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Premiership

Confirmed by Leinster. Sean O’Brien to join London Irish

Leinster have confirmed the news.

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ireland and Leinster back row Sean O’Brien is set to join London Irish after the World Cup this year.

Leinster today confirmed that the 31-year-old O’Brien will move to Declan Kidney’s side later on this year. O’Brien is currently on a central IRFU contract.

O’Brien turns 32-years-old later this month and is now entering the latter stages of his career. As a result, the union were unwilling to hand him a new long-term deal.

London Irish are believed to have made Leinster an offer of around
€ 400 000 per season which is similar to what he currently gets.

Reports state that O’Brien’s current status will not have any impact upon his status as part of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad which will participate at the World Cup.

Previously O’Brien has been part of two British and Lions tours. These came in 2013 and 2017 and he started all three Tests against New Zealand during the latter trip.

Speaking to leinsterrugby.ie this morning, Leinster Rugby Head Coach Leo Cullen said,

“Seán has been a key driver of Leinster Rugby’s success over the last ten years and played a pivotal role in our four Heineken Cup-winning seasons.

“He has not only been a world class player on the field, but has also made an incredible impact in growing the game all over the province. He has also been a model professional and a shining example to our young and Academy players.

“As a teammate, Seán was the sort of competitor you always wanted beside you. He is the kind of player who gives you the confidence that anything is possible – nothing fazes him and he always led from the front.

“Everyone at Leinster wishes only the very best for Seánie in his future as he embarks on a new challenge. We will all miss him greatly, but his legacy here will live on as he has influenced so many of us in such a positive way.

“For now, we hope to finish this season strongly and, after his disappointment of missing out on a number of big games last season through injury, we hope Seán can play a major part in Leinster’s push for silverware in two competitions this season.”

For his part O’Brien said, “This is one of the hardest decisions that I have ever had to make. I have played all my rugby in Ireland.

“With Tullow, with Leinster and with Ireland and to move from the place I call home and that I love so much, was not easy.

“That being said, I feel that the time has come to explore other opportunities, to challenge myself at a new environment, in a new city, with a new club and against different players and teams on a weekly basis. London Irish and what they are about is a club that I feel I can grow with and also contribute to and I feel that they have a set up and an ethos that will make me feel at home.

“For me and the time I have left here in Ireland, I want to stay fit and healthy and finish out the season with a strong Six Nations with Ireland and then turn my attention to Leinster and hopefully a seat on the plane to Japan.

“Thanks to my family, friends and my girlfriend Sarah for their unbelievable support in making this decision and of course the fans for all the support I’ve received over the past 13 years. I am looking forward to representing Leinster and Ireland as best as I can over the next nine months.”

London Irish really are making waves in the transfer market!

They’ve already snapped up fellow British Lion Alan Dell and Wallabies Nick Phipps and Curtis Rona.  They’ve also secured the services of Ian Keatley until the end of the season and have been heavily linked with Paddy Jackson ahead of their predicted return to the Gallagher Premiership next season.

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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.

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Premiership

Mike Ford’s Role Changed at Leicester

Mike Ford’s role has been revised at Leicester Tigers ahead of the new campaign

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Mike Ford’s role has been revised at Leicester Tigers and he will now take up the job of attacks coach.

Ford was brought in halfway through last season as a consultant to help the club avoid relegation. However, former Tigers coach Pat Howard has now taken over the job of mentoring the managerial group meaning that Ford has been allowed to shift positions.

Having scored only 47 tries during a terrible season for the Tigers, head coach Geordan Murphy is delighted to have Ford in a more defined role.

“The nature of last season it certainly felt I was in doing quite a lot throughout the season. Having Mike come on board and take a little bit more of a lead in the attack has been great for me in that it helps me oversee and have those conversations with Mike and we have got Phil Blake who has got a pre-season, he has been putting the defence together,” he said while talking to Leicester Tigers TV.

He went on to give a rundown of which coaches will be taking control of each area as the club look to massively improve on their 11th place finish last season.

“He joined us in January and that was probably one of the massive areas of improvement that we expect to see. Mark Bakewell is taking the forwards and Brett Deacon is picking up all the work that needs to be done in and around that. We have resourced well and hopefully, we can keep improving. Mike is going to run the attack. Phil will run the defence, Mark will run the forwards and Brett is going to do breakdown across the club. At the minute Boris (Stankovich) does the scrum and does that throughout the club and we’re lucky. One of the things that I was conscious that I wanted to do was use people where they are strong. We have got some great coaches in the academy as well who will help develop and mentor guys. Dave Mele has come on board the academy and we will use him with the first-team nines and 10s as well,” he added.

The squad are currently training at an army base in Aldershot to try and improve their fitness levels ahead of the 2019/20 season, as Murphy believes that it’s an area where they were weaker last season.

“We are very lucky to be here and train at a new venue. We can get the players together for a week so we can have numerous training sessions and meetings and spend a little bit of time together… we wanted to work on our fitness. We have done that over the first few weeks and coming to an army camp enables us to train particularly hard. It [pre-season] has been good so far. The players are working very hard and I have to commend them. There has been a real attitude shift. People recognise we probably weren’t fit enough last season and it is something we wanted to address,” he finished up.

Murphy and his side have not only switched up the coaching staff but have spent big during the summer too and will be expected to have a much improved season than the one gone by.

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Premiership

New ‘British League’ to Begin Within Two Years

A club chairman has claimed that a ‘British League’ will be made within the next two years merging two major leagues together according to reports

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An anonymous leading club chairman has told The Rugby Paper that a British League could be created in the next two years.

It is believed that the CVC group, whom are looking to secure a 27 percent share in the PRO14 following a similar deal with the English Premiership earlier this year, are looking to make a major change to the leagues.

The former owners of Formula One and Moto GP are apparently looking to merge the two competitions if they claim a stake in the PRO14.

With a deal sealed to buy into the Premiership during last season, the 13 clubs that own Premier Rugby Ltd will be receiving around £13.5m a piece following the completion of a deal worth around £275m.

It is thought that a similar deal would be on the cards for the PRO14 side’s if they claim their stake in the competition.

The merging of the competitions is of the best interest of the CVC group according to the source and they believe that the Welsh clubs would be very encouraged by the idea.

“A British League will happen in two years’ time. It will happen because it is the best outcome for the game in the four home countries and for CVC. It will appeal to the Welsh regions in particular and the Premiership clubs. Not one is profitable with the exception of Exeter and a British League will go along way towards providing stability,” they said.

The source went on to further discuss how the move could be a real boost for the Welsh regions especially.

“In Wales, it will be seen as the only opportunity to be sustainable Their regions lost between £5m-£6m last year. They have been kept going by the generosity of a few backers and the danger is they will get even fewer unless something radical is done. Fixtures like Cardiff Blues against Bristol, Dragons versus Gloucester, Ospreys against Bath and Scarlets against Saracens will stop the downward spiral of attendances in Wales,” they continued.

Although the Welsh regions appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of the potential merger, it seems as though the Irish provinces are not guaranteed to be involved and the league could go ahead without them.

“Commercially, they could be as much as 50 per cent better off. It will be important to have all four Irish provinces on board but, if necessary, we will go ahead and do it without them,” they finished.

The league is an interesting possibility, but it could cause potential problems by undermining the Champions and Challenge Cups, as well as they question of what happens to the Irish teams if they don’t sign up? All is up in the air at the moment and we will have to wait and see if this project becomes a reality.

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