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England Women vs Ireland WomenThe Ireland Women are back in action for the 1st time since regaining the Six Nations title in March, as Tom Tierney’s new-look side take on England at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday (kick-off 15:00 UK Time & GMT, 17:00 SA Time).

The Ireland Women’s team to play England in an historic 1st November international has been named. There are 6 uncapped players included in Tom Tierney’s starting line-up.

New caps Jeamie Deacon of Blackrock and Mairead Coyne from Galwegians have been named on the wings with team captain Niamh Briggs at fullback.

Cill Dara’s Aine Donnelly will win her 1st cap in the centre alongside the experienced Jackie Shiels, with Coyne’s club-mate Sene Naoupu donning the No 10 jersey for the 1st time alongside regular scrumhalf Larissa Muldoon.

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AustraliaAustralia will embark on their 10th ‘Grand Slam’ tour in 2016, aiming to beat the Home Nations in 1 trip for the 1st time in 30 years.

After falling to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham Stadium in London earlier this month, the Wallabies will return to the northern hemisphere next year for a 7-match, 5-Test tour, including France.

“The ‘Grand Slam’ is 1 of the rarest achievements in the game and has been a notoriously difficult one for the Wallabies over time, with only 1 successful attempt out of 9,” Australian Rugby Union chief Bill Pulver said.

The last time the Wallabies pulled off the feat was in 1984. In their most recent attempt, in 2013, Australia opened with a loss to England before defeating Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as Italy.

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Springboks vs All Blacks

Durban, and not Johannesburg, will host back-to-back Rugby World Cup winners, the New Zealand All Blacks next year.

The South African Rugby Union revealed that the 3-times Rugby World Cup champion All Blacks will play the Springboks in Durban on 8 October in The Rugby Championship encounter between the 2 sides on SA soil.

The Springboks and All Blacks have played each other in Johannesburg 5 times in the last 6 years – with 2011 the exception, when they met in Port Elizabeth.

Durban last hosted a Springboks versus All Blacks Test in 2009, with Newlands completely off the map (for the biggest face-off in the game) since 2008.

The exceptionally large All Black following in Cape Town, which have become increasingly vengeful towards the Springboks (even spitting at players), is the main reason why Newlands will not host the All Blacks in the near future.

Bloemfontein (2009) and Pretoria (2006) have also not seen an All Black Test in years.

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World RugbyAs well as winning a host of new admirers for their adventurous approach throughout Rugby World Cup 2015, beaten semifinalists Argentina and headline-grabbing Japan have also enjoyed the biggest rise of all the competing nations in the World Rugby Rankings. Both are ranked 3 places higher than where they were when Rugby World Cup 2015 began at Twickenham Stadium on Friday 18 September.Los Pumas have moved up from 8th to 5th thanks to their 2nd place finish behind New Zealand in Pool C and the way that they effortlessly brushed Ireland aside in the quarterfinals.

A disappointing World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup campaign this summer left Japan languishing 13th in the rankings, and at that stage few people would have predicted what they would go on to achieve in England: 3 wins from 4 and a place in tournament folklore.

The Brave Blossoms’ historic 34 / 32 win over South Africa in Brighton may not have been enough to book them a place in the knockout stages but it did help them return to the world’s Top 10.

With points exchanges doubled to reflect the importance Rugby World Cup matches no-one fared better than Japan, going from 72.06 rating points pre-tournament to 77.05 at its conclusion.

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Vodacom Stats AppSouth Africa may have squeaked through in their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match against Wales but the statistics suggest a more dominant performance by the Springboks.

Statistics taken from the Vodacom Rugby App demonstrate how Wales had to defend South Africa’s relentless attacks on the advantage line.

The Springboks topped the carries stats in the quarterfinals with 157, forcing the Welsh to make 197 tackles in their encounter.

Influential flanker Schalk Burger was South Africa’s main strike runner taking the ball up 26 times in the match.

Burger led the carries statistics over the weekend with compatriot Duane Vermeulen behind him with 15.

The wave after wave of attack by the South Africans is also reflected in the fact that 5 Springbok players feature among the Top 5 in the carries category.

Springbok centre Damian de Allende (14), Eben Etzebeth (13) and Handré Pollard (12) followed behind Burger and Vermeulen in the stats.

Argentina, who upset Ireland to book a semifinal clash against Australia made the 2nd most carries with 122, with the Wallabies following in 3rd with 112.

The 4 Southern Hemisphere teams that will feature in the semifinals topped the Carries statistics with Argentina (122), Australia (112) and New Zealand (109) following behind the Springboks.

South Africa did not only test the Welsh defence but were also made to work hard to keep the opposition off the line by making 123 tackles – the 2nd most of the weekend.

Wales and South Africa kicked the most of all the quarterfinal matches, with the Springboks making 46 kicks from hand and the Red Dragons 2 less.

The Welsh’s desperate defence on the day is reflected in the individual tackles stats with 4 of their players among the Top tacklers.

Loose forward Dan Lydiate tops the stats with 24, with Alun Wyn Jones (19), Taulupe Faletau (18) and Sam Warburton (17) following behind him.

Scotland’s Jonny Gray with 18 and Burger with 16 were the only players among the Top 5 from other countries.

While the weekend produced its fair share of nail-biting moments it was not the case in the match between New Zealand and France.

The All Blacks were in sensational form as they stepped up a gear as they set a new Rugby World Cup quarterfinal victory margin beating the French by 49 points.

Running in 9 tries it is no surprise they dominate the Metres run and Clean breaks categories, as they ran the French rampant.

They ran 732 metres, which was 142 metres more than their nearest rivals, Argentina, while they made 19 clean breaks – more than double as many as Australia who ranked 2nd with 9.

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World RugbyThe Top 4 spots on the current world rankings are all taken up by Southern Hemisphere teams, with Argentina moving up to 4th.

The Pumas and South Africa were the biggest climbers after their wins over Ireland and Wales respectively in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

Los Pumas moved up 2 places on the rankings – overtaking Ireland and Wales. South Africa improved their position from 5th to 3rd after a tough 23 / 19 win over Wales.

Ireland plummeted from 3rd to 6th on the rankings, while Wales also fell from 4th to 5th.

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Jonathan Sexton

Jonathan Sexton

UPDATE: Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton was supposed to start in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Argentina in Cardiff on Sunday, after recovering from a groin problem, but the groin injury has flared up again and Ian Madigan takes his place in the run-on side, with Paddy Jackson coming onto the bench.

The 30-year-old Sexton, who went off in the 1st half of the 24 / 9 win over France, initially provided a rare bit of good news for the Irish this week when he was included in the side, but the good news did not last.

Iconic captain and lock Paul O’Connell and flank Peter O’Mahony were ruled out of the rest of the tournament with injuries, while Sean O’Brien was handed a 1 week ban for punching French lock Pascal Pape in the stomach.

Iain Henderson, who has had an outstanding tournament, comes into the locks to partner Devin Toner, with Jordi Murphy and Chris Henry filling the flank vacancies left by O’Mahony and O’Brien.

The Irish, who will be captained by No 8 Jamie Heaslip, are bidding to reach the semifinals for the 1st time.

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Jonny Sexton in tears after injury

Jonny Sexton in tears after injury

Ireland are holding out hope that injury-hit flyhalf Jonny Sexton will be fit for Sunday’s quarterfinal against Argentina, according to assistant coach Les Kiss.

Sexton limped off after 25 minutes of Ireland’s hard-fought 24 / 9 victory over France last Sunday, a win that saw them undefeated in Pool D and avoiding a last-8 clash against defending champions New Zealand.

“Jonny has a slight adductor strain. There’s been some improvement. Hopefully we’ll see a little bit more on Wednesday and that’ll give us a clearer picture,” said Kiss.

“Each day will give us some more information.”

Kiss insisted head coach Joe Schmidt would not be rushed into a decision about picking Sexton, for whom Ian Madigan came on against the French, putting down his own marker with an astute play-making display.

“We have to be pragmatic about what works and it will probably come down to the last minute when we make the decision,” Kiss said.

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Here’s a quick summary of the Diciplinary Sanctions imposed on cited players of remaining Quarterfinal Countries – Argentina, Ireland and Scotland – following the weekend’s last Pool Stage games in the Rugby World Cup of 2015.

  • Marcelo Bosch of Argentina is suspended for 1 week, for a dangerous tackle
  • Sean O’Brien of Ireland is suspended for 1 week, for striking a player
  • Ross Ford of Scotland is suspended for 3 weeks, for his participation in a dangerous tip takle against Samoa
  • Jonny Gray of Scotland is suspended for 3 weeks, for his participation in a dangerous tip takle against Samoa

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WhistleRugby World Cup organisers have announced that Wayne Barnes, Nigel Owens, Jérôme Garcès and Craig Joubert will referee the Rugby World Cup 2015 quarterfinals this weekend.

England’s Wayne Barnes will take charge of the 1st match on Saturday between South Africa and Wales at Twickenham Stadium, London (Kick-Off 17:00 SA Time, 16:00 UK Time, 15:00 GMT) and will be joined by Assistant Referees George Clancy (Ireland) and JP Doyle (England) with the Television Match Official being Graham Hughes, also of England.

Later the same day, New Zealand take on France at the Millennium Stadium (Kick-Off 21:00 SA & French Time, 20:00 UK Time, 19:00 GMT) in a repeat of the Rugby World Cup 2011 final, with Nigel Owens of Wales refereeing the game at his union’s home ground. On the line will be Jaco Peyper of South Africa and John Lacey of Ireland while the Television Match Official will be South Africa’s Shaun Veldsman.

The 3rd quarterfinal between Ireland and Argentina in Cardiff (Kick-Off 14:00 SA Time, 13:00 UK Time, 12:00 GMT) on Sunday will be refereed by Jérôme Garcès of France with his countryman, Romain Poite, and New Zealand’s Chris Pollock as Assistant Referees. George Ayoub (Australia) will be the Television Match Official.

The final match of the stage will take place at Twickenham on Sunday (Kick-Off 17:00 SA Time, 16:00 UK Time, 15:00 GMT) between Australia and Scotland and will be refereed by Craig Joubert (South Africa). He will be assisted by Glen Jackson (New Zealand) and Pascal Gauzere (France) with Ben Skeen (New Zealand) the Television Match Official.

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Rugby World Cup 2015The agony etched on the face of Ireland’s iconic captain Paul O’Connell said it all. Clutching a hamstring during the 24 / 9 win against France on Sunday, the giant lock’s pain was physical and emotional. The group stages were where his Rugby World Cup 2015 would end.

As bruised and battered players take a deep breath, head for the ice baths and prepare to go again in the quarterfinals, some of their less-fortunate teammates will be forced to watch those matches from the stands, or on television.

The withdrawal of O’Connell on Tuesday, hard on the heels of fellow Ireland players Jared Payne and Peter O’Mahony, means that all 8 teams left in the competition will enter the knockout stages depleted, in some way, by injuries.

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Rugby World Cup 2015Ireland: Paul O’Connell replaced by Mike McCarthy:

Paul O’Connell’s 108-Test career is over after the Ireland captain sustained a severe hamstring injury in the victory over France in Cardiff on Sunday.

The 35-year-old lock will have surgery this week and not play again at Rugby World Cup 2015.

He led Ireland in 28 Tests and was also captain in 3 of his 7 Tests for the British and Irish Lions.

His replacement, Mike McCarthy, will join the squad in Cardiff on Tuesday.

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World RugbyIreland have moved up 2 places to 3rd in the World Rugby Rankings after beating France in the Rugby World Cup Pool D decider on Sunday.

Joe Schmidt’s side, who topped the pool with their 24 / 9 win against Les Bleus, have leapfrogged Wales (4) and South Africa (5) in the rankings, which are published by World Rugby every Monday.

France dropped 1 place to 7th following Sunday’s defeat at the Millennium Stadium, swapping places with Ireland’s quarterfinal opponents Argentina, who rose to 6th.

7 Of the 8 Rugby World Cup 2015 quarter-finalists feature in the Top 8 of the rankings; the exception being Scotland, who remain 1 place below England in 9th position.

Under the points exchange system used to calculate rankings, sides take points off each other based on the match result; whatever 1 side gains, the other loses. Such points exchanges are doubled during the Rugby World Cup to recognise the unique importance of the event.

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Peter O'Mahony

Peter O’Mahony

Ireland flank Peter O’Mahony will play no further part in the Rugby World Cup after suffering knee ligament damage in his team’s victory over France.

There were continuing doubts over the future participation of captain and lock Paul O’Connell and flyhalf Jonny Sexton, who both went off injured in a ferocious 1st half of Sunday’s match won 24 / 9 by the Irish at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

“Peter O’Mahony suffered a knee ligament injury and is returning to Dublin. He will play no further part in the World Cup,” said Ireland team manager Michael Kearney.

“Paul O’Connell suffered a significant hamstring injury and was hospitalised overnight.”

Sexton, who limped off in the 25th minute, sustained a “groin injury” and was awaiting scans later Monday, Kearney said.

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Rugby World Cup 2015A popular topic of debate heading into the Rugby World Cup is that of eligibility, particularly that resulting from the residency method. We take a look at the foreign-born players in each squad, where they were born and how they are eligible.

An interesting fact – only Argentina can claim that all 31 players in their squad are native to their country. The other 19 teams all have players born abroad, including significant numbers in some of rugby’s most powerful nations.

All told, Rugby World Cup 2015 will have a grand total of 33 countries involved in the tournament. Players born in various African countries –  Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Zimbabwe join the participating Namibia and South Africa. Zimbabwe has players representing 4 countries, more than any other non-competitor.

Spain is another country not present at the Rugby World Cup who have players representing multiple countries while other countries include Belgium, Israel, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands are also all represented.

Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa lead the way in terms of players representing others at the Rugby World Cup.

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World RugbySouth Africa moved up to 3rd place in the World Rankings without even kicking a ball.

It means the Springboks have climbed 2 places in the World Rankings since their last match – a win over Argentina in Buenos Aires, last month.

Their rise, despite the team’s inactivity, is the result of Ireland’s dramatic slump – the men from the Emerald Isle having lost to Wales (10 / 16) and England (13 / 21) in the past fortnight.

As a result, Rugby Championship heavyweights New Zealand, Australia and South Africa will go into the Rugby World Cup as the Top 3 nations in the rankings.

Ireland’s rating fell by 0.79 points and resulted in a 3-place drop to 6 for the Six Nations Champions, placing them below the Springboks.

England gained the same amount of points to leapfrog their Pool A opponents Wales into 4th.

Long-time leaders New Zealand remain untouchable – for a fortnight at least – on 92.89 points, with Australia 6.22 points behind in 2nd and South Africa a further 1.52 points back in 3rd.

Australia were unable to make up any ground on their arch rivals, despite being the only one of the 3 in action over the weekend.

Their 47 / 10 win over the USA Eagles in Chicago did not come with any ratings points, given the double-figure difference in rankings positions and rating points between the nations.

Serious injuries to star fullback Leigh Halfpenny and scrumhalf Rhys Webb, made it a day to forget for Wales, who scraped home 23 / 19 against Italy at the Millennium Stadium.

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IrelandIreland have left out prop Cian Healy and fullback Rob Kearney from the side to play England in their final World Cup warm-up match.

The 2 sides will go head-to-head at Twickenham on Saturday.

Joe Schmidt, the Ireland coach, has decided to give Healy more time to recover following the loosehead’s long-standing neck problems.

Healy only returned to full training this week, following neck surgery in May, and at one stage, was doubtful even to make Ireland’s final 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup.

Jack McGrath starts in his place.

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World RugbyAs the Rugby World Cup looms, the Springboks this week remain 4th on World Rugby’s official rankings.

Heyneke Meyer’s charges currently boast 85.15 ratings points, trailing Ireland Australia and New Zealand.

Ireland’s 16 / 10 home loss to Wales at the weekend saw them slip to 3rd, with Australia moving into 2nd spot.

Ireland’s defeat cost them 1.7 ratings points, leaving them on 85.19 points, 1.48 adrift of the Wallabies.

The All Blacks (92.89) remain comfortably atop the rankings – a position they have occupied since November 2009.

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IrelandIreland’s 2014 Player of the Year Andrew Trimble has been omitted from coach Joe Schmidt’s 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup, announced on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old had missed this years’ Six Nations through injury but had returned to action this year and was available for the global showpiece.

Trimble has played just once for Ireland in the past 12 months, in a 35 / 12 victory over Wales in a World Cup warm-up match on 8 August, but a flare-up of his toe injury meant he played only 33 minutes of that game.

Wings Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald, who were injured during Saturday’s Dublin defeat by Wales, are included the squad.

Trimble, Gordan D’Arcy, Kieran Marmion were notably the most high profile players to miss out on the plane.

D’Arcy’s omission could signal the end of his illustrious international career.

The squad is made up of 17 Forwards and 14 Backs and will be captained by Paul O’Connell who is the most capped player in the Ireland group with 103 caps.

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Joe Schmidt & Warren Gatland

Joe Schmidt (left) and Warren Gatland

Wales coach Warren Gatland has revealed he and Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt discussed team selection before naming their sides for Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match in Cardiff.

Gatland has handed debuts to four players in an experimental Welsh side.

Wales host Ireland on Saturday, before playing them in Dublin on 29 August and hosting Italy on 5 September.

“Joe rang me last week to talk about what we were looking at in the squad,” Gatland said.

“I said we were going to have a mixed squad with an opportunity for some younger players.

“He sort of indicated that they were probably going to do the same thing.

“I think they will experiment with the squad too.”

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Scott Williams

Scott Williams

Scott Williams will captain Wales against Ireland on Saturday, leading a team that contains 4 uncapped players.

The Scarlets centre will become Wales’ 131st captain on his 30th Test appearance and will be joined in the centre by uncapped Tyler Morgan.

Ross Moriarty, a double Under 20 World Cup-winner with England, was 1 of 4 uncapped players selected by Wales to face Ireland in this World Cup warm-up match in Cardiff.

The Gloucester flank, 21, was joined by wing Eli Walker, centre Tyler Morgan and lock Dominic Day in the team announced by head coach Warren Gatland on Tuesday.

The fixture at the Millennium Stadium follows intensive training camps in Switzerland and Qatar and is the 1st of 3 warm-up games building up to Wales’s opening World Cup game against Uruguay on 20 September.

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Joe Schmidt

Joe Schmidt

Joe Schmidt has signed a contract extension that will see the New Zealander remain as head coach of Ireland until at least June 2017, the Irish Rugby Football Union announced on Wednesday.

Schmidt was appointed to the job in 2013 and Ireland have since won back-to-back Six Nations titles, as well as climbing to 3rd place in rugby union’s official world rankings.

The 49-year-old also oversaw wins against South Africa and Australia last season and came within a last-minute score of beating his native New Zealand in 2013 – something no Ireland side has managed in more than a hundred years of trying.

In all, Ireland have won 14 of their 18 Tests under Schmidt and their form has made them 1 of Europe’s standard-bearers at this year’s World Cup in England, which starts in September.

Anything less than a semi-final spot – something Ireland have yet to achieve at a World Cup – would be regarded as a disappointment for an Ireland side whose pool also features France, Italy, Canada and Romania.

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Jamie Hagen

Jamie Hagen

The Melbourne Rebels have signed Irish international prop Jamie Hagan for 2 Super Rugby seasons.

Hagan, 28, a tighthead prop who has made more than 100 appearances for Leinster, Connacht and London Irish, made his full international debut for Ireland against the United States of America in 2013.

Hagan becomes only the 2nd fully capped Irish international to sign for an Australian Super Rugby team, after front-rower Peter Clohessy spent the 1997 season with the Reds.

Hagan said he was looking forward to testing himself in the Southern Hemisphere’s renowned provincial competition.

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Rugby World Cup 2023France, Ireland, Italy and South Africa have been confirmed as the 4 nations who will bid for the right to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The quartet all submitted formal expressions of interest before last month’s deadline.

A decision on which country will stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be made in May 2017 after a tender deadline in June next year.

South Africa staged the World Cup in 1995, when the Springboks won the tournament on home soil, while France played host to the 2007 edition.

However, neither Ireland nor Italy, 2 of Europe’s elite Six Nations along with France, have been the main hosts of a World Cup.

“The candidate hosts now have a year to benefit from detailed knowledge-sharing and preparation, including digesting the detailed tender requirements and observing World Cup 2015 hosting, before the confirmation to tender deadline of June 2016,” said World Cup tournament director Alan Gilpin in a statement.

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Shane Jennings

Shane Jennings

Leinster’s Shane Jennings will captain the Barbarians against Ireland at Thomond Park on Thursday.

The Leinster and Ireland flank retires from the professional game in June after a distinguished career in which he has won 13 caps for Ireland, Pro12 and European Cup titles for Leinster and a Premiership title with Leicester Tigers.

He captains a starting side containing 9 different nationalities with 466 international appearances between them for the game in Limerick on 28 May.

It includes his Leinster teammates Zane Kirchner and Jimmy Gopperth with Ulster scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar also starting for the famous invitation club celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

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Gordon D'Arcy

Gordon D’Arcy

Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy has called time on his illustrious career, making himself available for the World Cup 1 last time.

In a statement released personally by D’Arcy he said he will leave rugby entirely from October this year.

D’Arcy was a promising fullback for schools side Clongowes Wood in the late 1990’s, and on the eve of his Leaving Certificate was called into the Irish squad for the tour of South Africa by coach Warren Gatland.

However, because of his studies he declined the opportunity.

On leaving school he joined the Lansdowne Football Club and made his Ireland debut on 15 October 1999 as a substitute against Romania during the World Cup.

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Declan Fitzpatrick

Declan Fitzpatrick

Ulster and Ireland prop Declan Fitzpatrick, who played in the 2012 European Cup Final at Twickenham Stadium, has been forced to retire on medical grounds.

The 31-year-old, who counted 27 European Cup ties in the 98 games he played for Ulster, experienced a number of concussion episodes in recent seasons.

His symptoms were progressively slower to resolve and he was referred to a leading neurologist by the medical team at Ulster.

Following tests it was recommended that it would be in the best long-term interests of the player who won 7 international caps, and played 9 times for the Ireland Wolfhounds (B-Team), to stop playing altogether.

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SIX-NationsSomewhere, shaking his cauliflower ears in dismay, a grizzled old retired prop was probably secretly wishing someone would just stick the ball up his jumper and make a cautious 3 inches.

For everyone else watching this was surely the most thrilling day that 5 or 6 Nations rugby has seen: a fantasy finale, a chest-squeezer and knee-knocker, a day to fall back in love.

There are the stats: 221 points scored across the 3 matches, the most in a single weekend – 27 tries, run in from deep and wide and everywhere in between.

There was England’s record score against France, Ireland’s biggest away win, the most tries Wales have scored in 1 championship half.

Then there was the style. This was rugby we thought had died and been laid to rest, killed by detailed analysis and the professional urge to be sensible.

Sensible? This was glorious chaos, March madness to put a spring in every watcher’s step and an ulcer in the stomach of every defence coach.

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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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WalesA resilient Wales side withstood a 2nd half battering to blow the RBS 6 Nations wide open and end holders Ireland’s grand slam hopes with a 23 / 16 victory on Saturday.

After an opening home defeat by England, Wales have hit back with 3 successive wins and by defeating previously undefeated Ireland they have a shot at the title, heading into the final round next week.

Despite losing both props to injury in the 1st half, Wales wobbled but did not wilt in the face of fierce Irish pressure and even a late Penalty Try, which set up a grandstand finale proved insufficient.

“An absolutely unbelievable effort,” Sam Warburton, captaining Wales for a record 34th time, said.

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