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England vs Wales; Both Name Strong Teams

England and Wales have announced their teams for their opening World Cup warm-up game

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(Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

England and Wales have named their teams for their opening World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham this Sunday.

With the World Cup just around the corner neither team has held back and have both confirmed strong starting line-ups.

The hosts start the game with a front-row of Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Dan Cole, with Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels just behind them in the second-row.

Tom Curry comes in at blind-side flanker, alongside Sam Underhill who is one of two vice-captains in the team, while Billy Vunipola completes the pack from No 8.

Willi Heinz partners George Ford in the half-backs, and have been named vice-captain and captain respectively, with Heinz also making his debut.

Piers Francis and Henry Slade team-up in the centre, with Anthony Watson making his first test start since March 2018 on the left-wing. Ruaridh McConnochie debuts on the right-wing as Elliot Daly comes in at full-back.

Speaking ahead of the game England head coach Eddie Jones is hoping that over the next few weeks his team will develop and set themselves up to win the World Cup.

“Our team selection and tactics in our next four games are all about developing a team capable of winning in Japan and our overarching target of being ready when we get on the plane on the 8th of September to win the World Cup. We are looking forward to playing at Twickenham and giving the home crowd something to smile about,” he said.

Meanwhile Wales have named a star-studded team as they bid to win their 15th consecutive test match.

Nicky Smith, Ken Owen and Tomas Francis open the game in the front-three, with Adam Beard joining captain Alun Wyn Jones in the engine room as he is also set to become Wales’ all-time cap holder on Sunday.

In the back-row Aaron Wainwright starting at blind-side flanker, with Justin Tipuric at open-side flanker and Ross Moriarty at No 8.

Gareth Davies and Gareth Anscombe link-up once more in the half-backs, with Hadleigh Parkes partnering Jonathan Davies in the centre, while Josh Adams and George North occupy the wings, with Liam Williams completing the starting XV from full-back.

The team’s will meet again before they head to the World Cup, however, England name their final 31-man squad on Monday meaning this is the final chance to impress for the men in white as both look to build momentum ahead of the tournament in Japan.

Check Out Both 23-Man Squads Below.

England:

15 Elliot Daly (Saracens, 30 caps)

14 Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath Rugby, uncapped)

13 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 22 caps)

12 Piers Francis (Northampton Saints, 4 caps)

11 Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, 33 caps)

10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 55 caps) C

9 Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby, uncapped) VC

1 Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 9 caps)

2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 11 caps)

3 Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 85 caps)

4 Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 58 caps)

5 Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 10 caps)

6 Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 10 caps)

7 Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 9 caps) VC

8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 41 caps)

Replacements:

16 Jack Singleton (Saracens, uncapped)

17 Joe Marler (Harlequins, 59 caps)

18 Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs, 17 caps)

19 George Kruis (Saracens, 32 caps)

20 Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, uncapped)

21 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 85 caps)

22 Joe Marchant (Harlequins, uncapped)

23 Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 4 caps)

Wales:

15. Liam Williams (Saracens) (55 Caps)

14. George North (Ospreys) (83 Caps)

13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (73 Caps)

12. Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (15 Caps)

11. Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues) (10 Caps)

10. Gareth Anscombe (Ospreys) (26 Caps)

9. Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (41 Caps)

1. Nicky Smith (Ospreys) (28 Caps)

2. Ken Owens (Scarlets) (64 Caps)

3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (40 Caps)

4. Adam Beard (Ospreys) (13 Caps)

5. Alun Wyn Jones (C) (Ospreys) (125 Caps)

6. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) (8 Caps)

7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (64 Caps)

8. Ross Moriarty (Dragons) (31 Caps)

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee (Dragons) (18 Caps)

17. Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (12 Caps)

18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues) (12 Caps)

19. Jake Ball (Scarlets) (32 Caps)

20. Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (17 Caps)

21. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues) (7 Caps)

22. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints) (70 Caps)

23. Owen Watkin (Ospreys) (13 Caps)

International

Cooper Talks About Kneeing McCaw in the Head

Quade Cooper has opened up on his career to date and in particular his controversial knee to Richie McCaw

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(Photo by CHRISTIAAN KOTZE/AFP/Getty Images)

Australia’s Quade Cooper has opened up on when he kneed former All Black Richie McCaw in the head and the backlash he received.

Cooper, a New Zealand-born Wallabies player, was talking on the Ice Project podcast with Isaac John about his rugby career to date and owned up to his “dirty” knee to McCaw’s head in a game leading up to the Rugby World Cup in 2011, admitting he apologised to the All Blacks legend years later.

“A few years later I’ve seen Richie in the airport and I went up to him and said, ‘Sorry about that’. It’s not that he didn’t care or he did care but, when I said sorry to him, I confronted it and said, ‘I really looked up to you as a kid, you were my idol, everyone in New Zealand loves you and I loved you, so when I played against you it was just emotion, passion took over, you were playing dirty on me and I kneed you. He’s one of the best at [dirty play],” he said.

The incident caused uproar among fans and the now veteran Wallaby, who has 70-caps to his name confirmed that he wasn’t ready for the backlash he received and how he couldn’t even go out.

“I look back at it now and I wasn’t ready for it. I had the expectation of 2011 of playing good football but now I had the pressure of all these guys hating me as well, and a whole country, not just the rugby public. I couldn’t go anywhere. I was on the team bus and there were signs ‘I hope you break your leg, I hope you die in this game’. If I had my time again, [because] I know how to handle it now, I’d just say, ‘Yeah I did it, so what?’. Not ‘So what?’, but ‘It’s part of footy, it was a bad play but I did it’, so what could people say?” he added.

In the end McCaw got the last laugh, going on to win the Rugby World Cup with New Zealand later that year.

Cooper’s career has had its ups and downs since, but he is now starting a new chapter in Japan with the Kintetsu Liners in the second-division where he will be hoping to stay out of the limelight.

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Is Schmidt to Blame for Ireland’s RWC Failings?

The IRFU have placed the blame of Ireland’s dismal World Cup campaign on Joe Schmidt, but is it really that easy?

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Yesterday, the IRFU held a meeting with a group of handpicked journalists to deliver their verdict on Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign.

The result according to the IRFU was that Ireland failed to evolve a game plan, failed in performance due to anxiety, had poor preparation ahead of the tournament and had a skills deficit compared to the world’s best teams. 

All of which appears to have been placed on head coach Joe Schmidt, who stepped aside following the conclusion of the tournament. 

The conclusion of where the team failed was reached by IRFU high performance director David Nucifora, who interviewed coaches and staff, while an independent body held discussions with the players, with all roads leading to the four failings mentioned above. 

Schmidt, who took over as head coach in 2013, a year before Nucifora took his role with the IRFU, is becoming the sole person responsible for the team’s failure, but is that fair?

Yes, Ireland appeared to be stuck playing the same game-plan as their impressive 2018 campaign, which saw them defeat all before them, which is a failure to evolve, but Schmidt had a full team of back-room staff, were they not capable of coming up with a different plan? Or were the players themselves unable to use their own initiative to bring forward a case of how they should play to Schmidt?

In terms of performance anxiety, these are international stars, playing on the biggest stage in European rugby for their provinces on a regular basis. Some criticized Schmidt for not rotating the team enough, but that meant that the same players where playing on the international stage for Ireland on a regular basis too, why are they anxious? 

These are the cream of the crop in Ireland, players that have won Champions Cups and PRO14 titles with their clubs, Six Nations titles and Grand Slams with Ireland, winning series tours with their country and some have even represented the British and Irish Lions on the grand stage. Why are they anxious and what does it have to do with Schmidt? 

Schmidt is a man renowned for his tactical and thorough preparation, looking at teams inside out to find their weaknesses and looking at his own team to find their strengths so what changed this year from a man that admitted his only regret when leaving the job was the fact that he only took one day off in six years. 

The team had played together many times before, went on training camps weeks before the tournament in Japan, including hot-weather camps to prepare for the soaring temperatures and humidity, and played pre-World Cup warm-up games. So why weren’t they prepared and once more how is Schmidt to blame?

Lastly, a lack in skills, an area were former players have noted Ireland failed to capitalise on during the past year. Some pointing towards Leinster’s style of play and asking why players weren’t following that example. 

It is true that Schmidt prefers a risk-free game, but surely once on the pitch, the players must use their initiative when opportunities arise, and play expansive rugby when the chances come if that’s how to win a game of rugby. 

Schmidt may have asked them to be more careful, but it is up to the players on the pitch to seize a game by the scruff of the neck and create openings. It seems unlikely that Schmidt would have argued with his players if they made it further in the World Cup by taking more of a risk. 

The four areas where Ireland failed to seem to be somewhat of the overall problem, and it would be foolish not to place some of the blame on the head coach, but it seems strange and even more foolish to pile the sole blame on him. 

There was a group of staff and players that prepared and went to Japan, a group of talented individuals, if Schmidt was falling short they should have been able to point it out and take it upon themselves to help solve the issues at hand. 

May the environment had gone stale after six years of the same routine, may the players needed more of a challenge, but what appeared to happen this year more than before was the players looked to lack motivation and desire in the green jersey, and that is on them no matter who tries to cover it up. 

While others find it easy to point the finger of blame to a man no longer associated with the IRFU, a look in the mirror may be a good idea. Afterall, if Schmidt was the problem then questions may be raised as to why it is his former right-hand man becoming Ireland’s head coach. Hopefully exciting times lie ahead under Andy Farrell, but don’t be surprised if more of the same is to follow.  

Four years ago Ireland were trounced in the quarter-finals of the World Cup by Argentina, in between then they arguably became the best team in the world under Schmidt, before being trounced again by the All Blacks at the same stage of the competition. The hope will be that Farrell can produce something others have failed to in the Irish hot-seat, but a review of a tournament isn’t what will help, a review of the system is needed and each member involved with Ireland’s failings should hold their hand up for the failure, because one man isn’t the only person at fault.

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Barclay Calls Time on Scotland Career

Former Scotland captain John Barclay has announced his retirement from the international stage

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(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Former Scotland captain John Barclay has decided to finish his international career with Scotland.

Barclay has 76-caps to his name for the Scots stretching across 12-years and featured in three Rugby World Cup squads including this year’s tournament in Japan. 

The 33-year-old back-rower took to social media to confirm his decision and is grateful for the chances he has been given in the navy shirt. 

“All good things must come to an end. After much thought I have decided the time is right to step down from the international game. This isn’t an easy decision to make. Playing for Scotland is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication and undoubtedly one of the best things I will achieve in my life. But for me and my family, it feels like the right time. It has truly been a privilege to wear the jersey. Not many people can say they got to live their boyhood dream, but I was lucky enough to have that honour, and it is something I am unbelievably proud of. To my family and friends for supporting me all over the world, a big thank you. Most importantly though, thank you to my wife for her support looking after our growing family when I have been away and for dealing with the inevitable ups and downs associated with playing international rugby. Not the end of my rugby journey, but the end of one chapter. Thanks for the memories,” he said on Instagram. 

The flanker’s final appearance for his country came during their thumping victory over Russia in the World Cup pool stages. 

Having played in over 250 games at club level for Glasgow Warriors and the Scarlets, Barclay joined up with Edinburgh last year and will continue to play his club rugby with the Scottish outfit in the PRO14 and Champions Cup, but will be a big miss for Scotland.

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