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International

Best Suggests Expanding World Cup Squads

Rory Best has called on World Rugby to consider expanding the current squad size for teams heading into the World Cup

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(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ireland captain Rory Best has claimed that having a 31-man squad for the World Cup will limit teams and put pressure on coaches heading into the tournament.

Ireland have named an initial 44-man squad which head coach Joe Schmidt and co must narrow down to just 31 players come September 8th.

Schmidt spoken of his concerns about having such a small squad before and now his captain has had his say.

“We have a six-day turnaround between Scotland and Japan and then five between Japan to Russia. You get an injury that maybe takes you out for two games but not the entire tournament. If you get a couple of those you have to make fairly harsh decisions when it is actually not right as the player could be back for Samoa [Ireland’s fourth pool game],” he said.

Best went on to suggest when speaking with ‘the42‘ that the squads should be increased to 35 players and focused on how injuries can change everything with a smaller squad.

“I’d be more inclined to increase the squad size to 35 players. The problem with 31 is by the time you name three hookers and three nines there are positions you are really short on. There is a back row/second row type player who will have to cover both but at a World Cup you shouldn’t have to have makeshift people in there. It should be: this is our best squad. 35 players would give you that luxury,” he added.

Ireland were unfortunate with injuries during this years Six Nations campaign and are already without Sean O’Brien and Dan Leavy for the tournament in Japan, which Best used as an example of how quickly things can change.

“It’s amazing how you get areas that look really, really strong and you’re going ‘How are you going to leave one of those out? Then you get a couple of injuries. The back row now with Dan [Leavy] and Sean O’Brien, it all of a sudden looks a lot thinner than it maybe it did 12 months. The second row, you were going into the Six Nations saying ‘Oh, which second row are they not going to pick?’ Then going into the Scotland game it was like ‘Well, who do I have left?’,” he continued.

Although Ireland have lost two key men they still have options in the back-row with Josh van der Flier, Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Peter O’Mahony among those that can be used on the flanks.

However, Best is cautious about the possibility of someone being called up to the squad if there is an injury.

“That’s going to be the scenario and you have just got to hope that there is enough people with experience over the last four years that if you get down to the New Zealand out-half scenario [in 2011 when they lost three out-halves to injury] , that if you’re pulling someone off a boat fishing… at least Stephen Donald had played a bit,” he said.

With that in mind Best has advised players that have not been named in the 44-man squad to stay ready for a call up, especially Ulster teammate Stuart McCloskey.

“Even you take someone like Stuart McCloskey who isn’t in the squad,” Best adds. It’s really important that those guys get their head around the fact that there are five centres in the squad. To get five centres through four games in the summer and whatever games in the World Cup, without getting any injuries, it’s going to be highly unlikely,” he finished.

Ireland are looking to reach at least the semi-final stage for the first time in their history when they head to Japan and they will hope that the squad size and injuries play no part in their performance at the competition.

International

All Black Star to Turn Out for Grassroots Side

An All Blacks legend is set to play for a grassroots outfit in order to gain match fitness ahead of the Rugby World Cup

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Blues and All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams could play for club side Ponsonby for the next two weekends in a bid to gain vital match fitness ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

Williams has been unfortunate with injuries during this years Super Rugby campaign, limiting him to only three starts, making his last appearance on June 15th following 10 weeks out after undergoing knee surgery.

With such a small amount of rugby under his belt in recent months The New Zealand Herald are reporting that his solution is to play for grassroots side Ponsonby.

It is believed that he has already spoken to and agreed terms to play with former All Black Kevin Senio and sevens star Rocky Khan, who are involved with the club.

Williams is a contracted Counties player and had to seek clearance in order to turn out for Ponsonby, which has apparently been granted.

If he is selected, Williams could face Grammar TEC this weekend and Eden the following week in what would be vital game time for the 33-year-old.

Ponsonby has produced the most All Blacks of any grassroots team, including recent stars Rieko and Akira Ioane.

Williams will be desperate to prove himself with the All Blacks starting their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina on July 21st and will be hoping to make it to Japan in the long run as New Zealand seek their third World Cup in a row.

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International

Ireland Star Returns from Injury Lay-Off

Ireland have been handed a massive boost ahead of their World Cup preparations as a key man has confirmed he is fit and ready to go

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Leinster and Ireland lock Devin Toner has confirmed that he is back in training after a nasty knee injury in what will be a huge relief to Joe Schmidt.

Toner went off injured during Leinster’s PRO 14 semi-final win over rivals Munster last month and there was a fear that he had done serious damage.

However, while speaking at a launch of for Energia’s new official energy partnership with Irish Rugby and being title sponsors to the All-Ireland League, the second rower confirmed he has been back training since last week.

“It’s great, I’d say if there was a game coming up, I’d probably be able to play. I’m not doing contact or mauling or anything. I’m just doing kind of linear running and stuff from side-to-side. If I had to play, I would be able to strap it up and be able to play,” he said.

He went on to discuss how the pre-season is working and how he will be raring to go within the next couple of weeks.

“The way pre-season is, we did a hard two-week block. We have a week next week where we still have to kind of train on our own and then we are back in. When we come back in for that week, I’m hell for leather doing everything then, so it’s grand. It could have been a lot worse than what it was,” he added.

Toner, who was unfortunate earlier in the year as he sustained a long-term ankle injury, and admitted he was worried that he would be missing for a long time once more initially but thankfully things weren’t as bad as he thought.

“To me it felt bad because I have never done my knee before. I felt a little bit of a pop, so I thought it was bad, but because I was able to walk off the pitch and put weight on it, they told me it wasn’t too bad. It was a grade-two medial. A lot of lads have done it and said it was grand and that I would be back in five or six weeks,” he finished.

Toner will certainly be on the plane to Japan as long as he can stay fit as Ireland head to the tournament looking to reach a first semi-final at a minimum.

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Ferris Wary of Growing Number of Overseas Coaches

Former Ireland international Stephen Ferris is concerned about the lack of home-grown coaches in Ireland

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Former Ireland and Ulster back rower Stephen Ferris is happy with Ireland’s appointment of Mike Catt but is worried about the serious lack of Irish coaches in the country.

Catt was confirmed as Ireland’s new attack coach over the weekend come the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

He became the last piece of future Irish head coach Andy Farrell’s backroom staff, with Farrell set to take the reigns of Ireland head coach when the tournament in Japan concludes.

However, with Farrell and Catt in the Ireland camp and Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree at Leinster and Munster respectively next season, all of England’s coaching group from the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be on Irish shores.

Ferris, who was talking on 2FM’s Game On, admitted that Catt’s appointment makes sense as Farrell prepares to become the main man.

“They probably scoured the market to see who’s out there and Mike Catt obviously has a good relationship with Andy Farrell who is going to become the main man with Ireland. I think it’s a good appointment. Mike Catt is a seasoned professional with 70-odd caps for England and a couple of World Cup finals, so he comes with great pedigree and I think the lads will warm to him nicely,” he said.

However, he also pointed out that he believes there are a bit too many English coaches in Ireland and questioned why there is such a lack of Irish coaches in the backroom staff of the provinces and national set-ups.

“Maybe slightly for me, there’s too much of an English feel around this Irish team at the minute. I think their coaches see teams that are on the up and Munster with the appointment of [Stephen] Larkham as well, he sees that there’s an opportunity there for them to come good. But for me it’s almost like, Jerry Flannery – gone, Felix Jones – gone,” he added.

Ferris ended by saying that he believes Mark McCall could potentially make a future Ireland head coach and also congratulated the English coaches on taking their chances in Ireland.

“I think Mark McCall is the only one that’s really sticking his hand up to say that when Andy Farrell leaves or moves on or gets sacked, you never know, that he might put his hand up to be the next Irish coach. I think fair play to the lads, they’ve seen opportunities, the English guys and they’re going to give it their all and you can’t doubt what they’re going to bring. Look at Lancaster and what he’s brought, Johnny Sexton loves working under him. But fair play to the lads and hopefully they bring a lot to Irish rugby over the coming years,” he finished.

As well as Mike Catt, Farrell has also brought in Leinster man John Fogarty as the national side’s new scrum coach while Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy will continue as forwards specialist and kicking and skills coaches respectively.

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