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O’Connor Finally Confirmed as a Red

James O’Connor’s journey back into the Wallabies set-up has had a major boost

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(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

James O’Connor has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Queensland Reds and Rugby Australia it has been confirmed.

The move has been in the pipeline for quite some time now and with it being announced O’Connor can now officially play for the Wallabies if selected.

Having last turned out for the Aussies in 2013 before off-field issues halted his international career, O’Connor is happy to be given the chance to impress once more.

“I just want to say how grateful I am to be given this opportunity again. There’s been a lot of work put in behind the scenes and a lot of guys have shown faith in me, so all I’m focusing on right now is putting my best foot forward. I have a bigger ‘why’ now and that is what fuels me. In saying that, I’m excited to be back here. Even at 29, I’m still learning and we’re really pushing each other. It’s been an intense hit the last few weeks, but I think I’m in a lot better place physically,” he said.

O’Connor has come back with a hope of breaking into the World Cup squad and did so in 2015 as well, failing on that occasion but he is determined to prove himself this time around.

“I’m a Queenslander. I was born there. I started playing rugby there. It’s where the dream began. A big part as well is that I owe Queensland the best version of myself. I came back last time and I wasn’t in the best place mentally, but also physically I was quite broken, so I couldn’t produce and perform the rugby I wanted to for the team. I’m finally ready to return and make amends. I want to do right by the team and the fans, and I intend to deliver the very best of my energy. If I can help the team get back to the top of the sport and if we can bring success back to Queensland, that would be a dream for me. The last time I returned, I thought I was ready to repair some of the mistakes I made but also reach my rugby potential, but it was too rushed. I didn’t recognise how much pain I was still in mentally. In saying that, I wouldn’t change it because I was guided to the correct mentors,” he added.

The utility back believes that the journey he has been on over the past number of years has helped him in the long-run and has motivated others to fight their personal battles.

“I’ve been on a journey ever since to understanding my true self and how I’m meant to use my privileged position in rugby. I see now that rugby is a gift and I want my journey back to inspire possibly other young men out there who may be a little lost in the world right now. If I can make it back from adversity, then so can you,” he continued.

He closed off by saying how he thinks that inside-centre is his best position, however he will play wherever he is needed for the team.

“I think 12 is my position. I’ve been playing there the last two years and I’m most comfortable there. It’s best with the style of rugby I play and the way I have developed being overseas. Also, I’m now a bit of a nugget so I fit in there quite nicely. But of course, I will cover anywhere in the backline – whatever the team needs. It would simply just be an honour to put the shirt back on again. I would play prop if I had to,” he finished.

Rugby Australia’s director of rugby Scott Johnson is impressed by O’Connor and believes this is a great move for all parties involved.

“James has immense rugby talent. He started his career in Queensland and this is a chance for him to show his full potential for his home state. Now is the time for James’ rugby to do the talking. He’s come home for the right reasons to play rugby and to help develop our rugby programmes. He’s matured and understands the leadership roles both on-and-off the field. He’s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process. We want to back the man to be the player we know he can be,” he said.

During his time overseas O’Connor turned out for London Irish, Toulon and Sale Sharks, which show how experienced he has become. His versatility and knowledge could be a huge boost for Michael Chieka and are a couple of reasons why he may very well succeed in getting into the squad that he failed to break into four years ago.

6 Nations

Ireland Squad Named For Autumn Nations Series

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Andy Farrell has named a 38 strong squad for the upcoming Autumn Nations Series fixtures at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland face Japan on Saturday 6th November before hosting New Zealand a week later on Saturday 13th.

The final game in the series sees Mario Ledesma’s Argentina line out at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday 21stNovember.   The Aviva Stadium will be at full capacity for these three games.

Johnny Sexton who has been capped 99 times for his country will lead the squad during this international window.

Six of Ireland’s players who toured with the British and Irish Lions during the summer – Bundee Aki, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson and Conor Murray are included as is Ronan Kelleher who joined the squad in South Africa.

Six of the players who won their first caps during the Vodafone Summer Series in July have been included in the squad – Robert Baloucoune, Harry Byrne, Gavin Coombes, James Hume, Tom O’Toole and Nick Timoney.

There are two uncapped players named Leinster duo Dan Sheehan and Ciaran Frawley while Munster’s Simon Zebo is named in an Ireland squad for the first time since June 2017.

Robbie Henshaw will continue his rehabilitation programme under the supervision of the Ireland medical team.

Thomas Ahern (Munster) and Jamie Osborne (Leinster) will train with the squad as development players during this window.

Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell, commented,

“It has been a short lead in to this international window but that is the challenge, to get back up to speed quickly and build on the performances from the Six Nations and the Summer Tests.  This is the start of an exciting period for the group as we begin to build towards the Rugby World Cup in France.”

“In September we got together and mapped out what was coming up in this window, the exciting fixtures that lay ahead in the next 12 months and beyond that the opportunities to improve as a group over the next five windows we will have together.

“In a few weeks’ time we will face an exciting and well coached Japan team who showed in July what a dangerous team they are.  New Zealand dominated the Rugby Championship losing just one game while Argentina are battle hardened from playing the southern hemisphere’s Big 3 week in week out over the past two months.

“It would be fantastic to play in front of a full-house at the Aviva Stadium.  We had small crowds back in for the games in July and even that made a huge difference to the team and the atmosphere in the stadium.”

Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures at the Aviva Stadium will be televised on RTE (ROI) and Channel 4 (NI).

IRELAND Autumn Nations Series Squad 2021

Backs (18)
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 31 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) 1 cap
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) 1 cap
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 24 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 3 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 25 caps
Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 93 caps
Ciaran Frawley (Leinster/UCD)*
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 10 caps
James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 13 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 30 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 6 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 5 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 89 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps
Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 99 caps CAPTAIN
Simon Zebo (Munster/Cork Constitution) 35 caps

Forwards (20)
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 5 caps
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 16 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 22 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 20 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 2 caps
Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 19 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 9 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 49 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 109 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 63 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 22 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 13 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 45 caps
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 76 caps
Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 1 cap
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 37 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 37 caps
Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne)*
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 32 caps

*denotes uncapped player

Development Players

Thomas Ahern (Munster/Shannon)
Jamie Osborne (Leinster/Naas)

Autumn Nations Series Fixtures 2021

IRELAND v Japan
Aviva Stadium , Saturday 6th November, 2021

IRELAND v New Zealand
Aviva Stadium , Saturday 13th November, 2021

IRELAND v Argentina
Aviva Stadium , Sunday 21st November, 2021

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography

** EXCLUSIVE DAVID LLOYD OFFER FOR ULSTER RUGBY FANS **

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Autumn Nations Cup

Scotland confirm Autumn Nations Squad

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(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Scotland has called up its full complement of 2021 British & Irish Lions as Head Coach Gregor Townsend confirms his 42-man squad for the Autumn Nations Series.

The extended group welcomes back Captain Stuart Hogg, half-back pairing Ali Price and Finn Russell, centre Chris Harris, winger Duhan van de Merwe, flanker Hamish Watson as well as props Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland following their involvement in the South African series.

Support for Scotland continues to build ahead of the Autumn Nations Series with the confirmation today that the match against Australia on Sunday 7 November is sold out.

A total of 11 new players are added to the squad ahead of the opening game against Tonga on 30 October from the training group which came together earlier this week at the Oriam High Performance Centre.

Alongside the B&I Lions contingent centres Matt Scott, Huw Jones and fly-half Adam Hastings retain their places alongside flanker Sam Skinner from Scotland’s summer tour squad, which was hampered by Covid cancellations.

Also progressing to the Autumn Series squad are Edinburgh backs Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Damien Hoyland and Mark Bennett. They are joined by fellow capital teammates Grant Gilchrist, Stuart McInally, Jamie Ritchie and Nick Haining.

Scotland’s west-based professional side Glasgow Warriors provide experience also in the form of hookers Fraser Brown and George Turner, lock Rob Harley and back-row Matt Fagerson. Props Jamie Bhatti, Murray McCallum and Oli Kebble are also selected.

Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson joins scrum-half George Horne and wing Kyle Steyn who all also missed out on possible game time in the summer series and will compete again for places this autumn.

Head Coach Townsend has selected 12 uncapped players to be part of the tournament squad following their initial involvement in the training group this week.

In the pack Ewan Ashman, Josh Bayliss, Rory Darge, Dylan Richardson, Luke Crosbie, Jamie Hodgson, Marshall Sykes and Pierre Schoeman will all be keen to feature in the four-match series, which begins against Tonga and sees Scotland play Australia, South Africa and Japan on consecutive weekends.

Glasgow Warriors provide all the uncapped backs in Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie, Ross Thompson and Sione Tuipulotu.

It’s exciting to bring together a blend of highly experienced and uncapped players for our first week of the Autumn Nations Series campaign.

Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend

“There have been some notable performances from both our home-based players and those at clubs outside of Scotland, which has enabled us as coaches to select a group which are playing well and will be motivated across the four games.

“We also feel that this the right time to bring in some younger players given their early season form. They have created opportunities for themselves to represent their country and we believe that they will thrive in the Test match environment.

“We face four tough matches in four weeks and Tonga, Australia, South Africa and Japan each present a different challenge and an opportunity to perform in front of our people at BT Murrayfield. It’s great to hear that we will now play Australia in front of a capacity crowd at BT Murrayfield, and it means a huge amount to the players to have this level of support.”

Autumn Nations Series Squad

Forwards:
Ewan Ashman – Sale Sharks – uncapped
Josh Bayliss – Bath Rugby – uncapped
Jamie Bhatti – Glasgow Warriors – 18 caps
Fraser Brown – Glasgow Warriors – 54 caps
Luke Crosbie – Edinburgh Rugby – uncapped
Rory Darge – Glasgow Warriors – uncapped
Matt Fagerson – Glasgow Warriors – 13 caps
Zander Fagerson – Glasgow Warriors – 38 caps
Grant Gilchrist – Edinburgh Rugby – 45 caps
Nick Haining – Edinburgh Rugby – 8 caps
Rob Harley – Glasgow Warriors – 22 caps
Jamie Hodgson – Edinburgh Rugby – uncapped
Oli Kebble – Glasgow Warriors – 8 caps
Murray McCallum – Glasgow Warriors – 3 caps
Stuart McInally – Edinburgh Rugby – 40 caps
Dylan Richardson – Cell C Sharks – uncapped
Jamie Ritchie – Edinburgh Rugby – 27 caps
Sam Skinner – Exeter Chiefs – 12 caps
Pierre Schoeman – Edinburgh Rugby – uncapped
Rory Sutherland – Worcester Warriors – 16 caps
Marshall Sykes – Edinburgh Rugby – uncapped
George Turner – Glasgow Warriors – 17 caps
Hamish Watson – Edinburgh Rugby – 41 caps


Backs:
Mark Bennett – Edinburgh Rugby – 22 caps
Darcy Graham – Edinburgh Rugby – 19 caps
Jamie Dobie – Glasgow Warriors – uncapped
Chris Harris – Gloucester Rugby – 28 caps
Adam Hastings – Gloucester Rugby – 23 caps
Stuart Hogg – Exeter Chiefs – 85 caps
George Horne – Glasgow Warriors – 14 caps
Damien Hoyland – Edinburgh Rugby – 4 caps
Sam Johnson – Glasgow Warriors – 18 caps
Huw Jones – Harlequins – 31 caps
Blair Kinghorn – Edinburgh Rugby – 25 caps
Duhan van de Merwe – Worcester Warriors – 10 caps
Rufus McLean – Glasgow Warriors – uncapped
Ali Price – Glasgow Warriors – 42 caps
Finn Russell – Racing 92 – 55 caps
Matt Scott – Leicester Tigers – 39 caps
Kyle Steyn – Glasgow Warriors – 1 cap
Ross Thompson – Glasgow Warriors – uncapped
Sione Tuipulotu – Glasgow Warriors – uncapped

Scotland’s matches against South Africa and Australia are already sold out, a full house at BT Murrayfield is also expected for Japan.

Tonga will be the exciting opponents on Saturday 30 October when Scotland take the field for the first test match at BT Murrayfield with a live crowd since March 2020.

Plans are underway to host a massive Halloween party with fans encouraged to wear fancy dress and with ‘kids for £1’ tickets available it gives a great opportunity for families to see their national team in action, secure your tickets HERE.

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Autumn Nations Cup

Manu Samoa announces Management to lead clash against the Barbarians for the Killik Cup

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Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan - Simon Smith - Barbarians

Samoa’s rugby clash against the Barbarians for the Killik Cup at Twickenham on November 27, will be from a selected team to take the field in London, drawn from profile coaches and Samoan players based mainly in Europe, but also Australia, New Zealand, Japan and USA.

The Barbarian’s game is the only match to be played from the recently cancelled tour of Europe due to Covid-19 implications. The trip north proved too difficult for some management and squad of players from the southern hemisphere, with health and safety of everyone being prioritized especially upon returning home.

An overseas based Coaching and Management team has been selected, and Head Coach, Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua is confident with the selected coaching group.

“I am very pleased to be able to call the services of coaches that are plying their trade overseas and have an intimate knowledge of the Manu Samoa environment.” Said Vaovasamanaia.

“The challenges that the Pandemic has given us, have also created opportunity for me to grow our people in these key roles and to make sure that we are able to get our Manu Samoa on the field, as well as launch our new partnership with apparel sponsor Castore.” He added.

“Given the nature of the Barbarians, this should prove to be a highly entertaining game and a fantastic opportunity to round off the Autumn Internationals in style.”

The selected Coaching team members are made up of former Manu Samoa stars:
The Co-Coaches are Lemalu Tusiata Pisi, currently coaching at the Toyota Shokki in Japan, and Census Johnston with Racing 92 in France. The Assistant Coaches are Kane Thompson who coaches at NOLA Gold – USA (MLR), and Terry Fanolua who previously coached at Gloucester RFC. The Team Manager is Niuafolau Faautu Talapusi, who has extensive experience with Lakapi Samoa and currently residing in London.

The Manu Samoa players selected for the match will soon be announced, with the reveal of its new apparel sponsor, as game tickets are selling fast with close to 45,000 already sold.

Lakapi Samoa acknowledges the Barbarian Football Club and all its partners in making this very important match possible and their support is invaluable to the Union.

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