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Premiership

London Irish Sign Tongan International Forward

London Irish’s impressive summer recruitment has continued as they have captured the signing of an experienced forward

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London Irish have confirmed the signing of Tongan international forward Steve Mafi ahead of the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership season.

The versatile forward, who is comfortable in both the second-row and back-row, has had previous experience in England having lined-out for Leicester Tigers over 80 times over a four-year spell and is excited to return to the Premiership.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for me to return to England and test myself in the Premiership. London Irish is entering an exciting period in its history and I am thrilled to have signed. Next season will be a great challenge for myself and for the club and I cannot wait to run out and play for my first game in the famous green shirt,” he said.

Since his time with the Tigers Mafi has gone on to play for Super Rugby franchise the Western Force and Castres, where he won the Top 14 in 2018.

The Exiles director of rugby Declan Kidney is delighted to have added such an experienced player to his squad.

“Steve is another experienced addition to our squad moving forward. We know how demanding and challenging the Gallagher Premiership is, so it is important that we assemble a squad to meet the demands. Steve has a wealth of experience and the ability to cover several positions in the second and back row. We look forward to welcoming him to the club,” he said.

The 29-cap Tongan will certainly add experience to the club who are preparing for life back in the Premiership following their promotion from the Championship last season.

London Irish have already spent big this summer adding the likes of Waisake Naholo, Paddy Jackson, Noel Reid, Sean O’Brien, Sekope Kepu, and Nick Phipps among others with Mafi now joining the list of in-comings.

Premiership

Cipriani has a new club

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Danny Cipriani will join Bath Rugby in May on an extended one-year contract, to include the completion of the 2020/21 season.

The 16-cap England international will join the Blue, Black and White at the beginning of May, following a rigorous recruitment process to strengthen the club’s options at fly-half, with Rhys Priestland departing to Cardiff Blues at the end of this season.

The 33-year-old playmaker is credited for his unique vision as well as his natural creativity and impressive attacking skillset, contributing to a semi-final place for Gloucester in 2018/19 and the Rugby Players’ Association Players’ Player of the Year 2019.

Highly attack minded, Cipriani’s ability to predict the passage of play, create space and control the game is a key component of the fly-half’s unique attributes.

His expertise in game understanding, combined with an exciting commitment to seizing opportunities, has often resulted in match-winning moments across his 18-year career in the sport.


On joining the Blue, Black and White, Cipriani said: “I’ve been really focused over the past three months on improving my running efficiency and kicking, while looking for a club that matches my ambition. After speaking with Stuart and Neal, it was clear that Bath offered that opportunity.

“We talked about what I could bring to the club and what Bath were looking for in a fly-half; someone who could be part of an attacking mindset, who could help unlock that aspect of the game and inject additional pace and vision – complementing the quality in the team.


“The club has a clear ambition and drive that aligns with my own; they want to achieve something special as a team, they want to win. That was a very appealing vision for me.”



Cipriani will join Tian Schoeman as an experienced fly-half who will support Bath’s developing players – in particular Orlando Bailey – to evolve their game.

Cipriani and Schoeman give Hooper experienced options at fly-half, providing a significant opportunity for Bailey to further accelerate his development with their stewardship, following his recent appearances in the first team.


Director of Rugby Stuart Hooper said: “Danny’s abilities are evident; his game understanding and management are exceptional as is his skillset in the backline. He has a real eye for detail around the attacking shape, I’m confident that he will bring an exciting dimension to our game.

“We have made no secret of our recruitment in this key position. Our process, as with all recruitment and contracting decisions, has been thorough and diligent and we are now incredibly excited to be able to announce the recruitment of Danny.


“I have no doubt that Danny will become a valued member of our playing group and become an ambassador to the younger players coming through the pathway just as Rhys has so well over the seasons.”

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Premiership

Tigers welcome back Burns

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Leicester Tigers will welcome Freddie Burns back to the club ahead of the 2021/22 season.

The 30-year-old, currently playing for Toyota Jido Shokki in Japan, returns to Leicester for a second stint at the club where he made 75 appearances between 2014-17.

Burns began his professional career with Gloucester in 2007 and made his Test debut in 2012 after representing England Under-20s and Saxons.

He joined Leicester in 2014 and scored 603 points for Tigers in three seasons, before moving to Bath Rugby ahead of the 2017/18 campaign and then to Japan for the 2020/21 season.

Speaking about the addition of Burns from next season, Leicester Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick said: “We are looking forward to welcoming Freddie back to the club from next season.

“He is an experienced Premiership player who has played international rugby and will be a valuable addition to our squad.

“I have been impressed with the way Freddie has spoken about wanting to be a part of what we are building at Tigers and his determination to be a leader in our squad.”

Burns added: “I can’t wait to be back in Leicester and part of the club again.

“I can see the changes in the team and clear identity of the squad with Steve and want to be a part of that.

“I am coming back to compete and want to be playing in the Premiership once again.

“Tigers fans are so passionate and I always had such a good connection with them, they are definitely a reason why I want to come back to the club.”

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Premiership

Gallagher Premiership scrap relegation

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  • At the end of season 2020/21 there will be no relegation from the Premiership into the Championship, and no relegation from the Championship into National One. 
     
  • Provided the winner of the 2020/21 Greene King IPA Championship is eligible for promotion under the current Minimum Standards Criteria, the 2021/22 season to consist of 13 teams in the Gallagher Premiership and 11 in the Greene King IPA Championship. 
     
  • Holistic new minimum standards on and off the pitch for promotion to the Gallagher Premiership will be developed between now and the end of May 2021 with involvement and approval from Council which will be designed to promote sustainability in the professional game.

The RFU Council today cast a strong majority vote in favour of no relegation from the Gallagher Premiership or the Greene King IPA Championship for the 2020/21 season. 

Council members considered the impact Covid-19 has had on all areas of the game, including the earlier decision to suspend promotion and relegation in the community game and the Gallagher Premiership cancelling a significant number of matches in the 2020/21 season.  These cancellations have resulted in a material impact on league positions which could mean relegation based on cancellation not on field merit. 

Over the next four months the RFU, Premiership Rugby and Championship representatives will work on recommendations for changes to the season structures for 2021/22 and beyond for both the Premiership and Championship. 

It is hoped that proposals will include a different approach to promotion and relegation from the Gallagher Premiership.  The aim will be to retain the ambition of clubs in the Greene King IPA Championship and below and to continue to allow a route to promotion to the Gallagher Premiership. New minimum standard criteria, investment in facilities and club funding will be discussed.  The domestic calendar will be reviewed, which will also allow additional preparation time for the England senior men’s team ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023.  Player welfare will be central to the proposals and the RPA will be consulted on the development of season structures.   It is likely that any season structures may also include a further moratorium on promotion and relegation for three or four seasons, after which the structure will be subject to further review.  Those proposals would be subject to a vote of the RFU Council before the end of the 2020/21 season. 

Speaking about the RFU Council vote, RFU President, HH Jeff Blackett said; “The RFU Council has taken time to understand and discuss all the factors regarding no relegation for this season so that we act in the best interests of all levels of the game.  We want to ensure a healthy elite game to support successful winning England teams that generate income to stimulate and preserve the game across all levels.  The Council will continue to be closely engaged with the proposals from the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Championship to ensure we maintain the integrity of the future league structures for England Rugby.”

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