LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Multipower fitness expert Tom Dyer shows us a definite series of exercises that offer an interesting alternative to the more commonly known versions. The second of these exercises is the Bent over reverse dumbbell fly. Throughout the exercise Tom will explain the key movements and timings involved and how to maximise your output. Click here for tip No 1 – Single Legged Dead Lift
Former World Cup Winner and new Bath Academy Director, Danny Grewcock commented: “Club rugby at community level is so important to our game. Barkers Butts in Coventry was my training ground and I saw there how important sponsorship, support and funding is to the success of a club. I loved coming here to Percy Park today to see some of that support put into practice.”And adding to this, former British & Irish Lion, John Bentley commented: “We had a great time today, putting the First XV through their paces! It’s important to recognise that clubs like Percy Park could generate the next England international, so to see SSE coming in with much-needed support for clubs all over England is really encouraging for the growth and success of rugby in England.” SSE will continue to support both Bracknell RFC and Percy Park RFC by supporting them with the resources they need. SSE is committed to supporting rugby clubs around England and will continue to provide them with the tailored support over the coming months to ensure that grass roots rugby stays at the very heart of England.To have your say in SSE’s club rugby support programme and to tell them exactly what your club needs, log on now to www.SSERugby.com. Every respondent gets 10% off at the RFU’s online store, and those who offer greater detailed responses stand a chance of winning tickets to watch England in the 2012 RBS 6 Nations. Only a week later SSE headed to Percy Park RFC in Newcastle with community ambassadors Danny Grewcock and John Bentley to help deliver the good news. The pair put the club’s First XV through their paces in a gruelling training session for 90minutes. SSE provided the club with much needed equipment and funding for a weekly training session for their most promising players. Tom Croft with Bracknell RFCSSE, has launched its National Community Partnership with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) alongside ambassadors, England International Tom Croft, former World Cup winner, Danny Grewcock and former British & Irish Lion, John Bentley. Over the last few weeks, the ambassadors have been busy putting National and Divisional First XV rugby players through their paces and supporting SSE in asking the question, ‘What Clubs Need’.The three year partnership will see SSE invest significantly to support community rugby in England and take on the title sponsorship of the National and Divisional Leagues. Tom Croft headed to Bracknell RFC, which was the first club to be announced as a beneficiary of the additional resources, as SSE contributed to an existing fund for their much-needed flood lights.England flanker and World Cup hopeful Tom Croft enjoyed the event, which brought back memories of his own community rugby background at Newbury RFC before joining the Leicester Tigers academy: “Having grown up in the English club rugby system, I know how much difference any additional support and investment can make to local rugby clubs – especially the smaller clubs in the lower Leagues. It’s great to see SSE taking an interest in the future of the game by investing where it is needed most. That will make all the difference. It certainly has here at Bracknell.” LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
NOT FOR FEATURED In quotes – winnersLeinster coach Joe Schmidt: “I’m proud of the way we stuck at it. It was tough going for the first 60 minutes, but I’m very proud of the way we defended. Brian McLaughlin and David Humphreys have done a good job with this team (Ulster), and I’ve huge respect for them as coaches, and the quality of players they have.“We’re thankful we have til Sunday, it gives us an extra day to get our guys in shape to face the Ospreys. Our supporters were superb today, and we’ve had phenomenal support this season. We wanted to reward them today, and will look to reward them again next week in the RDS.”Back to black: Thorn frustrates AfoaIn quotes – losersUlster coach Brian McLaughlin: “We’ve worked very hard over the last three years to become a quality rugby side and we wanted to play rugby. The scoreline was slightly flattering but that’s Leinster – give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. The guys must make sure they come back here again, and make sure days like these are not the exception.”Ulster hooker Rory Best: “We came here full of confidence. There’s no point looking for excuses – they’re a very good team. They’ve got a core of Dublin born and bred players. It hurts, but defeats like this and watching Leinster lift the trophy must stay in our minds. We have to want to get better and win this trophy.”LEINSTER: Rob Kearney (Brian O’Driscoll 73); Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll (David Kearney 68), Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton (Ian Madigan 74), Eoin Reddan (John Cooney 74); Cian Healy (Heinke van der Merwe 62), Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin 68), Mike Ross (Nathan White 70), Leo Cullen (capt, Devin Toner 58), Brad Thorn, Kevin McLaughlin (Shane Jennings 62), Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.Tries: O’Brien, Healy, penalty, van der Merwe, Cronin. Cons: Sexton (3), McFadden. Pens: Sexton (3).ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave (Adam D’Arcy.78), Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson (Ian Humphreys 46, Paul Marshall 70), Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court (Paddy McAllister 75), Rory Best (Nigel Brady 78), John Afoa (Declan Fitzpatrick 74), Johann Muller (capt, Lewis Stevenson 74), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry (Willie Faloon 68), Pedrie Wannenburg. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Champions: Leinster celebrate winning the Heineken Cup for the second year in a rowBy Bea Asprey, Rugby World WriterIn a nutshellLEINSTER WON the Heineken Cup for the third time in four years, beating Ulster 42-14 at Twickenham. The Northern Irishmen started the game well, enjoying the majority of the possession early on and kicking the first penalty. But although they created their share of chances they failed to capitalise on their opportunities, and after Sean O’Brien struck with a try for Leinster in the 13th minute, they never regained the lead.Sublime: the hands of BodKey momentIn the 31st minute, Leinster won a scrum against the head. The ball reached Brian O’Driscoll, and a sweet back-door offload released O’Brien into the Ulster 22. He in turn set Cian Healy off towards the line. That second try put Leinster 14-3 up and Ulster never looked like coming back.Star manSpeculation surrounded O’Driscoll’s fitness in the build-up to this game, but the veteran centre showed his true class today, one minute putting in sublime offloads, and the next acting like a fourth back-rower.Room for improvementUlster missed a number of opportunities to inflict damage on the score board and failed to bring the same level of intensity as Leinster in attack, scoring just one try to the Dubliners’ five. But they were facing a team with a rock solid defence and experience far superior to theirs, and can be pleased with what they’ve achieved this season. Having not played in a Heineken Cup final since 1999, the loss will ultimately stand them in good stead, and on occasions such as their quarter-final win over Munster in Thomond Park they have shown what a force they can be.Top statsA crowd of 81,744 turned out at Twickenham – a record for a Heineken Cup final. In addition, Leinster broke some records of their own: the most points (42) and tries (five) scored, and the biggest winning margin (28) in a Heineken Cup final. Try: Tuohy. Pens: Pienaar (3). Sin bin: Terblanche (73). TAGS: LeinsterUlster
Defensively there are bright sparks, as Geoff Parling stole four lineouts against the Reds and one against the Waratahs. Tom Croft also pinched a lineout off the Waratahs, while Evans and Gray have taken four collectively all tour. Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones have nabbed three together.Thief: Geoff Parling pinching lineoutsEvans is miles ahead in terms of calling to himself, taking a staggering eight lineout balls against the Combined Country, which is the same number Jamie Heaslip has taken throughout this tour. When others are playing the ball is spread around a lot more, with O’Connell only taking one lineout per game in the two matches he has started.Therefore, the statistic both point to straightforward solutions, as well as creating some additional issues for the selectors.A lineout bossed by O’Connell ensures variety. Twin him with Parling and there is a chance more opposition ball will be stolen, while Jones is happy to play the target as O’Connell is running misdirection plays. With such variety, Parling could happily slot in but he is more of a defensive player who can climb up there, but a positive Gatland means the Englishman could spring from the bench.If Gatland is that positive, picking to attack rather than stifle, then Croft and Heaslip are instant selections for belligerent lineout rugby.Nonetheless, all of this is irrelevant if these jumpers cannot be hit. Tom Youngs is the most confident of the hookers and is making slightly less slip-ups. The efficient and well-oiled set-piece under O’Connell could sweep Youngs along with it and Hibbard could also be caught in O’Connell’s slip stream. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Too much mustard on it: The Lions have been under pressure and wayward in the lineout at points during this tourBy Alan DymockTHE STATS don’t make good reading after the British and Irish Lions 14-12 loss to the Brumbies.Despite their win the Brumbies carried 23 times less than the Lions, with 22 carries. They did so for 104 metres less, with only 188m gained to the Lions’ 292. They made one clean break to the Lions three and lost the ball to penalties, knock-ons or turnovers more often with 17 coughed up compared to the Lions’ 14. However, they scored a try when the Lions did not and they made 112 tackles compared to the Lions 69 during the try-line shut-out.Crestfallen: Rory Best trudges off after loss to BrumbiesThere is a greater issue than this, though. While the Brumbies slowed and slugged away at the breakdown, irritating the Lions before rushing at them with supercharged shoulders, it was the lineout that dismayed fans of the tourists more.It became apparent early on in the game that hooker and captain Rory Best was having a bit of a wobble – a similar wobble to a blancmange in a flight simulator – and that the Lions needed to claim ball and drive. So Ian Evans called the ball for himself and took it cleanly four times.That may not seem a lot, but the Lions lost eight lineouts during the game, with four stolen and desperately needed possession.In the end the tourists claimed 13 of their own throws and stole three. It is a simple fact that any momentum is killed when the hooker lobs a squiggler or was picked off, particularly when the team is against it at the ruck and their dejected hooker has to mash into a scrum.This problem is not a new one. The Lions may have blitzed Combined Country but they lost three lineouts to the strugglers. They lost two as the smashed the Western Force and three when they were hustling past the Barbarians. The common denominators in those games has been Best and Richard Hibbard. BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 08: Geoff Parling of the Lions beats Ed O’Donoghue to the ball during the match between the Queensland Reds and the British & Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium on June 8, 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images) Pressure is a given at Test time, though, and Hibbard must be made to believe in his throwing and it would be no surprise if he ends up rooming with O’Connell, Jones or even Heaslip in this Test window.Best would do well to be paired with one of these, too, because if there is one thing we have learned from this tour it is that players can be scythed by injury at any time and the Ulsterman definitely has a part to play yet. He needs to believe in the cause and he needs help. His team mates can help him get over his lineout yips.
Despite benefiting from the new scrum engagement protocols, where Samson Lee and Phil John have proved to be very effective post-engagement scrummagers, the Scarlets have already struggled against one of the bigger packs in the league – their defeat to Leinster in the opening game was a worry. The Ospreys are the exception – their success is built around a tight five that can still compete with the best in Europe. Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans have been impressive – Hibbard in particular. But it’s not just the Ospreys ‘starting’ tight-five that sets them apart from the other regions; they also have a competitive bench to utilise – calling on Ryan Bevington or Duncan Jones after 55 minutes is invaluable. The Ospreys scrum remains the benchmark for the Welsh regions.Injury doubt: Jamie Roberts hits the gainline hard for Wales Jamie Roberts’ injury is a worryThe fracturing of relations in Europe has unsettled Welsh rugby’s September – the tweaking of Jamie Roberts’ ankle could have a similar impact in November. Roberts has had surgery and his availability for Wales remains in doubt. There are of course talented options that can fill the gap. Scott Williams’ straight-running has impressed in the opening weeks of the season. Ashley Beck is fit once again and his ability to pass 20 yards off both hands would be a valuable asset to Wales.Warren Gatland also has the option of sliding Jon Davies into 12 or calling on James Hook – who is, let’s not forget, playing wonderfully for Perpignan. However, no one can fulfil the role that Roberts plays in Gatland’s game plan. Roberts is the fulcrum of the defensive and offensive execution. Whether or not you like a ‘crash’ centre repeatedly targeting the gainline – it has been very effective for Wales. Fingers crossed for Dr Roberts.Never blame the players for leaving WalesThe median wage in Wales in 2012, was £19,126 – the lowest in the UK. So when an employer reputedly offers you up to 40,000 Euros a month to play in France; you have to take it. You’d be certifiable not to. What’s more you shouldn’t have to explain to the media or supporters why you are doing so.It’s very easy to become misty eyed about a game built on amateur values and whilst there is obviously still an element of loyalty, passion and identity in the game at elite club level – the modern professional also needs to earn money – it’s their job. The modern pro has 10 -12 years of maximum earning potential – that’s if they manage to avoid serious injury. There are many who can be blamed for the current ‘player drain’ – the players aren’t one of them. Injury doubt: Jamie Roberts hits the line hard LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Troubling times The Welsh regions desperately need a European competition to play in to ensure their futureBy Paul WilliamsWales could lose in European ‘games’THE EUROPEAN crisis has huge ramifications for Northern Hemisphere rugby. The quest for a fairer qualification system, which is fully justified, and the desire to control the game with the associated financial benefits, presents Northern Hemisphere rugby with its greatest challenge since it turned professional. However, the problems that face the Welsh regions are more acute than those of their French and English foes – or friends, depending on how this all pans out. The issues stretch beyond expanding income streams that can deliver another batch of Springboks or 30 cap All Blacks. This isn’t even about the ability to ‘break-even’ financially, as has been touted by representatives from the Aviva Premiership.In Wales, this could affect the very existence of certain regions. Weirdly, the most damaging scenario doesn’t involve staying within the ERC tournament or the switching to the Rugby Champions Cup – the doomsday scenario is that there is no cohesive European tournament for a season or more. The regions each receive approximately £1.2 – 1.4 million pounds each from their participation in European competition. That may not seem like a lot of money, it wouldn’t buy you one of Gareth Bale’s eyelashes, but within Welsh regional rugby that is make or break moolah.Underrated: Biggar is a points-machineDan Biggar reaches 1,000 pointsDan Biggar has become only the second player in the history of the ‘Celtic League’ to reach 1,000 points. This would be a career defining achievement for a player in his thirties – such as Dan Parks, the only other player to reach 1,000 points at the age of 31. Biggar has achieved it at 23. Yes 23!But whilst Biggar’s achievement has received praise, it feels more like the sort of polite applause that you would hear at the opening of an art gallery rather than the reaction that you would witness in a NASA ‘control-centre’ in an 80s Bruckheimer blockbuster. Be it on or off the field Biggar seems to have to perform 20% better than his peers in order to receive a similar level of praise. It may be that many won’t appreciate Biggar until he is no longer playing in Wales. Long term, there are plenty in the Aviva and Top 14 that would appreciate his match-winning contribution.No tight five – no four pointsThe opening month of the Pro 12 has already separated the Welsh regions into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – those who have a tight five and those who do not. The Cardiff Blues have already had major issues defending rolling mauls, and their scrum, admittedly without the returning Gethin Jenkins, is fragile – the loss at home to Zebre set-off a wave of ‘face-palms’ around the Arms Park. The Newport Gwent Dragons, despite having a positive start to the campaign, also have issues at the set piece – the Dragons could do with a few more Andrew Coombs.
Treading terrifically: Teddy Thomas is an intrepid try threatTo win back the respect of the world PSA needs to be bold. Selecting the likes of Camille Lopez at fly-half, Charles Ollivon at No 8, Teddy Thomas on the wing, Alexandre Dumoulin in the centre and Scott Spedding at full-back would send out the right message. These players may be inexperienced at Test level but they are in form, they attack, they invent,they aren’t one-dimensional.So while the pressure is most definitely there, Saint-Andre really has little to lose between now and the RWC. It’s too late to sack him before his contract expires at the end of the tournament, and his reputation is already so low that were France to crash out at the pool stage it would be no great shock.The real shock would be if France suddenly start playing some rugby this season. Let’s hope they do, let’s hope that Saint-Andre – such a dynamic player – will finally shed his conservatism and tell the likes of Ollivon and Thomas – both of whom scored spectacular tries in the Top 14 last weekend – to do for their country what they do for their clubs week in and week out.Because as Tim Horan noted: “I wouldn’t say that French flair has disappeared. It’s asleep at the bottom of a cupboard and simply needs to be woken. Philippe Saint Andre should reopen the doors without further delay.” Eight games to go. Eight opportunities for Philippe Saint-Andre to finally settle on his starting XV for France’s opening World Cup game, against Italy at Twickenham on September 19.The eight internationals begin in Marseille on Saturday when the French host Fiji. A week later Australia come to Paris and France’s final Test of the autumn is a clash with Argentina. Two months’ later it’s the Six Nations and this time around France have their tough schedule with outings to Dublin, Twickenham and Rome, where the French have lost on theirlast two visits. True, France also play England home and away next August but by then it will be too late to try out new combinations.In one sense the pressure has never been greater on Saint-Andre. Since the start of 2013 the France coach has presidedover the worst run of results in recent history: played 19, won five, drawn one and lost 13, including series whitewashes in New Zealand and Australia. Their only victories have come against Scotland (twice), Italy, Tonga and England. Expectations are so low that when L’Equipe newspaper recently ran an online poll asking readers if they still enjoyed watching Les Bleus, of the 26,000 people who responded only 24 per cent did so in the affirmative. Good times behind him?: Philippe Saint-Andre has a short period of time to turn things around Critical insight: Tim Horan finds France and their Test stars ‘predictable’A few days later it was the turn of Midi Olympique to heap humiliation on Saint-Andre, the rugby newspaper canvassing the opinion of nine legends of the sport to ask what’s gone wrong with France. The answers were savage. Jeremy Guscott said watching France these days “bored him to death” and the former England and Lions centre wondered why the French three-quarters were so technically poor they could barely pass the ball.Likewise Sean Fitzpatrick singled out the poor individual technique while Tim Horan and Felipe Contempomi mourned the Gallic conservatism, accusing France of “never taking any risks”. The former Wallaby double World Cup winner went further, ridiculing the cliché that the only predictable thing about the French is their unpredictability. “For a while now I haven’t recognised France,” said Horan, winner of 80 Australian caps. “I find them predictable with little inspiration.”According to former Wales fly-half turned BBC pundit Jonathan Davies, much of France’s recent woes can be traced to “a recurrent problem at half-back”, where Saint-Andre has never shown any willingness to build a long-lasting partnership. Witness the fact that in France’s last six internationals they have fielded five different combinations. “Few French No 10s are installed for the long term,” said Davies. “It’s something that is really very strange, and which seems to me incompatible with the ambition to play the game at the highest level.”It must have been painful reading for Saint-Andre, one scathing attack after another from former adversaries, men he respects, and who know what they’re talking about.But there’s time, just, for Saint-Andre to turn things around; if not transform France into potential World Cup winners, at least make them once more respected, and not ridiculed for being, as Guscott put it, a team whose game plan amounts to little more than “crush the head of your opposite number and we’ll see what to do after!” LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
Seen it all: Dai Young wants a clean game but feels there is a limit to what you can adjudicateCoaches normally do. I was once at a game when a coach fingered the wrong player for a gouging incident leading to huge back page headlines about someone who was not involved, another bloke got charged and the press did a huge back-track come Monday’s papers.Sometimes the authorities scrutinise these things too closely. No-one got injured – no-one complained and all of a sudden someone is hauled up in front of the beak and loses the chance to get back into his national side.Dai Young, in charge at Wasps, played in both the amateur and professional eras as a prop who went on three British & Irish Lions tours. The Welshman, after admitting he was glad the cameras were not about when he was starting out in the 1980s, said: “Everybody wants a clean game. Everybody wants to play tough and play hard but there is always a line. All the players would welcome that but no-one wants anything that could ultimately affect their livelihoods.”It affected Ashton’s livelihood alright. He saw five potential Six Nations match fees and a Grand Slam bonus go up in smoke.Fair trial: James Haskell says all players want is some consistency when it comes to disciplineYoung’s captain at Wasps, James Haskell, added: “As a player all you want is consistency and to know what the lie of the land is and what is black and what is white. Context is never taken into account. You just want to be able to do your job and understand what the rules are.”And Alex Sanderson, one of Kruis’ bosses at Saracens, went further when he said: “They’ve built up the citing officers to look after players, which is a good thing. But the power they have, the way they have to wield it and hold people accountable sometimes make it a public lynching. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Splash down: Chris Ashton was banned for 10 weeks over a contentious disciplinary decision This week has seen yet more incidents brought up by citing officers. Why don’t they just have a quick glance at the tape and let players get on with it? “I think it has gone too far. That’s my own personal opinion. It’s over-stepped for the likes of Ashton. He didn’t go for Marshall’s eyes. His hand was around there and that has never been any rugby player’s idea of illegality.”No one wants a return to the bad, old days and the misty-eyed talk of dark arts. No-one wants rugby’s officials to spend hours poring over tapes trying to look for trouble and potentially tarring players with unwanted labels. Give it the once over and , if nothing immediately obvious jumps out, get on with the game. It was another long night for the disciplinary process on Tuesday when the ‘Gypsygate’ furore over Joe Marler mercifully came to an end in London and George Kruis and David Wilson, in a separate hearing in Bristol, were told to carry on playing.Marler’s hearing took the best part of seven hours and Kruis and Wilson’s about four hours between them. The Marler one has been discussed ad nauseum since England’s Six Nations win over Wales and most are glad to see the back of it after some ham-fisted handling by the authorities. But you wonder whether the Kruis and Wilson ones should have even seen the light of day.Hands up anyone who spotted Kruis’ alleged bite on live TV or at the Recreation Ground during the game against Bath last Friday night? Wilson might have had a case to answer on first glance but there was another Sarries player who was being talked about with potential to go into the dock in the aftermath of the game.Farce: Joe Marler’s case went on for an interminable timeFood for thought and I bet Chris Ashton has thought about it.On 13 January, Eddie Jones named his first England squad and Saracens wing Ashton was in it after missing the World Cup and having endured a cap-less spell stretching back to June 2014 in New Zealand.Three days later, Sarries played Ulster in a European pool game at Allianz Park and won 33-17 but it was the last match Ashton would play for ten weeks. He was banned for, in the words of that unwieldly phrase, ‘making contact with the eye area’ of Ulster’s Luke Marshall.And that was it. Six Nations over before it had started and two-and-a-half months of acting as opposition during Saracens training was staring him in the face.But after the Ulster match there had not been a peep about a potential gouging incident. No-one there in person noticed it and the Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss did not mention it in his post-match press conference. It was only a couple of days later when the disciplinary email came through that anyone even talked about it.
TAGS: Newport Gwent Dragons LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS The decision to strike out alone has been 12 months in the planning, and realistically it will take the same amount of time again before any deal with a new owner(s) is signed and sealed. But the work to date has “planted some seeds” and the fact that the Dragons can now overtly pursue discussions with interested parties marks a significant moment.Only in the very early days of the Dragons, when the likes of Percy Montgomery, Rod Snow and Andy Marinos were on the scene, has the region really made a strong competitive impact. And although the decision to restructure precedes the Taulupe Faletau dispute that ended with him signing for Bath next season, the loss of their only world-class player highlights the difficulties the Dragons have in mounting a credible challenge both domestically and in Europe.Nail-biter: The Blues edged matters 21-20 when the sides met in Newport at Christmas (Huw Evans Agency)“The Faletau saga wasn’t the initial driver for this move, restructuring was underway before that came to a head,” says Davies, a former Wales No 8. “But it’s so difficult to compete within the Pro12, let alone against English and French clubs who benefit from bigger TV deals. Something was necessary to break the cycle and make us more competitive.”That said, you have to wonder how different things might have been. They have a record ten losing bonus points and had just half of their narrow defeats gone the other way then Sunday’s game with the Blues would have much more riding on it than local bragging rights.“It’s been a tough season but one of promise. Winning at Gloucester was hugely rewarding, a real shot in the arm. Days like that remind you of why you got involved in rugby.“We have a great group of youngsters who are growing together. The age-group talent in Gwent is fantastic. Some of the guys have already had senior recognition, like Hallam Amos or Tyler Morgan, and I’d put money on the fact that players like Elliot Dee, Jack Dixon and Ollie Griffiths will play for Wales. How ironic that, at a time of the season when many players are feeling the bumps and bruises acutely, Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones should name an unchanged line-up for this Sunday’s Guinness Pro12 derby at Cardiff Blues. It’s something the Welsh region has seldom been able to do during the past two injury-plagued years.Last weekend’s Challenge Cup win at Gloucester doubtless served as excellent medicine, the ability to boss the breakdown – a strength of theirs all season – and a gutsy decision to opt for a maul instead of three easy points near the end bringing the Dragons one of the finest triumphs in their 13-year history.It was also particularly timely because last week the Dragons announced plans to become a fully independent region, being currently joint-owned by Newport RFC and the WRU.This is easier said than done because first and foremost it requires one or more investors digging deep into their pocket for reasons of love, not money. But such has been the way for swathes of benefactors in professional sport.Ambitious: CEO Stuart Davies, with Tyler Morgan and Hallam Amos, at Rodney Parade (Huw Evans Agency)“We’re being very honest about what we’re looking for. If someone is looking for a (financial) return they’re better off investing in property or the stock market,” says Dragons chief executive Stuart Davies.“We’re looking for individuals of high wealth who have a passion for rugby and sport in Wales, and who want to be at the top table and helping to shape the game in Wales. For anyone happy to come on board it promises to be a wonderful roller-coaster ride.”Under the plans, any new investment would be injected straight into the business and playing side because the balance sheet would be bolstered through capitalisation of loans and writing off of historical debts. Turnover for Newport RFC (all parts of business) for the year ending May 2015 was £7.8m and includes union and competition funding, commercial income and ground rent from Newport County.You only have to look down the road at disbanded region Celtic Warriors to see how new beginnings can quickly end in tears, but Davies says all the necessary safeguards would be put in place, with contracts not stretching beyond any new backer’s investment period.Star asset: Taulupe Faletau has been immense for Dragons but is soon off to Bath (Huw Evans Agency)“We’re very mindful of that scenario and don’t want to be left holding the baby. The existing board members are the gate-keeper and they need to be satisfied that the reins would be in safe hands. That is very important to the board, some of whom have made a huge personal contribution to the region. Legacy is an important respect.” Sting in the tail: The Dragons celebrate Charlie Davies’s winning try at Gloucester last weekend (Getty) The Welsh region surprised almost everyone with their European win at Gloucester, but they hope to make such days commonplace by becoming an independent region “We just need a sprinkling of stardust on top and new investment will allow us to do that.”Dee-light: Hooker Elliot Dee (centre) is one player tipped to gain full Wales honours (Huw Evans Agency)For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here.
Jump for joy: Connacht skipper John Muldoon leaps up with the Guinness Pro12 trophy. (Photo: Inpho) LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Leinster fail to get a grip Leinster came away empty handed from their seventh Pro12 final, largely thanks to the number of tackles they missed as Connacht ran at them from all areas of the pitch.By half-time Leinster had made 65 tackles and missed no less than 18, while Connacht had made 78 and missed just three. Little wonder the score was 15-0 to Connacht. Feathered friends: Exeter Chiefs fans were a colourful sight at Twickenham. (Photo: Getty Images)Fan-nomenalHats – or should that be head-dresses – off to the Exeter Chiefs fans who raised the roof at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, and to the 34,550 Connacht and Leinster supporters who crossed the Irish sea to see their teams do battle in the Pro12 final in Edinburgh – the biggest crowd ever to attend the Celtic final.Exeter’s followers filled the concourses with their colourful feathered headgear before the Aviva Premiership final, swamped the bowl of the stadium with the sound of the Tomahawk Chop during the game and continued to chant long after the final whistle, despite ending up on the losing side.They did their best to inspire their team when they were 23-3 down, the players responded and when Nowell’s try made it 23-20 the roar might have been heard at Sandy Park. Exeter’s fans are a credit to their club and helped make the final a great occasion.Connacht’s fans were in equally good voice at Murrayfield, and with good reason as their team treated them to a vintage performance. It was great to see so many Irish supporters making the journey to Scotland, especially as they only had two weeks’ notice that their teams were in the final. The SaintsLam’s the manTwo seasons ago, Connacht finished tenth in the Guinness Pro12. Now they are the champions and much of the credit for that astonishing turnaround must go to their head coach Pat Lam. He has taken a team which were always the bridesmaids in Irish rugby – an outfit which the Irish Rugby Union seriously considered disbanding as a professional entity a few short years ago – and turned them into a skilful, entertaining and now successful side.They beat Leinster 20-10 in the Guinness Pro12 final at Murrayfield on Saturday and, after absorbing some early pressure from Leo Cullen’s side, Connacht cut them to pieces with fantastic running rugby, making the most of the space on the artificial surface.Lam leads the way: Pat Lam on the lap of honour at Murrayfield. (Photo: Inpho)Lam has reputedly concentrated much of his time and effort on improving the basic handling skills of his squad – forwards and backs alike – and it really shows. Connacht are playing something akin to Super Rugby: offloading before contact, attacking at pace and with width and precision, with the number on a player’s back making little difference to their handling ability. It is a joy to watch.Connacht will lose some of their best players to other teams this summer, but let’s hope this success will attract more big names so their success can continue. Goode show Alex Goode was named Man of the Match in Saracens’ 28-20 victory over Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership final and a quick glance at the stats shows what a massive contribution he made. The full-back was far and away the best ball-carrier in the game, making 167m with the ball in hand in 19 carries – no other Saracen got near that.Goode put the icing on the cake by scoring Saracens’ third try, three minutes from time. Exeter had fought back from 23-3 down to 23-20 after 73 minutes and any other team might have got the jitters to see their opponents turn the game around in that fashion. But Saracens knuckled down, regained control of the ball and Marcelo Bosch – fresh off the bench – attacked down the right flank, passed inside to Chris Ashton who passed back out to Goode and he scooted over the line.It’s there! Alex Goode reaches over to score the crucial try. (Photo: Getty Images)It was quite a cameo from Bosch – two carries, one clean break, two defenders beaten, 12m made and a try created.Saracens are the first team to win a domestic and European double since 2004 and have now won the Premiership twice in a row. They are undoubtedly the best club side in Europe and it will take some doing to knock them off that perch. Come to Niyi: Adeolokun gets set to gather the ball and score his excellent try. (Photo: Inpho)Green with envyConnacht wing Niyi Adeolokun lit up Murrayfield with a quite brilliant try midway through the first half of the Guinness Pro12 final.The men in green were already 7-0 up thanks to a try by Tiernan O’Halloran, created by a fantastic break from his own 22 to the Leinster ten-metre line by Matt Healy. He started the move for the second try too, receiving a kick and passing to O’Halloran, who executed a one-two with Robbie Henshaw then found Bundee Aki, whose pass hit the deck. Kieran Marmion scooped the loose ball up and passed outside to Adeolokun, who kicked up the right wing, punted the ball ahead again on the volley and beat Eoin Reddan to the touchdown. In a game full of fantastic rugby from Connacht, this was an extra special piece of skill. Nippy nine: Ben Youngs on his way to score for England at Twickenham. (Photo: Getty Images)England take their chancesEngland outscored Wales by five tries to one to win the Old Mutual Wealth Cup match at Twickenham 27-13. Eddie Jones‘s side had trailed 13-10 at half-time but Ben Youngs took them into the lead in the 45th minute with a try which owed plenty to his opportunism and poor defence from Wales.Youngs received the ball from a lineout about 15 metres from the Wales line, spotted a gap between Scott Baldwin and Rob Evans at the tail, then broke a tackle from Hallam Amos to crash over the line.Anthony Watson also deserves lots of credit for England‘s first try. The wing was tackled as he headed for the left-hand corner, he scrambled a few more metres then, when George North turned him onto his back, he still managed to reach over his own head to ground the ball on the line. Watson’s skills had former Wales and Lions wing Ieuan Evans purring in the commentary box: “That’s such a good finish – that takes some doing.” Ford flunks itI can’t remember the last time I saw a Test kicker land just one successful place kick out of seven, but that was George Ford’s return from England’s 27-13 win over Wales in the Old Mutual Wealth Cup at Twickenham on Sunday.The fly-half missed two conversions and a penalty in the first half and another conversion in the second before he finally slotted one from in front of the posts, after Clifford’s try. Ford’s goal-kicking used to be unreliable but he has improved it no end in the last 18 months or so. This was an unwelcome return to the bad old days and it has to be a one-off if he wants to make an impact on England’s tour this summer.Hit and miss: George Ford missed six goal kicks for England on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images) Referee! Dan Biggar forgets about respecting the decision of the officials. (Photo: Getty Images)The SinnersBiggar not better Wales fly-half Dan Biggar ends the season in my bad books for arguing with referee Marius Mitrea after the TMO awarded a try to Jack Clifford during the Old Mutual Wealth Cup match against England on Sunday.Biggar thought Dan Cole had knocked the ball on in the build-up to the try and when the score was given he confronted the referee, arguing with him and refusing to hand the ball to George Ford to take the conversion.Cole did get a hand to the ball, but it ended up going backwards before hitting the floor. Did it go backwards because Cole tipped it forwards onto the on-rushing Ross Moriarty? I think not, but what I, or anyone else thinks actually doesn’t matter at all. The officials gave their decision and play continues.We are seeing more and more incidents of players waving their arms at the officials during matches and telling them what decisions they should be giving. That is bad enough, but Biggar’s dissent took things a step further. Alun Wyn Jones had a moan to the referee as well, but Biggar even went back for a second attempt to change Mitrea’s mind.One of rugby’s cornerstone values is respect for the officials. In rugby we don’t argue – we put up, shut up and walk away. Biggar should be ashamed of his actions, ashamed of the poor example he set to junior and club players and he should apologise. No pushover: Jack Nowell tries to hand off Owen Farrell. (Photo: Getty Images)Nerveless NowellThe standout performer in the Exeter Chiefs back division during their Twickenham final was Jack Nowell. He carried no less than 19 times and seemed to be all over the pitch. While many of his team-mates were struggling to cope with the pressure of the big occasion in the first half, Nowell rose to the occasion.His endeavours were rewarded with a try in the 73rd minute. He took the scoring pass from Phil Dollman after Henry Slade had swerved through a dog-leg in the Saracens’ defence, but Nowell still had work to do to dive through the tackle of Goode and touch down in the corner.Gareth Steenson converted brilliantly – in fact neither he nor Owen Farrell missed a place-kick all afternoon and both had to take some on from wide positions. TAGS: ConnachtExeter ChiefsHighlightSaracens If it moves, tackle itThe Saracens defence was already the stuff of legend and they had another great day at the office on Saturday, making 163 tackles to stop Exeter from creating enough scoring chances with all the possession they enjoyed. Billy Vunipola was top of the list with 16 tackles, Maro Itoje and George Kruis had 14 each (and Itoje didn’t miss any) and Mako Vunipola was close behind on 13, Brad Barritt 12 and Duncan Taylor 11. The line speed of the Saracens’ defence was super-fast, cutting down Exeter’s options and sending them into retreat even when they could get the ball away from the tackle. Why did the Saracens wing have to try to dupe everyone? He just made himself look daft in front of 76,000 fans at Twickenham and many more on TV as soon as the first replay hit the screens. Yes, the adrenaline must have been coursing through his veins at the sharp end of such a massive game, but it is exactly this kind of rash behaviour which prevents Ashton from being as popular as he really should be. Rash AshI know I am risking the wrath of Chris Ashton fans who think the media has it in for their boy, but I have to mention his silly behaviour in the closing minutes of Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final.The crowd had barely stopped cheering the part he had played in Alex Goode’s 77th minute try, which put Saracens 28-20 ahead, when Ashton chased a kick to his in-goal area, alongside Jack Nowell. Both wings slid and dived to try to touch the ball down and Ashton leapt back to his feet, celebrating wildly and claiming a try. Off he went, running up the pitch in theatrical delight – but referee Wayne Barnes was not fooled. He called for a TV replay which clearly showed Ashton had not touched the ball down. It wasn’t even a close call. This was the weekend when the English and Celtic champions were crowned, while England took on Wales in the Old Mutual Wealth Cup on Sunday. Which players starred for their teams in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12 finals and this pre-tour Test, and which had a day to forget?
After 18 years in Wellington, the HSBC New Zealand Sevens has shifted up north to Hamilton, Oliver Pickup reports. Relocation: After 18 years of hosting the tournament, Wellington has been replaced by Hamilton as host in 2018 (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images) HSBC New Zealand Sevens Relocates to HamiltonThe Maori title for Hamilton – the city chosen for this weekend’s HSBC New Zealand Sevens, after 18 years in Wellington – is ‘Kirikiriroa’. According to the local tourist office, Visit Hamilton, the name coverts as “long stretch of gravel”. Even factoring in that the original meaning is likely to have lost its essence in translation, this still massively undersells the country’s fourth most-populous city, and the largest in the North Island’s Waikato region.In fact, Hamilton, the nation’s biggest inland city, straddles the nourishing Waikato River and has a rich agricultural and pastoral heritage. It’s not just green shoots poking through the gravel (possibly literally); the locals are “rugby mad”, Rugby New Zealand’s operations officer Nigel Cass insists, making the birthplace of British and Irish Lions honcho Warren Gatland ideal ground to cultivate the game of sevens.Further, the population of the city is young (almost half of the 160,000 or so denizens are under the age of 30) and a pleasing hodgepodge of cultures, with more than 80 ethnic groups represented. All things considered, the Waikato Stadium – which will be at capacity, with all 23,600 seats for both Saturday and Sunday taken – is an ideal venue to host the HSBC New Zealand Sevens, which had turned stale after almost two decades in the capital.From 2011 to 2016 the hosts won five out of six tournaments in Wellington, and two years ago – the last time they triumphed – Rugby New Zealand registered its first financial loss from the event, which cost them NZ2.5 million (£1.3m) to put on. The adage that “success breeds complacency … [and] complacency breeds failure” rings true, as Wellingtonians appeared to be unwilling to pay to watch their side romp to yet another victory.Victors: New Zealand’s last victory in the Wellington Sevens was in 2016. (Photo by ActionPlus/Corbis via Getty Images)This chance to refresh HSBC New Zealand Sevens comes at an opportune moment, when the sport is booming in the country, and across the world. Indeed, in January New Zealand Herald lauded the game’s recent upward trajectory – partly thanks to the inclusion in the Rio Olympics two years ago – in a report on growth sports in the country. “The Olympics has been the catalyst for huge growth in the abbreviated version of rugby all over the world,” the article noted. “It has been one of the big growth areas in women’s sport due largely to the Olympic push and the success of the Black Ferns.”The piece pointed out that in 2012 “a little over 2,800 kids represented their school playing rugby sevens in 2012 and that total had nearly doubled by 2016”. And World Series top-tier sponsor HSBC has certainly been playing a key role in spreading the game at grassroots level, with workshops and numerous initiatives across the globe.Cass is confident that Hamilton has the ability to restore the event to its former glory, and expects an “exceptional tournament”. He says: “Hamilton and the Waikato region are rugby mad and we’re looking forward to introducing international sevens to the local community and for visiting fans from around New Zealand to experience the heart of rugby in New Zealand.” It looks a canny move to switch the point of focus for New Zealand sevens fans, with 40 per cent of ticket sales having been snapped up by non-Hamilton residents. Legendary former New Zealand captain DJ Forbes – the most-capped player in the sport who retired last September after his 89th tournament – says it will serve to motivate native current and future players.Legend: All blacks Sevens legend DJ Forbes retired last September, and says the Hamilton move will motivate the players (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for HSBC)The 35-year old told me this week that Tim Mikkelson, the team’s co-captain, and Joe Webber, and Regan Ware – all players born in the area – are “buzzing” ahead of the Hamilton event. Now, finally, they have the opportunity to shine in front of their nearest and dearest, as well as inspire a generation of youngsters close to home.“For nations that don’t have a home tournament, winning in Hong Kong will gain the bragging rights,” Forbes tells Rugby World, “but success as hosts is a massive target. The boys – particularly the local lads – will be thinking all about how to get the job done during the next 48 hours or so, and I think they are in a really good place to do that.”After three rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, Clark Laidlaw’s side are second in the standings, only four points behind reigning champions South Africa. Last weekend they were downed in the Sydney quarter-finals against Australia, the eventual winners.And Forbes – who has earmarked 18-year olds Caleb Clarke (the son of former All Black Eroni Clarke) and Etene Nanai-Seturo as ones to watch this weekend – believes his countrymen should follow their trans-Tasman rivals’ example, and allow themselves to be lifted by the home crowd rather than submit to pressure, which is easier said than done. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Young Star: 18-year-old Caleb Clarke has been picked by DJ Forbes to shine in Hamilton (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)“You couldn’t ask for a better situation, the first year after Wellington,” he adds. “The stage has been set perfectly in Hamilton. It’s a full house, and now we need the players to turn it on for the spectators.”If Laidlaw’s side do triumph this weekend, it will more than pour gravel over the cracks exposed by Wellington’s lengthy legacy; it will provide Rugby New Zealand with a robust foundation to further build upon to elevate its already impressive sevens operation. With the Commonwealth Games and World Cup to be contested in the coming months, other countries should be worried that the once-mighty nation is rising again.