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6 Nations

The ‘King’ – Barry John passes away aged 79

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Hailed as one of the greatest players to have ever set foot on a rugby pitch, the Wales outside half earned legendary status when guiding the British & Irish Lions to a famous series victory against the mighty All Blacks in New Zealand in 1971 – the only one registered by the tourists to date.

Kiwis are the hardest fans in the world to impress but they know a good rugby player when they see one and it was from this tour he was given the sobriquet of ‘the King’ after playing a key role in steering the Lions to victory.

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He scored 180 points in 16 games, including 30 of the 48 points in the four Tests. That thrust him into the spotlight and turned him into one of the biggest sporting celebrities in the UK.

“To be crowned ‘The King’ in New Zealand when every back row forward in both the North and South Islands is trying to take your head off is quite some accolade,” said Terry Cobner, the former Wales and Lions back row man who is now President of the WRU.

“For me, he has got to be right up there among the greatest outside halves who have ever played the game – probably the greatest.

“He was a glider, rather than a sidestepper, who had a subtle change of pace and direction. Coming on top of the recent deaths of Brian Price and JPR Williams, this is another huge blow for Welsh rugby.

“After what he did for Wales and the Lions in 1971, those of us who followed him into both teams always felt we had huge shoes to fill. He was and will remain a legend of our game.”

Despite playing on heavy pitches on a physically demanding tour, John glided over the surfaces as if on skates, often putting his outside backs in the clear with inch perfect passes. His god given gift, allied with an air of arrogance that bordered on brilliance, made him the first real rugby union superstar.

“This is another huge loss for Welsh rugby coming on the back of the very recent deaths of JPR Williams, Brian Price, David Watkins and Clive Rowlands. Barry was an iconic figure in world rugby and will remain so,” said WRU chairman, Richard Collier-Keywood.

“His partnership with Gareth Edwards was the greatest of all-time and enabled Welsh and UK rugby to sit proudly at the top of the world game. He inspired generations of players, thrilled millions of fans and was always guaranteed to swell any gate at the venue at which he was playing.

“He is one of the greatest sportsmen ever produced in Wales, and is still talked about as the best No 10 of all-time in world rugby. That says it all about him.”

The mercurial John pulled the strings with effortless ease when he was playing and in tandem with his long-time teammate and friend Sir Gareth Edwards, he forged one of the greatest halfback partnerships that the game has ever seen for both Wales and Lions.

The former Cardiff, Wales and Lions No 10 continues to be the standard bearer for all Welsh outside halves. Some say he was the greatest of all-time, topping even the likes of Cliff Jones, Cliff Morgan, David Watkins, Phil Bennett, Jonathan Davies, Neil Jenkins, Stephen Jones and Dan Biggar.

He was at the peak of his powers when he stunned the rugby world when announcing his retirement at the age of 27. By then he had a Grand Slam, two Triple Crowns and, of course, that remarkable series win over New Zealand with the 1971 Lions to look back on.

John began his rugby career as a schoolboy playing for his local team Cefneithin RFC before switching to Llanelli in 1964. Three years later, John moved to Cardiff, where his partnership with Edwards became one of world rugby’s most famous half-back pFormer Wales and Lions teammate, Gerald Davies, referred to John in his autobiography as: “Whilst the hustle and bustle went on around him he could divorce himself from it all; he kept his emotions in check and a careful rein on the surrounding action. The game would go according to his will and no-one else’s”.

He retired from rugby as Wales highest points scorer, with 90 from 25 games, and partnered Edwards a then record 23 times for Wales and five more with the Lions on two tours.

He eventually walked away from the game he had adorned citing the pressure of fame and expectation behind his decision.  When England played Wales in 1972 he was ambushed after the game by Eamonn Andrews and rushed him off to the TV studios for a special edition of ‘This is Your Life’.

He couldn’t book a table in a restaurant under his own name and he once caused a traffic jam on Queen Street in Cardiff one day.

“I was waiting at the lights to cross the road, and somebody left their car idling to come and shake hands. Others joined in, and before long there was a massive tailback,” he recalled.

In the end, the “monster of fame” forced him to find a way out of the game he had adorned at the age of 27. Things came to a head when a young girl in Rhyl curtseyed before him.

Born in Cefneithin, he came from a rugby playing family and played with and against his back row brothers Alan and Clive. Another brother, Delville, also played, while his sister, Madora, married Derek Quinnell.

He launched his career at Llanelli before moving to Cardiff, where he cemented his great partnership with Edwards. When they first trained together ahead of their Wales debut against New Zealand in 1967, John told his scrum half “you just throw it and I’ll catch it.”

He was one of the inaugural inductees of the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997 and in 1999 was inducted onto the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame’s ‘Roll of Honour’. In 2015 he was included into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

After leaving the game he became a highly respected columnist for the Daily Express and then Wales on Sunday.

The Welsh Rugby Union passes on its sincere condolences to Barry John’s family and friends.

Barry John (25 caps, 5 Lions Tests) Cap No: 703 / Lions: #473; B: 06 January 1945 in Cefneithin; D: 04 February 2024 in Cardiff

Content & Images from – Wales Rugby


6 Nations

Wales team to face Ireland in Dublin named

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Senior men’s head coach Warren Gatland has named the Wales side to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the third round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations on Saturday 24 February (KO 2.15pm live on ITV and S4C).

There is one change to the starting XV that played England at Twickenham on 10 February, with Sam Costelow returning for Wales at fly half.

Among the replacements back-row Mackenzie Martin is in line to win his first senior cap this weekend and would become the 1,200th Wales men’s international.

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Tight-head prop Dillon Lewis would be making his first appearance of this Championship if called on from the bench.

Gatland said: “We are excited to go out to Dublin and test ourselves against one of the leading sides in world rugby. It’s a challenge we are relishing.

“We’ve made steps in the last couple of games and now it’s about building on that, learning from those experiences and taking that into this weekend.

“It’s about continuing to work hard, looking for accuracy in our performance across 80 minutes and also keeping our discipline.”

Wales senior men’s team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 24 February KO 2.15pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C.
15. Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 56 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 119 caps)
12. Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 34 caps)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 16 caps)
10. Sam Costelow (Scarlets – 9 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 55 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 27 caps)
2. Elliot Dee (Dragons – 48 caps)
3. Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby – 4 caps)
4. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 14 caps) Captain / Capten
5. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 53 caps)
6. Alex Mann (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
7. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 15 caps)
8. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 45 caps)

Replacements

16. Ryan Elias (Scarlets – 40 caps)
17. Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Harlequins – 54 caps)
19. Will Rowlands (Racing 92 – 30 caps)
20. Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
21. Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 19 caps)
22. Ioan Lloyd (Scarlets – 4 caps)
23. Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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6 Nations

Jager and Ahern Join Ireland Squad Ahead Of Wales

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The Ireland squad re-assembled in Dublin on Sunday evening ahead of this weekend’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations Round 3 clash against Wales at Aviva Stadium (Kick-off 2.15pm).

Prop Oli Jager has joined the squad and Thomas Ahern has also linked up with Andy Farrell‘s side at the IRFU High Performance Centre this week.

Iain Henderson picked up a foot injury during Ulster’s URC game away to Ospreys on Sunday and there will be a further update later in the week.

The Ireland Match Day Squad to face Wales at Aviva Stadium will be named on Thursday at 2pm.

Ireland Squad – Wales Week: 

Backs (15):

Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht)
Harry Byrne (UCD/Leinster)
Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Ciaran Frawley (UCD/Leinster)
Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster)
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
James Lowe (Leinster)
Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/Ulster)
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
Calvin Nash (Young Munster/Munster)
Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster)
Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster)

Forwards (21):

Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster)*
Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster)
Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Caelan Doris (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster)
Oli Jager (Munster)*
Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jeremy Loughman (Garryowen/Munster)
Joe McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster)
Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)(captain)
Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster)
James Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
Dan Sheehan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Tom Stewart (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Nick Timoney (Banbridge/Ulster)
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster)

*Denotes uncapped player

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

O’Connell Gives Update On Keenan As Ireland Return To Training

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Hugo Keenan is Ireland’s main injury concern ahead of Saturday week’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations clash with Wales. The ever-influential full-back took a blow to his left knee during the win over Italy.

Keenan sustained the injury when falling awkwardly in a 52nd-minute tackle from Italian replacement Giosuè Zilocchi. He was replaced shortly afterwards by Harry Byrne, with Jack Crowley switching to the full-back position.

The 27-year-old Dubliner has become central to Andy Farrell’s plans in a short space of time, with his 15s international debut coming just over three years ago. He has accumulated more match minutes than any other player so far during Farrell’s coaching reign.

He has started 38 of Ireland’s last 42 Test matches, and Jimmy O’Brien and Michael Lowry are the only other players who have worn the number 15 jersey during that time.

Asked about Keenan’s likely availability for the third round of the Six Nations, Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Hugo didn’t train today, but he hasn’t been ruled out for the Welsh game yet.

“He’s progressing with his rehabilitation, he was there at training today and took part in the organisational bits, but I have no full update. He’s still available for selection for Wales, but I’m not sure what will happen in the next few days.

“He plays a big role, he’s obviously been injury-free for a long time. He’s an excellent player and in full-back, covering the back-field defensively, he has a lot of work to do in attack as well, recreating our attack by moving side to side.

“There’s a lot of IP (intellectual property) there that we might miss out on if he wasn’t playing. He also plays a big leadership role for us, he’s a very smart guy.

“He’s a problem-solver within the group and highly regarded within the group. Whether he’s there or not, he’ll continue to play that role.”

Keenan has had a strong start to the tournament, with his individual highlights including his try-saving tackles on Damian Penaud, including one which drove the French dangerman back a few feet, and an electric break against Italy from Craig Casey’s kick over the top.

He has an 85.7% tackle success rate, including two dominant hits and a turnover tackle. In attack, he has had gain-line success with two-thirds of his carries in the Championship, and has the team’s best tackle evasion rate of 47.1%.

If the Leinster star is ruled out when Ireland resume their campaign next week, the versatile Ciaran Frawley, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Calvin Nash, or indeed Crowley, could be options to fill the full-back berth.

Larmour, who returned to international action last Sunday for the first time since 2021, made nine starts at full-back between 2018 and 2020. Farrell handed him the number 15 shirt for his first game in charge of Ireland four years ago.

Last August against Italy, Frawley made his debut as a half-time replacement for O’Brien at full-back. He has started six times in the position for Leinster this season, with Stockdale, Nash and Crowley also having provincial experience in the back-field.

As O’Brien and Mack Hansen are also injury-enforced absentees, O’Connell admits that it could provide an opportunity to build more depth in that area if Keenan is unable to recover in time.

“It’s good for us in some ways because it makes us play someone else there if he doesn’t make it,” commented the Limerick man, who is in his fourth Men’s Six Nations campaign as part of the Ireland coaching group.

“I’m not sure yet, I don’t pay as much attention to the backs, but I’m not sure yet where  Hugo is at. As I said, he was around training today, so we’d be hopeful.”

Meanwhile, Garry Ringrose is on track to play some part against Wales at the Aviva Stadium having returned to training. He missed the opening two rounds due to a shoulder injury.

“Yeah it looks like it, he trained today,” O’Connell said of Ringrose. “We didn’t do a massive session today but he trained today and was in good shape.

“No one else sat out training, no, so they’re all good to go, I believe.”

That includes captain Peter O’Mahony (calf), Tadhg Furlong (calf), and Bundee Aki (knee), who all sat out the 36-0 bonus point victory over Italy as they recovered from their respective knocks.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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