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British & Irish Lions

3 players on Springbok debut against Georgia

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(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Rosko Specman, Aphelele Fassi and Jasper Wiese are in line to make their Springbok debuts on Friday when the Rugby World Cup champions line up against Georgia at Loftus Versfeld in the team’s first Test since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in November 2019.

Toyota Cheetahs speedster Specman – who is no stranger to international rugby with an Olympic Games bronze medal and numerous Blitzbok tournament successes to his name – will start on the right wing, while Fassi, who has been in hot form for the Cell C Sharks, has been named on the left wing.

Wiese, a former star for the Toyota Cheetahs who has since moved to the Leicester Tigers, has been included on the bench and will earn his first Test cap should he take the field.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, who will guide the Springboks in his first Test as head coach, named 18 Rugby World Cup winners in his matchday squad – 12 of whom featured in their 32-12 final triumph against England.

Six of these 12 players will start against Georgia. They are Bok captain Siya Kolisi and his loose forward partner Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth (lock), Bongi Mbonambi (hooker), Willie le Roux (fullback) and Handré Pollard (flyhalf).

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi shares some tips with the uncalled Aphelele Fassi at a training session.

The other players who featured in the grand finale of the international extravaganza are Frans Steyn (centre), Franco Mostert (lock), Malcolm Marx (hooker), Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe (both props) and Herschel Jantjies (scrumhalf).

Kolisi will earn his 51st Test cap after striking his half century in the RWC final, while Pollard, Kitshoff and Kriel will all take a step closer to reaching the significant career milestone of 50 caps. Pollard will earn his 49th Test cap and Kriel his 47th, while Kitshoff will earn his 48th cap if he takes the field.

“We have selected the best team with an eye on what we would like to achieve in this Test against Georgia and we believe that we have a good balance with a number of experienced campaigners and a few young players who have made a strong statement this season,” said Nienaber.

“Most of the players in this squad are Rugby World Cup winners, while others have been part of the national squad for a few seasons, and this will be invaluable against a team that boast the passion that Georgia exhibit.

“We are also excited to see what the uncapped players bring to the table after impressive performances for their franchises in the last few seasons. Each one of them has proved that they deserve an opportunity at this level, and the commitment and enthusiasm they displayed at training has been striking.”

Nienaber was excited to return to the field after a 19-month absence from international rugby and said the physical challenge they would face against Georgia was exactly what they needed to prepare themselves mentally and physically as they look forward to the Castle Lager Lions Series.

The uncapped Jasper Wiese is in line to make his Bok debut off the bench on Friday.

“We are expecting Georgia to come out guns blazing with their passionate and physical rugby, so we need to find our rhythm early on and build up a good 80-minute performance,” said Nienaber.

“We know how big this challenge will be, but it is vital that we build a solid foundation in the next two Tests in order to refine our skill set, match readiness and ability to perform under pressure.”

Springbok team to face Georgia at Loftus Versfeld:

  1. Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz) – 61 caps, 60 pts (12 t)
  2. Rosko Specman (Toyota Cheetahs) – uncapped
  3. Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 46 caps, 60 pts (12t)
  4. Frans Steyn (Toyota Cheetahs) – 67 caps, 141 pts (11t, 7c, 21p, 3d)
  5. Aphelele Fassi (Cell C Sharks) – uncapped
  6. Handré Pollard (vice-captain, Montpellier) – 48 caps, 457 pts (6t, 74c, 89p, 4d)
  7. Cobus Reinach (Montpellier) – 14 caps, 30 pts (6t)
  8. Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Júbilo) – 6 caps, 0 pts
  9. Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers) – 55 caps, 25 pts (5t)
  10. Siya Kolisi (captain, Cell C Sharks) – 50 caps, 30 pts (6t)
  11. Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 39 caps, 5 pts (1t)
  12. Eben Etzebeth (Toulon) – 85 caps, 15 pts (3t)
  13. Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls) – 42 caps, 5 pts (1t)
  14. Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers) – 36 caps, 35 pts (7t)
  15. Ox Nché (Cell C Sharks) – 1 cap, 0 pts

Replacements

  1. Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 33 caps, 25 pts (5t)
  2. Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers – 47 caps, 5 pts (1t)
  3. Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers – 38 caps, 5 pts (1t)
  4. Marvin Orie (DHL Stormers) – 3 caps, 0 pts
  5. Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers) – uncapped
  6. Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers) – 10 caps, 20 pts (4t)
  7. Elton Jantjies (Pau) – 37 caps, 281 pts (2t, 62c, 49p)
  8. Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) – 6 caps, 5 pts (1t)

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber.

Facts and Stats

  • It will be the Georgians’ first trip to South Africa to face the Springboks.
  • This match marks the second time these two nations meet – the first was in their pool match at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, which the Springboks won 46-19.
  • Frans Steyn requires nine more points to reach the milestone of 150 Test points.
  • Elton Jantjies is one penalty goal short of his 50th for the Springboks – and should he achieve this feat, he will match Naas Botha in fifth place for the most career penalty goals.

Head to head v Georgia

Played: 1, Won: 1; Points for: 46; Points against: 19; Tries for: 7; Tries against: 1; Win%: 100%

Miscellaneous

  • The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is
  • There are 236 caps in the backline with 314 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 174
  • The average caps per player in the backline are 33, the forwards 39 while the players on the bench average 21.

Match officials

  • The referee is Mike Adamson of Scotland. This will be his first Test as a referee of a match involving South Africa and his second career Test match.
  • The assistant referees are Wayne Barnes of England and Marius van der Westhuizen of South Africa. Marius Jonker of South Africa is the TMO.

Source – South Africa Rugby

6 Nations

Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby

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Image Credit: London Irish

London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.

The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.

O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011. 

He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017. 

O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation. 

On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.

“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions. 

“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years. 

“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy. 

“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.

“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland. 

“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.

“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old. 

“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport. 

“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.

“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them. 

“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.

“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us. 

“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.

“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career. 

“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey. 

“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family. 

“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years. 

“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.

“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then. 

“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.

“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be. 

“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”

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British & Irish Lions

Independent misconduct hearing update: Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby – 2 Month Ban

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An independent misconduct committee has found that behaviour displayed by SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus towards match officials during this year’s test series between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions constituted misconduct.

The committee was chaired by Christopher Quinlan QC, together with Nigel Hampton QC and Judge Mike Mika (both New Zealand).

Six charges were brought by World Rugby against Rassie Erasmus for various breaches of World Rugby Regulation 18 and World Rugby’s Code of Conduct. The charges in summary were that Mr Erasmus:

  1. threatened a match official that unless a requested meeting took place, he would publish footage containing clips criticising the match official’s performance and then making good on that threat; published or permitted to be published the Erasmus Video containing numerous comments that were either abusive, insulting and/or offensive to match officials;
  2. attacked, disparaged and/or denigrated the game and the match officials;
  3. did not accept or observe the authority and decisions of match officials;
  4. published or caused to be published criticism of the manner in which a match official handled a match;
  5. engaged in conduct or activity that may impair public confidence in the integrity and good character of match official(s); and
  6. brought the game into disrepute when he published or caused to be published the Erasmus Video.

Having considered all the evidence, including oral evidence from the match officials, Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby, World Rugby, and submissions from the parties the committee found all six charges against Mr Erasmus proved.  

Two charges were brought by World Rugby against SA Rugby in accordance with World Rugby Regulation 18 and the World Rugby Code of Conduct. In summary, the charges were that SA Rugby:

  1. did not ensure that Rassie Erasmus complied with the World Rugby Code of Conduct and/or permitted Mr Erasmus to commit acts of misconduct; and/or did not publicly correct any comments or publications by or on behalf of Mr Erasmus that amounted to misconduct; and
  2. permitted and/or did not prevent Siya Kolisi and Mzwandile Stick to make comments at a press conference on 30 July, 2021 that were not disciplined or sporting and adversely affected the game of rugby; and/or did not publicly correct any such comments so as adversely affected the game of rugby.

Having considered all the evidence, including oral evidence from the match officials, Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby, World Rugby, and submissions from the parties, the committee found the first charge against SA Rugby proved.

Having considered submissions on behalf of both parties in respect of sanction, the independent committee decided on the following:

Rassie Erasmus

  • Suspension with immediate effect from all rugby activities for two months
  • Suspension from all match-day activities (including coaching, contact with match officials, and media engagement) with immediate effect until 30 September, 2022
  • A warning as to his future conduct and an apology to the relevant match officials.

SA Rugby

  • A fine of £20,000
  • A warning as to future conduct and an apology to the relevant match officials

The parties have seven days to appeal from receipt of the full written decision. 

The full written decision is available here.

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British & Irish Lions

Women’s Lions feasibility study group announced

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The 13-person group will be chaired by British & Irish Lion, Ieuan Evans, and is made up of experienced administrators from across professional rugby, business executives, as well as former international standard athletes from the world of sport. The group is tasked with looking into the feasibility of establishing a Women’s Lions team:

  • Ieuan Evans MBE (Chair) – British & Irish Lion and The British & Irish Lions board member
  • Ben Calveley – managing director, The British & Irish Lions
  • Susie Logan – group chief marketing Officer, Royal London
  • Joanna Manning-Cooper – group director of corporate affairs, Sky
  • Max Taylor – consumer director, Vodafone
  • Simon Rowe – head of global sports marketing, Canterbury
  • Sue Day MBE – chief operating & financial officer, RFU and RFU Board, Rugby Football Union
  • Anthony Eddy – director of Sevens and women’s rugby, Irish Rugby Football Union
  • Gemma Fay – head of girls & women’s strategy, Scottish Rugby
  • Hannah John – women’s high-performance lead (acting), Welsh Rugby Union
  • Nicky Ponsford – women’s high-performance manager, World Rugby
  • Shaunagh Brown – senior player, Harlequins Women and England
  • Niamh Briggs – senior player, Munster and Ireland, club coach and Garda Síochána (Police) Officer

The primary responsibility of the newly formed group will be to initiate, oversee and contribute towards a feasibility study which will seek to ascertain whether a Women’s Lions team could be formed. The study is being funded by Lions Global Partner, Royal London, who are also the inaugural ‘Principal Partner’ of the Women’s Lions programme.

Women's Lions Collage

As a champion of women’s sport, Royal London, the UK’s largest insurance mutual, will provide guidance and expertise to the working group.

The study will be undertaken by a specialist consulting firm which will be appointed by the steering group.

“We are excited to have put together such a stellar list of individuals who I know will add value to this project,” said Calveley.

“I believe a Women’s Lions team is a huge opportunity, but there are a number of challenges to consider when looking to create a successful women’s set-up. Financial viability, suitable opposition and appropriate scheduling in the women’s rugby calendar will all need rigorous analysis, research and careful consideration.

“We are very grateful to be working with a purpose-driven organisation like Royal London on this initiative. Our broader commercial family – including Sky, Vodafone and Canterbury – have also committed to provide their expertise and play an active role in the feasibility analysis.”

Ieuan Evans, added: “Women’s rugby is experiencing unprecedented growth around the world with participation levels continuing to increase every year.

“A Women’s Lions team is a big opportunity for the women’s game, and I am looking forward to working with the Steering Group to assess its viability.”

Commenting on the announcement Logan said: “We are committed to levelling the playing field in sport and we’re delighted to be supporting this important study to understand if the creation of a British & Irish Lions team for women will be possible.

“We want to support a society that is inclusive and benefits everyone, and this partnership with the Lions is a great opportunity to grow women’s rugby.”

Source – British & Irish Lions

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