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avivalogo2Bath are looking to end their 19-year wait for a top-flight title as they face Saracens in the Premiership final.

The Blue, Black and Whites have selected the same team that thumped Leicester in the semi-finals last week.

Saracens, winners in 2011 and beaten finalists last season, have reached the final for the fourth time in six years.

Like Bath, Sarries have also named an unchanged side, meaning 18 of England’s World Cup training squad will be in action at Twickenham on Saturday.

Their only change from the squad that won at Northampton Saints – the team that beat them in last year’s final – comes among the replacements, with hooker Schalk Brits returning after illness.

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Eben Etzebeth

Eben Etzebeth

Big-spending French giants Toulon are finding the going tough in luring Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth to France after this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Reports late last year indicated that Etzebeth could join Toulon as a replacement for compatriot Bakkies Botha, who is set to leave the reigning European champions.

The problem though for Toulon is that Etzebeth is still contracted to Western Province until the end of the 2016 season – and the union is reluctant to let him go.

Toulon boss Mourad Boudjellal has confirmed their interest in Etzebeth, but admitted that they are finding the going tough to attain Etzebeth’s services, with Western Province believed to be upset over the matter.

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MontpellierMontpellier, coached by former Springbok and Sharks mentor Jake White, have announced that 19 players will leave the club at the end of the season, including former All Black Rene Ranger and ex-Springbok Wynand Olivier.

Rene Ranger is set to return to New Zealand with the Blues in next season’s Super Rugby.

There is already a large South African contingent at Montpellier.

Shaun Sowerby is White’s assistant coach, while Pat Cilliers (prop) and Robert Ebersohn (centre) already ply their trade there.

Other South Africans soon to join include Jacobie Adriaanse (Llanelli Scarlets, prop), Schalk van der Merwe (Lions, prop), Demetri Catrakilis (Stormers, flyhalf), Jacques du Plessis (Bulls, loose forward / lock), Cameron Wright (Sharks, scrumhalf / flyhalf) and Wiaan Liebenberg (Bulls, loose forward).

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Shane Jennings

Shane Jennings

Leinster’s Shane Jennings will captain the Barbarians against Ireland at Thomond Park on Thursday.

The Leinster and Ireland flank retires from the professional game in June after a distinguished career in which he has won 13 caps for Ireland, Pro12 and European Cup titles for Leinster and a Premiership title with Leicester Tigers.

He captains a starting side containing 9 different nationalities with 466 international appearances between them for the game in Limerick on 28 May.

It includes his Leinster teammates Zane Kirchner and Jimmy Gopperth with Ulster scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar also starting for the famous invitation club celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

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EnglandEngland head coach Stuart Lancaster has named 10 players from his World Cup training group in a squad of 24 to play the Barbarians next Sunday Twickenham.

The England side will be captained by experienced scrumhalf Lee Dickson, who has 18 international caps to his name, and who also led the England Saxons team to victory against the Irish Wolfhounds in Cork earlier this year.

The other World Cup training squad members named are Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Matt Mullan (Wasps), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers) and Marland Yarde (Harlequins).

The fixture will provide an opportunity for those who narrowly missed out on initial selection for the 50-man training squad to press their claims as well as allowing a number of up-and-coming players to work with Lancaster and his senior coaching group.

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Ruan Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar

Zane Kirchner

Zane Kirchner

The latest news from the Barbarians camp is that both Zane Kirchner and Ruan Pienaar have been called up to join the Barbarians for the matches against Ireland and England.

The Barbarians face Ireland at Thomond Park (28 May) and an England XV at Twickenham (31 May).

They will line up alongside the likes of Joe Rokocoko, George Smith, Adam Jones, Alex Cuthbert, Gio Aplon and Thomas Waldrom for the famous invitation club that celebrates the 125th anniversary of its foundation this year.

World Cup-winning Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar has also been called up to complete the Barbarians squad to face Ireland and England this week.

Apart from Pienaar, who became available after his Irish province Ulster suffered a dramatic 14 / 16 defeat to Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 semifinals at the weekend, Barbarians head coach Robbie Deans also added other high-profile names like England international wing Ugo Monye, also with All Blacks forwards Brad Thorn and Jason Eaton.

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George Smith

George Smith

Australian legend George Smith will get a taste of Champions Cup next season after agreeing a switch from Lyon to Wasps.

The 34-year-old flank, part of the Wallabies side that beat the British & Irish Lions in 2001 and reached the 2003 World Cup final, retired from international rugby with 111 caps after 1 final appearance against the Lions in 2013.

He played for the Brumbies for 11 years before switching to Europe and then Japan. He played for Toulon in the old Heineken Cup in 2010 / 2011, helping them reach the quarterfinals, and the following season played for Stade Francais Paris in the Challenge Cup, reaching the semifinals.

He made 24 appearances for Lyon last season, but couldn’t stop them from losing their Top 14 status. He will join a Wasps team that retained its Champions Cup place and will get his 1st taste of Premiership rugby, battling for a place with James Haskell, Ashley Johnson, Nathan Hughes, Guy Thompson, Sam Jones and Thomas Young.

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CJ Stander

CJ Stander

Munster will face Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness PRO12 final in Ravenhill after an incredible 21 / 18 win over Ospreys at Thomond Park.

Josh Matavesi crossed at the death for what would have been the winning try for the Ospreys but a knock-on in the build-up meant the try was ruled out and Munster progressed to the final.

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Aviva Premiership LogoBath reached their 1st Premiership final since 2004 with a comfortable play-off semi-final win over Leicester.

A brace from Matt Banahan and a Kyle Eastmond try put the hosts in control, but they ended the 1st half with 13 men as Tom Youngs replied.

2Nd-half tries from Peter Stringer, George Ford and Anthony Watson sealed Bath’s passage to Twickenham as Banahan completed his hat-trick late on.

The Blue, Black and Whites will face Saracens in the final on 30 May.

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Aviva Premiership LogoOwen Farrell produced a nerveless kicking display as Saracens avenged last year’s extra-time defeat to Northampton Saints by booking their place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final once more.

David Strettle got Sarries off to a flying start but Northampton’s pack responded to win a Penalty Try, before the 2 sides traded scores early in the 2nd half through Jamie George and Tom Wood.

But it was the battle between England flyhalves Farrell and Stephen Myler that ultimately settled this semi-final, with the Sarries man besting his counterpart by 19 points to 14 from the tee – including an ice-cool 77th minute penalty to take the game out of the defending champions’ reach.

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Guinness PRO12Glasgow Warriors left it late but eventually overcame a huge challenge from Ulster to clinch a PRO12 Grand Final place.

The Irish province had much the better of the opening exchanges and took control midway through the opening period with Chris Henry’s try.

But Glasgow came out fired up for the 2nd half and kept themselves in touch before DTH van der Merwe levelled the scores on his final Scotstoun appearance 5 minutes from time.

The score sent the 10 000 sell-out crowd into ecstasy but there was still work to be done as Finn Russell lined up the decisive conversion.

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CrusadersSaracens RugbyNew Zealand’s Crusaders announced on Wednesday they will play English Premiership club Saracens in New Orleans on 1 August, in a fixture designed to capitalise on growing US interest in rugby.

The Crusaders, 7-time Super Rugby champions, said they will field their development side for the 1-off fixture at the 70 000 capacity SuperDome.

Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said the match, to be called The Hemispheres Cup, was a rare north-south club clash.

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Charles Piutau

Charles Piutau

Charles Piutau has been told by the New Zealand Rugby Union that he cannot play for the Blues next year.

The 23-year-old, has accepted a deal with Pro12 club Ulster midway through the 2016 year, and he wanted to play for the Blues before he left.

If Piutau was allowed to continue playing in Auckland next year he would be available for more than 10 of the Blues Super Rugby games in the 2016 season before his obligations at Ulster began.

However NZRU has denied the opportunity for the 23-year-old to continue playing for the Blues next year, applying its regulation that Super Rugby players must available for All Blacks Test duty.

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Jake White

Jake White

Former Springbok coach Jake White was being linked as a possible successor to France coach Philippe Saint-Andre.

Saint-Andre, who has won only 15 of 37 Tests in charge of France, will step down after this year’s Rugby World Cup in England and Wales.

According to Britain’s Telegraph, there is no shortage of top coaches eager to replace him, with White and former England coach Clive Woodward believed to be in the running.

Woodward, England’s 2003 World Cup winning mentor, has reportedly been involved in discussions with French bosses and it is alleged as many as 66 names were presented and they have been whittled down to a shortlist of 8.

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Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess

Stuart Lancaster has announced England’s extended training squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The 50-man group will meet up at Pennyhill Park on Monday 22 June to begin preparing for the tournament, which starts against Fiji, at Twickenham, on Friday 18 September.

England will also face France home and away and Ireland at Twickenham as part of the QBE Internationals as they build towards the World Cup.

Five eye-catching inclusions are Luke Cowan-Dickie, Maro Itoje, Sam Burgess, Elliot Daly and Henry Slade, all of whom featured in an 18 / 9 victory for England Saxons over Ireland Wolfhounds back in January.

Calum Clark and Ed Slater bring the tally of uncapped players to 7. Each of them will be vying for a Test debut.

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Frederic Michalak

Frederic Michalak

Francois Trinh-Duc

Francois Trinh-Duc

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has favoured experience as he named Montpellier flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc and Toulon veteran Frederic Michalak in his 36-man squad for the World Cup.

Trinh-Duc, 28, and Michalak, 32, were given the nod ahead of Clermont flyhalf Camille Lopez, 26, for the 18 September to 31 October tournament in England.

“We really chose experience,” said Saint-Andre, whose side bid to overturn a record of just 15 wins for 2 draws and 20 defeats in the past 3 years.

“Both in terms of Francois Trinh-Duc, who has returned to form for his club and knows a World Cup (2011) as has Remi Tales, who knows our systems well and the France team,” the France coach continued.

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Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess

Springbok loose forward Francois Louw is backing his Bath teammate Sam Burgess to make his debut for England on the flank.

Rugby League convert Burgess has impressed since moving to the back row from the centres, and is widely tipped to be included in England’s pre-World Cup training squad – which will be named on Wednesday.

“I don’t think Sam will struggle at international level,” said Louw. “He will hold his own.”

“Stuart Lancaster has his hands full with loose forwards, but it’s not going to be too long before Sam makes his international debut on the flank.”

“Maybe it will be at this year’s World Cup and I’ll see him there.”

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Sir Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward

England’s Rugby World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward is in the hunt to succeed Philippe Saint-Andre as France manager, L’Equipe reported on Monday.

The sports daily says the 59-year-old’s name is 1 of the 8 candidates on the French rugby federation’s shortlist to take over Les Bleus after this year’s World Cup.

The federation, which has not identified any of the finalists, will name Saint-Andre’s successor by the end of May after the 8 remaining candidates are interviewed by the federation’s selection panel.

The names most bandied about as Saint-Andre’s successor are those of Bordeaux-Begles coach Raphael Ibanez, former Montpellier manager Fabien Galthie and veteran Toulouse coach Guy Noves, who turned down the job in 2011.

L’Equipe suggests that while Woodward may be the best qualified for the job “it seems improbable that he’ll become the 1st foreign coach of Les Bleus”.

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Jannie du Plessis

Jannie du Plessis

Bismarck du Plessis

Bismarck du Plessis

The Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, are set to sign a deal with French club Montpellier, a report in French media indicates.

Reports surfaced earlier this year that the Springbok brothers would join Montpellier on a 2-year deal after the conclusion of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but Montpellier denied it at the time.

However, according to RMC Sport, the double signing of the Sharks duo is expected to be announced in the coming days.

The Du Plessis brothers are believed to have respected their earlier commitment despite having some contact with Toulon.

Montpellier are coached by former Springbok coach Jake White, who was quoted as saying after their weekend defeat at Stade Francais: “Big names will be announced in the coming days. To win the Top 14, you need the best players in the world.”

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Aviva PremiershipEnglish Premiership organisers have confirmed the teams and venues for the 2015 Aviva Premiership Semi-finals.

Both Semi-finals will be played next Saturday on 23 May 2015 and the kick-off times will be at 14:00 BST (15:00 SA Time) and 17:00 BST (18:00 SA Time) and both will be broadcast on BT Sport in the UK.

Northampton Saints will host Saracens at Franklin’s Gardens in the 1st Semi-final.

In the 2nd Semi-final Bath will host Leicester Tigers at the Recreation Ground.

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Richie Vernon

Richie Vernon scores the try which cements the Warriors semi-final spot

In the early minutes of the 2nd half at Scotstoun there was a lineout on the main stand side of the pitch, a routine set-piece that wouldn’t have mattered a damn except for the light it shone on Glasgow’s mindset at the time.

Ulster were in position 1st. Organised and buzzing and in the lead by 10 / 6. Glasgow trooped into line sluggishly.

Glasgow’s Jonny Gray stopped en route to take some instruction from the sideline and then assumed his place, slowly. Their mission to bank a home PRO12 semi-final was always going to be mountainous, but now, in these bleak moments, it had taken on the look of Everest.

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Al Kellock

Al Kellock

Al Kellock returns to the Glasgow Warriors side for today’s massive Guinness PRO12 match with Ulster at a sold-out Scotstoun Stadium (kick-off 15:00 BST, 16:00 SA Time).

The Warriors captain, who replaces the injured Tim Swinson in the 2nd-row, could be making his final appearance at Scotstoun, following the announcement that he is to retire from rugby at the end of the season.

2nd-placed Glasgow can still secure a home play-off, but Ulster are also playing for home advantage next weekend.

With an increased capacity of around 10 000 it will be the club’s biggest home crowd for a regular season game and tickets for this match sold out in record time.

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Jano Vermaak

Jano Vermaak

Springbok scrumhalf Jano Vermaak has signed a 2-and-a-half-year deal with Western Province Rugby and will be available for selection from 1 July, once he has completed his current club commitments in France.

The 30-year-old will make the move back to South Africa from French giants, Toulouse; joining Nic Groom, Louis Schreuder and Godlen Masimla as the senior scrumhalf options for the DHL Stormers and DHL Western Province.

The quicksilver Vermaak has won 3 Test caps for the Springboks, making his debut against Italy on 8 June 2013, before also featuring against the Wallabies and the All Blacks later that season.

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Manu Tuilagi

Manu Tuilagi

England rugby union player Manu Tuilagi will not play in the World Cup after admitting assaulting police officers, head coach Stuart Lancaster has said.

The Leicester Tigers centre, 23, was fined £ 6 205.00 when he appeared before magistrates.

He had been charged with 2 counts of assaulting a police officer, assault by beating and causing criminal damage, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

Lancaster said he would not be considered for England until January.

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Waisake Naholo

Waisake Naholo

Despite signing a contract to join Clermont next season, New Zealand Rugby is reportedly hopeful of retaining Super Rugby’s top try-scorer, Waisake Naholo.

Quotes attributed to the club’s Sporting Director, Jean-Marc Lhermet, suggest the move is not a foregone conclusion given the form of the Highlanders’ winger, who has a competition-leading 8 tries in his 11 appearances.

“As it stands we have a contract of 2 years with an option that has been signed by the player,” Lhermet told La Montagne – a newspaper based in Clermont.

“It’s true that his agent reassured us initially when there were noises about the NZRU wanting to keep him. Now, his performances in Super Rugby are remarkable and we are under an increasing amount of pressure from the NZRU. And when the All Black machine gets going, it becomes complicated.

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Gio Aplon

Gio Aplon

South Africa’s Gio Aplon and Australia’s George Smith are among the new additions to the Barbarians squad for this month’s matches against Ireland and England.

Smith, the Lyon flank, is one of 5 players from 5 different countries named as the famous invitation club continues its 125th anniversary celebrations.

Head coach Robbie Deans has also added Springbok Aplon (Grenoble), Tonga prop Soane Tonga’uiha (Oyonnax), Uruguay lock Rodrigo Capo Ortega (Castres) and Japan No 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani (Panasonic Wild Knights) to his squad.

They join up with the likes of Joe Rokocoko, Adam Jones, Alex Cuthbert and Berrick Barnes for the matches against Ireland at Thomond Park on 28 May and an England XV at Twickenham on 31 May.

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Jacobie Adriaanse

Jacobie Adriaanse

Tighthead prop Jacobie Adriaanse is the latest South African set to join Jake White at French club Montpellier.

Adriaanse, 29, will be available for Montpellier from June after ending his stint with Welsh club, Llanelli Scarlets.

Adriaanse has represented the Scarlets 51 times since joining them in November 2012.

His contract with Montpellier is only until after the Rugby World Cup (October 31).

Adriaanse said that he could consider staying longer should things fall in place.

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Semi Kunatani

Semi Kunatani

Free-scoring Fiji rugby Sevens powerhouse Semi Kunatani has joined French Top 14 club Toulouse on a 2-year deal, the club said on Tuesday.

The rampaging 24-year-old can play as a lock, flank or wing and with 37 international tries since his debut in 2013 he is seen as one of the best sevens players in the world.

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Taqele Naiyaravoro

Taqele Naiyaravoro

The Scottish Rugby Union is set to spend a 6-figure fee to sign powerhouse Fijian-born wing Taqele Naiyaravoro, with the aim of making him eligible to play for Scotland after a 3-year residency period.

Naiyaravoro, who has been compared to All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu, declined to comment on reports he had signed with Edinburgh, but Waratahs CEO Greg Harris said the Fijian-born powerhouse had a contractual obligation to the Scottish team.

This clause in the contract states that if the Australians call him up for international duty, he will remain in the Southern Hemisphere.

According to reports in Australia, New South Wales Waratahs wing Naiyaravoro has been allocated to Edinburgh as part of a 3-year deal worth AUS $ 1 million to the 23-year-old.

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Euan Murray

Euan Murray

Scotland’s most-capped prop Euan Murray announced his retirement from international rugby yesterday.

The 34-year-old brings down the curtain on an international career that began against Romania ten years ago, included the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa and the 2008 Calcutta Cup victory over England, and ended with his record-breaking outing against Ireland in the final game of the 2015 RBS 6 Nations.

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Stade vs Racing

Springbok Morné Steyn’s long-range kicking capability took centre stage as Stade Francais overcame the early Red Carding of captain Sergio Parisse to beat Parisian rivals Racing-Metro 28 / 19 in Top 14 action on Sunday.

The win leaves Stade in 4th in the table behind leaders Toulon, Clermont and Toulouse, with Oyonnax in 5th above Racing in 6th.

With just 2 games of the regular season to play, the pressure will be on in the fight to nail down a spot in the top 6 for the end-of-season play-offs.

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Ross Moriarity & Bill Meakes

Gloucester’s Ross Moriarty (left) and Bill Meakes (right)

Meakes suspended for 2 weeks:

The Gloucester centre, Bill Meakes, has been suspended for 2 weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin yesterday (Thursday 7 May) arising from the European Challenge Cup final against Edinburgh at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday 1 May 2015.

Meakes was sent off by referee, Jérôme Garcès (France), in the 64th minute of the match for an alleged dangerous tackle on the Edinburgh centre, Sam Beard (No 13), in contravention of Law 10.4(e).

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Brett Gosper

Brett Gosper

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper has revealed that they could review the 3-year residency rule for eligbility as there has been an increasing number of foreign-born players being selected for national teams.

Currently, players can compete for a country other than the one they were born in through a family connection stretching back to a grandparent, or via a 3-year residency period.

The issue was brought into sharp focus at this year’s Six Nations where a host of players represented adopted countries, having been lured overseas by hefty club salaries.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Gosper indicated the international game’s governing body was prepared to review the 3-year rule for Test eligibility.

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Schalk van der MerweThe Emirates Lions could well have lost 1 of their brightest stars as former Springbok coach Jake White snapped up prop Schalk van der Merwe to join him at Montpellier.

Van der Merwe – who is affectionately known as “hond” to his peers and is known for his strong scrumming abilities, has according to French sources signed a 2 year deal with the club and will join them after the end of the season.

It has emerged that Montpellier actually announced the deal 2 months ago, but ironically named Marcel van der Merwe as the player they signed, something the Springbok namesake vehemently denied at the time.

It seemed that somehow the French club announced the wrong prop, but considering both played for the Toyota Cheetahs, it is understandable.

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Nick Abendanon

Nick Abendanon

ASM Clermont Auvergne fullback Nick Abendanon has been named as the EPCR European Player of the Year 2015 after an outstanding individual performance in the European Rugby Champions Cup final at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday.

The 28 year-old capped an excellent European campaign with a try-scoring performance in the final and, despite his club’s loss to RC Toulon, he topped the EPCR attack stats for the showpiece final with 155 metres made from 17 carries.

The 2008 Challenge Cup winner started all of Clermont’s 9 European Rugby Champions Cup matches at fullback and in his 693 minutes on the field made a massive contribution to his club’s run to a 2nd European Cup final.

The EPCR Champions Cup tournament stats highlight the player’s consistent world-class performances throughout the European campaign with Abendanon topping 4 attack categories racking up 112 carries, 929 metres made, 13 clean breaks and beating 34 defenders on the way to scoring 4 tries.

The former England international received a specially struck EPCR gold medal in recognition of the prestigious accolade, which was presented by ASM Clermont Auvergne Head Coach Franck Azéma in Clermont-Ferrand today.

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