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6 Nations

‘In Terms Of Testing Ourselves, It’s Huge’ – Sexton

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When South Africa last visited these shores as reigning Rugby World Cup champions, Jonathan Sexton’s international career was in its infancy. It was November 2009 and he had only just made his Ireland debut.

Taking the reins at out-half from Ronan O’Gara, Sexton kicked all 15 points in only his second Test appearance as the home side, fresh from that year’s historic Grand Slam success, defeated the Springboks at Croke Park.

Saturday will mark the current Ireland captain’s sixth time to play South Africa on home soil, the last two occasions taking his win tally to three thanks to those convincing victories from 2014 (29-15) and 2017 (38-3).

It is always a hugely physical battle coming up against the ‘Boks – Sexton played out the 2009 game with two broken fingers – but with plenty of pace in their selected back-line, he knows they are much more than the power game they are famed for.

“The South African DNA is unbelievably strong up front, strong set piece, they base the majority of their game off that. Good kicking game, good in the air,” highlighted Sexton, who is set to captain his country for the 21st time in the Bank of Ireland Nations Series opener.

“But they’re also not afraid to play when it’s on, and they’re also not afraid to go wide-wide, and they’ve picked a pretty exciting back-line.

“A back-line that they probably haven’t had the luxury of picking so far with injuries and suspensions and stuff. To bring (Cheslin) Kolbe back, and (Kurt-Lee) Arendse on the right wing, they’re almost like duplicates of each other so we’ve got double threats there.

“They’ve got top quality players across the park. They build their game on strong set piece, strong kicking game, pressure. They’re pretty well rounded.”

Damian Willemse, who won the BKT United Rugby Championship with the DHL Stormers last season, will be Sexton’s opposite number this weekend. The versatile 24-year-old start at out-half, alongside the Cell C Sharks’ Jaden Hendrikse.

The Ireland skipper rates Willemse highly, acknowledging: “He’s a very, very good player. I suppose he’s only played a couple of games at 10 for South Africa. He’s unpredictable, he’s got fantastic footwork, he’s got a good kicking game, strong and fast obviously.

“Some traits you wouldn’t normally associate with a 10, but he’s an excellent player. We’re going to have to be ready to play but we expected him to be named at 10. We’ve done a little bit of analysis on him and will do some more.”

Despite narrowly missing out on the Rugby Championship title to New Zealand, Jacques Nienaber’s men took plenty of encouragement from their biggest win over New Zealand since 1928 and their first Test victory in Australia since 2013.

This weekend will see them come up against some of the British & Irish Lions players they defeated to win the 2021 Covid-19-impacted Series, including Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw and Jack Conan who started all three Tests.

While also encouraged by the form of the South African sides in the URC and their eagerly-awaited debuts in the Heineken Champions Cup, Nienaber is bracing his squad for a supercharged clash with an Ireland team that ‘can be a force to be reckoned with in Dublin’.

“We last faced Ireland on their home patch in 2017 and they beat us 38-3 in that match, and they also beat us here 29-15 in 2014 and they will draw confidence from that,” said the former Munster defence coach.

“Similarly to us, they will also view this as a vital match with an eye on next year’s Rugby World Cup in France where we will cross paths in the pool stages.

“Obviously we are a long way out from the World Cup, but we have a limited number of games left before the competition. The preparation doesn’t get better than playing a side we will face in the World Cup and the number one side in the world.

“This match is important for us for many reasons, one of which is to test our player combinations with the World Cup less than a year away.”

For Sexton, the opening Test of the Bank of Ireland Nations Series is a chance for Ireland to build on what they achieved during the summer and to start the new international season on a strong footing.

“It’s what we need. We need another big test and to find out where we’re at. Obviously we have to give South Africa the respect that they absolutely deserve. They’re the best team in the world in terms of they’re world champions,” he added.

They’re a top class team. They’ve won the World Cup, beat the Lions, had some big results over the last few years. So in terms of testing ourselves, it’s huge.

How we can get a result? We have to bring our game and make sure we do it even better. Because when you have a couple of results like we did during the summer, teams start to properly look at you and it’s like, ‘how are we going to mess up this Ireland team?’

“How are we going to combat this? We’ve got to do it better and we’ve got to evolve a little bit and make sure that we bring something new to the table.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


6 Nations

Jones officially sacked by RFU

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The Rugby Football Union (RFU) will now conclude the long-term work it has been undertaking on coach succession planning with changes set to be announced in the near future. In the interim, Richard Cockerill will take over the day to day running of the men’s performance team.

“It is important to recognise the huge contribution Eddie has made to English rugby, winning three Six Nations Championships, one Grand Slam and taking us to a Rugby World Cup Final,” said RFU CEO, Bill Sweeney.

“He has the highest win ratio of any previous England head coach and has helped develop the leadership skills of many players and coaches. I am grateful to Eddie for all he has done for England across many areas of the game and the professional way in which he has approached reviewing the performance of the team. He has provided the panel with astute insight and meaningful lessons that will support the team performance going forward.”

During his time in charge Jones steered England to three Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam in 2016, two series wins in Australia, an unbeaten run of 18 matches, an Autumn Nations Cup, and a Rugby World Cup final in Japan.

“I am pleased with much that we have achieved as an England team and I look forward to watching the team’s performance in the future,” said Jones. “Many of the players and I will no doubt keep in touch and I wish them all well in their future careers.”

The decision for Eddie to leave was taken by the RFU board earlier today. Speaking about the decision, RFU Chair, Tom Ilube said: “The independent review panel regularly updates board on its discussions and findings. We are fully supportive of its process and recommendations.”


Images & Content from England Rugby
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6 Nations

Gatland returns as Pivac is sacked

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Warren Gatland will return to Wales before Christmas to replace incumbent head coach Wayne Pivac.

Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) CEO Steve Phillips has confirmed Gatland will take charge of Wales for the 2023 Guinness Six Nations and at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, with the ability to go through the next World Cup cycle up to and including Australia 2027.

Wales’ most successful and longest serving coach is back to take over from fellow New Zealander Pivac, who has agreed to part company with the WRU after the official 2022 Autumn Nations Series review was completed and approved by the WRU Board.

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“This is one of the toughest calls to make in sport, but the review process has reached its conclusion and we have acted quickly and efficiently in the very best interests of our national team,” said Phillips.

“Ultimately we are in the results business and we have agreed with Wayne that the current trajectory for Wales is not where we want it to be and we thank him sincerely for his time, enthusiasm, diligence and effort, which is unquestioned, as head coach over the last three years.”

Gatland leaves Super Rugby side the Chiefs to return, after formerly serving Wales over a 12-year period. He completed his first Six Nations clean sweep in his debut season with Cymru in 2008, before repeating the feat in 2012 and finishing on the same high to win the 2019 tournament.

“In Warren we are bringing in one of the very best coaches in the international game,” continued Phillips.

“We were sorry to see him go when he left and we are delighted that he has agreed to return.

“We know him well and, most importantly, he knows us well too. We are extremely excited about this latest chapter for Wales-and-Warren-Gatland and I know the feeling is mutual.

“He will undoubtedly be able to make an immediate impact, just as he did when he joined us for the first time in 2008. But it has also been important to both parties to ensure we get absolute maximum gain out of the return of such an experienced and highly regarded individual.

“It is for this reason that we are particularly pleased to have been able to secure Warren’s services for the next few years with the ability to go to the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

“This appointment is no quick fix, nor sticking plaster, it is part of our long term planning for the game in Wales.

“We have been able to take swift action in difficult circumstances and that is testament to the good grace and professionalism of Wayne and the efficiency of our review process.”

Native New Zealander Gatland, who took charge of two successful British & Irish Lions tours during his time with Wales, was also in charge for three Rugby World Cups, reaching the semi-final stages on two occasions (2011 and 2019) and took Wales to the top of World Rugby’s rankings – for the first time – by virtue of a record 14-match unbeaten run during his final season.

“I’m very much looking forward to returning to coach Wales,” said Gatland

“This is an opportunity to achieve something with a talented group of players in a country so passionate about rugby. A country which made my family and I so welcome, when we first arrived fifteen years ago, and all the time we were there.

“Our immediate priority is obviously the 2023 Guinness Six Nations and next year’s Rugby World Cup.

“There is little time for sentiment, professional sport is all about preparation, values and results. There will be new challenges as there always is with a change in head coach, but for me the environment, the players and their families will always come first.

“We must prepare to the best of our ability in the time available. We will value and respect each other, we will work hard and, if we get this right together, performances and results will follow.”

The WRU and New Zealand Rugby have reached agreement for Warren Gatland to be released from his existing contract with immediate effect.

“Warren Gatland is Wales’ most successful coach, overseeing a period in which we won three Grand Slams and reached the very top of World Rugby’s rankings for the first time in the history of those records,” added recently appointed WRU chair Ieuan Evans

“We are delighted he has agreed to return to us. We will of course need to afford him time and ensure he has the tools at his disposal to rekindle the success he has achieved with Wales during his previous tenure, but we are all very excited about the future.

“I would like to add my sincere gratitude to Wayne. He has given much of himself over the last three years, including leading Wales to the Six Nations Championship title in 2021 and we are extremely grateful to him for his dedication to the role.”

Wayne Pivac said: “I am obviously extremely sad to stand down from the role.
“It was a speedy review process post-Autumn Nations Series as time is of the essence with the Six Nations fast approaching. Unfortunately, the results or performances this year were not all as we hoped. As a group we all take responsibility for that, but me in particular as head coach.

“We have played some really good rugby at times, but needed to do that more consistently. However, I know that there is a strong foundation for the squad to progress to great things in the future.

“I would like to thank the players, coaches, management and the WRU for their commitment, support and hard work in my time as head coach and to all the people in Wales for making me feel at home here over the past eight years.”

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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6 Nations

Ireland’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations Home Games To Be Played At Musgrave Park

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Ireland’s home matches in the 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations will be played at Musgrave Park.

The Cork venue has been the home of the Ireland U20s since 2019 and has become a real fortress in recent seasons, with Ireland Women also enjoying huge support there when they defeated Italy at Musgrave Park in last year’s Six Nations.

Greg McWilliams‘ side open their 2023 Championship against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, 25th March (2.15pm) before welcoming France to Cork in Round 2 on Saturday, 1st April (3.15pm). After a rest weekend, Ireland will be on the road again, going head-to-head with Italy in Parma on Saturday, 15th April (4.45pm).

World Cup finalists England will visit Musgrave Park in Round 4 on Saturday, 22nd April (2.15pm) and the Championship will conclude with a trip to Edinburgh to take on Scotland at the DAM Health Stadium on Saturday, 29th April (7.30pm).

“We received huge home support during last year’s Six Nations and we’re excited to make Cork our home base for the 2023 Championship,” McWilliams said. “We enjoyed a good day out against Italy last year, with the people of Cork coming out to support the team and we will be hoping for more of the same in 2023, as two of the best teams in women’s rugby come to visit.”

Ticket details for Ireland’s home matches at Musgrave Park will be announced in due course.

TikTok Women’s Six Nations Fixtures 2023:

  • Wales v Ireland, Saturday 25 March, Cardiff Arms Park, 2.15pm
  • Ireland v France, Saturday 1 April, Musgrave Park, 3.15pm
  • Italy v Ireland, Saturday 15 April, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 4.45pm
  • Ireland v England, Saturday 22 April, Musgrave Park, 2.15pm
  • Scotland v Ireland, Saturday 29 April, DAM Health Stadium, 7.30pm.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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