Thursday, January 28, 2010

Peter Bills: Manawatu on cloud nine in Italian bubble

His name won't strike a ready chord with you, but then, that won't surprise him. Tim Manawatu knows he doesn't exactly have a name as familiar as Dan Carter or Richie McCaw.

No matter, this young man's life has been transformed since he got to Italy on his rugby odyssey; there really is no other way to describe it.

Originally from Kaikoura, part of the Canterbury region on the south island, Manawatu took a leap into the unknown several years ago and has counted his blessings every day since.

"After everything is paid for by your club, you then receive a salary. I played a lot of rugby in New Zealand and enjoyed it, but now I have a young family so I've got to make a living and save money. They look after their foreign players so well here you can really do that.

How do the Italian clubs manage it? "Most clubs have big major sponsors," he explains. "The team's jerseys are covered in sponsors' logos, sometimes up to 30 of them. Of course, soccer is the really big game in Italy but the Italians are passionate about any sport and many of them still follow rugby, especially in the local towns such as L'Aquila.

"It's hard in New Zealand to be a professional player. You think you should be enjoying a terrific standard of living but the costs are high. Here, it's so much easier to save money."

Manawatu drives for 80 minutes to reach the club's training ground from Rome. He travels with four pals who also live near the capital, taking it in turns to drive which makes it easier for all of them.

"I have a nice house in Rome and it's a wonderful city to live in. The first two years I spent in Italy I played for a second division club, Piacenza. That was a great place, too. I also played for Capitolina in Rome.

"All the clubs are family orientated and they treat you like their own. At L'Aquila we have another Kiwi plus a South African, Canadian, Argentinian, two English guys, and many local players. It's a good mix."

Manawatu insists the standard of the Italian Super 10 league merits much respect.

"The top squads here could compete in the Air New Zealand Cup. The bottom teams would be similar to the New Zealand second division sides.

So will the allure continue to attract myriad numbers of players from all over the world? Manawatu certainly believes so. "This trend will continue as long as there is money here.

Italy V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Peter Bills: Manawatu on cloud nine in Italian bubble

His name won't strike a ready chord with you, but then, that won't surprise him. Tim Manawatu knows he doesn't exactly have a name as familiar as Dan Carter or Richie McCaw.

No matter, this young man's life has been transformed since he got to Italy on his rugby odyssey; there really is no other way to describe it.

Originally from Kaikoura, part of the Canterbury region on the south island, Manawatu took a leap into the unknown several years ago and has counted his blessings every day since.

"After everything is paid for by your club, you then receive a salary. I played a lot of rugby in New Zealand and enjoyed it, but now I have a young family so I've got to make a living and save money. They look after their foreign players so well here you can really do that.

How do the Italian clubs manage it? "Most clubs have big major sponsors," he explains. "The team's jerseys are covered in sponsors' logos, sometimes up to 30 of them. Of course, soccer is the really big game in Italy but the Italians are passionate about any sport and many of them still follow rugby, especially in the local towns such as L'Aquila.

"It's hard in New Zealand to be a professional player. You think you should be enjoying a terrific standard of living but the costs are high. Here, it's so much easier to save money."

Manawatu drives for 80 minutes to reach the club's training ground from Rome. He travels with four pals who also live near the capital, taking it in turns to drive which makes it easier for all of them.

"I have a nice house in Rome and it's a wonderful city to live in. The first two years I spent in Italy I played for a second division club, Piacenza. That was a great place, too. I also played for Capitolina in Rome.

"All the clubs are family orientated and they treat you like their own. At L'Aquila we have another Kiwi plus a South African, Canadian, Argentinian, two English guys, and many local players. It's a good mix."

Manawatu insists the standard of the Italian Super 10 league merits much respect.

"The top squads here could compete in the Air New Zealand Cup. The bottom teams would be similar to the New Zealand second division sides.

So will the allure continue to attract myriad numbers of players from all over the world? Manawatu certainly believes so. "This trend will continue as long as there is money here.

Italy V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Local official will be on duty for Six Nations clash

ATHLONE-based rugby official Eddie Walsh has been selected to fill the role of Citing Commissioner at an upcoming high-profile RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship clash.

Walsh, who lives in Ballykeeran, Athlone, and is originally from Tullamore, Co Offaly, has been appointed to preside over the meeting of Wales and Italy at the 75,000 Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on March 20.

The Athlone official, who will be representing Buccaneers RFC, Connacht and the IRFU, was recently involved in a friendly match between Italy and Western Samoa in Ascoli, and is also pencilled in for a World Cup qualifier between Georgia and Spain in Tbilisi.Walsh, a regular appointment to Magners League and Heineken Cup games, becomes the first official from Connacht to officiate at a Six Nations match.

The Ballykeeran resident also has extensive experience of officiating at under-21 and A internationals, and acted as Citing Commissioner during the Leinster v Ulster Magners League match on St Stephen's Day.

Walsh said: "In rugby terms this is a huge appointment and obviously I'm delighted about it. It's a bit of a breakthrough for Connacht officials and will hopefully encourage fellow officials. I'm really looking forward to the game and it's fantastic to be involved at Six Nations level. The Millennium Stadium is one of the greatest stadiums in world sport, so it's great it's taking place there. But obviously I've a big job to do and will have to be fully concentrated throughout."

In rugby union, a citing commissioner is an independent official - appointed by the competition organiser, the union in which the match is taking place, or the International Rugby Board - who is responsible for citing players who commit foul play which is not detected by the match officials.

Teams may bring offences to the attention of the citing commissioner for review. The citing commissioner may cite a player even if the referee has already dealt with the issue (except where he has ordered a player from the field).

When there is no citing commissioner, the teams participating in the match have the right to cite players, but may only cite a player for an infringement which the match officials have not dealt with. A player who is cited is called to a hearing to show cause why he should not be treated as having been sent off for the alleged offence. The player is entitled to be represented. The hearing usually takes place before three independent persons nominated by the union or the competition organiser, and is generally convened within a week of the match in question. If the offence is proven, the panel issues a penalty, usually in the form of a suspension for a number of weeks.

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Italy V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Hand of Henry has no impact on Six Nations: Lievremont

There will be no fallout when France hosts Six Nations titleholders Ireland despite their footballing counterparts' notorious World Cup clash, French coach Marc Lievremont said overnight.

The 41-year-old former France international flanker said the storm caused by Thierry Henry's infamous handball, which set up William Gallas's crucial goal in the World Cup play-off last November, will not be an issue when the French take on Ireland at the same Stade de France venue on February 13.

"Of course the Irish team the football one were entitled to be angry and as a nation as well," said Lievremont.

"They deserved fairer treatment. However, football is not the same sport as rugby union. Football does not share the same qualities or values as rugby."

Indeed Lievremont, who is seeking his first Six Nations title success in his third campaign, was left singularly unimpressed by the whole match which put France in the 2010 World Cup finals and broke Irish hearts.

"I along with the France rugby squad and the Samoans who they played later that week at the Stade de France sat in the stands watching," he said at Wednesday's Six Nations launch.

"I have to say that all of us to a man - and I speak for the Samoans as well - were extremely bored and just wanted it to finish."

France V Ireland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Andy Robinson urges Scotland to bring chaos to Six Nations

Andy Robinson is a highly organised man – he would not otherwise have risen so far up the rugby ladder – but he wants his Scotland team to introduce a little old-fashioned chaos and confusion to the 2010 Six Nations. Wreaking havoc and making off with the spoils, now there is a game plan to gladden most Scots' hearts.

"We operate very well in chaos, in fact Scotland always thrive when there is chaos and confusion on the pitch," said Robinson, who will be masterminding his first Six Nations campaign as the Scots' coach.

"Scotland is a nation of instinctive and very passionate rugby players, and the team flourish when things happen at speed and the unexpected occurs.

"One of the reasons I put my hand up and applied for the job as national coach when Frank Hadden left was that I had been so impressed by what I had seen in Scotland."

"That came home again very forcibly to me on Monday morning when I attended Bill McLaren's funeral in Hawick and what an emotional, sad but also very inspiring day that was.

"That's an incredible store of rugby knowledge and excellence in that trio alone and later just about all the other Scottish greats were there at the funeral. Scotland have a very proud and distinctive rugby heritage, the great teams played in a certain way and we need to try to honour that."

Typically, Robinson has been hard at work on the first part of the formula. "Making that happen is down partly to a state of mind but you also need to be exceptionally fit and that is something we have been working on since the autumn.

"Luckily we have two excellent conditioning teams at the Edinburgh and Glasgow sides and Scotland have been working very closely with them. It takes a big commitment from the players but they are all prepared to put the work in.

"Fitness and staying power can help bring consistency. Scotland haven't scored back-to-back wins in the Six Nations since 2001 and even that is misleading because one of those games was the September match against Ireland after foot and mouth disrupted the tournament in the winter.

"You have to go back to Scotland's last Championship winning year in 1999 to get genuine back-to-back wins. That is the first big hurdle we need to clear," said Robinson, whose team open their Six Nations campaign by taking on France at Murrayfield on Sunday week.

"I actually thought in terms of quality of performance we did back up against the Pumas, we were creative and dangerous in attack but we didn't take our chances and eventually lost. We have to take that next step."

Scotland V France Hospitality

Wales V Scotland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

O’Driscoll has eyes on repeat Grand Slam showing

The belief that hallmarked Ireland’s progress through 2009, their year of great rugby triumph, was underlined yesterday as Brian O’Driscoll willingly contemplated the holiest of Holy Grails.

Back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations championship.

It was a measure of the growing conviction within this Irish squad that the idea alone was not dismissed out of hand. O’Driscoll, speaking at the launch of the 2010 Six Nations in London, said: “Back-to-back Grand Slams? That is all new ground to me. You would have to ask someone who has done it what it feels like. I just go with the flow. But we won’t look at things any differently and we won’t treat it any differently.”

Ireland’s captain demonstrated the calmest of personas yesterday in confronting a battery of media cameras, microphones and notebooks. He offered an image of a man increasingly at peace with himself and there is little doubt that the achievements of 2009 have left a deeply satisfying feeling within the soul of O’Driscoll.

“I enjoyed all the trappings that came with it (the Grand Slam success). The winning itself, the celebrations; small things such as the general feeling in the country. If we can do that again, why not? It’s much better than not doing it again.

It was clear that the topic of the French is already looming large in Irish minds. O’Driscoll’s side meets them on the second weekend of the championship and it is a game that might be crucial in determining the eventual winners.

“We are not that good a side that we can look ahead to certain matches and take others lightly. If we are in any way off the mark against Italy (on Saturday week at Croke Park), it will be a very long, difficult afternoon.”

Yet having said, even Kidney was prepared to look as far as Paris and February 13. “It will be daunting. But that is the reason you get into sport, these are the challenges you want to face.

“Our last trips to Paris have been quite difficult — as an understatement — because France are one of the benchmarks of world rugby. Last year, they beat New Zealand in New Zealand and South Africa at home so they are one of the standard bearers for world rugby. They continually achieve and they have done very well in this tournament in the even years.

France are less dependent on injuries because they have such a big pool of playing talent.”

O’Driscoll was quick to remind his audience that Ireland have won in France just once in the last 38 years. Typically, he did not mention that it was his own hat-trick that propelled the Irish to that rarest of victories.

But he warned: “The margins between success and failure are so tiny.”

Alas, if only expectations in Ireland were as small. “The Irish people don’t do middle ground. They are either at the very top or the bottom. But it’s definitely a nicer feeling at the top so you want to stay there as long as you can,” he added.

France V Ireland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Steve Borthwick retained as England captain

Steve Borthwick will be England's captain going into the RBS Six Nations.

The Saracens lock has been skipper in every game since Martin Johnson took over as England manager in 2008.

Johnson initially named his Six Nations squad without a captain but has now decided on Borthwick, despite criticism of the player's performances.

England, who open their Six Nations campaign against Wales at Twickenham on 6 February, are expected to name their side on Tuesday, 2 February.

England, who are currently in Portugal to begin their Six Nations preparations, have won only six of their 14 matches since Borthwick was appointed captain.

Yet Johnson has decided to stick with Borthwick for the time being, although he may make a change during the tournament.

Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths says the retention of Borthwick is a good move, describing the 30-year-old as an "absolutely outstanding character and an outstanding captain for England".

"Within the club there is a general sense of bewilderment with the criticism that Steve sometimes gets at international level," Griffiths told BBC Radio 5 live.

"He is massively admired, not only on the field where his form has been brilliant this year, where the number of contributions during a game is far greater than any other member of the team, but also away from the field.

"But as England's results improve, and we all hope they will, he will start to be properly appreciated at international level."

Meanwhile, England blind-side flanker James Haskell is waiting for the results of a scan on a knee injury he sustained at the weekend while playing for club side Stade Francais.

Five players have been called up as injury cover, with Worcester loose-head prop Matt Mullan and Leicester tight-head Dan Cole replacing Andrew Sheridan and Julian White respectively.

At least one of the 22-year-old front-rowers, who have been selected ahead of the more experienced David Flatman and Duncan Bell, are likely be named in the match-day squad for the opening game against Wales.

Wasps loose-head Tim Payne and Bath tight-head David Wilson are the other props in the squad.

Wasps number eight Dan Ward-Smith and Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw are cover for Tom Croft and Joe Worsley respectively, while scrum-half Ben Youngs fills in for Leicester team-mate Harry Ellis.

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

England V Ireland Hospitality

Italy V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Wales sweats over Lee Byrne ban for England game

WALES are waiting to see if Lee Byrne will be banned for the Six Nations rugby opener with England after the Lions full-back was hit with a misconduct charge.

Byrne and the Ospreys will appear before a European Rugby Cup Ltd disciplinary hearing in Dublin tomorrow to answer Leicester complaints following the weekend’s 16th man fiasco at the Liberty Stadium.

The English giants upped the ante in the big Heineken Cup row by revealing they have appointed Manchester United’s lawyers to deal with their case and their demand for a replay.

Leading sports law specialists Brabners Chaffe Street, who are headed up by famed Old Trafford director Maurice Watkins, have been brought on board as a result of their expertise in dealing with a number of high profile cases down the years. Among disciplinary hearings Watkins has fought are those involving Eric Cantona and his infamous kung-fu kick, Roy Keane over controversial comments made in his autobiography and Swansea City mascot Cyril the Swan, who was charged by the FA of Wales for entering the pitch without authority.

Watkins’ company have also acted at the highest level for the Professional Rugby Players’ Association and the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Games Council for England.

Byrne, who appeared briefly as a 16th Ospreys player on the pitch during his team’s 17-12 victory over Leicester, was informed yesterday he must attend the disciplinary hearing in Ireland.

It spells potentially bad news for Wales coach Warren Gatland, with the mouth-watering Six Nations opener with England just nine days away.

There is a possibility Byrne could be banned from the Twickenham showdown and further Six Nations matches.

Gatland is desperate to get his first choice full-back back in his starting XV after Byrne missed the entire autumn campaign with injury.

The Ospreys, who have also been charged with misconduct, will be left sweating on a possible fine, or worse – a points deduction.

“There is a potential for a conflict of interest if there is anything less than a full, open and thorough investigation and hearing of the matter.”

“A fine would not do it as far as we are concerned. The only fair thing is for the game to be replayed.”

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Six Nations Hospitality

England V Ireland Hospitality

Italy V England Hospitality

Martin Johnson cagey over Six Nations but hails his strongest England

A tight defence is an essential tool of modern Test rugby and the give-em-nowt attitude is proving contagious. If this year's Six Nations is anything like as flat and predictable as the management-speak which suffocated the launch at London's Hurlingham Club, it could be a grey old championship, lacking not only Bill McLaren's presence but the pilot light of sporting romance on which the event traditionally relies.

There were notable exceptions – Italy's Nick Mallett can hold forth entertainingly on most subjects in almost as many languages – but the days of rash predictions and ambitious statements of intent are gone. Even Wales's Warren Gatland stuck to his recent pledge to say nothingremotely provocative, blaming the assembled media for prompting this grim state of affairs. When it started raining at the precise moment the national captains were led outside for their photocall, it simply mirrored the lack of sparkling insight indoors.

Such is life, sadly, in a results-driven business of deflationary margins. England, for example, lost to Ireland and Wales by a combined total of nine points last season and, as Martin Johnson observed, "anyone who predicts who will win the title is a brave guy". Such people as Johnson, Declan Kidney and Andy Robinson did not get where they are today by confidently anticipating grand slam glory before a ­single ball has been kicked.

Nor did Johnson shed much further light on the issue of the England captaincy which, as things stand, is as clear as Severn estuary mud. Steve Borthwick will lead the side out against Wales on Saturday week but Johnson is declining to clarify what will happen beyond that. "Steve's our captain," was as far as he would go. "He does a tremendous job but if you're reliant on any one player it's a weakness. I'd like to think there are three or four guys with leadership qualities." As a distinguished former England captain himself, Johnson is keen to demystify the role but is in ­danger of doing the precise opposite.

Johnson also repeated his belief that this is "the strongest England squad we've had in my time here". That is not quite the same as predicting a first English title since 2003 but it remains the view within the red rose camp that a record of two injury-hit defeats in three autumn series games masked a greater sense of collective purpose. If England can beat Wales, by hook or by crook, they will fancy being at least competitive in Rome and Edinburgh. In that event, the last two games against Ireland and France would assume a very different hue.

As Gatland correctly identified England must first put together a pack capable of seizing next week's game by the scruff. "I am happy with our experience in the front five," said Gatland, optimistic that his Lions front-rowers Adam Jones and Matthew Rees, only recently back from shoulder and groin injuries respectively, will be on parade. "The next couple of weeks [leading into the England game] are pretty critical for us. Games are won up front, and it is important that our tight five fronts up. We're just hoping it will be the catalyst for our season as it was two years ago."

France, conversely, are hoping to avoid what their coach, Marc Lièvremont, called the "catastrophe" of their heavy defeat at Twickenham 12 months ago. As with Ireland and Wales they have the advantage of three home games this year; three of their fixtures will also be evening affairs, including a Friday night date against Wales in Cardiff on 26 February. Scotland will be their opening opponents in Edinburgh and Robinson, about to embark on his first Six Nations campaign since he ceased to be England's head coach in 2006, is already relishing the challenge ahead, calling on his players "to inspire a nation".

The pre-tournament favourites, though, continue to be Ireland, seeking to add to the long-awaited grand slam they secured last year. "You just hope it's going to be your time again," said Brian O'Driscoll, entering his eighth Six Nations as Ireland's captain and reluctant to look beyond his side's opening fixture against Italy at Croke Park. "We're owed nothing in this Six Nations. You don't retain anything. You give it back and then you try and win it again. We need to start from scratch. It will be the same attitude we've had for the past 10 years. You try and build into a competition, you don't win it in the first couple of weeks. That's how you lose it."

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

England V Ireland Hospitality

Italy V England Hospitality

France V Ireland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Brian O'Driscoll: 'Winning the Grand Slam has only lifted my ambitions'

After ending his country's 61-year wait for Six Nations glory, the Ireland captain is hungrier than ever. As this year's hostilities loom, Chris Hewett hears him launch the opening exchanges.

The Six Nations Championship found itself deep in phoney war territory yesterday. A week and a half shy of the opening match, there was a nervous edge to the formal tournament launch in London, with the England manager, Martin Johnson, and his two principal rivals from the British mainland, Warren Gatland of Wales and Andy Robinson of Scotland, shadow-boxing their way around the big issues. Marc Lièvremont of France sounded bold enough – "There are green lights everywhere," he pronounced, "so this could be our year" – but no one could quite decide whether he was being serious.

It was left to two men from opposite ends of the Six Nations spectrum to serve up the most nourishing food for thought: a phlegmatic Nick Mallett, coach of Italy, and an equally philosophical Brian O'Driscoll, captain of Ireland. Their teams will set the ball rolling in Dublin on Saturday week, and while the world and his maiden aunt expect the home side, reigning champions and 2009 Grand Slammers, to lay waste to the reluctant holders of the wooden spoon, both men appeared at ease in the face of contrasting pressures.

"Unusually, I'm in the position of being judged on performance, not results," said Mallett. "Traditionally, the Italians support only winning teams, and in football, it's still the case that a coach can be chucked out after three or four defeats. Yet it seems the sporting public there is finding that the values of rugby – its unselfishness, its dignity, its sportsmanship, the huge courage of its players – are things than can be adhered to in life. Last November, we had 80,000 people in the San Siro in Milan for our match with the All Blacks, and it was one of the great spectacles of the year. There were three police wagons there. When Bari play Napoli at football, there are more police than spectators.

"So the interest is building and I can say that, while the Italian team has had its disappointments, there has been no falling off of enthusiasm among the players. If they had taken a negative attitude, they would have opted out of the Six Nations a long time ago. They are a positive, ambitious group who are keen to improve, and while an opening fixture against Ireland is asking a lot of us – we gave them trouble in Dublin two years ago, but that Irish side wasn't as happy or organised or well-structured as this one – I expect us to be competitive."

O'Driscoll, the nearest thing to a great player in the European game, expects something similar. "We know Italy are capable of claiming a scalp," he agreed. "They may not be in a position yet to win four or five games in succession, but a one-off is far from beyond them. It's why we cannot afford to look beyond this opening game. Certainly, I'll approach the tournament the way

Having celebrated his 31st birthday last week, O'Driscoll has little choice but to accept the elder statesman role. He is, however, a benign ruler of all he surveys. "There are younger guys who don't really know about the 10 years of struggle some of us experienced in getting where we are now, but I don't want to burden them with it," he remarked. "It's better for them to go with the flow of the mentality as it is now, which is what I'm doing.

"I'm enjoying living in the moment, rather than looking too far ahead or putting a date on when I'll finally stop playing. It's a simplistic approach, but I'm basically cracking on from here. I certainly don't want to be caught up in any thinking about the next World Cup, which is 18 months away. In international rugby, that's a long, long time."

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

England V Ireland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Wales rugby seek forward edge against England

Wales seem certain to target England's novice front row as they try to dominate the scrum when the teams meet for next week's Six Nations opener at Twickenham.

Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, is on course to select an all-British and Irish Lions front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones.

The Test-hardened trio could find themselves up against an inexperienced combination of Tim Payne, Dylan Hartley and possibly the uncapped Dan Cole, with injuries currently depriving England of Phil Vickery and Andrew Sheridan among others.

"We will target certain areas, depending on who they pick up front," Gatland said at the Six Nations media launch in London on Wednesday.

"I am happy with our experience in the front five. Games are won up front, and it is important that our tight five fronts up," the New Zealander, himself a former hooker, added.

Wales are aiming for only their second victory at Twickenham in 22 years but the return of Jones is an undoubted boost to their hopes of making a winning start to this season's Six Nations.

The 28-year-old was in fine form for the Lions during last year's tour of South Africa before a shoulder injury in the second Test cut short his participation.

Jones missed all four of Wales's Tests in November as a result but looked back to somewhere near his best during the Ospreys' European Cup victory over English champions Leicester last weekend.

"It is good to have Adam back," said Wales captain Ryan Jones.

"You cannot win Test matches without a set-piece, and Adam brings a certain stability to our scrum."

Meanwhile Gatland was relishing the prospect of playing England at their headquarters ground.

"It is a great game to be starting with," said the former Ireland coach.

"I just hope it will be the catalyst it was two years ago, which gave us the confidence and momentum for the rest of the championship.

"Both teams are very similar, and whoever wins will go in with a bit of confidence for the rest of the championship.

"The two sides will be desperate to win and both sides realise how important it is to win the first game.

"But the pleasing thing, both against Australia and New Zealand, was our territory and possession increased from the previous year.

"We had them under pressure," Gatland insisted.

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

England V Ireland Hospitality

Italy V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Lievremont expects better

Marc Lievremont has painfully recalled France's Twickenham capitulation against England last season, labelling it "a slap in the face".

Les Bleus launch their RBS 6 Nations campaign against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday week, with many pundits predicting a two-horse title race between France and reigning champions Ireland but their ability to self-destruct has also surfaced, most recently when England ran riot last year in recording a 34-10 success.

"England is always the match," said France coach Lievremont. "And that is more so this season because of the huge slap in the face we got at Twickenham last year."

He added: "Nothing worked for us that day - it was a disaster. Some losses you can make something out of but not that England one.

"The only positive to come out of that match was the spirit of the players afterwards to put things right."

After a testing opener at Murrayfield, France then host Ireland before travelling to Wales and then finishing with two games in Paris against Italy and England.

Lievremont's preparations, though, have not been helped by a round of French Championship fixtures this week, in contrast to uninterrupted player access enjoyed by the likes of rival Six Nations bosses like England manager Martin Johnson, Wales coach Warren Gatland and Ireland's Declan Kidney.

"The summary of our season to date is that we win one and then we lose one - it never seems to be two or three in a row for us," he added. "But, then again, very few teams manage more than that. We need to focus on the continuity of the French team.

"It is a rarity for me to have nine days to prepare for the first match. When we played South Africa in the autumn, the players had played two club games in close proximity before that match.

"It is crazy in modern rugby to have such constraints and this explains our results a little bit."

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

England V Ireland Hospitality

Italy V England Hospitality

France V Ireland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Mallett wants Italy to compete

Nick Mallett insists Italy's objective throughout the 2010 RBS 6 Nations is to remain competitive.

A lack of playing resources limits Italy's ambition but Mallett will be satisfied if they trouble all opponents - while picking up the odd scalp.

"For Italy, success means being competitive against every other side," he said.

The Azzurri have won only six of the 50 games they have played since joining the championship in 2000 and have finished with the wooden spoon seven times.

But, on occasion, the competition's lowest-ranked team have proved dangerous opponents at the Stadio Flaminio, where Wales and Scotland have succumbed in the past.

Mallett added: "When we have a chance to beat a team, we have to take it. If we're playing the bigger teams away, we don't want to lose by 70 points.

"We want the defeats to be within 15-20 points. That's where Italian rugby is at the moment and we have to improve on that."

Italy V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wales rugby coach tells England to give Johnson time

Wales coach Warren Gatland has said England must learn from their experience with World Cup winning supremo Clive Woodward and give Martin Johnson time to develop as their manager.

England has lost eight of their 14 Tests since Johnson was appointed to the post of team manager without any previous coaching experience in 2008.

Wales will look to add to those tally of defeats next month when they begin their Six Nations campaign at Twickenham in search of a third straight win over England - something they last achieved more than 20 years ago.

"I hope England give him some time," Gatland said of Johnson after announcing Wales's squad for the Six Nations on Monday.

"It has been tough for Martin. Everyone knows what a great player he has been.

Gatland sees similarities between England and Wales's situations in that both countries are struggling to get club teams into the last eight of this season's European Cup.

"There are two countries going into the Six Nations at the moment a little bit concerned about where their teams are," the New Zealander said.

"That is not just a concern for England, it has to be a concern for Wales as well," former Ireland coach Gatland added.

Wales will head into the Six Nations without their two senior scrum-halves as the British and Irish Lions duo of Dwayne Peel (groin) and Mike Phillips (ankle) are both injured.

Peel sustained his injury playing for English club Sale during their European Cup pool defeat by Cardiff Blues last weekend and now it seems the Scarlets' 23-year-old Martin Roberts will be lining up in the key scrum-half position for his first Six Nations start at Twickenham on February 6, 2010.

"We are not 100 percent sure how long Dwayne is going to be out for," said Gatland. "We are just going to assess him over the next few weeks and, when he is back fully fit, we will make a decision on him."

Wales and England suffered disappointing November international home series with both nations well beaten by New Zealand and Australia.

Looking ahead to their Six Nations opener, Gatland said: "This is a huge game for both sides. A victory for either team will give a huge amount of confidence and give you a chance to win the Six Nations Championship."

Gatland urged Wales to follow the example of Ireland, who won a Six Nations grand slam last year and ended an unbeaten 2009 with a win over world champions South Africa.

Six Nations Hospitality

England V Wales Hospitality

Wales V Scotland Hospitality

Wales V France Hospitality

Julien Dupuy's 23-week gouging ban is anti-French, says Stade president

The Stade Français president, Max Guazzini, will fight the 23-week ban given to Julien Dupuy for eye-gouging Ulster's Stephen Ferris during last month's Heineken Cup match in Belfast, calling the punishment unjustified and anti-French.

Under French law, the scrum-half's ban, which was reduced by one week to 23 on appeal, has to be ratified by the relevant body in France, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby. LNR has the power to reduce or overturn the suspension, meaning Dupuy would be able to play in the French league while remaining banned from the Heineken Cup.

"It is a very heavy sanction," Guazzini said. "They European Rugby Cup Ltd wanted to make an example and the fact Dupuy is French probably played a role. Ferris told the hearing there was no gouging and that he was slapped and the ban was excessive, totally unjustified. We will not leave it here and we will be making representations to LNR and the French Rugby Federation."

The France coach, Marc Lièvremont, has a problem at scrum-half with Dupuy banned and Dimitri Yachvili missing at least the first three rounds of the Six Nations after suffering a knee injury playing for Biarritz against Stade last weekend.

France are the bookmakers' favourites to win the Six Nations but Ugo Monye believes England have what it takes to win the tournament for the first time since 2003, the year they went on to win the World Cup.

"We definitely should go into the Six Nations believing that we can win it," the England wing said. "It will be difficult. It is definitely possible that we can win it and we have to have belief to go with our high expectations. We have players who are playing well for their teams domestically and we just need them to transfer that form on to the international stage. We have excellent coaches and the criticism we all received last November made us stronger as a unit."

Chris Ashton, the Northampton wing who was included in the England squad this week, has signed a new two-year contract with the Saints, while Scott Lawson and Alasdair Strokosch, both Scotland internationals, have agreed new deals with Gloucester.

France V Ireland Hospitality

France V Italy Hospitality

France V England Hospitality

Brive v Scarlets preview

The Scarlets hope to have fly-half Stephen Jones and hooker Matthew Rees available for their crucial final Heineken Cup Pool 6 game in Brive.

Wales duo Jones (shoulder) and Rees (groin) were on the sidelines as the region grabbed a lifeline in Sunday's 31-22 win over London Irish.

Flanker Rob McCusker scored twice against the Exiles said: "We've got to be confident after that.

"We can take a lot out of it. But we have a lot to work on."

The Scarlets have an outside chance of quarter-final qualification. A bonus-point win will see them leap-frog London Irish to claim second place on 18 points, providing the Exiles fail to beat group leaders Leinster.
Depending on results elsewhere, the Welsh region could equally find themselves battling for a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup.

The six group winners and two best runner-ups progress into the Heineken Cup last eight, while the next three qualify for European rugby's second-tier competition.

The Scarlets began this season's European campaign with a 24-12 win over the French side.

Brive, who include ex-Scarlets back-row Alix Popham in their ranks, have since failed to record a win in this season's competition.

The 1997 tournament winners have lost heavily twice to Leinster and London Irish and are lying ninth in the French Top 14 with eight wins from 18 starts.

The Scarlets' Magners League form is also a concern, also lying ninth, but with only Connacht below them, having won only three games in 10.

North Walian McCusker, 24, added: "We've never given up on this competition. We've said we could get something out of it.

"We wanted to carry on the performance from last week and we're going to do our best to carry on next week.

"Traditionally people don't think French teams travel well, but it's going to be a totally different game in France, in Brive and it's an intimidating place to go.

"They've got a great tradition from the Heineken Cup in previous year."

Wales V France Hospitality

Wales V Italy Hospitality

Wales will miss 3D Six Nations England clash

Welsh rugby fans who want to see their heroes in 3D at the cinema for the first time will have to go to England.

The Wales v England game at Twickenham, each team's opener in the 2010 Six Nations, will be the first live 3D sports broadcast in Europe.

But while 40 Odeon and Cineworld cinemas will show the game, tournament sponsor O2 says that none are in Wales.

Wales fan and rugby pundit Carolyn Hitt said: "It is incredibly insular and narrow-minded."

She said: "Maybe England fans need convincing that England can play in more than one dimension."

O2 has said 3D cameras will be installed for the match on 6 February. England's second game of the tournament, with Ireland on 27 February, will also be broadcast in 3D.

Backers claim the 3D screenings will give rugby fans the closest experience of the atmosphere inside the stadium.

Tickets for the Wales-England clash go on sale on 29 January but Wales fans face a trek across the border if they want to see their team screened in 3D.

O2 said the screenings would be in England "because we only sponsor the England team".

Hitt said: "They have shot themselves in the foot from a marketing point of view.

"This offered a real breakthrough in the way people enjoyed a game of rugby but they are halving their potential audience.

"Rugby is far more popular in Wales than in England anyway."

Writer and broadcaster Nigel Crowle, a Cardiff Blues season ticket holder, said: "I suppose the England rugby supporters will be viewing their grand slam chances through rose-tinted 3D spectacles, too.

"It's a shame the England rugby team have to rely on gimmicks to please their supporters and the Welsh team only need to play good rugby."

England V Wales Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

'Mrs Thatcher won Grand Slam for Scotland'

David Sole leads the Scotland team off the pitch at Murrayfield after their 13-7 Calcutta Cup win over England in the Five Nations rugby tournament, March 1990.

Long regarded as a hate figure among Scottish rugby supporters, Moore has voiced his inflammatory views his new autobiography Beware the Dog.

The former England and British Lions hooker believes the Scottish victory in the Five Nations decider was fuelled not by superior skills and tactics, but by hatred over the imposition of the poll tax by Margaret Thatcher's government, as well as anti-English fervour.

Moore, 48, said the nationalistic fervour got to his fellow players and contributed to the Scots winning 13-7. He wrote: "Scotland's tactics were simple. They would use their home crowd to pressure us throughout the game.

"Allied to these tactics, the easily generated anti-English fervour was reinforced by genuine political antipathy felt by the country towards the Thatcher government, particularly as it had been trialling its new system of local rates, known as the poll tax, north of the border."

Moore told of his torment at having to mix with gloating Scotland fans at a rugby function in Edinburgh the week after the game. "For every second of the experience, and I exaggerate not, at the back of my mind was repeated the phrase, 'I would rather die than allow the Scottish to do this to me again'," he said.

He takes several other swipes at Scotland in the book, saying he has just two Scottish friends, and claiming the Scots were obsessed with labelling the English arrogant. He also expresses dislike for the English anthem Swing Low Sweet Chariot, but still prefers it to Flower of Scotland. Roy Comfort, chairman of the Forum of Scottish Rugby Supporters, said: "It is just Brian being a bit of a sore loser. England came with one of their best teams for years, expecting victory."

Jim Telfer, forwards coach, rejected the Thatcher theory, saying: "There was enough edge without any politics. They were going for a Grand Slam and we were going for a Grand Slam. They must have known that with people like Finlay Calder and David Sole that we were not going to just lie down."

He added: "I think Brian likes reaction. He likes to give this view as a pitbull terrier. He speaks his mind but he is quite arrogant."

Scotland V France Hospitality

Wales V Scotland Hospitality

Italy V Scotland Hospitality

Brendan Venter keen to face RFU disciplinary hearing

Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter said that he was "looking forward" to his Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing, when he will face a charge of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game.

The charge relates to remarks made by Venter during a press conference after Saracens' defeat by Leicester at Vicarage Road on Jan 2, when he criticised the performance of referee David Rose and general standards of officiating in England.

The former Springbok claimed that "something had happened" to influence Rose during the interval, which Venter believed resulted in a swing in the penalty count from 9-3 to Saracens in the first half to 10-4 in Leicester's favour after the break.

If found guilty, Venter, who has been instrumental in guiding Saracens to the top of the Premiership since arriving at the club at the end of last season, could face a one-month touchline ban.

Venter, however, said last night that he was keen to have a "conversation" with the RFU at the hearing to address his concerns about refereeing standards.

Asked if he had any regrets about his comments, he said: "What I am pleased about is that I was able to voice an opinion about a subject that is extremely important to me without being rude or abusive about the performance of David Rose."

Former All Blacks prop Clarke Dermody has given London Irish a welcome boost ahead of their crucial Heineken Cup match against champions Leinster at Twickenham on Saturday by agreeing a new two-year deal.

Northampton have signed former Wales prop Darren Morris until the end of the season as a replacement for Argentine front-row forward Santiago Bonorino, who has had to retire because of a back problem.

Gloucester flanker Akapusi Qera has signed a new two-year contract with the Kingsholm club. The Gloucester trio of fly-half Freddie Burns, wing Charlie Sharples and centre Henry Trinder have all signed two-year contract extensions with the club, securing their futures at Kingsholm until at least 2012.

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England V Ireland Hospitality

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O’Driscoll is Irish sports star of the year

It was Vince Lombardi, that wizened sports sage whose advice so often transcended his limited field of Gridiron, who reminded us that “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

It is no coincidence that Ireland's greatest sporting ambassadors have retained an inextricable fidelity to Lombardi's tenet, none more so that the latest addition to the stellar collection of Irish Independent/Jury's Croke Park SportsStars of the Year, Brian O'Driscoll.

His selection is a representation of the extraordinary levels to which he continually aspires, and the expectations he so often exceed.

Ireland's historic Grand Slam triumph and Leinster's Heineken Cup successes were, of course, team triumphs and last night's winner was the first to deflect the paeans of praise and cite that his was a reward shared by all who toiled with him.

And yet when one reflects on achievements that marked a year of unprecedented success in Irish rugby, it is difficult to eradicate the searing image imprinted upon the events by the imposing figure of Ireland's greatest ever exponent of the game.

Whether it was racing home a 70-yard intercept try with renewed vigour and more trustworthy hamstrings in Rome, or impudently burrowing beneath a stout English pack from an impossibly tight angle close to the try-line, O'Driscoll's interventions were clearly identifiable in their genius and timing.

When destiny rapped its knuckles on the door throughout this extraordinary season — who can forget the almost inhuman physical energy expended during the Lions series? — O'Driscoll answered the call every single time.

Ireland V Scotland Hospitality

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Supporters Club Competitions

The RBS 6 Nations is looming large on the horizon and the Irish Rugby Supporters Club is gearing up for all the action. We have just announced two great competitions to get whet your appetite and get you in an International mood!

This time next week the provincial jersyes will be folded away and the Ireland jerseys taken down of the hanger ready to be worn with pride by all Irish Rugby Supporters and none more so than the members of the Supporters Club!

With the announcement of the Ireland squad comes the anticipation of International action and thanks to the club thousands of members will be cheering Ireland on in Croke Park, Stade De France and Twickenham this year.

We have also launched two great competitions to bring you just that bit closer to the action - The Match Day Event for Ireland V Wales and our Mascot competition for Junior members.

The Match Day Event is one of our biggest days of the season bringing hundreds of members together in Croke Park to soak up the atmosphere, cheer on the team and then meet some of the players.

One lucky member - Fiona O'Shea was even present with a signed Ireland jersey by Sean and John, who also answered questions, signed autographs and posed for pictures in the aftermath of the fantastic win over South Africa.

Ireland will play Scotland in our last game of the RBS 6 Nations Championship and our last game in Croke Park and one lucky boy or girl has the chance to lead the team on the day.

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Ireland V Italy Hospitality

Ireland V Scotland Hospitality

Italy's Magners chances take a knock

The two Italian teams set to join the Magners League next season could be put on ice as the franchises are struggling to meet the criteria.

Financial and political issues are hampering progress, with a report and decision on progress expected in two weeks' time, according to the Irish Independent.

The internal political issues revolve around the relative strength of the teams, who would be severely weakened by international call-ups during the November Test window and Six Nations.

Then there are financial problems, with an entry fee of EUR 3m being demanded as a joint entry fee to cover the cost of expanding the league and the other teams' admin and away games, and a TV money contribution of EUR 1.2m set as a minimum requirement.

The two franchises might use the Heineken Cup as a fall-back option, but ERC are not likely to accept entry from teams who are not yet organised by the February 3 deadline.

The impetus for including Italy in the first place comes from the IRB who want to see a more competitive Italy on the international stage, with club rugby needing a boost in order to get that far.

But as it stands, the Italian teams would not necessarily raise the standard, particularly with more games then scheduled to be played inside the Test window, which would dilute the quality of the teams on show further.

Italy V England Hospitality

Italy V Scotland Hospitality

France V Italy Hospitality

Wales V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Championship Hospitality

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Ooh for ah player like Cantona

SCOTLAND rugby coach Andy Robinson names his squad tomorrow for training at St Andrews next week in preparation for the RBS Six Nations Championship. Evening News rugby writer BILL LOTHIAN gives an insight into what makes the coach tick

ANDY ROBINSON has used footballer Eric Cantona as an example of a sportsman who symbolises the message he is trying to put across to Scotland's rugby squad.

That situation revolved around one of Scotland's least experienced players and it is Robinson's goal to have rookies and stalwarts alike backing themselves.

Also, the former England cap wants players to be regularly asking 'why?'

"Asking why is better than acting like a lemming without knowing how to improve. Lots of players take up positions without thinking. The reason is that they are comfortable there.

"It's about challenging them to get to the next step.

Scotland's defence was lauded in the Autumn and Robinson said: "With a defence that defended the way we did you can attack from deeper.

"There has been some improvement in the understanding of our attack.

"Coaching defence is a lot simpler than putting together a framework for attack. All systems for defence are similar throughout the world.

"One area that we have to develop is peripheral vision with awareness of players around as well as the ability to scan and see."

It is likely that Robinson's initial selection, which will eventually be cut to a matchday 22, will take into account the Scotland A fixture against Ireland in Dublin on Sat Mar 20, 2010

(17:00), when it is likely the selection will be heavily based on the side which thumped Tonga 38-7 at Galashiels in November.

Ireland V Scotland Hospitality

The opportunity will almost certainly be taken to integrate Euan Murray back into a dark blue jersey, the Lions prop having missed the Autumn Tests due to injury.

He will also delay any entry to the Six Nations at least until Scotland head for Wales on Saturday 13 February because the Sunday fixture against France conflicts with his religious principles.

If Scotland can get off to a winning start against it will be the first time in the Six Nations since Robinson's predecessor, Frank Hadden launched his Test career with a 20-16 win over France at Murrayfield in 2006.

Scotland V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Friday, January 15, 2010

Welsh rugby fans ready to snap up Six Nations Hospitality

MORE than 27,000 Welsh rugby fans who have pre-registered for the Six Nations matches at the Millennium Stadium will get the opportunity to snap up tickets at noon today.

Fans have registered their support for the national squad since Wales captain Ryan Jones launched the pre-registration process via the Welsh Rugby Union website during last year’s autumn series.

Fans were able to join a priority waiting list for access to any tickets unclaimed by WRU member clubs and debenture holders.

Sell-out crowds are expected for the games against Scotland (February 13), France (February 26) and Italy (March 20).

“The fans are an important part of the team and we will be looking forward to three home games with the Millennium Stadium full to its rafters,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.

“There is nothing like looking up from the pitch to a sea of red to inspire a player.

“We have three tough matches in Cardiff this year and the crowd will have a vital part to play.”

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Perpignan make offer to Ospreys for James Hook

The Ospreys' Wales and Lions back, 24, is understood to be keen on a move away from the Liberty Stadium despite having 15 months to run on his contract.

Hook, who has won 37 caps for Wales, has become disillusioned with his rugby life in Swansea after losing his place at fly-half to Dan Biggar, 20. He also fears his switch to centre will end his chances of wearing the No 10 shirt at next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

Cardiff and Worcester have also made inquiries about Hook, who played at full-back for Wales in the autumn Tests.

Sources in France suggest the Ospreys have turned down an initial approach from Perpignan and are likely to maintain their stance despite Hook's desire to leave.

The 22-year-old former rugby league player, who is the Guinness Premiership's leading try-scorer, with nine in 10 games, has been named in England's elite player squad for the Six Nations Championship.

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Will Greenwood’s big warning for Wales

WORLD CUP-WINNER Will Greenwood has delivered a double whammy to Wales’ top stars, declaring they are facing Twickenham defeat and potential Heineken Cup wipe-out.

Greenwood, scourge of Wales’s teams as a player at the start of this millennium, reckons Martin Johnson’s new-look England will prove too strong for Warren Gatland’s men at Twickenham.

And he also predicted the Ospreys stars who make up the bulk of Gatland’s team have to take something from their Euro showdown in Clermont tomorrow.

Failure to do that, he warns, could lead to Clermont and Leicester grabbing the top-two spots in Pool Three and the Ospreys joining the Blues, Scarlets and Dragons on the Euro sidelines.

Greenwood’s warning of a double dose of trouble for Welsh rugby will fire up the likes of Ryan Jones, Shane Williams, Lee Byrne, Adam Jones, James Hook and Alun Wyn Jones ahead of a pivotal moment of their season.

But Greenwood is adamant that misery could be facing Welsh rugby, saying: “England have made themselves difficult to beat against Six Nations opponents. It’s England versus Wales at Twickenham on February 6, one of the days in the rugby calendar.

“I’m one of the biggest fans of Welsh rugby, but, as a proud Englishman, I think home advantage will prove decisive with England coming out on top.

“Wales’ second game of the Six Nations is against Scotland in Cardiff and it’s that encounter when Wales will look to get on a winning roll.”

England boss Johnson has strengthened his squad significantly after it was ravaged by injury for the autumn campaign, bringing in a number of younger players he hopes will pep up his team.

But Greenwood says that for Gatland’s Ospreys-based stars to go to Twickenham on a Euro high, they need to go for the jugular in France tomorrow to guarantee Welsh representation in the Heineken quarter-finals.

Scott Johnson’s side currently top Pool Three with 16 points, four ahead of Leicester and Clermont. But their rivals each have the comfort of a probable bonus-point victory to come over Italian minnows Viadana.

With French Championship leaders Clermont hosting the Ospreys at Stade Marcel Michelin, Greenwood insists Aurelien Rougerie and his team are in pole position to win the group.

“James is just so calm and assured. When it’s on to go from his 22, he is away. It’s an Australian sense of belief and purpose.

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Ireland V Wales - Six Nations 2010

CROKE PARK STADIUM - 13 March 2010

The magic moments of Irelands historic Grand Slam 2009 rugby season will be emotionally recalled when the RBS Six Nations championship 2010 unfolds at Croke Park in February and March next.

Far from resting on their laurels, Ireland’s rugby heroes are determined to scale the heights again and capitalise on home advantage against Italy, Wales and Scotland.

Interest in the capacity sell-out games is further flavoured by this being the last time for a Six Nations Championship to be staged at GAA Headquarters prior to the Irish teams return to the new look Aviva Stadium later in the year.

Croke Park Stadium

Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland is the largest sports stadium in Ireland and the fourth largest stadium in Europe. It is the principal stadium and headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Ireland's biggest sporting organisation. The stadium is in the heart of the city, a 15 minute walk from the main thoroughfare O'Connell Street

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

At Croke Park Dublin Ireland On Sat Mar 13, 2010 at (14:30) price £499.00

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RBS Six Nations Rugby Hospitality

Ambro Events are an official provider of official hospitality packages at Twickenham and the other venues for the RBS 6 Nations Rugby Championship 2010.

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Scotland Rugby will open their RBS 6 Nations Rugby Championship 2010 campaign at Twickenham against France at Murrayfield on Sun Feb 07, 2010, Wales at Millennium Stadium on Sat Feb 13, 2010 and Italy at Stadio Flaminio on Sat Feb 27, 2010

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David Young hoping Edinburgh can find right formula to extend stay in Europe

Win and European rugby should beckon. Lose, and it’s another season of concentrating on the Magners League, and another season where Scottish rugby has drawn a blank in the Heineken Cup. The equation is that simple and stark for Edinburgh when they play Ulster tonight.

What complicates things for the Scottish club is that the arithmetic is identical for their opponents, who go into the game level on points in the pool but with the advantage of having picked up a bonus point in losing the reverse fixture, where the teams drew the try count at one each.

Which means that the biggest game of the season so far sees David Young, the prop, retain his place after being drafted into the side last week to give Geoff Cross a rest. “It is a big vote of confidence,” Young said yesterday before the team flew to Belfast, the city where, coincidentally, he was born while his father was on an Army tour of duty to the city.

“I have had snippets of opportunities in the past. To be given a start in the must-win game against Cardiff last weekend was a great boost. You have got to earn your stripes, and though that may have taken a few months longer than I expected, the key thing is that I have been given this opportunity and have to continue the momentum,” he added.

The back row sees Alan MacDonald, capped by Scotland in November but who missed last week’s game with flu, come in as a straight like-for-like replacement for Rennie. It is a rare outing for him in his specialist role as openside flanker, but he says he is just delighted to be back in the side.

“Seven is probably my preferred position but I am not picky, it is more about how I can contribute to the team,” MacDonald said. “It is very exciting; I think everybody will relish the experience. I have won games there in the past, and lost games there too. It is always a difficult place to go.”

Moffat knows that it would be a huge boost to his side’s chances if they were not only to win, but also pick up a try bonus point, but yesterday he refused to heap pressure on the team by suggesting that they would go out with those four tries as a goal. “I was disappointed last week because at 18-6 up we should have kicked on and got that fourth try,” he said. “I would expect that if we found ourselves in the same position this week, we would keep going, but you can’t predict that. The important thing is to win.”

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