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6 Nations

United Rugby Championship: Round 1 Preview

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Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Four leading clubs from South Africa – the Vodacom Bulls, DHL Stormers, Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions – have joined the other 12 northern sides to form a 16-team league.

There will be 18 rounds in the regular season with home and away fixtures in each of the four Shields – Irish, Welsh, Scottish/Italian and South African – with the other 12 encounters being played either home or away before the top eight advance to the play-offs.

Zebre Parma welcome the Lions to Italy on Friday to begin the new season before Cardiff host Connacht and Ulster take on Glasgow Warriors later that night.

Rainbow Cup winners Benetton are in action first on Saturday against the Stormers, with Edinburgh playing their first competitive match at their new stadium when the Scarlets visit.

PRO14 champions Leinster then collide with Rainbow Cup SA winners, the Bulls, in Dublin before Munster and the Sharks round off the day’s action at Thomond Park.

A Welsh derby between the Dragons and the Ospreys at Rodney Parade concludes the opening round on Sunday.

RTÉ and United Rugby Championship have officially launched URC TV, a new global streaming service offering fans around the world the opportunity to watch games live and on-demand, and follow their team home or away. Visit www.urc.tv to sign up.

UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1:

Friday, September 24 –

Zebre Parma v Emirates Lions, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, kick-off 6.35pm local time (live on Mediaset/Premier Sports 2/SuperSport Rugby)

These two meet for the first time as they open the new URC campaign in Parma. Zebre will hope the new season signals a change of fortunes for them having lost their previous eight Championship matches, their last victory coming at home to the Dragons in February.

Two of their three wins over South African opponents came in Parma – against the Kings in 2018 and the Cheetahs two years later.

The Lions have registered just one win – against Griquas at Currie Park – since losing to the British & Irish Lions in July and triumphed on their only previous visit to the northern Hemisphere when they beat the Sunwolves in Tokyo five years ago.

ULSTER v Glasgow Warriors, Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm (live on Premier Sports 1/SuperSport Rugby)

Ulster finished as runners-up to Leinster in PRO14 Conference A last season before a disappointing Rainbow Cup campaign, their win over Edinburgh in their final match snapping a five-game losing streak in all competitions.

Dan McFarland’s men won both meetings with the Warriors last season and have triumphed in their last five meetings with Scottish opposition.

Glasgow finished third in the Rainbow Cup having pipped the Dragons to fourth place in Conference A. They won four in a row after a surprise loss to Benetton, with their home victory over Leinster in June halting a run of nine straight losses to Irish provinces.

Cardiff v CONNACHT, Cardiff Arms Park, kick-off 7.35pm (live on TG4/BBC Two Wales/Premier Sports 2/SuperSport Action)

Cardiff followed up a fourth place finish in PRO14 Conference B by coming fifth in the Rainbow Cup, having won three of their final four matches.

They have an excellent record against Connacht, winning 24 and drawing two of their 35 meetings, and have been beaten just once – by Munster – at the Arms Park since January 2020.

Connacht were runners-up in Conference B and had a decent Rainbow Cup campaign in which they beat Ulster, Munster and the Ospreys. The westerners have won just three times at this venue (2001, 2013 and 2017) and have not triumphed outside of Ireland since beating Benetton in February.

Saturday, September 25 –

Benetton v DHL Stormers, Stadio di Monigo, kick-off 1pm local time (live on Premier Sports 2/Mediaset/SuperSport Rugby)

New head coach Marco Bortolami will be looking to build on Benetton’s stunning Rainbow Cup triumph having taken over from Kieran Crowley.

After beating the Vodacom Bulls in Treviso, Benetton have been unbeaten at home since losing to Cardiff in March and have lost just one of their eight previous matches against South African opposition.

The Stormers won three and lost three of their Rainbow Cup matches as they finished second behind the Bulls and now meet Benetton for the first time. Their last outing in the northern Hemisphere ended in a 26-23 defeat to the Sunwolves in Hong Kong in Super Rugby back in 2018.

LEINSTER v Vodacom Bulls, Aviva Stadium, kick-off 5.15pm (live on TG4/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport Rugby)

The standout fixture of round 1 as PRO14 champions Leinster take on the Bulls, the Rainbow Cup SA winners. Leinster have only lost one of their 23 league matches at the Aviva Stadium – against Munster in 2014 – and have come out on top in six of their seven encounters with South African opposition.

Despite losing to Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final, the Bulls head into the URC campaign having been crowned Currie Cup champions for the second successive year. They overcame the Cell C Sharks in the Loftus Versfeld final having suffered their last defeat to the same team in early August.

Edinburgh v Scarlets, Edinburgh Rugby Stadium, kick-off 5.15pm (live on Premier Sports 2/S4C)

Two new coaches will be on show on a day of firsts as Edinburgh host the Scarlets in their maiden competitive match at their new Edinburgh Rugby Stadium. Mike Blair has taken over from Richard Cockerill at the capital club, while former player Dwayne Peel has returned to lead the Welsh side.

Edinburgh missed out on a place in the Heineken Champions Cup last season before a disappointing Rainbow Cup campaign – their last win coming against Zebre in April – and have not beaten a Welsh opponent since an 18-0 victory over Cardiff last November.

However, they have lost just one of their last eight meetings with the Scarlets, whose 27-25 win at BT Murrayfield in February was their first over a Scottish side since beating Glasgow in October 2019.

MUNSTER v Cell C Sharks, Thomond Park, kick-off 7.35pm (live on RTÉ 2/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport Rugby)

Munster are bidding to go one better this season having lost to Leinster in the PRO14 final as they chased their first title since 2011 before finishing second to Benetton in the Rainbow Cup.

The men in red won eight of their nine clashes with South African teams, while the last non-Irish side to beat Munster in the Championship were the Scarlets in 2017.

The Sharks were beaten 44-10 by the Vodacom Bulls in the Currie Cup final in Pretoria earlier this month, having come third in the Rainbow Cup SA. Their previous trip to the northern Hemisphere came in February 2019 when they beat the Sunwolves 45-10 in Singapore in Super Rugby.

Sunday, September 26 –

Dragons v Ospreys, Rodney Parade, kick-off 2pm (live on Premier Sports 1)

The Dragons will hope a Welsh derby can help fire them to a winning start to the new season after a bleak 2020/21. Dean Ryan’s side were the only Welsh region to miss out on the Heineken Champions Cup before finishing second-bottom in the Rainbow Cup.

They have lost their last four Championship matches and have triumphed in just two of their previous nine meetings with Welsh opponents.

The Ospreys, who have won 24 and drawn one of their 37 meetings, beat Leinster, Cardiff and the Dragons in the Rainbow Cup, having finished up in third spot in PRO14 Conference A.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography

6 Nations

Scotland unveil new faces and joint captains for Tonga test

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Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Scotland’s opening match of the 2021 Autumn Nations Series will be marked with a number of notable firsts as Gregor Townsend names the team to face Tonga at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 30 October – kick-off 2:30pm.

Scotland will be represented by Co-Captains for the first time as Glasgow Warriors and British & Irish Lion Ali Price and Edinburgh Rugby’s Jamie Ritchie both lead the team.

The game, live on Amazon Prime, will also see Scotland field four uncapped players in the starting XV, two in the backs and two in the forwards.

A further four debutants are in line for caps off the bench, which has a 6-2 forwards split.

Edinburgh flyer Darcy Graham starts at full-back and is joined in the back three by Glasgow duo Kyle Steyn, who will add to his single cap won against France in the last match at BT Murrayfield played in front of crowds in March 2020, and Rufus McLean who will make his first Scotland start.

Joining McLean on Scotland debut will be clubmate Sione Tuipulotu who lines up with fellow Glasgow Warrior Sam Johnson as the centre partnership.

Co-Captain and Lions scrum-half Ali Price teams up with Edinburgh’s Blair Kinghorn at fly-half to form a brand new half-back pairing.

In the pack fellow British & Irish Lions Zander Fagerson starts at tighthead prop with Hamish Watson at openside flanker, as they feature for Scotland for the first time since the South Africa tour this summer.

Edinburgh Rugby’s Jamie Ritchie, also named as Co-Captain, packs down on the blindside of the scrum which is anchored by Glasgow Warriors’ Matt Fagerson at number eight.

Youth and experience combine in the second row which sees Rob Harley earn his 23rd cap for Scotland and joined by Edinburgh lock Jamie Hodgson, who will win his first cap.

Up front George Turner starts at hooker with Fagerson and with a debutant on the loose-head side in Edinburgh Rugby’s Pierre Schoeman.

Edinburgh Rugby provide forward replacements on debut in the form of lock Marshall Sykes and back-row Luke Crosbie.

Glasgow Warriors half-back partners Jamie Dobie and Ross Thompson are the uncapped backs.

Former Scotland Captain Stuart McInally is available off the bench alongside Glasgow props Jamie Bhatti and Oli Kebble in the front row, with backrow forward Nick Haining of Edinburgh completing the matchday squad.

Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend said: “As a playing and coaching group we are looking forward to returning to international rugby over the coming four weeks in the Autumn Nations Series.

“This week has been our first opportunity since the Six Nations to come together as a team, and our goal is to become a better team over the next month. Saturday will also be a huge occasion for a number of players in our squad who have the honour of playing for their country for the first time.”

Tickets for the game start at £16 for adults and £11 for U18s and students, with U12s tickets only £1. Secure your tickets here.

Source – Scotland Rugby

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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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6 Nations

Wales & Cardiff star to retire at 27

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Cardiff Rugby fullback Hallam Amos will retire at the end of the season to focus on a career in medicine.

The 27-year-old joined Cardiff ahead of the 2019-20 season having previously come through the ranks at the Dragons, where he spent nine years.

He recently completed his clinical medical exams and has informed the club and Welsh Rugby Union of his intention to hang up his boots in June.

Amos said: “After a decade of professional rugby, the 2021/22 season will be my last. I’ve experienced a lot in rugby and have been fortunate to go to two Rugby World Cups, a Commonwealth Games, several Six Nations and I’ve had a lot of great times in the regional game.

“I’m very grateful for the incredible experiences I’ve had but the time has almost come to face a new challenge. I am happy with what I have achieved and telling Dai and Cardiff, and Wayne (Pivac) and Wales, early so they can plan for the future sat a lot easier with me.

“It’s always been my intention to finish when I complete my degree and this season aligns nicely with the final year of my medical studies, so a perfect time to transition from pitch to hospital.

“Throughout my years combining university with a rugby career I’ve had plenty of support – from the WRU, from the Dragons for the first few years of my career, from Cardiff Rugby more recently, and from Cardiff University itself – and I’ll always be thankful for their willingness to accommodate both aspects of my life.

“Particular thanks go to Dai and Wayne who have been understanding over the last couple of weeks as I’ve talked to them about the thought process behind my decision.

“Retiring at 27 will definitely be strange but I’m fully committed to Cardiff Rugby for the rest of the season and hopefully I can finish on a high over the next few months.”

The full-back has made 32 appearances since joining the Blue and Blacks and has taken his tally of international caps to 25.

Cardiff Director of Rugby, Dai Young has led the tributes to the Cardiff medical student and commended his decision to retire on his own terms and with a clear education and plan for the future.

Young said: “Obviously it will be disappointing to lose a player of Hallam’s quality and he has plenty of rugby left in him but you can only admire his decision.

“Not many players get to go out on their own terms and to switch from rugby to a full-time career in medicine sets him up for a long and fruitful career.

“Hallam has worked incredibly hard to juggle rugby and his studies up until now and has achieved a huge amount in the game both at regional and international level.

“He will remain an important figure for us for the remainder of the season and can play without the pressure of the decision hanging over him. For now, the focus is on Cardiff and enjoying his rugby and next summer we will wish him all the very best for the future.”

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