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6 Nations

PREVIEW: Ireland Switch Things Up for French Visit

Ireland have made a host of changes to their starting XV for their clash with France



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Ireland have made seven changes to the side that faced Italy two weeks ago as they prepare to welcome France to the Aviva at 3pm on Sunday.

A host of players failed to impress last time out and head coach Joe Schmidt has not held back in wielding the axe on some underperforming stars.

Captain Rory Best returns in the front-row alongside props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong. While Ian Henderson comes in to partner up with James Ryan in the second-row.

The back-row sees a fit-again CJ Stander at No 8 with the ever-present Peter O’Mahony at six and Josh van der Flier at seven.

Schmidt will be hoping his changes in the pack will not only give Ireland fire-power going forward but reassure the line-out that struggled so much against the Italian’s last time out.

The half-back partnership is as expected with Conor Murray at scrum-half and Johnny Sexton at fly-half. However, the two will need much improved performances after coming under a huge amount of criticism since the visit to Rome.

Bundee Aki continues at inside centre but is joined by the returning Garry Ringrose at outside centre, who will look to provide Ireland with more attacking flare.

The back-three remains the same with Jacob Stockdale on the left wing, Keith Earls on the right and Rob Kearney will win his 90th Irish cap from full-back.

The bench has caused some rumbles with Ultan Dillane being named ahead of Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan pipping Sean O’Brien, and John Cooney retaining his place despite Kieran Marmion’s return to fitness.

The worry for O’Brien is that Dan Leavy, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy are all vying for a place on the team in the back-row and will be remaining in Ireland post-World Cup unlike O’Brien who will be heading overseas to London Irish. Could this be the beginning of the end of O’Brien’s outstanding time in green?

The other players on the bench are Niall Scannell, who beats Sean Cronin, who himself was dropped from the overall 37-man squad. Scannell is joined by fellow Munster front-rowers Dave Kilcoyne and John Ryan in the reserves.

Connacht’s Jack Carty and Leinster’s Jordan Larmour make up the 23.

Speaking ahead of the game Schmidt told the media about his joy at having some key men back and explained Conan’s inclusion on the bench.

“It’s great to have CJ back, James Ryan, Rory Best, those guys who have been rested from the last game. Jack Conan was initially due to start against Scotland, so we also wanted to give him an opportunity to get a foot in the door and demonstrate what he can do off the bench,” he said.

The French, who named their team on Tuesday, have stuck with the 23 that saw off Scotland during an impressive win in round 3.

That means that it’s Jefferson Poirot, captain Guilhem Guirado and Demba Bamba in the front-row, with Felix Lamby and Sebastien Vahaamhina behind them.

Wenceslas Lauret, Arthur Irturria and Louis Picamoles make up the pack.

Young-guns Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack continue their half-back pairing with Gael Fickou and Mathieu Bastareaud in the centre.

Yoann Huget and Damian Penaud are on the wings, as Thomas Ramos remains at 15 in the unchanged team.

Camille Chat, Baptiste Serin and Maxime Medard are among the replacements ensuring that Ireland will have to be at their best to pull out a win against Les Blues.

As mentioned above the French will be looking to push on from their win over the Scots. That mean Ireland will have to be at their best to stop the men in the blue from causing an upset at the Aviva on Sunday and to keep their championship hopes alive.

6 Nations

Official. Eddie Jones signs new England Deal.




(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England men’s head coach Eddie Jones and the RFU have agreed a contract extension which will see him continue his role until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Jones joined England Rugby at the end of 2015 and has coached the men’s national side on 54 occasions winning 42, drawing one and losing 11 – giving him a win ratio of 78%, the highest in the history of England coaches.
Under Jones, England has won two Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2016, a 3-0 away Test series win against Australia in the same year, an unbeaten run of 18 matches equalling New Zealand’s record and were finalists at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. 
Jones said: “The extension is a great honour for me, but in the current environment, it is only right to acknowledge what a difficult time the world is facing.  We are all looking forward to a time when we can get back to playing rugby and use the sport as a force for good in bringing people back together. I never thought coming here four years ago I would be doing a second four years but the circumstances are right. Obviously it is important for the team that we keep improving and my focus will be solely on that.
“I am excited about raising the standards again. We have a great team. We set out four years ago to be the best team in the world and unfortunately we missed that by 80 minutes. Now we want to be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen. It’s a big ambition but I believe we are capable of doing it. We have players with an enhanced reputation, we have a team that is expected to do well, so it’s a great opportunity for us to keep moving forward.”
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU are with everyone impacted by COVID-19, both across the country at large but also within our own rugby union community. In exceptionally difficult times, we are pleased to be sharing some good news.  We are delighted that Eddie will continue as head coach to run England’s campaign to take us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. His record since joining speaks for itself and he has proven why he is one of the best coaches in world rugby. The progress shown by England since 2015 has been indisputable and having fielded the youngest-ever team to play in a World Cup final, we know even more growth is possible. We are all excited by what this squad can do and having Eddie leading the team is very important to us. 
“We reached an understanding soon after returning from Japan but there were some things that we wanted to make sure worked for both sides. We have announced Eddie’s contract extension a few weeks later than planned as our focus was diverted to support the English rugby community during this difficult time, we are now turning our attention to developing plans to support the rebooting of rugby and a winning England team will provide a vital role in that.”
Ahead of the Guinness Six Nations Jones confirmed Simon Amor and Matt Proudfoot would join Steve Borthwick and John Mitchell as his assistant coaches. Jason Ryles will join later in the year as skills coach following Borthwick’s departure towards the end of the season.

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6 Nations

RFU CEO gives COVID-19 planning & support update



(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Bill Sweeney – RFU, CEO

My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU continue to be with everyone impacted by the difficult and exceptional situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own rugby union community.

Earlier today we held a virtual board meeting and I am writing to advise you of the actions that have been agreed to offer a support package directly funded from the RFU worth £7m to provide support for community clubs in England.  


To support clubs we are today announcing that the RFU will be providing a £7m relief package for community clubs. The package includes monies ring fenced and diverted for the community game as well as additional funding. These measures include:

•       An early release of £800,000 cash due to clubs through the ticketing fund.  

•       Early release of final funding payments (£600,000) to Constituent Bodies and suspension of the activity plans against which this was allocated, enabling them to utilise this to provide “immediate support grants” to clubs most in need. In addition £400,000 will be made available to Constituent Bodies who elect to match fund from their own reserves.

•       A suspension of the Quarterly loan repayments for clubs with outstanding loans due in March (£335,000).  

•       The creation of a £5m support loans programme, offering loans of between circa £2k and circa £10k to clubs, with deferred re-payments for six months and repayable over three years. 

We will be providing more details on this financial package in the coming week. We will also be issuing regular club recovery updates with practical advice on how government grants can be accessed as well as other business management advice. 

We welcome government interventions which will provide business rate holidays and grants for clubs.

The RFU will continue to provide a free helpline to assist clubs with legal and tax related matters:

Significant progress has been made on the process for considering the implications of ending the season early. We will ensure a fair and balanced outcome for the game and are now committed to update on this by the middle of April.

No one can predict every possible outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown. We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn. We will continue to monitor against this assumption and review and revise planning where necessary.

The RFU had budgeted for a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the country. 

The RFU’s biggest asset is also a major cost and the closure of Twickenham Stadium has a significant impact on the revenues we can generate to re-invest back into the game. In that sense we are like every other club in the Union, when we do not stage matches and events we do not generate revenue.

Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this. The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25%. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75%.


We are continuing our support to ensure colleagues and communities are given help to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy and a range of new content will be made available to players and fans across our social media channels. 

We are discussing with government and the NHS the role the RFU and Twickenham Stadium can play in providing volunteers as well as support for the NHS including accommodation, parking and meal provisioning.

I am confident that rugby will play a big role in energising communities across England after this difficult period. In the meantime, we are working hard with the wider rugby community to take the necessary measures to safeguard a financially resilient Union so that we can.

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6 Nations

Rodney Parade to help in fight against coronavirus



(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Rodney Parade has become the latest sporting venue to open its doors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Newport stadium has been provided free of charge as a base for front-line NHS staff to check if they have the virus and are able to continue working. At this stage only NHS staff are eligible to be tested at Rodney Parade to see if they have COVID-19. Dragons managing director Mark Jones said: “The health service and care workers are doing an incredible job in such difficult circumstances so we are happy to offer our help and support in any way we can.

“Playing our part in the local community is at the heart of what we’re about at the Dragons and in times of crisis people stick together. We would urge everyone to follow the latest NHS advice on protecting themselves from the virus, particularly to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”

A statement from Aneurin Bevan Health Board read: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is essential for delivering services for the people of Gwent. It is fundamental during this time when the most vulnerable people need us most.

“We have set up a drive-through facility to test staff for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help us get our teams back in to work on the front line. The testing site is located at Rodney Parade in Newport and we ask that everyone practises the stay-at-home guidance and does not visit the site.

“Everyone at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board would like to thank the team at Rodney Parade for their community-focused approach and accommodating us during these difficult times.”

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