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6 Nations

Sexton Enjoying Captaincy, But ‘It’s Still A Work In Progress’

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He may have 108 Ireland caps under his belt, but beginning an international week with 49 players in camp and two southern hemisphere sides to play at the weekend is a new experience for Jonathan Sexton.

Currently training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, the extended Ireland squad are gearing up for the Ireland ‘A’ team’s clash with the All Blacks XV on Friday, swiftly followed by the main course of Ireland against South Africa the following evening.

It is quite an exercise in logistics to get that many bodies out on the training pitch and ensure quality preparation for both the ‘A’ and senior teams, as the much-anticipated Bank of Ireland Nations Series gets ready for kick-off.

Like the summer tour when Ireland’s fringe players got game-time against the Māori All Blacks, it is a big collective effort and Sexton hopes they can reap the rewards from both fixtures at the RDS and the Aviva Stadium.

“The coaches did a good job,” he said of Tuesday’s well-populated training session. “I wasn’t envisaging how it was going to work, but they did it well in terms of we were almost rotating as teams.

“Almost four teams at the start into two. It was good, it was different. It’s a unique week. We had a unique experience in the summer and now we’ve got another one now with two matches going on. Big game Friday night and then a big game Saturday.

“So it’s good, it’s what we want. We don’t want anything to be the same because you get comfortable then and come the World Cup you’re not ready for anything changing. So, we’re testing ourselves and trying not to keep things too familiar.”

Ireland A Tickets On Sale

Following on from their historic series win in New Zealand, Andy Farrell’s men are back in the familiar surroundings of the Aviva Stadium, hoping to claim the scalp of the reigning Rugby World Cup champions like their predecessors did.

Ireland boast a proud record of defeating past Webb Ellis Cup holders between tournaments, with memorable victories over Australia (2002), England (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007), South Africa (2009) and New Zealand (2016 and 2018).

Sexton was involved in those last three triumphs and as he enters the final year of his Test career, the 37-year-old says it still means so much to him to run out with the national team at Irish Rugby HQ.

Every time you get to play at home, in front of the Irish public and family and friends in the Aviva, they’re the most special days of your career.

“It’s something you never take lightly. Again, when you come towards the end (of your career), it’s even more special. You try and cherish it even more.

“But the nerves are still there, the excitement is still there. So it’s not that much different to how it usually is.”

The St. Mary’s College clubman got some decent match minutes into his legs with Leinster in recent weeks, including full games against both the Cell C Sharks and Munster.

He is looking forward to taking on South Africa for the first time since 2017, especially after missing out on last year’s British & Irish Lions tour. Of course, the sides’ Rugby World Cup pool game next year looms large on the horizon.

“I feel good. In the first two games of the season, you’re always expecting a couple of mistakes in a lot of parts of the game, and I definitely had them in the first couple of games.

“It’s important I learn from them, build on what was good and try to put it all together on Saturday. If we got a win on Saturday, it would be great. If we didn’t, we’d learn from it.

“We’re going to learn both ways, we’re going to learn about South Africa, see what it’s like to play against this type of team. We haven’t played against them in a few years. I think it’s what we need.

“They’re in our group obviously in the World Cup and we just need to make sure that we take learnings from it, win, lose or draw. But we’re going out there to try and win the game, don’t get me wrong.”

Sexton has been Ireland’s captain since the start of the Andy Farrell era in early 2020. His winning ratio as skipper is an impressive 78%, the highpoints so far coming this year with the Triple Crown and New Zealand tour success.

Always striving to improve as a player and a leader, he said: “I enjoy it (the captaincy). There is a lot of extra responsibility and extra meetings, making sure you’re on top of the leadership group, making sure you’re organising different things.

“If I didn’t have it, I’d miss it. At times you go, ‘do I need it?’, but yeah, I think I do. I’m enjoying it. It’s still a work in progress, I don’t think anyone’s ever going to be the perfect captain.

“There’s part of my leadership that I need to work on, and there’s parts that are good. It’s just about getting feedback and making sure you’re always striving to improve.”

The Dubliner, who has captained Leinster since 2018, admits he is fortunate to have a strong group of trusty lieutenants around him, a number of whom have captained their provinces or grown into leadership roles. He added:

I lean heavily on the guys around me. You work well as a team, there’s guys that have come out of themselves like Tadhg Furlong. He’s really come out of his shell over the last couple of years.

“He kind of got ‘put’ in the leadership group – I don’t think he wanted anything to do with it! – but he got put in there and he got forced into leading and he’s doing an amazing job.

James Ryan has captained Ireland, Garry Ringrose has captained Leinster, Iain Henderson captain of Ulster, Pete (O’Mahony) captain of Munster, so it’s a good group. It makes my job much easier, we do it as a team.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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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6 Nations

Leading Rugby Stakeholders Unite To Consider Future Of Rugby

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Rugby’s major stakeholders have united to consider the short and long-term insights and priorities for ensuring the sport is a relevant, accessible and attractive sport for all as it grows over the next decade.

The World Rugby Shape of the Game conference, hosted in London, gathered leading coaching, playing, officiating, medical and event owner minds to consider how to build a better game for all, focusing on safety and spectacle. Underpinning that mission is the ongoing prioritisation of player welfare, while fostering an environment that is simpler, more accessible and more attractive.

It will be followed by similar conferences on the elite women’s 15s and community games as the sport looks to growth opportunities over the next decade. The process will also consider fan views and general sport and entertainment considerations to create a holistic approach to the future of the sport.

Over two days, delegates considered the global welfare landscape, including reinforcing the data regarding the relative safety of the community and age-grade game, global playing trends and the role of match officials, the narrative around the sport with all participants focused on the bigger picture.

The conference identified key areas for further exploration:

• Focus on the fan: Insights from fans and broadcasters to inform the longer-term development of the sport as an entertainment product

• Speed up the game: Focus on interventions and innovations to reduce stoppages, increase continuity and the rhythm of the game

• Support match officials: Provide them with the tools to perform their role to their best ability, consider TMO intervention reductions

• Underpin with player welfare: Continue to implement evidence-based strategies to mitigate head injuries and overall injuries in the sport

• Change the narrative: The community game is the lifeblood of the sport, the risk of injury is much less than that of the elite game, focus on the benefits while managing the risks

World Rugby will take away the considerations and insights for further exploration to prioritise areas that can be implemented in the short term without changing law ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said:

“As a sport, a movement and a family, we must always challenge ourselves to be better. That means taking time to consider what fans and players want the future of our sport to be, a future where more people want to play and support the game, where injury risk is reducing and where all involved in the game have their say.

“This conference was the first step towards a reimagination of our sport. The full and frank contributions from a wide spectrum of disciplines gives us plenty to consider and to move forward with through our structures. I would like to thank all participants for taking time out at a busy time to unite, collaborate and consider our future.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

England side to face Springboks

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England host the Springboks at Twickenham Stadium in their final Autumn Nations Series game on Saturday 26 November (5.30pm KO).

Manu Tuilagi will make his 50th appearance for England at outside centre, having made his debut for England against Wales in August 2011. Owen Farrell will again captain the side at inside centre.

Marcus Smith is at fly half and Jack van Poortvliet is at scrum half. Tommy Freeman comes in at right wing, Jonny May is at left wing and Freddie Steward is full back.

Jamie George (hooker) and Mako Vunipola join fellow prop Kyle Sinckler in two changes to the starting front row. Maro Itoje and Jonny Hill stay at lock. Alex Coles comes in at flanker with Tom Curry, while Billy Vunipola is No.8.

Last weekend’s double-try scorer Will Stuart is named as a finisher along with Luke Cowan-Dickie, David Ribbans, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, Henry Slade and vice-captains Ellis Genge and Jack Nowell.

“This is our last game of the autumn and our chance to continue building on the improvements we have made throughout the matches,” said Jones. “We have made steady progress from game-to-game, culminating in a pulsating draw against New Zealand.

“Now we have the chance to test ourselves against the might of the world champions. We’re going out there to light the crowd up. The support at Twickenham was outstanding last week and we want to work hard on the pitch to make sure we have another atmosphere like that again on Saturday.”

Squad

Starters

15. Freddie Steward

14. Tommy Freeman

13. Manu Tuilagi

12. Owen Farrell (C)

11. Jonny May

10. Marcus Smith

9. Jack van Poortvliet

1. Mako Vunipola

2. Jamie George

3. Kyle Sinckler

4. Maro Itoje

5. Jonny Hill

6. Alex Coles

7. Tom Curry

8. Billy Vunipola

Finishers

16. Luke Cowan-Dickie

17. Ellis Genge

18. Will Stuart

19. David Ribbans

20. Sam Simmonds

21. Ben Youngs

22. Henry Slade

23. Jack Nowell


Images & Content from England Rugby
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