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6 Nations

Scotland name Six Nations squad.

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(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend has named a 35-man squad for the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, which begins with the Calcutta Cup clash vs England on Saturday 6 February.

The group, split between 20 forwards and 15 backs, sees eight new players called up who did not feature in the group that contested the recent 2020 Autumn Nations Cup.

Players who could potentially make their Scotland debuts include Edinburgh hooker, David Cherry, Sale hooker Ewan Ashman, Gloucester forward, Alex Craig and Bath centre, Cameron Redpath.

Returning to the squad are also Newcastle Falcons back rower, Gary Graham, Sale Sharks wing, Byron McGuigan, Glasgow Warriors hooker, Grant Stewart and London Irish prop Alan Dell.

In the pack Glasgow Warriors hooker George Turner is selected and joined in the front row by Zander Fagerson and Oli Kebble from Glasgow Warriors, alongside Edinburgh Rugby representatives WP Nel, Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan.

Glasgow Warriors’ lock pairing Richie Gray and Scott Cummings, Exeter Chief, Jonny Gray are called up, along with Edinburgh’s Grant Gilchrist who left the ANC squad with an injury before the opening match.

Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie, who have both recently re-signed to long-term deals to stay at Edinburgh Rugby, are joined as back-row options by Glasgow Warrior Matt Fagerson and Scarlet’s Blade Thomson.

Gregor Townsend has chosen just two scrum-half’s for this campaign with Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price and Harlequins’ Scott Steele selected.

Linking up at half-back will be Racing 92’s Finn Russell who returns following an injury sustained in the concluding match of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations vs Wales and Edinburgh’s Jaco Van de Walt who made his Scotland debut in the ANC semi-final against Ireland.

Gloucester’s Chris Harris, Saracen Duncan Taylor, Glasgow Warrior Huw Jones and Harlequins’ James Lang are selected at centre.

In the back three Scotland Captain Stuart Hogg is joined by Edinburgh Rugby trio Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham and Duhan van de Merwe and Saracens’ Sean Maitland.

With an eye to the future three additional players have been invited to train with the squad during the campaign. Edinburgh Rugby back row forward, Rory Darge, Glasgow Warriors pair winger, Rufus MacLean and scrum-half, Jamie Dobie will join up with the squad, which goes into camp on Sunday.

Speaking on the squad selection Gregor Townsend said: “As coaches we have selected a group which we believe can build on the work our players put in throughout the recent Autumn Nations Cup campaign and kick on again in terms of performance levels.

“The depth we have across the squad enables us to bring in some new players who have excelled in recent weeks and others who we believe can perform at Test level.

“Our tournament gets off to a fantastic start with a fixture we look forward to every year against England and the opportunity to win back the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham.

“We are very aware how different this year’s competition will be due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it also provides a huge amount of positivity and enjoyment for millions of supporters and we are looking forward to contesting every match and giving this championship our very best.”

6 Nations

IRFU Outline Difficult Road Ahead At Annual Council Meeting

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Annual Council Meeting of the Irish Football Rugby Union has been advised that despite ongoing work across the professional and domestic game to ensure the continuing safe participation in rugby, the IRFU is still at significant financial risk due to the persisting impact of COVID 19.

Patrick Kennedy, Honorary Treasurer, told delegates at the on-line meeting that despite many positive developments such as the ongoing vaccination rollout, successful pilot test events and the gradual relaxation of government restrictions, that rugby is “far from out of the woods”.

Kennedy outlined that without the assistance and commitment of government, sponsors, broadcasters, and patrons the IRFU would not have survived as it has, and that continued support remains vital.

Advising that the IRFU’s financial year end would move permanently to 31 July, to ensure alignment with the new global season, Kennedy confirmed that a full financial update will be issued from the Union in November following the presentation of the audited accounts for 2020/21 to the meeting of the IRFU Council at that time.

At the meeting it was confirmed that current President, Des Kavanagh, Senior Vice President, John Robinson and Junior Vice President, Greg Barrett, will remain in their respective roles for the forthcoming season, due to the impact COVID 19 had on their terms in office last season.

On the day that Munster’s Fiona Steed and Connacht’s Yvonne Comer (pictured) were appointed to the Union Committee, delegates were reminded that, following approval of governance changes at a special EGM in June, from 2023 a minimum of one in four nominees to the IRFU Committee from each Province must be female.

IRFU Thank Government For Support

Speaking of the challenging environment Philip Browne, CEO, told irishrugby.ie,

“Irish Rugby is continuing to grapple with the most significant financial crisis in our history and we are expecting to report another year of losses in 2021, when our audited accounts are released later this year.”

The key issue remains the absence of fans at provincial grounds and the Aviva Stadium. The IRFU continues to address this particularly through its active participation in   the cross-sport working party on return of fans to stadia.  “We have made encouraging progress in recent weeks with the return of increasing numbers of supporters to various sporting and cultural events, which leaves us hopeful that fans may return in meaningful numbers to our grounds in Autumn.  I would like to thank the government, in particular Minister Chambers and his department officials for their commitment to facilitating the safe progressive return of fans to stadia.

“As the only sporting organisation fully supporting a professional game, we are dependent on the national and provincial teams’ ability to generate revenues which have been decimated by the impact of COVID restrictions since March 2020.” Browne added.

Looking back at his most challenging season at the helm of Irish Rugby, Browne reiterated that the IRFU had to implement a 10% permanent cost base reduction, approved by the Union in March of this year and with that came some difficult decisions, despite a critically important grant of €18m from government in respect of loss of revenues in 2020.

“As in many industries, regrettably we have had job losses and pay cuts across the organisation for the last 12 months while we also eliminated all non-critical overheads.”

Looking at forward financial projections Browne outlined ‘We understand that Sport Ireland and the Department are discussing, with government, proposals for additional emergency funding for sport.  We made a submission to Minister Chambers setting out expected further significant cash income losses for the IRFU and Provinces in 2021 arising from COVID 19 restrictions.

The meeting heard that the bulk of the 2021 losses are already realised as the 2020/21 season has now concluded and the IRFU, alone, has suffered a 47% reduction in turnover for the six months to the end of June 2021, compared to the first half of 2019.

Browne explained, “Our two largest income-generating home games every two years against England and France were held behind closed doors with a loss of match income of over €16m. These are the games that keep Irish Rugby going.”

The challenges for rugby are clear and without the assistance of the government’s EWSS employment supports, which the IRFU and Provinces continue to receive, and the PAYE debt warehousing scheme, Browne said that the IRFU would now be facing a more bleak situation. 

“The schemes available from the government are vitally important to on-going operations, but these result in accumulated debt of c. €30m in PAYE to date, this will eventually have to be paid.

“Without additional government funding in 2021, and a return of fans to our stadia in meaningful numbers later this year, the IRFU would once again have to review all activities and swiftly implement another round of very unpalatable cost reductions. Further cuts, if necessary, would have a significant impact on the organisation and all activities from grassroots to pro game pathways.”

Searching for a positive in the current environment Brown said “The importance of pathways and programmes is always at the forefront of our minds and is perfectly demonstrated by the huge success of our men’s sevens team qualifying for the Olympics, for the first time.

“We also managed to host all of our International match fixtures and all, but one, Provincial game in Ireland, albeit behind closed doors. We also continued supporting the severely restricted levels of club activities. This was done safely thanks to the development, implementation, and compliance across Irish Rugby of robust COVID 19 protocols.

“I would like to thank our committee and playing and non-playing staff for their commitment, and of course the volunteers across our clubs for doing their very best to ensure that Irish Rugby continued to function and emerge from this crisis.

“It is important we acknowledge these achievements, given the disruption and challenges we have all experienced this year.  As is always the case, success on the pitch can give the whole nation a lift including this week’s historic first involvement of an Ireland Sevens team at the Olympic Games.”

Source –  Irish Rugby

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6 Nations

World Rugby applies 50/22 law trial globally, bolster concussion protocol

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World Rugby announced on Wednesday five law trials which will start next month, including a so-called “50/22” kicking adaptation.

The 50/22 change allows a team to gain a throw-in inside the opposition’s 22-metre area by kicking the ball to touch with at least one bounce from their own half.

The rule was used in recent Super Rugby tournaments and its primary intention is to “encourage the defensive team to put more players in the backfield, thereby creating more attacking space and reducing defensive line speed”, according to the sport’s governing body.

The other laws to come into force on a temporary basis from August 1 include a goal-line drop-out if the ball is held up in the in-goal area, if there is a knock-on from an attacking player in the same area or an attacking kick is grounded by the defenders in their own in-goal.

There are also restrictions on attacking players latching onto team-mates from a ruck and clean-outs which target or drop weight onto the lower limbs at the breakdown.

Michael Hooper with a textbook tackle close out a certain try

The final trial allows for a one-player latch before contact, but the individual must “observe all of the requirements for a first arriving player, particularly the need to stay on their feet”.

World Rugby has also moved to strengthen concussion protocols, with independent specialists set to review cases when Test players return to action after a head injury.

They will launch a panel of Independent Concussion Consultants (ICCs) to provide expert opinion on whether players are ready to return to action after head knocks.

The global governing body will fully fund the process for Test-level competitions, with ICCs asked to rule when players look to return to action 10 days or fewer after a concussion or on players deemed higher risk due to previous head-injury history.

Source – Australia Rugby

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6 Nations

England name 8 new caps for USA clash

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(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Eddie Jones has named his England team for this weekend’s Test match against USA.

Eight uncapped players are set to make their debuts at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 4 July (2pm KO).

Lewis Ludlow will captain the side at blind-side flanker, with Sam Underhill at open-side flanker and Callum Chick at No.8.

Ellis Genge (loose-head prop) will be vice-captain and is joined by Curtis Langdon (hooker) and Joe Heyes (tight-head prop) in the front row.

Locks Josh McNally and Charlie Ewels complete the tight five.

Henry Slade, the most-capped player in the squad, will be at outside centre with Ollie Lawrence at inside centre.  Marcus Smith will start at fly half and Harry Randall is at scrum half. 

Freddie Steward is at full back, while Max Malins (left) and Joe Cokanasiga (right) are on the wings in attack.

Among the finishers there are four further uncapped players who could make their first appearance for England – Jamie Blamire, Trevor Davison, Ben Curry and Jacob Umaga.  Beno Obano, Ted Hill, Lewis Ludlam and Dan Robson are also named as finishers.

Jones said: “Over the past three weeks our biggest message to the players is what an opportunity this is to show what they can do and make their mark with England.

“They’ve applied themselves as a group and worked very hard individually during this camp to reach their personal bests.

“Now it’s all about coming together as a team, gelling and putting in a good performance at the weekend.”

England v USA is live on Channel 4, with coverage starting from 1.30pm.

England XV Starters
15. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
14. Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 9 caps)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 38 caps)
12. Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors, 6 caps)
11. Max Malins (Saracens, 7 caps)
10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins, uncapped)
9. Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, uncapped)
1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 28 caps)
2. Curtis Langdon (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
3. Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
4. Josh McNally (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
5. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 21 caps)
6. Lewis Ludlow (C) (Gloucester Rugby, uncapped)
7. Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 22 caps)
8. Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)

Finishers
16. Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
17. Beno Obano (Bath Rugby, 1 cap)
18. Trevor Davison (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
19. Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors, 1 cap)
20. Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
21. Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 8 caps)
22. Dan Robson (Wasps, 12 caps)
23. Jacob Umaga (Wasps, uncapped)

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