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Pro14

Halaholo returns for Cardiff Blues season opener

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(Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

Willis Halaholo returns to the Cardiff Blues starting line-up for the Guinness PRO14 curtain raiser against Zebre at Stadio Lanfranchi on Friday (KO 6.00pm GMT).

The centre has been sidelined since suffering a significant knee injury in a Challenge Cup clash against Leicester Tigers last November.

Halaholo is reunited in midfield with Rey Lee-Lo, in a backline that includes six internationals.

Homegrown duo Jarrod Evans and Lloyd Williams combine at half back, while Matthew Morgan and Hallam Amos line-up in the back three alongside Josh Adams, who has been in scintillating form since joining the region, with seven tries in eight outings.

Lock Cory Hill captains the side for the first time since returning to his home region from Dragons over the summer.

He partners Seb Davies in the second row, while academy graduates Corey Domachowski and Liam Belcher are included in the front row with Dmitri Arhip.

Shane Lewis-Hughes and James Botham, who both impressed in the victory over Ospreys on the final day of the 2019/20 campaign, are rewarded with starting spots, as the experienced Josh Turnbull is handed the number eight jersey.
John Mulvihill insists he’s picked the side based on form and merit but is expecting a tough task in Parma.

“I’m hopeful that we can take the form that we had against Ospreys into game one and certainly the selection of the team rewards the boys that played well that day,” said the head coach.

““We need to pick on form if we want to be consistent as a group. The coaches need to show consistency in picking players that put their hands up for selection.

“We’re all excited to get out there and to kick off the new season. We gained a lot from the two derbies we played in August, and the boys have been working hard on the training ground, so we want to see that come into fruition on Friday.

“We all know how tough it can be to visit Italy, and you need to travel there with the correct game-plan and mindset.

“Zebre are a team that can cause teams problems on their day, but we’re fully confident in our group. Preparations have been good, the boys have been sharp and focused and we’re relishing the challenge ahead. We want to build early momentum and we have an opportunity to do that in Parma.

“There will be a small home crowd out there, which is fantastic and we’re really looking forward to playing in front of some spectators after everything that’s happened over the last few months. It should be lively and entertaining affair.”

Five academy products are included on the bench, including lock Ben Murphy and Welsh internationals Rhys Carré and Dillon Lewis.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Josh Adams, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Hallam Amos; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Cory Hill (capt.), Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Josh Turnbull
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carré, Dillon Lewis, Ben Murphy, Olly Robinson, Lewis Jones, Jason Tovey, Garyn Smith

The following players were not considered for selection due to injury:
Ellis Jenkins (Knee)
Tomos Williams (Shoulder)
Rhys Gill (Bicep)
Jason Harries (Knee)
Owen Lane (Shoulder)
Mason Grady (Ankle)
Keiron Assiratti (Ankle)
Will Boyde (Calf)
Josh Navidi (Concussion)

Pro14

Edinburgh Rugby appoint new Head Coach

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(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Edinburgh Rugby have appointed Scotland Assistant Coach Mike Blair as the club’s new Head Coach.

The former Edinburgh and Scotland captain made over 150 appearances for the club (2001-2012) and returns from a five-year term with the national team, where he was recruited by Head Coach Gregor Townsend to occupy a dual role with Glasgow Warriors in 2017.

He joined Glasgow as Assistant Coach in 2016 and operated in that capacity for club and country until 2019 – helping the club reach the PRO14 semi-final and Grand Final (2018 and 2019) and two Champions Cup quarter-finals (2017 and 2019) – before focussing fully on national team matters for the past two years.

Blair’s contribution was recognised recently with his appointment as Interim Scotland Head Coach, only for the matches to be abandoned as coronavirus affected the camp and that of their opponents.

The recent departure of Richard Cockerill then presented a timely opportunity for Blair to take on the reins of the club he represented over a decade, having been born and bred in the capital city and schooled at Edinburgh Academy.

Mike Blair, said: “The first emotion is one of pride. I’ve lived in Edinburgh most of my life, played 11 seasons at the club and still live in the city, so having that attachment combine with the opportunity to lead the squad is really special for me.

“I’ve learned a lot from working with quality coaches like Dave Rennie, Jason O’Halloran and Gregor Townsend, in particular and over the years, and have been able to develop and adapt a philosophy that I feel should benefit the talent we have at the club.

“It’s a really exciting squad. There’s a good balance of experience and backgrounds and I’m looking forward to getting to know the players and their strengths better so we can mould that into making Edinburgh both good to watch and successful.

“It’s also a really good time to come in with all the excitement around the launch of the new stadium this summer. It’s a massive, watershed moment for the club. We all want to get that packed out with supporters from the outset and build an atmosphere the players deserve and the fans can be proud of.”

Edinburgh Rugby Managing Director, Douglas Struth, added: “We’re delighted to welcome Mike back to the club as our Head Coach, having watched his development into a first-rate coach over the past six years.

“Not only does he bring that expertise, but Mike is also a local man, a club centurion, and somebody who became a home-grown legend in an Edinburgh Rugby jersey.

“That’s really important to us and is a fantastic illustration of our ambition to promote and develop local stars of the future.

“It’s a new era for the club, with a new stadium and new tournament formats, and we believe Mike is the right man to continue the development of our tactical approach and winning mentality on the field, and our culture and connection to the wider rugby community off it.”

Prior to coaching, Blair was a player of worldwide repute.

He earned 85 caps for his country and toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2009 – the same year Edinburgh Rugby finished as runners-up in the then Magners League – and played a major role in the club’s storied run to the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2012.

He also played professional club rugby in England for Newcastle Falcons and in France with Brive, all experiences which contribute significantly to his depth of knowledge and understanding of the sport.

Scottish Rugby Chief Executive, Mark Dodson, said: “We’re really pleased to see Mike take this next step on his coaching journey with Edinburgh Rugby, recognising the excellent contribution he’s made at both Glasgow and Scotland over the past six years.

“He’s an exceptional Scottish coach who is hungry to deliver success for a club he cares a great deal about.

“He’s done a fantastic job of developing players in all of his roles, many of whom have shone on the biggest stage for Scotland and, more recently, the British & Irish Lions.

“We’re looking forward to watching him and the club develop further, together, as the beginning of this new era for Edinburgh Rugby, targeting a regular return to the knockout rounds of domestic and European Cup competitions and competing for silverware in the seasons ahead.

“His existing knowledge of the player group and lasting affinity with the club’s fanbase make this an excellent and exciting appointment.”

Source – Scotland Rugby

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6 Nations

World Rugby applies 50/22 law trial globally, bolster concussion protocol

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World Rugby announced on Wednesday five law trials which will start next month, including a so-called “50/22” kicking adaptation.

The 50/22 change allows a team to gain a throw-in inside the opposition’s 22-metre area by kicking the ball to touch with at least one bounce from their own half.

The rule was used in recent Super Rugby tournaments and its primary intention is to “encourage the defensive team to put more players in the backfield, thereby creating more attacking space and reducing defensive line speed”, according to the sport’s governing body.

The other laws to come into force on a temporary basis from August 1 include a goal-line drop-out if the ball is held up in the in-goal area, if there is a knock-on from an attacking player in the same area or an attacking kick is grounded by the defenders in their own in-goal.

There are also restrictions on attacking players latching onto team-mates from a ruck and clean-outs which target or drop weight onto the lower limbs at the breakdown.

Michael Hooper with a textbook tackle close out a certain try

The final trial allows for a one-player latch before contact, but the individual must “observe all of the requirements for a first arriving player, particularly the need to stay on their feet”.

World Rugby has also moved to strengthen concussion protocols, with independent specialists set to review cases when Test players return to action after a head injury.

They will launch a panel of Independent Concussion Consultants (ICCs) to provide expert opinion on whether players are ready to return to action after head knocks.

The global governing body will fully fund the process for Test-level competitions, with ICCs asked to rule when players look to return to action 10 days or fewer after a concussion or on players deemed higher risk due to previous head-injury history.

Source – Australia Rugby

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Pro14

Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby

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Rugby ball - Pixabay

Connacht Rugby regret to announce that flanker Sean O’Brien has been advised to retire from rugby on medical grounds following a concussion injury.

A Galway native, O’Brien came through the Connacht Academy having represented Ireland at U18, U19 and U20 level. He was also named captain of the Ireland U20s for the 2014 Junior World Championships.

He made his pro Connacht debut away to Enisey-STM during the 2015/16 Challenge Cup, and came off the bench in the Guinness PRO12 Grand Final that same year. A first senior contract soon followed and in total he has made 60 appearances for his home province.

Sean O’Brien has released the following statement:

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Connacht Rugby for making a young boy’s dream come true. The memories and friendships made will last a lifetime.

I’d also like to thank all those in Wegians, Roscrea and Calasanctius who played their part in making it possible, and in particular my Dad Iain who coached me throughout my youth.

Not everyone gets a fairytale ending but I will never forget just how lucky I was to be a part of this club.

I am looking forward to cheering in the stands.

Sean”

Source – Connacht Rugby

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