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The Rugby Championship

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Jonny Wilkinson on Boots & All

Jonny Wilkinson on Boots & All

Jonny Wilkinson believes that both South Africa and England will make it to the semifinals of next year’s Rugby World Cup.

World Cup legend Wilkinson was at SuperSport on Thursday and Xola Ntshinga was able to sit him down for an interview.

Wilkinson has great respect for what has been achieved by the England team under coach Stuart Lancaster.

“The England team has done a great thing in going back to the foundation of the game. They’ve looked at the values; they looked at the core principles of what makes a good team. They’ve solidified it at the base and now they’re building on it. They’re adding detail on top of detail on top of detail and the players are ready to accept it,” he said.

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All Blacks coach finds positives in likely season-ending shoulder injury of prop Tony Woodcock.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen appears resigned to losing test veteran Tony Woodcock for the rest of 2014 – though he believes there is a significant upside to the loosehead prop’s likely season-ending injury.

Hansen wrapped up the second day of a mini-camp with his non-Crusaders All Blacks in Auckland today, and said the prognosis was looking increasingly dim for Woodcock who was battling a serious shoulder problem.

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SIGNIFICANT ROLE: All Black Tony Woodcock, charging forward against England in June, may need surgery for a shoulder injury.

Tony Woodcock could be forgiven for feeling undervalued.

Only in his absence is his importance to the All Blacks genuinely appreciated.

Even in the modern game, loose-head props are as influential as prominent openside flankers or quality first five-eighths.

Recent changes to the scrum laws place immense forces on the No.1′s shoulders. Anyone in this role with poor technique or lack of strength is now, more than ever, brutally exposed.

Over the past 12 years, during 110 tests, Woodcock has been that cornerstone; the rock of the All Blacks’ scrum.

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Henry Speight

Henry Speight

AustraliaWinger Henry Speight will be sidelined for a month by a hamstring injury and has been replaced in the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship by Peter Betham.

Fijian-born Speight was included in the squad last week despite not becoming eligible to play for Australia on residency grounds until 11 September, halfway through the tournament.

The tackle-busting winger sustained the injury in the second half of the Brumbies’ Super Rugby semifinal defeat to the Waratahs last Saturday.

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Conrad Smith

Conrad Smith

Injured All Blacks centre Conrad Smith will make his return to the field after recovering from a broken thumb in a rare outing for his provincial side Wellington on Friday.

The 32-year-old injured the thumb during last month’s Test series against England and missed the third match, with rookie Malakai Fekitoa making his first start at centre in the 36-13 victory.

Smith was named in Steve Hansen’s All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship on Monday, indicating he would be available for the first clash against Australia in Sydney on 16 August.

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Eben Etzebeth

Eben Etzebeth

Springbok and WP lock Eben Etzebeth has returned to full training ahead of the Currie Cup and Rugby Championship.

Etzebeth has not seen a single minute of competitive action in 2014 after first a foot, and later a toe injury, kept him out of the Stormers’ entire Super Rugby campaign.

After a long and arduous process he is finally nearing a return to fitness, but it remains to be seen if Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer opts to draft him into the Bok set-up immediately or allows him to get some game time under his belt with Western Province.

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New ZealandStar flyhalf Dan Carter has been returned to the All Blacks squad for this season’s Rugby Championships against Australia, South Africa and Argentina at the expense of his Crusaders’ teammate Colin Slade.

Carter, the world’s leading points-scorer in tests with 1,440, missed New Zealand’s June test matches against England while on a seven-months “sabbatical” from rugby during which he toured the world, attending events such as this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.

The 32-year-old returned to the Crusaders squad for its most-recent matches in Super Rugby, including Saturday’s semifinal against the Sharks, but has been playing at inside center to allow Slade to continue at flyhalf.

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Colin Slade

HARD LUCK: Despite keeping Dan Carter out of the Crusaders No 10 jumper, Colin Slade is likely to miss out on the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship.

Colin Slade may be keeping Dan Carter out of the No 10 jersey for the grand final-bound Crusaders but he is likely to be the backline casualty when the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship squad is named today.

Slade was called up for the England series to cover first five-eighth and fullback with Aucklander Charles Piutau out injured and Aaron Cruden still in the early stages of his comeback from a broken thumb.

But Slade did not play, with Cruden proving his fitness to start all three tests and Beauden Barrett used in reserve.

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Charles Piutau

Charles Piutau is set to be recalled to the All Blacks for the Rugby Championship

Dan Carter and Charles Piutau will be named in the All Blacks’Rugby Championship squad on Monday, but their return to fitness has provided the selectors with some tough decisions.

Who to leave out of the 31-player squad in order to include them? The most vulnerable might be two Crusaders who will be playing alongside Carter in the Super Rugby semifinal against the Sharks in Christchurch today – Colin Slade and Ryan Crotty. Both have been consistent performers this year.

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Juan Smith

Juan Smith

Juan Smith has moved closer to a possible recall for the Springboks after his French club Toulon released him along side Bryan Habana and Bakkies Botha for the Rugby Championship.

This comes as SARU announced that a 30-man Springbok squad for the forthcoming Rugby Championship will only be announced on Saturday 2 August.

This is due to the Sharks still being involved in Super Rugby and lingering injury concerns over certain players.

In April 2012, Smith announced that he would be taking an indefinite break from rugby due to the ongoing battle with his Achilles injury.

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Ewen McKenzie

Ewen McKenzie: Wallabies coach says an Australian team winning the Super Rugby title would be a real positive for his side’s Bledisloe Cup prospects

Ewen McKenzie says an Australian side winning the Super Rugby crown would be ”as good as it gets” for the Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup prospects.

The Waratahs and Brumbies go head to head in a blockbuster semi-final at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, with the winners likely to take on New Zealand superpowers, the Crusaders, in the August 2 championship decider.

The Wallabies tackle the All Blacks two weeks later in the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener in Sydney.

“Form and confidence, they’re good attributes to have,” McKenzie said after announcing his 32-man Rugby Championship squad yesterday.

“If you’re out there beating your opponents and winning consistently – and that’s what these teams have been doing – and the Wallabies have been doing the same thing.”

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Heyneke Meyer

Is Heyneke Meyer putting too many “old eggs” in one basket?

Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer continues his “Dad’s Army” approach by recalling veteran flanker Juan Smith for a training camp ahead of next month’s Rugby Championship.

French club Toulon confirmed three of their South African signings – Smith, lock Bakkies Botha and wing Bryan Habana – would be involved in the Boks camp.

Smith, 32, hasn’t played for the Boks since 2010 as Achilles injuries requiring four surgeries ravaged his career, eventually forcing him to “retire” early last year.

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Henry Speight

FRESH FACE: Brumbies winger Henry Speight is the lone new name in the Wallabies squad for The Rugby Championship next month

AustraliaThe Wallabies formalised a tug of war victory over New Zealand rugby today, though from the All Blacks’ perspective ideally Henry Speight will not compromise the world champions’ Bledisloe Cup reign and defence of the Rugby Championship.

One cult figure of Australian rugby replaced another when Ewen McKenzie named a 32-man squad that predictably included the Fijian-born wing – although he cannot be picked for the tests against the All Blacks in Sydney and Auckland next month plus the Springboks in Perth on September 6.

The Hamilton Boys’ High School-educated finisher, who was approached to join the Chiefs in 2012 a year after making his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies, is expected to make his test debut on September 13 against Argentina on the Gold Coast, two days after an IRB-imposed stand down expires.

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Sonny Bill Williams

The mercurial Sonny Bill Williams is close to returning to Rugby Union

Dual international Sonny Bill Williams will be considered for the New Zealand’s end of year tour if he is fit and in top form.

That is the word from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen who said time was a factor less than a year out from the Rugby World Cup. Hansen feels Williams’ return to the All Blacks will depend on his condition when he returns from the Sydney Roosters’ NRL campaign and whether he manages to play some part for Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup.

Hansen admitted that he hoped Williams’ return to Test rugby is sooner rather than later.

“There is no doubt he’s an exceptional rugby player and if he’s available then we’d be foolish not to look at him, but we have to take into account he’s come off a big season,” Hansen told Fairfax Media.

“We have to take a whole lot of things into consideration before we make a decision. What’s right for Sonny? What’s right for the team?”

“Next year’s a bit different because we don’t have the June series and if we can’t use him going into the World Cup then if we can have that opportunity to spend time with him then that would be good.”

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Piri Weepu

Piri Weepu leading the Haka

London Welsh are today expected to announce the signing of Piri Weepu from the Auckland Blues, according to reliable sources.

It marks another huge signing in their already impressive recruitment drive, with the 71-cap All Black set to bring real experience of rugby at the very top level. He will join the likes of Olly Barkley and Tim Molenaar in what is starting to look like a very useful back line.

Weepu’s career is yet to take him outside of New Zealand, beginning his career in Wellington both for the ITM Cup side and the Hurricanes, before moving to Auckland and the Blues. It is understood that he has expressed a desire to play in the Aviva Premiership.

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Fourie du Preez

Fourie du Preez

Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez’s ankle injury is worse than expected and it has now ruled him out for the rest of the year.

According to SARU, Du Preez will miss the remainder of the South African season following an ankle injury sustained by the Springbok scrumhalf in last Saturday’s 55-6 Test victory over Scotland in Port Elizabeth.

Du Preez left the field in the first half of the Test. He was sent for x-rays immediately afterwards and went for an MRI scan in Pretoria on Monday, which confirmed earlier suspicions of an anterior syndesmotic injury. He will be sidelined for approximately six months.

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Francois Hougaard

Francois Hougaard

Who Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer earmarks as his flyhalf at the outset of the Championship next month could also have a major bearing on which scrumhalf he chooses to plug the unfortunate Fourie du Preez gap.

Incumbent No 9 and still world-class customer Du Preez, 32, was confirmed on Tuesday as having an ankle injury serious enough for him to ruled out of the entire southern hemisphere tournament.

Given his vast, 70-cap experience and precious ability to read and control a game better than most other South African scrumhalves right now, the loss of Du Preez certainly dents the Boks’ chances of ousting New Zealand from their status as defending champions, even if there have been enough positives in other departments of late to suggest they’ll be seriously competitive nevertheless.

The veteran was just beginning to benefit from a decent run of international matches – important given that he plies his franchise trade in the much more modest arena of Japanese club rugby now – in the June window, looking increasingly more like the character who helped drive the World Cup 2007 success.

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Fourie du Preez

Fourie du Preez

Fourie du Preez will miss the Castle Lager Rugby Championship following an ankle injury sustained by the Springbok scrumhalf in last Saturday’s 55-6 Test victory over Scotland in Port Elizabeth.

Du Preez left the field in the first half of the Test. He was sent for x-rays immediately afterwards and went for an MRI scan in Pretoria on Monday, which confirmed earlier suspicions of an anterior syndesmotic injury. He will be sidelined for at least three months.

“It’s a massive blow to lose yet another world-class player and a key player due to an injury,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. “Fourie is also a dynamic leader and one of the vice-captains in our team and his injury is a huge setback.”

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Jean de Villiers

Jean de Villiers

Jean de Villiers’s good nature in terms of positional flexibility may be exploited once again in a few weeks’ time.

The first-choice Springbok captain, who missed the entire June window period due to a knee injury, is an estimated four weeks away from a return to full fitness, which gives him a reasonable chance of being ready – albeit rather undercooked in match sharpness – for the Castle Rugby Championship opener against  Argentina at Loftus on 16 August.

His status was confirmed as the Stormers on Monday issued an update on various sidelined players, some of whom will be available for consideration for Saturday’s Super Rugby derby against the Bulls at Newlands.

Both De Villiers and franchise colleague Damian de Allende, another midfielder who had cracked the Bok squad nod a few weeks ago only to be quickly struck down by wretchedly inconvenient injury himself, remain a few weeks out from renewed activity.

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Dawie Theron

Dawie Theron

The Northern Hemisphere has had a distinct advantage going into the annual Junior World Championship, but that may soon evaporate.

South African Under 20 coach, Dawie Theron, said discussions are underway to organise a four-nations Rugby Championship style tournament for juniors.

The reason is that when the Six Nations teams – England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy – get into the play-offs of the IRB JWC they have the experience of a tough competition to fall back on.

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The Rugby ChampionshipWhistleThe International Rugby Board has named the Match Officials for SANZAR’s The Rugby Championship in August and September. A new face amongst them is John Lacey of Ireland.

Lacey has become increasingly prominent this year and last Friday refereed the Test in Cordoba between Argentina and Scotland.

He is an e at -player – a wing or fullback for Munster and Ireland A. His debut for Munster was in 1995 against Transvaal. He played till 2007 when he retired and then became a referee. In 2008 he was refereeing club rugby in the Amlin Cup and the Magners League. In 2009 the IRB chose him as an international assistant referee. In 2010 he replaced injured Greg Gardner at the Junior World Championship where he refereed a semifinal. The next year he was on the international panel as a referee. Now he is going to Loftus Versfeld to referee a Test between the Springboks and the Pumas.

The last Championship matches are on 4 October 2014, the Bledisloe Cup match a fortnight later.

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South AfricaMichael FoleySouth Africa’s Super Rugby teams may be struggling, but that doesn’t mean the Springboks will follow a similar trend in 2014, believes Western Force coach Michael Foley.

Foley said, after his side beat the Cheetahs 23-16 in Bloemfontein last weekend. They face the Stormers in Cape Town this Saturday.

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South AfricaHarold VersterFree State Rugby Union CEO Harold Verster says the union will next host a Test match in the 2016 season.

Verster wrote a column on the Volksblad website where he explained to fans the situation regarding the union’s hosting of Test matches.

Verster said the union gave up its right to host last year’s Rugby Championship Test between South Africa and Argentina.

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South AfricaThe Springboks will face 2013 Six Nations champions Wales in two Tests in Durban and Nelspruit during the Castle Lager Incoming Series in June, followed by a once-off international against Scotland in Port Elizabeth.

The fixtures were confirmed by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) on Wednesday.

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The Rugby ChampionshipSANZAR have announced the draw for the 2014 Rugby Championship which will start on the 16th of August when Australia host New Zealand in Sydney.

The 2014 Super Rugby season ends on August the 2nd and then the Southern Hemisphere’s best players will get the weekend of August the 9th off and then the Rugby Championship starts a week later on the 16th.

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