Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson out of England tour with hamstring injury

Joe Simpson, whose hopes of featuring in the Six Nations 2011 were dashed by a serious shoulder injury, suffered further disappointment on Monday when he was ruled out of England's summer tour with an untimely hamstring strain.

Simpson, 21, will be doubly frustrated because he picked up the injury during a seven-minute appearance against the Barbarians on Sunday when he replaced David Strettle on the wing and scarcely featured in the game.

All of which represents an undeniable setback for Simpson, a star of various England age-group teams, who was really hitting his stride at senior level when he suffered a dislocated shoulder against Harlequins at the end of December.

When he reported lame after the game manager Martin Johnson had little choice but to play safe and call in the fully fit Hodgson from the England Saxons squad. Although England are embarking on a longer summer tour than usual, time is still of the essence and Simpson would undoubtedly have been earmarked to play in some capacity against the Australian Barbarians in the tour opener a week on Tuesday in Perth.

There was better news however for Johnson over his two other injury concerns after the Babarians game. Newcastle prop Jon Golding went off before half-time with what appeared to be a rib injury but was considered fit enough to travel on Monday and will be reassessed on arrival in Perthy. Fly-half Charlie Hodgson took a bang in the face that required stitches but was also fit to travel.

"I am really pleased to be joining Leeds Carnegie at an exciting time for the club," said Thompson, who revived his career with Brive after orginally retiring from the game with a neck injury when he left Northampton. "I spoke to director of rugby Andy Key and head coach Neil Back and have nothing but admiration for what they have done at the club already and what they plan to do in the future.

Meanwhile hooker Steve Thompson, who in the absence of the injured Dylan Hartley will be disputing starting duties on tour with Lee Mears, has confirmed that he will be moving back to England from France next season to play with Leeds, who he will be joining on a two-year contract.

"It was a big decision for me to come back to the Guinness Premiership but it is a challenge I am looking forward to. In all honesty, I have got more nerves about coming back to the Guinness Premiership than I did about coming to France and I think that is a good thing. I am looking for a fresh challenge in my career and Leeds Carnegie is exactly right for me."

Wales V England Hospitality

England V Italy Hospitality

England V France Hospitality

Rugby: Paul Hodgson replaces injured Joe Simpson for England

England have been forced to make a late change to their squad before departing on Monday for their five-match tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson, one of nine uncapped players in the party, sustained a hamstring injury as a late replacement against the Barbarians.

Fly-half Charlie Hodgson and Newcastle prop Jon Golding, who both picked up knocks on Sunday, are fit to travel.

Hodgson, who left the field with blood pouring from a nose injury, and Golding, who was forced off after a blow to the ribs, will be reassessed when the squad arrives in Perth on Tuesday.

It is the second untimely injury blow for 21-year-old Simpson, who was also ruled out of Six Nations 2011 contention after dislocating his shoulder in December.

He only appeared as a replacement for the last nine minutes against the Barbarians in his first England game, taking over from David Strettle on the wing.

"We are extremely disappointed for Joe," said Wasps director of rugby Tony Hanks. "I am confident Joe would have made a very strong impression on the tour and performed really well, but now our focus is on getting him back to full fitness."

The 28-year-old, who has won nine caps but started just two Tests since his debut in 2008, will compete with Youngs, Danny Care and Richard Wigglesworth for the number nine jersey down under.

Paul Hodgson, who was originally named in the Saxons squad heading to North America for the Churchill Cup, appeared as a replacement in England's first three matches of this year's Six Nations.

But he lost his place in the match-day squad to Leicester's emerging prospect Ben Youngs for the last two rounds, and was overlooked for the original tour squad despite the presence of four scrum-halves.

England play a further game against the Australian Barbarians in Gosford on 15 June and a second Test with the Wallabies in Sydney on 19 June, before their final tour match against the New Zealand Maori in Napier on 23 June.

Paul Hodgson has been replaced in the Saxons squad by Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson, while Leeds hooker Andy Titterrell will come in for George Chuter in the front row.

England V Scotland Hospitality

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France V Scotland Hospitality

Rugby: Chris Cusiter set to miss out for Scotland

Scotland co-captain Chris Cusiter has all but ruled himself out of the first Test against Wales.

"The injury is improving, slightly, but improving. I have to keep working hard with the medics."

"I didn't train fully last week and I probably won't train fully this week until Thursday or Friday so," he said.

Andy Robinson's side face the Pumas this weekend in Tucuman before the second meeting in Mar del Plata a week later.

Argentina, ranked three places above the visitors in the world rankings at sixth, beat Scotland 9-6 in Edinburgh in their last meeting in November.

"They have a strong pack and a number of world class scrummaggers and their line-out is very good," added Cusiter.

"We struggled last November to get line-outs.

"That time, we didn't take the opportunities. They were very tenacious and then in the second half they played better than us.

"We had opportunities earlier in the game to get a couple of tries on the scoreboard but we didn't take them because they were well organised and their defence is very good.

"They know their game plan and execute it very well.

"They are a very tough team to beat but we hope to win both Tests."
Head coach Robinson has his other captain, Mike Blair, and Rory Lawson available for Cusiter's position.

Scotland V Wales Hospitality

Scotland V Ireland Hospitality

Scotland V Italy Hospitality

Beattie urges Scots to stand up to Argy-bargy

Scotland rugby legend John Beattie believes the importance of the two-Test tour of Argentina cannot be underestimated.

There is also the chance for several of the Scots squad to use the two Tests against the Pumas in Tucuman tomorrow week and Mar del Plata a week later to make a breakthrough.

Beattie said: “This tour is massively important for a variety of reasons. We made some real progress in this year’s Six Nations 2011 and signed off with our first win in Ireland in 12 years – and we want to build on that.

“They gave us our only defeat in the Autumn International Series and the boys will go out there for revenge. For their part, the Argentinians will feel the same after we beat them in the second Test in Velez Sarsfield the last time we were over there.”

“Going forward, what is probably more important is that we are in the same Pool as the Pumas in the World Cup and, if we can get the better of them on their soil over these two Tests, it will give them something to think about.

Following the 24-5 midweek warm-up victory over Japan at Murrayfield, the former Scotland No.8 is also keen to see several of Robinson’s players lay down markers for next season against the aggressive Argies.

“Richie featured off the bench in the Six Nations, but I think he could do with starting one of the two Tests. With the World Cup just 14 months away, this has got to be the start of their build-up to really staking a claim for a starting jersey.

He said: “In midweek, the Glasgow duo of Richie Gray and Richie Vernon both had illness and injury problems but, if they are fit for the tour matches, this could be a very important couple of weeks for them.

 “Although I felt Graeme Morrison had a quiet start to the Six Nations, he really came through at the end with a big game against Ireland. I would love to see him back up two really big Test performances at centre against Argentina.

“Then, of course, there is Dan Parks, who was superb for us in the Six Nations and won three man-of-the-match awards. Now Dan has the chance to control two Tests in Argentina and that is the type of challenge he will be relishing at this stage in his career and in the type of form he is in.”

However, for Beattie there is one area of the impending double-header in which the Scots will do well to claim superiority.

Ireland V France Hospitality

Italy V Wales Hospitality

Italy V France Hospitality

Rugby: Pumas plan ahead for 2011

BUENOS AIRES: In naming a huge squad of 46, Argentina rugby coach Santiago Phelan had more on his mind than tests this month against incoming Scotland and France.

Phelan was also thinking up to two years ahead, when Argentina will compete with heavyweights New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in an expanded Four Nations.
It was the stunning third-place showing at the 2007 World Cup - where the Pumas beat hosts France twice - that was the impetus for rugby's powers to plant Argentina in either the Tri-Nations or Six Nations 2011.

Geography beat convenience. Most of the best Pumas play for European clubs.

"We think we will be ready for 2011," said Argentine Rugby Union president Luis Castillo. "Of course we will suffer a little bit, but you always suffer in rugby, but more playing teams like those three big ones."

The International Rugby Board and Tri-Nations partners have eased Argentina's inclusion by providing set-up funds for the first four seasons and giving Argentina's professionals a six-week release from their clubs.

The countdown begins this month, with two tests against World Cup pool opponent Scotland in Tucuman on June 12 and in Mar del Plata on June 19, followed by France in Buenos Aires a week later.

"Now begins the last stage of the buildup for the World Cup," Stade Francais flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon, back with the Pumas after straining knee ligaments against the French Barbarians a year ago, told La Nacion newspaper.

"It's in a little over a year but in reality it is nothing because there are few opportunities to get together and play. In this window we need to show signs of a mature team. It's time to figure things out, polish our tactics and begin to see what style we'll take to the World Cup.

"While there is a core of guys who were in France 2007, the mix with the new generation means we need to consolidate. And in these games is the time to do so. As a squad we are growing stronger, and in last November's tour we progressed. But we need to go to the World Cup trained and ready. We cannot go to New Zealand with ups and downs or issues to resolve."

Giving Argentina regular, tough competition from which they will hopefully improve was the point of joining a new Four Nations. Last year the Pumas had only six tests, while most of the other top-10 teams played twice as many.

The Pumas were last seen in November celebrating at Murrayfield, where Martin Rodriguez's drop goal sealed a 9-6 comeback win over Scotland. All 22 of that team are in Phelan's squad, with Leguizamon and regular captain Felipe Contepomi, who has not played for Argentina since the 2008 June home series against Scotland after a knee injury.

Also included are hooker Mario Ledesma and prop Martin Scelzo, who helped Clermont Auvergne win the French championship last weekend, on the same day Leicester was winning the English title, thanks to prop Marcos Ayerza and winger Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

Italy V France Hospitality

France V Wales Hospitality

Ireland V England Hospitality

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Andy Robinson says Six Nations is more important to Scotland than World Cup

It seems there has been a radical rethink at Murrayfield. In place of the system where everything revolved in four-year cycles around the Rugby World Cup, Andy Robinson, the Scotland head coach, has made it clear that the Six Nations Rugby Championship is now his over-riding priority, and that even the autumn internationals play a greater role in his day-to-day thinking than the global challenge.

“The key for me is Scotland getting the right number of matches against the southern hemisphere teams in the autumn and we have got that, playing two of them each year. The other important thing is to focus on the Six Nations 2011. Those games are where we really need to improve and start winning regularly,” he said yesterday.

He is busy finalising the side that will take on Japan A next week mainly players from the squad preparing to face Argentina next month but most of the Glasgow players are likely to be rested and he will have to call some in from the Scotland A team preparing for the IRB Nations Cup in Romania but he was also keen to look at the longer term.

“I’m really focusing on the Six Nations and autumn internationals,” he said. “When we are there, the tours will be important, but not to the detriment of the other matches. This stage of the season you can lose the likes of Euan Murray, players who have had a hard season and need to rest or tidy up injuries. We are lucky this year that we don’t have many players who need to rest.

“The Six Nations is a tournament that we play every year. We will deal with the World Cup when we come to it, but it is only once every four years, we will peak towards the Six Nations every year and we are going to be judged on how we perform in it.”

There had been fears among some supporters that Scotland’s failure to land a major tour to a top-tier nation — along the lines of the three-match series that England, Ireland, France and Wales will all be embarking on during the next decade was a demonstration of Scotland’s falling stock as a world power in rugby. In fact, it is all part the masterplan devised by Robinson and Graham Lowe, the performance director, to ensure a steady progression with the limited resources at their disposal.

“I’m really keen for the players to experience not just playing top-tier Test matches but to experience playing in places like Japan and America. That can help us grow as a team and develop that winning habit. At the end of this schedule we can look at where we are in terms of things like rankings and how many players we have developed and we will have a handle on what direction we will then want to go,” he added.

“Scotland have never played three-Test series against anybody, we do not think that is the right thing for us to do at the moment. We cannot let it get away from success in the Six Nations and the autumn Tests. The summer Tests are a building block.”

France V Scotland Hospitality

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Six nations Hospitality

Lee Byrne urges Ospreys to show their best in Magners showdown

LEE Byrne has urged the Ospreys to “do themselves justice” during tomorrow night’s intriguing inaugural Magners League Grand Final with Leinster in Dublin.

The Bridgend Athletic product was in a cautious mood as he addressed the 19,500 sell-out showdown at the RDS between some of union’s finest players.

He’ll go head-to-head with his Lions full-back rival of last year, Rob Kearney, while James Hook will be up against Brian O’Driscoll in the centre and Ryan Jones takes on Jamie Heaslip at No 8.

Throw in the likes of Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe, Mike Phillips, Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan, Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan and Shane Jennings, and you’ve got a real who’s who of stardust.

The winner of the shoot-out between last season’s Heineken Cup kings Leinster and the star-studded Ospreys will become the first team to be crowned Celtic champions for a third time.

Leinster haven’t been beaten at home – it’s being staged at their ground because they finished top of the league section – in the Magners for 18 months and Byrne admits the Ospreys face a tall order in over-coming them.

But he believes the self-belief generated during last month’s 20-16 defeat in Dublin, that came at the end of a gruelling seven days which had seen them play Biarritz in Spain in the Heineken and Ulster in Belfast in the league, will stand them in good stead.

“It was the end of a hard week, we’d played three games on the road and had the disappointment of Biarritz, but to get so close to Leinster in that game maybe surprised a few people,” said the 29-year-old.

“They’ve not lost at home in the Magners in about 18 months so we know it’s going to be tough, but they’ve got to lose some time and hopefully it’s going to be our time.”

Byrne was playing his cards close to his chest because the Ospreys, despite their squad forming the bulk of two Wales Six Nations Grand Slam winning teams, have got a poor record when it comes to the knockout stages of tournaments.

The only successes the Swansea-based Ospreys have had in knockout matches was smashing the Blues and Saracens – just a fortnight before losing to them in the Heineken – in Anglo-Welsh semi-finals at the Millennium Stadium, beating Leicester in one Twickenham final and accounting for Glasgow a couple of weeks ago in their Magners last-four match-up.

But the Ospreys have lost just one of their last six fixtures in all competitions with Wales full-back Byrne beaming: “We’ve put ourselves in a good position.

“We want to try to make sure we do ourselves justice on the day, and if we hit the standards we have been it could be a good night for us.”

Although he didn’t join the Ospreys until a year after the region’s first Celtic League success, Byrne will still be gunning for his own personal hat-trick having won the title with the Scarlets in 2004, as well being a part of the Ospreys 2007 title-winning team.

And, with the Ospreys having trailed Leinster by three points in the final table, unsurprisingly, Byrne is a fan of the knockout system.

“I’ve won it twice before, but it’s a bit different this year; the play-offs have added a twist to it,” he said.

“This is the way it is now. We’ve been on a good run to move up the table towards the end of the season and it means we are in with a chance of winning it.”

Wales V England Hospitality

Ireland V France Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality