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European Rugby

SaracensWhen David Strettle crossed the try line in the final seconds of our game against London Wasps at Twickenham last weekend, there was a sick sense of deja vu.

With Saracens losing by a point, the TMO was promptly called upon for his expert opinion and, much like the brutal closing seconds of last year’s final, we stood around helplessly as the grounding of the ball was dissected from every imaginable angle….

But let me take you take you back a few weeks to the Lollapalooza music festival, where the team got together after a brutal week’s training in a baking hot Chicago.

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sco7s_team_2_0Scotland 7’s will compete in the Manchester 7’s Cup quarter-finals today (Sunday 14 September), following two victories against Italy (24-19) and Georgia (45-0) yesterday.

The Scots will play Russia at 11.06am, at the AJ Bell Stadium, as they look to improve on their third place finish, in the last Rugby Europe tournament in Moscow back in June.

After the disappointment of a, 5-12 loss to Spain, the side grew in confidence and composure, as each of the remaining ties past.

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British & Irish Lions

British & Irish Lions

Former British and Irish Lions prop Phil Vickery has called on the combined side to resist pressure to change their name should Scotland vote for independence next week.

The Lions could be forced to drop the word ‘British’ from their title if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom.

John Spencer, England’s representative on the Lions board and the manager for the team’s 2017 tour of New Zealand, said officials would discuss a possible name change in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote.

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FranceFrance head coach Phillipe Saint-André has announced that he and other members of the French rugby heirachy have identified ten foreigners they would like to play for the French team in the near future.

The list of ten players, all of whom ply their trade in the Top 14, includes current European Player of the Year Steffon Armitage, who has been capped by England on five occasions, and South African Rory Kockott.

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OspreysNew Ospreys lock De Kock Steenkamp is keen to nail his colours to the mast and break into the Welsh national team.

The deal for the South African-born star was approved by Wales Rugby Union and covers the three years it would take for him to achieve qualification through residency.

And Steenkamp admits he would relish the chance to represent the Red Dragons once he has established himself in the Guinness PRO12.

“I’d be delighted,” he said.  “As far as I know, the only foreigners that can come to Wales must be eligible to play for Wales in three years’ time, so that’s why the contract is for three years.”

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Guinness-Pro12The second round of matches in the Guinness PRO12 take place this weekend with four matches scheduled for Friday night, one for Saturday and one for Sunday.

Both matches involving teams from Scotland will be played on modern artificial pitches. In the first match, tonight, Edinburgh Rugby will play host to Connacht Rugby at BT Murrayfield in what will be the first match on the newly laid hybrid pitch at the National Stadium. The final fixture of the weekend will see a top four clash between Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors on the 3G pitch at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.

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Liam Williams

Liam Williams (centre) Red Carded (following two yellows) against Ulster.

The case involving Liam Williams, the Scarlets full back, was considered today by an independent Guinness PRO12 Disciplinary Committee.

Williams had been dismissed with a red card (after having received two yellow cards) in the Guinness PRO12 match between Scarlets and Ulster at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

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Alfred Mayssonnie, 1912

Alfred Mayssonnie in 1912

The odds were always that the first rugby international killed in action in the First World War would be a Frenchman.

The French were the first major rugby nation directly involved, facing a German invasion of their territory almost as soon as the war started.

Stade Toulousain half-back Alfred Mayssonnie – ‘Maysso’ to friends and fans alike – joined up as soon as war was declared, appointed a non-commissioned officer in the 259th Infantry Regiment. Within three weeks he had earned a mention in his regiment’s orders of the day with his bravery in an action at d’Amel-Eton, north-east of Verdun.

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Matt Giteau

Wanted man… Matt Giteau playing for Toulon.

Matt Giteau has long been lost to the Wallabies for next year’s World Cup, but the bidding in French rugby for his services speaks volumes about his value as a player.

Giteau, an established star in the Top 14 champion Toulon club in the south of France, has reportedly become the target of the Paris-based Racing Metro club with a €1 million ($1.4 million) a year offer reportedly on the table.

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Rory Kockott

France call-up near: Rory Kockott

Rory Kockott’s wait for a taste of international rugby appears to be over as he meets with Philippe Saint-André this week.

The South African-born scrum-half looks certain to be part of the French squad for the November Tests according to the Midi Olympique, with Saint-André preparing to announce an initial squad on September 21 for a training camp.

Kockott became eligible for Les Bleus in July, and having been overlooked by Heyneke Meyer for the Rugby Championship, despite a scrum-half crisis, the Castres star seems to have settled on playing for France.

He will meet Saint-André this week, with the French coach eager to increase the competition on current scrum-halves Maxime Machenaud and Morgan Parra.

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Guinness Pro12Reigning champions Leinster were toppled by beaten finalists Glasgow Warriors at Scostoun, with Stuart Hogg slotting over the winning penalty with the last kick of the game.

Warriors stormed to a 19-0 lead with tries from Peter Horne, Josh Strauss and Jonny Gray, but then Leinster staged a late revival.

Jack McGrath and Tom Denton found their way over the whitewash to put the Irish province into the lead for the first time, but ill-discipline in the dying minutes led to Hogg’s successful penalty.

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Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford

French rugby club Clermont will be without Zac Guildford for up to four weeks after the former All Black and teammate Jonathan Davies were assaulted.

The 25-year-old Kiwi, who had a record of ill discipline off the pitch in New Zealand before he made the move to France in the summer, was left with a badly-bruised jaw.

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De Kock Steenkamp

De Kock Steenkamp

Welsh club Ospreys have confirmed that they have signed Stormers lock De Kock Steenkamp on a three-year contract, despite the player having one more year on his contract in the Cape.

Steenkamp, 27, secured an early release from his Stormers contract and will join the PRO12 club after representing the Stormers on 49 occasions in Super Rugby and playing 59 games for the Western Province in the Currie Cup.

“Joining the Ospreys is a great opportunity for me and a challenge that I can’t wait to get stuck into,” said Steenkamp in a statement on Ospreys’ official website.

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Guinness-Pro12The first round of matches in the Guinness PRO12 take place this weekend with two matches scheduled for Friday night, three for Saturday and one for Sunday.

The opening fixture of the tournament kicking off tonight in Limerick will see Munster Rugby hosting Edinburgh Rugby and for the last fixture of the round Cardiff Blues travel to Italy to take on Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile.

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TV replays

Match officials will make more decisions independently.

The Rugby Football Union have urged referees to take greater responsibility for decisions and avoid overusing television match officials.

Last season, officials were entitled to review footage of incidents of foul play and up to two phases before a try – but the knock-on effect of an increased number of stops in play quickly drew criticism.

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Guinness PRO12With the new Guinness PRO12 season kicking off this weekend on Friday, we take a look at the prospects of each of the 12 clubs. The competition is between clubs from Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland. Ireland and Wales have four clubs / regions/provinces in the Guinness PRO12, while Italy and Scotland both provide two teams each to complete the twelve team line-up.

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WalesWith Welsh Rugby getting ready for the competitive part of the 2014/15 season, which starts on Friday, we have a look at the big name moves, including the ins and outs at the four Welsh regions and a look at some of the player and coach movements outside the country.

Adam Jones became the biggest Welsh rugby headline-stealer with his shock signing for Cardiff Blues after being an Osprey since 2003.

But the British and Irish Lions prop’s switch after season-long speculation was not the only move to make fans sit up and take notice.

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AlanTait

Alan Tait – appointed to assist coaching at BT Sport Academies by Scottish Rugby.

Scottish Rugby announced yesterday that it is appointing a vastly experienced Scottish coach with hands-on knowledge of the very top of the international game as part of its Academy initiative.

Alan Tait, 50, the former Scotland and British Lions back and rugby league internationalist, who was defence coach with the Scotland team and head coach with Newcastle Falcons, is joining as a specialist skills coach and will play a key role within the four BT Sport Academies that Scottish Rugby is establishing this season around the country.

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James Simpson-Daniel

James Simpson-Daniel

Gloucester and England back James Simpson-Daniel has confirmed his retirement after failing to recover from an ankle injury.

The 32-year-old winger has been sidelined since last November when he suffered an horrific ankle injury in an LV= Cup fixture against Newcastle Falcons at Kingsholm.

Sinbad, as he is affectionately known by all connected with Gloucester, has battled bravely in an attempt to regain full fitness but has reluctantly been forced to admit defeat.

Despite the desperately disappointing news, Simpson-Daniel preferred to dwell on the positives when he spoke to the club website.

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James O'Connor

Runaway success: James O’Connor scores a try for Toulon on the weekend.

The short-term future of James O’Connor and his return to Australia is assured, but doubts remain about his long-term plans after the World Cup in Britain next year.

Queensland are expecting O’Connor, who has 44 Test caps with the Wallabies, to remain in Brisbane after announcing last Friday that the back had signed a two-year deal with them – starting next season.

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Kingston Park

Kingston Park

A new domestic season is almost upon us and among the fresh faces set to make their Premiership Rugby bow is a key arrival who may just turn out to be one of the most significant signings of the off-season.

Newcastle Falcons’ decision to install a hi-tech artificial pitch at Kingston Park makes them the second club in England’s top flight to ditch a traditional grass playing surface after Saracens’ ground-breaking and headline-grabbing switch in 2013 – with both understood to have cost in the region of £500,000.

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Mike Coman

Mike Coman – Edinburgh’s captain

Experienced back row, Mike Coman, will captain Edinburgh this season, with Scotland international lock, Grant Gilchrist as vice captain.

Coman, who turns 27 later this month, said: “It’s a massive honour, we’ve got an exciting team and I’m really looking forward to the season ahead.”

Signing for Edinburgh Rugby during 2013/14 on a two-year deal, Coman is no stranger to the captain’s armband.

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Waterboy

Move over Sandler, make way for Piri.

World Cup winning All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu has begun his overseas rugby career as a water-boy, promising a selfless attitude as he tries to help London Welsh establish themselves in the English Premiership.

Weepu said he would bring a team-first approach to a club freshly promoted and looking to do better than their last stay at the top that lasted just one season. And he’s already proved that by running the water bottles in a pre-season match.

“I’m here to push this club as hard as I can and I’ll do everything possible for the team,” Weepu told The Rugby Paper website as his arrival in Britain drew attention ahead of this weekend’s season kickoff.

“Everything is about the team, not the individual, and if someone’s not pulling their weight, including me, I hope they’ll say it.

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Aviva PremiershipWith the new English domestic season kicking off on Friday, we take a look at the prospects of each of the 12 clubs competing for the Premiership title. Let’s get started.

Saracens:

The pioneers of modern English rugby, Saracens have established themselves as one of Europe’s leading teams over the last few years.

Making three Premiership Finals in the last five years along with contesting Europe’s showpiece last season underlines their rise to the top of the game. Unafraid to experiment off the field, 2013/2014 saw Saracens revolutionise their play on it by throwing off the shackles and producing attacking rugby that was hard to resist. More of the same please.

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Adams Park

Current ground: Adams Park

Wasps statement on stadium move:

Wasps have responded over growing speculation regarding their possible future stadium in a statement on Sunday.

The Rugby Paper has linked the club with moving their games to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

Quick to address any speculation given possible negotiations to move away from Adams Park in High Wycombe remain sensitive, Wasps have moved quickly to discuss the rumours.

“Wasps are aware of media reports in recent days linking the club to a number of possible new stadiums,” read the statement.

“Wasps has made no secret of a desire to find a permanent home which reflects the ambitions of the club.

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Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas says he struggled when his wife left him.

Gareth Thomas, the former rugby international, has spoken for the first time of the agonising pain of his wife leaving him after he came out as gay.

The ex-Wales captain told how he made several suicide attempts after confessing to his wife Jemma in 2006 that he had been secretly homosexual throughout their five-year marriage.

In a new book Thomas says that the night his wife left him, he dressed in his best grey suit issued by the Welsh Rugby Union and headed to the swimming pool of his home set upon drowning himself.

He explained in an interview on Saturday how he had fought to become one of the toughest players on the pitch in an attempt to hide his sexuality, which had been clear to him from the age of 16.

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Glasgow WarriorsEdinburghThis weekend represents the final chance for Gregor Townsend and Alan Solomons, head coaches of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby, to test out various combinations in a match situation ahead of the 2014/2015 season which starts in all earnest next weekend. Edinburgh played their pre-season friendly match last night against Newcastle Falcons in Hawick while Glasgow Warriors face London Scottish in London.

In last night’s match the final score was Edinburgh Rugby 21(11)/15 (10) Newcastle Falcons. Alan Solomons was pleased with the win as although it was only a friendly match they had gone into it with the mind-set of it being a competitive one.

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Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford is looking to put his past alcohol-fuelled misdemeanours behind him and launch a new chapter in his impressive rugby career with Clermont.

The bad-boy of New Zealand rugby has had his fair share of run-ins with both rugby authorities and the law, but now he says he has a more mature head on his 25-year-old shoulders.

“I made some mistakes in my youth. The time had come to make some changes in my life and coming to Clermont was one of the best I could make,” he said.

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Warren Gatland

WALES COACH: Warren Gatland.

Warren Gatland’s role in helping to broker peace in Welsh rugby’s civil war has included the adoption of a rule preventing players who ply their trade overseas being available for the national team.

After months of bickering, Wales’ national body and its four regions have agreed to terms, signing a £60 million (NZ$118m) deal for six years.

With finances approved, it is hoped the clubs and country will be able to stop the player drain to competitions like the lucrative French club scene.

The Times reported that equally important in the attempt to plug the talent drain was a new ruling, dubbed “Gatland’s Law”, under which players plying their trade outside Wales would be unavailable for selection for the national team.

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WalesPeace in Wales has finally been struck after it was announced that the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and four regions signed a new Participation Agreement.

The deal is worth £60m and lasts until 2020, with dual contracts for the country’s top players set to be included while the Wales ‘A’ team returns.

“The national dual contracts represent a radical step forward in our mutual aim of retaining Welsh talent in Wales,” said WRU CEO Roger Lewis.

“The new contracts will help us keep more of our best players in Wales and will help stem the flow abroad of the talent we develop here through our academies and regions.”

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Brad Thorn

Brad Thorn: One of a kind

Bigger, faster, and stronger – it’s a wonder any professional rugby player lasts more than a handful of seasons before terminal injury strikes.

Professional rugby players’ representatives love to say how short their client’s careers will be – usually while negotiating for a pay rise.

They operate in an increasingly brutal arena, one tackle away from enforced retirement.

The average size of an All Black forward increased from 100kg to 113kg since rugby went professional in the mid-1990s and the backs have ballooned from 82kg to 94kg.

Collisions are now compared to car crashes. Concussion has become an unwelcome theme.

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Alesana Tuilagi

Court date: Alesana Tuilagi

Samoa and Newcastle Falcons winger Alesana Tuilagi has been charged in connection with an alleged assault, according to reports.

Tuilagi will appear in court on 21 October in relation to an incident on Dublin’s Harcourt Street in 2011, according to RTÉ News. The former Leicester Tigers player was arrested in Dublin on Tuesday before appearing in court. He was later released on bail.

Furthermore, RTÉ News report the Dublin District Court heard that CCTV footage and witness statements of the incident were in existence.

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Aviva Premiership

The Aviva Premiership is threatening to continue with their league schedule

Premiership Rugby has threatened to continue with their league programme during next year’s Rugby World Cup unless a deal can be reached with the RFU.

Tensions have been running high between Premiership Rugby and the RFU in recent months.

Premiership Rugby are upset after the RFU failed to consult them over the bid for the Rugby World Cup.

They are now seeking a compensation deal of £14 million from the RFU as they will have to shut down the league while the Rugby World Cup is taking place in England.

With the global showpiece scheduled to take place between September and October, England’s Premiership clubs will have no matchday income for five months – as the tournament finishes at the end of May – and according to projections each top tier club are set to lose £1.2 million.

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Josh Strauss

Josh Strauss in action for Glasgow Warriors

Josh Strauss admits he must deliver another sterling season for Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness PRO12 – and only then can he turn his attention to winning a Scotland cap.

Strauss, 27, made the move from South Africa to Glasgow in 2012 and will be eligible to play for Scotland on September 19, 2015 – four days before their opening World Cup match.

The back-row has been a formidable force for Gregor Townsend over the last two years, starting in 31 domestic games including last season’s final.

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WalesThe Welsh Rugby Union and the nation’s four regions could announce a deal this week to end almost two years of in-fighting over funding and control.

Wales captain Sam Warburton is expected to be joined by nine more players on dual contracts under the new agreement.

If the deal goes ahead, funding for the 10 will be in addition to an annual £6.7m shared between Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons.

The WRU and regions have been asked to comment.

Their last deal ended in June 2014, and if a fresh settlement is not forthcoming the regions face a combined £6.7m shortfall going into the 2014-15 season.

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