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Internationals

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Rob Simmons

Rob Simmons

James Slipper

James Slipper

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has locked away 2 key members of the Wallabies’ forward pack – re-signing the experienced Reds duo James Slipper and Rob Simmons.

The signatures of the 2 talented tight forwards are significant for the future of Australia.

Slipper agreed to a new 3-year deal, through until the end of 2018, while Simmons has also inked a multi-year extension – through until the end of 2017.

Despite his young age of just 25, Slipper and Simmons, 27, have already accumulated a combined 113 Tests between them for Australia.

Both also hold leadership positions at either the Wallabies or Reds.

Slipper and Simmons, who were announced earlier this year as the captain and vice-captain of the Reds, grew up playing together on the Gold Coast at the Southport School.

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Steve Tew

Steve Tew

The New Zealand Rugby Union said Thursday they had no plans to emulate Australia and relax eligibility rules so overseas-based players can represent the All Blacks.

The Australian Rugby Union announced the move on Wednesday in response to a host of top players taking up lucrative club contracts after this year’s September and October World Cup in England.

Defending World Cup champions New Zealand face a similar post-tournament exodus, with at least 10 All Blacks heading offshore – including Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Colin Slade.

But NZRU Chief Executive Steve Tew said his organisation still believed that the only players allowed to pull on the hallowed All Black jersey should be based in New Zealand.

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BlitzbokkeThe BlitzBokke have been hard at work preparing for the upcoming Glasgow leg of the HSBS Sevens World Series as they face their toughest challenge yet in pursuit of being crowned World Sevens Series champions.

Neil Powell’s men hold a slender 4 point lead over Fiji on the overall log standings ahead of the Glasgow showpiece and he knows that the focus needs to remain on the task at hand and not the permutations regarding the overall Series.

It will not be an easy task though as they will have to get through a tough pool that sees them being drawn alongside 3rd-placed New Zealand, Samoa and Kenya.

“It is definitely going to be a tough pool – and tournament – but if you want to be the best in the world, you need to beat everybody. The key to our success will be to remain focused on our processes and to make sure we do the right things on the field. If we can do that, the result will take care of itself.

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Dave Dennis

Dave Dennis

Waratahs captain Dave Dennis has signed a new contract with the ARU keeping him in Australia for at least 2 more years.

The 31-year-old who can play in both the 2nd row and the back row, has signed up through to 2017 as he looks to help the Waratahs retain their Super Rugby title.

Injury kept him out of the knockout stages of last year’s win, but Dennis has been in good form so far this season.

The fact he is staying will be a welcome boost for Daryl Gibson, who will replace Michael Cheika as Waratahs boss at the end of the season.

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AustraliaThe Australian Rugby Union relaxed eligibility rules to allow senior players at overseas franchises and clubs to represent the Wallabies.

The move, which is effective immediately, follows in the wake of recent revelations that Australia faces a mass exodus of stars after this year’s World Cup.

A host of players – such as Adam Ashley-Cooper, former skipper James Horwill, Will Genia and Sekope Kepu – are among those lured abroad by lucrative contracts in Europe and due to leave Australia after the World Cup in England in September and October.

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Aaron Cruden, injured on the weekend and out for the season

Aaron Cruden, injured on the weekend and out for the season

The Chiefs and All Blacks were delivered devastating news in the context of their 2015 campaigns on Monday when it was confirmed Aaron Cruden had ruptured his left anterior cruciate ligament.

The star playmaker will visit a surgeon on Wednesday to arrange a knee re-construction which is expected to keep him sidelined for 6 months.

In a brief statement issued on Monday afternoon, the Chiefs confirmed that Cruden would undergo traditional surgery “given Aaron’s young age and long-term career prospects.”

Cruden’s Super Rugby season is definitely over and his Rugby World Cup has been thrown into doubt as even a best-case recovery within that 6 month window would only see him fit in the final fortnight of the tournament.

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Bernard Foley

Bernard Foley

Waratahs Super Rugby-winning flyhalf Bernard Foley has signed a 3-year contract extension with the Australian Rugby Union.

The new agreement locks away the 25-year-old incumbent Wallaby flyhalf until at least the end of 2018 and ensures he will be eligible for Wallabies and Waratahs selection in each year of the deal. As part of the flexible contract, Foley will also be entitled to spend 2 seasons playing rugby in the Japanese domestic competition.

Foley said he was thrilled to have finalised a long-term agreement with Australian Rugby.

“I have an incredibly strong desire to continue representing Australia and the Waratahs, and this deal allows me to do that for at least another 3 years,” Foley said.

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Schalk Burger receives the Laureaus World Comeback of the Year Award 2015

Schalk Burger receives the Laureaus World Comeback of the Year Award 2015

DHL Stormers and Springbok flank Schalk Burger has won the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award at the ceremony in Shanghai on Wednesday.

Burger had a cyst next to his spinal cord and went into hospital for treatment, but developed life-threatening meningitis and was taken to intensive care. Miraculously, he battled for his life and returned to the sport he loves to win his place back in the Springbok rugby team.

Reflecting upon the most serious stage in his time in intensive care, Burger said: “I remember the day where my wife phoned and everyone said, listen, this is probably it, it’s time to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

“It was super scary if you think back now.

“But when you’re going through the middle of this and there’s no time to think really, there’s no time to think about consequences; it was pretty much just me versus something.”

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Kieran Read

Kieran Read

Kieran Read has changed his mind and declined the opportunity to play at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

All Black superstar Read initially had his mind set on joining the New Zealand Sevens team to play in the Brazil Olympic Games, but after lengthy talks with All Black coach Steve Hanson, he has opted to concentrate on the 15-man game.

Read’s decision not to chase an Olympic medal, would have also been a relief for Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

Super Rugby players who elect to play the shorter version of the game are expected to miss approximately 6 Rounds of the competition, meaning Blackadder would have been without his skillful skipper for a 3rd of the Super Rugby season if he had chosen to play Sevens.

“I was keen to go Rio but I won’t be,” Read said at the Crusaders training session on Wednesday.

“It would be a hell of an opportunity but I will probably focus on making the All Blacks team.”

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Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen

The decision of All Blacks flyhalf Colin Slade to head to Europe after the World Cup has made coach Steven Hansen very aware that the exodus of New Zealand players is not yet over.

Slade is the 10th All Black so far to announce he is heading offshore at the end of the year, to join French club Pau.

Still to confirm their post-World Cup futures are Julian Savea, Sam Cane and Ryan Crotty and, coupled with expected retirements and the impact of the Olympics, coach Steve Hansen is bracing for a difficult 12 months following the World Cup in England.

Cashed-up European clubs, who once targeted players in the twilight of their careers, assisting the All Blacks into an easy rollover of talent, are now creating a talent drain by luring up-and-coming stars.

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Michael Cheika - Wallabies coach

Michael Cheika – Wallabies coach

The Australian conference’s struggles in Super Rugby has alarm bells ringing Down Under, where media pundits have condemned the nation’s lack of playing depth in a Rugby World Cup year.

4 Of Australia’s teams, including the reigning champion Waratahs, are mired in the bottom 6 of the 15-team southern hemisphere competition halfway through the season.

The 5th, Canberra-based Brumbies, are 2nd but battling to hold ground against New Zealand and South African rivals amid a mounting injury toll.

The conference’s solid performance last season, when the Waratahs broke through for their maiden title and the Brumbies reached the semi-finals, was hailed as a sign of the increasing depth of Australian rugby.

Those achievements have been quickly forgotten, with the Melbourne Rebels, Reds and Western Force conjuring a total of 5 wins between them from the opening 9 Rounds.

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Jannie du Plessis

Jannie du Plessis

Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira

Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira

Cell C Sharks boss Gary Gold said if he had the choice he would not be resting veteran Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira against a formidable Lions scrum this weekend.

Gold has made a number of changes to the team that will travel up to Johannesburg to take on South Africa’s form team this weekend.

Some of these changes are enforced due to injury, some because of suspension and others the result of a selection rethink.

However, Gold seems least pleased about the fact that he needs to rest his key front row Springboks in accordance with SARU’s player management initiative.

“If I had an opportunity to play Jannie and Beast this weekend, I would,” Gold said ahead of the trip up to Ellis Park.

“These are decisions that were made at a higher level, and as bizarre as they are, they were made, and as much as I can stick to them, I am going to try and stick to them.”

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BlitzbokkeThe Springbok Sevens have returned to South Africa following their participation in the latest rounds of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

The squad underwent their usual medical assessment at their training camp on Wednesday, and apart from Philip Snyman and Stephan Dippenaar who both returned home with injuries last week from the Far East, no further injuries were reported.

Snyman sustained a knee ligament injury on the 2nd day in Hong Kong and he was replaced by Carel du Preez, who made his Springbok Sevens debut in Tokyo. The estimated recovery period for Snyman is 4 to 6 weeks.

His team-mate Stephan Dippenaar, meanwhile, picked up a mild hamstring injury on the last day of the Hong Kong event and was replaced by Ruhan Nel. He is expected to be back in action in 2 to 4 weeks.

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Steven Luatua

Steven Luatua

Outstanding loose forward Steven Luatua has pledged his allegiance to the Blues and New Zealand Rugby for a further 2 years.

The burly flank has re-signed through to the end of the 2017 season.

Luatua defies his 23 years, having already played 14 Tests for the All Blacks and 43 Super Rugby caps for the Blues.

He has a rich pedigree as a former New Zealand school representative and played in successive Junior World Championship-winning New Zealand Under 20 teams – in 2010 and 2011.

He made his provincial debut as a teenager in 2010, his debut for the Blues in 2012 and his All Blacks debut the following year in the 24 / 9 victory over France in New Zealand.

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Heyneke Meyer

Heyneke Meyer

He has been keeping a low public profile during the 1st half of Super Rugby’s ordinary season … and it is probably just as well.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer must be scratching his head worriedly already over how to construct his national side for the 1st assignment of the 2015 Test season, against Australia in Brisbane on 18 July as part of a condensed Rugby Championship.

Presently several Boks are either injured, suspended or undergoing rest periods (the sudden pulling of Duane Vermeulen from the Stormers’ overseas tour after only 1 match has tongues wagging despite official statements that it was “always planned”), whilst other staple characters have suffered form dips in line with the general struggles of their sides in the local conference and overall.

It is difficult to envisage any SA team actually winning Super Rugby at this point – not the ideal state of affairs in a World Cup year, even if it is not always proved to be relevant — just as it is hazardous to predict which franchise will eventually top the ho-hum domestic pile.

It is true that a few additional players like overseas-based Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez and Francois Louw and a rehabilitating Pieter-Steph du Toit should brighten the Bok equation, fitness permitting, nearer the Test roster itself, and 1 or 2 outsiders like Stormers tighthead strongman Vincent Koch and some surprise-package Lions personnel have stuck up their hands.

Yet a look at the last Springbok line-up for a Test – the unpalatable 12 / 6 loss to Wales in Cardiff on 29 November9 last year – gives you an idea of Meyer’s quandary; things look considerably more unsettled than he would like.

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WhistleWorld Rugby has announced the 12-member panel that will referee at Rugby World Cup 2015 as well as the 7 Assistant Referees and 4 Television Match Officials who will also officiate in matches at the game’s showcase tournament, which starts on 18 September 2015.

France will provide 3 referees in the form of Jérôme Garcès, Romain Poite and Pascal Gauzere. New Zealand, South Africa, England and Ireland will provide 2 each with 1 from the Welsh Rugby Union.

The Rugby World Cup runs from 18 September to 31 October 2015.

There will be 48 matches in the tournament.

The selection was made after a comprehensive review of refereeing performances by the World Rugby Match Official Selection Committee.

Chairman of the selection panel John Jeffrey said: “I want to congratulate all 12 Referees, the 7 AR’s and 4 TMO’s, who through very hard work and determination, have made it onto the panel for this year’s Rugby World Cup.

The individual match appointments will be announced in due course.

 

The full list of Referees with their union and number of tests in brackets is:

  • Wayne Barnes (RFU, 57)
  • George Clancy (IRFU, 38)
  • JP Doyle (RFU, 12)
  • Jérôme Garcès (FFR, 22)
  • Pascal Gauzere (FFR, 17)
  • Glen Jackson (NZR, 10)
  • Craig Joubert (SARU, 55)
  • John Lacey (IRFU, 13)
  • Nigel Owens (WRU, 60)
  • Jaco Peyper (SARU, 20)
  • Romain Poite (FFR, 39)
  • Chris Pollock (NZR, 18)

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Stephen Moore

Stephen Moore

Australian veteran hooker Stephan Moore, has backed the trend of foreign league sabbaticals as a way of keeping the Wallabies’s best talent in the country.

With the Australian Rugby Union allowing some Wallabies to take overseas sabbaticals, it could see some international players enjoying an almost constant season – playing Super Rugby, then playing for Australia, then heading to a foreign league like Japan before returning for the next Super Rugby season.

The Brumbies skipper said it was then up to the player himself to ensure he is not indulging in too much rugby, running the risk of burning-out in a long-winded never-ending season.

He had confidence it was something Wallabies coach Michael Cheika would keep an eye on.

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HSBC Sevens World SeriesThe Tokyo leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series took place this weekend in Tokyo, Japan.

It was Round 7 of 9 Rounds in the season.

After finishing 3rd at the previous 3 HSBC Sevens World Series tournaments, South Africa was determined to add another Cup title to their collection so far this season at the Japanese tournament this weekend. It was not to be, as they lost in the Final against England by 14 / 21.

Fiji finished in 3rd place and the surprise of the tournament, Canada finished 4th.

The Springbok Sevens (129 points) are currently enjoying a slightly increased but slender lead of 4 points over Fiji at the top of World Series standings after 6 Rounds. After winning the Cup in Dubai and Port Elizabeth, they have could not progress beyond the semi-final stages in Wellington, Las Vegas and Hong Kong but progressed to the Final in Tokyo.

New Zealand have fallen back to 9 Log Points behind South Africa on the HSBC Sevens World Series standings.

The 19 points the team collected this weekend in Tokyo allowed them to stay in 1st place above Fiji and New Zealand. With 2 tournaments to go in the season the slender South African lead simply means they still have to go fullout in the remaining tournaments, to be the winners overall for the season.

The Top 4 teams at the end of the HSBC Sevens World Series season in May will qualify automatically for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The HSBC Sevens World Series standings table is detailed below.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

Influential DHL Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen will return to Cape Town for a further 2-week rest period.

The hard-working No 8 has been in outstanding form for the DHL Stormers in 2015, but he will head home from Sydney on Sunday as part of the agreed SA Rugby rest period, which affects the top Springboks in this, a Rugby World Cup season.

“It’s a big one for us… it was a big decision to make,” explained DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee.

“However, it is something we discussed and have been planning since the start of the season,” he added, “the intention was always for Duane to spend the 1st 2 weeks on tour and then to head home and be ready for the final part of our season.

“We will of course miss him against the Waratahs and the Force but when we get home his rest period will be over and we will have him back in tow for a crucial part of the season.”

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Jano Vermaak

Jano Vermaak

3-Times capped Springbok Jano Vermaak is returning home to South Africa with a World Cup dream.

The 30-year-old, who has been a shining star for the revitalised French giants Toulouse in the Top 14, spoke from the city in the southwest of France.

He was quite open about his goals, although there remains some uncertainty about which team he will use as – hopefully – as a springboard to a World Cup spot.

“I am coming back to South Africa with the goal of giving myself a chance of possibly getting into the World Cup squad,” the 30-year-old scrumhalf said.

“At this stage I do not yet know which team I will be playing for in South Africa,” Vermaak said, adding: “I have a few options, but we’ll make that call in the next month or so.”

He said he simply can’t wait to be back in SA and will arrive after the completion of the French Top 14 season in May, or June if Toulouse make the play-offs.

That will give him 3 or 4 weeks of Super Rugby to have a crack at a World Cup spot.

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Will Genia

Will Genia

Australia and Reds scrumhalf Will Genia has signed a 3-year contract to join Top 14 club Stade Francais after this year’s Rugby World Cup.

“We can confirm that Will Genia will be part of our squad after the World Cup (which ends 31 October). It’s a great signing and one which will strengthen our squad in a vital position,” Stade Francais president Thomas Savare said on radio France Bleu 107.1.

The Papua New Guinea-born Wallaby had been linked with a move to Europe for months but Bath were firm favourites to sign the 27-year-old, who even signed a pre-contract with the English Premiership side.

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BlitzbokkeAfter finishing 3rd at the previous 3 HSBC Sevens World Series tournaments, South Africa will be out to add another Cup title to their collection so far this season at the Japanese tournament this weekend.

The Springbok Sevens (110 points) are currently enjoying a slender lead of 2 points over Fiji at the top of World Series standings after 6 rounds. After winning the Cup in Dubai and Port Elizabeth, they have could not progress beyond the semi-final stages in Wellington, Las Vegas and Hong Kong.

The 17 points the team collected last weekend in Hong Kong allowed them to stay in 1st place above Fiji and New Zealand. Success in Tokyo on Sunday will thus allow the South Africans to consolidate their lead in the race for the coveted World Series title.

The Top 4 teams at the end of the HSBC Sevens World Series season in May will qualify automatically for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

For now, the focus is very much on the next World Series assignment in Tokyo, where the Springbok Sevens will be hoping to challenge strongly for the Cup. They kick off on Saturday morning against Canada (04:58 SA Time) and their remaining games will be played at 07:46 SA Time against Kenya and 11:58 SA Time versus the USA.

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Jerome Kaino

Jerome Kaino

Inspirational loose forward Jerome Kaino has committed himself for the next 3 years to New Zealand Rugby, the Blues and Auckland Rugby.

Kaino today announced he has re-signed to play his rugby in New Zealand until 2018.

It’s a major announcement for New Zealand Rugby, with Kaino the 1st current All Black to commit through to 2018. The news is also a significant fillip for the Blues following the announcement earlier this year that fellow All Black Charlie Faumuina has re-signed through to the end of 2017.

Kaino, 31, has been a powerhouse loose forward on the international and Super Rugby stage for many years. He was New Zealand Rugby’s Player of the Year and nominee for World Rugby Player in 2011 and played in every game of the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup victory that year. Kaino played 2 seasons in Japan before returning to play for the Blues last year and regained his place in the All Blacks.

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HSBC Sevens World SeriesSouth Africa collected 17 valuable World Series log points on Sunday after they defeated Samoa 26 / 5 to finish 3rd at the popular Hong Kong Sevens tournament.

The Blitzboks now have a 2 point lead (110 points) at the top of the standings after Fiji outplayed New Zealand by 33 / 19 to lift the Cup.

The tournament win moved Fiji into 2nd spot, just 1 point ahead of 3rd-placed NZ. The top 4 teams on the league table at the end of the season qualifies for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The teams will be in action in Japan next weekend where they will play in the Tokyo Sevens on 4 and 5 April.

The Springbok Sevens staged a magnificent comeback in their Cup semi-final against Fiji. Unfortunately for them, that was not good enough and they suffered a heart-breaking 21 / 15 loss against the Pacific islanders.

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HSBC Sevens World SeriesThere will be additional prestige on offer when 16 of the world’s leading nations gather in Hong Kong to contest Round 6 of the HSBC Sevens World Series.

This weekend will be the 40th Hong Kong Sevens, as New Zealand look to overhaul arch rivals and World Series leaders South Africa at the top of the standings.

Scott Hastings, one of the many legends in attendance in Hong Kong this weekend, spoke to the significance of winning at the iconic stadium.

“Hong Kong is a fantastic tournament, the Mecca of Sevens, and so many world renowned players came to prominence playing for their teams here in Hong Kong,” Hastings said.

For teams like South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji there as the additional significance of World Series points.

The Blitzbokke lead the World Series with 93 points, including 2 tournaments wins, from the 1st 5 Rounds. New Zealand (1 win, 88 points) and Fiji (2 wins, 86 points) are hot on their heels.

Of course there is also the race for a Top-4 finish – and automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics – where teams like Australia (71), England (68), Argentina (54) and the United States (51) are in the running.

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Olympics Rio 2016Rugby Sevens will make its Olympic Games debut on 6 August 2016 after the Rio 2016 Organising Committee released the daily competition schedule on Wednesday to mark 500 days to go.

The Rugby Sevens competitions at the Deodoro Sports Complex will be played over 6 days between 6 – 11 August 2016 with 2 sessions per day. The session times will be announced in due course.

The world’s top women will be the 1st rugby players to compete for an Olympic Games medal for 92 years, with 12 teams competing over 3 days with the 12-team men’s competition following over the next 3 days.

The 4 top teams on the World Rugby Sevens Series log at the end of the current season will qualify automatically for Rio. With just 4 more Rounds remaining, South Africa (93 points) have a slender lead at the top of the series standings over rivals New Zealand (88). They are closely followed by Fiji (86) and Australia (71).

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Cobus Reinach

Cobus Reinach

Marcell Coetzee

Marcell Coetzee

Patrick Lambie

Patrick Lambie

The Springbok trio of Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee and Patrick Lambie are all expected to be rested for the Cell C Sharks’ showdown with the Western Force, in line with the agreement with SA Rugby over player management.

The 3 have earned the break after influential performances during the competition, and the good news that Frans Steyn was cleared to play means he may well take over the flyhalf position from Lambie, although the coaches may not want to break up his midfield partnership with JP Pietersen.

If the pair remain at No 12 and No 13 respectively, either Fred Zeilinga or Lionel Cronje will step into the number No 10 jersey, after solid performances for the Sharks XV in their Vodacom Cup clash on Saturday.

“It’s a huge boost that we will have Frans available, it provides massive stability to the team, especially due to the changes we will have with the resting of the Springboks,” said assistant coach Paul Anthony.

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David Pocock

David Pocock

David Pocock’s principled stand against homophobia on the field will cost him any chance of captaining Australia again, says former Wallaby Greg Martin.

Pocock’s on-field complaints to the referee led to Waratahs forward Jacques Potgieter being fined AU$ 20 000.00 for using homophobic slurs during his side’s win over the Brumbies on Sunday.

Respected rugby commentator Martin says Pocock did the right thing in speaking out but his action will split opinion in the game.

“He’ll pay for it. It will mean that he will never captain the Wallabies again,” Martin told Brisbane’s Triple M radio on Tuesday.

“What he’s done, he hasn’t fractured the game down a Waratahs-Brumbies line… It won’t be fractured down like that, but it will be fractured upon clear-thinking, modern-thinking footballers who will support David Pocock and the more old school, hard heads who will say that was a disgrace he shouldn’t have done that.

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Cricket BallNew Zealand and South Africa battled each other in 1 of the 2 Semi-Final games of the Cricket World Cup, at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand.

The match started at 03:00 SA Time (14:00 NZ Time).

As expected, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and India made the Semi-Finals.

The Other Semi-Final, between Australia vs India take place on Thursday 26 March at 05:30 SA Time (14:30 Sydney Time) at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

South Africa won the toss and elected to bat first.

The South African Innnings was interrupted by rain and the game was reduced to a 43 Over per side game.

South Africa reached a total of 281 / 5 in their allotted 43 Overs, with Faf du Plessis (82), AB de Villiers (65 not out) and David Miller (49 off just 18 balls) doing the damage.

New Zealand started like a house on fire, with Brendan McCullum racing to 59 off only 26 balls… till he eventually perished. Kane Williamson perished on 6 runs, off 11 balls. Martin Guptill eventually perished on 34, from 38 balls and then Taylor departed for 30 off 39 balls. At this stage, New Zealand was still just above the required run-rate.

2 More wickets followed but it was not enough for South Africa.

New Zealand won with 1 ball spare, a 6 off the last ball by Grant Elliott, an Ex-South African himself!

 

 

South Africa: 281 / 5 (43 / 43 Overs)

New Zealand: 299 / 6 (42.5 / 43 Overs, 298 required due to D/L)

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Ireland ruthlessly wore down Scotland in a commanding 40 / 10 victory at Murrayfield on Saturday to win the Six Nations title on points difference from England.

England needed to beat France by 26 points at Twickenham in the final game of the tournament but only managed a 55 / 35 victory to leave Ireland as champions.

“It’s going to be the death of me, it was pretty tough viewing but all of this makes it worth while. The people that have stayed here represent a fantastic support base that we have,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt told Irish television.

“We were only just glued together towards the end there because the English really put the pressure on, I’d certainly sympathise with them a little bit. I though their performance today was superb.

“Thankfully France rebounded each time England did get a bit of a differential and that allowed us to hang in and hang on to the silverwear,” Schmidt added.

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SIX NationsIt should be a 3-way fight between England, Ireland and Wales for the Six Nations title on Saturday, although France still have an outside chance.

The Top 3 are locked on 6 Points with 3 wins apiece, while England’s points difference of +37 puts them 1st, ahead of Ireland’s +33 and Wales’ +12.

France are 4th with 4 Points and a points difference of +22.

Philippe Saint-Andre’s side could still steal the title if Wales and Ireland lose and Les Bleus then beat England by a margin of 8 points or more, but it looks a remote possibility.

If teams are level on points, and match-points difference, then England are likely to win the Championship on tries scored, having crossed 11 times to Ireland’s 4 and Wales’ 5. In the highly unlikely event this was also level come Saturday night, the trophy would be shared.

Wales are in action 1st away to Italy in Rome (14:30 SA Time, 12:30 GMT), before Ireland take on Scotland at Murrayfield (16:30 SA Time, 14:30 GMT), ahead of England’s home match against France at Twickenham (19:00 SA Time, 17:00 GMT).

With the Six Nations wide open, we assess the 4 teams’ chances.

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Gary Gold

Gary Gold

After 5 games in a row for the Cell C Sharks’ Springboks, questions are being asked about the SARU player rest initiative and when the Durban-based team will buy in.

Gary Gold however has said the Sharks are in a different position to other teams in South Africa and as such have an alternative to it .

The Sharks have a core group of Springboks that play an integral part to both the union and the national team.

Players such as Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee and Pat Lambie to name a few.

However, with Super Rugby now reaching Round 6, and a large percentage of those Springboks being named to play their 6 game in a row against the Chiefs this Saturday, questions are being asked of the Sharks management.

Coach Gold explained his selection, and subsequent breaking of the SARU initiative, by stating the Sharks are facing a challenging schedule with regards to BYE-weeks.

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BlitzbokkeThe Springbok Sevens rugby squad announced on Thursday for the next 2 rounds of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Hong Kong and Tokyo shows 2 changes from the squad that played in New Zealand and the USA.

Justin Geduld and Stephan Dippenaar return to the 12-man squad in place of Rayno Benjamin and Warrick Gelant, who have returned to the Toyota Cheetahs and Vodacom Blue Bulls respectively to resume their provincial duties.

Geduld, a Commonwealth Games gold medalist with the Blitzboks last year, shrugged off the hamstring injury he picked up in Wellington, which ruled him out of the Las Vegas Sevens.

Dippenaar returns to the Springbok Sevens squad for the 1st time since the opening round last October, when he sustained a hamstring injury at the Gold Coast Sevens in Australia.

The rest of the squad is unchanged from the outfit that finished 3rd in Wellington and Las Vegas. Kyle Brown leads a Blitzboks squad that is very experienced, and has in Frankie Horne a stalwart forward who will play in his 64th consecutive World Series tournament.

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ScotlandScotland head coach Vern Cotter has made 2 changes to the team that lost to England for this weekend’s Six Nations match against Ireland.

Scotland are last in the Six Nations standings and need to beat Ireland to stand a chance of avoiding the wooden spoon after they fell to Italy earlier in the tournament.

Both of Cotter’s changes are promotions from the bench with back-row Adam Ashe starting on the blind-side flank in place of Robert Harley, and Ryan Grant switching roles with Alasdair Dickinson – who starts on the bench – for his 1st start of the championship.

The settled selection sees the national team’s backline return to start another match, with captain Greig Laidlaw partnering stand-off Finn Russell in front of Glasgow Warriors trio Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, and Edinburgh duo Matt Scott and Dougie Fife, the latter making his home debut.

In the pack, tighthead Euan Murray makes history, alongside Ross Ford and Grant, overtaking Allan Jacobsen’s record as the most capped Scotland prop with a 66th appearance.

Jonny Gray and Jim Hamilton will again start in the boiler house, with David Denton and Blair Cowan returning to the back-row, the latter 1 of 6 Scotland players to hold a starting spot in every match of the Championship, as well as Bennett, Ford, Gray, Hogg and Laidlaw.

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FranceYoung Stade Francais flyhalf Jules Plisson has been called up for France’s final Six Nations clash with England on Saturday as coach Philippe Saint-Andre named a 16th different halfback pairing.

Plisson, 23, comes in for injured first-choice No 10 Camille Lopez, who misses the game at Twickenham due to a knee problem.

With Sebastien Tillous-Borde remaining at scrumhalf, it will be the 16th different halfback pairing Saint-Andre has picked in just over 3 years and now 37 matches at the France helm.

Clermont’s Lopez, who has been Saint-Andre’s first-choice playmaker for France’s last 7 internationals dating back to the November Tests, was on Wednesday ruled out for 4 to 6 weeks.

Saint-Andre defended his rotation, saying he had no choice in changing his halfback partnership.

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