-21 win over Toulouse at Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday.
The visitors were made to work hard for this result especially during the game’s latter stages when Toulouse launched a late fightback.
Both sides crossed for two tries apiece but it was the goalkicking of La Rochelle’s Australian fly-halves Zack Holmes and Brock James which proved the difference between the sides and the duo contributed 17 points between them with Holmes kicking four penalties and James adding a conversion and a penalty.
Worcester Warriors eased their Premiership relegation concerns when they beat fellow basement dwellers Bristol 41-24 at Sixways on Sunday.
Gary Gold’s men started quickly and went 10-0 in front in the opening six minutes thanks to a penalty try and Ryan Mills’ three-pointer. Gavin Henson reduced the arrears from the tee before Francois Hougaard and Jason Woodward traded scores.
However, 14 unanswered points via Will Spencer and Bryce Heem gave the Warriors a 31-10 lead at the interval. Heem extended that further before Bristol mounted a fight-back of sorts as Max Crumpton and Tom Varndell crossed the whitewash, but Wynand Olivier sealed the five points to plunge their opponents closer to the Championship.
Saracens kept the pressure on Exeter and Wasps at top of the Premiership table when they claimed a 35-27 win over Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park on Sunday.
Alex Lozowski provided the inspiration, scoring 13 of the Londoners’ first half points. Michael Rhodes also touched down as they went into the interval 18-6 in front – Sonatane Takulua kicking two penalties for Newcastle – before Chris Ashton extended Sarries’ lead in the second period.
Lyon returned to the victory trail when they claimed a hard-fough 16-3 win over Montpellier at the Matmut Stadium on Sunday.
In a tightly contested encounter, the home side had to dig deep to secure the win but they eventually took control of proceedings and outscored Montpellier by one try to none.
Leinster saw off the challenge of the Scarlets at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday in a 45-9 win that takes them back to the PRO12 summit.
Luke McGrath scored twice in the opening period as the Irish province took a lead into the interval, but three Dan Jones’ penalties kept the visitors in contention.
Round Three of the 2017 Rugby Europe Championship produced victories for Germany, Georgia and Romania.
And it was Germany’s win over Belgium which caught the eye as they continue to push for qualification ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
This and next year’s Rugby Europe Championships act as qualifiers for the tournament, with Georgia having already secured their place after finishing in third place in their group at the last Rugby World Cup.
Saturday’s win took Germany up to third, two points behind second-placed Romania, who they defeated earlier this year.
Germany started well thanks to tries from Jacobus Otto and Jarrid Els, with captain Sean Armstrong’s score before half-time suggesting a comfortable win was on the cards.
Belgium to their credit fought back in the second half, with tries from Alan Williams and James Pearce, with the boot of fly-half Williams setting up a tense finish at 27-21.
Jamie Murphy’s try however put the result beyond doubt, as Belgium hit back late on through Elvin Muric but fell to a 34-29 defeat in Offenbach.
Meanwhile leaders Georgia came through their match with Spain in Medina del Campo with a 20-10 win, outscoring their hosts by two tries to one.
The two full-backs, Spain’s Brad Linklater and Georgia’s Merab Kvirikashvili, traded early penalties before Spain went in ahead at the break thanks to a try from Kalokalo Gavidi, leading 10-3.
Georgia went level ten minutes into the second half through a Giorgi Tkhilaishvili try, converted by Kvirikashvili, and they took the lead for the first time in the 62nd minute thanks to a try from Zviad Matiashvili, with a late Kvirikashvili penalty making it 20-10.
And finally Romania comfortably saw off Russia in a 30-10 win by scoring four tries, with two scores coming in the last 11 minutes.
Scores from Ionel Badiu and Madalin Lemnaru got the visitors off to the perfect start in Sochi, leading 14-3 at half-time.
Penalties from Valentin Calafeteanu then stretched the score to 20-3, before Valentin Poparlan and Jody Rose put the seal on a big win.
Here is the latest news coming from up north as the Six Nations and domestic competitions heat up. Players are not just concentrating on their own national and club team performances but also have an eye on the squad to be picked to represent the Lions to New Zealand.
Here is all your news you need to know….
Wasps have confirmed that Kyle Eastmond will miss the rest of the season, after tearing his Achilles tendon during last Sunday’s game.
The centre is expected to be back in time for the start of the 2017/18 season.
Following the injury sustained against Gloucester, Eastmond has undergone routine surgery to repair his Achilles tendon, which went well, with no complications anticipated.
He is expected to be sidelined for six months, which will unfortunately rule him out of the remainder of Wasps’ 2016/17 campaign.
Ospreys wing Hanno Dirksen has undergone surgery on a knee injury sustained in the game against Munster that rules him out for six months.
Chris Towers, Medical Performance Manager at the Ospreys, confirmed the news on Thursday, saying: “After suffering an injury to his left knee in the Munster game, investigations and a consultation with specialists in London have established that the nature of the damage he suffered to his joint has necessitated surgery.
“He has already undergone an operation and, at this early stage, the initial prognosis is a lay-off of around six months.”
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has announced a 36-man squad for the final two rounds of the Six Nations, with Jared Payne returning to the group.
Schmidt’s charges travel to Cardiff in Round 4 to take on Wales at the Principality Stadium on Friday, March 9 before they host England on Saturday, March 18 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Payne makes a welcome return to the squad for the first time since he picked up an injury against Australia last November.
The 36-man squad also sees the return of Joey Carbery who also featured for Ireland in that game.
Sale have announced that local youngsters and England U20 internationals Ben Curry and Tom Curry have both signed five-year contracts.
Twins Ben and Tom have been featuring in the first-team all season, and are the latest players to come through the club’s Academy system, which has also produced Ross Harrison, Josh Beaumont, James Mitchell, Cameron Neild, Mark Jennings, James Flynn, Mike Haley, Sam James and Will Addison.
Ben and Tom have made huge strides in the first-team considering their age of just 18. This season, they became only the fourth set of twins to play side-by-side in the Premiership. Tom also became the youngest player ever to score a try in the Premiership when he touched down at Bristol last October.
Leinster are on the cusp of signing Wallaby forward Scott Fardy ahead of next season.
According to the Canberra Times and The42 Fardy will join on a two-year deal after the completion of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
The IRFU have give Leinster permission to sign Fardy on the basis that he can only be considered at second-row to allow the plethora of Irish-qualified loose-forward talent to start for the Dublin side.
Scarlets have confirmed that Assistant Coach Stephen Jones is the latest to put pen to paper, signing a new deal with his home region.
The announcement comes just days after the region confirmed a new deal for fellow Assistant Coach Ioan Cunningham.
Jones, one of Wales’ most successful backs and the country’s second highest points scorer, has engineered Scarlets’ exciting and attacking style of play.
Rob Baxter has announced that three more of his current Exeter Chiefs squad agreed to new contracts with the club.
Experienced back-row forwards Kai Horstmann and Julian Salvi have each signed new one-year deals, while lock Ollie Atkins has extended his stay at Sandy Park by a further two years.
News of the trio agreeing terms comes hot on the heels of head coach Baxter last week confirming similar outcomes for front-row trio Ben Moon, Shaun Malton and Carl Rimmer, as well as backs Michele Campagnaro, Phil Dollman and Olly Woodburn.
Now with nine more names confirmed to the Chiefs roster for the 2017/18 season, Baxter admits the make-up of his squad is already in fine fettle, having also added newcomers Matt Kvesic, Toby Salmon and Tom O’Flaherty so far.
The second week of the Rugby Europe Championship produced few surprises, with Georgia comfortably defeating Germany.
The Lelos marked Merab Kvirikashvili’s 100th cap in style, as the full-back became the Georgian first player to play one hundred times for his country.
Germany were coming off another famous win, having toppled Uruguay in November and then stunning Romania last weekend, but never came back in Rustavi after Georgia established control early on.
Giorgi Koshadze crossed in the second minute before Germany’s Raynor Parkinson made it 7-3 with a penalty.
Giorgi Pruidze was the next over, Parkinson responding with three more points, but a second score from Koshadze meant it was 21-6 at half-time.
From there Georgia never looked back, with a second from Pruidze and scores from Merab Sharikadze, a hat-trick score for Koshadze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili’s five-pointer and a second for Sharikadze sealed a comfortable 50-6 victory.
Romania meanwhile bounced back with a 13-3 win over Spain in Bucharest, with Florin Vlaicu scoring the only try of the game.
Vlaicu’s 15th-minute try put the Romanians ahead 7-0 before Spain replied thanks to three points from full-back Brad Linklater.
Vlaicu kicked another penalty to make it 10-3 by half-time and in a tense second half it was the another three points from his reliable boot which settled the contest.
Finally Russia snatched a late 25-18 win over Belgium thanks to second-row Evgeny Elgin’s late converted try, giving Russia a first win in the process.
Belgium took away a losing bonus point from the fixture in Brussels but will have been frustrated having taken the lead at the start of the second half.
Dmitrii Gerasimov’s converted try in the third minute put Russia ahead, followed over by Andrey Garbuzov to make it 12-3, with Belgium closing the gap before the break thanks to a score from Charles Reynaert.
Thomas Demolder’s converted score then put Belgium ahead 15-12 to set up a tense second half, with penalties from both teams leaving the game finely poised at 18-18 before Elgin clinched the win.
Ford graduated from the Tigers academy to make his first-team debut as a 16-year-old in November 2009 and went on to make 41 first-team appearances and share in Anglo-Welsh Cup and Premiership title wins with the club before joining Bath in the summer of 2013.
Leicester have also announced that back-row forward Brendon O’Connor has agreed new terms to extend his stay with the Premiership outfit.
The 27-year-old flanker arrived at Welford Road in the autumn of 2015, scoring a try on his debut in a Champions Cup win over Stade Français, and has now made 29 appearances for the club.
Glasgow Warriors have confirmed that Gordon Reid, Josh Strauss and Mark Bennett will leave the club at the end of the season.
Loosehead prop Reid joined on a full-time basis ahead of the 2011/12 season, after representing Ayr in the BT Premiership and also featuring as part of the wider Warriors squad during the previous campaign. The 29-year-old Scotland international has gone on to make 109 appearances for the club.
Back-rower Strauss joined the Warriors in September 2012 from South African Super Rugby side, the Lions. The 30-year-old has made 104 appearances for the club and has also won 10 caps for Scotland during his time in Glasgow.
Bennett, who will join Edinburgh, made his Glasgow Warriors debut against Leinster in May 2011, before the centre re-joined the Warriors in 2012 after a short spell with French side Clermont Auvergne.
The IRFU and Leinster have announced that Jamie Heaslip has signed a new IRFU contract which will see him play his rugby in Ireland until the end of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Heaslip made his Ireland debut in the 61-17 win over the Pacific Islands in November 2006. The 33-year-old has won 93 caps for Ireland scoring 13 tries and has started 36 of Ireland’s last 41 Test matches.
His most recent appearance for Ireland was in Saturday’s 63-10 victory over Italy in the 2017 Six Nations Championship. Heaslip’s new contract has been wholly funded by the IRFU.
The 26-year-old has made over 60 appearances for Leicester since he moved to the East Midlands in 2014. The former Beechen Cliff School pupil represented his country at both U20 and England Saxons level, before making his senior England debut in 2012 against the All Blacks, and taking part in the subsequent tours of Argentina and New Zealand.
Exeter have strengthened their options at scrum-half with the addition of Welsh international Martin Roberts until the end of the season.
The 30-year-old has joined from Premiership rivals Bristol and will help supplement the half-back area with the Chiefs currently without the injured trio of Will Chudley, Dave Lewis and Niko Matawalu.
France back-row Loann Goujon may miss the rest of the 2017 Six Nations after suffering an injury against Scotland.
Goujon reportedly fractured his sinus in Sunday’s game according to Sud Ouest, which could keep him out for between four to five weeks.
Should that be the case then the Bordeaux-Bègles star’s tournament would certainly be over. Goujon was on the bench against England before starting in place of Damien Chouly in Paris last weekend.
Edinburgh have confirmed the signing of Scotland international centre and Olympic silver medallist Mark Bennett on a three-year deal.
Bennett, 24, will make the switch from Glasgow Warriors at the end of the current season and is set to feature in black and red until 2020.
Bristol have announced that All Blacks back-rower Steven Luatua has agreed terms to join the club next season.
Among the most significant signings in the club’s recent history, the 25-year-old will arrive ahead of the 2017/18 campaign.
Regarded as one of the most destructive players in the Southern Hemisphere, Luatua has fifteen international caps for New Zealand, touching down in the victory over Italy in November 2016.
Scotland have been left counting their injured players after their 22-16 Six Nations loss to France in Paris on Sunday.
Captain and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw injured his ankle in the 24th minute. As an exile player, he now returns to his club, Gloucester, for further assessment during the bye week of the tournament.
Back row forwards John Barclay, and his replacement John Hardie, both sustained head knocks in the game and are subject to the completion of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) process.
Barclay also requires further assessment on a shoulder injury, the management of which – this week – will take place at his club, Scarlets.
Centre Alex Dunbar passed his HIA 1 during the match but developed some symptoms, possibly in keeping with concussion, after the match. Hooker Fraser Brown also came off for a HIA and didn’t return field of play.
Both players will now be treated as a concussion and will be subject to the graduated return to play protocol.
Josh Strauss sustained a heavy blow to his flank and will require further care and assessment.
Harlequins have announced that former London Welsh flanker Ryan Hodson has joined the club with immediate effect as short-term injury cover.
Hodson, who joined London Welsh in 2015 from Jersey, captained the Exiles to British and Irish Cup success in 2016, making 38 appearances.
A native of Perth, Australia, he represented Australia Universities before playing Super Rugby with Melbourne Rebels between 2012 and 2014.
And then specially for Americano, do not worry Willie has been welcomed properly at Wasp
Look who’s here! Ashley Johnson making sure Willie Le Roux feels right at home! #WeAreWasps
Here is a look at all the news coming from Europe with most concentrating on the start o the RBS Six Nations starting this weekend.
A European Rugby Champions Cup independent Appeal Committee has denied has Francois Steyn an appeal after the player was suspended.
Steyn was given a four-week suspension after he put in a dangerous tackle on Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton during European Rugby Champions Cup match in Dublin.
The European Rugby Champions Cup released a statement after the game:
“An independent Appeal Committee has decided to refuse an appeal by the Montpellier player, Francois Steyn, against the four-week suspension imposed on him by an independent Disciplinary Committee following his sending off during his club’s European Rugby Champions Cup, Round 5 match against Leinster Rugby at the RDS.
France have been dealt another midfield blow with the news that Toulouse centre Yann David has been ruled out for the opening rounds.
David was one of the surprise selections by Guy Novès, ending an international exile going back to 2009.
Midi Olympique reported on Wednesday that David is now out of France’s opening match with England this Saturday at Twickenham due to a thigh injury.
David underwent a scan on Wednesday which suggested he would require two weeks’ rest, which would also seem to rule him out of facing Scotland the following week.
France are already without Wesley Fofana for the entire tournament due to injury, leaving Novès to choose from Gaël Fickou, Rémi Lamerat and Mathieu Bastareaud.
Sale Sharks scrum-half Mike Phillips insists that his side must focus on themselves if they’re to progress in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
A semi-final spot awaits the Sharks if they achieve victory away at Harlequins on Friday and other results go their way, with Ospreys and Exeter Chiefs also vying for top spot on Sunday.
Speaking ahead of the trip to London, Phillips has highlighted how important the Anglo-Welsh competition is to the club this season.
Leicester Tigers have confirmed the signing of France international centre Maxime Mermoz for the rest of the 2016/17 season.
Tigers agreed terms with the 30-year-old Mermoz after losing both Matt Toomua and Manu Tuilagi to long-term injury this season and have now received official clearance from the French Rugby Federation for his move to Welford Road.
Mermoz gained the first of 35 Test caps in 2008 and won league titles with Toulouse and Perpignan before moving to Toulon where he shared in their European Cup triumphs of 2013 and 2014 as well as securing another league winner’s medal.
Justin Tipuric has praised Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones ahead of their Six Nations opener against Italy.
The 31-year-old, who has won 105 caps and led the 2013 British and Irish Lions to a Test series-win over Australia, has been handed the captaincy for the Six Nations.
He will enter the gladiator’s arena with his troops on Sunday as Wales bid to kick off their campaign with a victory over Conor O’Shea’s Italy in Rome. And Tipuric says it is more than just blood, sweat and tears that make Jones a leader of men.
Cardiff Blues announced that skills coach Paul John will leave the region to become head coach of Hong Kong Sevens.
John will replace Gareth Baber at the Hong Kong Sports Institute following more than four years’ service to the region.
The former Wales captain retired from rugby in 2005 and moved into coaching with his club side Pontypridd.
John then enjoyed a six-year stint with Wales Sevens before linking up with Cardiff Blues.
Dragons centre Adam Warren has become the seventh player to recently extend his contract with the Welsh region.
He joins Dragons skipper Lewis Evans, Welsh International Hallam Amos, Brok Harris, Nic Cudd, Rynard Landman and Ed Jackson in the list of players who have re-signed for the Men of Gwent.
The 25-year-old, who can play both centre and wing, joined the Dragons in the summer of 2015. Warren, who recently made his 50th appearance, made his debut for the Men of Gwent against Connacht in 2015 at the Sportsground.
Sale Sharks have terminated the contract of Tom Arscott with immediate effect following a disciplinary investigation and hearing.
No further comment will be made in accordance with the club’s disciplinary procedure.
Arscott was disciplined by the club earlier this month for allegedly leaking information about the side’s tactics to opponents Bristol before the Sharks’ 24-23 defeat.
Sale boss Steve Diamond said at the time the news broke to Sky Sports News: “Senior players came to me and said they’d heard that information had been passed from one group to another. We set a disciplinary up and, in order to do that, we informed the RFU.”
He added: “I don’t really know the full details of it. That information has been passed onto the RFU.
“Effectively a player has met with the opposition and given them some information – that is all I am allowed to say.
“All we have done is asked him why he has done it. He has replied and we now have to go through a formal disciplinary process.”
Wales Sevens head coach Gareth Williams has named two World Rugby Sevens Series debutants in his squad for next weekend’s Wellington leg.
James Botham, 18, and Elliot Frewen, 29, have shown impressive form to take their place in the squad. Cardiff Blues Academy player Botham is a former Wales U18 international, while Newport winger Frewen was named the 2016 Premiership Rugby 7s Player of the Series after his trophy-winning exploits with the Dragons.
Gloucester have announced that Academy scrum-half Ben Vellacott has put pen to paper on his first senior contract with the Kingsholm club.
Vellacott was a first-half replacement for club captain Greig Laidlaw in the Premiership win over Worcester at the start of the month, and his fine form and development to date has been rewarded with a senior deal.
Gloucester have announced that loose forward Gareth Evans has re-signed with the club.
The 25-year-old has spent his entire club career to date with Gloucester, a product of the Gloucester Academy, and has made 65 competitive appearances to date.
Evans recently returned to first team action after a short spell out, featuring in the impressive home win over La Rochelle and also scoring a try in Big Game Nine against Harlequins at Twickenham.
He admits that it’s good to have his future sorted and the loyalty of the club means a lot to him.
Treviso are waiting for the arrival of fly-half Marty Banks, with his manager saying they are working on his “next steps” in terms of rugby.
Banks, who has played for the Hurricanes and Highlanders in Super Rugby, has been superb for Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup in recent years.
However, he failed to nail down a starting jersey in Super Rugby and was subsequently signed by Treviso for whom he should have arrived.
Toulon wing Bryan Habana has confirmed he’s currently in talks with his club over the possibility of extending his time at Stade Mayol.
South Africa international Habana, 33, revealed he is hopeful of a new contract being signed with the European heavyweights by February.
“I’m in talks with [club president] Mourad Boudjellal and the club and it is not decided yet but I hope it will be done between now and the end of January, beginning of February,” the Springbok finisher told AFP.
France international Yannick Nyanga has spoken of “injustice” and feeling “fed-up” after the FFR informed him he would have to appear in front of an Anti-Doping Commission.
Nyanga, as well as his Racing 92 teammate Brice Dulin, underwent a drugs test following the match against Stade Français on October 8 last year.
The test revealed traces of Higenamine, an anti-asthmatic which can also be used as a fat burner and is classed as illegal by the French Anti-Doping Agency.
France have made six changes to the squad which gathered for the match against New Zealand in November but coaches say continuity is key.
Starting with the most contentious position in French rugby, François Trinh-Duc remains out of the squad after fracturing his arm against Samoa in November, as Guy Novès has once again chosen Camille Lopez and Jean-Marc Doussain as his number tens.
During the November Tests, France’s head coach initially favoured Doussain but eventually chose Lopez to start against New Zealand.
If Novès is as committed to continuity as he says, it would be logical for him to favour the Clermont fly-half for the Six Nations.
Grenoble have announced that six players, including full-back Gio Aplon, have put pen to paper on new deals at Stade des Alpes.
Aplon is joined by Hendrik Roodt, Fabien Alexandre and Lucas Dupont in re-signing with the struggling Top 14 side for another three seasons.
Aly Muldowney and Sona Taumalolo both sign one-year extensions with the option of another term, with Grenoble battling to avoid relegation.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) may impose a five-year residency rule on England if World Rugby doesn’t change its current three-year rule.
World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot is eager to add another 24 months to the rule, with RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie in agreement.
Eddie Jones recently selected Nathan Hughes and Semesa Rokoduguni, after both Fijian-born players had resided in England for three years.
Despite this Ritchie wants the change to happen in the near future, revealing to BBC Sport: “In an ideal world there would be universality of regulation and there is a helpful way of dealing with this, and that is by moving the World Rugby regulation from three to five years.”
England are preparing for their Six Nations opener against France, who recently said they’ll only pick players who hold a French passport.
South African Francois Steyn will have to sit out for the next four weeks after he was suspended by an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Paris on Wednesday
Steyn was sent off by referee, JP Doyle (England), for a dangerous tackle on the Leinster fly-half, Johnny Sexton, in the 30th minute of the match in contravention of Law 10.4 (e).
Law 10.4 (e) Dangerous tackling
Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 10.4 (e), Dangerous Tackling of an opponent, carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 2 weeks; Mid-Range: 6 weeks; Top End: 10 to 52 weeks.
An independent Disciplinary Committee consisting of Antony Davies (England), Chairman, Julien Berenger (France) and Pamela Woodman (Scotland), heard submissions from Steyn, who pleaded guilty to the offence, from the Montpellier legal representative, Christian Chevalier, from the Montpellier Chief Executive, Mathieu Charpentier, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.
The Committee upheld the red card decision, and as the dangerous tackle resulted in reckless contact with the head, it was obliged to find that the offence was at the mid-range of the relevant sanctions as now required by World Rugby.
Six weeks was therefore selected as the entry point and taking into account Steyn’s guilty plea and timely expression of remorse, the Committee reduced the sanction by two weeks before imposing a four-week suspension.
Steyn is free to play on Monday, March 6. Both the player and EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.
Meanwhile the Leinster player, Hayden Triggs, has been suspended for three weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Paris.
Triggs was cited by the match Citing Commissioner, Stefano Marrama (Italy), for making contact with the eye area of the Montpellier scrum-half, Nic White (number nine), in the 44th minute of the match in contravention of Law 10.4 (m).
An independent Disciplinary Committee consisting of Antony Davies (England), Chairman, Julien Berenger (France) and Pamela Woodman (Scotland), heard submissions from Triggs, who pleaded guilty to the offence, from the Leinster Rugby legal representative, Derek Hegarty, from the Leinster Rugby Head of Rugby Operations, Guy Easterby, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.
In upholding the citing complaint, the Committee determined that the charge was specifically for contact with the eye area, and not for contact with the eye(s) which now carries a different set of sanction entry point tariffs.
Law 10.4 (m) Acts contrary to good sportsmanship – contact with the eye area
Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 10.4 (m), contact with the eye area, carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 4 weeks; Mid-range: 8 weeks; Top end: 12 to 52 weeks.
The Committee then decided that the offence was at the low end of World Rugby’s sanctions and selected four weeks as the appropriate entry point.
Taking into account Triggs’ guilty plea and his expression of remorse, the Committee reduced the sanction by one week before imposing a three-week suspension.
Triggs is free to play on Monday, February 20. Both the player and EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.
Munster have not finalised any new deals with players for next season, but the club are interested in the services of James Hart and Chris Farrell.
Munster have already secured the services of Jaco Taute until the end of the current season after the South African was originally set to return to the Stormers earlier this month.
Certain French media have reported that Munster are interested in Hart and Farrell, who play in the Top 14 for Racing 92 and Grenoble respectively.
Erasmus has admitted that talks have taken place with the French-based pair, but that they are among a number of options drawn up by the two-time European champions.
“Until you have everything signed and sealed, it would be stupid to speculate,” he told RTÉ Sport.
“We are talking to even more guys who are Irish qualified who we want to get here, some we have succeeded with, some we have not. Those two [Farrell and Hart] are definitely on the radar, but there’s nothing yet to announce.”
Harlequins have announced the signing of Namibia captain Renaldo Bothma, who will join the Premiership club ahead of the 2017/18 season.
The powerful ball carrying number eight will join from the Bulls.
Confirming the news Harlequins director of rugby John Kingston said: “Renaldo is one of the most destructive ball carriers in world rugby and so I am absolutely delighted to have secured his services on a long-term contract.
“As captain of his country, he also brings strong leadership qualities.
“He chose Harlequins over other options around the world and his signing is a major statement of where we want to take this great club over the coming years.”
A product of the Sharks Academy he has played 78 Currie Cup matches, most prominently for the Mpumalanga based Pumas.
In 2015 he made his Super Rugby debut for the Sharks and after spending the 2015 off-season with Japanese side Toyota Verblitz, he joined the Bulls in 2016.
Qualifying for Namibia through his mother, the 27-year-old made his international debut in 2014 against Kenya. Bothma played a key role in helping his country qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and made three appearances in the tournament against New Zealand, Tonga and Georgia.
He was appointed as captain of Namibia in June 2016 and has 13 international caps to his name, scoring 40 points.
Commenting on the announcement, Bothma added: “I’m really excited to move to England next summer and positively impact Harlequins. I’ve signed a long-term deal and I’m wanting to play a big role in helping grow the Club and bring it to even higher heights.
“I’m a big believer in a positive playing environment and from speaking to John Kingston, it is very clear that this is how Harlequins operates. The Club has a great vibe and there is a huge family friendly nature to it.
“I have another Super Rugby season with the Bulls to concentrate on and I will be giving it my all before my move to England.”
Munster have announced that head coach Anthony Foley has passed away overnight at the team hotel in Paris.
In a statement from the Irish Rugby Football Union and Munster, the news broke on Sunday less than two hours before the Irish province was scheduled to take on Racing 92. The game has now been postponed.
“It is with deep regret that the Irish Rugby Football Union and Munster Rugby must advise of the passing overnight of Munster Rugby head coach Anthony Foley, at the team hotel in Paris,” read the statement.
“Munster Rugby management are liaising directly with Anthony’s family and will provide them with any assistance and support required.
“Thr IRFU and Munster Rugby pass on our deepest sympathies to all of Anthony’s family and friends and ask for privacy for the family at this sad time.
“As a mark of respect to Anthony and his family and and to support players, management and staff, Munster Rugby have requested that today’s match against Racing 92 be rescheduled.
“Munster Rugby thank Racing 92, EPCR, broadcasters and partners, and the many fans who travelled to Paris for their understanding and support at this time.”
A legend of Irish and Munster rugby, Foley played for Ireland 62 times, captaining his country on three occasions. He also led Munster to their first European Cup triumph in 2006.
In all, he made 86 appearances in European competition for his province before taking over as head coach in 2014.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall believes his young squad can deliver once again in both the Premiership and Champions Cup this season.
The Allianz Park giants won both competitions last term, with their young English contingent starring before going on to triumph in Australia.
Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, George Kruis and the Vunipola brothers all impressed and McCall is confident they can kick on in the coming year.
“We’ve got a pretty impressive young group and I couldn’t speak more highly of them,” he told Premiership Rugby at Thursday’s launch.
“After the Grand Slam last year – they are all 25 and under and are English internationals – to come back and perform the way they did for their club was incredible really.
“The age profile of our group is good, they are highly motivated and hopefully better things are ahead.
“They are unbelievably motivated, there is a Lions Tour and we said at the end of last season that for us it didn’t feel like the culmination of seven years, it felt like the start of something.”
Saracens’ most notable arrival ahead of this season is Springbok flanker Schalk Burger, who McCall says has been an instant hit at the club.
“We have grown as a club and we need to remember the underlying factors which have made us successful over the past couple of years,” he said.
“If we do stay true to those things, then hopefully we will give ourselves a chance.
“We haven’t had too many changes, we have only had three or four new players.
“Schalk Burger has essentially taken the place of two players – Ernst Joubert and Jacques Burger – we thought it was important that we brought in a very experienced player and Schalk has made a great impression over the first couple of weeks.”
European Champions Cup finalists Racing 92 are being investigated for an incident in their semi-final win over Leicester which saw centre Johan Goosen play on after appearing to have been knocked unconscious.
The South Africa centre looked to be out cold after making a tackle 62 minutes into last Sunday’s game but was allowed to carry on by Racing medics after coming round and insisting he was fit to play.
He was eventually sent for a Head Injury Assessment after fourth official Simon McDowell alerted referee Nigel Owens by saying Goosen ‘looked out’. The Springbok returned to the field four minutes later and kicked a decisive long-range penalty.
Rugby union has introduced strict head injury protocols in a bid to avert a concussion crisis like the one that has engulfed the NFL, and European Professional Club Rugby officials confirmed this week they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Goosen’s HIA.
An EPCR statement read: ‘EPCR takes matters of this nature very seriously and is reviewing the HIA protocol which cleared Racing 92’s Johann Goosen to return.’
Racing head coach Laurent Labit insisted after his side’s win, which set up a final against Saracens in Lyon on May 14, that Goosen had suffered nothing more than a ‘knock to his neck’ but EPCR officials have the power to sanction clubs for clear breaches.
‘Goosen had a knock but it was more to his neck than his head,’ said Labit. ‘It was not concussion even though the referee insisted on the concussion protocol being carried out. He came back on to the pitch straight away. He is a very important player for us and I was very happy. I was not worried about him coming back.’
Munster have announced the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as their new Director of Rugby and it is funny how selective SA Rugby quotes only part of it. Someone this weekend said that South African fans are the worst fans in the world, unable to even praise even a win from their sides and that we have the worst fans because we are fed the nonsense from the worst mainstream media sources in the world.
Speculations and opinions are front and centre in South African media and facts is something not so important….
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm that Johan ‘Rassie’ Erasmus has been appointed Director of Rugby on a three year deal, commencing on July 1st…….by Munster Website
The 43-year-old who hails from South Africa and won 36 caps for the Springboks is currently General Manager High Performance of South African rugby, a position he has held since 2012.
In a playing career that spanned 8 years Rassie lined out for the Free State Cheetahs and the Golden Lions in the Currie Cup, and for the Cats and the Stormers in the Super 12. He served as captain of the Cats, leading them to the 2000 Super 12 semi-finals, and also captained the Springboks in 1999.
After retirement, Erasmus moved into coaching and guided the Cheetahs to Currie Cup glory in 2005 – the Bloemfontein-based team’s first Currie Cup title since 1976.
The following year, his Cheetahs side shared the Currie Cup trophy with the Blue Bulls and he became the first ever coach of the Cheetahs Super Rugby franchise when they were accepted into the Super 14 that year.
In 2007, the Eastern Cape native served as technical adviser for the Springboks during their Rugby World Cup winning campaign in France before becoming Head Coach of the Stormers and Director of Coaching at Western Province. Erasmus served a second term as technical adviser to the Springboks during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand before assuming the General Manager High Performance role.
Commenting on the appointment Garrett Fitzgerald, Munster Rugby CEO said, “We are delighted to announce Rassie Erasmus as Munster Rugby’s Director of Rugby. In recruiting Rassie we are securing the services of a world-class individual who was the stand out candidate for this newly created position.
“In addition to his extensive playing and coaching experience Rassie’s current role has afforded him the opportunity to develop his skill-set further, garnering invaluable knowledge and expertise while implementing an all-encompassing rugby programme which will be key to this role.
Outlining the role further Fitzgerald confirmed, “The Director of Rugby role will lead Munster’s senior team, academy and coaches to deliver Munster’s Strategic Plan with ultimate responsibility for team performance and results. The role will have overall responsibility for defining on field strategy and ensuring its implementation.
“After completing a comprehensive world-wide search we would like to thank all parties involved in this appointment. The process included the input of all relevant stakeholders with each stage concluded promptly in the best interests of Munster Rugby.
“We look forward to welcoming Rassie at the start of the 2016/17 season in what will be an exciting time for the province as we operate from our new High Performance Centre in UL.”
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented, “Irish Rugby is fortunate to have secured such an outstanding talent as Johan Rassie Erasmus. Rassie’s long history in the game has seen him enjoy coaching success in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby and has seen him develop some of the best talent in South African rugby.
“His experience leading the Cheetahs to win the Currie Cup in 2005 and 2007 before taking the Stormers to a Super Rugby final in 2010 and winning the South African Conference in 2011, coupled with his management of South Africa¹s high performance department makes him the ideal candidate to take over as Director of Rugby at Munster.”
Rassie Erasmus said, “It is a huge honour to have been appointed by Munster Rugby in the newly created role of Director of Rugby.
“It is an opportunity which comes with a huge responsibility not only to the club who has a proud 137-year history, but also the supporters and the wider community.
“It is a challenge which I humbly accepted but with a clear desire to use all my past experience as a player, coach and administrative High Performance manager, to make Munster Rugby one of the top rugby clubs in Europe.
“I would also like to thank my colleagues at SA Rugby, and specifically the CEO, Jurie Roux, for affording me the opportunity to serve in the role of General Manager for the High Performance over the last 4 years. It was truly an honour to work in an environment where innovation and pushing the boundaries of acceptable norms were encouraged. I have learnt a great deal from my experiences in the last 5 years and trust that the organisation under its current leadership will achieve great things on and off the field.
“The decision was ultimately a personal one which I made with my family in what we believe is the right time and without a doubt the best Club to experience something different as part of our personal goals we have set.”
Maxime Machenaud’s late penalty ensured that Racing 92 will face Leicester in the Champions Cup semi-finals after beating Toulon 19-16.
Juan Imhoff scored the opener two minutes in but was matched by Charles Ollivon in a closely fought first half.
The sides were level for most of the second half until Maxime Machenaud stepped up with two minutes to go and kicked through the winning points.
With Leicester Tigers qualifying, victory for either side meant they will face Richard Cockerill’’s side in the final four.
The hosts had a three-point lead within the first minute of the tie, Dan Carter slotting a penalty through almost straight from the restart.
Racing burst out of the blocks superbly and they had a 10-point lead after just four minutes. Imhoff nipped in after Maxime Mermoz’’s weak pass was intercepted and there was no stopping the Argentina star as he stormed towards the line. Carter converted and Toulon had been blown away just four minutes into the tie, down 10-0.
But despite the dreadful start, the holders levelled the try scoring from their next attack. Still inside the first 10 minutes, Charles Ollivon went over after a fine break forward from Josua Tuisova. Jonathan Pélissié converted and Toulon dragged themselves back into contention.
After that breathtaking first 10 minutes, the half calmed down as both sides reverted to a more defensive nature.
Pélissié had two opportunities within three minutes to put his side at the very least level, but the first hit the upright whilst the second was off target.
Maxime Machenaud missed a kick for the hosts in the absence of the temporarily injured Carter, and by half-time Toulon were level. Pélissié kicking over seconds before the break and the sides went in 10-10.
The Toulon kicker put the visitors ahead for the first time three minutes into the second half with another penalty.
Machenaud responded to make it 13-all and keep the game finely poised. The scrum-half again kicked another three through to restore the lead they built up early on, with Pélissié missing his third kick of the afternoon a minute later.
But on the hour mark, it was level again thanks to Pélissié’s strike.
Impossible to predict which way the game would go, each side had their moments. In fact, Toulon were defending superbly inside their own 22 for long spells, being pressed back as the hosts probed for a second try.
Toulon did have opportunities to retake the lead, but the pressure was getting to both sides as a place in the final four beckoned.
Machenaud missed another penalty with five to play, a big miss at a crucial time, but he didn’t pass up the opportunity at another with two minutes remaining.
The French international scrum-half held his nerve from a penalty right in front of the posts to snatch the advantage back at a pivotal moment.
And despite a late push, Racing held on to defeat the reigning champions and seal their place in the final four.
For Racing: Try: Imhoff Con: Carter Pens: Carter, Machenaud 3
For Toulon: Try: Ollivon Con: Pélissié Pens: Pélissié 3
SARugbymag.co.za looks back at the past weekend’s English Premiership, French Top 14 and Six Nations matches, involving South African players.
– Bath, with Francois Louw at flank, slumped to a 35-28 defeat against Harlequins at The Stoop. The winners outscored Bath four tries to one to move up to sixth on the log.
– Wasps returned to winning ways with a thrilling 36-24 win over the Leicester Tigers at Ricoh Arena. The contest pitted hooker Ashley Johnson and Michael van Vuuren against each other, but it was Johnson who won the battle up front against his compatriot. The result takes Wasps up to third in the standings.
– Lock Victor Matfield and his Northampton Saints teammates recorded a 26-11 bonus-point victory against the Sale Sharks at Franklin’s Gardens. Prop Brian Mujati was named in Sale’s starting lineup. The Saints now occupy the last playoff spot on the log, while Sale drop to eighth.
– Outside centre Wynand Olivier, scrumhalf Francois Hougaard, No 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze and tighthead prop Nic Schonert were in the Worcester Warriors side that claimed a much-needed 28-20 home victory over Gloucester. The win took the Warriors 13 points clear of the relegation zone.
– The second-placed Exeter Chiefs thumped the Newcastle Falcons 32-17 at Sandy Park. Flank Don Armand featured heavily for the winners, while lock Mouritz Botha was on duty for the Falcons.
– Saracens, with inside centre Brad Barritt and flank Michael Rhodes in their run-on XV, were the only away team to win this past weekend as they beat hosts London Irish 26-16. Prop Petrus du Plessis, lock Alistair Hargreaves and scrumhalf Neil de Kock played off the bench for Sarries, who strengthened their position at the top of the table.
FRENCH TOP 14
– Toulouse kicked a late penalty to snatch a 13-13 draw against Bordeaux at home. Loosehead props Gurthrö Steenkamp played for Toulouse, while Steven Kitshoff did so for Bordeaux. Lock Jandré Marais started alongside Kitshoff for the visitors, who are now fourth on the log. Toulouse have fallen off the pace a little and are ranked sixth.
– Racing secured bragging rights after thumping city rivals Stade Français 34-16 away from home. Morné Steyn, who started alongside flank Willem Alberts and No 8 Jono Ross, kicked 11 points (a conversion and three penalties) for Stade, but it was his former Bok teammate Johan Goosen who was at the forefront of the Paris derby. Having come on early in the second half, Goosen scored a try and nailed three conversions for an 11-point haul to guide Racing to an emphatic victory. Locks Juandré Kruger and Francois van der Merwe as well as No 8 Antonie Claassen were in the winners’ starting team.
– Scrumhalf Rory Kockott turned out for Castres, who scored seven unanswered tries to hammer Agen 50-6. Flank Marco Kotzé and flyhalf Burton Francis did service for Agen, with the latter accounting for his team’s points via two first-half penalties.
– Clermont clinched a 25-6 bonus-point win against Brive to consolidate their place in the top two on the log. Lock Flip van der Merwe, prop Dan Kotzé and hooker Marthinus van Schalkwyk donned the colours of Clermont. Second row duo Johan Snyman and Peet Marais, prop Kevin Buys and flank Paul Hauman represented Brive, who are in the bottom half of the table.
– La Rochelle were also able to pick up maximum log points from their match against Pau after securing a 35-16 win at home. Scrumhalf Ricky Januarie played 70 minutes for the winning team.
– Toulon recorded an emphatic 38-8 bonus-point triumph over Grenoble in Mayol. Bok loose forwards Duane Vermeulen and Juan Smith started for the hosts and managed to score a try apiece. Lock Hendrik Roodt played a 25-minute cameo for Grenoble, who are languishing in 10th spot. Toulon are third behind Racing and Clermont.
– Montpellier’s impressive run of form continued with a comfortable 31-10 away win against Oyonnax. Locks Jacques du Plessis and Paul Willemse, flank Wiaan Liebenberg, No 8 Pierre Spies, flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis and centre pairing Frans Steyn and Robert Ebersohn made Montpellier’s starting XV, with front rowers Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis completing the match 23. Bismarck and Willemse both barged over for a try, Catrakilis added four conversions and a penalty kick and Jacques du Plessis was yellow-carded. Oyonnax featured eighthman Pedrie Wannenburg and hooker Jody Jenneker, with the latter scoring their only try. Montpellier moved up to fifth after this result and Oyonnax are rock bottom.
– Prop WP Nel and No 8 Josh Strauss started for Scotland, who beat France 29-18 at Murrayfield. It was the first time in 10 years that Scotland had got the better of Les Bleus, who started with Scott Spedding at fullback.
– Flank CJ Stander had another storming game for Ireland in their 58-15 demolition of Italy in Dublin. Lock Quintin Geldenhuys and loose forward Braam Steyn were among the Italian reserves and played off the bench in the second half.
Physical abuse of any match official will land you into some big trouble in the game of rugby and rightly so, we do not need into our sport as World Rugby shown in suspending Vito Kolelishvili for 14 weeks.
Vito was cited by the match citing commissioner Mike Rafter for pushing the referee Wayne Barnes, in the Championship Cup round 5 ficture against Ospreys over the weekend.
If one look at Law 10.4 the Vito can count himself lucky that he did not get a heavier punishment as the entry point for this sanction start with a low end of 24 weeks, mid-range of 48 weeks and high-end of 96 weeks to life.
Any kind of abuse to any official in rugby should be punished severely as no one will want to see rugby become like football and the abuse referees have to go through on the pitch by players. verbal abuse is one thing but to push a referee is just asking for trouble and Vito unfortunately needs to get what is coming to him.
The independent Judicial Officer, David Martin (Ireland), heard evidence and submissions from Kolelishvili, who pleaded guilty to the offence, from Clermont Team Manager, Neil McIlroy, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.
In upholding the citing complaint, the Judicial Officer found that Kolelishvili had committed an act of foul play that warranted a red card. He determined that the offence was at the low end of World Rugby’s sanctions and selected 24 weeks as the appropriate entry point.
He added two weeks due to the player’s poor disciplinary record before reducing the sanction by half of the entry point taking into account Kolelishvili’s immediate apology to the referee, his subsequent remorse, guilty plea and good conduct at the hearing. He then imposed a suspension of 14 weeks.
Kolelishvili is free to play on Monday, 25 April 2016. Both the player and EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.
Stade Francais wing Josaia Raisuqe was sent off but that did not stop the French champions inflicting a heavy defeat on Munster in Paris.
Raisuqe was sent off World Cup Final referee Nigel Owens on the stroke of half-time for gauging Munster captain CJ Stander as the pair wrestled for the ball. Yet despite playing for 40 minutes with just 14 men, it was Stade who ran out comfortable winners at Stade Jean Bouin.
And such was their dominance that only a try by Conor Murray five minutes from time prevented Munster suffering their first shut-out in 21 years of European rugby. Paul Williams, Sekou Macalou and Hugo Bonneval all crossed as Stade halved Leicester Tigers’ lead at the top of Pool 4 to four points.
Munster are now out of the Champions Cup baring a miracle turn of results after suffering three pool defeats in a row for the first time. With their cup hopes on the line in Paris, Anthony Foley’s side were dealt a series of early blows with the loss of two players in the opening eight minutes an and a third before half-time.
BJ Botha, their tight-head prop, failed to recover after he was injured in a tackle in the opening minute. Full-back Andrew Conway then followed moments later after he came off worse from a collision with Stade’s talismanic skipper Sergio Parisse. It only got worse for Munster as Ian Keatley narrowly missed out on a try after Julien Arias was caught ball-watching, before missing the posts with his first penalty attempt.
Francis Saili saved a certain try with a finger-tip tackle to deny Waisea Nayacalevu after the Stade centre benefitted from Simon Zebo’s ill-judged pass. Moments later and Nayacalevu made the burst that produced the game’s first try. Parisse provided support but Williams picked his angle between forwards Dave Kilcoyne and Dave Foley to score under the posts on 32 minutes. Morne Steyn converted and added a penalty for a 10-0 lead.
Munster then lost Tommy O’Donnell despite the flanker initially returning from a head injury assessment. But Stade were reduced to 14 men when Raisuqe was shown by television replays on the stadium’s giant screens to put his hands in the face of Stander as they wrestled for the ball, after Owen had blown his whistle.
The chorus of boos and whistles were deafening as Keatley kicked and missed his penalty and the noise only intensified as Welsh referee Owens walked off at half-time. Steyn added a second penalty before Munster saw Rory Scannell’s try ruled out for a forward pass.
Stade flanker Macalou then tore clear for a try before full-back Bonneval beat Zebo to score a third.
Zebo and Scannell combined for Murray’s consolation try late on but the game had already been lost.
Dan Carter kicked 12 points as Racing 92 maintained their unbeaten run in the Champions Cup against Glasgow Warriors.
The current World Player of the Year kicked five from five as the French league leaders tightened their grip on Pool 3 with a bonus-point win. But defeat at Stade Yves-du-Manoir put a serious dent in Glasgow’s hopes of progressing the quarter-finals.
Leone Nakarawa’s second-half try briefly offered a glimmer of hope. But the power of the Racing pack proved too much as front-row trio Ben Tameifuna, Dimitri Szarzewski and Eddy Ben Arous all crossed before Manuel Carizza injury-time effort clinched the bonus.
That saw Racing take a seven-point lead over Northampton Saints while third-placed Glasgow must now win both of their remaining ties to be in with a chance of progressing as one of three best runners-up. This tie was originally due to be played in November but was postponed following the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Glasgow led on 15 minutes through the boot of Finn Russell, back in the team for the injured Peter Horne.
However the Warriors were made to pay for Russell and Stuart Hogg both narrowly missing further efforts before their hosts had registered a point.
A turnover by Chris Fusaro led to the first chance that Russell pushed wide but a break from lock Leone Nakarawa handed him a second chance soon after that the centre converted. Hogg then narrowly missed from distance before Carter opened his account with a penalty that levelled the scores on 25 minutes.
And the current World Player of the Year was involved twice in the move that led to the game’s opening try.
Full-back Johannes Goosen led the Racing counter-attack from Hogg’s lengthy kick. Carter combined first with Wenceslas Lauret and then Alexandre Dumoulin before sending giant prop Tameifuna crashing over from close range. Carter converted and added a penalty for a 13-3 lead at half-time. And Racing wasted little of the second half to quickly extend that lead with two quick-fire tries in the space of six minutes.
Both were from the same position with a Racing lineout some five metres out from the Glasgow line and both had similar outcomes as captain Szarzewski and then prop Ben Arous applied the finish to impressive collective drives from the French pack. Despite trailing 27-3, Glasgow showed enough conviction to hit back and an opportunist try from Nakarawa offered a glimmer of hope.
In a well-worked move, Nakarawa caught Racing off-guard by taking Fraser Brown’s throw at the front of a lineout before stretching out to score one-handed with 21 minutes remaining. But with 80 minutes up on the clock, the French pack again combined, this time for lock Carizza to touch down to clinch maximum points.
Bath Rugby is delighted to announce that flanker Francois Louw has extended his contract with the Club. The new extension means the South African will be with the West Country side until at least 2019.
“Francois is one of the best players in the world, and we’re obviously delighted that he’s staying with us,” said Head Coach, Mike Ford. “His playing ability speaks for itself, but he also brings huge amounts of leadership, experience and intelligence to the Club off the field, which are invaluable as we continue to develop.”
An integral and influential presence in the back row, Louw is highly regarded across the rugby world, especially for his ability to create havoc at the breakdown. He has made nearly 80 appearances for the Club, and won over 40 international caps for the Springboks – most recently at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
“I’m really excited to have extended my stay at Bath,” added Louw. “It is a great environment to be involved in, and also, importantly, my family are very happy and settled in the city. Everyone is committed to improving and being the best they can be here, and I’m looking forward to the next few years and playing my part in the Club’s future.”
We are only a few games in to the new European Champions Cup tournament but already we have seen the best the Pro12 can offer being humbled by their French and English counterparts.
The reigning Pro12 champions Glasgow Warriors lost at home to Northampton Saints, Ulster were humbled at the Kingspan to Saracens while down in Llanelli not even a farcical red card awarded to a Racing Metro player could even up the tie as the Scarlets were defeated to effectively end their hopes in this year’s competition.
The decline in the Pro12
Things are not looking good on the Pro12 front. Last year the Pro12 provided just one team for the quarter finals but we could potentially find ourselves in the situation towards the end of the season where we have an all Anglo-French quarter final line up. This isn’t good for the game in the northern hemisphere.
As the graph below shows, the Pro12 has consistently contributed at least two of the tournament’s quarter finalists – usually Irish teams, with the dominance of Leinster and Munster being augmented by a recently resurgent Ulster.
The other noticeable trend is the drop off in Welsh representation post the 2009/10 season, save for Cardiff Blues’ appearance in the 2011/12 quarter final.
To be a strong and popular tournament the European Champions Cup needs as many teams and nations to be competitive as it can. The way the club and regional rugby scene is evolving in Europe we are in serious danger of having the Pro12 teams from the 4 nations being uncompetitive at the top level in Europe.
We will now look at each Pro12 nation and their historical success and future prospects.
Ireland has consistently provided strong teams that have had great success in Europe; in fact they have dominated the tournament in certain phases of its history.
Between the 2005/06 season and the 2011/12 season Ireland had 5 of the 7 winners of what was called the Heineken Cup – Munster winning it twice and Leinster 3 times. Ulster joined in on the act in 2012 when an all-Ireland affair in Twickenham saw Leinster take away the trophy for the third time.
But since that day in south west London the Euro bubble seems to have burst for the Irish teams. They have still contributed teams to the knock out stages but the last 3 finals have not contained a single Irish team; just Leinster made it to the quarter finals last year.
This year’s tournament hasn’t started particularly well either. Dai Young’s Wasps defeated Leinster convincingly in their own back yard last week and they followed that up with an away defeat at Bath while Ulster suffered a home defeat to Saracens.
Munster seem to be in a fairly rapid state of decline so they won’t relish having to come out of a group which contains Leicester Tigers and Stade Francais. If there is one team that raises its performances in European competition it is Munster but their form this season to date doesn’t bode well for progression out of the group.
It is conceivable there will be no Irish team in the quarter finals come April next year.
Since their introduction to the top tier of European rugby, Italian teams have always struggled to be competitive against Europe’s elite.
Benetton Treviso have made the best fist of the Italian clubs but even their record is fairly modest; in 18 full seasons of European rugby they have won just 19 games. A more depressing statistic is that in the last 10 full seasons they have only recorded 5 victories – Ospreys (H 14/15), Ospreys (H 12/13), Biarritz (H 11/12), Perpignan (H 9/10) and NG Dragons (A 7/8).
This season they have again found the going tough with heavy defeats away at Munster (32-7) and at home to Leicester (3-36).
Just a couple of seasons ago there were glimmers of hope that Treviso were starting to put together a team that could be more competitive. In the 2012/13 Pro12 season they finished a commendable 7th out of 12 teams – far above their traditional position in the bottom couple of spots.
Although they only notched up a single win, they came 2 minutes away from beating Leicester at home and put in two commendable performances against Toulouse.
Treviso rugby seemed on the up but a number of factors have conspired to put Treviso back to the bottom of the European pile.
Scotland’s European representatives have also found it hard to make a lasting mark in European rugby.
Glasgow Warriors’ recent improvements at the Pro12 level haven’t translated to success at European level and the reigning Pro12 champions already looking unlikely to progress beyond this year’s group stage following a home defeat to Northampton Saints.
Since a solitary quarter final appearance in the early days of the Heineken Cup, Glasgow have failed to get out of their group in the top European competition.
Edinburgh have been slightly more successful with the highlight being a semi-final appearance in the 2011/12 season. This was an exceptional season for the team and represents the only time they have got out of the pool in the last 10 seasons.
They now play in the second tier European Challenge Cup.
It is a sad reality that the Welsh regions have not been troubling the latter stages of the top European competition since the 2011/12 season when the Cardiff Blues made it out of their pool before being thumped by Leinster 34-3 in the quarter final in Dublin.
Since then, the civil war within the Welsh game has conspired to reduce the strength of the regions to the point where they cannot compete against the powerhouse teams from France, England and Ireland.
It wasn’t that long ago that Cardiff Blues were ranked in the top seeds group for the Heineken Cup (the 2012/13 season) and just losing to Leicester in a penalty goal decided semi-final (2008/09), but with the team now playing in the second tier Challenge Cup (and losing to Harlequins’ second team at home) a brighter future seems a long way off.
The Ospreys’ zenith came between 2007 and 2010 when they played 3 quarter finals but couldn’t quite make the leap to achieve a semi final spot. Since then their stock has fallen to the point where they finished last season with a comprehensive home defeat to Northampton Saints and followed this up with a humbling defeat to Treviso.
With the French giants Clermont in the Ospreys’ pool this year, progressing to the quarter finals will be a very difficult task.
Llanelli Scarlets have arguably been the best performing Welsh team in Europe over the years with a semi-final spot in the 2006/07 season their highlight. The Scarlets recent performances though have mirrored the pattern in the other Welsh teams – a gradual decline to the point where they are not expected to make the knock out stages of the top European competition.
With two teams in the second tier competition and the Ospreys and Scarlets struggling in the Champions Cup, having a Welsh region get to the quarter finals of the Champions Cup looks unlikely for the foreseeable future.
Can the decline be halted?
There are probably two main factors at play which is driving the changes we are seeing.
The first is that the Pro12 teams have large numbers of players that have been away on international duty and therefore it will take longer for them to integrate back in to the domestic set up. This is particularly true for the likes of Glasgow, Leinster and the Ospreys who effectively contribute their first team squad to international duty.
A constant theme on theblitzdefence articles is the balance between a strong domestic league and ensuring a competitive national team. It is no coincidence that over the past few years the Welsh and Irish national teams have been strong because they have been given prominence over the regional teams, while the opposite is true in England and France.
The second factor, which is more structural, is we are seeing the impact of the asymmetrical distribution of money and resources across the European leagues filtering through to the performances on the field.
The obvious examples are the huge playing squads and resources of the French teams which means they can mop up some of the best players in the world and have benches that are as strong as some teams first XV. It is not surprising that these teams are beating those with much smaller budgets.
Those teams with the money and the ability to generate more income will be in the big markets of France and England. They have the benefit of wealthy investors, large domestic markets and with that comes TV deals and more money.
It is difficult to see the Pro12 teams competing with the growing financial muscle of France and England given their respective populations and wealth, in fact we would go as far to say it will be impossible to compete if the current trends continue.
The only possible means of keeping up with the big nations’ financial clout is the emergence of a UK-Irish league which would include the Pro12 nations and allow them to share in the wealth that comes from the larger market.
Until that time comes (if it ever does) expect to see the continued gradual decline in the competitiveness of the Pro12 teams at the top European table. The ladder is being pulled up and the Pro12 needs to find a way to quickly grab hold before they are left too far behind.
Ears should be burning certainly at the top end of the French game, in the English corridors as well and, who knows, maybe in all the home nations, writes James Corrigan
Perhaps it did not have the ferocity of his team’s onslaught which reduced the French barricades to mere matchsticks but the New Zealand head coach, Steve Hansen, definitely did not hold back on Sunday in his criticisms of northern hemisphere rugby.
“They won’t agree with this and certainly the owners won’t,” Hansen, the former Wales coach, said. “But there are so many foreigners playing in their teams and leagues here that they’re taking the chance off local talent to grow and develop and so they limit who they can select at international level.
French sides like Toulon have a whole team full of foreigners
“You only need to look at the soccer model which everybody up here follows – England haven’t won anything for years. And in the Premier League they have the best football league in the world. But that doesn’t reflect in the performances of the national side.
“I think down there that we have our model right, we are all on the same page, we want to support international rugby and want the game to go in one direction. Whereas up here is that the case with private owners? If you want to be successful at international rugby you have to be united from the top to the bottom and I’m not sure they are up here.”
There are other factors in the All Black, southern hemisphere magic, not least this hemisphere’s weather which Hansen believes is “not conducive for running rugby”. He also believes that the Super 15 “creates a player who can multi-function”.
Hansen says southern hemisphere is united in one goal Photo: Reuters/Paul Childs
All these theories should be taken on board in the mass of reviews which will be taking place.
Philippe Saint-André would testify to everything Hansen said. He was due to leave the post of France coach regardless of Les Bleus’ display in the World Cup but the fact that the last thing he heard on a rugby pitch were boos was an indication of the scale of the disappointment. Yet Saint-André echoed Hansen’s beliefs.
“We need to realise at a high level that French rugby needs to bring something different to its organisation,” Saint-André said. “We are in the same stage as English soccer. Our players play 40 games a year but New Zealand players play 25 games a year. That’s not rugby, we are in a box.”
Much faith will be put in Guy Noves, the Toulouse mastermind, to sort out the mess, and on a personal basis Saint-André can take nothing from a four-year reign in which France finished no better than fourth in the Six Nations. But this was undoubtedly the low point, characterised as much by indifference as anything.
If their heart began to seep away when the kick of Frédéric Michalak – who premeditated the inevitable when announcing his retirement from international rugby – was charged down by Brodie Retallick, the lock who encapsulates his team’s 1-23 skillset, then the dams burst open when Louis Picamoles was sent to the sin-bin near the start of the second half. Disarm the tanks, spark up the Gitanes.
Granted the display of wings Julian Savea – who with three tries equalled the World Cup’s try-scoring record of eight two rounds early – and Nehe Milner-Skudder were from the dreams of any backs coach, as were most of the other seven, but, as Hansen pointed out, “the opposition have a say on how good you look, too”.
His message was very stark to the Springboks. “We can be better than this. We probably left two or there tries out there on the park and we weren’t 100 per cent on the line-outs so that’s two things we can look for, for a start. There are elements we can improve on and we will strive to do so. I am sure the fans back home are very proud of us. We are proud of ourselves.”
Check out highlights from all the action in Round 2 of the Guinness Pro12, which featured wins for Munster, Leinster Scarlets, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dragons.
A last minute try from CJ Stander saw Munster make it two wins out of two in the PRO12 as they beat the Ospreys 20-18 in Swansea.
Leinster responded from last week’s opening round loss as they came from behind to beat Cardiff Blues 23-15 at the RDS on Saturday. Edinburgh were made to work hard for their 27-24 victory over Treviso in Italy as they made it two wins from two this season.
Scarlets also made it two wins from two in the opening rounds of the PRO12 as they beat Ulster 22-12 at Parc y Scarlets.
Glasgow resisted a fight back from Connacht to seal their first victory of the Pro12 season, winning 33-32 at Scotstoun on Friday while Ed Jackson scored the only try as Dragons battled to a 13-0 win over Zebre in Friday’s clash at Rodney Parade.
Playing in the “Group of Death” with Wales and Australia, England have no such game as a friendly when they take on Ireland on Saturday.
Wales coach Warren Gatland have already fire the first shots when he said that the pressure will be on the loser of this match come World Cup.
Ireland will take the quick flight over to Twickenham on Saturday to take on England with both teams showing a lost against their name in there last outings. There has been a hype that Ireland have the best every change this year to claim a World Cup come end of October, but there is still allot of games to be played for that to happen.
Both coaches will let everyone know that this results means nothing but in fact the result will give the winning team just the right amount of confidence to go into the World Cup and more so for England as they host the event.
England lost against France in Paris showed how there forwards were bullied the same way the Pumas did against the Springboks in Durban not so long ago. The final score also flatters the English as there was actually only one team on the park that night, with only a late fightback that made the score seems closer that it really was.
England had also something to worry about the breakdown as Ireland will come out and play to the ball. There are still some positions to fight for in the England side and one who will have to step up big time is Ford as Farrell is blowing behind his neck for the number 10 jumper.
Ireland mixed there team around against Wales but they will have to be worried about the way they made no impression with ball in hand.
One thing is for sure…One team will go away happy with their preparations before rugby show piece and one will not
2015:Ireland won 19-9 in Dublin 2014:England won 13-10 in London 2013:England won 12-6 in Dublin 2012:England won 30-9 in London 2011:England won 20-9 in Dublin 2011:Ireland won 24-8 in Dublin 2010:Ireland won 20-16 in London 2009:Ireland won 14-13 in Dublin 2008:England won 33-10 in London 2007:Ireland won 43-13 in Dublin
England:15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler. Replacements:16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Sam Burgess.
Ireland:15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath Replacements:16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Tadhg Furlong, 18 Nathan White, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Darren Cave
Date:Saturday, September 5 Venue:Twickenham Stadium, London Kick-Off:14:30 local Referee:Nigel Owens (Wales) Assistant referees:Romain Poite (France), Leighton Hodges (Wales) Television match official:Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
The Northern Hemisphere has started there warm-up to next months World Cup in England with Ireland getting over Wales this past weekend in a warm-up match 35-21.
The score actually flatters the Wales team in the first warm-up contest for the European sides was expected to be disjointed but Ireland were rarely at fault.
This meeting was never about the result but even so, Ireland racing out to a 25-0 lead away in Cardiff could not be sniffed at.
Joe Schmidt will have been encouraged by his team’s patient approach to keeping the ball in hand and the performances of an energetic Keith Earls after his two-year absence. Jamie Heaslip, the Irish captain, was outstanding.
The only sour notes for the Six Nations champions were the withdrawal of Andrew Trimble after 35 minutes and then seeing Tommy O’Donnell stretchered off after a long pause in play.
The Munster flanker enjoyed a yet another strong outing and any serious injury at this stage, as it would be for any player, will be a real shame.
Wales were another story, turning out in a new kit but with four new caps in their starting XV including three players 21 or under.
What will Warren Gatland have learned? His side looked very much like a patchwork outfit and while the scoreline is of minimal importance, the number of mistakes in terms of Wales’ handling and execution were disappointing.
There were flashes of promise rather than concrete arguments.
Ireland’s early experience told as they kept their composure by sucking in Welsh defenders to the ruck area after Dan Baker’s poor pass had the home side scrambling backwards.
The visitors created space out wide for captain Heaslip to simply jog over for the first try, his easiest yards in an industrious outing for the Irish captain who looked at his best.
He was followed in by an equally simple score for Darren Cave when the Ulster back went over off the first phase of a scrum right by the posts – Wales’ defence leaving plenty to be desired.
Paddy Jackson, after a surprising miss early on but a successful penalty, made no mistake with his second conversion to make it 15-0 to Ireland after 22 minutes. Dangerous signs for Wales, whose ball retention was sorely lacking compared to their opponents.
The return of Earls and Trimble always meant Ireland had added experience with the two combining for Ireland’s third try – a thumping tackle from Trimble loosening the ball for Earls to swoop up and race away.
It might have quickly been four had Scott Williams not stopped Trimble in the corner after a break from Felix Jones, with the full-back and winger then nearly combining again only for Eli Walker to time his burst out of the defensive line well enough to disrupt the final pass. Jackson instead added a second penalty, making it 25-0.
Wales at last hit back through a smart lineout move taken by Dan Baker at the front with Justin Tipuric looping around to send Richard Hibbard over in the corner.
It looked to be a shot in the arm for the young side as Hallam Amos grew in confidence running from full-back before threading a grubber down the touchline for Walker to chase. However he couldn’t ground the ball despite an impressive acrobatic dive, with Wales down by 18 points at the break.
More bad luck followed when Ross Moriarity was sin-binned after the interval for a swinging arm on Simon Zebo, who appeared to be slipping as the contact was made and was left dazed while referee Glen Jackson made his decision.
The wing recovered to dot down in the corner with a low dive after sustained Irish pressure close to the Wales line, extending their lead to 30-7.
Zebo was on hand for Ireland’s next five-pointer, a beautiful miss-pass cutting out the Welsh defence to put Jones over in the corner again as Ireland exploited their man advantage. Everything about the move, from Heaslip’s line-breaking carry to the controlled passing, was top class.
Chris Henry’s yellow card only shortly after his arrival off the bench at least gave Wales extra space to attack and they eventually made it count with a some find handling open up the defence. Tipuric’s pass set it off and the flanker was on hand to round off the move for a second Welsh try, making it 35-14 with the home side’s best moment of the match.
There was still time for Alex Cuthbert to grab the latest of conslation tries in the corner but it was far too late to affect the result, with Schmidt no question the happier of the two coaches as the two sides’ World Cup preparations continue before they meet again in Dublin in three weeks time.
CJ Stander became the first non-Irishman to win Munster’s Player of the Year award and qualifies to play for Ireland after the World Cup. GERRY THORNLEY reports.
The list of Munster’s overseas players is fairly impressive. From John Langford to CJ Stander and all the others in between, be it Jim Williams, Trevor Halstead, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, Jean de Villiers, Christian Cullen and Doug Howlett. In one respect, though, Stander tops them all, for he is the first overseas player to be named Munster’s Player of the Year.
You read that list to him and he laughs.
‘I spoke to Dougie afterwards and he was like, “Ah man, I wish I’d got it.” Yeah, it was unbelievable.
‘When I got nominated by the team I thought “it’s great to be nominated”, but the public then voted and you had Tommy O’Donnell from Tipperary and Billy Holland from Cork. It just shows the supporters have been behind me since the day I arrived and have always backed me.
‘It was an honour for me and my family,’ Stander adds. ‘My dad [Jannie, who played on the wing for SWD and is a big Bulls supporter] phoned me after the awards ceremony and he was crying. My parents are big Munster supporters and it’s all they talk about. They want to be proud of their son.’
The turning point for Stander was the European Cup quarter-final against Toulouse at Thomond Park in March last year. He expected another 20-minute cameo off the bench, but an injury to Peter O’Mahony in the first quarter saw Stander propelled into the match and his phenomenal carrying, poaching at the breakdown and defensive work – decorated with a try – ensured he won the Man of the Match award.
‘From then I just kept on playing, game after game. That’s when I play my best. Previously I had just played 20 minutes or started one game and was then off for two weeks. In that Toulouse game I got my chance and I took it, and it was a great match,’ he says of Munster’s stunning 47-23 win over the four-time champions.
‘I wasn’t supposed to start in the semi-final, but Donnacha Ryan’s foot wasn’t right. The real first start for me, when I knew from the Monday, was the first European Cup game this season against the Sale Sharks.’
Stander feels more comfortable in himself now, more at home in Limerick with his wife Jean-Marie and more assured of his place in Munster.
‘I felt at home from the beginning, but I feel more a part of the team now. If I want to add something to a conversation or a meeting, I can do so and feel confident about it. That’s down to the boys and coaches keeping faith in me. It’s great to feel part of something that’s bigger than just rugby.’
When Munster coach Anthony Foley – helpfully for Stander an outstanding and intelligent Test No 8 in his day – spoke of his first-choice loose trio recently, Stander was name-checked along with their captain Peter O’Mahony and last season’s Player of the Year, Tommy O’Donnell.
‘He’s hugely important to us,’ said O’Mahony. ‘He’s blossomed. He’s really bought into Munster and what it’s all about, and I’d say he’s more Munster than a lot of us in the change room before games. He’s a really strong personality and he’s been unbelievable over the past season or two for us.’
Stander’s ball-carrying and try-scoring exploits are his trademark, but he has also improved his work rate and defence.
‘His ball-carrying is incredible,’ says O’Mahony. ‘He’s not just a lump of a man either, he has lovely hands when he wants to use them and he’s a great footballer. He’s hugely powerful so he’s a great asset to have.’
Back in South Africa, to his and his family’s frustration, only Munster’s European Cup games are televised, and not their Celtic Pro12 games.
‘It seems like they forget about me in South Africa but then I have one or two European games and they say, “Oh yeah, he’s still good”. It’s tough for my family, because they only see me play five or six times a year. I thought it would be different when Sky began covering the Pro12. It’s a shame but it’s one of those things.’
The topic of World Rugby’s three-year residency rule has become a hot one, not least due to Stander being part of the heavy traffic from South Africa to Ireland as ‘special projects’ with a view to becoming Irish internationals.
Richardt Strauss and Robbie Diack have preceded him and Stander qualifies for Ireland after the World Cup.
‘There are also a lot of players coming from New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific islands. It’s a big debate in South Africa, where they are asking, ‘‘Why are they taking our talent?”’
Like most young South African players, Stander grew up dreaming of representing the Springboks one day, but now does not disguise his excitement at the prospect of one day representing his adopted country – and wearing the green of Ireland rather than the green of South Africa – without in any way being presumptuous.
The way Stander sees it, he simply wouldn’t be the player he is now if he had stayed in South Africa.
‘I thought I was a good player when I left the Bulls, but I was actually average. When I got here Munster took me under their wing. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t playing, but they had a plan and it’s going well now.
‘They transformed me into the player I am now, so I owe a lot of people here everything. I want to play as well as I can for Munster and if the chance comes to represent Ireland, I’ll grab it.’
SARugbymag.co.za looks back at the past weekend’s English Premiership, Celtic Pro12 and French Top 14 matches, which involved South African players.
ENGLISH PREMIERSHIP (final)
– Saracens, led by former Sharks lock Alistair Hargreaves, were crowned English Premiership champions after defeating Bath 28-16 at Twickenham. Inside centre Brad Barritt and tighthead prop Petrus du Plessis started alongside Hargreaves for Sarries, while former Boks Schalk Brits and Neil de Kock were used from the 54th and 56th minutes respectively. Bok flank Francois Louw starred for Bath, albeit in a losing cause.
FRENCH TOP 14 (qualifier play-offs)
– Stade Français progressed to the Top 14 semi-finals following a 38-15 victory over city rivals Racing Métro. Bok flyhalf Morné Steyn pulled the strings for the hosts, ending with a personal tally of 28 points (eight penalties and two conversions). Prop Heinke van der Merwe also starred for the victors in the scrums, while Jono Ross and Meyer Bosman completed the match 23. No 8 Antonie Claassen and flank Bernard le Roux earned starting berths for Racing, while lock Francois van der Merwe and prop Brian Mujati played from the 62nd minute.
CELTIC PRO12 (final)
– The Glasgow Warriors, with wing DTH van der Merwe, No 8 Josh Strauss and prop Rossouw de Klerk in their ranks, beat Munster 31-13 to clinch their maiden title. Van der Merwe’s rich try-scoring form continued, with the speedster going over for one of four five-pointers in the final. Former Vodacom Bulls eighthman CJ Stander and ex-Sharks prop BJ Botha turned out for Munster, who were overwhelming favourites before the final.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP (qualification play-off)
– Bordeaux-Bègles secured a place in next season’s Champions Cup, courtesy of a last-gasp drop goal which handed them a dramatic 23-22 win over Gloucester. Scrumhalf Heini Adams and locks Berend Botha and Jandré Marais represented Bordeaux, who fought back from 16-0 down to win the qualification play-off.
Leinster back-row Shane Jennings will captain the Barbarians against Ireland at Thomond Park on Thursday.
Jennings retires from the professional game in the coming weeks after a distinguished career in which he has won 13 caps for Ireland, PRO12 and European Cup titles for Leinster and a Premiership title with Leicester Tigers.
He captains a starting side containing nine different nationalities with 466 international appearances between them.
It includes his Leinster team-mates Zane Kirchner and Jimmy Gopperth with Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar also starting for the famous invitation club celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
Jennings said: “It’s an honour to lead out such an illustrious team. It’s a great highlight in my career and we’ll be determined to do the Barbarians’ jersey justice against Ireland.”
Head coach Robbie Deans has assembled a side with a sharp cutting edge containing the likes of Toulon’s leading try scorer David Smith, New Zealand’s Joe Rokocoko and British and Irish Lions wing Alex Cuthbert in the back-line.
Lions tighthead prop Adam Jones anchors a scrum containing a powerful second-row combination in Uruguay’s Rodrigo Capo Ortega and Georgia’s Konstantin Mikautadze.
Japan’s Ryu Koliniasi Holani is a dynamic number eight from Deans’ club side Panasonic Wild Knights.
Barbarians: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Joe Rokocoko, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 David Smith, 10 James Gopperth, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Gerhard Vosloo, 6 Shane Jennings (c), 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Roberto Tejerizo. Replacements: 16 David Ward, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Matias Diaz, 19 George Whitelock, 20 George Smith, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Gio Aplon.
The defending champion Saints lost just one match at Franklin’s Gardens this season, while Bath’s only defeat at the Recreation Ground was against Northampton who took top place on the standings.
Northampton will be up against Saracens, who secured their semifinal place with a resounding victory over the winless London Welsh last week.
It is Saracens’ sixth successive semifinal, while for the Saints it will be number seven in a row.
Bath are up against Leicester Tigers who beat a depleted Northampton team in their East Midlands derby last week.
The home side have won their last six consecutive matches, so they will go into this one full of confidence as they seek to make their first final since 2004.
We take a closer look at both games:
Northampton Saints v Saracens
(Franklins Gardens – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Defending Premiership champions Northampton Saints have reached a sixth successive semifinal, three of which have been at home.
The Saints were defeated 14-22 at Leicester last Saturday but have not lost successive matches in the tournament for 13 months.
Northampton are the second best home side in the Premiership having equalled Bath in obtaining 47 league points from their 11 encounters. The Saints only loss at Franklin’s Gardens in their last 14 games was to Exeter in November. This is Northampton’s seventh Premiership semifinal, losing the first five but winning the last two, at Saracens and at home to Leicester.
Saracens have also reached a sixth successive Premiership semifinal with their 68-17 victory over London Welsh on Saturday ending a sequence of two successive losses in the tournament.
Saracens record in previous Premiership semifinals is an even won three, lost three, whilst these two foes have met in seven previous semifinals in all tournaments over the years, with the Saints having a slight edge by four wins to three, although Saracens knocked Northampton out of the Anglo-Welsh Cup at this stage in March.
The Saints have won their last three Premiership matches against Saracens whilst the Londoner’s only victory in their last six encounters with the East Midlanders was 28-24 at Allianz Park in April 2014.
2015: Northampton won 25-20 at Stadium MK
2014: Northampton won 31-24 at Allianz Park
2014: Northampton won 24-20 at Twickenham
2014: Saracens won 28-24 at Allianz Park
2013: Northampton won 41-20 at Franklin’s Gardens
2013: Northampton won 27-13 at Allianz Park
Prediction: Northampton did not top the log for nothing, and although Saracens should give them a good game the Saints should come out on top by about five points.
Northampton Saints: TBC
Referee: Gregory Garner
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce, Matthew Carley
TMO: Sean Davey
Bath v Leicester Tigers
(Recreation Ground – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)
The Recreation Ground becomes the tenth different venue to host a Premiership semifinal, as Bath reach their first play-off since 2010 and are hoping to play in their first Premiership Final since 2004.
Bath have won their last six Premiership matches since their 6-16 defeat at Exeter in February and have not won seven in a row since season 2009/10.
Bath have the best home record in the tournament having attained 47 league points from their eleven encounters, with their only defeat at The Rec in the competition this season coming against table topping Northampton in Round 15.
Bath have played in three previous Premiership semifinals, in successive years between 2008 and 2010, but lost them all. Bath did however beat Wasps 24-18 at Adams Park in last season’s semifinal of the Challenge Cup.
Leicester Tigers have reached the play-off stages for an 11th successive season with their only reversal in the last nine rounds of the Premiership coming at Saracens in Round 19.
There have been 21 previous Premiership semifinal matches with only four being won by away sides: Leicester at Gloucester in 2008, London Irish at Harlequins in 2009, Saracens at Northampton in 2010 and Saints at Saracens in 2013. The East Midlander’s only reversal in a Premiership semifinal came at this stage last season at Franklin’s Gardens.
Argentine prop Marcos Ayerza insists there would be no better way for Leicester Tigers to answer their critics for the season than by securing their place in the Premiership Final and going all the way to lift the trophy.
The Tigers endured a difficult start to the campaign, suffering three defeats in their opening five games – including a record 45-0 loss at the Rec, the ground they will visit in Saturday’s semifinal clash with Bath.
But a run of eight wins from their last nine Premiership matches saw Richard Cockerill’s men secure their 11th consecutive top-four finish, with Ayerza playing a crucial role in the 22-14 success over Northampton Saints on the final day.
And the Argentinian loosehead, who has made 14 league appearances this season, admits there will be an added incentive when they travel to the scene of their lowest Premiership ebb.
“It has hasn’t always been an easy season for us as a club with quite a few injuries and some tough results, but to finish third and make it all the way to the semifinals was huge,” Ayerza said.
“I think after some questions were asked about the players and the coaches, to make it all the way this year would be a massive thing for us to do.
“It feels like some people have been waiting for us to fail, so it would be nice for the supporters and everyone at Leicester to answer those questions.
“Obviously we are very happy to have made it through and set up another big match, but we know we have not done anything yet.”
2015: Leicester won 17-8 at Welford Road
2014: Bath won 45-0 at Recreation Ground
2014: 27-27 draw at Welford Road
2013: Bath won 27-20 at Recreation Ground
2013: Bath won 27-26 at Recreation Ground
2012: Leicester won 17-12 at Welford Road
Prediction: Leicester have got their tails up and should provide a stern test, but Bath are on home turf and should win by about three points.
Glasgow Warriors take on Ulster at Scotstoun on Friday in the first of the two games, in a repeat of the last round action where the sides met in Scotland.
Ulster head coach Neil Doak has rung the changes since their loss to Gregor Townsend’s men last week, making 11 changes from the side that went down to the Warriors.
Ten internationals come back into a side that boasts 304 Test caps, with only Louis Ludik, Ricky Lutton, Lewis Stevenson and Chris Henry retained from the starting XV that played last Saturday.
Glasgow Warriors are unbeaten at home since November 2013, and coach Townsend has made just two personnel changes and one positional switch to the side which defeated Ulster.
Coming into the side is scrumhalf Henry Pyrgos while Niko Matawalu moves from scrumhalf to the left wing in place of Sean Lamont.
In the forwards Fraser Brown returns to the line-up after recovering from a hamstring injury and he replaces Dougie Hall at hooker.
In the second play-off fixture Musnter take on the in-form Ospreys, and Munster fullback Felix Jones is understandably wary the Welshmen as they look to make it three wins on the bounce over the Irish province.
“They [Ospreys] are an impressive side with talent right across the pitch including some world class Welsh internationals,” said Jones.
“They are a proven side who have already beaten us twice this season and are themselves unlucky not to have a home semifinal, it could very easily have been us travelling over there this weekend.
“Things will be very tight again at Thomond Park.”
We look at the semifinals!
Glasgow Warriors have reached a fourth successive play-off encounter, and their second in a row at Scotstoun. The Warriors were the only side during the Pro12 regular season to have a 100 percent winning record at home and have won their last 19 matches at Scotstoun in the tournament since Newport Gwent Dragons won there in November 2013.
The Scotsmen’s only defeat in the last six rounds of Pro12 play came at Ospreys in Round 21. This match is Glasgow’s seventh at a semifinal stage in major competitions, with their solitary victory being over Munster at Scotstoun in this equivalent encounter last season.
This is Ulster’s third successive appearance in the play-offs, progressing on to the final only in 2013 when they overcame Scarlets in Belfast at this stage. The Ulstermen’s last six away games in all competitions have resulted in three wins and three losses. Ulster have reached this stage eight times previously in all major tournaments, where their record is an even won four, lost four.
Ulster’s only victory in their last five fixtures with the Warriors was 29-9 at Kingspan Stadium in Round 6 this season, whilst Ulster have been victorious just once at Scotstoun since the Warriors moved there in 2012: 19-8 in a pool game in the European Cup in October 2012. The Ulstermen have won two previous knockout games in Glasgow, beating the Warriors in a Celtic League quarterfinal game in 2002 and a Celtic Cup semifinal clash a year later, with both fixtures being played at Hughenden.
2015: Glasgow Warriors won 32-10, Glasgow
2014: Ulster won 29-9, Belfast
2014: Glasgow Warriors won 27-9, Glasgow
Prediction: Glasgow finished top of the table after the regular season, and are in sublime form with coach Gregor Townsend recently named Pro12 coach of the year. More importantly, Glasgow have not lost at home since November 2013, and are coming off a victory over Ulster just last week. The Irish province has hit the panic-button with Doak making 11 changes to his side. Glasgow will keep the ball rolling and win by 12.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Al Kellock (Captain), 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Mike Cusack, 19 Leone Nakarawa, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Duncan Weir, 22 Sean Lamont, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry (captain), 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rory Best (C), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart McCloskey, 23 Mike Allen.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Munster are unbeaten in their last five Pro12 encounters, a run which has seen them now reach the play-off stage in five of the last six seasons, although none of those encounters have been played at Thomond Park since 2011. The Munstermen have won only one of their last nine semifinal appearances in all tournaments since 2008: 18-11 over Ospreys in Limerick in the Pro12 in May 2011.
Ospreys have won their last six Pro12 matches since drawing 9-9 at home to Leinster in February. The Welshmen have won their last three away games in the tournament, and have never won four in a row on the road in the history of the competition. This is Ospreys first appearance in the play-offs since 2012 with their two most recent appearances at this stage both being against Munster, losing in Limerick in 2011 but exacting revenge at Liberty Stadium a year later.
Ospreys achieved the Pro12 double over Munster during the regular season, being only one of two sides to have defeated Munster on their own ground this season – the other was Edinburgh in Round 1. Ospreys last four visits to Thomond Park have resulted in two victories, one draw and just one defeat.
2015: Ospreys won 26-12, Swansea
2014: Ospreys won 19-14, Limerick
2014: Munster won 25-11, Swansea
Predicition: Ospreys have had the better of Munster in the previous two encounters, including a victory in Limerick, which does count in their favour. However Munster managed to sneak a home semifinal at the death of Round 22, and no team has ever won a Pro12 semifinal away from home in the history of the competition. In that respect, Munster will take it by 3.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Ian Davies (Wales)
Toulon made European history with a rollercoaster 24-18 triumph over Clermont at Twickenham for their third-straight European title.
Brilliant individual tries from first Nick Abendanon and then Drew Mitchell made this one of the great European finals. But once again it was Toulon’s day.
No other club side except for the Crusaders of 1998 to 2000 have ever achieved this much success at this level. One European title already felt like an excellent return on Mourad Boudjellal’s level of investment. Now they have three.
Bernard Laporte spoke about Jonny Wilkinson being the inspiration for Toulon but winning this title without him will actually benefit the club in the long-term, whatever the future holds with Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams and their captain Carl Hayman bowing out.
Until someone equals their incredible feat of three straight European titles, they will be remembered as arguably the greatest European side of all time. It’s inscribed in the silverware after all.
Clermont two years ago were overall the better side in Dublin, yet fell short of the trophy as they have so often in their history with ten runners-up finishes in the Top 14.
It took Clermont three losses in a Top 14 Final before they eventually cracked the nut in 2010, going through agony before the triumph. Saturday was nothing new, but it won’t have hurt any less, especially after Abendanon’s brilliant try.
With collisions worthy of a Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard and a high skill level that you’d expect with two XVs full of internationals, the first Champions Cup Final did not disappoint.
Neither side lacked experience by any measure and yet the nerves were there in abundance in the opening stanza.
Clermont’s willingness to play wide almost brought instant reward when Napolioni Nalaga was put away by Abendanon, but unlike in 2013 when he finished in the corner, this time Bryan Habana had his number.
Losing Brock James shortly before kickoff was a nightmare but his replacement Camille Lopez tried to stamp his authority on the game with a snap drop goal near to the posts.
Hayman’s chargedown in fact placed his side further on the back foot and the tighthead was then penalised at the scrum to allow Lopez his first points with a penalty.
Clermont’s ambition wasn’t in doubt but when they kicked they do so accurately and with purpose, winning a second kickable penalty for Lopez when Leigh Halfpenny was isolated clearing up at the back for his side.
Toulon desperately needed territory and on a rare foray into Clermont’s 22 they were rewarded when Halfpenny struck with a penalty.
The way Wesley Fofana carried the ball in two hands and hit lines against the angle continually made Toulon hesitate, so it was fitting that the France centre grabbed the first try to the delight of his travelling fans.
Fofana had too much speed after scooping up a blocked kick and sprinting down the touchline to make it 11-3.
Toulon’s scrum more than recovered from that early penalty near their own line by winning one of their own deep in Clermont territory, with Halfpenny converting to cut the gap.
The Wales full-back’s move to Toulon hinged on him giving the Top 14 champions a kicker of the highest quality and his up and under set Toulon up for another penalty. He rarely misses.
That accuracy goes well with Toulon’s ability to strangle penalties out of their opponents, Kayser again the culprit, but this time Halfpenny couldn’t find the posts.
Mathieu Bastareaud however made sure his team led at the break, crashing over as only he can out wide after Toulon opened things up with the ball in hand after Abendanon’s careless kick to take a 16-11 advantage into half-time.
From trailing throughout the first half Toulon suddenly held all the cards. Another try, perhaps, and Clermont would have too much to do.
Steffon Armitage certainly felt that way when he bumped back Abendanon with a thundering carry, but Giteau’s final pass with numbers on his outside was uncharacteristically poor.
Toulon though held a firm grip on Clermont’s lineout with the steals racking up as the errors racked up. Noa Nakaitaci’s mistake was as much mental as physical, throwing the ball away after he mishandled a bouncing kick.
It was mindless and Halfpenny punished him, making it 19-11 to the sounds of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
An eight-point lead can feel like double that in a cup final but Clermont had to keep playing, keep trying to breakthrough Toulon’s red defensive wall.
Every hesitant carry from Clermont though was begging for Toulon to turn them over, with Armitage and his team-mates winning penalties when required.
Starting to work their big ball carriers through the narrow channels, Toulon oozed confidence and with every attack threatened to kill off Clermont’s hopes for good heading into the final quarter.
They needed magic and Abendanon, whose error before half-time led to Bastareaud’s try, supplied a moment of astonishing brilliance.
The former England man chipped over the defence after Habana’s hashed clearance and collected a perfect bounce to stroll over and score in front of the Clermont faithful. The conversion from Lopez both made it a one-point game and blew the contest wide open at 19-18.
Ali Williams had the chance to crush Clermont’s resistance but he knocked on trying to ground the ball right in the corner after Toulon again dominated the restart.
Williams’ error might have been a sign that this was at last to be Clermont’s day, but Mitchell burned that concept down with a magical solo try.
The former Wallaby skipped his way through six tacklers with hip-jinking, swerving run ten minutes from time in a moment to match Abendanon’s brilliance.
Crucially, the missed conversion left Clermont with some hope at 24-18 down, with Mike Delany’s cut up the middle once again drawing a roar from the men in yellow. Again though, Toulon’s breakdown work was too good.
Clermont would get one more chance, a scrum penalty kicked for touch only for Delany to miss. Another twist in an increasingly crazy tale.
With a minute left, Clermont camped in Toulon’s 22, needing a try for victory. They couldn’t find an answer, a penalty for taking out Habana in the air signalling the end. And history of the highest order for Toulon.
What a final.
For Clermont: Tries: Fofana, Abendanon Cons: Lopez Pens: Lopez 2
For Toulon: Tries: Bastareaud, Mitchell Cons: Halfpenny Pens: Halfpenny 4
An historic treble or a long-awaited first title – whatever happens on Saturday history will be made in the first Champions Cup Final.
For the second time in three seasons, Clermont take on Toulon in Europe’s biggest game, with the two French heavyweights providing a contrast of philosophies both on and off the field.
Until now Toulon have been the more successful, as they gear up for a seventh straight major final, an almost unprecedented run of success that has seen them collect two Heineken Cups and a Top 14 title.
Clermont meanwhile have had to settle for the title of the best team never to win Europe’s top competition. They finally won a first Top 14 title at the tenth attempt in 2010, but it’s scant reward for almost a decade where they can justifiably claim to have been one of the continent’s three or four best teams every season.
While the contrast in playing styles are intriguing, it’s the clubs’ approaches off the field which are almost moreso.
Toulon, led by their brash, outspoken president Mourad Boudjellal, often characterised as the ‘Chequebook Charlies’. There is clearly some truth to that, with a team packed full of World Cup winners, Super Rugby champions and pretty much every other major title you could hope for.
What they have done so well though, is to rejuvenate careers that seemed in permanent decline. Juan Smith might be the most obvious example, having come back from injury-enforced retirement to score a try in last year’s triumph over Saracens.
But there are many others. Wallaby saviour Matt Giteau was persona non grata when he left Australia, while Ali Williams looked a spent force for most of his last two seasons in New Zealand.
The Toulon side is packed with big names, but their ability to extend the careers of those stars deserves a lot of credit. The latest addition to the backroom staff was Paul Stridgeon, the highly-rated English conditioning coach who has worked with both England and the Lions.
He will have a big job on Saturday, with Toulon having struggled in the second half of games for much of 2015, but what the veterans might lack in energy late on, they will make up for in experience of pressure situations.
Of course arguably the biggest of their big game players will be watching from the sidelines this season, so Toulon will be eager to prove they can keep winning without Sir Jonny.
Clermont aren’t lacking experience of their own, but their development and recruitment set-up is in stark contrast to their opponents.
Often lumped in with Toulon as a financial powerhouse, Clermont certainly aren’t short of money, but their star-studded side is a product of shrewd recruitment and ability to develop players once they arrive.
A look at their starting line-up shows that only Julien Bonnaire and Jonathan Davies were tier one international regulars when they arrived, with Morgan Parra on his way.
The rest show how Clermont can take relatively unheralded individuals and turn them into key contributors.
Beyond academy products like Wesley Fofana and Noa Nakaitaci, the rest come from a variety of different backgrounds with no stars. Benjamin Kayser was second choice at Castres, Davit Zirakashvili playing in the French third division, Jamie Cudmore picked up from relegated Grenoble, even Nick Abendanon had lost his starting spot at Bath before producing a season that has made a mockery of his two measly caps.
Jean-Marc Lhermet, the former French international and Clermont skipper, is the man who has overseen all this and he is already planning for next season with the likes of Flip van der Merwe, Waisake Naholo and Scott Spedding on their way.
So what does all that mean on the pitch?
Well, for all the talk of conservative Toulon using the power of their forward pack, they were arguably outplayed up front by Leinster. Age seems to be catching up with the likes of Bakkies Botha and Carl Hayman, as Boudjellal surprisingly pointed out this week.
Instead it might be the Toulon backs, orchestrated by Giteau, which will hold the key to a third title.
Of course, Clermont have shown just how unstoppable they can be when on form, but they weren’t able to get their three-quarters going against Saracens in the same way they tore Northampton apart.
On occasion this season Toulon have looked desperately naive in defence, most notably when throwing away an 18-0 lead at home to Toulouse. However when their first choice backline is on the field, they are very hard to break down.
Whether Brock James and Camille Lopez can make the space for Fofana and co will go a long way to deciding this one.
2014: Toulon won 27-19 in Nice 2014: Clermont won 22-16 in Clermont 2013: Toulon won 25-19 in Nice 2013: Toulon won 16-15 in Dublin 2013: The sides drew 26-26 in Marseille 2012: Clermont won 24-21 in Clermont 2012: Toulon won 15-12 in Toulouse 2012: Clermont won 25-19 in Clermont
Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Damien Chouly (c), 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Vincent Debaty. Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Clément Ric, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Julien Bardy, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Aurélien Rougerie.
Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman (c), 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci. Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Virgile Bruni, 21 Rudi Wulf, 22 Frédéric Michalak, 23 Romain Taofifenua.
Date: Saturday, 2 May Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London Kick-off: 17:00 local Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales) Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), George Clancy (Ireland) TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
The Rugby Players’ Association has demanded clarity over reports that investigations into salary cap breaches have been droppedreports Planet Rugby
The Times reported on Wednesday that England’s leading clubs voted in February to suspend investigations into possible salary cap breaches to protect the image of the Aviva Premiership.
Saracens and one other club were reportedly the target of the investigations although Sarries owner Nigel Wray has long denied allegations against the club.
Recommended penalties for breaking the salary cap range from four points for a minor breach to 40 points for a breach over £250,000.
Premiership Rugby have insisted no amnesty is in place and confidentiality arrangements prevent disclosure of any ongoing investigation.
But RPA chief executive Damian Hopley has called for more transparency and accountability.
“Everyone buys into the principle of the salary cap, we recognise its worth and the purpose it is serving for English rugby,” Hopley told the Times.
“We’ve had comments from leading players in the Premiership that breaking the salary cap is akin to being on the field with someone who is taking performance-enhancing supplements.
“It’s just not fair. Either you play by the rules or you don’t.
“There is a growing sense of frustration amongst the players. We talk about the values of rugby, well there needs to be mutual respect here about what we are all buying into.
“We want transparency and accountability across everything that we do. As the players are held accountable every weekend in front of the viewers and the fans in the grounds, we want to make sure that is the same across the industry.”
A Premiership Rugby spokesman has denied the allegations that any investigations or findings could be swept under the carpet.
“We don’t make any comment on any salary-cap investigations which might or might not be occurring,” a spokesman toldPress Association Sport on Wednesday.
“But there is no amnesty in place. The salary-cap system is an integral part of Premiership Rugby and has the support of our clubs.”
The European season is heading towards and end with the European Championship getting into the play-off stages.
Toulon will be without two World Cup winners in Bryan Habana and Juan Smith for Sunday’s Champions Cup clash with Wasps.
The Springbok pair have both been out for extended periods but were expected to make their returns for the European quarter-final this weekend.
However they have been ruled out of that game, with Habana still suffering from a meniscus issue, and Smith has a knee problem.
France centre Gaël Fickou looks set to miss the rest of the season after he suffered a knee injury against Toulon on Saturday.
The Toulouse youngster collided with international teammate Mathieu Bastareaud in the first half of the game at the Vélodrome, appearing to be knocked out cold as the pair contested a high ball.
As he fell back to the ground, Fickou’s knee gave way under him, and according to reports in France, his ACL was touched by the incident, although he hasn’t ruptured the ACL.
Former France international Julien Bonnaire will join Lyon next season from Clermont on a two-year deal.
The veteran flanker will leave les Jaunards after eight seasons, moving to relegation strugglers Lyon.
The Pro D2 champions were beaten again yesterday in Montpellier, and currently sit bottom of the Top 14, six points adrift of safety.
Former France lock Julien Pierre will leave Clermont at the end of the season to join likely Top 14 newcomers Pau.
The veteran second row has been at Clermont since 2010 when he arrived from Bourgoin, and established himself for France during that time.
The 33-year-old won a total of 27 international caps and was part of the French team that reached the World Cup final in 2011.
Manu Tuilagi probably won’t play again this season according to his Leicester coach Richard Cockerill.
The England centre has not played since October because of a groin injury and it seems he is still a little way off a return.
While he spent time with England during the Six Nations, Cockerill does not expect him to play again before the end of the season.
However Cockerill believes Tuilagi will have time to earn a spot in England’s World Cup squad during the pre-tournament training camp.
Manu Tuilagi probably won’t play again this season according to his Leicester coach Richard Cockerill.
The England centre has not played since October because of a groin injury and it seems he is still a little way off a return.
While he spent time with England during the Six Nations, Cockerill does not expect him to play again before the end of the season.
However Cockerill believes Tuilagi will have time to earn a spot in England’s World Cup squad during the pre-tournament training camp.
Reigning European champions, Toulon, could make a return to the Stade Vélodrome for their Champions Cup semi-final if they manage to defeat Wasps in Sunday’s crunch quarter-final.
Toulon got the better of Munster in last season’s semi-final at the iconic Marseille stadium which has been completely redeveloped, and they are targeting another big day against either Leinster or Bath as they bid for an historic three European titles in a row.
Leigh Halfpenny will miss Toulon’s Champions Cup quarter-final with Wasps after suffering a concussion playing for Wales.
Halfpenny was forced off in the match against Italy after getting his head on the wrong side in a key tackle on the number eight Samuela Vunisa.
The concussion is Halfpenny’s second in less than 12 months, meaning he must be stood down for three weeks according to reports in France.
That will keep him out of the quarter-final to be played at the Stade Mayol on April 5 in a sizeable setback for the reigning champions.
The referees have been named for this year’s European quarter-finals with George Clancy taking charge of champions Toulon at home to Wasps.
One of the highest-quality weekends of rugby in the northern hemisphere will get underway at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday, 4 April with the Champions Cup quarter-final clash of two former tournament winners, Leinster Rugby and Bath Rugby, which will be refereed by Jérôme Garcès of France.
Leinster v Bath – Jérôme Garcès Clermont v Northampton – John Lacey Racing-Métro v Saracens – Nigel Owens Toulon v Wasps – George Clancy
Gloucester v Connacht – Romain Poite Newport Gwent Dragons v Cardiff Blues – JP Doyle Exeter v Newcastle – Marius Mitrea London Irish v Edinburgh – Pascal Gauzère
The Dragons have announced that flankers Lewis Evans and Nic Cudd have committed their futures to the Welsh region for another two seasons.
Evans came up through the Dragons age grades and went on to play for Welsh Premiership sides Ebbw Vale and Newport RFC, before making his debut for the Men of Gwent in 2006 against the Scarlets. He also has international caps from his time with Wales Sevens and the U20s.
New deal for Lambert
Harlequins have announced that loosehead prop Mark Lambert has signed an extension to his deal, which will keep him at the club until 2017.
The prop has spent his entire career at Harlequins, having graduated from the Academy in 2007. He has since gone on to play over 160 games.
Lambert represented England at Under 19 and Under 21 level and he was also called up for the England Saxons during the 2009 Churchill Cup
Warriors wing off to Scarlets
Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe will leave Glasgow at the end of the season to join Guinness Pro12 rivals the Scarlets.
The club’s leading try scorer will bring to an end a six-year spell in Glasgow when he moves to the Welsh region.
Jennings to retire
Ireland and Leinster back row Shane Jennings will retire at the end of the season, he has announced today.
The 33-year-old has made more than 200 appearances for Leinster, helping them to three Heineken Cup titles during that time.
He also spent time with Leicester Tigers during a two-year spell away from Dublin.
Saints prop gets two-week ban
Northampton Saints prop Salesi Ma’afu has been suspended for two weeks for striking Tom Court last Friday.
The former Wallaby prop was found guilty of striking the London Irish front row during the clash between the sides at Franklin’s Gardens which saw both players sin-binned.
Pape cited for Heaslip knee
Pascal Papé faces a spell on the sidelines after being cited for his knee on Jamie Heaslip on Saturday.
The French second row received a yellow card for the incident where he appeared to knee Heaslip in the back as he joined a maul.
Three things I learnt this weekend by Benedict Chanakira
The Cheetahs and Stormers proved the world over wrong (Just this weekend at least). They travelled to tough venues and managed to get results, with the Cheetahs managing a bonus point win. The Sharks will need to improve and offer a reaction next week against a Lions side that butchered their own chances.
The Bulls and the Sharks got out the blocks very slow and for their sake I hope they like Usain Bolt. Slow take off, blistering finish. Its early days but the South Africans look a log rustier than their counterparts. Could the Champions come from Africa?
Lots of work to be done by all the franchises but for this week, give Naka a toast!! The injuries are also starting to flood in already.
The Six Nations is shaping up to be one mean competition. Wales managed to bounce back from that English defeat at home to narrowly win in Edinburgh.
Glen Jackson wass poor but the Scottish made a fair-few poor decisions as well. Vern Cotter continues to improve this side but they lack that finishing edge. The English continue to march on as they may have to finish off with the Irish decider to decide who will win the Six Nations.
Ireland have managed to win their opening games as well and the goal difference could yet play a part. Logic however tells me this tournament is still open. In a Rugby World Cup year England have managed to seal the deal in this tournament and look set to do the same.
They continue to highlight their depth and with a full strength squad will be a force. France continued to struggle as they managed the solitary try all tournament. The French public are losing hope and will be hoping there are some changes if they are to emulate their 2011 season. Italy fought well, started superbly, finished superbly but in the middle it was all the same.
Fresh from surprising many in Cardiff, but not themselves, England will look to keep their foot on the gas against Italy this Saturday.
Stuart Lancaster has the luxury of being able to select an unchanged starting XV and bench, buoyed by the performance of so many of England’s young players and returning veterans against Wales. The list of those in the infirmary doesn’t feel as vital as it did a week ago.
Two of those fresh players, Jonathan Joseph and George Kruis, start at Twickenham for the first time representing their country, while Nick Easter and Danny Cipriani, should they be called from the bench, will end exiles of four and six years respectively away from England’s home turf.
Italy will always threaten sides with power rather pace. Shifting the Wasps back Andrea Masi into inside centre will give the visitors reliable distribution and a handy running threat, while Luke McLean has always seemed better suited to roaming into space from full-back.
The onus though is on Kelly Haimona to fire Italy’s backline into life. Parisse and co. upfront can test England’s defensive line, but too often with Italy there isn’t enough skill and guile out wide to exploit any opportunities.
Haimona currently has the nod over Tommaso Allan, although the youngster looked sharp off the bench against Ireland. The pressure for the shirt will hopefully see Haimona fire Italy into life. It’s a big ask.
For England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 George Kruis, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler. Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.
For Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi. Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giulio Bisegni.
France versus Ireland (“Live” on SS6 at 18:40)
The cavalry returns for Ireland as they seek to beat France for the first time in the new Aviva Stadium.
While Philippe Saint-André is still to beat Ireland as a coach, having never lost to them as a player, les Bleus arrive in Dublin having not lost in the Irish capital since 2009.
This weekend, France will have to beat what is more or less a full-strength Irish side on paper, on the pitch it remains to be seen just how match fit Jonny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip really are.
As well as their replacements played last week in the 26-3 win over Italy, with Tommy O’Donnell particularly impressive, the presence of those three returning Lions, as well as Cian Healy on the bench, gives Joe Schmidt’s side a more formidable look.
France, by contrast, have made just one change to the team that struggled past Scotland 15-8, Eddy Ben Arous replacing the injured Alexandre Menini.
It was a vote of confidence from Saint-André, and after all the criticism he has taken for chopping and changing, a little continuity might end up doing the team some good.
Last week les Bleus were under the cosh for most of the first half, struggling to cope with the speed on the outside of the Scottish three-quarters, but after the break they got their maul going, and monopolised possession with some ferocious work at the breakdown.
Those are two of the traditional strengths of the Irish, and the ruck battle will be key, as will which team gets the upper hand in the mauls.
A year ago Ireland picked up a rare win in Paris, but France produced one of their better performances in the tournament and could easily have won on another day.
Given their record in Ireland, they should go in with no fear, even if the Irish are rightly favourites for the game.
The winners of this one will likely be in what looks like a two-horse race for the Championship with England, the losers will be left with a lot of question marks, not least, how will they turn it around before the two sides meet again later this year at the World Cup.
2014: Ireland won 22-20 in Paris 2013: They drew 13-13 in Dublin 2012: They drew 17-17 in Paris 2011: France won 26
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones
Wasps 42-45 Cardiff Blues
London Welsh 15-20 Saracens
Newport Gwent Dragons 30-37 Exeter Chiefs
Newcastle Falcons 39-19 Sale Sharks
Wasps 42-45 Cardiff Blues
Second row Miles Normandale’s match-winning try capped off a crazy game between Wasps and Cardiff Blues in Coventry, with the Welsh region clinching a dramatic win.
Normandale’s score came in the 83rd minute, with Rhys Patchell confirming to make it 45-42, with Wasps desperate defence unable to keep their visitors out.
Wasps had burst out of the blocks, scoring 21 unanswered posts as Will Helu and Thomas Young scored either side of a penalty try won by the home pack.
Two quick-fire tries from the Blues thrust them back into the contest but Wasps had the last word, Sailosi Tagicakibau going over before Young, son of director of rugby Dai, powered over for his second try. Wasps led 35-17 with Cardiff seemingly out of it.
Guy Thompson continued the scoring for the hosts with their sixth try after the break, but from then it was all Cardiff Blues with half an hour to go.
Normandale, Lucas González Amorosino and Seb Davies all scored within nine minutes with Patchell’s conversions meaning only four points separated the two sides, setting up an excruciating finish for the home fans as Normandale struck for the victory.
For Wasps: Tries: Helu, Penalty Try, Young 2, Tagicakibau, Thompson Cons: Lozowski 6
For Cardiff Blues: Tries: Cook, Jones, Normandale 2, González Amorosino, S Davies Cons: Patchell 6 Pen: Patchell
Wasps: 15 Alex Lozowski, 14 Will Helu, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Glyn Hughes, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ed Jackson (c), 5 James Cannon, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tom Lindsay, 1 John Yapp. Replacements: 16 Edd Shervington, 17 Alex Lundberg, 18 Will Taylor, 19 Buster Lawrence, 20 Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas, 21 James Small-Edwards, 22 Tom Howe, 23 Piers O’Conor.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Richard Smith, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Adam Thomas, 11 Lucas González Amorosino, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 James Sheekey, 7 Ellis Jenkins (c), 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Seb Davies, 4 Miles Normandale, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Rhys Williams, 1 Thomas Davies. Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Ben Roach, 20 Jordan Viggers, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Simon Humberstone, 23 Geraint Walsh.
Referee: Thomas Foley (England) Assistant Referees: Andy Watson (England), Philip Watters (England)
London Welsh 15-20 Saracens
London Welsh came within a whisker of their first win of the season against an almost 3rd-string Saracens outfit given their internationals were away and they face the Bulls on Saturday.
Giant number eight Opeti Fonua scored twice for Welsh, with fly-half Tristan Roberts adding the remaining points as they led 15-14 going into the final quarter.
But Saracens wouldn’t be denied, scrum-half Ben Spencer proving to be their hero when he knocked over two penalties in five minutes with time running out for the victory.
Spencer also scored one of his side’s two tries, Jared Saunders getting the other in a memorable victory for Saracens’ youngsters on display.
For London Welsh: Tries: Fonua 2 Con: Roberts Drop Goal: Roberts
London Welsh: 15 Elliot Kear, 14 Alan Awcock, 13 Tom May (c), 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Tristan Roberts, 9 Rob Lewis, 8 Opeti Fonua, 7 Carl Kirwan, 6 Ben Pienaar, 5 James Down, 4 Ben West, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Koree Britton, 1 Nathan Trevett. Replacements: 16 Nathan Morris, 17 Eddie Aholelei, 18 Ben Cooper, 19 Dean Schofield, 20 Richard Thorpe, 21 Alex Davies, 22 Will Robinson, 23 James Lewis.
Saracens: 15 Catalin Fercu, 14 Mike Ellery, 13 Max Wilkins, 12 Threttom Palamo, 11 George Perkins, 10 Nils Mordt (c), 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Nick de Jager, 7 Matt Hankin, 6 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 5 Jack Tredrea, 4 Kennett O’Neil, 3 Biyi Alo, 2 Jared Saunders, 1 Jack Culverhouse. Replacements: 16 Josh Taylor, 17 Ralph Adams-Hale, 18 Ben Featherstone, 19 Hamish Hamilton, 20 James Stockdale, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Henry Staff, 23 Max Malins.
Referee: David Procter (England) Assistant Referees: Simon Harding (England), Roger Baileff (England)
Dragons 32-37 Exeter Chiefs
Exeter Chiefs won away at Rodney Parade on Sunday by running in six tries past their hosts, in another high-scoring contest.
Former Cardiff Blues duo Tom James and Ceri Sweeney played a key role for the Chiefs in Newport as Exeter’s strong first 50 minutes proved to be decisive.
Ahead 30-11 going into the final quarter, the Dragons rallied thanks to tries from replacements Luc Jones and Scott Matthews.
A 74th-minute penalty try for Exeter gave them some breathing room, with Jason Tovey’s score coming too little too late. As a result Exeter make it through to the semi-finals, the first club to do so this season.
For Dragons: Tries: Hill, L Jones, Matthews, Tovey Cons: Prydie 3 Pens: Prydie 2 Yellow Card: Fairbrother
Dragons: 15 Geraint Rhys Jones, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Carl Meyer, 12 Ashley Smith (c), 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Dorian Jones, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Andy Powell, 7 James Benjamin, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Dan Way, 2 Hugh Gustafson, 1 Lloyd Fairbrother. Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Owen Evans, 18 David Young, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Scott Matthews, 21 Luc Jones, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Jack Dixon.
Exeter: 15 Byron McGuigan, 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Adam Hughes, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney (c), 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Sam Skinner, 7 Sam Simmonds, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Will Carrick-Smith, 4 Jerry Sexton, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Brett Sturgess. Replacements: 16 Greg Bateman, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Jack Stanley, 19 Ed Holmes, 20 Joel Conlon, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Laurence May, 23 Max Bodilly.
Newcastle were comfortable winners at home to fellow Premiership side Sale on Sunday, running in five tries at Kingston Park.
Sale were hindered by three yellow cards in the first 44 minutes, at one point going down to 13 men, meaning they never got close to challenging the Falcons lead.
League convert Lee Smith scored two tries as Newcastle kept their hopes of making the semi-finals alive.
For Newcastle: Tries: Rogers, L Smith 2, Kolo’ofai, Furno Cons: Clegg 3, Godman Pens: Clegg 2
For Sale: Try: Fihaki Con: Macleod Pens: Ford 4 Yellow Cards: Fowles, Ford, Nott
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Lee Smith, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 Anitelea Tuilagi, 11 Danny Barnes, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 8 Uili Kolo’ofai, 7 Andy Saull (c), 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Scott MacLeod, 4 Josh Furno, 3 Alex Rogers, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Eric Fry. Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Mark Irving, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Simon Hammersley.
Sale: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Andy Forsyth, 12 Sam Bedlow, 11 Phil Mackenzie, 10 Joe Ford, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliami Fihaki, 7 TJ Ioane, 6 Mark Easter, 5 George Nott, 4 Andrei Ostrikov, 3 Ciaran Parker, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Alberto de Marchi. Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Maxim Cobilas, 18 James Flynn, 19 Nathan Hines, 20 Andy Hughes, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Sam James.
Referee: Rhys Thomas (Wales) Assistant Referees: Robin Goodliffe (England), Roy Maybank (England)
While everybody in the Southern Hemisphere are preparing for the Super Rugby Championship to start in February the men up north are getting to the final stages of the European Championship.
SARugbymag.co.za looks back at the past weekend’s European Champions Cup, European Challenge Cup and Japanese Top League matches, which involved South African players.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP
– Clermont claimed top spot with a 18-6 victory over Saracens at Stade Marcel-Michelin. Lock Alistair Hargreaves, inside centre Brad Barritt and prop Petrus du Plessis started for Sarries, while scrumhalf Neil de Kockand Ernst Joubert were used as impact players from the 54th and 58th minutes respectively. Despite the result, the London-based side also qualified for the knockout stage ahead of Munster and the Sale Sharks.
– Pat Howard scored one of 10 tries as Munster thrashed the Sale Sharks 65-10. Both sides were already out of the running, but it didn’t stop Munster from signing off in style.
– Ashley Johnson‘s Wasps held Richardt Strauss‘s Leinster to a 20-20 draw as both sides booked their places in the last eight. Johnson was sin binned 17 seconds into the match in Coventry for taking out an opponent, which handed Leinster the initiative. But Wasps fought back in the second half to earn a draw.
– Harlequins hammered Castres 47-19 with the hope of sneaking into the quarter-finals. But Wasps’ stalemate at home to Leinster denied the Londoners any chance of progressing further in the competition. Flank Jannie Bornman was named in Castres’ match-day squad and played from the 41st minute.
– Bryan Habana found the tryline once more for Toulon, who easily dispatched the Llanelli Scarlets 26-3. Bok flank Juan Smith started alongside Habana, while Bakkies Botha was introduced in the 55th minute.
– Ruan Pienaar, Franco van der Merwe, Wiehahn Herbst and Rob Herring all featured in Ulster’s shock 26-7 win over the Leicester Tigers. Pienaar added two conversions, while Herbst spent 10 minutes in the sin bin. Lock Sebastian de Chaves was listed as a Tigers reserve. Both sides failed to advance to the last eight.
– Montpellier dumped Toulouse out of the competition with a thrilling 27-26 victory at the Altrad Stadium. Toulouse, with prop Gurthrö Steenkamp in their run-on XV, headed into this clash in pole position, but were pipped at the finish line by their French rivals. Centre Robert Ebersohnstarted in midfield for Montpellier and was later joined by compatriot Pat Cilliers. Scrumhalf Jano Vermaak did service for Toulouse from the 41st minute.
– Bath erased an early deficit to clinch a revenge 20-15 victory over the Glasgow Warriors at the Rec. Francois Louw started on the side of the scrum for the hosts, while wing DTH van der Merwe represented the Warriors. Bath are the only side in this pool to progress to the next round.
– Racing Métro crushed the Northampton Saints 32-8 at Franklin’s Gardens to seal their place atop of this pool and secure a home quarter-final for the first time ever. The Saints, however, did enough in previous rounds to go through to the quarter-finals, as runners-up of Pool 5. Antonie Claassen and Bernard le Roux completed Racing’s loose trio. Lock Francois van der Merwestarted for the victors but went off in the 62nd minute to accommodate compatriot Juandré Kruger. Flyhalf Johan Goosen returned from injury in the 71st minute, while prop Brian Mujatifailed to make an appearance off the bench.
– Benetton Treviso saved their best for last, as they stunned the Neath-Swansea Ospreys 23-20. Lock Corniel van Zyl started and did well for the winners. Centre Hanno Dirksen and lockRynier Bernardo turned out for the Ospreys, but both delivered below-par performances.
Racing Métro vs Saracens
Toulon vs Wasps
Clermont vs Northampton Saints
Leinster vs Bath
This has not been a good weekend for Irish Rugby in the European Champions Cup, which saw Munster and Ulster getting smash by Saracens and Toulon on Saturday.
Saracens hit the first nail into the Irish sides on Saturday when the played Munster of the park in their fifth round fixture. Ashton crossed the try line in both half’s to setup a convincing win for his team.
Munster did get a try back in the second half but it was never enough to beat the English side at home. This is only the second time in 17 years that Munster will not take part in teh later stages of the Championship.
Saracens will have to face Clermont-Auvergne in round six for the pool decider.
In the other Irish fixture defending Champions Toulon thrashed Ulster 60 points to 22 at the Stade Mayol. The champions went on to score eight tries in total with Springbok Brian Habana also crossing the line for his French team. The other tries was scored by flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez, centre Mathieu Bastareaud, prop Martin Castrogiovanni, replacement loose forward Mamuka Gorgodz, and flanker Steffon Armitage (three). Ulster, with Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf, responded with three tries of their own.
The bonus-point win takes Toulon to 18 log points in Pool 3, five ahead of the Leicester Tigers, who outscored the Llanelli Scarlets by six tries to three to win 40-23 at Welford Road on Friday night.
Leinster was the only Irish side that took a step closer to the quarter-finals with a seven-try 50-8 win over Castres at the RDS.
more to follow.……….
The remaining fixtures for Sunday will see Glasgow Warriors take on Montpellier, Toulouse take on Bath, Racing Metro take on Benetton Treviso and Neath-Swansea Ospreys take on Northampton Saints.
Bryan Habana has revealed that he might stay in Toulon for an extra season, citing the club’s ambition as a reason for remaining, reports Planet Rugby
The South African international endured an injury-disrupted first season with the European champions, with a thigh problem ruling him out of large parts of last season.
He recovered in time for the end of the season, where Toulon completed a domestic and European double, and he has enjoyed a fine start to this campaign since returning from the Rugby Championship.
And with Toulon already planning for the future, with the likes of Ma’a Nonu and Samu Manoa among those to have agreed deals, Habana is keen to extend his stay in the South of France.
“I’m happy to be able to play a string of games. I feel good about my rugby and my body is responding well,” Habana told Rugbyrama .
“I’m happy to have avoided injuries, it’s been a while since I’ve felt this good. I even played at centre against Stade Français and that went well for me.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. I want to keep contributing to the success of Toulon.
“At the moment my contract is due to finish in 2016. We’re discussing the possibility of extending my deal for another season. I’m really happy in Toulon, it’s all going well for me here.
“And when you see the new guys coming in, you can see the desire of Bernard (Laporte) and Mourad (Boudjellal) to create a strong team over the long-term. If we can keep winning titles for a little while, that’s fine by me!”
Montpellier have formally unveiled their new coaching staff to be headed up – for now – by former Springbok coach Jake White…report Planet Rugby
The news comes a day after Fabien Galthié was “provisionally stood down” by club President and owner Mohed Altrad.
2007 World Cup-winning coach White has joined the French club as a ‘consultant’ on a six-month contract.
He will be assisted by fellow South African and former Toulouse number eight Shaun Sowerby, who will coach the forwards following the departure of Argentinean Mario Ledesma last month. Sowerby previously was forwards coach at the Southern Kings.
Incumbent backs coach Stéphane Glas is the only member of Galthié coaching staff to escape Altrad’s axe.
The future of Galthié remains unclear with Altrad insisting that he is “still an employee of the club” but the delay in defining his role seems to be a stalling tactic to circumvent French labour law.
He is expected to be formally dismissed at a club meeting on January 9.
L’Equipe quoted a friend of the former French international scrum-half as saying “Galthie has the feeling that they want to make him so disgusted that he leaves and therefore is less costly to them in terms of a pay-out”.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Altrad said he felt that Galthié had failed to communicate properly with management and players alike but stopped short of saying he was fired.
“He is an employee of the club, with a contract that continues,” said Altrad of Galthié’s situation.
“We’ll see how he behaves, what are his plans are.
“A fortnight ago, he was asked to reflect on the future of the club, on the way of working, and come back with plans for the club.
“In the meantime, we can not remain inactive, so we brought in skilled people.”
Altrad also left the door open for Galthié and White to work together.
“It is possible, but we’ll have to see how each of them behaves,” explained the club president.
“For my part, I will try to manage the club as best I can. What I have done in the past is still noteworthy.
“I arrived in 2011, and if you look at the players, there are only three players left. All others are new, there are only stars. Galthié spoke of his ‘Playstation team’ and that was given to him.
“We gave him the means, he was given what he wanted. He said several times that he had never had a president who had given him so much, that he had never had so many stars in his team.
“He has everything he wants, and it’s up to him to do something, to enhance this group to make a team. The addition of stars does not necessarily make a successful team. In terms of size,our squad has nothing to envy of Toulon, Toulouse, Clermont.”
“I want to reiterate that I arrived after him, since he had been recruited by the president in place before me.
“He had all the means necessary,but he has failed. We can not say that his career here was a success.
“Will I want to keep Galthié? Will he want to stay? Will we be able to exist together? I can tell you that I intend to remain at this club a long time. We’ve stumble, it’s human, that’s life.”
Montpellier were beaten 27-9 by bottom club Castres in Top 14 action on Sunday and have won just one of their last nine matches.
They are currently eighth in the table, 13 points behind new leaders Stade Français.