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Player Movements

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SpringboksLocal rugby supporters finally have a reason to smile.

The plan by the SA Rugby Union (SARU) to stem the enormous exodus of top players heading overseas, by way of joint contracts with its unions is gaining some momentum.

Rugby World Cup tough guys Damian de Allende, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe are among the list of about 20 players with whom SARU has already signed contracts.

The full list of names has not been made available, but it was confirmed that Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marcell Coetzee, Siya Kolisi, Handré Pollard, Pat Lambie and Jan Serfontein had also been contracted and could look forward to competitive salaries in line with those of Springboks playing overseas.

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Nemani Nadolo

Nemani Nadolo

New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders have confirmed that Fijian Rugby World Cup winger Nemani Nadolo will not be extending his contract with the Christchurch team next season.

Nadolo has agreed to play his rugby in France for French club Montpellier after the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Fijian winger Nadolo was raised in Brisbane Australia and has had playing stints in the UK, France, Australia and Japan but his career only really took off when he joined the Crusaders.

Nadolo is now 1 of the hottest wingers in World Rugby but it was not long ago that he was with the Waratahs and was unable to make the match day team.

The winger left Sydney and played for Bourgoin between 2010 and 2011 before joining Japan’s NEC Green Rocket where he was brought to the attention of Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

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Cheeky Watson

Cheeky Watson

Eastern Province rugby clubs plan to call a special general meeting to pass a motion of no-confidence in EPRU president Cheeky Watson.

According to reports, Watson was set to be served a motion of no confidence at the union’s annual general meeting last Friday, but the meeting was controversially postponed.

One club’s president said that in order to pass the motion of no confidence in Watson, 36 of the union’s clubs (20%) need to sign up.

He said that target would be easy to achieve and they would push to have the meeting as soon as possible.

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Francois Hougaard

Francois Hougaard

Juan de Jongh

Juan de Jongh

Springboks Francois Hougaard and Juan de Jongh were on Wednesday named in a strong Springbok Sevens (Blitzbokke) 12-man squad for the 1st 2 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments of the new season, in Dubai and Cape Town.

The season kicks off on 4 & 5 December with the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens, which is followed a week later by the inaugural HSBC Cape Town Sevens, on 12 & 13 December, at the Cape Town Stadium.

Hougaard has played in 35 Tests for the Springboks and recently joined the Sevens squad on a 1-year contract. He is set to make his World Series debut in Dubai, while DHL Western Province centre and skipper, Juan de Jongh (14 Tests), return to the Springbok Sevens fold for the 1st time since making his 1st and only appearance for the side in Wellington in 2008.

Werner Kok, the newly-crowned World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, Cheslin Kolbe (DHL Western Province) and last season’s top-try scorer on the World Series circuit, Seabelo Senatla, will combine with regular stalwarts Cecil Afrika, Justin Geduld and Rayno Benjamin (Toyota Free State Cheetahs) to form a potent Blitzbokke backline attack.

The tough-tackling Benjamin is set to make his 30th World Series appearance while skipper Kyle Brown is on course to play in his landmark 50th tournament in his hometown of Cape Town.

The durable Brown, Philip Snyman, Kwagga Smith and Chris Dry will provide the necessary steel upfront and complete a strong selection who will defend their crown in Dubai. The Springbok Sevens are also the current tournament champions in South Africa.

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Andy Marinos

Andy Marinos

New SANZAR CEO Andy Marinos has backed South Africa’s Southern Kings and Japan’s Sunwolves to cause upsets in Super Rugby 2016.

The Southern Kings have at least played a season of Super Rugby before, while the Sunwolves are making their debut as the competition expands to accommodate a side each from Japan and Argentina as well as an extra South African side.

The EP Kings’ serious financial troubles over the past few months have raised questions over their fanchise participation in the competition, but the Sunwolves have not yet named a head coach for the season while they also do not have a full player roster.

But Marinos was a voice of calm on Wednesday morning, backing the Japanese franchise to get their ducks in a row before the tournament begins at the end of February.

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Emirates LionsAll the Lions’ Currie Cup heroes except for Kwagga Smith, who is contracted for National Sevens duty, have been retained for Super Rugby while 9 other stalwarts have strengthened the squad.

Flanker Derick Minnie returns after a long injury lay-off and winger Ruan Combrink and centre Harold Vorster have also been added to the Super Rugby group after missing some Currie Cup action due to injury.

Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies, centre Lionel Mapoe and hooker Akker van der Merwe, as well as Warrick Tecklenburg will return from overseas duty.

The new squad members are former Steval Pumas scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, Leopards No 9 Dillon Smit, Leopards lock Robert Kruger and Pumas prop Corné Fourie, who are all full-blooded Lions now.

Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk has signed a contract with the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) which will see him based permanently in Johannesburg. De Klerk, 24, was a shining light for the Emirates Lions during this year’s Super Rugby competition but because he was still contracted to the Steval Pumas, he had to return to Nelspruit for the Currie Cup season. However, the GLRU on Wednesday confirmed that the scrumhalf has signed a deal which means he will also be available for Currie Cup duty.

Steval Pumas fullback JW Bell is the only new face who hasn’t donned the Lions jersey yet.

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Nicole Sapstead

Nicole Sapstead – UK Anti-doping’s Chief Executive

Steroid abuse is “off-the-scale” in Welsh grassroots and semi-professional rugby, it has been claimed.

UK Anti-Doping figures reveal players from Wales make up 33% of all sportsmen and women serving drugs bans.

An ex-player, who took drugs, said he is surprised more have not been banned.

But WRU chief Martyn Phillips is not “overly concerned” because the number tested is proportionately higher than in other rugby unions and sports.

The player, who would not be named, said: “It’s totally off-the-scale. I think people are probably blind to it and if the truth came out I think there would be probably a lot more players who are banned from playing.”

The numbers caught are a small percentage of the thousands that play rugby, however 17 Welsh rugby union and league players, from grassroots to semi-pro, are currently banned, with the majority found to have traces of anabolic steroids in their systems.

10 Of those banned are from rugby union and form the majority of the 16 players banned from the sport across the UK.

UK Anti-Doping said the other 7 are among 14 players banned from rugby league.

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RedsThe Reds have confirmed a 37-man senior squad for the 2016 Super Rugby season, with 8 fresh faces in total joining the ranks at Ballymore.

In addition to the high-profile signings of Kane Douglas, Ayumu Goromaru, Cadeyrn Neville and NRL winger Eto Nabuli – the Reds also spent the off-season promoting from within the ranks of Queensland Rugby’s pathways with flyhalf Sam Greene and outside backs Junior Laloifi and Izaia Perese earning contracts following their performances in Queensland Premier Rugby and the National Rugby Championship (NRC). They are joined by Australian Under 20 lock Lukhan Tui, who grew up in Sydney.

In all, 20 players were retained from the 2015 Super Rugby squad, 11 of which were off contract and re-signed with the Reds, including Liam Gill, Greg Holmes, James Slipper and Rob Simmons.

In addition to that, the Reds have further progressed the careers of 8 members of its Elite Development Squad, promoting them to the Reds Senior Squad for the 2016 season.

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Vodacom BullsThe Vodacom Bulls are hard at work in preparation for the Vodacom Super Rugby season next year, with some new faces amongst the regular squad members.

New Vodacom Bulls player Lizo Gqoboka has settled in well amongst his team mates and is working hard with the rest of the Vodacom Super Rugby squad assembled in Pretoria. Winger Luther Obi will join the squad on Wednesday as the Bulls step up preparations at Loftus Versfeld for next year’s extended Vodacom Super Rugby competition, where the Vodacom Bulls are working hard to achieve success in 2016.

A number of injured players will join the fray as they complete rehabilitation, while those playing club rugby in Japan will return during the course of January 2016. The 5 returning from Japan are Grant Hattingh, Handré Pollard, JJ Engelbrecht, Bjorn Basson and Jesse Kriel.

The injured players (with date of return in brackets) are Deon Stegmann, Jannes Kirsten, Nick de Jager and Travis Ismaiel (all December), Irne Herbst, Morné Mellett, Jaco Visagie, Roelof Smit, Ruan Steenkamp, Hanro Liebenberg, Piet van Zyl, Dries Swanepoel and Warrick Gelant (January) and Callie Visagie (February).

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Cell C SharksThe Cell C Sharks on Thursday unveiled their provisional Super Rugby training squad ahead of the 2016 season.

As expected, lock Ruan Botha joins from the Stormers on a 2-year deal to soften the blow of Pieter-Steph du Toit moving the other way.

“Ruan is a young player with a bright future ahead of him. He was part of the SA Under 20 squad that won the IRB Junior Championship in 2012 and we look forward to his progress in the black and white jersey,” Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold told the franchise’s website.

“This squad will be re-looked at in the New Year, when our other squad members return.”

There are another 9 players currently undergoing rehab for various injuries, while 6 have been released including flyhalf Lionel Cronje, lock Marco Wentzel and centre Waylon Murray.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft

Richie McCaw has confirmed he is hanging up his boots and retiring from professional rugby.

The 34-year-old All Blacks captain and most capped All Black of all time has drawn the curtain on his stunning international career which started in Dublin 14 years ago, almost to the day, and ended in London last month when he hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup aloft for the 2nd time.

McCaw announced his decision at a media conference at the New Zealand Rugby offices in Wellington on Thursday.

“I’m hanging up my boots having accomplished everything I could have ever dreamed about in the game. Knowing that I was able to end my career by helping the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup Final is a hugely satisfying feeling,” he said.

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Ruan Botha

Ruan Botha

The Cell C Sharks are set to announce their pre-season Super Rugby squad on Thursday – and the name Ruan Botha will appear on that list.

The 23-year-old Stormers lock is set for a move to Durban, while Springbok Pieter-Steph du Toit has moved from the Sharks to Newlands.

A Sharks spokesperson on Wednesday said that the deal between the union and Botha could not yet be officially confirmed due to a contract that still had to be signed.

However, the indication was that all of the paperwork would be wrapped up by Thursday.

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Southern KingsAustralian James Hilterbrand, a hooker currently playing for Edinburgh in European competitions, headlines a list of 9 new signings by the Southern Kings.

This was announced on Monday, a day that another 2 players – wing Luther Obi and utility back Sylvian Mahuza – have given notice of their intent to leave the Kings, the Port Elizabeth-based franchised announced the list of new recruits.

Apart from Hilterbrand, who played 2 games for the Western Force in 2013 and 14 games for Edinburgh since joining them for the 2013 / 2014 season, they have signed a number of high-profile players.

These include duo Jurgen Visser and Louis Fouché (Vodacom Bulls), Caylib Oosthuizen (Toyota Cheetahs), SP Marais (Cell C Sharks), Stefan Watermeyer and JC Roos (Steval Pumas), Mark Richards (Emirates Lions) and Carel Greeff (ORC Griquas).

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Lima Sopoaga

Lima Sopoaga

Amongst the Super Rugby news this week is the announcement that Tanerau Latimer will return to Super Rugby and join up with the Blues.

Lima Sopoaga has also extended his stay at the Highlanders.

Meanwhile the Brumbies will lose Matt Toomua to Leicester Tigers when the European season of 2016 / 2017 starts after Super Rugby of 2016, but therefore he will still be available for the Brumbies in 2016. The Brumbies have also signed hooker Robbie Abel with the Brumbies’ Extended Playing Squad for 2016.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw

Double Rugby World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw is expected to confirm his decision to retire from rugby this week, New Zealand media reported on Sunday.

McCaw, who turns 35 on 31 December, led the All Blacks to their 3rd Rugby World Cup triumph 2 weeks ago when his side beat trans-Tasman rivals Australia 34 / 17 in the final at a packed Twickenham stadium in London.

The All Blacks were the 1st team to retain the trophy, after the openside flanker led the team to victory in 2011 while playing with a broken foot.

McCaw had done little to dampen expectations that he would retire after this year’s Rugby World Cup, though never explicitly said he would, preferring to state he would not make up his mind until the global showpiece ended.

He was not named last month in the Canterbury Super Rugby squad for 2016 though New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Crusaders said there was space for him if he chose to play on.

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Lizo Gqoboka

Lizo Gqoboka

The Vodacom Bulls have capitalised on the growing uncertainty surrounding the EP Kings as they signed impressive prop Lizo Gqoboka for the next few years to bolster their Super Rugby squad.

Gqoboka gave notice at the Kings after repeated non-payment of salaries at the franchise, and the Bulls swooped in to offer him a new home for the foreseeable future.

And there may well be more news in the next 48 hours as the Bulls are still after the signatures of 3 other EP Kings players – loose forwards Tim Agaba and Thembelani Bholi and winger Luther Obi. Some big decisions will be made as to their futures soon.

Gqoboka has been rated as 1 of the strongest props by the Springbok management team, who tried in vain to get him to play Super Rugby this year, after he was ignored by the franchises for the 2015 season.

But with SARU’s transformation action plan likely to be implemented much more stringently in the future, the Bulls have been pro-active in searching for good black talent to bolster their Super Rugby ranks for the coming year.

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EP KingsThe Eastern Province Rugby Union is working tirelessly behind the scenes to address the issue of non-payment of players.

The union on Thursday confirmed that neither of the Kings’ staff nor players have yet been paid their October salaries.

“The Eastern Province Rugby Union has noted that there have been a number of issues raised in the media over the past few days, and acknowledge and apologise for our lack of proper communication on these issues,” the union said via a press statement released late on Thursday.

The non-payment of players is due to cash flow problems, the union admitted.

“These cash flow problems can be attributed to significant delays in the release of funds from a sponsorship deal that was originally announced by EP Rugby President, Cheeky Watson.

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Tomás Cubelli

Tomás Cubelli

The Brumbies have announced Argentine scrumhalf Tomás Cubelli will be joining the Canberra-based Super Rugby team on a 2-year deal.

Cubelli is a member of the Argentine national team and has been a standout player for Los Pumas this year including a number of strong performances in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Cubelli has 45 Test caps, the most recent being the 3rd-place playoff at the Rugby World Cup against South Africa, in which he started at scrumhalf for Los Pumas.

Brumbies CEO Michael Jones said Cubelli was presented a number of options after a very successful international season, including the new Argentinian Super Rugby side which will boast 21 of their Rugby World Cup semifinal squad, and was very happy to have secured the international star.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew says Rugby World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw will make an announcement on his playing future “shortly”.

McCaw, who led New Zealand to victory at the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, indicated he would likely retire after this year’s tournament in England but is yet to make a definitive announcement.

His comments immediately after the All Blacks’ Cup final win over Australia suggested the 148-Test veteran might be considering continuing his international career.

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ScotlandWhen he took to the field as Scotland cap number 1 073, Josh Strauss became the 50th player to make his debut for the national side since the last Rugby World Cup in 2011. This is by far the highest number of new players for Scotland in any Rugby World Cup cycle – more, in fact, than the previous 2 combined (48 new caps). It requires going back to the 1950s to find a greater number of 1st caps in a 4 year period.

Despite having the smallest player base of any of the Six Nations, Scotland has had more debutants than any of their rivals:

  • England – 41
  • France – 40
  • Ireland – 37
  • Italy – 31
  • Wales – 37

In fact only 1 side who competed at this year’s Rugby World Cup awarded more new caps in the last 4 years. By a quirk of the global calendar Argentina didn’t have access to many of their 1st (or even 2nd) choice players when the South American Championship takes place and 54 of their 67 new caps (including 24 in the space of 5 days in 2013, the last year they appeared in it!) debuted in the annual iterations of this tournament.

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Edinburgh RugbyAs Edinburgh take to the home turf tomorrow (Friday 13 November) to meet FC Grenoble in the opening Round of this season’s European Challenge Cup (kick-off 19:30 UK Time, 21:30 SA Time), they will be led out by the player endearingly referred to by his team-mates as the ‘squadfather’, prop Alasdair Dickinson, who reaches his 100th cap for the club.

Meanwhile in the pack, at openside, John Hardie will be making his debut in the black and red jersey, after signing for the club last month following his Scotland debut at No 7 in the Rugby World Cup.

Loosehead Dickinson joins hooker Ross Ford and tighthead WP Nel in an unchanged front row, with Anton Bresler and Alex Toolis maintaining their partnership from last week at lock.

Mike Coman captains the team again at blindside with Hardie making his debut at openside and Cornell Du Preez retaining the No 8 jersey.

Meanwhile there is 1 change in the backs with Dougie Fife moving up from the bench to start at fullback. Damien Hoyland and Tom Brown stay on the right and left wings respectively while last week’s try scorer Will Helu and Matt Scott remain at outside and inside centre. The halfback pairing of Greig Tonks at flyhalf and scrumhalf Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is also retained.

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Tim WhiteheadCentre Tim Whitehead has become the 1st player to walk out on the EP Kings after the union’s failure to compensate players.

The 10-day deadline for paying the players’ October salaries expired at midnight on Tuesday without any action from the Kings’ management.

This means that from a legal perspective, the players can cancel existing contracts with the Eastern Province Rugby Union and take up matters elsewhere.

Whitehead on Thursday confirmed that he has decided to leave the Kings.

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Richie Arnold

Richie Arnold

Perth based Super Rugby franchise the Western Force have signed Queensland Country lock Richie Arnold adding size to their forward pack for 2016.

Arnold’s identical twin, lock Rory Arnold is at the Brumbies.

Richie stands at a towering 2,08m and weighs 127Kg – 7Kg heavier than his brother.

The 25-year-old would rank as the equal 2nd tallest player in Super Rugby history, alongside his brother and former Stormers lock, Andries Bekker, and only behind Lions lock JP du Preez (2,09m) – will join the Force as part of the club’s Wider Training Squad, as he looks to push for his Super Rugby debut in 2016.

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SpringboksStrange as it may seem considering the hype beforehand over “emotional Springbok swansongs” in the bronze playoff match at Rugby World Cup 2015, only 1 member of the squad at the tournament, captain Jean de Villiers, has officially confirmed his Test retirement.

Several younger Springboks spoke beforehand of their desire to beat Argentina – a task duly achieved – as a fitting send-off for senior players bidding farewell to the green-and-gold cause.

Almost 2 weeks on from the end of the Rugby World Cup, however, it is still only the luckless Jean de Villiers, injured again in just the 2nd Rugby World Cup match against Samoa, who has definitely bowed out after 109 appearances since 2002.

Perhaps influenced by the state of flux surrounding embattled coach Heyneke Meyer, the likes of Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger and Bryan Habana intriguingly haven’t yet pulled the plug publicly on their illustrious Springbok careers.

The majority of “older” Springboks who took part in their hot-and-cold Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign are now exclusively foreign-based and there have been some pleas back home for only locally-stationed players to be chosen for South Africa henceforth – a tricky matter considering the ever-shrinking strength of the Rand against other currencies, which hardly helps keeps the best players rooted here.

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Morné Steyn

Morné Steyn

Springbok flyhalf Morné Steyn has extended his contract with French Top 14 club Stade Francais by a further 2 years.

The 31-year-old joined the Paris-based club from the Vodacom Bulls in 2013 and now looks set to finish his career in France.

Steyn was part of the Springbok squad at the recent Rugby World Cup, but received limited game time, with Handré Pollard and Pat Lambie ahead of him in the flyhalf pecking order.

Steyn, who made his Springbok debut in 2009, has 60 Test caps to his name.

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Mike Blair

With Mike Blair taking the McCrea Financial Services Warrior of the Month Award for October, we take a look at the former Scotland skipper’s impact since joining up at Scotstoun.

There were more than a few raised eyebrows when Mike Blair, a man with 157 games under his belt for the Warriors great rivals Edinburgh, was announced as Glasgow’s latest signing.

Various mutterings about “a coaching role” and “SRU pension plan” did the rounds but Mike’s performances on the pitch have won over the notoriously hard to please Glasgow faithful as he’s demonstrated the advantages of having a steadying influence in what is a key decision-making position. His quick thinking and desire to play the game at pace have also been a good fit for the Warriors’ philosophy of moving the point of attack and manipulating defences into mismatches.

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EP Kings in seemingly happier days

EP Kings in seemingly happier days

The Kings financial saga just seems to get bigger and bigger, the boil getting larger and larger… the bubble waiting to burst.

This week alone we have already featured more articles about the latest financial crisis, now we hear that the EP Kings have most probably been funded by money originating from the pockets of Rate-payers in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality.

In addition, the SARPA deadline demand for the EP Kings players and staff salaries to be paid by midnight on 10 November has come and gone and the salaries have not been paid, effectively making each and every EP Kings player a free agent to source alternative placement to continue their rugby careers.

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Andy Nicol

Pundit Andy Nicol during his playing days

Former captain Andy Nicol believes it is “inevitable” that some of Scotland’s Rugby World Cup squad will join Dave Denton in moving from the country.

Denton has joined Bath from Edinburgh after the English Premiership club paid a transfer fee for the 25-year-old.

“That’s what happens at a World Cup,” said Nicol, the former scrumhalf who captained Bath. “You perform well and the big cheque books may open for you. That’s what happens to the Georgians and the Japanese.”

Nicol says Scotland’s run to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals will have alerted clubs to Scottish players.

“You could get somebody here much cheaper than somebody who is established,” he said.

“It’s inevitable that we lose a few players and Dave Denton is the first.”

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Shalva Mamukashvili

Georgian Hooker Shalva Mamukashvili joins Glasgow Warriors

Glasgow Warriors have signed Georgian international Shalva Mamukashvili on a deal until the end of the season.

The 25-year-old has 35 caps for his country and featured in all 4 of Georgia’s Rugby World Cup pool games in England.

He played 11 matches for Sale Sharks last season, including 3 European Rugby Champions Cup games.

The experienced hooker goes straight into the Warriors 41-man European squad, replacing Kevin Bryce. Glasgow visit Racing 92 on Saturday and then host Northampton Saints the following weekend, in front of a capacity crowd at Scotstoun.

Mamukashvili joins as cover at hooker, with both Kevin Bryce and Fergus Scott set for lengthy spells on the sidelines, while Fraser Brown is currently recovering from foot surgery.

Bryce and Scott have both undergone shoulder operations, following scans at BMI Ross Hall Hospital, and are expected to remain on the sidelines for several months.

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David Denton

David Denton

Bath have signed Scotland loose forward David Denton from Edinburgh.

The arrival of Denton helps the Premiership club cover the departure of Sam Burgess, who left to return to rugby league last week.

Denton, 25, has 32 Scotland caps and appeared in 4 Rugby World Cup games earlier this year.

“We’ve been looking to bolster our back row for some time now so we’re very excited that David is joining us,” said Bath head coach Mike Ford.

Born in Zimbabwe, Denton played for Eastern Province in South Africa before moving to Scotland.

“He had an excellent World Cup, especially in the quarterfinal when he managed to outshine one of the best Australian back rows I’ve seen for a long time,” added Ford. “He’s going to fit in very well with the team and the way we play here.”

Denton made 78 appearances for Edinburgh following his arrival in 2010, and can switch between blindside flanker and No 8.

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EP KingsEastern Province Rugby has the spotlight on them after Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula told the media he will be paying EP Rugby president Cheeky Watson a special visit in the near future.

The reason for the urgent visit stems from a total of R 35 Million Rand the Union received from the National Lotteries Board for the establishment and development of the SARU Kings Academy.

“I will be on my way to the Eastern Cape very soon so that I can personally see where the Academy is and where the black players are that were supposed to be recruited. I expect a report from him (Watson). The Kings are meant to be the homeland of black players and that was the reasoning behind them getting a Super Rugby spot. The last time I was there, all I saw was white players and never saw any of the black players who were supposed to be there,” Mbalula told a media briefing.

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Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess

Former England coach Sir Clive Woodward says English rugby union is a “laughing stock” after Sam Burgess returned to Rugby League.

Burgess was part of the England squad which went out of their home Rugby World Cup in the group stages.

He will now leave Bath and rejoin South Sydney Rabbitohs in Australia.

Woodward, who led England to 2003 Rugby World Cup success, said he did not blame Burgess “for this mess” but the English game was at one of its “all-time lows”.

Burgess, from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, played 21 games for Bath after joining them just over a year ago, scoring 4 tries.

Having made his England debut in August, he was selected for the Rugby World Cup ahead of Northampton centre Luther Burrell, who had looked to have established himself in the team after playing in all 5 of their Six Nations matches earlier in the year.

Burgess, who had been playing at blindside flanker for his club, was picked at centre for the hosts against Wales in the Rugby World Cup and his selection sparked much debate.

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Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess

England Rugby Union international Sam Burgess has left Premiership club Bath with immediate effect in order to return to Rugby League side South Sydney Rabbitohs, the BBC reported Thursday.

The 26-year-old Burgess had 2 years left on a 3-year deal with west country side Bath.

Burgess was a member of the England squad that recently became the 1st Rugby World Cup host nation to exit the tournament in the group stages, with coach Stuart Lancaster criticised for what many saw as the overly rapid promotion of the Bath man into the Test side.

It was only last year, after helping South Sydney win the Australian National Rugby League Grand Final, that Burgess changed codes with the express ambition of playing for England at the Rugby World Cup.

The end of his brief spell in union is likely to prove embarrassing for both Bath and Lancaster, whose position as England coach is currently being scrutinised as part of a Rugby Football Union review into England’s woeful Rugby World Cup campaign.

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