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Pro14

Cardiff Confirm Contract Extension of Star Player

Cardiff Blues have been able to seal the services of a key squad member for another season

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Nick Williams has been able to remain with the Cardiff Blues for another season after a meeting with the PRB/RMB.

It was feared in recent weeks that the No 8 would be unable to continue his stay with the club as the Welsh Rugby Union blocked his extension, but it seems as though common ground has been found.

Since his arrival in 2016 from Ulster, the 35-year-old has become one of the most influential players on the team and Cardiff Blues’ chief executive Richard Holland is delighted that he is staying on.

“We are thrilled to be able to retain the services of Nick, a player who has become such a key figure within our environment. Anyone who has watched Cardiff Blues this season, and most recently Judgement Day, will have seen he is still producing the goods on the pitch but on top of that, he brings an enormous cultural benefit to the entire environment. He will now continue to play a key role in mentoring and developing young Welsh talent,” he said.

As Holland mentions one of the terms of his extension is that he will help with the development of younger players in the squad and Holland hopes that this could see a long-term position open up for Williams.

“We would like to thank PRB for their support throughout the process, which has culminated with a positive outcome for Cardiff Blues and our strategy to develop young talent from within, which is ultimately for the betterment of Welsh rugby as a whole. Nick embodies all of the values we want at Cardiff Blues and this mentoring role has the potential to become something more long-term,” he added.

Williams, who has settled in Barry with his family had previously spoken of his love for the area and his desire to remain in Wales and is excited that he can continue with the club.

“I’m very happy and blessed to be able to go again. I spoke to my family and they were all supportive, so I told John in November-time that I was keen to stick around. The body feels fresh, mentally I feel good and it all seems to be working for us so I’m happy to get another year. After winning the Challenge Cup I thought it was a good way to go out but I didn’t really think about what I could give back to rugby, particularly in regards to bringing young guys through. I have a good relationship with the boys. I’m a bit more kicked back and relaxed compared to some of the other boys. I like to lead with action and hopefully the boys follow,” he said.

Williams is also excited with his role in aiding with the development of younger players and has promised to give his all for the region.

“I really rate the young boys in the squad. We have a good group, who have come through together and are very tight. Hopefully I can help them develop and if they stick together the future is really bright both for Cardiff Blues and the individuals. I also like to think I’ve also been playing some decent rugby. We have a recipe here that works. Cardiff Blues look after me through the week and I pay them back by giving 110 per cent on the weekend. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to keep playing here,” he added.

The No 8, who has scored 12 tries in 66 appearances, is as good in defence as he is in attack and head coach John Mulvihill is happy that he will have his presence on and off the pitch next season.

“It is great to keep Nick at the Arms Park. He brings a physical presence every time he takes the field and still has a huge amount to offer. Off the pitch he is an invaluable mentor to the likes of Jim Botham, Alun Lawrence and Shane Lewis-Hughes. We have further announcements to make in the coming weeks and will continue to strengthen our squad where possible,” he said.

The Welsh outfit have been working well to keep players at the club as well as Williams with other star men Josh Navidi, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Rhys Gill and Willis Halaholo all signing new deals. Along with them are the new signings of Welsh duo Hallam Amos and Josh Adams, all of which makes the Blues an exciting prospect already for next season.

Pro14

Leinster vs Glasgow; Pro 14 Final Preview & Key Battles

Leinster and Glasgow will face off at Celtic Park on Saturday night and here’s everything you need to know ahead of the final game of the season

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(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Johnny Sexton has made a return to the Leinster line-up for their Pro 14 final against Glasgow in Celtic Park on Saturday at 18 30. 

The captain has taken the No 10 jersey back from Ross Byrne who played who played last weekend’s semi-final against Munster in one of three changes to the side.

Another change in the back-line sees Rob Kearney come in for his brother Dave at full-back with Jordan Larmour switching to the wing. While in the second-row Scott Fardy replaces the injured Devin Toner.

Apart from that it’s as you were with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong knuckling down in the front-row, with Fardy joining James Ryan in the engine room.

Rhys Ruddock is at blindside flanker, with Josh van der Flier retaining his spot at openside following a man of the match comeback performance last week, with Jack Conan continuing at No 8.

Luke McGrath partners Sexton in the half-backs, with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose linking up in the centre.

The ever-impressive James Lowe begins the game on the left-wing, with Larmour on the right and Kearney at 15.

Sean O’Brien has been kept out of the side meaning he won’t get to play another game for the province before his summer departure to London Irish. While Jack McGrath has been denied his chance at a final goodbye before moving to Ulster as Ed Byrne is chosen on the bench.

The visitors have strength among their replacements with Byrne being joined by the likes of twin brother Bryan, Ross Molony, Ross Bryne and Rory O’Loughlin.

Speaking ahead of the game prop Healy admitted he watched the Warriors 50-20 win over Ulster last weekend and has warned his side to be ready.

“I watched their game on Friday – they looked pretty dangerous,” he said.

While Leinster will be hoping for back-to-back titles Glasgow will want to dethrone them in front of the Scottish crowd.

For the Warriors it’s Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson are the front-three, with Scott Cummins and Jonny Gray pairing in the second-row.

In the back-row it’s Rob Harley at six, Callum Gibbins at seven and Matt Fagerson at eight to finish up the pack.

Ali Price and Adam Hastings continue their partnership in the half-backs at scrum-half and out-half respectively, while it’s Sam Johnson and Kyle Steyn in the centre.

DTH van der Merwe opens at 11, with Tommy Seymour at 14 and Stuart Hogg at 15 in what will be his final appearance for the club before his move to Exeter Chiefs.

There is plenty to call upon from the bench with the Ryan Wilson, George and Peter Horne and Huw Jones among those ready to make an impact if needed.

The element of home advantage is one that flanker Harley is hoping the fans will take advantage of when the time comes.

“Celtic Park is a great stadium. We’re really looking forward to packing it out with our fans,” he said.

Key Battles:

Fraser Brown vs Sean Cronin:

This will be an intriguing battle as both will have to be spot on with the line-out and give everything in the scrum. Experience will help both but there will be a harder task for Brown in open-play as he will need to keep an eye on his opposite number who has been a lethal try-scorer this season and would love to get another in the final.

Jonny Gray vs James Ryan:

Home advantage will mean nothing to Gray as he faces up to arguably the best lock in the world at the moment. Both put in sensational tackling figures to go along with their attacking metres they gain as well as the line-out battle, this could be the place where the game is won or lost.

Ali Price vs Luke McGrath:

These two will both be out to impress their national team coaches ahead of the World Cup later this year and a strong performance in the final could earn them a ticket to Japan. Price’s pace will be a worry for McGrath, while the Leinster man’s kicking game could cause problems for the Warriors.

Tommy Seymour vs James Lowe:

A Scottish legend coming up against one of the brightest sparks of this Leinster side. You wouldn’t bet against either getting a try and the way they defend one another could be the vital component of who wins this individual war.

Stuart Hogg vs Rob Kearney:

This is a man departing his club up against a man who could be leaving his beloved blues with both out to prove a point. Hogg is a danger in any match he plays, while Kearney will be hoping to put any fans or coaches doubts about him to bed with a solid performance which could be his last for the club.

Both teams finished top of their respective conferences and there is no doubt that the two best teams have reached the final showpiece. With only a day to go until kick-off there is still no separating the two sides as they seek the domestic crown once again.

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Pro14

Pro 14 Dream Team Announced

The Pro 14 Dream Team was announced last night, and 11 sides have been represented

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(photo by Peter Fitzpatrick/Action Plus via Getty Images)

The Pro 14 Dream Team was confirmed last night and 11 of the competitions 14 teams have representatives but Benetton will be disappointed.

The much-anticipated team was narrowed down to 45 candidates, picked by more than 75 media that covered the season, on Wednesday with Benetton receiving seven nominations.

However, the Italian side have only been handed one spot on the team with wing Monty Ioane being included as Epalahame Faiva, Marco Riccioni, Federico Ruzza, Braam Steyn, Dewaldt Duvenage and Ratuva Tavuyara all being over-looked.

Three of the four Irish provinces claimed two places each along with Edinburgh as finalists Leinster and Glasgow received only a single place in the XV each.

The front-row was filled by Edinburgh’s Pierre Schoeman, Scarlets’ Ken Owens and Glawgow’s Zander Fagerson, with Munster’s Tadhg Beirne and Leinster’s Scott Fardy packing down in the engine room.

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony features at six, with Connacht’s Colby Fainga’a at seven and Edinburgh No 8 and player of the season Bill Mata finishing the pack.

Ulster’s John Cooney along with Fardy and Beirne are the only three players to make the team for the second year in succession, as Cooney takes his place at scrum-half.

Connacht out-half Jack Carty is at 10, with Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey and Cardiff’s Rey Lee-Lo outside him in the centre positions.

Rabz Maxwane of the Cheetahs was selected on the left-wing, having scored a record-equalling 14 tries this season alone, with Ioane on the right and Ospreys Dan Evens completing the XV at full-back.

It was revealed after that only a few of the positions were clear-cut choices with many being incredibly close as the likes of James Lowe, Bundee Aki and Marcel Coetzee being among the 30 players to miss out after stellar seasons.

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Pro14

Pro 14 Dream Team Nominations Announced

The end of the Pro 14 season is almost upon us and with it the seasons dream team is set to be announced with a surprise team leading the nominations

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(photo by Peter Fitzpatrick/Action Plus via Getty Images)

The Pro 14 dream team nominations have been confirmed and Benetton will have the most candidates for the final team to be announced on Thursday night. 

The Italians have been rewarded for a fantastic season which has seen them progress to the knock-out stages for the first time in their history, only for a late penalty against Munster to deny them a semi-final berth against Leinster.

Benetton have had seven players nominated in the 45-man list, which consists of three players across the league competing for each position.

Their nominations are Epalahame Faiva, Marco Riccioni, Federico Ruzza, Braam Steyn, Dewaldt Duvenge, Monty Ioane and Ratuva Tavuyara. The total of seven nominations gives them two more candidates than Glasgow Warriors and four more than Leinster, with the pair set to face off in the final at Celtic Park on Saturday.

For Glasgow Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Adam Hastings and Nick Grigg have been nominated in their respective positions while for Leinster Scott Fardy, Max Deegan and James Lowe will hope for selection in the XV.

Elsewhere, the other Irish provinces have all been handed five nominations. Ulster have been rewarded for a fantastic season, which saw them reach the semi-finals with Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marcel Coetzee, John Cooney and Staurt McCloskey among the 45 players.

Munster have also received five nominations as Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Mike Haley battle for a spot on the team.

While Connacht’s Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell were all recognised for their stellar individual season which saw the men in green claim a Champions Cup spot for next season.

The 45-man shortlist which contains players from 11 of the 14 teams in the competition is compiled by a panel of more than 75 media who have covered the season and all eyes will be on how well the Italian side get on.

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