There is a lot of optimism surrounding Scottish rugby at the moment. Gregor Townsend has built on the great work done by Vern Cotter, turning Scotland from perennial wooden spoon contenders to a potential championship contenders. With three games at the Murrayfield fortress this year, Scotland will be eyeing the Italy game as a way to make a statement on opening weekend.
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Full-back can only go to one man: Stuart Hogg. The Exeter bound full-back is pretty much the best in the business, and is one of Scotland’s most important players. Right wing is a tight call, with Blair Kinghorn coming very close but Gregor Townsend will probably stick with tried and tested for his wingers, with Tommy Seymour on one, and Sean Maitland on the other. Kinghorn will more than likely get on the pitch, and Darcy Graham will bring some Sevens magic if he gets some
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13 is likely to go to Huw Jones. The former Stormer has made the Scotland outside centre spot his own since he arrived back from South Africa. Jones is one of the best in the world, but will face competition from Nick Grigg. The 12 jersey is a harder call. Sam Johnson was in pole position to make his Scotland debut, and could still do so, but is in doubt for the opening rounds as he is recovering from a concussion. Until then, Townsend will likely stick with Pete Horne.
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The dream team. The eccentric maverick kept in check by the calm, calculated general. The old cliche about France can also be applied to Finn Russell. You never know which Finn is going to turn up. Six Nations last year a case in point. Has a stinker against France, gets hooked for Greig Laidlaw of all people to go to 10. Next game, has the performance of his life to help Scotland win the Calcutta Cup. Greig Laidlaw has his critics: in the eyes of many his delivery is as slow as a wet Monday, but the fact is, Scotland are a much better team when Laidlaw plays.
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Scotland have been absolutely slaughtered by injuries to their flankers. Townsend’s first choice trio of Johnny Barclay, Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson are all injured, with the latter likely to make a return late in the tournament. Jamie Ritchie is likely to get one flank. The Edinburgh man played both sides in the Autumn, but will probably take the blindside spot to accommodate the return of John Hardie. Hardie is back in business at Newcastle Falcons after some months out of the game. The Kiwi born flanker was first choice before his enforced sabbatical from the game and will be dying for the opportunity to get back on the international stage. Number 8 is a harder question. Josh Strauss has been there in the past, but has a tendency to be lazy, even if his ballcarrying is some of the best available to Scotland. It will be between Strauss and David Denton, fitness dependent on both counts.
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Jonny Gray is one of the most reliable players in the game. Nobody works harder, and tackles non stop, almost going a whole season without missing one. Sam Skinner is new to the Scotland setup, and looks like he’ll be there for years to come. The Exeter Chief put in a man of the match performance on his first start in the Autumn, and looks likely to beat Grant Gilchrist to the starting spot.
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The most exciting news here is at tighthead; WP Nel is back. The Edinburgh prop was making a name for himself as one of the best in the world before his run of injuries set him back. Nel will turn the Scottish scrum into an absolute weapon. All-action hooker Stuart McInally will take the 2 jersey, with Allan Dell likely to round out the front row.
15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Huw Jones
12. Pete Horne
11. Sean Maitland
10. Finn Russell
9. Greig Laidlaw
8. Josh Strauss
7. John Hardie
6. Jamie Ritchie
5. Jonny Gray
4. Sam Skinner
3. Willem Nel
2. Stuart McInally
1. Allan Dell
World Rugby Gives Deadline for Nations Championship
World Rugby have given the 10 unions from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship a final deadline to decide on the Nations Championship
For their plans to be progressed World Rugby needs a unanimous decision from the 10 unions.
If that is to happen, they plan to launch their new format in 2022, with winners of the Six Nations and an expanded six-team Rugby Championship going head to head.
The final proposals of the Nations Championship will have to be passed by a vote of the full World Rugby council, however none of this will go ahead unless there is backing from the 10 nations.
Proposals have included creating two-tier tournaments for the Six Nations and Rugby Championship which would include the possibility of relegation or promotion.
A format which Six Nations unions appear to dislike.
As well as this there is the issue of the Pacific Islands, who believe that the creation of such tournaments would mean that they would be less likely to face the top nations in November and therefore be unable to develop as they currently are.
Whatever is to happen will become clearer in the next couple of days and it could be the start of a new era for international rugby.
Welsh Warrior to Play Trade Outside Wales Post-World Cup?
One of Wales’ finest players may make a move away from the country after the World Cup
The Welsh captain has spent his entire career with the Ospreys, but fans expect and are even encouraging the lock to seek a move elsewhere after Shane Williams said his future needed to be sorted.
Jones has previously turned down the chance to move abroad for a better contract, instead remaining in Wales and being a loyal servant to both his country and club.
Having made 125 caps for Wales, their Grand Slam winning captain would be eligible to continue playing for the country if he did move as he more than doubles the required 60-caps for overseas-based players.
Fans seem to think that Jones deserves to earn more overseas in the twilight of his career and set himself up for a more stable future come the end of his glittering career.
Another possibility for the 33-year-old could be a big-money move to Japan. Either way most of the clubs in Europe or Japan can offer Jones a significant salary rise which he could be tempted by.
Ireland Legend Signs Contract Extension
One of Ireland’s most decorated players has put pen to paper on a new contract
There had been much speculation after Leinster head coach announced a list of contract renewals last week and Kearney’s name was missing however, all has been sorted and he will stay at Leinster for at least one more season.
Kearney is delighted to have been able to re-sign and admits he sees no reason to stop playing in the near future.
“I just played in two finals. I feel as if I am still playing pretty well. The coaches obviously feel that too. I fully love what I am doing. I am living a dream since I was a kid of five years of age. Why stop? The body is still good, the mind is still good. I’m still loving what I’m doing, I’m getting picked. I don’t see any reason why I should stop,” he said.
Next season will be Kearney’s 15th as a professional and although he considered moves abroad, he believes that he would have been taking a huge risk.
“So, all of a sudden if you do go somewhere else and then you are asking your body to train-play, train-play, you are taking a risk with it. You look at some of the games that the Premiership guys play and the French – they play a lot. We do get very well looked after here,” he added.
The 33-year-old picked up a fifth PRO 14 medal with Leinster on Saturday to add to his collection and said that medals keep him going but that the comradery within the squad is a massive part of what keeps him going.
“Every time you have one, you don’t want to be anywhere else in the world. You have worked so hard for a whole year, you’ve come through thick and thin and we have lifted another trophy together. A group of 57 players contributed to that and you just feel very lucky to be part of it,” he finished.
Along with his PRO 14 medals Kearney has claimed four Champions Cups and a Challenge Cup with the province in 209 appearances, while in 90 caps for Ireland he has won two Grand Slams and two further Six Nations crowns and featuring on two British & Irish Lions tours.
With all that in mind, IRFU performance director David Nucifora is happy to have such a decorated player remain in the country.
“Rob has contributed a huge amount to Irish rugby and has performed at a high level again this year for Ireland and Leinster. We are delighted that he will continue his career in Ireland in what will be his 15th season as a senior pro,” he said.
Kearney will hope that he can play a key role in Ireland’s bid to reach a first World Cup final later this year in Japan, before looking ahead to next season and who knows this warrior could earn himself another extension but for now let’s enjoy what he brings while he remains on our shores.
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