Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, is confident Jack Nowell has what it takes to force his way back into the selection plans of New England head coach Steve Borthwick.
Cornishman Nowell, along with Billy Vunipola and Jonny May, were surprise omissions from Borthwick’s 36-strong squad named earlier this week ahead of the upcoming Guinness Six Nations Championship.
The 29-year-old has won 45 caps for his country, the latest of which came in the Autumn in the defeat to reigning world champions South Africa at Twickenham.
Asked by the media this week about Nowell’s exclusion, Baxter came out in support of the experienced back.
“I can quite easily see him demanding his way back into the squad with the quality of his performances,” said Baxter. “The key for us, just as we always talked about when these guys were wanting to first play for England, the key for us as coaches is we create a platform for these guys to have that opportunity to play well and win big games and be part of big squads.
“That’s part of the process when you want someone to win their first cap, and that’s part of the process now when we want to help get Jack back into England recognition – it’s the same process, it just feels like different ends of the spectrum.”
Nowell, who won two caps for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand in 2017, helped England win a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2015 and another title 12 months later. He has also been part of the England squad at the last two World Cups and helped the Chiefs reach six Premiership finals – winning domestic titles in 2017 and 2020, as well as the 2020 European Champions Cup.
The fact the talented back will not be with England does present Exeter fans with the chance to see more of Nowell, who is out of contract with the Chiefs at the end of the current campaign.
“If someone said to me I could have Jack Nowell available for every game I’d bite their hand off,” added Baxter. “He’s been a great player for us, he’s a senior player who takes his role and how the players act, how the squad behaves, how we train, very seriously.
“In a lot of ways he’s one of our key men to have here in and around the club, so on the one hand I’m absolutely delighted he’s here, but on the other hand I do feel for him because he wants to play for England, so it’s a double-edged sword really.”
Leicester Tigers head coach, Dan McKellar said: “The group, players and staff were on the go for 23 weeks straight so getting away from the game for a period was really beneficial and we’ve come back in enthused for this challenge this week.
“Ealing are a team full of experience and quality, so we’ll have to be at our best to get the result we want, on a big day for the likes of Hanro and Finn.
“It’s fitting that Hanro leads us on his 100th game. He carried a lot of the leadership burden during the World Cup and continues to be someone the boys can count on to lead with his actions.”
Scott MacLeod is returning to Newcastle Falcons as line-out coach, with the former Scotland lock on board until at least the end of the season.
The Hawick native spent 11 years with the Falcons, making 61 appearances as a player before joining the coaching team in 2016.
Having departed Kingston Park last summer MacLeod will now return to impart his expertise, combining coaching commitments with working for his family’s business in the Scottish Borders.
Newcastle Falcons’ consultant director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “Scott is a well-respected line-out specialist who can help us make some big gains in that area between now and the end of the season.
“He knows and loves the club, he’s very well regarded here and I’m looking forward to getting him back involved.
“We’ve initially said it’s until the end of the season and I know Scott has other business commitments, but if it works well for both parties over the next few months then we’ll be happy to look at extending it beyond that.”
Capped 24 times by Scotland in a playing career which also saw him starring for Border Reivers, Edinburgh, Scarlets, Kobelco Steelers and Newcastle, the set-piece specialist is relishing the prospect of reinvigorating the Falcons’ line-out during the remainder of the season.
MacLeod said: “Our line-out has consistently been in the top four of the Premiership over the past few years, so hopefully I can come in and help get us back up there.
“I’ve been watching the games from afar this season because Newcastle Falcons is still a big part of my life, even though I’ve not been personally involved since the summer. I just want to come in and make a positive difference, get us back to where we should be and help the boys.”
Having spent more than a decade at Kingston Park as a player and coach, MacLeod insisted the opportunity to return was just too good to pass up.
“I’ve missed the place a lot,” said the 44-year-old.
“I’m now working for my family’s business, MacLeod Glass, up in Hawick, but I’m sure any sportsperson will tell you they miss being in and around that team environment. It’s certainly very different going from a Premiership rugby club to working in a factory every day, and it’s been a shock to the system.
“I’ll now get to combine both, and I’ve missed being involved with the professional game. I’ve been coaching my son’s S2 side to get my rugby fix, but I’m buzzing to be back with the Falcons. It’s a really special club for me.”
Setting out with one clear aim, the Scot said: “I just want us to get our identity back.
“I’ll come in, assess our strengths and our weaknesses and come up with a plan accordingly. I know some of the players really well and I don’t know others at all, but luckily with us having this big break before our next game it’s absolutely ideal timing for getting things in place.
“One thing you have to bear in mind with Newcastle is how bad the weather is, in terms of how much you can push it in the line-out, but I just want to get the confidence back into the boys.
“It’s about simple things being done well on a consistent basis, and I’m starting this week to help put it in motion.
“I’ve got a few weeks to get to know the guys I’ve not worked with before, see how it all ties in with the lads I already know and then knit it all together into a game plan which works best for the team.
“As I say, I just want us to have that Newcastle Falcons identity again when it comes to the line-out, and I’m really positive about things. We’ll see how it works between now and the end of the season, and if everyone’s happy then we can see where it goes.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is against Leicester Tigers on Good Friday (March 29), with tickets on sale for the 7.45pm kick-off by clicking here.
Sharks scrum-half Gus Warr has committed his long-term future to the club by signing a new deal keeping him at the Salford Stadium until the end of the 2026/27 season.
The 24-year-old has played more than 70 first team games for the club since making his debut against Harlequins at the Stoop in September, 2018.
Gus, who has represented both Scotland and England at age grade level, played his junior rugby at Winnington Park RFC and Bowdon RFC before joining the Sharks Academy at the age of 14.
The 5’8” half-back joined Doncaster Knights on loan at the end of the 2019/20 season, and then re-joined again on a dual-registry deal ahead of the 2021/22.
Injuries led to his early return and he took his chance, quickly becoming a Sharks regular and featuring in the Premiership final at the end of the 2022/23 season.
Sharks Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson said: “Gus surprises me on a daily basis. I don’t know if he always loves me but I love him. Gus isn’t as physical as some other players in his position, but there is no-one who can match him for sheer grit, effort and determination.
“I don’t think he’s ever better than when he’s challenged or labelled ‘just alright’. He’s so much more than that and we’re so lucky to have him.
“His character epitomises what we’re all about here – he’s hard-working, resilient, robust and northern and that’s everything we strive to be as a club and as a team.
“Gus is still only young so there’s so much more to come from him. Everyone is buzzing that he wants to stay here.”
Gus said: “Playing for Sale Sharks has been my ambition since I was very young and now to get to play in front of an amazing crowd every week, with some of my best mates, is a dream come true.
“We’ve got so many young, hungry players and this is a really exciting time to push on and build on what was started last year and show that Northern rugby really matters.”