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Northampton confirm coaching shake up

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Dowson and Vesty to step up at Saints as Boyd moves to advisory role

Northampton Saints coaches Phil Dowson and Sam Vesty will move into senior management roles at the end of the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership season following confirmation that Director of Rugby, Chris Boyd, will return to New Zealand and take up a new advisory role with the Club.

Dowson, who enjoyed a six-year playing career at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens prior to his transition into coaching, will be appointed Director of Rugby having coached Saints’ forwards since the 2018/19 season.

Meanwhile Vesty, who joined at the start of Boyd’s tenure to run Saints’ attack, will become the Club’s Head Coach.

The change forms part of a long-term succession plan set up when Boyd first arrived in Northampton, which aimed to develop a coaching team capable of assuming overall responsibility of the Club’s playing department.

In his new advisory role, Boyd will work remotely from New Zealand but will also visit Northampton during the season, aiming to provide strategic counsel to a coaching group which will be led by Dowson.

Ian Vass and Matt Ferguson will continue in their coaching roles, responsible for Saints’ defence and scrum respectively. Meanwhile former lock James Craig – who made 73 appearances in Black, Green and Gold prior to his retirement from playing in 2019 – also transitions from the Club’s Academy programme into a new first-team coaching position, initially focused on looking after Saints’ line-out.

“I have absolutely loved my time in Northampton, but it’s time to return home,” said Boyd.

“Since our arrival in 2018, Linda and I have fallen in love with the Club, the supporters and the county – Saints will always have a special place in our hearts.”

Chris Boyd

“But the pull of family is too great to stay in Northampton beyond the end of this season. And while the thought of being closer to our children and grandchildren is hugely exciting, it is with heavy hearts that we leave the Club.  

“Phil and Sam are very talented coaches and thoroughly deserve their forthcoming appointments. Over the last three years, they have proved they have what it takes to lead a successful rugby club at this level; I have no doubt they are ready to make the step up.

“They will be well supported by Ian, Matt and James, who all have bright futures ahead of them as coaches, and I will obviously still be contributing in my new role too.

“Although I’ll be sad to leave, my job this season is far from finished. I can promise our supporters that we are all more determined than ever to help the Club achieve its potential for the remainder of the season.”

Boyd joined Saints from Super Rugby’s Hurricanes ahead of the 2018/19 season. The Kiwi coach won the Premiership Rugby Cup – Northampton’s first silverware for five years – and finished fourth in the Gallagher Premiership in his first season, but Saints were defeated in their semi-final clash.

The men in Black, Green and Gold then reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup under Boyd the following season, going down to eventual champions Exeter Chiefs, before ending the 2020/21 Premiership campaign one place outside of the play-offs in fifth.

Boyd’s tenure at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens has also seen a new generation of Saints make the transition from the Club’s Academy to senior rugby. An impressive 25 Academy players have made their debuts under Boyd, with Northampton’s senior squad now boasting an average age of just 24 with 67% (39/58) of players home-grown.

Ten Academy graduates have received their first international call-ups with Boyd at the helm, with Lewis LudlamGeorge FurbankAlex Mitchell and Rory Hutchinson all making their debuts at Test level.

“We completely understand Chris’ reasons for deciding to go back to New Zealand – family must always come first,” said Mark Darbon, Chief Executive at Northampton Saints.

“However, we always knew this time would come and have planned and rehearsed accordingly. For instance, earlier this summer when Chris took an extended break in New Zealand, Phil and Sam took sole charge of pre-season.

“From the moment we first spoke to Chris about joining Northampton Saints, we worked with him to build a high-potential group of coaches. Over the past three years, that group have developed and grown, and we are excited for what they can achieve together.”

Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive

“While we will miss having Chris around the Gardens, we are very pleased that he will maintain a relationship with the Club in an advisory role, supporting the further development of our coaching group and helping us monitor the global player market.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Chris and Linda for everything they have done for Saints so far. It has been a pleasure working with Chris in his current role, and I have no doubt that the Club will continue to benefit from his contributions moving forwards.”

Saints Chairman John White added: “It’s been fantastic to work with Chris over the past four years; he transitions into his new role with the Club in great shape for the future, and I am very grateful for his efforts to date. We look forward to what will hopefully be a successful second half of this season, before Phil and Sam step into their new roles to take the Club forward.”

Phil Dowson made 186 appearances in Black, Green and Gold as a player in just six seasons at the Club, helping Saints claim the Premiership and European Challenge Cup titles in 2014, the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2010, and reach the Heineken Champions Cup final in 2011. He returned to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens as an assistant coach in 2017, before becoming forwards coach a year later upon Boyd’s arrival at the Club.

His 262 appearances in the Premiership is the third-highest tally in the competition’s history, and more than any active player, while Dowson was also capped seven times by England.

The 40-year-old said: “I am extremely proud and humbled to be stepping into the Director of Rugby role at Northampton Saints, a Club I have loved from the moment I first ran onto the pitch at Franklin’s Gardens 12 years ago.

“There is still plenty of growth left in this group of players and, alongside Sam and the entire coaching department, we will work tirelessly to deliver silverware for the Club and our supporters – whose passion and commitment to the team is second to none.

“On a personal note, I would like to thank Chris for everything he has done for me as a coach; I have learnt an enormous amount from him, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities he has given me. It is of course sad to see him return to New Zealand, but I’m delighted we will be able to continue to work together within this new coaching structure.”

6 Nations

Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby

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Image Credit: London Irish

London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.

The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.

O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011. 

He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017. 

O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation. 

On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.

“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions. 

“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years. 

“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy. 

“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.

“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland. 

“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.

“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old. 

“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport. 

“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.

“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them. 

“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.

“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us. 

“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.

“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career. 

“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey. 

“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family. 

“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years. 

“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.

“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then. 

“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.

“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be. 

“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”

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Premiership

Club statement | Gloucester match cancelled

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Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Warriors regret that tonight’s Gallagher Premiership match against Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm has been cancelled.

COVID-19 cases, illness and injuries mean that, despite every attempt to fulfil the fixture, we are unable to name a team with sufficient front row forwards to comply with the competition regulations.

We currently have 36 players unavailable due to injury, illness or COVID-19, leaving us with only 18 fully fit players, of whom just three are prop forwards.

When the side to face Gloucester was announced on Thursday we named the only four fit props in the club at that stage. The availability of Murray McCallum, who was named as replacement tighthead, was subject to him passing a fitness test on Friday morning. Unfortunately, Murray failed that fitness test.

Gloucester and Premiership Rugby have now been notified that we no longer have sufficient fit and available front row forwards to allow tonight’s match to proceed safely.

We apologise to Gloucester, supporters of both clubs and BT Sport for the inconvenience this will inevitably cause but exceptional circumstances have conspired against us.

An independent Panel will now be convened to decide the points allocation and that decision will be communicated in due course but Premiership Rugby can confirm the match will not be replayed.

• The playing regulations for Gallagher Premiership matches state that:

In the interests of safety each team playing in the Premiership must have at least six fit and able players in the squad who can play at hooker, tighthead prop and loosehead prop who are suitably trained and experienced to ensure that on the first occasion that a replacement in any front row position is required (whether due to injury or consequent to a player(s) being temporarily suspended or ordered off) the team can continue to play safely with contested scrums.
In the event that a club is unable to field those six players, the match shall be cancelled.

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Premiership

Scotland international heading to Bristol

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(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Bristol Bears have agreed terms to bring Scottish international Magnus Bradbury to Ashton Gate Stadium.

The 26-year-old back rower joins Ellis Genge and AJ MacGinty as the Bears’ third international signing ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.

With seventeen caps to his name, Bradbury has made over 100 appearances for Edinburgh Rugby since graduating through the club’s Academy.

“Magnus is a physical, athletic back rower with outstanding work rate and all the attributes to thrive in our system,” said Director of Rugby Pat Lam.

“To be a centurion at Edinburgh at such a young age shows his consistency and attitude and we’ve seen from his performances on the international stage that he can compete at the very highest level.

“Magnus brings further quality and physicality to our back row as we continue our recruitment for the 2022/23 campaign.”

Bradbury made his full Scotland debut in the 2016 November Test victory over Argentina at BT Murrayfield and has featured in all three of Scotland’s Six Nations fixtures in 2022.

He added: “It’s an exciting opportunity to come to Bristol and play in the Gallagher Premiership. This is a massive club with great ambitions and a world class coaching team – I’m looking forward to the challenge that awaits.

“I’d like to pay tribute to Edinburgh Rugby and my teammates, the fans and staff at the club. It’s been an incredible journey and I am grateful for the support I have received over many years.”

Source – Bristol Bears Rugby

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