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European Rugby

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James O'Connor

James O’Connor: The worst of the three Amigos.

Yes, I know that James O’Connor has been a prat.

An official at the ARU who had to deal with him all the time told me that O’Connor was the worst of the Three Amigos – O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper.

He would encourage and lead his mates into trouble and then, somehow, slide away unscathed, while the other two copped the blame and the punishments.

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Waterboy

Move over Sandler, make way for Piri.

World Cup winning All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu has begun his overseas rugby career as a water-boy, promising a selfless attitude as he tries to help London Welsh establish themselves in the English Premiership.

Weepu said he would bring a team-first approach to a club freshly promoted and looking to do better than their last stay at the top that lasted just one season. And he’s already proved that by running the water bottles in a pre-season match.

“I’m here to push this club as hard as I can and I’ll do everything possible for the team,” Weepu told The Rugby Paper website as his arrival in Britain drew attention ahead of this weekend’s season kickoff.

“Everything is about the team, not the individual, and if someone’s not pulling their weight, including me, I hope they’ll say it.

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Jonathan Sexton

Jonathan Sexton

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton faces a race against time to be fit for the autumn internationals after breaking his jaw while playing for Racing Metro.

The 29-year-old British and Irish Lions star was injured in a heavy clash with Craig Burden in Sunday’s French top-flight contest against Toulon.

South African hooker Burden was sin-binned for the challenge.

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Aviva PremiershipWith the new English domestic season kicking off on Friday, we take a look at the prospects of each of the 12 clubs competing for the Premiership title. Let’s get started.

Saracens:

The pioneers of modern English rugby, Saracens have established themselves as one of Europe’s leading teams over the last few years.

Making three Premiership Finals in the last five years along with contesting Europe’s showpiece last season underlines their rise to the top of the game. Unafraid to experiment off the field, 2013/2014 saw Saracens revolutionise their play on it by throwing off the shackles and producing attacking rugby that was hard to resist. More of the same please.

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Adams Park

Current ground: Adams Park

Wasps statement on stadium move:

Wasps have responded over growing speculation regarding their possible future stadium in a statement on Sunday.

The Rugby Paper has linked the club with moving their games to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

Quick to address any speculation given possible negotiations to move away from Adams Park in High Wycombe remain sensitive, Wasps have moved quickly to discuss the rumours.

“Wasps are aware of media reports in recent days linking the club to a number of possible new stadiums,” read the statement.

“Wasps has made no secret of a desire to find a permanent home which reflects the ambitions of the club.

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Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas says he struggled when his wife left him.

Gareth Thomas, the former rugby international, has spoken for the first time of the agonising pain of his wife leaving him after he came out as gay.

The ex-Wales captain told how he made several suicide attempts after confessing to his wife Jemma in 2006 that he had been secretly homosexual throughout their five-year marriage.

In a new book Thomas says that the night his wife left him, he dressed in his best grey suit issued by the Welsh Rugby Union and headed to the swimming pool of his home set upon drowning himself.

He explained in an interview on Saturday how he had fought to become one of the toughest players on the pitch in an attempt to hide his sexuality, which had been clear to him from the age of 16.

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Glasgow WarriorsEdinburghThis weekend represents the final chance for Gregor Townsend and Alan Solomons, head coaches of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby, to test out various combinations in a match situation ahead of the 2014/2015 season which starts in all earnest next weekend. Edinburgh played their pre-season friendly match last night against Newcastle Falcons in Hawick while Glasgow Warriors face London Scottish in London.

In last night’s match the final score was Edinburgh Rugby 21(11)/15 (10) Newcastle Falcons. Alan Solomons was pleased with the win as although it was only a friendly match they had gone into it with the mind-set of it being a competitive one.

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Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford is looking to put his past alcohol-fuelled misdemeanours behind him and launch a new chapter in his impressive rugby career with Clermont.

The bad-boy of New Zealand rugby has had his fair share of run-ins with both rugby authorities and the law, but now he says he has a more mature head on his 25-year-old shoulders.

“I made some mistakes in my youth. The time had come to make some changes in my life and coming to Clermont was one of the best I could make,” he said.

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Warren Gatland

WALES COACH: Warren Gatland.

Warren Gatland’s role in helping to broker peace in Welsh rugby’s civil war has included the adoption of a rule preventing players who ply their trade overseas being available for the national team.

After months of bickering, Wales’ national body and its four regions have agreed to terms, signing a £60 million (NZ$118m) deal for six years.

With finances approved, it is hoped the clubs and country will be able to stop the player drain to competitions like the lucrative French club scene.

The Times reported that equally important in the attempt to plug the talent drain was a new ruling, dubbed “Gatland’s Law”, under which players plying their trade outside Wales would be unavailable for selection for the national team.

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WalesPeace in Wales has finally been struck after it was announced that the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and four regions signed a new Participation Agreement.

The deal is worth £60m and lasts until 2020, with dual contracts for the country’s top players set to be included while the Wales ‘A’ team returns.

“The national dual contracts represent a radical step forward in our mutual aim of retaining Welsh talent in Wales,” said WRU CEO Roger Lewis.

“The new contracts will help us keep more of our best players in Wales and will help stem the flow abroad of the talent we develop here through our academies and regions.”

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Brad Thorn

Brad Thorn: One of a kind

Bigger, faster, and stronger – it’s a wonder any professional rugby player lasts more than a handful of seasons before terminal injury strikes.

Professional rugby players’ representatives love to say how short their client’s careers will be – usually while negotiating for a pay rise.

They operate in an increasingly brutal arena, one tackle away from enforced retirement.

The average size of an All Black forward increased from 100kg to 113kg since rugby went professional in the mid-1990s and the backs have ballooned from 82kg to 94kg.

Collisions are now compared to car crashes. Concussion has become an unwelcome theme.

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Tom Wood

Tom Wood makes ground against the All Blacks in the summer.

Northampton flanker Tom Wood has said that the England squad has been told they have to get much fitter in the light of their series whitewash by New Zealand in the summer.

In an interview in the Daily Telegraph, Wood said that one of the issues is that the week-in, week-out club game no longer prepares players well enough for the rigours of the international game.

“International level is dramatically different to the club game,” he said. “We have been shown data that illustrates that.

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Alesana Tuilagi

Court date: Alesana Tuilagi

Samoa and Newcastle Falcons winger Alesana Tuilagi has been charged in connection with an alleged assault, according to reports.

Tuilagi will appear in court on 21 October in relation to an incident on Dublin’s Harcourt Street in 2011, according to RTÉ News. The former Leicester Tigers player was arrested in Dublin on Tuesday before appearing in court. He was later released on bail.

Furthermore, RTÉ News report the Dublin District Court heard that CCTV footage and witness statements of the incident were in existence.

Planet Rugby

IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 - EnglandCommunities across the length and breadth of England and Wales will share in the excitement of hosting Rugby World Cup 2015 after tournament organisers England Rugby 2015 and owners Rugby World Cup Limited announced the selection of team base camps.

With Rugby at heart, a selection of 41 venues from the University of Exeter in the south to Newcastle Royal Grammar School in the north, extend the reach of the showcase tournament, while delivering the stage for the world’s best teams to perform to their potential.

The search for team bases was launched via an open tender process in April 2013 and just under 100 bids were received from across the country and in Wales. All prospective team bases were subject to a rigorous selection process which included an expansive and detailed programme of site visits as well as liaison with the competing Rugby World Cup 2015 teams.

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Aviva Premiership

The Aviva Premiership is threatening to continue with their league schedule

Premiership Rugby has threatened to continue with their league programme during next year’s Rugby World Cup unless a deal can be reached with the RFU.

Tensions have been running high between Premiership Rugby and the RFU in recent months.

Premiership Rugby are upset after the RFU failed to consult them over the bid for the Rugby World Cup.

They are now seeking a compensation deal of £14 million from the RFU as they will have to shut down the league while the Rugby World Cup is taking place in England.

With the global showpiece scheduled to take place between September and October, England’s Premiership clubs will have no matchday income for five months – as the tournament finishes at the end of May – and according to projections each top tier club are set to lose £1.2 million.

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Josh Strauss

Josh Strauss in action for Glasgow Warriors

Josh Strauss admits he must deliver another sterling season for Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness PRO12 – and only then can he turn his attention to winning a Scotland cap.

Strauss, 27, made the move from South Africa to Glasgow in 2012 and will be eligible to play for Scotland on September 19, 2015 – four days before their opening World Cup match.

The back-row has been a formidable force for Gregor Townsend over the last two years, starting in 31 domestic games including last season’s final.

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WalesThe Welsh Rugby Union and the nation’s four regions could announce a deal this week to end almost two years of in-fighting over funding and control.

Wales captain Sam Warburton is expected to be joined by nine more players on dual contracts under the new agreement.

If the deal goes ahead, funding for the 10 will be in addition to an annual £6.7m shared between Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons.

The WRU and regions have been asked to comment.

Their last deal ended in June 2014, and if a fresh settlement is not forthcoming the regions face a combined £6.7m shortfall going into the 2014-15 season.

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Heriots Winners

Heriots celebrate winning the BT Scottish Rugby Charity Shield

The inaugural BT Scottish Rugby Charity Shield, hosted by last season’s Premiership winners, Melrose, against Cup winners Heriot’s got the new rugby year off to a flying start in a nine-try thriller.

The visitors edged the victory, leading by just one point going into the final minute with the win nailed by a converted try in the closing seconds.

After picking up the shield Heriot’s head coach, Phil Smith, said, “Last season our games were fairly similar, hotly contested, and in my opinion, this fixture showcased Scottish club rugby. There were some really good tries and it showed that the players are really trying to win games by scoring tries, rather than kicking penalties, which is what people want to see.”

An enthusiastic crowd cheered on both sides at the Greenyards, entry to the game free with donations invited for Melrose RFC’s designated charity this season, Breast Cancer Care.

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Emily Scarratt

Feminine side: Emily Scarratt receives the England Women’s Player of the Year award in 2013.

The hostility Emily Scarratt suffered for wanting to play rugby as a teenager was made to look even more absurd when she sealed England’s World Cup triumph last Sunday with a superb individual try.

Like the rest of her team-mates, Scarratt is only too aware of the cliches surrounding women’s rugby.

‘Leave it to the men,’ the dinosaurs say. ‘The rugby field is no place for girls’.

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EdinburghHead coach Alan Solomons will start five of his new Edinburgh Rugby recruits in the club’s first pre-season match against Leicester Tigers at The Greenyards tomorrow (23 August, kick-off 14:00 BST, 15:00 SA Time).

With the exclusion of lock Fraser McKenzie – who returns from Newcastle Falcons to start the game alongside Ollie Atkins – four of the five signings will make their debut for the capital club.

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Rossouw de Klerk

Rossouw de Klerk

Glasgow WarriorsGregor Townsend has named a 26-man squad for Saturday’s pre-season friendly against Aviva Premiership side Harlequins at Scotstoun (ko 15:30 BST / 16:30 SA Time).

James Downey, Rossouw de Klerk, Connor Braid and Alex Allan are all in line to make their debuts for the Warriors.

Prop Euan Murray and scrum-half Murray McConnell are also included in the squad after returning to the club in the summer.

The Warriors will confirm the starting line-up on Saturday.

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imageSelectors are sitting targets, an inevitable butt for criticism of the teams that did not quite work out.

But there are times when they are entitled to congratulate themselves, never more than when a single selection meeting launches not just one, but two or more outstanding international careers.

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Reuben Norville

Winger Reuben Norville starred with a hat-trick of tries

The touring Scotland Under 19 development side opened their two-Test account with a convincing, five-try win over their Romanian counterparts at the Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest on Wednesday (31-3).

After what would turn out to be a relatively slow start, in which the side created a lot but finished little, the young Scots quickly found their feet and kicked into gear.

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Brad Thorn

Brad Thorn: Still going strong at 39

Leicester Tigers have confirmed the arrival of World Cup-winning former All Black second row Brad Thorn.

39-year-old New Zealander was referred to by Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill as “one of the great all-time rugby players the world has ever seen.” He is expected at the club at the end of September.

Thorn became the first player to win World Cup, Super Rugby and Heineken Cup titles and arrives from the Highlanders having previously represented the Crusaders and Leinster.

“He is a very driven individual,” Cockerill told the Leicester Mercury.

“He wants to play in the Premiership and he wants to win the Premiership.”

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IRBThere has been no change in the Top 12 of the IRB world rankings following the opening round of The Rugby Championship.

Despite seeing their 17-Test win streak end in Sydney thanks to a 12-12 draw with the Wallabies, New Zealand continue to lead the way on 93.42 points.

The Wallabies, courageous in their efforts – and perhaps a little unlucky – remain in third position on 87.32.

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Richie Gray

Richie Gray

Richie Gray has described working with the Springboks for the past year as an “honour” and admits he does not know if he will return to coach at Murrayfield.

The 44-year-old from Galashiels is breakdown skills coach at South African Rugby Union, having made his name developing rugby training equipment.

He said: “I cannot fault this country – the supporters, the players and the management have been outstanding.

“For me even to be down here, it’s a real honour to work with this country.”

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World Club 7'sJoaquin Paz sparked a second-half comeback as unbeaten Buenos Aires clinched the World Club 7′s title at Twickenham over Auckland, who lost out at the final hurdle for the second year running.

Auckland were in the ascendancy after Mitch Karpik’s double but the Argentinians’ resolve throughout the weekend was also present in the final, with the deadly Paz crossing twice to secure a 26-22 victory.

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World Club 7'sWestern Province have their fair share of exciting young talent but manager Bobby Joubert is looking to Earl Rose for that added quality at the World Club 7′s.

Rose is the experienced head among Joubert’s charges, who head to Twickenham this weekend seeking to improve on their showing at the 2013 tournament.

The 30-year-old is a veteran of Currie Cup and Super Rugby and was selected in the Springboks squad for the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 2009.

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SA SchoolsThe SA Schools rugby team got off to a winning start in the SARU Under 18 International Series on Friday afternoon when they defeated France 28-13 at the City Park Stadium in Crawford, Cape Town.

They scored four converted tries, two in each half, to maintain their perfect record of the past four years against Northern Hemisphere opposition. In the earlier match, England managed to beat Wales 24-21.

Next Wednesday in George, the SA Schools will be in action against Wales while England face France, also at the Outeniqua Park Stadium.

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French Top 14The 2014 / 2015 season of Top 14, France’s premier rugby competition, kicks off tomorrow as reported earlier today here on rugby-talk.com. In this day of professional rugby we have become accustomed to the movement of many players between clubs and in a way rugby has seemed to catch up with football regarding the whole transfer market business. For many years we have been used to the constant speculation of football players changing clubs and the rumours about the exorbitant transfer fees and players salaries abound.

Rugby still has some way to go on the financial front to get anywhere near the world’s biggest sport – for example a £75 million price tag has been thrown about in the move of disgraced striker Louis Suarez from Liverpool to Barcelona. However, in terms of sheer volume of players and coaching staff moving about things are advancing at an ever-increasing rate.

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Twickenham

Twickenham will play host to its fifth European final.

The final of the inaugural 2014-15 European Rugby Champions Cup will be played at Twickenham.

Had the Heineken Cup still been in existence, that final would have taken place in Milan but the new tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby, who replace European Rugby Cup Ltd, have opted to take the match to Twickenham on 2 May.

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Paul Goze

Paul Goze

The president of the Top 14 Paul Goze has revealed there will be harsher financial penalties handed out to those who violate the various rules and regulations of the league.

Goze, who presides over the Top 14′s organisational body Ligue National de Rugby, spoke to Midi Olympique about a variety of issues facing the French domestic game and confirmed there will be rule changes for the forthcoming season with defensive bonus points now awarded to those teams who are within five points of the victor rather than seven.

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Guinness Pro12The league competition which features teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales, the Pro12, has had something of a makeover between last season and the upcoming one. The previous version of the Pro12 had been sponsored by RabboDirect for the last few years, but their deal came to an end and the competition needed a new sponsor. Up stepped Guinness to fill the vacuum to become the title sponsor. There have also been some changes on the broadcasting front with subscription television Sky Sports joining the likes of regular broadcasters BBC Wales, BBC ALBA, S4C and TG4 this season in a shared deal to show the games.

To add to the makeover there has been a fair amount of movement of players both away from and to the Pro12 with various South African players joining up with Pro12 clubs in the closed season – Former Free State Cheetahs and Blue Bulls prop Rossouw de Klerk has moved to Glasgow Warriors, ex Sharks player Anton Bresler has signed up with Edinburgh where he will join a host of South Africans to play under Alan Solomons and will team up with former team mate Allan Dell who signed back in February but has yet to feature for the team from the capital due to injury. Fullback Hennie Daniller and lock Andries Ferreira  will make their appearance for Italian club Zebre for the first time in the new season.

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Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has called together a group of 55 players for a four-day training camp in Loughborough.

The squad will report to the university this afternoon for strength and conditioning assessments as well as rugby training before departing at lunchtime on Wednesday.

This is the first time the players have met since the three Test tour to New Zealand last June, with the majority of the travelling party attending.

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