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6 Nations

Easterby: Emerging Ireland Tour Allows Us To Look Further Into Talent Pool

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Presenting an early opportunity to work with and impress the national coaches in a World Cup year, an Emerging Ireland squad has been selected to compete in the upcoming Toyota Challenge in Bloemfontein.

Three of South Africa’s Currie Cup teams, the Griquas, Pumas and Cheetahs, will provide the opposition for a young squad coached by Simon Easterby, the national defence coach.

The 35-man panel includes four Test-capped players, three who saw action against the Māori All Blacks, and a number of players who featured for the Ireland Under-20s in recent seasons, including 2022 U-20 Grand Slam winners James Culhane and Chay Mullins.

These are the first fixtures for an Emerging Ireland side since the Tbilisi Cup back in 2015, with Easterby hoping those selected can make the most out of the tour and press their claims for further involvement in November and beyond.

“I guess to put it in context, and the year that presents itself leading to the Rugby World Cup, we know that we have a real good, strong core group of players that’s been with us for a number of years,” said Easterby.

“But, we have to try and grow the depth and look further into the talent pool, in terms of our squad going forward.

“This is a real opportunity to build some continuity for some of those players that would have been with us in New Zealand during the Māori games and spent time with us in the environment there.

“But, also bring back a few players who have been out of the system for a while due to injury or form, and also look at some of the depth in positions that we need to fulfil a World Cup year.”

Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune and Cormac Izuchukwu are both back from injury, as is Munster’s highly-rated back rower John Hodnett, while promising young tightheads Tom Clarkson, Roman Salanoa (pictured above) and Sam Illo will travel.

This week’s announcement that an Ireland ‘A’ team will take on an All Blacks XV in November should give an added incentive to the South Africa-bound group, who will first come together for a three-day camp at the IRFU High Performance Centre next week.

Easterby explained: “We know 33 players will go to the World Cup, but we all know that that number needs to be higher and we need to have a larger pool of players at our disposal.

“To do that and effectively have that number of players, we need to spend more time with players and get to know players, connect with players.

“That’s why there’s a good cross-section of players that have got a few caps, players that have spent time in the environment recently, but also players who won’t have had any time in the environment.

“That gives us an opportunity to expose them to what we’re trying to do as a team, and for us as coaches in particular, to connect with those players and get to know them a bit better in what will be a really challenging year.”

The Toyota Challenge, which will see Emerging Ireland play three times in nine days, beginning on Friday, September 30, is happening at the same time as some of the early rounds of the BKT United Rugby Championship.

Among those matches are interprovincial derbies in both Belfast and Galway, but Easterby said that there has been plenty of communication and hard work going on behind the scenes to ensure that both provincial and national needs are met.

“There’s been dialogue right through with Andy (Farrell) and the provincial coaches, in particular, discussing players, discussing their needs, our needs,” acknowledged the former Ireland and Lions flanker.

“There’s been compromises, there will be some selections that the province will feel that they’d be better served with them, but there’s also players that we feel would be better served, at this moment in time, exposing them to our environment.

“Looking at the bigger picture, the short to longer term is that this year presents itself with not just the three games in South Africa, there’s an Ireland ‘A’ game against a New Zealand XV in the autumn, there’s three Tests in the autumn, there’s the Six Nations and then there’s the pre-World Cup.

“So there’s not that many opportunities to expose players to the environment and find out a little more about certain players.

“With that in mind, we also have to feel like we’re not ripping the heart out of the provinces and taking too many players in one position.

“I’m sure there will be discussions along the way, injuries will inevitably happen throughout the next couple of weeks. We have to be prepared to be flexible and compromise as the provinces have in allowing us to select this team.”

Ireland head coach Farrell will be involved in the preparatory camp at the IRFU HPC, but will not be travelling to South Africa as he remains busy focusing on the November internationals and Rugby World Cup matters.

Easterby, who will be supported by fellow national coaches Paul O’Connell, Mike Catt and John Fogarty, said that Farrell will be ‘getting around and staying connected’ with the other Ireland players who will be returning for their provinces in the coming weeks.

“The timing of the tour coincides with a lot of players returning from their national break, the international players,” he added.

“So, player management and welfare has been at the forefront of a lot of what we’ve been talking about and understanding that, yes, we’re taking players out of the provincial system, but there will also be players re-entering their system at the same time as when we travel.

“To build depth we need time with the players, we need to find out a little bit more about them, about their personalities.

“We need to find out about how do they adapt to international rugby or at least adapt to situations where we’ve only got three or four training sessions to prepare for a game.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


6 Nations

Aki Banned For Eight Weeks

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Aki will be unavailable for the westerners’ next five URC games, including the derby clashes with Munster and Leinster, and will also miss at least the first two of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures.

He will definitely be absent for the Tests against South Africa and Fiji, but could return to face Australia on Saturday, November 19 if he ‘successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme’.

After an act of foul play against Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, referee Gianluca Gnecchi showed Aki a red card in the 60th minute of the game under law 9.20(a).

The particular law states that a player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.

In his responses to the judicial officer overseeing the disciplinary process (Pamela Woodman from Scotland), Aki had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play which warranted a red card.

She determined that his actions towards Senatla were reckless and took into account, among other things, the speed, force and high degree of danger in his actions.

Ms. Woodman determined that, had it been based on this conduct alone, the offending would have been categorised as mid-range on the scale of seriousness.

However, she also considered Aki’s actions and demeanour towards the referee in connection with the issue of the red card, which she found did not meet the expected standards of conduct or respect.

This was also taken into account (in accordance with URC’s disciplinary rules) in determining that his offending was at the top-end on the scale of seriousness, which warranted an entry point sanction of 10 weeks.

The judicial officer then considered if there were any mitigating factors and found that Aki’s acceptance that he had committed an act of foul play (during the off-field disciplinary process), expression of remorse, apologies to both the opposing player and referee, and willingness to engage with his provincial coaching staff on a plan to address this issue, were relevant mitigating factors.

These mitigating factors warranted a reduction in the sanction of four weeks.

Aki’s previous suspensions for red cards in 2019 and 2021 for foul play involving head contact, as well as his suspension and warning for previous conduct relating to interactions with referees, were considered aggravating factors, which the judicial officer decided warranted a further two weeks of sanction.

As a result, the Ireland international will be suspended for a period of eight weeks. As previously stated, should he complete the Coaching Intervention programme then the sanction will be reduced by one week.

Fixtures Bundee Aki is unavailable for:

Vodacom Bulls v Connacht, September 30, BKT URC
Connacht v Munster, October 7, BKT URC
Connacht v Leinster, October 14, BKT URC
Connacht v Scarlets, October 21, BKT URC
Ospreys v Connacht, October 29, BKT URC
Ireland v South Africa, November 5, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Fiji, November 12, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Australia, November 19, Autumn Nations Series (substituted if the player successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme)

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Jones names squad for training camp

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England will begin preparations for their four home Autumn Nations Series fixtures in November during the camp. The squad will meet in Richmond on Sunday 2 October and train at Twickenham Stadium.

First call-ups for camp include Northampton Saints’ Alex Coles and Saracens’ Hugh Tizard, both players having previously appeared for England U20s.

Manu Tuilagi and Sam Simmonds are back in the squad following injury and there are returns for Ben Youngs, Alex Mitchell, Tom Pearson and David Ribbans.

England face Argentina in the first of their four matches at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 6 November (2.15pm KO). They will then host Japan on Saturday 12 November (3.15pm KO), followed by New Zealand on Saturday 19 November (5.30pm KO). Their final match is against South Africa on Saturday 26 November (5.30pm KO).

“With a year to go to the Rugby World Cup, this is a big opportunity for players to come in and impress,” said Jones. “We want them to show real energy and enthusiasm and that they want to be a part of this massive year.

“It doesn’t mean that those who have been left out won’t be considered for the Autumn Nations Series matches. We’ll be looking at club games, form and fitness and the door is left open for those players.

“We finished the Australia tour well. It was a fantastic experience, particularly for the younger players. We now have to start again, but we’ll build on what we’ve done there and continue that momentum.”

Training Squad

FORWARDS

Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)

Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, uncapped)

Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 37 caps)

Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 41 caps)

Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 39 caps)

Jamie George (Saracens, 69 caps)

Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)

Jonny Hill (Sale Sharks, 15 caps)

Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 14 caps)

Tom Pearson (London Irish, uncapped)

David Ribbans (Northampton Saints, uncapped)

Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)

Patrick Schickerling (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)

Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 14 caps)

Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 23 caps)

Hugh Tizard (Saracens, uncapped)

Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 64 caps)

Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 70 caps)

Jack Walker (Harlequins, uncapped)

Jack Willis (Wasps, 4 caps)

BACKS

Henry Arundell (London Irish, 3 caps)

Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 12 caps)

Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, uncapped)

Owen Farrell (Saracens, 97 caps)

Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)

George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 6 caps)

Will Joseph (London Irish, 1 cap)

Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 69 caps)

Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)

Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 42 caps)

Guy Porter (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)

Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 13 caps)

Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 13 caps)

Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 46 caps)

Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 3 caps)

Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 117 caps)

Unavailable for selection due to injury: Alfie Barbeary, Nic Dolly, Alex Dombrandt, Charlie Ewels, George Ford, Sam Jeffries, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson.


Images & Content from England Rugby
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6 Nations

New governance structure agreed for rugby in Scotland

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Scottish Rugby President Colin Rigby hailed a “significant milestone” for the game in Scotland when member clubs agreed a new governance structure at an online special general meeting last night.

The new structure, based on the recommendations on the Standing Committee on Governance (SCOG), sees the new Scottish Rugby Union (a company limited by guarantee) take on the responsibility for the oversight of the organisation’s main operating vehicle, Scottish Rugby.

It also will provide an oversight function to the organisation’s members.

Professor Lorne Crerar CBE, Interim Chair of the new Scottish Rugby Union, pledged to the SGM that “all the promises for a new, well-functioning governance system will absolutely be delivered.”

Professor Crerar also called on the membership to play its part in finding the “very best talent” to serve as “custodians” on the new company’s board.

Colin Rigby thanked members, SCOG, the Scottish Rugby Council and Scottish Rugby’s employees for their patience, while the new structure was arrived at.

He added: “This is a significant milestone in the history of the Scottish Rugby Union where all stakeholders now have clarity around governance, roles and responsibility.”

John Jeffrey remains chairman of the Scottish Rugby Board which will continue to oversee the day-to-day operational, commercial and executive functions of Scottish Rugby.

Earlier tonight, members voted unanimously to receive Scottish Rugby’s financial statements for 2021-22 at the second part of the organisation’s AGM.

During the period, overall revenue returned to within 5% of pre-pandemic levels at £57.9million, a rise of £5.5million from the previous year.

The accounts showed a deficit of £5.3 million on the base business, while the strategic investment from private equity partners CVC drove a gain on disposal of investment of £34.2million, bringing Scottish Rugby’s net surplus after tax to £29million for the year.

Images & Content – Scotland Rugby


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