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European Rugby

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GeorgeNorth

Wales and Northampton’s George North

George North has insisted he is not planning to return to regional rugby any time soon but backed the new dual-contract system which has attracted Dan Lydiate to return from France.

The Northampton wing hailed Welsh union and regional bosses for finally agreeing a “feasible option” that will boost chances of top stars remaining in the domestic game.

Lydiate capitalised on the new contracts by return from Racing Metro to the Ospreys and will make his debut against Ulster this Saturday.

North believes more top stars could follow suit but stressed his current situation at Northampton suits him “down to the ground”.

The Saints release North for all his Wales commitments, a situation he admits allows him to gain the best of both worlds.

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Charlie Matthews

Charlie Matthews

Harlequins lock Charlie Matthews could face a ban of up to one year after he was cited for allegedly making contact with the eye area of Leinster flanker Dominic Ryan in last Saturday’s European Champions Cup match.

The 23-year-old – who was sin-binned by French referee Romain Poite for the altercation – will face a disciplinary panel in London on Wednesday.

The panel could impose anything from a low end sanction lasting 12 weeks, mid-range 24 weeks, while in the worst case scenario he could be banned for a year for a more serious offence.

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BarbariansArgentinaThe Barbarians will round off their 125th anniversary year by tackling Argentina at Twickenham in November 2015, organisers announced on Tuesday.

After a chastening 2013, the invitational side proved themselves credible opponents for the world’s elite teams this year, going down 49-39 to a youthful England team in June and narrowly losing 40-36 to Australia last month.

They are scheduled to play Ireland in Limerick on 8 May and will play England three days later before finishing the year against Argentina.

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Dylan Hartley

Dylan Hartley

England hooker Dylan Hartley has rejected a mega offer from Top 14 club Montpellier to sign a new deal with Northampton.

The 28-year-old has revealed that he was given a ‘very generous offer’ by the club to move to France.

However, Hartley has opted to remain with Premiership champions Saints and outlined his reasons today.

Hartley stated that the move would have had no impact on his England career ahead of next year’s World Cup, while turning down the possibility of ‘300 days of sunshine’ was not easy.

“It’s no secret I was offered a deal to join one of the leading French sides, Montpellier, which would have been worth significantly more. But money isn’t everything,” Hartley wrote in his column in a newspaper.

“I don’t want to come across all ‘holier than thou’ over this, but I do believe the world loyalty has gone out of fashion a bit – and for me that really means something.”

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Dan Carter

Dan Carter

French club Racing Metro are reportedly winning the race to sign All Blacks star Dan Carter in a deal that is tipped to make him the highest paid player in the game with a £1 million contract.

European media is awash with speculation around Carter as the veteran No 10’s future beyond next year’s World Cup continues to grab headlines.

All the various sources were tipping glamour Paris outfit Racing Metro to lure Carter back to the French competition after his painful previous experience of an injury-plagued sabbatical in 2009 with Perpignan.

The Times suggested Carter ‘is close to becoming rugby’s first £1 million man’ with Racing Metro owner Jacky Lorenzetti prepared to ‘break the bank’ for a move that would finally end Carter’s All Blacks career.

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Greig Tonks

Greig Tonks

As Edinburgh strive for four wins from four in Europe this Sunday, Greig Tonks will be running out for his 50th cap for the club.

There are seven changes to the starting 15 that beat London Welsh in the opening double-header, at BT Murrayfield last Sunday. Jack Cuthbert comes in at fullback with Dougie Fife, a late injury withdrawal last weekend, returning on the right wing.

A changed halfback pairing sees Greig Tonks at flyhalf and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne in the scrumhalf berth.

Meanwhile in the pack, with Ross Ford still out, Neil Cochrane gets a start at hooker, while John Andress and Anton Bresler move up from the bench to start at tighthead and lock respectively.

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Glasgow WarriorsRichie Vernon will start at outside centre for Glasgow Warriors, when they host French Top 14 side Toulouse at Scotstoun Stadium tomorrow lunchtime (kick-off 13:00 BST, 15:00 SA Time).

Vernon impressed from the bench in the narrow 19-11 defeat at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday and replaces Peter Horne for the European Rugby Champions Cup encounter, with Alex Dunbar moving to inside centre.

There are two other personnel changes with Tim Swinson coming in for Leone Nakarawa in the second-row and Ryan Wilson replacing the injured Chris Fusaro in the backrow. Wilson starts on the blindside, with Rob Harley moving to openside.

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Francois Louw

Francois Louw

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will be pleased to see two of his stalwarts returning to the rugby field in the European Cup this weekend.

Bath’s Francois Louw is set to make his comeback after a ten-week stint on the sideline following surgery on his neck for nerve damage.

The flank last played for the Springboks in their Rugby Championship Test against the All Blacks in Wellington on 13 September.

Bath assistant coach Toby Booth has indicated that Louw may be thrown straight into the action and could start for the English team when they face Montpellier at home on Friday.

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WhistleSouth African referees Jaco Peyper, Craig Joubert, Stuart Berry and television match official (TMO) Shaun Veldsman will all officiate in the 2015 Six Nations competition, World Rugby has announced.

Peyper will take charge of the match between France and Wales on 28 February at Stade de France in Paris, while Joubert will officiate the clash between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on 1 March, with Veldsman in the role of TMO.

Berry, meanwhile, was named as an assistant referee for the matches between Italy and Ireland at Stadio Olimpico in Rome on 7 February and Ireland and France in Dublin on 14 February respectively.

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Jimmy Gopperth

Jimmy Gopperth

Leinster skills coach Richie Murphy has confirmed reports that Jimmy Gopperth is talking to other clubs and will leave the province at the end of the current season.

Ireland’s first-choice flyhalf Jonathan Sexton will return to Leinster next season after a stint with Racing Metro and utility back Ian Madigan – Sexton’s understudy with the national team – is contracted until 2016.

It is understood that Wasps are favourites to sign New Zealander Gopperth, who would move at the end of the current season, but that he is talking to a number of clubs across Europe.

“Jimmy was given a heads-up early on about Johnny [Sexton] coming back and he feels he still wants to be a first-team player,” Murphy said.

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Eben Etzebeth

Eben Etzebeth

Western Province have brushed off reports linking lock Eben Etzebeth with a move to French giants Toulon.

French newspaper Var Matin reported over the weekend that the Springbok lock could join Toulon after next year’s Rugby World Cup.

The 23-year-old Capetonian is seen as an ideal replacement for compatriot Bakkies Botha, who recently retired from international rugby and will leave Toulon at the end of the current European season.

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Mouritz Botha

Mouritz Botha

Mouritz Botha has been reluctantly released by Saracens to join The Sharks in South Africa, with effect from 1 January 2015.

Mark McCall, Director of Rugby, said: “Mouritz has been a massive part of our squad and our culture for the past five and a half seasons, and we are very sorry to see him leave. However, this is a great opportunity to play for one of the top teams in the Super XV, and we wish him, Natasha and young Joshua well.”

Botha joined Saracens from Bedford Blues in 2009, has played 142 matches for the club and has also been capped 10 times by England.

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Josh Strauss & Leone Nakarawa

Josh Strauss and Leone Nakarawa

Glasgow Warriors have received a major boost ahead of Sunday’s European Rugby Champions Cup match against Toulouse, with the news that Josh Strauss and Leone Nakarawa have signed new deals with the club.

Both players have signed two-year contracts, keeping them at Scotstoun until at least May 2017 and have committed their futures to the club just a week after Stuart Hogg and Lee Jones penned deals for the same length of time.

South African-born Strauss arrived in Glasgow in September 2012 and the 28-year-old has made 56 appearances for the Guinness PRO12 side. He has scored six tries and has captained the team.

The powerful No 8 has featured regularly for the Warriors and will become eligible to play for Scotland in September 2015.

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Ruan Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar and Dan Tuohy are poised to return for Ulster in Saturday’s European Champions Cup tie against Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium.

Pienaar has not played for Ulster this season having suffered a knee injury playing for South Africa in September.

Tuohy broke his arm during a Pro12 match against Cardiff 10 weeks ago.

“Dan and Ruan both trained the last two days and if there is no reaction, they might potentially be involved at the weekend,” said Ulster coach Neil Doak.

While delighted at the prospect of the pair being involved in the back-to-back fixtures against Scarlets, which Ulster must win to keep alive slim hopes of qualification from Pool 3, Doak is not expecting too much from his returning internationals.

“It’s good to have them back on the paddock but let’s see how they react and come through.  We just have to see how Ruan’s knee reacts.”

“It is a different kettle of fish when you are training on your own, but when you get in a team environment and it is twisting and turning, it is live stuff now.

“Hopefully both of them can get in the mix this weekend. To have those experienced players coming back in, it is good to have.”

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SpringboksThe South African Rugby Union received handy compensation from the Welsh Rugby Union for agreeing to play last weekend’s Test in Cardiff.

The Test at Millennium Stadium fell outside World Rugby’s international window, but was played after both rugby union’s agreed to square off.

According to reports, SARU received £750 000 (about R 13 Million) from the WRU for the Test.

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Bakkies Botha

Bakkies Botha

Bakkies Botha could extend his stint at French club Toulon by a few months before calling time on his playing career.

The veteran Springbok lock last month announced his retirement from international rugby after representing his country in 85 Tests.

At the time, Botha said he would see out his contract with Toulon until the end of the current European season, before possibly finishing his playing career at a local Currie Cup team in 2015.

However, it appears Botha could extend his stint at Toulon by a few more months.

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Jean de Villiers & Jan Serfontein

Jean de Villiers & Jan Serfontein

The Springboks are likely to head to the World Cup next year without a specialist outside centre, but is that such a problem?

Jaque Fourie’s recent retirement from international rugby and captain Jean de Villiers’ horrific knee injury means that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s midfield options will have to be significantly revised next year.

The two formed the most capped centre pairing in Springbok history, and many had their money on seeing them together for one last hurrah in England next year.

A look at the options available shows that outside centres are in seemingly short supply, which means that the Boks may play with two inside centres as they effectively did throughout 2014.

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Cell C SharksToulonTwo time Heineken Cup champions Toulon have accepted the challenge presented to them by the Cell C Sharks CEO, John Smit, to play the Cell C Sharks in a North vs South pre-season friendly.

The date for this clash has been set for Thursday 5 February 2015, at the Stade Mayol in Toulon.

We believe that in order to be the best you need to play the best. This match against the best European Rugby Club in recent history marks an ideal opportunity to fine tune our preparation for an important Vodacom Super Rugby season ahead.

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End Of Year ToursOnce again the four Rugby Championship teams have been and gone but this time they did not have it all their own way on their annual visit to the British Isles as it ended five wins apiece from the 10 Tests.

Ireland beat both South Africa and Australia, Wales downed the former and England the latter, and Scotland defeated Argentina.

Admittedly, the Pumas are not part of rugby union’s traditional southern hemisphere big three, and the incomparable All Blacks sailed through their Tests unbeaten, but even discounting the Scottish win over Argentina the matches against the three giants from the south only ended 5-4 to the visitors.

Former England and Lions great Jeremy Guscott has been out and about  during November and here he selects a XV for both the home nations and the Rugby Championship sides.

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South Africa suffered a big blow when Springbok captain Jean de Villiers was injured during their 12-6 defeat to Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

De Villiers was forced to leave the field in the 58th minute after twisting his left knee and dislocating his knee cap. The dislocation was reduced on the field and he was sent for scans shortly after the match.

“The scans revealed significant ligament damage to the inside of his knee and the supporting muscles,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts.

“Jean will return to South Africa and see an orthopaedic specialist in Cape Town early in the week. He has had previous surgery on this knee and the further management of the injury is dependent upon the specialist’s recommendations.”

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said losing De Villiers was a massive setback as the team were just beginning to build momentum in a tough encounter against Wales. The home team’s points came via four Leigh Halfpenny penalty goals, while Pat Lambie responded with two penalty goals for the visitors.

“It was a massively disappointing way to end the tour and our season, as we always strive to make our country proud,” said Meyer.

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AustraliaEnglandA try in both halves from Ben Morgan helped England claim a well-deserved 26-17 victory over Australia at Twickenham.

England displayed excellent composure in defence and made the most of their possession by running in two tries to claim a massive psychological advantage with the World Cup a few months away.

The Wallabies outscored the hosts 14-13 in the second half but failed to overturn a 10-point half-time deficit.

Scrum dominance, allied to fine work at the breakdown led by England captain Chris Robshaw, were the cornerstones of England’s victory.

The win saw England end the November programme with a 50 percent success rate after defeats by both world champions New Zealand (24-21) and South Africa (31-28) were followed by last week’s 28-9 win over Samoa.

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Jean de Villiers

Jean de Villiers

South Africa need no extra motivation to raise themselves for Saturday’s season-ending Test match against Wales after being pushed hard by the Welsh in their last match earlier this year.

The South Africans led 17-0 and 30-17 early in the clash in Nelspruit in June before the Welsh staged a dramatic comeback, only to fall short by a solitary point, as the Springboks hung on for a 31-30 victory.

That win stretched the Springboks’ formidable record over Wales to just one loss (1999) and one draw (1970) in 29 matches between the two countries.

“It’s pretty easy to motivate yourself. It’s the last one, you can put all your effort into it, not that you don’t in any other week of the year.

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Jamie Roberts

Jamie Roberts

Wales centre Jamie Roberts insisted he was ready for more of the same against South Africa on Saturday, despite being unable to run for four days after his exploits against the New Zealand last week.

Roberts, a qualified doctor currently taking a medical sabbatical playing for Racing-Metro in the French Top 14 league, admitted that he did not dwell too long on the pain and suffering he caused his own body.

“It’s taken me about four or five days to recover from last weekend,” Roberts said of the battering he took in the 34-16 loss to New Zealand.

“It was car-crash stuff last weekend.

“I take anti-inflammatory medication before most games now just to reduce swelling in knees and ankles and so forth.

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Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess

Rugby league star Sam Burgess made his highly-anticipated union debut for Bath in a comprehensive 25-6 victory over Harlequins in the English Premiership on Friday.

Burgess had not played rugby since fracturing his cheekbone and eye socket during his final appearance for South Sydney in their 30-6 NRL Grand Final victory over Canterbury Bulldogs in October.

But he was named on the bench for Bath, for whom he was signed a three-year deal worth an estimated 270,000 with a tilt at England’s World Cup squad in mind.

And the player capped 28 times as a forward for England in rugby league came on in the 63rd minute as a centre alongside fellow league convert Kyle Eastmond.

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EdinburghGlasgow WarriorsEdinburgh head coach Alan Solomons believes that his squad has got through the worst of an injury crisis which threatened to engulf the team just a few short weeks ago.

Edinburgh flew to Milan ­yesterday then took a 75-mile bus ride to Parma, ahead of ­facing Guinness Pro12 strugglers Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile tomorrow afternoon.

It may have been an arduous trip but Solomons was in good fettle – despite Edinburgh still being without several leading players, including Grant Gilchrist (broken arm), Hamish Watson (knee) and Cornell du Preez, who is set to miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.

Solomons said that the ­Autumn Tests came at just the right time for other leading players to recover and he is ­excited about his team’s chances of climbing into the top six of the Pro 12 table, which would qualify them for the Champions Cup next season.

Edinburgh returned to action in fine style last Sunday when they defeated Cardiff Blues at home, and they will fancy their chances against a Zebre side which was hammered 43-3 by Connacht on Friday night.

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Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess played on in National Rugby League Final in spite of fractured cheekbone

Bath’s cross-code signing Sam Burgess has been named on the bench for Friday’s Premiership game against Harlequins at The Rec.  The 25-year-old arrived in the West Country a month ago but only recently resumed training after fracturing a cheekbone in his final rugby league game for South Sydney Rabbitohs.  Coach Mike Ford has said Burgess is likely to come on at centre.

Quins, meanwhile, hand a start to Danny Care at scrum-half.  Care, who was on the bench for the defeat by Sale last week, has been released from the England squad after again failing to make the cut for the final autumn international against Australia on Saturday.

Bath backs Semesa Rokoduguni and Kyle Eastmond will also start on Friday after falling out of Stuart Lancaster’s plans.

A win over Quins will see The Rec outfit move to the top of the Premiership table, but all the attention is likely to be on Burgess’s imminent union debut.

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WalesWales have made three changes to their side to face South Africa on Saturday, with Gethin Jenkins, Scott Baldwin and Liam Williams all coming into the starting fifteen.

Jenkins and Baldwin will link up with Samson Lee to form the same frontrow that started the clash against Fiji a fortnight ago.

The rest of the pack remains unchanged from last weekend’s game against the world champions New Zealand, with Jake Ball partnering Alun Wyn Jones in the second row and Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau lining up alongside captain Sam Warburton.

Ospreys halfbacks Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar continue their partnership as do the record breaking centre duo of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

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Sean McMahon

Sean McMahon

Sean McMahon returns to the Australian starting lineup in one of three changes ahead of their final year-end Test, against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

With Tevita Kuridrani unavailable due to a low-grade ankle injury, Test veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper has been selected at outside centre, which allows Rob Horne to earn a starting position on the wing.

The starting line-up is otherwise unchanged with McMahon part of a back row including captain Michael Hooper and Ben McCalman, locks Sam Carter and Rob Simmons, and a front row of James Slipper, Saia Fainga’a and Sekope Kepu.

In the backs Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley continue their play-making partnership,Matt Toomua joins Adam Ashley-Cooper in the centres, with a back three consisting of Israel Folau, Rob Horne and Henry Speight.

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Rupeni CaucaunibucaFormer Fiji wing Rupeni Caucaunibuca has ended his unhappy second stint with French second division side Agen by mutual consent.

Caucaunibuca, more commonly referred to simply as Caucau, had played only 87 minutes for the Pro D2 side this season, having returned for a second spell following a highly successful first stint from 2004-09.

Back then, when Agen were in the French Top 14, Caucau twice finished as top try-scorer in the league.

He moved on to giants Toulouse in 2010 and then in 2012 returned to Northland in New Zealand, where he had also played Super Rugby for the Blues.

Agen said the explosive 34-year-old had asked to have his contract terminated.

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Gareth Anscombe

Gareth Anscombe

Cardiff Blues’ new signing Gareth Anscombe is keen to impress Wales coach Warren Gatland and force his way into the Welsh Six Nations squad.

The Welsh qualified junior All Black made his debut for the Blues last weekend and was the shining light in their 28-13 defeat to Edinburgh at Murrayfield.

The utlity back is determined to muscle his way into the Wales fold for the Six Nations by steering his new side to victories against European Cup Pool One qualification rivals London Irish in their back-to-back clashes next month.

“I’m a pretty driven guy and now that I’m over here it’s the goal to play for Wales. So, I guess the next step may be the Six Nations.

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Pat Howard

Pat Howard in action for Munster against Newport Gwent Dragons

South African centre Pat Howard admits he is ready for whatever comes his way as he bids to build on his first appearance for Munster.

Howard began a three-month contract with the Irish province at the start of the month and got his first taste of the Guinness PRO12 at the weekend.

The 22-year-old featured off the bench as Munster made light work of seeing off Newport Gwent Dragons 38-12 in their return to Guinness PRO12 action.

Howard arrived at Munster to bolster the options in midfield due to injuries to Keith Earls and Cian Bohane with an Irish derby with Ulster next up.

Munster will then break for European action and Howard insists he is acclimatising well and relishing the challenges that lie ahead both domestically and on the continent.

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Tevita Kuridrani

Tevita Kuridrani

Tevita Kuridrani has been ruled out of Saturday’s match against England at Twickenham with an ankle injury.

The in-form Wallabies centre picked up the injury early in the second half of their 26-23 defeat to Ireland. Tests on Monday revealed a low grade tear, meaning Kuridrani won’t be available for the match against England, although he should be clear by the time Super Rugby rolls around.

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BarbariansThe Irish Rugby Football Union and The Barbarian Football Club have confirmed on Monday that they will play a match at Thomond Park, Limerick on Thursday 28 May 2015.

The fixture forms part of the Barbarians’ Summer Tour, which also features a game against England at Twickenham on Sunday 31 May.

The year 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of Barbarian rugby, making its Summer Tour fixtures against Ireland and England even more special.

Irish Rugby Football Union President Louis Magee said: “This promises to be a truly memorable occasion as both the IRFU and Munster welcome the Barbarians back to Ireland again. The celebrated Barbarians brand of rugby will bring an entertaining game to Thomond Park and one which I am sure Ireland and rugby fans will look forward to seeing.”

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Aaro Mauger

Aaro Mauger

Crusaders Assistant Coach, Aaron Mauger, has accepted the Head Coach role with his old Leicester Tigers club from the 2015 / 2016 season.

Mauger, who will complete his third Super Rugby season as Assistant Coach with the Crusaders in 2015, played 53 games for the Leicester Tigers between 2007 and 2010 and captained the side for much of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

He says it is a dream opportunity to return to a club that he is so fond of, in a head coach capacity.

“I have awesome memories of my time at Leicester as a player and it is a place I will very happily return to.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to do that as the head coach for the club and the timing is right for me to grab that opportunity.

“My aim is to help create the framework for Leicester to once again be amongst the top clubs in European and world rugby.

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