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Richie Gray, new Scotland Contact Specialist coach

Richie Gray, new Scotland defensive contact specialist coach

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has appointed defensive contact specialist Richie Gray on a consultancy basis for the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Gray joins the Scotland set-up following a 3-season spell as South Africa’s specialist breakdown coach during Heyneke Meyer’s tenure, which culminated in their bronze medal finish at 2015 World Cup.

Gray’s contract with the South African Rugby Union was not renewed after Meyer’s resignation late last year.

Gray also assisted the Springbok Sevens side.

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Dylan Hartley

Dylan Hartley has been appointed England captain and will lead the team during their Six Nations campaign despite having one of the worst disciplinary records in English rugby.

Hartley has spent a total of 54 weeks on sidelines through suspension over the years. Some of the offences he served suspensions for include eye-gouging, biting, punching and head-butting.

Despite these blemishes, England head coach Eddie Jones said he has faith in Hartley’s abilities as a leader.

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Sergio Parisse, Sam Warburton, Rory Best, Dylan Hartley, Greg Laidlaw and Guilhem Guirado (from left to right)

Sergio Parisse, Sam Warburton, Rory Best, Dylan Hartley, Greg Laidlaw and Guilhem Guirado (from left to right) at yesterday’s RBS 6 Nations 2016 launch

The 2016 RBS 6 Nations launched in style on Wednesday morning at the Hurlingham Club and the 6 captains present an intriguing mix of the old and the new.

There are 3 brand new skippers for this year’s Championship, which gets underway in 10 days’ time on Saturday 6 February when France welcome Italy to the Stade de France – and they are all hookers.

Rory Best takes the armband for 2-time defending champions Ireland after Paul O’Connell’s retirement, Eddie Jones’ England have Dylan Hartley at the helm and France under Guy Noves will be led by Guilhem Guirado.

Those 3 were joined by Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw, Wales’ Sam Warburton and Italy’s Sergio Parisse on Wednesday – 3 captains that have led their country with great distinction for many years.

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European Rugby Champions CupSaracens, Northampton, Exeter, Wasps and Leicester have joined 3 French teams in the European Rugby Champions Cup last 8.

Premiership title holders Sarries will host Saints, and Wasps will welcome Exeter to the Ricoh Arena.

Leicester face Stade Francais at home, having already played them twice in the pool stages, and Racing 92 will play reigning European champions Toulon.

It is the 1st time there is no Pro12 representation in the last 8 of the competition.

Sarries, Leicester and Racing 92 guaranteed themselves a home tie in the quarterfinals last weekend, while Wasps joined them after winning Pool 5 on Saturday, with 3-time defending champions and Toulon joining them as one of the best runners-up.

Stade Francais were confirmed as 1 of the 3 best runners-up after they beat the Tigers with a bonus point on Sunday, but the other 2 places went down to the wire.

Northampton’s win over Scarlets on Saturday was enough to see them through as runners-up in Pool 3, and Exeter came through as winners of Pool 2 on points difference after beating Ospreys.

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Todd Blackadder

Todd Blackadder

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has taken a swipe at the SANZAR brains trust over their proposed Super Rugby innovations.

He called the proposed changes to the Super Rugby bonus point system “bizarre” and suggested there was a lack of consultation with franchises on the matter.

The SANZAR initiative, that is expected to formally unveiled early next week, also include a number of minor law variations for the 2016 Super Rugby season.

While some of the expected law innovations still require World Rugby approval, the biggest innovation – a change to the try-scoring bonus points – is what has caused the biggest stir.

The SANZAR change will see the bonus point awarded to teams who score 4 tries or more in a game scrapped and replaced by 1 for teams that score 3 tries more than their opponents.

Blackadder called the proposed change “bizarre” and queried the lack of consultation with franchises on the matter.

The mooted change, widely reported by media in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand on Thursday, is a copy of the system used in the French Top 14 league and aimed at keeping lopsided games alive for longer periods.

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SpringboksOn Tuesday SA Rugby announced a new structure to the 2016 Coca-Cola Youth Weeks, with the junior tournaments being hosted concurrently in Paarl and the Under 18 tournaments in Durban. In the past all the tournaments were hosted at different venues.

The Under 13 Coca-Cola Craven Week and Under 16 Coca-Cola Grant Khomo Week will be hosted simultaneously at Paarl Gymnasium from 4 to 8 July, and the Coca-Cola Academy Week and Under 18 Coca-Cola Craven Week will be hosted between 11 and 16 July at Kearsney College in Durban.

The Learners with Special Education Needs (LSEN) Week, meanwhile, will be hosted at the Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Affies) in Pretoria from 27 to 30 June.

“The new structure of our Youth Weeks will have several benefits, the biggest of which is that we will be able to ensure that the Mobi-Unit coaches, the national selectors, our High Performance staff and the SA Rugby Academy Coaches will be able to attend all the tournaments,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.

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Southern KingsThe Southern Kings have confirmed a number of new signings following a week of intensive training with the SA Rugby Mobi Unit.

Chief Operating Officer, Charl Crous, confirmed that Pumas flanker, Chris Cloete, (24) and Sharks Lock John-Charles (JC) Astle (25) had been secured on loan for the season.

Following initial trials, Crous also confirmed the Southern Kings have also retained the talent of SWD utility back Leighton Eksteen (21) who has played at Scrumhalf, Flyhalf and Fullback, as well as SWD’s Luzuko Vulindlu (28) who has played at Centre and Wing. Both have been secured on loan from SWD for the season.

Sharks Centre Lukhanyo Am (22) has also secured a position in the squad on loan.

Crous said Sharks hooker, Monde Hadebe (25) would be returning to the Sharks for rehab following a slight back sprain that will see him out of action for between 4 to 5 weeks.

Crous also confirmed hooker Martin Ferreira (26) and lock, Tazz Fuzani (25) had been secured on contract for the Southern Kings season for 2016.

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Cell C SharksThe Cell C Sharks’ 5 missing international players — away in Japan completing their club duties — are expected back in Durban before the end of the month.

New vice-captain Marcell Coetzee, JP Pietersen, Namibian backrower Renaldo Bothma and new signings Willie le Roux and Jacques Potgieter will join the Sharks squad a week before they leave on their pre-season tour of France early in February.

A member of the Sharks management yesterday said that the squad to travel to France would be announced next week and a decision on whether the Japan-based players would be included for the 2 friendlies has still to be made.

The Sharks will play 2-time European champs Toulon on Friday 5 February, before taking on Toulouse 6 days later.

New Cell C Sharks captain Pat Lambie said that it was likely that all the tour members would be given an airing during the 2 games but added that taking on the 2 Top 14 French clubs would be a major challenge.

Head coach Gary Gold said he wanted tough opposition for his young charges ahead of a fresh season.

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StormersThe DHL Stormers had a very productive defensive session against the Steinhoff UCT Ikey Tigers in Stellenbosch on Tuesday.

In sweltering heat on the Markötter field at Paul Roos, the teams played 2 chukkas of 20 minutes each at a high intensity.

In a specialised session designed to test the evolution of their defensive system in the off-season, the DHL Stormers were made to work hard by an Ikeys side renowned for their attacking prowess

A total of 30 DHL Stormers players took to the field as Head Coach Robbie Fleck made wholesale changes at the changeover.

This proved a valuable outing, giving the coaches further opportunity to look at which areas of their defensive game need further attention.

Fleck was very happy with the outcome of what was a demanding session.

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ScotlandHead Coach Vern Cotter  named uncapped props Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland in a 35-man Scotland squad for the 2016 RBS 6 Nations.

Glasgow Warriors’ tighthead prop Fagerson turned 20 yesterday (Tuesday 19 January) meaning he could become the 4th youngest prop in Scottish history, and the youngest to represent Scotland for more than half a century (since Bill Black debuted against France at Murrayfield 1948).

Fellow propping prospect Sutherland (23) plies his trade at the opposite end of the M8 and earns selection through his increasingly impressive showings for Edinburgh since signing from Gala last season.

The young pair are among 4 changes to Scotland’s front row options originally named for Rugby World Cup 2015, with 29-times capped Exeter Chiefs tighthead, Moray Low, and 6-times capped Glasgow Warriors hooker, Pat MacArthur, earning selection for the 1st time since the summer of 2014.

Scotland Head Coach Vern Cotter, said: “We’ve selected a mixture of experience with some exciting young players coming through, some of whom have experienced the Rugby World Cup and are eager to move forward, take the RBS 6 Nations head on and show that we can develop our game and be competitive.”

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WhistleRound 5 of the European Champions Cup produced an odd assortment of transgressions that resulted in citings – including abuse of a match official, eye-gouging, biting and testicle grabbing.

 

Viktor Kolelishvili:

Clermont Auvergne flank Viktor Kolelishvili heads the lengthy list of citings.

Kolelishvili was cited for his ill-advised decision to lay his hands on a referee in the match against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium last Friday, January 15.

Kolelishvili pushed the match referee, Wayne Barnes (England), in the 17th minute of the match in contravention of Law 10.4 (m).

The complaint was made by the citing commissioner Mike Rafter (England).

David Martin (Ireland) has been appointed as the judicial officer for the disciplinary hearing, which will take place in Paris on Tuesday.

Under Law 10.4 (m) – Physical abuse of match officials – a player could be banned for life, although low-end entry range is 24 weeks.

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CJ Stander

CJ Stander in Champions Cup action

Munster captain and Man of the Match, CJ Stander, felt his side had restored pride as they produced a superb display to claim a bonus-point 26 / 13 victory over Stade Francais in Pool 4 of the European Rugby Champions Cup.

The French side were chasing a quarterfinal berth but had no response to a tremendous Munster effort as Mike Sherry, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Stander himself scored tries, with flyhalf Ian Keatley kicking 6 points.

The Irish side, 2-time European champions, had no chance of advancing from the pool after being humbled by a 14-man Stade side in Paris just a week previously.

Stander admits there has been a lot of hurt within the Munster camp and he hopes an impressive win was a step back in the right direction for a team who have traditionally been one of the competition’s major players.

“We said we were playing for nothing but pride and that shows the character we have here in Munster,” said Stander. “There was a lot of hurt last week but a lot of the boys stepped up and we are very proud.”

“The fans stood behind us and made an unbelievable noise. We knew it was all about our actions and getting pride back into the place and we showed a lot of characters.”

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Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones

England boss Eddie Jones admits an afternoon spent watching rugby fan Pep Guardiola conduct a training session at Bayern Munich left him embarrassed about his own coaching ability.

Jones met Guardiola soon after overseeing Japan’s greatest World Cup performance in hope of learning from the most in-demand manager in football, who is to step down from his post at the German champions at the end of the season.

The Australian was enthralled by the sight of Guardiola making some of the game’s biggest stars toil in freezing conditions, confirming his own view on the capacity of players to be pushed to their limits.

“I talk to a lot of people. I try to meet people who are smarter than me. Last year in November was one of the best meetings I had,” Jones said.

I went to Bayern Munich and met Pep Guardiola. It was absolutely fascinating.

“I watched him taking a training session and it made me embarrassed by my coaching – he was so bloody brilliant.”

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JJ Engelbrecht

JJ Engelbrecht

The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd on Thursday confirmed the release of JJ Engelbrecht to the Ospreys in Wales.

Engelbrecht, who played 65 times in the Vodacom Bulls jersey since joining the team in 2012, was due to link up with his Pretoria team mates upon returning from Japan, where he is playing for Toyota Industries Shuttles.

The Ospreys offer resulted in a release request by Engelbrecht, which has been granted by the BBC with immediate effect.

According to the BBC High Performance Manager, Xander Janse van Rensburg, the decision to release Engelbrecht was based on the depth they have in the midfield, where the likes of Jesse Kriel, Dan Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Jan Serfontein and Dries Swanepoel will be contesting starting spots.

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Rugby Park

Rugby Park in Kilmarnock

Glasgow Warriors have moved this month’s European Rugby Champions Cup fixture with Racing 92 to Rugby Park stadium in Kilmarnock, due to a high risk of the Scotstoun pitch being unplayable next weekend.

The club, in consultation with EPCR, has moved to find an alternative venue for the match in the West of Scotland, following unprecedented rainfall and flooding over the past few weeks. It will also give the Scotstoun pitch the best possible chance of recovering ahead of the next scheduled home game after the European Rugby Champions Cup fixture in 5 weeks time.

The Pool 3 encounter vs Racing 92 will be played on Saturday 23 January (kick-off 17:30 UK Time).

The 18 128 all-seater Rugby Park stadium, which is home to Kilmarnock Football Club, has a World Rugby compliant 3G pitch and hosted the 1st ever Tier 1 rugby international on an artificial surface in November 2014 when Scotland beat Tonga 37 / 12.

Around 6 650 tickets have already been sold for the clash with the Top 14 leaders and an additional 7 500 match tickets will become available tomorrow (Thursday 14 January).

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EnglandDanny Cipriani will be overlooked when England head coach Eddie Jones names his first elite player squad before next month’s Six Nations Championship.

Jones will name a 33-man squad on Wednesday, but is not set to reveal his captain for another 2 weeks.

Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley is a leading contender to replace Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw as skipper, despite a poor disciplinary record.

Jones, 55, recently said he will select players who “express themselves”.

However, Sale flyhalf Cipriani is not expected to be a part of the Australian’s initial plans.

The 28-year-old, who has won 14 caps since making his debut in 2008, missed out to Saracens’ Owen Farrell and Bath’s George Ford in England’s doomed World Cup squad.

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Eye Gouging

Josaia Raisuqe was sent off for this incident against CJ Stander

Here are the disciplinary hearings following last weekend’s rescheduled matches in the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup.

 

RED CARDS:

Josaia Raisuqe (Stade Français Paris):

The Stade Francais Paris wing, Josaia Raisuqe (No 11), was issued with a Red Card during the European Rugby Champions Cup rescheduled Round 2 match against Munster Rugby on Saturday, 9 January 2016.

Raisuqe was sent off by referee, Nigel Owens (Wales), in the 41st minute of the match at Stade Jean Bouin for allegedly making contact with the eye(s) and / or eye area of the Munster Rugby loose forward, CJ Stander (No 8), in contravention of Law 10.4 (m).

Simon Thomas (Wales) has been appointed as the independent Judicial Officer for the disciplinary hearing which will take place in Paris today (Wednesday, 13 January).

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DAVID BOWIE (David Robert Jones)

 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

Music Icon of the last 40 years, David Bowie passed away unexpectedly on Sunday evening at his home in New York, after an 18 month battle with liver cancer.

Bowie will be remembered as an artist who shaped the musical thinking of a generation, and who unashamedly did things the way he wanted.

On this, the 1st “Pub Night” of 2016, please feel free to post your tributes to David in the form of his music, as well as that of those he collaborated with and influenced.

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UlsterUlster recovered from being 23 / 0 down at halftime to get a vital victory over Oyonnax in Pool 1 of the European Champions Cup.

Key men Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson and Nick Williams all came off the bench for the 2nd half to help the Irish side scrape a remarkable 1-point win.

Ulster were in big trouble when Jeremie Maurouard and Uwa Tawalo scored tries. But backs Rory Scholes and Craig Gilroy, and young prop Kyle McCall, saved them from a damaging defeat.

Ulster, who revived their European prospects with back-to-back wins over Toulouse, are 2nd in Pool 1 with 13 points – 6 behind Saracens.

Those December victories over Toulouse would have meant little had they lost to the Pool outsiders at the Stade Charles-Mathon.

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Eye Gouging

Josaia Raisuqe was sent off for this incident against CJ Stander

Stade Francais 27 / 7 Munster

Stade Francais winger Josaia Raisuqe was sent off but the French champions still easily beat Munster in their Champions Cup match in Paris.

Raisuqe was sent off on the stroke of halftime for gouging Munster’s CJ Stander as they wrestled for the ball.

Paul Williams, Sekou Macalou and Hugo Bonneval crossed for Stade who are 4 points behind pool leaders Leicester.

A late Conor Murray try prevented Munster suffering their first shut-out in 21 years of European rugby.

The Irish side are now out of the Champions Cup – barring a miracle series of results – after suffering 3 pool defeats in a row for the 1st time.

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Cornell du Preez

Cornell du Preez in action against Glasgow Warriors

Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons insists the fact Cornell du Preez is prepared to play through the pain barrier shows how special a player he is.

The loose forward is in line for his 50th appearance for the Scottish side when he runs out against Benetton Treviso in the Guinness PRO12 tonight (Friday night).

The South African-born forward joined the club ahead of the 2013 / 2014 season and has racked up 37 league appearances since.

He missed most of last season, however, due to an ankle injury but has appeared in all of Edinburgh’s Guinness PRO12 games this campaign, helping the club to 4th in the table.

However, Solomons admitted his player is still overcoming the after effects of that injury.

“Cornell has made a massive contribution to Edinburgh,” he said.

“There are not many people who would have had the ankle injury he has had and come back to play like he has.

“He is going to play in pain for a while. He trains and plays and has a bit of pain there, obviously. It is the kind of injury that will take 18 months to clear up. He is a class rugby player.”

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Schalk Burger

Schalk Burger

Saracens are delighted to announce the signing of South African international flanker Schalk Burger for the 2016 / 2017 season.

The world class Springbok loose forward will link-up with the reigning Aviva Premiership champions for the 2016 / 2017 season after signing a 2-year deal with the Allianz Park club.

Renowned as 1 of world rugby’s finest loose forwards, Burger has captained South Africa during his stellar 12-year international career and is a former IRB World Player of the year. He has won 86 caps for the Springboks and holds the record for the most tries (14) for a loose forward for his country.

Burger will link up with Saracens after a spell with Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath and Super Rugby’s Stormers.

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Dan Carter

Dan Carter, World Rugby Player of the Year 2015

Gregor Paul selects his World XV for 2015 which features 6 All Blacks, 3 Australians and Argentinians, and 1 Fijian, Georgian and Scotsman — and nobody from South Africa, England, Ireland, Wales or France.

 

15 Ben Smith (New Zealand):

Ben from all accounts had an outrageously good season. He captained the Highlanders to the most unlikely Super Rugby title and then inspired the All Blacks to a World Cup victory. His aerial skills and footwork are unbelievable.

 

14 Adam Ashley-Cooper(Australia):

Ashley-Cooper is the Wallaby version of Smith. He’s a superb all-round footballer who continually does the right thing. Has pace, footwork, awareness and the ability to covert half-chances. Was deadly at the World Cup.

 

13 Mark Bennett (Scotland):

A rugged, tough ball runner with innate timing. Picked off the intercept try in the World Cup quarter-final that should have sunk Australia and contributed some big tackling and deft passing.

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SaracensSaracens have appointed England Under 20 head coach Ian Peel to their staff after reaching an agreement with the Rugby Football Union.

The 39-year-old will retain a part-time role as a scrum coach with the England senior squad for the Six Nations.

“Ian’s track record of developing talent is very impressive,” Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said.

“He fits into the club’s model of providing opportunities to some of the brightest coaches available.”

Former prop forward Peel moved into coaching in 2006 after spending 8 years with Newcastle as a player, making 122 Premiership appearances.

Peel has been involved in the England Under 20 programme since 2013, initially as assistant coach, and helped the side to back-to-back Junior World Championship titles in 2013 and 2014 and the Under 20 Six Nations title in 2015.

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Glasgow WarriorsRyan Wilson will make his 100th Glasgow Warriors appearance in the second leg of the 1872 Scottish Cup with Edinburgh at a sold-out Scotstoun on Saturday evening.

The backrower keeps his place at blindside flanker, following Edinburgh’s 23 / 11 victory in the first leg at BT Murrayfield last Sunday.

The only change to the back 3 sees Sean Lamont replace Tommy Seymour on the left wing. Stuart Hogg continues at fullback and Taqele Naiyaravoro lines up on the right wing.

Mark Bennett and Peter Horne continue their centre partnership, while Duncan Weir comes in for Finn Russell at flyhalf and Ali Price replaces Grayson Hart at scrumhalf.

In the pack Gordon Reid starts at loosehead prop, with Ryan Grant named on the bench, while Fraser Brown retains his place at hooker and Zander Fagerson comes in for Sila Puafisi at tighthead prop.

After missing last weekend’s defeat captain Jonny Gray returns to the side and partners USA international Greg Peterson in the engine room, with Leone Nakarawa named amongst the replacements.

The only change to the backrow sees Josh Strauss return at No 8 in place of Adam Ashe. Chris Fusaro continues at openside and Wilson wears the No 6 jersey.

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Guinness PRO12Leinster dealt Munster a 5th straight loss in all competitions, as they leapfrogged them into the Guinness PRO12 play-off places with a 24 / 7 win at Thomond Park.

A try in each half from Isa Nacewa and Jack McGrath proved enough for Leinster, despite the best efforts of Anthony Foley’s team.

The icing on the cake was provided by Zane Kirchner with a last-gasp interception as Munster pushed for a losing bonus point to seal the win.

And as a result, Leinster, who started the season slowly, are now settled in the top four heading into 2016.

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1872 CupEdinburgh hold a 12-point lead on aggregate going into the second leg of the 1872 Cup, after an excellent 23 / 11 home win over rival Glasgow Warriors, in front of a record crowd of 23 642 at BT Murrayfield.

The win not only gives Edinburgh the advantage going into next week’s second-leg encounter at Scotstoun, but also sees them leapfrog the Warriors in the Guinness PRO12 table.

2 Tries from centre Matt Scott and back-row John Hardie, were bolstered by the sterling boot of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne who notched up 16 points from the tee to contribute to Edinburgh’s 26-points tally.

Despite opening the scoring through a Mark Bennett try, Edinburgh snatched Glasgow’s lead in the 12th minute with Hidalgo-Clyne’s conversion to Scott’s try, and retained it for the remaining 68 minutes of the game.

There was one late change to the sides prior to proceedings as Glasgow captain and lock Jonny Gray pulled out through injury. Centre Peter Horne took on skippering duties, with Tim Swinson gaining promotion from the bench and USA Eagles internationalist Greg Peterson being named as a substitute.

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Aviva PremiershipHarlequins and Gloucester shared 10 tries in an epic 39 / 39 Premiership draw at Twickenham.

The lead exchanged hands on several occasions before Harlequins flyhalf Nick Evans missed a last-minute drop-goal to win the game for the hosts.

A crowd of more than 70 000 enjoyed a feast of points and 4 tries before halftime as Gloucester led 17 / 15.

Quins’ Ross Chisholm and Gloucester’s Harry Trinder both scored twice, while Rob Cook grabbed the pick of the tries.

Both sides go away with a bonus point but neither were able to get the decisive score on a day which saw England captain Chris Robshaw return to Twickenham for the first time since his team’s disappointing World Cup campaign came to a premature end.

In a side-plot to the main event, England winger Jonny May limped off for Gloucester in the second half with an apparent knee injury.

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Roddy Grant

Roddy Grant

Experienced Edinburgh flanker Roddy Grant has been forced to retire after failing to recover from a knee injury suffered at the end of last season.

The 28-year-old played 138 times for the club and represented Scotland Sevens between 2006 and 2014, including last year’s Commonwealth Games.

“A difficult time has been made easier as it’s not been a decision,” said Grant.

“You just have to get on with it, accept things and move on.”

Grant joined Edinburgh in 2009 after beginning his Scottish rugby career as an apprentice with Border Reivers.

A recipient of the John Macphail Scholarship in 2008, he broadened his experience playing with Auckland University in New Zealand, having played through Scotland’s age grades, and went on to be part of the Scotland A team that secured a 35 / 0 victory over England Saxons in 2012.

“It’s been a pretty emotional time, having to come to terms with the fact I have to stop playing due to injury but I have no regrets,” added Grant.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve done, what I’ve achieved and what I’ve contributed.”

Head coach Alan Solomons said: “Roddy’s retirement is a sad day for both the club and Scottish rugby.

“I’ve been fortunate, over the years, to coach some terrific young men; Roddy is right up there with the best of the best. His contribution to the club has been immense, both on and off the field. He is a leader of men and the ultimate pro.

“He has the heart of a lion, an unbelievable work-rate and he knew our systems and his role within them to perfection. Roddy never had a bad game. He is certainly one of the most consistent players I have ever coached.

“We will miss him – he is one of a kind.”

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1872 CupThe coaches have named their teams for the opening leg of the 1872 Scottish Cup, at BT Murrayfield on Sunday 27 December (kick-off 15:05 UK time; 17:05 SA Time). As reigning cup holders, Alan Solomons has made 2 changes to the Edinburgh starting XV that beat London Irish last weekend in the European Challenge Cup, while Gregor Townsend has called up former Edinburgh scrumhalf Grayson Hart replacing Mike Blair in the No 9 shirt as the Warriors return to Guinness PRO12 action following their back-to-back European Rugby Champions Cup wins over the Scarlets.

In total there are 20 Scotland capped players in the starting XVs (8 for Edinburgh, 12 for Glasgow) with a further 4 on the bench (1 for Edinburgh, 3 for Glasgow). With the RBS 6 Nations Championship only 6 short weeks away, the players will want to impress head coach Vern Cotter as well as win their team valuable Guinness PRO12 league points.

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1872 CupIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. A feast of rugby awaits fans of the Scottish pro teams as they look forward to December’s derby matches. The 1872 Cup may be a relatively recent creation but it epitomises a rivalry that stretches back over 140 years.

 

1872 to 1953:

The very first Glasgow vs Edinburgh meeting took place on 23 November 1872 at Burnbank, home of Glasgow Accies, and has the very precise historical claim of being the world’s first non-international representative rugby union fixture. The game was 20-a-side (a possible tactical choice for Alan Solomons to even the odds?) and saw Edinburgh emerge victorious by a drop goal to nil (someone may need to explain to the current Warriors squad what a drop goal is). There wasn’t actually a cup up for grabs – it would take more than 100 years before that came along. This may have been due to fears on the East coast that their Weegie counterparts would melt down any trophy and sell it in the 19th century equivalent of Cash for Gold.

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Ali Price

Ali Price

BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy scrumhalf Ali Price has signed a professional contract with Glasgow Warriors.

The 22-year-old, who is the latest Stage 3 player to graduate from the Scottish Rugby academy system, will be staying at Scotstoun until at least May 2016.

Kings Lynn-born Price has made 9 appearances for the Warriors and was part of the Guinness PRO12 title-winning squad last season.

The Scotland Under 20 scrumhalf was also in the Glasgow squad which won the Melrose 7s earlier this year.

He previously played for Bedford Blues and was part of the Saracens Storm ‘A’ league set-up.

Ali Price said: “It’s a huge honour to sign my first professional contract and I’m looking forward to continuing my career in Glasgow with the Warriors.

“I’ve developed a lot as a player over the last 12 months, having had the opportunity to train and play with the first team squad.

“I’m always learning and it’s great to be able to work closely with the likes of Mike (Blair), Henry (Pyrgos) and Grayson (Hart).”

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EnglandJim Mallinder has hit out at the way this crucial period of Northampton’s season has been undermined by the RFU’s unofficial approaches to his backs coach, Alex King, to become part of the England setup.

“As a club, we’ve had no official contact at all, so we’re in the dark,” he said. “Alex King is a key part of our coaching staff. We’re in a vital part of the season building up to a massive game this week. What you don’t want to hear is that somebody is talking to one of your coaches.”

Eddie Jones, England’s new head coach, met King before Northampton’s 9 – 9 home draw with Racing 92. Jones has indicated that he will look after England’s attack but it is thought he might be interested in King as an assistant in that department, which may yet allow for a part-time arrangement whereby King continues with Northampton.

Should the RFU try to prise King away, Northampton have two models to choose from for their next move – that of Saracens, who have agreed to release Paul Gustard as defence coach (although they received an official approach from the RFU), or Bristol, who are demanding punitive compensation for the signature of Steve Borthwick as coach of the forwards.

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Gregor Townsend

Gregor Townsend

Llanelli Scarlets host Glasgow Warriors tonight in a European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 3 match.

The teams met for the first of their two games in the round robin stage of Europe’s top rugby competition last week at Glasgow’s home ground, Scotstoun Stadium. Glasgow won that match comprehensively with a final score of 43/6 in their favour, picking up a bonus point in the process. The big Fijian Australian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro was in devastating form arguably putting in the performance of the weekend in scoring a hat trick of tries and having one dot down perhaps harshly ruled not a try.

The Scarlets had many players missing last week due to injury and with various of these players returning today it should be a much closer affair at their home ground, while the fact that it could be a very damp day could also help as a leveller.

Today’s game will be the 100th game for Gregor Townsend as head coach of Glasgow Warriors and also coincidently the Warriors’ 100th game in European Rugby competitions. To commemorate the milestone of Gregor Townsend (Toony) a big Glasgow Warriors fan has been running a series of articles this week with all sorts of detail about the club. This Spreadsheet Warrior is a very gifted numbers analyst who highlights all sorts of interesting facts about Glasgow Warriors and it is always very interesting to read the latest offerings on the blog. Some of the analysis this week goes into such minute detail which is great especially for the dedicated Warriors fan and highlights just how well Gregor Townsend has done with the Warriors. We bring you the final part of the “Tribute to Toony”.

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Cian Healy

Cian Healy

Leinster prop Cian Healy has been banned for 2 weeks for dangerous play during last weekend’s European Champions Cup game against Toulon.

The 28-year-old Ireland international was charged with striking Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado with his knee during the 24-9 defeat in France.

The striking charge was found to be not proven but the incident was deemed to be foul play.

Healy misses the return fixture against Toulon and a Pro12 match with Munster.

Although there were no aggravating factors, judicial officer Roger Morris said the ban could not be reduced because Healy does not have a clean disciplinary record.

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