European Rugby

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Willem Alberts

Willem Alberts

Stade Français have confirmed the signing of Springbok back row Willem Alberts who will join the club after the Rugby World Cup.

The Top 14 champions have not brought in many players this off-season, generally prioritising quality over quantity, as Alberts joins Will Genia in the French capital.

Alberts arrives from the Cell C Sharks on a 3-year deal and will join a back row which already features Sergio Parisse, Raphaël Lakafia and Antoine Burban, while promising youngster Sekou Macalou also arrived over the off-season from Massy.

The 31-year-old made his Springbok debut back in 2010 and has scored 7 tries in 32 tests.

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Rugby World Cup 2023The French Rugby Federation (FFR) confirmed their interest and their name in the hat to bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

In a statement issued at the end of their annual congress in the eastern city of Belfort, the FFR said that an official bid should be delivered in 2017.

A final decision on the host nation will be made in May of 2017 by World Rugby. Ireland, Italy, South Africa and the United States have also expressed interest in hosting the 2023 tournament.

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Johan Goosen

Johan Goosen

Johan Goosen’s kicking coach has confirmed Western Province’s interest in the Springbok pivot and says the player is ‘considering’ all possible options.

Media reports earlier this month indicated that the Capetonians were interested in signing Goosen as a replacement for Demetri Catrakilis, who will join Montpellier in France after this year’s Currie Cup.

Bertus Pretorius, who is Goosen’s kicking coach in Bloemfontein, confirmed the interest in his player.

Goosen though still has 2 seasons left on his contract with Racing Metro in France and WP would have to fork out a lot of money to sign him.

“Any player will always consider possibilities (to move) and it’s not necessarily only WP. But Goose has a 3-year contract with Racing (should WP fail in their quest to lure him) and he’ll honour it, like he did with the Cheetahs,” Pretorius said.

Goosen though appears not to be a happy camper in France, with Racing coach Laurent Labit recently accusing the Springbok pivot of not attending French classes as well as not taking things serious enough at practice.

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Taulupe Faletau

Taulupe Faletau

A potential move by barnstorming Newport-Gwent Dragons No 8 Taulupe Faletau to English Premiership team Bath would not hinder his international chances, Wales head coach Warren Gatland insisted on Thursday.

The so-called “Gatland’s law” was put in place with the theory that home-based players would be favoured over those choosing to ply their trade overseas.

But it has appeared increasingly irrelevant, with a host of current Welsh internationals turning out for the national side despite playing in England or France, although the ‘law’ will reportedly only allow 2 wildcard selections from those playing outside the country after this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Tonga-born Faletau has a year left on his Dragons contract, but it seems increasingly likely he will be bought out of that deal, to the reported value of £ 250 000.00, with Premiership club Bath keen to sign the 24-year-old British and Irish Lions forward.

“We’re discussing it at the moment with the Dragons, the regions and Bath,” Gatland said.

“Toby’s got the biggest choice to make, that’s ongoing and hopefully that gets sorted out in the next week.

“There is potential there for Toby to move, that’s up to him, but he wouldn’t be hampered by that.

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Wandile Mjekevu

Wandile Mjekevu

The Cell C Sharks have announced the signing of utility back Wandile Mjekevu on a 2-year deal effective from July this year.

After having spent time with the Lions and the Sharks, the former junior Springbok joined French Top 14 club Perpignan in 2013 where he gained some valuable experience at the club and got the opportunity to further develop his game.

Commenting on Mjekevu’s signing, the Sharks Director of Rugby, Gary Gold, said they were delighted to bring the once promising young talent to Durban.

“We are delighted that Wandile has decided to return to the Sharks,” said Gold.

“He had a great stint in France and he is an unbelievable prospect. His strength and agility around the park will most certainly bolster our backline and we look forward to him progressing at the franchise.”

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Serge Blanco

Serge Blanco

Serge Blanco resigned as Biarritz president on Tuesday following his unsuccessful attempt to merge the club with Basque rivals Bayonne.

Blanco needed a 2-thirds majority in Biarritz’s general meeting to merge the fallen French giants with their regional rivals, but fell short.

Venezuelan-born Blanco, who was at Biarritz during his entire playing career, leaves the club in the 2nd-tier Pro D2 – the same division as Bayonne.

The decision comes as a surprise following the Biarritz board’s approval of the merger last week, but rival fans of Bayonne were among those to share their concerns.

Blanco, a French legend with 93 caps, had been in discussions with Bayonne’s president Manu Merin about the merger, and voiced his disappointment during Tuesday’s meeting, in which he resigned.

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CJ van der Linde

CJ van der Linde

Former Springbok coach Jake White has lured another South African player to Montpellier in France.

White has signed former Springbok prop CJ van der Linde from the EP Kings.

34-Year-old Van der Linde, who played 75 Tests for the Springboks, will join his new club at the end of this month.

His departure is a big blow for the EP Kings, as the former Springbok prop was also their scrum coach.

Van der Linde joins a large South African contingent at the ambitious Top 14 club.

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EnglandAustraliaThe Wallabies will play England in a blockbuster 3-Test series in Australia in June 2016, the Australian Rugby Union announced on Friday.

It will be 1st time in the century-old rivalry between Australia and England that the 2 nations will meet in a 3-Test series. The teams last met on 3 occasions in the same year in 2010, although just 2 matches were played on Aussie soil as part of England’s inbound tour.

Michael Cheika’s men will play their old rivals for the Cook Cup in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Australian Rugby Union CEO, Bill Pulver said: “With a rivalry that dates back to 1909, it is remarkable that Australia and England have never before played a 3-match series and the history of this occasion is sure to add to the anticipation for the tour.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

DHL Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen met with Director of Rugby Gert Smal on Monday morning, to sort out the events that transpired in France last week.
Vermeulen visited French Top 14 club Toulon late last week and was unveiled to the local media as their new signing – a move which certainly caught Western Province Rugby by surprise.

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The departure shortly from the Stormers of superstar No 8 Duane Vermeulen on a three-year deal to Toulon arguably confirms for the first time a grim reality: an overseas-based group of players would now make up the bulk of a full-strength Springbok team.

Vermeulen is the cherry on top, in many ways, of a fresh wave of once staunchly SA-based players quitting the domestic landscape either following this season’s Super Rugby competition – only the Stormers retain an interest in it – or later in the year after the Currie Cup and RWC 2015 have run their courses.

He is one of the most precious elements of the current Bok mix, and if you consider him foreign-based henceforth – along with several other seasoned internationals on their bikes imminently – then it is quite feasible to argue that the cream of coach Heyneke Meyer’s intended first-choice Test XV will suddenly be drawn from foreign climes.

Before, it was just a sprinkling, with men like France-based Bryan Habana, English-stationed Francois Louw and JP Pietersen from Japan bolstering a Bok side still made up very strongly of “home” elements.

But that trend is set for a pretty violent change.

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Bismarck du Plessis

Bismarck du Plessis

Jannie du Plessis

Jannie du Plessis

Jake White

Jake White

World Cup winning coach Jake White has formally welcomed the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, to his French club Montpellier.

The Top 14 outfit on Wednesday confirmed the signing of the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, from the Cell C Sharks.

In a brief statement on the club website Montpellier said the 2 Du Plessis brother had signed for 3 years.

The 2, who won the World Cup with White as coach in 2007, will head to France after this year’s edition of the World Cup – in England in September and October.

White welcomed the signing of the Springbok duo.

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ItalyItaly’s World Cup preparations are back on track after players and the national federation (FIR) reached an agreement over bonuses.

A training camp scheduled to start on Monday 15 June had been called off as the row over World Cup bonuses and other issues escalated.

Both sides accused the other of cancelling the training camp, although Italy’s players refused to leave their base in the northern town of Villabassa, where they were due to remain in camp until 3 July.

“The agreement will be sealed quickly in order to swiftly reconvene the World Cup preparation camp,” the FIR said in a statement.

A meeting at the Calvisano base of FIR president Alfredo Gavazzi allowed the “basis for a collective agreement to participate at the World Cup while respecting the meritocratic principles proposed by the federation and the requests, not just those economic, put forward by the players,” the statement said.

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Paul Strdgeon

Paul Strdgeon

The Welsh Rugby Union have acquired the services of highly respected and experienced fitness expert Paul Stridgeon as consultant Head of Physical Performance.

Stridgeon linked up with the national squad on Monday 15 June as Wales’ World Cup preparations commenced with initial conditioning training.

The 34 year-old will oversee the WRU’s Physical Performance department on a tournament-by-tournament basis combining that role with his Head of Strength and Conditioning position at European Champions Toulon.

Stridgeon, a former freestyle wrestler who represented England at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, joined Toulon in 2014 after 6 years as England Rugby National Fitness Coach.

He already has a close working relationship with a number of the Wales management team and players having toured with the British and Irish Lions as fitness coach in 2009 and 2013. His relationship with head coach Warren Gatland stretches further back to their time together at Wasps where they won both European and domestic titles.

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Zack Holmes

Zack Holmes

Western Force flyhalf Zack Holmes has signed a 2-year deal with La Rochelle, the Top 14 club announced on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old Perth-born Holmes, an Australian Sevens international who previously played with Force’s Super Rugby rivals Brumbies, will replace South African playmaker Peter Grant who was released with a season to run on his contract for family reasons.

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Scottish Rugby Referee Commissioner: Tappe Henning

Scottish Rugby Referee Commissioner Tappe Henning has recently signed a permanent deal to continue the work he started at the tail end of 2013. Spending 5 minutes in his company is more than enough to suggest that the personable South African is really making a difference to a facet of rugby that he harbours a clear passion for.

Having brought through the likes of Craig Joubert, who officiated in the 2011 World Cup final, Tappe’s reputation for spotting refereeing talent precedes him and now he wants to put Scotland back on the arbitrary map.

Tappe Henning said: “The real purpose of me coming to Scotland was to implement a high performance structure for referees so that we can train, educate and coach Scottish referees to Tier 1 Test level.

“The concerns were raised when there were no Scottish match officials at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and the situation has repeated itself now in 2015, which is worrying coming from a country which has always traditionally had a lot of them.

“In short, we needed a professional structure with support for referees in all aspects of it and getting pathways introduced to identify future referees to deliver top quality match officials for international rugby.”

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Duane Vermeulen

DHL Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen has not improved significantly enough to feature in the 1st Round of Super Rugby playoffs.

The Stormers host the Brumbies at DHL Newlands on Saturday and the burly Springbok will not be considered.

Should the Stormers beat the Brumbies at Newlands, they would travel to Sydney to face the Waratahs in the semifinals.

Vermeulen, who has missed the Stormers’ last 2 games with a bulging neck disc that at one stage threatened his World Cup prospects, is making “good progress” on the road to recovery.

However, coach Allister Coetzee said that the improvement is “not enough” for this week.

“Hopefully, going forward, there is still an opportunity for him,” Coetzee told a media scrum at the team’s training base.

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CrusadersSaracens RugbyAn ambitious plan to stage a match between New Zealand’s Crusaders Knights and English Premiership club Saracens in New Orleans has been cancelled.

The planned fixture on 1 August at New Orleans’ 70 000-capacity SuperDome was designed to capitalise on growing US interest in Rugby Union.

However, the fixture – just like the Independence Cup match, an encounter between the newly formed NRFL Rough Riders and English Premiership giants Leicester Tigers – has become a victim of the ongoing battle between USA Rugby and RugbyLaw.

USA Rugby is the recognised national controlling body registered with World Rugby, while RugbyLaw is planning to launch a new professional league, the NRFL, in the United States.

However, USA Rugby declined to sanction the encounter between Tigers and the Rough Riders – because the Rough Riders are not registered with USA Rugby.

Now the dispute between USA Rugby and RugbyLaw have claimed another victim.

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Hosea Gear

Hosea Gear

French club Clermont Auvergne have signed All Black wing Hosea Gear on a 2-year deal from the Chiefs.

The 31-year-old Gear, who played 14 Tests and scored 6 tries for the All Blacks from 2008 – 2012, completes Clermont’s recruitment campaign for next season – following the arrivals of Springbok Flip van der Merwe, French international Scott Spedding, Waisake Naholo (Highlanders), David Strettle (England), Adrien Plante and Camille Gerondeau.

Gear is returning to France, where he already played 1 season for Toulouse in 2013 and 2014.

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ItalyItaly’s World Cup preparations got off on the wrong foot on Monday, when players refused to take part in the 1st training session in a row over pay.

The Italian Rugby Federation said it had “taken note” of the players’ decision “to neither take part in training nor wear federation kit before a financial agreement is found over participation in training and the World Cup”.

40 Players had gathered at Niederdorf / Villabassa, close to the northern town of Bolzano, for the 14 June to 3 July training camp.

However, captain Sergio Parisse and veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni were both absent after their Top 14 efforts with Stade Francais and Toulon respectively.

The Italian internationals want a match-by-match bonus for the 18 September to 31 October World Cup in England instead of a once-off payment linked to their performances, as desired by the federation.

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Johann Sadie

Johann Sadie

Newly-promoted French Top 14 team, Agen, have signed South African centre Johann Sadie as they continue to build ahead of next season.

The 26-year-old arrives from Super Rugby side the Toyota Cheetahs and has signed a 2-year deal, the club confirmed.

Sadie started his career with Western Province before spells with the DHL Stormers, Vodacom Bulls and then the Toyota Cheetahs. In 2014, he started playing for the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan but was allowed to return to Bloemfontein during the Super Rugby season.

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Stade Français

Stade Français, Top 14 Champions for 2015

Stade Français ensured Clermont’s dire record continued as the Paris club handed the side from central France their 11th defeat in 12 French finals.

South African flyhalf Morné Steyn kicked Stade Français into a 6 / 0 lead, while Morgan Parra missed 2 chances to reduce the lead for Clermont.

Steyn added a 3rd penalty before Camille Lopez made it 9 / 3 at the break.

Brock James cut the gap to 3 but missed a chance to level the scores and Steyn added a 4th penalty late on.

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EnglandEngland players have been dangled a large financial carrot ahead of the Rugby World Cup later this year.

The home side’s players have been offered a performance bonus of just over £ 100 000.00 (R 1.9m) each if they win the title, according to the Daily Mail website.

The financial incentive is believed to be more than 6 times greater than the £ 16 000.00 (R 300 000.00) reward that was on offer for winning this year’s Six Nations tournament – which they missed out on in dramatic fashion as Ireland triumphed.

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Johan Goosen

Johan Goosen

John Plumtree

John Plumtree

With the current DHL Stormers coach, Allister Coetzee already having confirmed his departure to Japan at the end of 2015 and with Demetri Catrakilis already having signed for Jake White’s Montpellier, the rumour mill is starting to get into full gear regarding replacements for these vital Stormers positions.

Current Hurricanes forwards coach and former Sharks head coach, John Plumtree is touted to be a favourite for the Stormers head coach position.

Johan Goosen, 2nd choice flyhalf at Racing Metro, has also been linked to a move to Cape Town, to join DHL Western Province.


John Plumtree:

Former Sharks coach John Plumtree is being linked with a move to coach the DHL Stormers in next year’s Super Rugby competition.

Plumtree is currently the assistant coach of Super Rugby log-leaders, the Hurricanes, but the New Zealander has been in connection with Western Province Director of Rugby, Gert Smal, about a possible move to Cape Town.

Allister Coetzee, the current Stormers coach, will leave the team after this year’s competition to take charge of the Kobe Kobelco Steelers in Japan.

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Bakkies Botha

Bakkies Botha

Springbok lock Bakkies Botha, who announced his retirement from international rugby late last year, will head up a strong group of Test icons for the match between South Africa and a World XV at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday 11 July 2015.

Botha is 1 of 9 Toulon players who will line up against the Springboks. The giants from the south of France recently won their 3rd consecutive European club title.

Toulon coach Bernard Laporte, who was previously in charge of the French national team, will assist former Wallaby and Crusaders coach Robbie Deans with the World XV.

Botha’s Toulon team-mates who have been confirmed for the World XV are Delon Armitage (fullback), David Smith (wing), Rudi Wulf (centre), Maxime Mermoz (centre), Steffon Armitage (loose forward), Ali Williams (lock), Craig Burden (hooker) and Alexandre Menini (prop).

Added to this list are Springbok and Vodacom Bulls centre JJ Engelbrecht, Wallaby scrumhalf Luke Burgess and France scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud. The World XV will be captained by Louis-Benoit Madaule, who plays on the flank for French club Bordeaux Begles.

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Israel Folau

Israel Folau

Even with the Top 14 Final looming, the French media rumour mill has gone into overdrive about Southern Hemisphere players heading north for the next season.

Waratahs superstar Israel Folau is the latest Wallaby linked to a move to cash-flush French club Toulon.

Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal, who has never been scared to wield his substantial cheque book to lure big names to Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, has already made substantial acquisitions for the 2015 / 2016 season.

According to the French sporting newspaper Midi Olympique Boudjellal and his people are already speaking to Folau.

If the 2-time European champions convince the Wallaby fullback to head to France after the World Cup, in England in September and October, he will join a long list of high-profile recruits.

Already said to be heading to Toulon for the new season are Ma’a Nonu (from the Hurricanes), Jonathan Pélissié (from Montpellier), France Thibault (from Oyonnax), Salesi Ma’afu (from Northampton Saints), Samu Manoa (from Northampton Saints), Mohamed Boughanmi (from Béziers), Julien Caminati (from France Grenoble), Quade Cooper (or so they claim, from the Reds), James O’Connor (another unconfirmed arrival – from the Reds), Charles Ollivon (from Bayonne), Anthony Etrillard (from Bayonne) and Paul O’Connell (from Munster).

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Shade Munro

Shade Munro

Scottish Rugby has confirmed Glasgow Warriors assistant coach, Shade Munro, will be the new head coach of the Scotland Women’s team.

Munro will move into the role over the summer and is charged with progressing the women’s national side in line with the forthcoming National Strategy for Women & Girls’ Rugby which is being developed by Head of Women & Girls’ Rugby, Sheila Begbie MBE.

The 48-year-old former lock, capped 7 times for Scotland, has worked his way up the coaching ladder since retiring from playing in 1997 and will bring 18 years of coaching experience to the role.

After coaching initially at club level with Glasgow Hawks, Munro moved on to Glasgow Warriors as assistant coach in 2002, was part of the Scotland coaching set-up in 2006 and, as head coach in 2013, helped Scotland A to victory over England for the 1st time south of the border.

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Mark Dodson

Scottish Rugby Chief Executive: Mark Dodson

In 20 years of the professional rugby age you could probably count the good news stories in the Scottish game on the fingers of 1 hand – or both hands if you were being generous.

This past week has been huge, however. Nobody is extrapolating Test match glory from Glasgow’s PRO12 skilful and clinical victory over Munster in Belfast last Saturday, but it was an uplifting occasion nonetheless.

On Thursday, Mark Dodson, the chief executive of Scottish Rugby, spoke about the union’s latest rugby academy, operating out of Edinburgh Napier University. The Edinburgh programme is run alongside others in Cumbernauld, Aberdeen and the Borders and all are for players age 14 and up.

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Mourad Boudjellal

Toulon boss, Mourad Boudjellal

Toulon boss Mourad Boudjellal took aim at the Stade Bordeaux spectators for showing “disrespect” to 1 of the game’s greatest players.

Stade  Français stunned triple European champions Toulon 33 / 16 last Friday to reach the French Top 14 Final.

Led by the irrepressible Italian back row forward Sergio Parisse, Stade scored tries through flanks Rapahel Lakafia and Antoine Bourban, before a freak late score from wing Julien Arias gave a flattering skew to the final score – as they reached their 1st Final since defeating Clermont 23 / 18 in 2007.

It was a sad end for a number of veteran stalwarts, whose club careers ended with this defeat – including South Africa’s Bakkies Botha, along with Ali Williams and Carl Hayman of New Zealand.

Outgoing Toulon coach Bernard Laporte took aim at the players, for a lack of commitment, but the club President, Boudjellal, turned anger on the spectators.

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Glasgow Warriors captain Alastair Kellock with the PRO12 trophy

Gregor Townsend had the following to say:

If Carlsberg did rugby weekends… well it was very much a Guinness weekend for us and I’m sure our supporters enjoyed some of the sponsor’s product in Belfast and in the many pubs and rugby clubs throughout Scotland after the final whistle last Saturday night.

It was a joy to watch our players perform so well in such an important game and as a coaching group we were immensely proud of their efforts. Even better was the reaction to this performance from our sizeable travelling support. Their constant noise and some new chants made it a great occasion at the Kingspan Stadium – a venue that will now forever have fond memories for Glasgow supporters.

Over the past few weeks I’ve written about the culture of Glasgow Warriors and how this has been the foundation for our success. The on-field development over the past 3 years also tells a story of how the players have improved to become a much stronger team. The following games illustrate this progress.

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Guy Noves

Guy Noves

Guy Noves, the mythical manager of Top 14 giants Toulouse will take over as head coach of France following this year’s World Cup.

The 61-year-old is set to take up the post in November after fighting off competition from Bordeaux-Begles manager Raphael Ibanez amongst others, according to respected sports daily L’Equipe and radio station RMC.

A vote to decide the successor to current coach Philippe Saint-Andre was carried out in a secret ballot at the French Rugby Federation headquarters on Friday.

The FFR have announced they will make the decision official on Sunday following the Top 14 playoff clash between Toulouse and Oyonnax who meet on Saturday.

Toulouse are still in the running for a 20th French championship but must 1st overcome the challenge of Oyonnax if they want to keep their bid alive.

Noves, who has coached Toulouse since 1993 and is the most titled coach in French rugby, is set to be joined by 2 of his former players – current forwards coach Yannick Bru and Stade Francais backs’ coach Jean-Frederic Dubois.

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GlasgowWarriorsbFinn Russell inspired Glasgow Warriors to their maiden Guinness PRO12 title with a solid kicking display and a 2nd-half try to sink Munster in Belfast.

But there was to be no repeat of last year’s defeat to Leinster, as Glasgow showed their superior cutting edge to clinch a 31 / 13 victory and give retiring captain Al Kellock the perfect send-off.

A blistering 1st half saw Rob Harley, DTH van der Merwe and Henry Pyrgos each cross over for the Warriors, but Andrew Smith’s score just before the break sent Munster in just 11 points off the pace.

That deficit was cut to 8 early in the 2nd half, but Russell flew over on the hour and the Warriors expertly saw out the contest to ensure Munster’s wait for a 4th PRO12 crown goes on for at least another year.

Glasgow were let off when Ian Keatley’s early long-range penalty fell short of the posts but they almost stole a march towards the Munster line soon after, only for a heroic tap-tackle from stand-in captain Denis Hurley to halt van der Merwe’s charge.

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SaracensOwen Farrell helped himself to a personal tally of 18 points, as Saracens got their hands back on the Premiership trophy, beating Bath 28 / 16 and becoming the 1st side to finish outside the Top 2 in the regular season and go on to be crowned champions.

Saracens got off to a flying start as flyhalf Farrell touched down after only 6 minutes and England teammate Jamie George followed him over the whitewash shortly after.

And Chris Wyles added a 3rd try as Saracens went into the break 25 / 3 ahead, Bath having just a solitary George Ford penalty on hte board.

But Bath, appearing in their 1st Premiership Final since 2004, came out stronger after the break and Jonathan Joseph’s try and the boot of Ford got them back into the contest as they trailed 16 / 25 with a quarter of the game to go.

However, man-of-the-match Ford stretched Saracens lead with a penalty and from then on Mark McCall’s men never looked like relinquishing their lead as they got their hands back on the trophy for the 1st time since 2011.

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Barbarians RugbyJoe Launchbury and Ed Slater will resume their international careers by lining up for an England XV against the Barbarians today (Sunday).

The lock pairing will feature in a side captained by scrum-half Lee Dickson, and with Mathew Tait at fullback.

The squad features 10 players from Stuart Lancaster’s initial World Cup squad, including Danny Cipriani at No 10.

New Zealand’s World Cup-winning forward Brad Thorn skippers an experienced BaaBaas side at Twickenham.

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Jacques Burger

If Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final is being billed as “Beauty against the Beast” – the carefree attacking play of Bath’s young backs against the suffocating Saracens defence – then there is little doubt which individual player represents the latter in this analogy.

When Sarries are at their best – when their defence is at its most intense and brutal – flanker Jacques Burger invariably leads from the front.

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