Brian O’DriscollKnown for his intelligent plays and quick thinking, heres just a taster of what he can do. Brian O’Driscoll scores the pick of the Leinster tries during a Heineken Cup showdown with Wasps in 2008. Poor Tom Voyce didn’t get a look-in! LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS TAGS: Leinster
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Exeter Chiefs have been handed a double boost ahead of Saturday’s Aviva Premiership trip to Gloucester with the news that Gareth Steenson and Brett Sturgess (above) have both agreed new deals with the club.Fly-half Steenson and prop Sturgess have put pen to paper on contracts which will keep them at Sandy Park for a further two years.Leading figures in last season’s promotion-winning squad out of the Championship, the talented duo have followed the lead of team-mates Haydn Thomas and Tom Johnson in committing their futures to the Devon outfit.Dungannon-born Steenson is the second highest points-scorer in the club’s history having joined the Chiefs in 2008 from Westcountry rivals Cornish Pirates, whilst former Northampton Saints and Connacht forward Sturgess has been an ever present in the Premiership this term.Not surprisingly both men are over the moon to have secured their immediate futures with the Chiefs.Steenson (above) said: “Obviously I’m absolutely delighted to have sorted myself out for the foreseeable future at a club I know is not only ambitious, but is also looking to improve all the time. Thankfully we’ve managed to sort out the contract quickly and now I can just focus on my rugby for the rest of the season.“I’ve always said I love it here at Exeter, so to have another two years secured is absolutely great. Obviously it’s been a good start for us in the Premiership, but we now have to finish it off with a big second half to the season.”Although sidelined for three months of the current campaign through injury, Steenson has already shown in the early stages of the season that he is more than capable of producing the goods in the top flight.The hero of last season’s Championship Play-Off success over Bristol, the talented back admits the elevation of the club into the Premiership has been beneficial not only for himself, but also many of his team-mates who were here last term.“A lot of us have been at the club for a few years so it was great when we achieved that aim of getting into the Premiership,” added Steenson. “As a group of players we are all close-knit and enjoy working hard for each other, so it’s a tremendous place to be at right now. Hopefully, as I said, we can build on what we have achieved and move forward over the next few seasons.”Like Steenson, Sturgess was more than happy to prolong his stay in Devon. He added: “I’m now into my fourth season at the club and I really enjoy it down here. I’m settled in well with my wife and our little son, so to have this new deal gives me not only a bit of security, but means I can also concentrate fully on my rugby.“If I’m honest there was too much of a decision to make when the club offered me the deal, but I just wanted to sort out certain bits and bobs. Once we agreed those things, it was all fairly simple and now I just want to focus on playing and helping to take the club forward. “Having been here for a few years I know how ambitious the club are. We achieved one aim with getting into the Premiership last season, but now we want to push on further and I want to be part of that.”The decision of both players to commit to the Chiefs has been welcomed by head coach Rob Baxter, who admits he is close to securing a number of other squad members to new long-term deals.Baxter said: “I think these signings, plus all the others that we are currently in negotiations with, show that as a club we are all about moving forward. We haven’t had to wait too long for decisions from the guys we have been in conversations with. A lot of them are keen to commit their futures to us, so that is excellent news.“Obviously both Brett and Steeno played big parts in our promotion last season and it’s great to keep them on board for the next two years. I still think they are two players who have still got potential to improve and move on from where they are – which is obviously very important to us – and they are also very good members of the squad.“We feel they are the right kind of men to help move us forward and to give us some stability over the coming seasons. As I’ve said before, we want to develop and keep the same culture and beliefs that have served us well in the past, so it’s important we keep guys within the squad who know all about that.”“It’s also good that we have signed them up now. We know we have a very tough second half to the season and whilst it’s nice for people to say a lot of complimentary things about us, the truth of it is we still have a lot of league points we need to go out and try and collect and it’s nice to have focused players. By getting guys signed up like this, it will allow us to focus firmly on what we do which is playing games of rugby.”The added benefit of signing players up early is also that Baxter will not be in the same position as last season when his recruitment drive was delayed by the outcome of the play-offs.“I already feel we are a bit ahead of the game this year,” added the coach. “We haven’t got masses of recruitment to do. I feel nice and comfortable with where we are in terms of our retention of players, so once that is all sorted I think recruitment then becomes relatively easy.“What is so nice about this season is that for a lot of the guys this is their first experience of the Premiership, but I still think they will get better in time. The key is we still need to keep players who we think can push on and improve because as a team and a group of players that is the place we need to go. We are a long way from a finished Premiership team, I think Saturday showed that, but we certainly have to push forward and see where that takes us.” TAGS: Exeter Chiefs See highlights of the Chiefs beating Gloucester in the opening game of this season below:
Northampton and Englang Flanker, Tom WoodNorthampton Saints back row forward Tom Wood was named Aviva Player of the Season at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards at Old Billingsgate in central London this evening (Tuesday 10th May 2011).The Coventry born forward only joined Northampton this season after having come through the successful Worcester Warriors Academy, making 48 Premiership Rugby appearances with Worcester before his summer move to Franklin’s Gardens. 24 year old Wood made his competitive debut for Saints in their win over local rivals Leicester Tigers on the opening day of the Aviva Premiership Rugby season and from that moment never looked back.13 further appearances for Northampton followed as well as an England debut in the first Six Nations match of the season against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, further testament to his stellar early season form for the Saints. Injury in the midweek match against Gloucester Rugby on April 19th may yet deprive Saints of Wood for their Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final and the Heineken Cup Final a week later.The Land Rover Discovery of the Season award, presented to the best player aged 21 years or under on the day of the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final, was awarded to Leicester Tigers’ centre Manu Tuilagi. Tuilagi is the latest of the brothers to play for the reigning Premiership Rugby champions and was another to make his debut in the opening day clash between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints after successfully graduating from Leicester’s academy.Since that time, Tuilagi has gone on to play in all but three of Tigers’ Aviva Premiership Rugby matches, scoring seven tries, including a brace against both Newcastle Falcons and Sale Sharks and a try of the season contender against Saracens in March. Tuilagi has also moved quickly through the England ranks, adding an England Saxons cap to his previous England age grade experience.Jim Mallinder – Northampton Saints Director of RugbyThe final major award, the QBE Director of Rugby of the Season, was presented to Northampton Saints’ Jim Mallinder. Northampton Saints go into May with a chance of claiming a domestic and European double, with an Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final against Leicester Tigers this weekend to be followed by the Heineken Cup Final against Leinster.Saints opened their 2010/11 Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign with a win against Leicester Tigers and led the league at the turn of the year. Postponements, injuries and the loss of a number of players to international duty saw their league form suffer, but Mallinder guided them to a semi-final place with a win over Leeds Carnegie on the final day of the regular season. In tandem with their strong league form, Saints are the only side to win all their matches in the Heineken Cup this season and play Leinster in their first Final for over a decade.Mallinder has also coached a group of talented young English players and enabled them to both play for and achieve success with their country. Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes are an integral part of Martin Johnson’s squad, with Tom Wood joining that group just this year.Schalk Brits scored the Try of the SeasonThe MBNA Try of the Season was awarded to Saracens’ hooker Schalk Brits for his try against Gloucester Rugby in round 21. A penalty from Gloucester fly half Freddie Burns hit the post, Saracens gathered the rebound and attacked from their own line, with Brits showing his now famous skill and pace to complete the move.The evening began when Brits’ Saracens team-mate Hayden Smith was presented with the Aviva Community Player of the Season Award for his work on the ‘Hitz’ programme. Hitz is a pioneering inner city rugby coaching programme that targets some of London’s most deprived boroughs.Hayden has been a staunch supporter of Hitz since its inception and often makes his own way down to Haggerston Park in Hackney, one of the six London Boroughs involved, gets stuck into the coaching and talks to the children involved.Aviva Premiership Rugby new boys Exeter Chiefs gained recognition for their efforts in their first season in the top flight with an awards double. Their captain Tom Hayes was named captain of the ESPN Dream Team as selected by ESPN analysts Austin Healey and Ben Kay.The duo selected Hayes as the captain of their team for his inspirational leadership of Exeter Chiefs in their first season of Aviva Premiership Rugby and the Irishman leads a team comprising five Northampton Saints, three Saracens, three Leicester Tigers, two Harlequins and one from Newcastle Falcons.Hayes’ team-mate Tom Johnson won the Gatorade Performance of the Season Award for his efforts in the Chiefs’ round nine Aviva Premiership Rugby victory over Sale Sharks in November.To find a winner, Gatorade used a formula devised by Opta Sportsdata, the official Statistics provider of Premiership Rugby, to award players points for things like metres gained, number of carries, turnovers won and tackles made.It was a busy night for Newcastle Falcons’ Jimmy Gopperth. After being named as fly half in the ESPN Dream Team and being nominated in the Aviva Community Player of the Season category, Gopperth then picked up the Gilbert Golden Boot for the second season in succession. The former Blues fly half finished the season with a personal tally of 230 points, with 215 of those coming from the boot at a success rate of over 80%. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Young Player of the Season 2009/10, Ben Youngs, Leicester Tigers2008/9, Jordan Turner-Hall, Harlequins2007/8, Danny Cipriani, London Wasps2006/7, Tom Rees, London Wasps2005/6, Tom Varndell, Leicester Tigers2004/5, Ollie Smith, Leicester Tigers Director of Rugby of the Season 2009/10, Andy Key, Leeds Carnegie2008/9, Richard Cockerill, Leicester Tigers2007/8, Dean Ryan, Gloucester Rugby2006/7, Pat Howard, Leicester Tigers2005/6, Philippe Saint-Andre, Sale Sharks2004/5, John Wells, Leicester Tigers Alesana Tuilagi joined his brother Manu as an award winner as the Leicester Tigers wing claimed the Guinness Top Try Scorer of the Season Award, with 12 tries to his name including one on the last day of the season against London Irish. Tuilagi now has 37 tries in 92 Premiership Rugby appearances for Tigers.Concluding the list of award winners was Saracens scrum half Kevin Barrett who was named the inaugural J.P. Morgan Asset Management Premiership Rugby 7s Series Player of the Season. Barrett used all his England 7s experience to lead a young and talented Saracens squad to the first ever J.P. Morgan 7s title as they beat Newcastle Falcons in the final at Bath’s Recreation Ground.The winners and nominees in full were as follows:Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the SeasonLand Rover Discovery of the SeasonQBE Director of Rugby of the SeasonMBNA Try of the SeasonAviva Community Player of the Season J.P. Morgan Asset Management Premiership Rugby 7s Series Player of the SeasonGuinness Top Try ScorerGilbert Golden BootPast winners Premiership Rugby Player of the Season 2009/10, Chris Ashton, Northampton Saints2008/9, Chris Robshaw, Harlequins2007/8, James Simpson-Daniel, Gloucester Rugby2006/7, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leicester Tigers2005/6, Mike Catt, London Irish2004/5, Martin Corry, Leicester Tigers
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS This video features the nominees with the top touchdowns from the first 20 rounds of the Premiership – take a look and let us know your favourite… May’s day: Gloucester’s Jonny May is in the running for Try of the Season with this effort against HarlequinsThere have been plenty of quality tries during this season’s Aviva Premiership, from Jonny May’s individual effort against Harlequins to Manu Tuilagi finishing off a team move at Northampton, but what’s the best of the lot? The judges have cast their votes and the winner of Try of the Season will be announced at the Aviva Premiership Awards on Tuesday 8 May – but what do you think?
Old foes: Dan Norton tackles Samoa’s Paul Perez during the Hong Kong SevensENGLAND WILL face Samoa, Kenya and Spain on the opening day of the HSBC Sevens World Series on October 13.The draw was made today for the Gold Coast Sevens in Australia, the first of nine legs in this season’s series which concludes with the Marriott London Sevens next May.England finished third in last season’s competition, with Samoa in fourth place and Kenya 12th. Spain are a new ‘core’ team after finishing second in the qualifying competition in Hong Kong this year.This season England’s expanded squad of 19 full-time players, warmed up last weekend against Spain and France in Villajoyosa, were led by head coach Ben Ryan.Ryan said: “We’re in excellent shape after a very demanding pre-season programme and standards in the squad have been driven up by the intense competition for places.“The draw for the Gold Coast brings home just how close we are now to the kick-off of what promises to be the biggest season ever for sevens. We’re in the Olympic cycle now with the HSBC Sevens World Series followed immediately by the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow next June. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS “Every draw is a difficult one now: Samoa were tough to play throughout last season, Kenya always give us tough games and we know Spain really well – they’ve got lots of talent and will want to prove they deserve their place at the top table.”The cross-over for the knock-out stages means England potentially face Fiji or Australia in the quarter-finals if they make it out of Pool C.Champions New Zealand face South Africa, USA and newcomers Canada in Pool A, while Wales are in a competitive Pool D with Argentina, France and Portugal. Dan Norton (L) of England tackles Paul Perez of Samoa (R) in a pool A match during the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament on March 24, 2012. AFP PHOTO / Dale de la Rey (Photo credit should read DALE de la REY/AFP/Getty Images) Gold Coast Sevens draw:Pool A – New Zealand, South Africa, USA, CanadaPool B – Fiji, Australia, Scotland, TongaPool C – England, Samoa, Kenya, SpainPool D – Argentina, Wales, France, PortugalEngland Sevens squad:Dan Bibby, John Brake, Chris Brightwell, Chris Cracknell, Sam Edgerley, Mike Ellery, Christian Lewis-Pratt, James Lightfoot-Brown, Tom Mitchell, Dan Norton, Mark Odejobi, Ollie Phillips, Tom Powell, Jack Preece, James Rodwell, Mathew Turner, Rob Vickerman, Marcus Watson, Jeff Williams.
DEFENDINGMost TacklesThis may be an indicator of which sides are under the most pressure, weekly, but these are the backrowers who have the highest volume of tackles this season.David Seymour unsurprisingly tops the list, with other tenacious characters Shane Jennings of Leinster and Roddy Grant of Edinburgh locked at 92 tackles each.Most PenalisedOn the other side of the coin some backrow players give away a large number of penalties. Here are Europe’s worst offenders. Despite featuring as a top five ball carrier Billy Vunipola, along with Perpignan’s Al Strokosh gave away 13 penalties each. However, Clermont’s Bardy takes the title with an appalling tally of 16 pens.Statistics provided by Opta For balance these are the statistics for the top five offloaders in the league. These are purely offensive passes that unleash other players- something that is vital for certain game plans.Again Alex Tulou is top of the pile, with teammate Mamuka Gorgodze just behind him. Easter features again, with Andy Powell and Antoine Battut of Racing Metro also in the top 5. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Don’t stop me now: Montpellier’s explosive flanker Alex Tulou has carried further than any other player in EuropeBy Alan DymockRUGBY IS a subjective old sport. When it comes to talk of who is top of the pile, it’s hard to come to a definitive answer, with pub-know-it-alls basing opinions on one performance, one eye-catching run or one cobbled cliché.Tenacious: Sale’s Dave Seymour (left) is Europe’s top tacklerIt is true that statistics can be used to say whatever you want, torn out of context and pasted into whatever scheme you would like to champion. Relatively speaking the data can provide a clearer picture of who is achieving in certain aspects of the game, and putting in the work.Here are some figures pulled from the Top 14 in France (start of season – November 22), the Aviva Premiership (up until December 2) and the RaboDirect Pro12 (up until December 3) and presented in their purest form.These figures are taken from the sports statistic experts Opta, with each player in the top leagues compared in terms of the number of incidents they were involved in throughout the season so far. In the name of fairness, players are only taken into account if they have featured in a minimum of five league matches.Today we will look at the numbers for the backrowers.ATTACKINGMost Metres in Ball Carries Everyone else in Europe has been barged out of the way by Montpellier’s Alex Tulou, with almost double the yards made with ball in hand than runner up Louis Picamoles.Rafael Lakafia also features in the top five, while Billy Vunipola and Nick Easter represent the Aviva Premiership finest dump trucks. Those representing the Top 14 averaged 550m, while Easter and Vunipola managed respective 361 metres. The numbers may look impressive, but it does not necessarily mean distance equals positive outcomes.Most PassesWith backrowers looking to link, it is pertinent to look at how many times the top players pass. Of course not all of these are links and some may be panicked ‘shovelled’ moves, but this is the raw data.Exeter Chief James Scaysbrook has passed 84 times this season, with Nick Easter just behind with 83. Top 14 players make up the rest of the list.Most Offloads
As for Clermont, vice-president Jean-Marc Lhermet said they intended to play Domingo against Grenoble, warning the FFR that they risk “initiating tensions between the clubs and the France coaching staff because I believe that, on this subject, the clubs stand together”.Saint-André recognises he must tread carefully in the days ahead, doing what’s best for France without antagonising the clubs. As usual when rugby goes to war it is the players caught in the crossfire. Huget returns to training with Toulouse today but asked if he expected to make the trip to Biarritz on Saturday he replied: “I don’t know anything…it’s a difficult period for them (the Toulouse coaches) and for us, but it’s not for me to pass judgement on the situation.” NOT FOR FEATURED In all probability PSA had his coffee and croissants on Monday morning while reading the latest edition of Midi Olympique. The reports and analysis of Sunday’s victory over Italy would have gladdened his heart (Rabah Slimani’s red card and creaking scrum apart), but PSA must have shuddered when he turned to page four. Under the heading ‘La grogne de clubs’ (the rumbling discontent of the clubs), Toulouse, Clermont and Stade Francais all made clear their opposition to the idea of resting players this weekend.Time to rest? Stade fly-half Jules PlissonFor Toulouse, in particular, the issue has become a bête noire with club president René Bouscatel resigning his seat on the LNR board in December in protest at the FFR-LNR agreement over player release. The passage of time hasn’t diluted his anger; quite the reverse in fact, judging by his latest rant. “I really have a lot of anger against the connivance of the league and federation,” fumed Bouscatel. “It’s going to take time, but they’re going to have a war.”On Monday evening L’Equipe reported that despite phone calls from Saint-André and FFR president Pierre Camou, Bouscatel was refusing to stand down Nyanga, Picamoles, and Huget from club duty this weekend.The words of Stade Francais coach Gonzalo Quesada were more temperate, the former Argentina fly-half saying he wanted all his players back for the trip to Brive because “one has to understand that we also have our objectives”. In demand: Yoann Huget breaks against Italy – but will he be wearing Toulouse colours this weekend?By Gavin MortimerONE WOULD have thought there would be a smile on the face of French rugby this week. Two wins out of two in the Six Nations, already one more than they managed last season. In fact, less than six weeks into 2014 and Les Bleus have already equalled their win tally for the previous calendar year.But the atmosphere within French rugby is fractious when it should be felicitous. For despite the fact the French are level on points with Ireland at the top of the Six Nations table, the clubs aren’t happy – and as they wield most of the power in France, they’re threatening to flex their muscles.Eye of storm: Philippe Saint-AndréThe reason for their chagrin is simple. This weekend sees a full programme of Top 14 fixtures with leaders Clermont facing a tricky trip to Grenoble and second-placed Stade Francais venturing into the back of beyond to play Brive. Toulouse, meanwhile, who lost at home to Montpellier on Saturday and dropped out of the top six as a result, are in Biarritz while reigning champs Castres take on Toulon. Big fixtures, and the clubs want their big players.But France coach Philippe Saint-André, in accordance with the agreement signed between the LNR and the FFR in December, submitted on Monday a request that 12 players be rested this weekend. The drained dozen are those players who started both the England and Italy matches: Yannick Nyanga, Louis Picamoles, Yoann Huget and Jean-Marc Doussain (all Toulouse), Thomas Domingo and Wesley Fofana (Clermont), Nicolas Mas of Montpellier, Toulon’s Mathieu Bastareaud, Bernard Le Roux of Racing, Castres’ Brice Dulin and the Stade Francais pair of Pascal Papé and Jules Plisson.In submitting the request, PSA explained: “We’ve opened a dialogue with the clubs as stipulated in the FFR-LNR agreement, at the heart of which is the players’ welfare…the idea is to try to conserve the players who started both matches.” LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
Stalking the Rec: Danny Cipriani played a smart, understated game against Bath LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Danny Cipriani carries a hefty amount of baggage with him – he’s freely admitted that. The prodigious yet prodigal son of English rugby has been a tabloid editor’s dream. Nightclub incidents, celebrity girlfriends and a certain bus collision in Leeds just about cancelled out the positive column inches he earned as a supremely talented teenager.Remember Cipriani’s staggering first Test start against Ireland? That was six years ago. Ancient history.Talking out: Steve DiamondThankfully for the now-26-year-old, a stint at Sale Sharks has opened a happier chapter. This campaign in particular is hauling him back into credit. Publicly vilified by Steve Diamond last season for an apparent reluctance to help out in defence, Cipriani now feels like the spearhead of Sale’s surge into play-off contention.Without losing any of his enterprising attacking touches a player cannot easily learn, he has added composure and willing in the tackle area. Take Friday for example, and an encounter with golden boy George Ford on a rain-soaked evening at The Rec – where Bath had been beaten just once this term.There were no individual flashes of brilliance, but after a poorly-struck first clearance that handed Nick Abendanon too much space, Cipriani exhibited calm game management on the back foot that helped the visitors to a 12-11 win. Four from four from the tee took the headlines, but his ability to pick runners in the scant time Sale had possession – standing flat and propelling Johnny Loeta and Sam Tuitupou over the gainline – did make you wonder about his England prospects. He is the type of ‘heads-up’ fly-half that could help Manu Tuilagi wreak havoc.Besides, an understated Cipriani showing in a successful result is very welcome. Sometimes less is more, and Stuart Lancaster would have been more impressed with this role in a gritty win than a Hollywood hat-trick in a high-scoring defeat. That said, international involvement might yet be a way off.At the end of last week, Diamond pressed his case for Cipriani to have a place on the June tour to New Zealand.“Danny has matured,” said Sale’s boss. “He has become a real team man, bought in to that ethos, and added his own individual flourishes. The celebrity stuff has died down here in Manchester. He has managed to compartmentalise things in a much better way. His defence has gotten better, as it needed to.”That all sounded perfect. Then Diamond hinted at a hasty ultimatum. “Taking him to New Zealand will either lift the lid on any World Cup hopes or be the final nail in that coffin.” Why hinge Cipriani’s Test future on a trip to face the world’s best? It seems grossly unfair.First off, there is the question of scheduling. The regular Premiership fixture card finishes on May 10. England’s initial party – minus players from the sides that have made the domestic final – fly out to prepare for the first Test in New Zealand ten days later. The rigid IRB window has created a farcical situation that will make preparation disjointed. Therefore, it’s likely Lancaster will stick to what he knows.Not doing anything wrong: Bath fly-half George Ford hasn’t failed or fouled for England, so why drop him?England’s successful Six Nations was not an overnight sensation. It was a steady progression. Each member of squad learned more about their individual place in the team structure and culture with every training session. Previous misdemeanours aside, Cipriani did not deserve his place in either the Senior or Saxons EPS in August. Stephen Myler and Freddie Burns had gone well in Argentina. Henry Slade was key to England Under 20’s Junior World Championship win, too.All three have been working regularly under Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt throughout this season. Despite mixed club form, each would rightly feel aggrieved to see Cipriani head Down Under instead of them as back-up to Owen Farrell and Ford, especially with a match against Canterbury Crusaders acting as an enticing shop window.Besides anything else, it would be asking an obscene amount of Cipriani. Even such a confident, mercurial man would struggle to come in from the cold, learn established structures and guide a gameplan to overturn the All Blacks and their intimidating 14-Test winning run. That’s not being formulaic or unimaginative. It’s just common sense.Far better would be to wait until July and make a judgment call on whether Cipriani’s qualities merit a place in either EPS. Lancaster might discover in New Zealand that a genuine running threat from fly-half will elevate England to another level. In which case, he would surely not hesitate to bring in the Sale playmaker.Hurt you at 30: Sam Burgess could make an impactFarrell and Ford are the long-term bets. But even if the wonderful prospect of a home World Cup proves beyond Cipriani, he should not give up. In 2019, he will be 31 – the age Jonny Wilkinson started plundering silverware with Toulon. Sam Burgess will be 30, and might end up a key lieutenant for Lancaster and one of the most destructive back-row bludgeons union has seen…it’s possible, isn’t it? There is a lot of hype around recalling Danny Cipriani for England In any case, this summer is not do-or-die for Cipriani as an England player. Patience and perseverance are just as important as his undoubted talent in winning a white shirt back.Find out how to download the digital edition of Rugby World here.
Four teams are all battling to avoid the drop from the French top flight as the season reaches its climax – here’s the lowdown… In danger: Perpignan’s James HookPerpignan’s trio of matches are hardly any less daunting. The Catalans host Oyonnax on Saturday, followed a week later by Toulon and their campaign then ends at Clermont.And spare a thought for Oyonnax. After their trip to Perpignan, they entertain Toulouse before bringing down the curtain on their season with a trip to Brive, beaten just once at home this season.Grenoble must also face Toulouse – on the last day of the championship – but before then they host Montpellier and Bayonne. The fact they’ve six more points than Bayonne means that if Grenoble secure a bonus-point win against the Basques on 19 April they’ll be safe. In the top half of the table, meanwhile, Oyonnax’s win was good news for a host of clubs locked in the struggle to secure one of the six play-off places. Only eight points separate leaders Montpellier from Toulouse in sixth, hence the reason Toulouse put in such a limp performance against Munster on Saturday. The Top 14 is their priority and while their 58 points keeps them in the play-offs, Bordeaux and Stade (7th and 8th) have the same number of points while 9th-placed Brive are on 55 and have arguably the easiest run-in.All of which means we’re in for a tense few weeks this side of the Channel. Anyone know the French for ‘squeaky bum time’? Pointing the way: Oyonnax celebrate after beating Bordeaux Bégles but they are still at risk of relegation LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS In the foothills of the Alps last Saturday no one gave a hoot about the Heineken Cup. Instead all eyes in Oyonnax were on their rearranged Top 14 fixture against Bordeaux. Originally, the match had been scheduled for February, but the shocking weather that battered the British Isles for much of that month also brought havoc in France and the match was postponed because of severe flooding.On Saturday evening Oyonnax beat Bordeaux 26-12 in the rearranged fixture, a result that lifts them from 13th to 11th. They now have 48 points, four more than Bayonne, who slip into the relegation zone, and two more than Perpignan. With Biarritz already condemned to the Pro2 next season, it means Bayonne, Perpignan, Oyonnax and Grenoble (on 50 points) must all scrap like crazy in the three remaining rounds of the regular season.Pulling together: Bayonne are in 13th placeRelegation dogfights are always vicious affairs but this season’s will have more bite than usual given the recent TV deal agreed between the LNR and Canal Plus. Of the €355m heading the way of the French domestic game in the next five years, 63% will feather the nests of Top 14 clubs with the remaining 37% divided up among the 16 clubs in the Pro2. That’s a huge discrepancy, one guaranteed to give the presidents of those four clubs in the relegation red zone sleepless nights between now and 3 May, the date of the final round of matches.In gravest danger of the drop are Bayonne, which would be a devastating blow to Basque pride. To see one regional club relegated in a season is bad enough, but were Biarritz and Bayonne both to forfeit their elite status then it would only strengthen the calls in some quarters for the two clubs to merge.Bayonne’s trio of outstanding matches are tough. This Saturday they host Stade Francais with the Parisians knowing they must win to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the play-offs. On the penultimate weekend of the regular season, Bayonne travel to Grenoble, who have lost only twice at home this season, and last up are Castres. While the reigning champions have an appalling record on the road this season (just one win in Montpellier), they will be desperate to win to guarantee their place in the place-offs.
Surveying the scene: Stuart Lancaster has a lot to keep his eye on in the build-up to the New Zealand tour Diligent as he is, Lancaster will have worked out every permutation. Some of them are quite encouraging, too. A Saracens-Leicester final – not unlikely given the Fez-heads’ form and Tigers’ track-record at Franklin’s Gardens – would leave all of the starting 15 from the win over Wales except for Owen Farrell and Nowell. That is assuming Twelvetrees recovers from an ankle tweak.Others are less kind. If Northampton and Harlequins make it, there will be a chasm of leadership and attacking spark – Hartley and Lawes is the lineout axis, Care and Mike Brown the try-scoring catalysts, Robshaw and Wood the gnarled, industrious generals. None would be in Auckland.Europe complicates matters further. Saracens face Toulon in what promises to be an eye-wateringly physical skirmish at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the Heineken Cup. Saints and Bath meet in the Amlin. Wasps host Stade before hopping over The Channel on May 24. Graham Rowntree could really do without an injury to Joe Launchbury over those 160 minutes.All these complications means Lancaster will be biting his fingernails for a large proportion of the ensuing weeks. Given the logistical minefield, an initial party he announces on May 15 will be sparse before other names are added 11 days later.England do possess depth. Magnificent locks Dave Attwood and Ed Slater are due an opportunity, likewise Tuilagi, who has a history of destroying New Zealand. Talk is already of a ‘hooker crisis’, but even if Hartley cannot feature at Eden Park, Dave Ward and Jamie George are very capable. That said, capable does not cut it against the All Blacks.One of three All Black blindsides: Liam Messam of the ChiefsFollowing an uncertain beginning to the Super 15, some influential Kiwis are clunking into top gear. Hurricanes number two Dane Coles is tearing around like Superman in a yellow shirt. Richie McCaw is fit again, while Ma’a Nonu and Charles Piutau look capable of ripping up any defence on Earth. Beauden Barrett is an impossibly talented fly-half. The gargantuan tussle for Steve Hansen’s blindside berth between Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam and Steven Luatua defines the task in hand for Lancaster. Ah, May – a glorious month for rugby watchers in the northern hemisphere. The sun comes out, pitches harden and drama intensifies. Last weekend in the Aviva Premiership, for instance, there was an average of almost 52 points and just under eight tries per match. That second figure was even higher than the Super 15’s corresponding statistic, which doesn’t happen very often.What is more, each of the English domestic fixtures – bar Gloucester’s high-octane encounter with London Irish – had something riding on it. These giddy score-fests did not constitute empty end-of-season jollies.Though brave Worcester Warriors finally succumbed to relegation and European places are sewn up pending Wasps’ double-header against Stade Francais, the final round retains intrigue. Leicester Tigers can strike a psychological blow to Saracens at Welford Road before the play-offs and the Twickenham Stoop plays host to what is effectively a quarter-final between Harlequins and Bath.It’s pretty exciting for everyone – everyone that is, apart from Stuart Lancaster. He might need to watch through his fingers.England’s head coach has a lot to ponder over the next month, and must feel as though his hands are tied painfully tight. An administrative error made in RFU-IRB scheduling – misjudging the June international window and then failing to amend the trip’s itinerary – means Lancaster’s side heads to New Zealand for a three-Test series just one week after the Premiership decider. None of the finalists will be available for the opening match at Eden Park, where the All Blacks are unbeaten since 1994.It’s a tour that has been on Lancaster’s radar for a long time, factored into a meticulous development plan for his burgeoning squad. A hat-trick of successive clashes with the world champions is daunting, but also an opportunity to ensure England are battle-hardened for RWC 2015 and aware of exactly what it would take to win the Webb Ellis trophy. However, this farcical situation means there is a lot of traffic to dodge.Wrap him in cotton wool?: With Dan Cole out, David Wilson will be an important figure for EnglandTake the shoot-out at the Stoop. Is it better for England if Bath or Harlequins progress? Would Lancaster rather be able to wrap George Ford and crucial tighthead David Wilson in cotton wool, or give a rest to the vital triumvirate of Danny Care, Mike Brown and skipper Chris Robshaw? It’s a fairly grim catch-22, made tougher because as intensity increases to mark the campaign’s climax, players will not let up thanks to professionalism and pride. Plus, club fans won’t accept tentativeness. Quite right, too.England’s enterprising Six Nations was more impressive for the illustrious absentees – Tom Croft, Manu Tuilagi, Geoff Parling, Alex Corbisiero, Christian Wade, Marland Yarde. On Wednesday, Lancaster confirmed that Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Jack Nowell will not travel for varying reasons. Croft, Corbisero and Wade are to undertake full pre-seasons, while Billy Twelvetrees, Dylan Hartley and Rob Webber are in manic fitness battles. That’s more than half a team. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS In fits and starts, England resembled an excellent outfit during the Six Nations and can realistically target at least one victory. Circumstances are conspiring against them, though. It feels oddly fitting to paraphrase Coldplay lyrics: “Nobody said it was easy, but no one ever said it would be this hard.”To read our exclusive interview with England centre Manu Tuilagi, see the June 2014 issue of Rugby World, on sale until 2 June.