Springboks Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson (above) are returning home from South Africa’s tour of Britain and Ireland having returned positive samples for a banned stimulant following the Test against Ireland on November 6.Six Nations Rugby Ltd – who administers the November internationals – informed the South African Rugby Union of the positive Tests on Sunday evening. As a result the pair are provisionally suspended from all rugby and will return to South Africa on Monday. Basson injured an ankle in Saturday’s win over Wales and was due to return anyway. The players were randomly drawn for testing by anti-doping officials following the Test at the Aviva Stadium. The players have the right to request that their ‘B’ sample be tested.The pair returned an adverse analytical finding for methylhexaneamine, a “non-specified stimulant” on the prohibited substances list of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It is scheduled to be re-classified as a “specified stimulant” from 1 January 2011. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS NELSON, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 04: Crusaders players observe a minute of silence for victims of the Pike River Mine disaster and the Christchurch earthquake during the round three Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Waratahs at Trafalgar Park on March 4, 2011 in Nelson, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images) However, if Christchurch is no longer able to host the tournament I’d urge organisers not to move games to Australia. Many people believe that moving some of the tournament across the Tasman Sea is simply the easy option and we shouldn’t turn our backs on New Zealand at this time.What the people of New Zealand need now is our support, love and friendship.Decisions need to be made for the right reasons and with the needs of the people of Christchurch put first. Commercial realities may mean that the games are switched to Auckland and if that’s the case, we should support the decision. Some Crusaders’ player’s observe a minutes silence for the victims of the Pike River Mine disaster and the Christchurch earthquake.Dear Reader…The world of rugby has been rocked by the recent earthquake in New Zealand, which resulted in so many lost lives in Christchurch.It’s therefore crucial that the game makes a considered and appropriate response to a natural disaster that struck the heart of one of the most committed rugby cities in the world.I’ve been privileged to go to Christchurch a number of times, so I was stunned to watch the TV pictures of vast areas of the city reduced to rubble. Fund-raising is underway and it’s no surprise to see people from the British Isles at the centre of the operation. Rugby World will, of course, support those fund-raising efforts.The rugby family has been quick to support one of our brothers and it was heartening to hear of All Blacks Kieran Read and Andy Ellis helping with the clean-up in the city.Natural disasters like this put life in perspective, but clearly in the next few weeks a decision will have to be taken as to whether Christchurch is able to host the seven World Cup matches that are planned to take place this autumn. That decision is not one for us to debate, but one to be taken by those in the city itself, without pressure from the outside. This is New Zealand’s World Cup and after the recent disaster the country has suffered, the least we can do is support their desire to host the tournament in its entirety.Paul MorganRugby World Editor
I would never have played for England without Simon and I will be forever grateful for the dedication he showed. He didn’t tell me until years later what Clive had said.I used to dread the ball going out in my early days at Northampton because it meant a lineout, but now I look forward to the set-piece. I never lost faith – you either break or you move forward.I’m bloody-minded and I think that helped hugely when I came back from my neck injury, which initially led to me retiring. The World Cup was the big aim when I came back from that injury and to conquer what you first think you can’t do is the best feeling for me.Enjoyment of the sport is what inspires me to work hard enough to play for England. Sometimes when I was young I didn’t enjoy games because I was worrying about them so much, whereas now I’m older I enjoy every game.The hookers in the England squad are like a little team in themselves and that is how it’ll be in New Zealand. I’m always happy to help Dylan (Hartley) and Lee (Mears) and it is the same for them with me. The coaches pick the team, not us, so we need to stick together.The spirit in this group is great and that is where I think the squad is really good at the moment, because everyone wants to help each other. I hope my experience can help as this tournament is the biggest bubble we’ve ever been in.DID YOU KNOW?Thompson scored his first Test try in six years when touching down in England’s 24-8 defeat to Ireland in March. His last try had been against Italy in 2005This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.Find a newsagent that sells Rugby World in the UK Steve Thompson in training with the rest of his teammates in DunedinNationality: EnglishAge: 33 (15 July 1978)Position: HookerBorn: Hemel HempsteadSteve Thompson won the 2003 World Cup but retired with a neck injury in 2007. Now he’s back on the Test stage and challenging for another World Cup. The hooker tells us about his life in rugby…Rugby was something I only watched on TV or in the crowd at Franklin’s Gardens until I was 15 when a teacher, Mark Lee, at my school, Northampton School for Boys, suggested I gave it a try.Anger issues are something I had a few of and as I’d only played football and basketball up until then – I was a lot slimmer! – Mark thought it was the perfect sport for me.In school matches Mark used to shout at me, “You’ll play for England.” He would regularly stop games and give penalties against me for not passing, running too far with the ball or holding it under one arm. The opposition used to look at him as if he was mad!I’d get into trouble at school and Mark was always there to tell other teachers I needed to do rugby training rather than detention.I think the teachers saw a lad with a chip on his shoulder, who was quite sporty, big, aggressive and luckily had a bit of speed as well. Those things carried me through.Basketball really helped me with my hand-to-eye coordination so you don’t need to have played the game all your life to succeed.I left school at 16 and joined Northampton Old Scouts, whose pitches were next to the school playing fields, and from there I made it into the Saints Academy.My move from the back row to hooker came about thanks to Ian McGeechan and Colin Deans. I even played a few matches at tighthead, which helped me to understand the intricacies of the scrum. It taught me the ‘language’ of the front row.England took me on their tour of North America in 2001, but I had a knee injury so wasn’t meant to play. But the injury healed and I came on as a sub, in the back row, in the final game in LA and seemed to do well.Clive Woodward told Simon Hardy, England’s lineout coach, that I would play against Scotland at the start of the 2002 Six Nations at hooker and that he had to get me ready. Simon didn’t tell me, of course, but used to turn up at my houseto coach me, sometimes every day. I used to think, ‘Why’s he making all this effort with me?’ Or perhaps you’d like a digital version of the magazine delivered direct to your PC, MAC or Ipad? If so click here.For Back Issues Contact John Denton Services at 01733-385-170 visit LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
Toulon’s flanker Steffon Armitage (C) celebrates with teammates after winning 15-12 the French Top 14 rugby union semi-final match vs Clermont, on June 3, 2012 at the municipal stadium in the French southwestern city of Toulouse. AFP PHOTO / REMY GABALDA (Photo credit should read REMY GABALDA/AFP/GettyImages) Just named the Aviva Premiership Player of the Month, Hartley has had made an explosive start to the new season leading Northampton to the top of the league. Such have been his inspirational displays as captain of the Saints that he’s being talked about as a candidate for the England captaincy. His bravery has come at a cost, however, as he recovers from a hairline fracture of the eye socket picked up against Wasps. Once back fit and firing, expect Castres, Glasgow and Ulster to be sick of the sight of him by the end of the Pool stages.Follow Ben Coles on Twitter @bencoles_ LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS The Top 14 Player of the Year last season according to respected rugby bible Midi Olympique, Armitage’s move to the Côte d’Azur has been an unqualified success. Toulon are desperate to be part of Europe’s elite and having lost both the Top 14 and Amlin Challenge Cup Finals last season, they will be hungrier than ever for some silverware to line flamboyant owner, Mourad Boudjellal’s trophy cabinet. An outside bet for a spot on the 2013 Lions tour, Armitage’s stellar form has so far been ignored by England but performing on the big stage can only boost his chances.Stuart HoggUndoubtedly Scotland’s find of the Six Nations last season, Hogg is an exciting talent either at full-back or on the wing. Seen by man as the long-term option in the No 15 shirt, the 20-year old has returned ahead of schedule after an ankle operation in August and dazzled last season with his excellent footwork, pace and ability to find space. Part of a Glasgow side looking to emulate Edinburgh’s achievements in last season’s Heineken Cup, expect to find him regularly crossing the whitewash.Dylan Hartley Star player: Openside Steffon Armitage has been in outstanding form since his move to Toulonby Ben ColesIN A competition packed full of Europe’s finest players, certain talents will always stand out. Here are five stars set to make a big impression in this season’s Heineken Cup:Peter O’MahonyIreland’s young blindside, cum lock, followed up an impressive breakthrough season with Munster by going on tour to New Zealand and holding his against the world’s best side, the All Blacks. Hugely competitive when it comes to the contact area, his prowess at the breakdown has won him plenty of plaudits throughout last year and O’Mahony will be at the core of Munster’s assault on Europe this term.George NorthDubbed the “Welsh Jonah Lomu” North has a lot to live up to after cementing himself as one of the world’s biggest stars. Last season his reputation was enhanced by several star turns during the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations. In simple terms, his imposing 6″4, 17 stone frame will always cause damage to opposition defences, yet he has soft hands and a remarkable agility for his size. With five tries in as many games in the Pro 12, the wing will surely make a big impact if the Scarlets pack can provide him with enough ball.Steffon Armitage
Prop forwards are often portrayed as monosyllabic characters with a thick skin. However the criticism of the Welsh scrum in France was clearly taken to heart by Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins. The Welsh scrum was monumental in Rome. The victory at scrum-time was made even more significant by the importance placed on that particular set piece by the Italian players and their coaching staff. However, as important as psychological wins are, it’s the more quantifiable measures that matter most and in that regard Wales dominated. Wales were 100% at the scrum – winning 12, losing none and forcing five penalties. The continued bullying of the Italian front three eventually led to Martin Castrogiovanni being sin binned in the 58th minute with Alex Cuthbert scoring two minutes later. ‘Castro’ looked dismayed by his yellow card, but it was justified – his body popped in the scrum so many times that he looked like he was auditioning for an 80’s hip-hop video.Reliable: Halfpenny’s surely on the plane Down UnderLeigh Halfpenny – the rockA lot of emphasis has been placed on the importance of team captains in recent weeks – particularly in Wales. But Leigh Halfpenny’s performance against Italy shows that you don’t need an armband or title in order to be the fulcrum of the team. Halfpenny’s levels of reliability are beginning to put him in the same bracket as the very best in the world. Halfpenny’s goal kicking is genuinely world class, his completion rate rarely falls below 80%, so too is his tackling and his technique under the high ball ranks alongside Rob Kearney and Israel Dagg. Halfpenny is undoubtedly the first name on the Welsh team sheet and if you think that he won’t be one of the first names on the Lions team sheet, you’re in for a massive shock.A charge down will cost Wales sooner or later Italian pack fail: The Azzurri are known for the power in their pack, but how did it go so wrong against Wales?By Paul WilliamsWales executed the correct game planWALES’ GAME plan was executed perfectly in Rome – their territorially driven ‘kick chase’ was mightily effective in the soggy Stadio Olimpico. Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny were instrumental throughout the whole game. Biggar’s array of wiper kicks combined with Halfpenny’s high balls and deep clearances kept Italy pinned in their own half for large swathes of the game. Wales restricted the Italians to just six meaningful visits into the Welsh 22 – two of which resulted in poor snap drop goal attempts. Of course there will be those, particularly more casual fans, who bemoan the fact that Wales didn’t play in the wider channels. But the weather simply didn’t allow it – especially in the first half. There will also be those who question Jamie Robert’s role. Admittedly, he didn’t make much of an offensive impact, but that was deliberate. If you require justification of Jamie Roberts’ role in Rome simply take a look at which player led every single kick chase for 70 minutes – without a good chase it’s a bad kick.Unsung: Roberts did a lot of the dirty workIncredible defensive line speedWales’ defensive line against Italy was impressive. They had a tackle completion of 95% making 132 and missing just seven – as a comparison, the All Blacks have only managed to complete 95% of their tackles once in their last 14 test matches. Whilst the whole Welsh team tackled well, it was Ryan Jones who stood out – making 16 and missing just one. Jones is often described as ‘leading from the front’ – on Saturday this was literally the case with regards to the defensive line. Jones dictated where the tackle line was. The perceived wisdom is that the tackle line is drawn along the back foot of the set piece/ruck etc – in Rome Jones regularly nudged the tackle line back two or three yards. Jones, along with the rest of the Welsh eight, made it very difficult for Italy to get over the gain line. I swear even Parisse would have struggled – which is apt.Welsh scrum domination Despite having a near perfect game against Italy, Leigh Halfpenny fell foul of the low trajectory clearance kick. Against Ireland and France Dan Biggar did the same thing. It was just a matter of good fortune that Wales didn’t concede a try. The switch in modern line-kicking from a ‘spiral’ ball flight to an ‘end on end’ ball flight often lowers the ball’s trajectory and can decrease its speed through the air– increasing the likelihood of a charge down. A simple fingertip on the ball from the opposition means that everyone is played onside and a poorly defended try line awaits. Ball flight may seem like a minor detail; but at some point it could have a major impact on the result for Wales. ROME, ITALY – FEBRUARY 23: Manoa Vosawai of Italy is tackled by Jamie Roberts of Wales #12 during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and Wales at Stadio Olimpico on February 23, 2013 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images) LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
Gloucester full-back Charlie Sharples talks pranks, party guests and PlayStation Probably to fly. That would be a cool one. You’d never have to be stuck in traffic. It would come in useful on the pitch as well.What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever bought?Night vision goggles. I used to play a lot of video games and when a new Call of Duty came out, you could get night vision goggles with it. Henry Trinder and I would turn off the lights in our house and creep around with them on.Who would be your dream dinner party guests?David Beckham is a cool bloke and would have good stories. Someone funny like Jimmy Carr for comedy. Now, do I go all lads or throw a nice lady in there? I’ll say Megan Fox for eye candy.Sharp dresser: American actress Megan Fox could be an interesting dinner guest. Photo: Getty ImagesWho would play you in a film of your life?Jason Statham – a better-looking version of me!What’s your guilty pleasure?I don’t feel guilty about any of my pleasures! I’m also busy – I’m doing a degree in leadership and management, and my wife and I have done the house up. I suppose it’s playing on PlayStation. I don’t have much time, so if I do get a chance to play video games it’s great.What would you like to achieve outside of rugby?Just to have a job I enjoy as much as rugby. I don’t want to feel like I’m going to work every day, but that I’m doing something I enjoy.How would you like to be remembered? LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS TAGS: Gloucester Party time: Charlie Sharples celebrates Gloucester’s European Challenge Cup win with fans. Photo: Getty Images How did Gloucester celebrate the Challenge Cup win?We all met up at midday on the Saturday for a good old-fashioned drinking session. It was nice getting all the boys together and having something to celebrate.Any practical jokes you can share?There’s always something going on. Someone once cut a hole in Lesley Vainikolo’s sock, so he then cut everyone’s socks! Nick Wood took the aerial off Jonny May’s car and every time Jonny bought a new one, Nick would nick it. There were about five aerials in his car!What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the pitch?I wasn’t actually on the pitch at the time, but it has to be Jonny May running 20 metres to score a try at the U20 World Cup with his pants pulled down!Do you have any phobias?I’m not a massive fan of snakes. I don’t like the way they move. I’m the same with anything like that. When I’ve been snorkling or diving and seen eels or sea snakes, I’ve steered well clear.What are you bugbears?I don’t like people touching my stuff. Or people who chew their food really loudly. In a squad of rugby players there are some terrible eating habits! A lot of things annoy me – I’m quite irritable.If you could be any of your team-mates, who would it be?John Afoa – for his pay cheque!Who’d you like to be stuck in a lift with?Someone with stories to tell. Will Ferrell – he’s hilarious. He always seems to be in character so it would be interesting to see what he’s like.If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Just as a good, honest, hard-working bloke who put his heart into it every time he pulled on a Gloucester jersey.This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of Rugby World. For the latest subscription offers, click here or find out how to download the digital edition here.
Platform: Tomas Francis was integral to Wales’ solidity at the set piece Pic InphoPrior to kick off many were suggesting that Tomas Francis was a pure scrummager and nothing more – which is perfect. That’s exactly what Wales need during the next few weeks , a tighthead that can nullify the powerful English front row and look to dominate the Wallaby front three. Despite being caught out of position defensively on occasion, Saturday saw Francis take a big step up the Welsh front ladder and overtake both Aaron Jarvis and Scott Andrews.NB This is a metaphorical ladder of course; science is yet to unearth a metal strong enough to support those three on a ladderDefence. Immense.Wales defence against Ireland was one of the most impressive of the Shaun Edwards era. They made a staggering 204 tackles, completing an astonishing 94% successfully. At times the Welsh defensive line was so tight that it could have stopped a team of plankton crossing the gainline. Alun Wyn Jones completed 16 tackles, Dan Lydiate 23, Justin Tipuric 20 and Faletau 16.Bodies on the line: Dan Lydiate’s battered and bruised face exemplified Wales’ defensive resolve Pic InphoLuke Charteris and Paul James both made 12 tackles having played less than half of the game. Tipuric may have got the plaudits, but in reality five individuals were worthy of man of the match – particular Alyn Wyn and Lydiate whose selfless defensive work often goes unseen.Jamie Robert and Scott Williams gel Battle of Dublin: Ireland and Wales had a hugely physical encounter just weeks from the World Cup Wales went to Dublin desperate for a win to rejuvenate a World Cup warm-up campaign that had started so limply against the opposition at the start of August. They succeeded on many fronts… The full-on Friendly.When Ireland faced Wales on Saturday it felt as though the Rugby World Cup had started early. The fitness sessions were over, the training bibs were back in the cupboard and the training cones have been restacked – this was a Test match. With both teams virtually at full strength, it was clear from the team announcement that Gatland wanted to win this game and win it they did. The Welsh scrum was a major positive, and the lineout, whilst not perfect, was stable enough to allow Wales consistent catch and drive opportunities in the Irish 22. At times it felt strange watching Wales out ‘Ireland’, Ireland, with a series of heavy mauls which eventually allowed Justin Tipuric to collapse over the line in the 23rd minute.Full-on: There was a noticeable upping in intensity from the first warm-up between the two teams Pic InphoJamie Roberts and Scott Williams shut down Ireland’s midfield and forced Jonathan Sexton into an uncharacteristically ‘shanky’ kicking game.Whilst Justin Tipuric had the sort of performance that leads me to believe that he isn’t a flanker from Trebanos, but a supernatural ‘shape shifter’ not of this earth – he was everywhere. All of which was improved upon by the mesmerising accuracy of Leigh Halfpenny, whose kicking action is so painstakingly repetitive that it can leave you in a Paul McKenna like trance. Of course, we can’t read too much into a friendly, but it does mean that Wales are now ranked higher than England, the hosts, for a few days depending on results at Twickenham – and many people will read a lot into that.Tipuric. The complete performanceAgainst Ireland, in Cardiff, Justin Tipuric showed us just how good a ‘back’ he is. This weekend, he showed how impressive a forward he is. It was a remarkable performance in which he completed 19 tackles, missed none, and morphed into a human ‘Pritt Stick’ on the ground. He stuck to everything and everyone Irish. If he wasn’t hanging onto Irish ball, he was hanging on to Irish ankles.Tip top: Justin Tipuric was outstanding and key to Wales’ performance Pic InphoDespite expelling so much energy at the tackle area, his link play was immaculate as ever, always scooping up loose ball and looking to pass it to a player who was already in forward motion – a trait which all Southern Hemisphere flankers execute so well. The debate will continue as to the perfect blend in the Welsh backrow, but it is a debate not a problem. To have Warburton, Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate means that Wales have as much quality in the backrow as anyone, barring the All Blacks, in the Rugby World Cup. Hat tip Mr Tipuric.Tomas Francis rock steady.The tighthead position has recently created sleepless nights for those in Wales. Many a Welsh supporter has woken at midnight, sweating and clutching their chest at the thought of Samson Lee not making the final squad due to injury (happily they now know he is in). But Tomas Francis’s display against Ireland was like Nytol for Welsh rugby supporters. It was as reassured a tighthead debut as one could wish for. Despite Ireland’s loosehead and hooker repeatedly targeting Francis, he rarely moved an inch. At times it looked like his boots had been sunk into the foundations of the Avivs Stadium such was the solidity of the Welsh scrum. The injury to Jonathan Davies was a concern for Wales pre World Cup – although nothing it seems that Wasaike Naholo’s doctor couldn’t fix with some Fijian leaves. Whilst Scott Williams is a powerful carrier and accurate distributor, concerns remained over his ability to plug the gapping defensive hole left by Davies. This is no longer such a concern. Roberts and Williams were impressive against Ireland. They missed just one tackle between them and pressured Jonathan Sexton into one of the poorest kicking performances of his Test career.Promising combination: Scott Williams and Jamie Roberts struck up a swift understanding in midfield Pic InphoSuch was the defensive squeeze on Ireland’s midfield that Robbie Henshaw and Luke Fitzgerald struggled to carry the ball 30 yards between them. But it wasn’t just the Welsh centres’ defence which impressed, so too did their carrying and link play. Roberts carried the ball with his usual insane determination to get over the gain line, which often leaves him carrying men on his back like a nursery assistant pretending to be a horse with children on his shoulders. Whilst Williams offered a subtlety of inside passing and lateral movement that we rarely see from Gatland’s teams. A big positive for Wales. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
By Alex ShawFour proud provinces. That’s the mantra of Irish rugby and it certainly lived up to that billing this past weekend.There were a lot of premature European obituaries for the provinces after lacklustre campaigns in the 2015-16 season, with many – inside and outside of Ireland – proclaiming the new-look Champions Cup to be a tournament that will see Anglo-French dominance for the foreseeable future.Poppycock.Last season, the provinces, who rely so heavily on Irish Test players – particularly Leinster, Ulster and Munster – were coming off the back of a Rugby World Cup that taxed their players both physically and mentally. With more professional clubs in England and France to share that burden, as well as deeper contingents of foreign, non-Test players, it’s understandable that they were in a better place to succeed last season.There were other problems around the teams, of course.Breaking the line: Simon Zebo skips over the line in Munster’s mauling of LeicesterLeinster’s attack was stalling, Ulster couldn’t compete physically in the pack with the best teams and Munster, well, Munster had a whole host of problems. Admittedly, Connacht chugged along nicely in the Challenge Cup until an enthralling loss to Grenoble in the quarter-finals.If you’ve been watching the Guinness Pro12 this year, you didn’t need to see this weekend’s array of European rugby to know that the provinces are much-improved this season but if you did, you saw three statement victories and an understandable away loss to one of the tournament’s top teams.It started off on Friday night when Leinster travelled to Franklin’s Gardens to take on, an admittedly out-of-form, Northampton Saints side. The men from Dublin were comfortably the better team and though the stingy Northampton defence was keeping Saints in the game, a second half red card for Dylan Hartley – just six minutes after he was brought on from the bench – caused the self-destruct button to be pushed and Leinster ultimately cruised to a bonus point 37-10 victory.Catch me if you can: Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park evades Northampton’s Luther BurrellUlster continued the party early on Saturday, winning a 39-32, ding-dong battle with Clermont at the Kingspan Stadium and just as Leinster did, wrapped up a bonus point in the process. Fly-half Paddy Jackson and versatile forward Iain Henderson both put British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland on notice with fine performances in Belfast.Perhaps the most impressive victory came immediately after the Ulster game – although not quite as compelling a game – as Munster systematically crushed the life from a Leicester Tigers side that have never looked less like a Leicester side. The tactical nous of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber and the emotional fire lit by the tragic passing of Anthony Foley has never looked so potent a combination as it did in Munster’s 38-0 humiliation of the side from the East Midlands.Reigning Pro12 champions Connacht couldn’t quite make it a clean sweep of victories, falling to 32-17 defeat to Wasps at the Ricoh Arena, but it was a result to be expected, with the side from Coventry one of the favourites to make a run at the trophy this season. Good day at the office: Rob Herring celebrates a deserved win over Clermont Auvergne The statement wins of Ulster, Leinster and Munster over Clermont, Northampton and Leicester have proved the Irish provinces’ resolve remains in tact LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Down not out: Connacht put in a creditable performance against WapssIt is worth remembering, though, that we are only at half-time in these back-to-back games.Richard Cockerill will fire his side up and they will more resemble a Leicester team of old at Welford Road – they couldn’t resemble one any less, in fairness – and Clermont will have the advantage at the Marcel Michelin, despite Ulster’s belief they will be able to win. Connacht will also have the belief they can stop Wasps at the Sportsground in Galway and it may be advisable to go ahead right now and pencil in Northampton’s trip to Dublin as a win for Leinster, such is the respective form of the two teams at present.However, what that first round of results have done is put the provinces into enviable positions in their respective pools.Munster sit atop Pool 1 with a game in hand yet to be played against bottom-placed Racing 92 and Leinster enjoy the same position in Pool 4, a point above an impressive Montpellier side. Meanwhile, Connacht must settle for second spot in Pool 2, but with Zebre also in the group, it is likely a pool that will offer up two quarter-finalists, so even if Wasps finish top, it may not be the end of Connacht’s European journey.Team to beat: Saracens are looking dominant once again in the Champions CupUlster are in the most precarious position of the four provinces, sitting third in Pool 5, three points behind leaders Clermont and they still have trips to the Marcel Michelin and Sandy Park to contend with. Exeter are at far from their best this season and it’s not unimaginable that Ulster yet qualify but the odds are still against them.The fact is, Ireland may have more contenders for this year’s trophy than either England or France.The hopes of the Aviva Premiership are pinned clearly on Wasps and Saracens, with the latter continuing to look like the comfortable favourite to retain their title, whilst the Top 14’s bid for success rests heavily on Clermont shoring up their defence, or Montpellier or Toulon locking up favourable seeding heading into the knockout rounds.Don’t call it a comeback – they’ve been here for years – but the resurgence of the Irish teams took a big step forward this past week.Quiet revolution: Rassie Erasmus has impressed in his formative months at MunsterThey weren’t on the cusp of a slow demise as some would have had you believe last season, it was simply a fallow year, but this weekend was a coming of age party for a new era of provincial rugby.Now, through a combination of Irish resolve, improving squad depth and new coaching influences, such as the arrivals of Erasmus and Stuart Lancaster, not to mention the Joe Schmidt masterplan taking shape at both Test and provincial levels, the four Irish sides are back at Europe’s top table. With only Connacht currently sitting outside of the Champions Cup qualification spots in the Pro12, it doesn’t look Leinster, Munster or Ulster will be leaving Europe’s elite anytime soon, either. TAGS: ConnachtLeinsterMunsterUlster
“I like to know how things work, even if I can’t put it back together! My dad being an engineer and a Yorkshireman, nothing was ever broken – you had to fix it. It’s taking a step back, working out what’s wrong and fixing it.“I fixed the washing machine recently. It had a broken seal so I thought it would be a straightforward job; it probably would have taken the washing machine guy an hour and it took me the best part of seven hours, but I do try to fix things around the house. If you have a go yourself, you might learn something along the way.”It was while he was at Northampton Saints that North decided to get another fixer-upper, the tasks of stripping a bike back and rebuilding it a good distraction as he recovered from a long-term knee injury in 2017. It also provided a valuable lesson: don’t buy a bike unseen.“It was a silly thing to do,” North reflects now. “When I went to pick it up, I sat on it and it was small, I didn’t really fit on it! I still got it to a place where it was really cool, then went on to the next one.“At that stage in Northampton, I’d played for five or six years non-stop, I’d never really had a break and was always on the go in rugby. I’d worked so hard on rugby, I wanted to do something for myself with my time off.”More recently he’s been working on a Triumph bike and is particularly proud of the finished result. He pays tribute to the work of Cid Motorcycles in getting to the end product, with brands like Motogadget, Motone, BAAK, Thornton Hundred and Öhlins also helping out. “It’s how to make it look cool. I might suggest certain things and they say, ‘That’s cool but have you thought about this?’ What I like is the transformation.”Finished product: George North with his Triumph bike (Andrew Salter/@AGSVisual)Rugby limits how often he can get out for a weekend ride – he’s desperate to do the North Coast 500 route in Scotland when time allows – but he has helped set up a motorcycle club with a few fellow aficionados.Baffle Culture was founded by Andrew Salter, the Glamorgan cricketer, and Sam Daymond, with others like North also coming on board. What started as a way to connect people who like to ride has grown into a whole brand – there’s merchandise! – and even a venue.Situated in Goytre, which is about 15 minutes from Abergavenny, Baffle Haus is a place motorcyclists can meet, socialise, have a coffee (North has the necessary food hygiene certificate to play barista) and then head off to ride in the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons, Cotswolds…They recently staged an event where people could test-ride Royal Enfield bikes and hope to hold more when Covid restrictions allow. So could this turn into a career post-rugby?“I’m very fortunate that I’ve never really worked a day in my life so far because I do what I love for a living. If I could do that in the next chapter of my career, I’d be a very happy boy! In a perfect world that would be amazing, but we’ll have to see. It’s already grown massively but we’re all full-time (in other jobs) at the moment.” Rugby is firmly back on the agenda now, though. Last season was hugely disappointing for the Ospreys – the region failed to win a single pool game in the Champions Cup last season and notched only two victories in a 15-match Guinness Pro14 campaign – while there has been plenty of turmoil off the pitch too with coaches coming and going.Yet North is positive about what lies ahead, with Toby Booth coming in as head coach over the summer and former Clermont fly-half Brock James also joining the back-room team as attack coach.“The last few seasons have been tough and it’s been tough to get consistency because there’s been a lot of change, a lot of movement happening. Toby has been in for a couple of months, he works the boys hard and we’ve responded to that well.“Toby has knowledge and wisdom. His messages have been clear in how he wants us to play and how we’ll go about it, going back to the legacy of the Ospreys, winning in the Heineken Cup and Celtic League. We want to get back to when the Ospreys were invincible pretty much. There’s a good vibe in camp.”Focal point: George North tries to make ground for the Ospreys (Getty Images)It’s similar with Wales. This year has been a new experience for North, who had played all his international rugby previously under Warren Gatland. Even when he toured with the British & Irish Lions, Gatland was the top man. Now there’s a different Kiwi in charge and he has enjoyed Wayne Pivac’s approach.“Wayne has been brilliant with me. All I’d ever known was Warren before, so it’s been like a whole new day of school for me. Wayne and the new coaching staff haven’t had a huge amount of time to implement stuff, but there were definite glimpses of it in Six Nations, how the game we want to play is evolving. It takes a bit of time to learn that, especially the speed that the game is.”North started Wales’ four Six Nations matches pre-Covid and their ‘friendly’ fixture against France last month, but wasn’t involved in the final championship match against Scotland. Still, he came off the bench in the opening Autumn Nations Cup fixture against Ireland and celebrated a major milestone in Dublin: becoming a Test centurion. And the youngest one at that.Australia captain Michael Hooper became the first 28-year-old to win 100 caps when facing New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup last month, beating George Smith and Sam Whitelock, who were both 29 when hitting three figures.Making ground: George North breaks for Wales against England (Getty Images)Yet North is six months younger than Hooper and broke the Wallaby’s record by more than 100 days when coming on as a replacement midway through the second half against Ireland. He now has 100 caps, with 97 for Wales and three for the Lions, so should he play in all the Autumn Nations Cup games he would also become only the sixth man to win 100 caps for Wales. It would be a significant achievement.“When I was 16 and left home to go to Llandovery College to give rugby a go, I’d have ripped your arm off for one cap and gone home with my head held high.“Playing for your country any time is amazing and to be able to get to 100 is a dream for me. Not many players get to that and no one can ever take that away from you. That’s something I’d take pride in as not many people do that. It would be amazing to get 100 Wales Test caps.”Whether running onto the rugby pitch or jumping onto his motorcycle, North is certainly enjoying the ride. George North on motorbikes and milestonesWith his mum away for the weekend, George North – and his older brother Josh – decided it was the ideal opportunity to get a first motorbike. After convincing their dad that it was a great idea, they found a suitable bike in the local classifieds and the two teens were soon riding it up and down the dirt track leading to the family home in Anglesey.Then Mrs North arrived home early. George spotted her pulling in as he rounded a corner, did a quick U-turn to rush back, but it was too late – she’d seen the bike!It’s fair to say she wasn’t best pleased, giving father and sons “both barrels” in George’s words. By that point, though, the goal had been achieved: they had their first motorcycle.Bikes, whether two wheels or four, were a common feature of North’s teenage years. He did a deal with a friend’s dad, who owned a nearby farm: he’d help out during baling season if he could ride motorbikes and quad bikes around his fields. He’d tap into his own dad’s skills from 20-plus years as an RAF groundstaff engineer to revamp old machines.“I’ve been a petrol head since I can remember,” says 28-year-old North. “Anything loud, noisy and fast always really interested me. We didn’t have a huge amount of money, so we’d buy a banger and Dad would teach me how to fix it up so it was less of a banger! Discover what the Ospreys, Wales and Lions winger gets up to off the pitch This article originally appeared in the November 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Regardless of whether Baffle Culture turns into a successful business venture, North clearly enjoys the opportunity to socialise outside of rugby, to talk motorbikes rather than matches. He also appreciates the anonymity of his chosen hobby.“It’s the freedom the motorbike gives you,” he says. “Putting the helmet on and getting out of the pressure pot is worth its weight in gold. It’s like mountain biking or road cycling, with your helmet and shades on you’re just another person, which is quite nice after ten years of being shouted at! On the bike, you have your helmet on and visor down, you don’t have your phone or anything to distract you, so you can just enjoy your time on the ride.“For me, I can’t switch on unless I completely switch off. You need that time away from rugby, then when I go to work I give it everything, whereas if I take work home it can drag on. To get the best out of me in work, I need to switch off completely.”Lockdown provided a break from the mental and physical strains of pro rugby, and it also allowed him to spend quality time with wife Becky and newborn son Jac. It’s obvious he’s absolutely loving fatherhood as he peppers the conversation with words like “amazing” and “incredible” when talk turns to Jac. Speedster: George North is a fan of going fast on and off the pitch! (Andrew Salter/@AGSVisual)
(All kick-off times are GMT)Round 1Sat 6 February, England 6-11 Scotland Scotland win Calcutta Cup at TwickenhamRound 2Sat 13 February, England 41-18 Italy Jonny May scores wonder try against ItalyRound 3 Sat 27 February, Wales 40-24 England Wales lift Triple CrownRound 4Sat 13 March, England 23-20 France Late Maro Itoje try wins Six Nations thrillerRound 5 Sat 20 March, Ireland 32-18 England Keith Earls try sparks Ireland rout of EnglandDon’t miss a game with our TV coverage guide LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Ben Earl, Jack Willis, Dan Robson, Max Malins.England team to play Scotland – Saturday 6 FebruaryElliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Beno Obano, Harry Williams, Courtney Lawes, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, George Ford, Max Malins.England Six Nations Squad 2021Ahead of the round two fixture against Italy, Eddie Jones made two changes to his 28-player squad with props Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola coming in for Harry Williams and Tom West.After Jack Willis’s injury in that Italy match, George Martin was promoted from the ‘shadow squad’.Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall picked up an ankle injury in training ahead of the third-round match against Wales and was replaced in the squad by Northampton’s Alex Mitchell.Northampton lock David Ribbans was called up to the senior squad following the Wales defeat after fellow Saint Courtney Lawes was ruled out for the rest of the Six Nations. Lawes is expected to be out of action for 12 weeks after suffering a pectoral injury in training that now requires surgery.Backs(DoB/Club/Position/Test debut/caps)Elliot Daly (8 Oct 1992/Saracens/Full-back or wing/2016 v Ireland/52 (+3 for Lions))Owen Farrell (24 Sep 1991/Saracens/Fly-half or centre/2012 v Scotland/93 (+4 for Lions))George Ford (16 Mar 1993/Leicester Tigers/Fly-half/2014 v Wales/77)Ollie Lawrence (18 Sep 1999/Worcester Warriors/Centre/2020 v Itay/6)Max Malins (7 Jan 1997/Bristol Bears/Full-back or fly-half/2020 v Georgia/7)Jonny May (1 Apr 1990/Gloucester Rugby/Wing/2013 v Argentina/66)Alex Mitchell (25 May 1997/Northampton Saints/Scrum-half/Uncapped)Paolo Odogwu (18 Feb 1997/Wasps/Wing/Uncapped)Dan Robson (14 Mar 1992/Wasps/Scrum-half/2019 v France/12)Henry Slade (19 Mar 1993/Exeter Chiefs/Centre/2015 v France/38)Anthony Watson (26 Feb 1994/Bath Rugby/Wing or full-back/2014 v New Zealand/51 (+3 for Lions))Ben Youngs (5 Sep 1989/Leicester Tigers/Scrum-half/2010 v Scotland/109 (+2 for Lions))ForwardsLuke Cowan-Dickie (20 Jun 1993/Exeter Chiefs/Hooker/2015 v France/31)Tom Curry (15 Jun 1998/Sale Sharks/Flanker/2017 v Argentina/33)Ben Earl (7 Jan 1998/Bristol Bears/Back-row/2020 v Scotland/13)Charlie Ewels (29 Jun 1995/Bath Rugby/Lock/2016 v Fiji/21)Ellis Genge (16 Feb 1995/Leicester Tigers/Prop/2016 v Wales/28)Jamie George (20 Oct 1990/Saracens/Hooker/2015 v France/59 (+3 for Lions))Jonny Hill (8 Jun 1994/Exeter Chiefs/Lock/2020 v Italy/9)David Ribbans (29 Aug 1995/Northampton Saints/Lock/Uncapped)Maro Itoje (28 Oct 1994/Saracens/Lock or back-row/2016 v Italy/48 (+3 for Lions))George Martin (18 Jun 2001/Leicester Tigers/Lock/1)Beno Obano (25 Oct 1994/Bath Rugby/Prop/2021 v Scotland/1)Kyle Sinckler (30 Mar 1993/Bristol Bears/Prop/2016 v South Africa/44 (+3 for Lions))Will Stuart (12 Jul 1996/Bath Rugby/Prop/2020 v France/12)Billy Vunipola (3 Nov 1992/Saracens/No 8/2013 v Argentina/61)Mako Vunipola (14 Jan 1991/Saracens/Prop/2012 v Fiji/67 (+6 for Lions))Mark Wilson (6 Oct 1989/Newcastle Falcons/Flanker/2017 v Argentina/23)SHADOW SQUADCharlie Atkinson (6 Oct 2001/Wasps/Fly-half/Uncapped)Ali Crossdale (9 Jan 1998/Saracens/Wing/Uncapped)Tom Dunn (12 Nov 1992/Bath Rugby/Hooker/2020 v Italy/3)George Furbank (17 Oct 1996/Northampton Saints/Full-back/2020 v France/3)Alec Hepburn (30 Mar 1993/Exeter Chiefs/Prop/2018 v Italy/6)Joe Heyes (13 Apr 1999/Leicester Tigers/Prop/Uncapped)Jonathan Joseph (21 May 1991/Bath Rugby/Centre/2012 v South Africa/54)Lewis Ludlam (8 Dec 1995/Northampton Saints/Back-row/2019 v Wales/8)Joe Marchant (16 Jul 1996/Harlequins/Centre/2019 v Wales/5)Jacob Umaga (8 Jul 1998/Wasps/Fly-half/Uncapped) England team to play Ireland – Saturday 20 MarchElliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Ollie Lawrence, Owen Farrell, Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, George Martin, Dan Robson, Joe Marchant.England team to play France – Saturday 13 MarchMax Malins; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Ollie Lawrence, Elliot Daly.RUGBY WORLD VERDICTIt’s great to see Max Malins get a start at full-back, writes Sarah Mockford. Elliot Daly hasn’t been in his best form and Malins deserves his chance. The 24-year-old has impressed since his loan move to Bristol Bears from Saracens and every time he’s come off the bench for England he has added a spark and provided a running threat.England may have lost in Cardiff, but they looked more dangerous in attack than they have for a long while, with crisp passing along the back-line regularly getting them into Wales’ 22. They will need to do more of the same against France – and be more clinical – if they are to beat the tournament favourites. And be more disciplined, of course.England team to play Wales – Saturday 27 FebruaryElliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 George Martin, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Dan Robson, 23 Max Malins.RUGBY WORLD VERDICTAt 6ft 6in and well north of 18st, Leicester’s George Martin is a big unit able to play in the second or back row, writes Alan Pearey. The teenager is a replacement for the absent Courtney Lawes and everyone will wish him well should he be summoned off the bench to make his senior England debut on Saturday.Nevertheless, his selection is another slap in the face for Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, who has been the Premiership’s outstanding No 8 for the past two years. With Jack Willis having dropped out of the reckoning with injury, Eddie Jones had a chance to bring Simmonds, belatedly, back into the fold three years after his last cap.Harlequins captain Alex Dombrandt is another back-row who can justly claim he is getting a raw deal from Jones. Both he and Simmonds are lineout options for their club – the Chiefs player is high up the chart for takes this season. But in any case Charlie Ewels is already in the match-day squad to provide cover at lock or six.Billy Vunipola has been a world-class No 8 for years but isn’t playing like one. He needs to deliver in Cardiff. If not, it will be time for a change there against France in round four.Under pressure: Saracens No 8 Billy Vunipola in training at Twickenham this week (Getty Images)Jones said recently that selection wasn’t important. He clearly can’t mean that. But there are plenty of people who feel his stubborn refusal to reward outstanding performers in the Premiership is undermining England’s efforts.Will they have enough to beat Wales? On recent evidence, no. Two years ago England rained kicks down on the Welsh back three and made little headway. They lost 21-13.It would be a surprise if they didn’t try to unnerve Louis Rees-Zammit in similar fashion on Saturday. From what we have seen, the Welsh youngster will be up to the challenge.England team to play Italy – Saturday 13 FebruaryElliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola. Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door. England Six Nations Squad 2021England’s 2021 Six Nations campaign ended with a whimper as Eddie Jones’s side lost 32-18 to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.Ireland were comfortable winners as England’s ill-discipline again reared its head. They did score two late tries through Ben Youngs and Jonny May, but those came after the sending off of Bundee Aki for a dangerous hit on Billy Vunipola.It’s the first time since 1976 that England have lost their three championship matches to Ireland, Scotland and Wales.Related: Keith Earls try sparks Ireland rout of England England Six Nations Fixtures 2021 Ben Youngs scores for England against Ireland (Getty Images) England’s Six Nations ends with defeat in Dublin Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.