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Wales recall Jonathan Davies for New Zealand

January 13, 2023 | News | No Comments

JONATHAN DAVIES RETURNED from a shoulder injury on Tuesday as Wales coach Warren Gatland named a side showing nine changes from the team that struggled to see off Fiji last weekend for the clash with world champions New Zealand at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Davies, who has been out of action for three weeks, resumes his centre partnership with Jamie Roberts, in the only personnel change to the team beaten by Australia in Cardiff a fortnight ago.

Elsewhere in the back division Leigh Halfpenny has recovered from concussion to displace Liam Williams, while fly-half Dan Biggar (groin) and scrum-half Rhys Webb (neck) are also fit to return.

Up front, hooker Richard Hibbard also starts following his appearance for English Premiership side Gloucester last week that led to an angry response from Gatland after Wales had ruled him out of the Fiji match because of an ankle problem.

Hibbard was one of several forwards returning to Test action as Gatland selected the same pack that played in the 33-28 defeat by Australia, with captain Sam Warburton returning to the back row, locks Jake Ball and Alun Wyn Jones and prop Paul James all recalled for the clash with the All Blacks.

Prop Gethin Jenkins, who captained Wales to a 17-13 victory over Fiji, was ruled out with a hamstring strain.

Davies was injured playing for French side Clermont in their European Champions Cup clash against English club Sale on October 26 but, such is his importance to Wales, he has been recalled as soon as possible.

Scott Williams missed out on a place in the matchday 23, with Liam Williams, James Hook and Mike Phillips providing bench cover for the backs.

– Experienced team –

“It is pretty much the same side that played against Australia and it’s a boost to have a few players back from injury,” Gatland said.

“It’s one of the most experienced teams we have put out,” the New Zealander added.

“A couple of decisions have been forced upon us. Gethin Jenkins has a hamstring strain, (lock) Bradley Davies hasn’t trained for the first couple of days and Liam Williams had a bit of an ankle knock at the weekend and it was a big call on him, but he will start on the bench.

Wales, in an error-strewn display, failed to score a point after half-time against the Pacific Islanders even though Fiji played the majority of the match a man down after prop Campese Ma’afu was first sin-binned and then sent off.

It was far from an ideal way to prepare for a match with the All Blacks, a team Wales have not beaten since a 1-8 triumph in Cardiff in 1953 and with their losing run against New Zealand now standing at 25 successive Tests.

Wales’s last victory over one of the southern hemisphere ‘big three’ of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia was a win against the Wallabies in 2008, with Gatland’s men suffering 21 straight defeats combined by the trio.

A largely second-string New Zealand, coached by former Wales boss Steve Hansen, saw off Scotland 24-16 in Edinburgh last weekend but Gatland forecast his compatriots, due to name their side on Thursday, would be at their best come kick-off in Cardiff.

“We are expecting another clinical performance from the All Blacks,” he said. “We need to match their intensity and aggression.

“The players are obviously excited about the opportunity to face the number one side at a packed Millennium Stadium. We have named an experienced team and we are really looking forward to it.”

Wales team to face New Zealand:
15.Leigh Halfpenny
14. Alex Cuthbert
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Jamie Roberts
11. George North
10. Dan Biggar
9. Rhys Webb

1. Paul James
2. Richard Hibbard
3. Samson Lee
4. Jake Ball
5. Alun Wyn Jones
6. Dan Lydiate
7. Sam Warburton (captain)
8. Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Nicky Smith, Rhodri Jones, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Liam Williams.

– © AFP, 2014

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Cristiano Ronaldo has labelled his return to Manchester United a ‘disaster’ as he claims his teammates lack dedication and the club has failed to evolve.

Ronaldo came back to Old Trafford in the summer of 2021, netting 27 goals in 51 appearances since, but his return has been rocky at best.

The Portugal international tried to force an exit in the summer but found no suitors, and was recently dropped by Erik ten Hag after he flounced out of the stadium in the win over Tottenham.

And according to a new book, ‘Messi vs Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game’ (via The Sun), Ronaldo told an executive at a FIFA event that his return was a ‘disaster’.

The striker was unhappy under Ralf Rangnick, who took interim charge of the club following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking last November.

But Ronaldo also took issue with the commitment of his teammates, believing they lack dedication to stay in shape, and the fact that United have failed to ‘evolve as a club’ since he left for Real Madrid way back in 2009.

In particular the 37-year-old believes United should have invested more in their Carrington training complex, which pales in comparison to other top European sides.

Ahead of Sunday’s clash with West Ham, Ten Hag – who won’t take kindly to Ronaldo’s thoughts – refused to guarantee the striker a start.

“It’s up to him,” he said when asked if the veteran was capable of matching last season’s goal tally.

“But I think when you collect all the chances he creates, the team creates for him in the last weeks, you see he’s still capable to get in the right positions and he’s still capable of finishing them.

“I think it’s possible, yeah.

“I know some see it like this but I don’t have a Europe team and I don’t have a Premier League team.

“I look at the opponent and what we need, what suits the opponent. Now I have to focus on West Ham United for Sunday.

“We will pick the team to start but also have a plan B or plan C in the pocket to win that game.

“That’s what we need finally, to win games, and for that we not only need 11 players, we need the whole squad.”

READ MORE: Small wonder Ronaldo behaves the way he does if this is his ‘punishment’ from Man Utd

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GEORGE FORD IMPRESSED on his first Test start as England returned to winning ways with a 28-9 victory over Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday.

The Bath fly-half kicked five out of seven goalkicks for a haul of 13 points.

More significantly, Ford was also instrumental in creating two of England’s three tries, with wing Jonny May scoring twice.

Successive defeats by the All Blacks (24-21) and the Springboks (31-28) had turned this match into a ‘must-win’ fixture for 2015 World Cup hosts England, who kicked off on a run of five straight losses, albeit four had been against world champions New Zealand.

Samoa had called off a threatened strike in protest at the conduct of the Samoa Rugby Union, which would have seen them boycott this match, only after being told they risked losing their place at next year’s World Cup.

The Pacific Islanders, still yet to beat England, scored all their points courtesy of three penalties from fly-half Tusi Pisi.

England coach Stuart Lancaster made five changes and a positional switch to the team beaten 31-28 by South Africa last weekend, calling up Ford, whose previous four caps had come from off the bench, and moving the No 10′s old school friend and former youth rugby colleague Owen Farrell from fly-half to inside centre.

Pisi kicked Samoa into an early lead but missed a routine penalty before Ford equalised for England, playing in unfamiliar red shirts, in the 16th minute.

Loop try

Four minutes later Ford demonstrated the running and handling skill England have often lacked among their backs by setting up the only try of the first half.

Ford’s ‘loop’ move with May saw England make ground before fullback Mike Brown joined the line to send May, who slid in on a rainswept pitch, for a score by the posts.

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It took several minutes for South African referee Jaco Peyper to confirm the try as he consulted with the television match official before deciding Brown’s pass to May had not gone forward.

Ford converted and England led 10-3 before Pisi reduced the deficit.

England, however, were dominant at the scrum and a set-piece penalty saw them extend their lead to 13-6.

More good work from Ford almost led to a second England try in the 32nd minute but, as happened in their defeat by the All Blacks a fortnight ago, Brown was unable to hold what might have been a scoring pass.

An otherwise unblemished kicking record for Ford ended on the stroke of half-time when he missed a long-range penalty.

But he made no mistake in the opening minute of the second period as he edged England further in front.

Ford then produced a sublime piece of skill with his cross-kick out to the right wing regathered by Bath team-mate Anthony Watson, who passed inside to Brown for a fine try.

England’s new stand-off converted and the hosts led 23-6 before another Pisi penalty narrowed the gap.

Ford was involved again when tackled high by Johnny Leota in the 51st minute, with the Samoa centre sent to the sin-bin as a result by Peyper.

No sooner had Samoa been reduced to 14 men then England had their third try and May his second.

England won a line-out and good handling by skipper Chris Robshaw and fellow forwards Joe Marler and David Attwood led to Brown sending May in on the overlap out wide.

Ford missed the difficult conversion but, at 28-9, England all but had the game won in front of a crowd of more than 82,000.

Amid a welter of replacements, England lost cohesion — with lock Attwood knocking on to scupper a try just yards out.

England know better than anyone that a sterner test awaits when they face World Cup pool rivals Australia, smarting from their 26-23 defeat by Ireland in Dublin earlier on Saturday, in their November finale at Twickenham next weekend.

 – © AFP 2014

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Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s last-gasp winning goal saw Tottenham Hotspur come from behind to beat Marseille to finish top spot in Group D.

Spurs looked to be heading for the Europa League after a poor first half in a hostile environment saw them fall behind to Chancel Mbemba’s powerful header.

But a much-improved display after the restart saw Clement Lenglet equalise and Hojbjerg snatch victory in the final kick of the game.

It was fitting that qualification was sealed so late after last week’s VAR intervention against Sporting Lisbon meant their fate went down to the final group game.

The entire 90 minutes was filled with jeopardy as Spurs knew defeat would send them out, but victory ensures they progressed to the knockout stages for the fourth successive time in this competition and they will face a second-placed team when it resumes in 2023.

This was never going to be easy, especially with Antonio Conte confined to the stand due to a touchline ban, and there was a sense of inevitability about how the game started given Spurs’ troubles on the road in Europe and Marseille, with three ex-Arsenal players in their side, were out of the traps fast.

Alexis Sanchez could have given them the lead inside the opening five minutes but he headed Amine Harit’s cross just wide.

The former Gunner, who scored three times against Spurs in his time in England, was looking Marseille’s most dangerous player and he tested Hugo Lloris with a shot on the turn, but the France goalkeeper was equal to it with a parried save.

Spurs were perhaps waiting to catch their hosts on the break, but they lost a key component to that plan on the half-hour as Son Heung-min was forced off after a heavy collision with Mbemba.

The South Korean had a bloodied nose and walked off very wobbly, meaning he could be a doubt for Sunday’s game with Liverpool due to possible concussion protocols.

Lloris was Spurs’ busiest player and he produced a flying save to keep out a fierce Jordan Veretout drive that was heading for the top corner.

But eventually Marseille’s pressure told and they scored in first-half stoppage time.

Ryan Sessegnon’s mistake led to a corner which Marseille took quickly and Mbemba powered home a free header at the far post.

Spurs looked condemned, having not even completed a forward pass in Marseille’s half, but came out in the second half and immediately improved, levelling in the 54th minute.

Ivan Perisic sent in a delicious free-kick which Lenglet headed home as Spurs continued their set-piece prowess.

The game had changed and Conte’s side were beginning to find space and had moments where they could have taken the lead.

They wasted a chance to counter as Rodrigo Bentancur overhit a pass to Lucas Moura who was through on goal, but Spurs recycled the ball and when Emerson Royal’s cross was spilled by Pau Torres, Harry Kane could not adjust his feet in time to tap-in.

They thought their moment had come in the 80th minute as they worked a throw-in brilliantly as Bentancur and Moura combined to tee up Hojbjerg, whose shot from 14 yards crashed against the crossbar.

A minute later Kane was through on goal but was denied by a brilliant last-ditch tackle by Mbemba just as he was about to pull the trigger.

Spurs survived a hair-raising moment in the 87th minute as former Arsenal player Sead Kolasinac put a free header wide at the far post.

It looked like it would be job done with a draw but Spurs made sure at the death as Kane played in Hojbjerg who finished emphatically to silence a hostile Marseille crowd.

READ MORE: Every Premier League club’s highest-rated player of the season so far


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MATHIEU BASTAREAUD IS six feet tall and tips the scale at a smidgen under 19 stone. That is a hefty amount of bulk. But just like in Rocky, all the size in the world doesn’t matter a damn if you are faced with an overwhelming amount of human spirit.

Step forward Argentina’s Santiago González Iglesias. For the record, The French Fridge weighs 120kg while the Argentine out-half is a whopping 33 kilos lighter at 87kg.

That was Argentina’s very own Munster-on-Chabal moment in their upset win over France last weekend. The original hit still holds up almost eight years later.

Source: Georgie Casey/YouTube

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H/T to reddit for the gif.

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IRFU CHIEF EXECUTIVE Philip Browne has admitted that the hard work starts now for Ireland after this morning’s formal launch of the bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Browne also underlined the importance of the GAA’s support, with several of the organisation’s stadia set to be used if Ireland wins the bidding process.

A figure in the region of €1.5million will be invested into the campaign to bring the global tournament to these shores, with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive offering their full support.

If Ireland’s cross-border bid proves successful, it is believed a fee in excess of €130million would have to be paid to Rugby World Cup, the organisation which oversees the competition, as a guarantee.

Invitations to officially bid to host the tournament are likely to be distributed in 2016, following what Browne calls an “an informal process” with World Rugby [formerly the IRB] next year.

A decision on the hosting of the 2023 World Cup will be made by World Rugby in 2017.

Speaking this morning at the Royal School in Armagh City, Browne admitted that this project is among the most monumental the IRFU has ever undertaken.

“I think it’s got to be up there. Certainly building the Aviva Stadium with the FAI was a big project, but this is a very, very significant project.

“We’ve entered the whole project with serious intent and what’s fantastic to see is the two governments standing so closely behind us. That really does show the intent of the island of Ireland in relation to this.

(L-R) Martin McGuinness, Peter Robinson, Philip Browne, Enda Kenny, Joan Burton and Louis Magee. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“So, yes, it’s a huge thing for the island, it’s a huge thing for rugby. Having got it to this stage, it’s about putting in the hard work to make sure we win.”

Browne pointed to South Africa, Italy, Argentina and “maybe” France and the USA as serious competitors in the process, indicating that the IRFU are under no illusions as to how strong their own bid will need to be.

That said, the Browne is confident in what Ireland has to offer. While some stadiums will have to be redeveloped or upgraded as part of the campaign, the IRFU man says the GAA’s involvement is important.

“The tourism infrastructure – there’s no problem with that. So we have all the elements to make this work.”

Browne indicated that the list of stadiums that will be submitted as part of Ireland’s bid has not been finalised, although it is believed Croke Park, the Gaelic Grounds, Casement Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Fitzgerald Stadium will be central alongside rugby stadiums such as Thomond Park, Lansdowne Road and the RDS.

“Effectively, we looked at a good number of GAA stadia, but we don’t have to finalise that at this point in time,” said Browne. “I think the issue is that the GAA stadium is a certain size.

Enda Kenny was on hand to give Robbie Henshaw a few pointers about playing at 13. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“About 80% of the ticket revenues are generated on the back of the 16 biggest matches [in a World Cup], so you need to have a stadium of a certain size to capture that revenue. Equally, it’s important that we spread the matches around the country and that we do it in such a way that there’s a tourism benefit.

“So we have a good narrative there as well in terms of bringing visitors around to country from Belfast, down through Dublin, Cork, Killarney, Limerick, Galway, why not Mayo? But we haven’t decided all that and that’s where the hard work starts now, digging into the detail.”

Indeed, concrete detail was in short supply at the Armagh launch this morning, with Browne insisting that will come as the working group for the bid makes progress.

The IRFU will certainly not be looking to bring nations outside of the island of Ireland into their bid. Browne underlined that the central narrative to the campaign was the joining together of Ireland, North and South.

“I think to move matches out of Ireland would certainly dilute all of that. The key thing is that the bid has to stand up technically. One assumes that any bid for a Rugby World Cup will stand up technically.

“The point of difference is the narrative that you can weave behind the bid. I think our narrative is really good and it’s a really important narrative for the island and the people of Ireland.”

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HARLEQUINS HAVE BEEN dealt a blow with the news both Nick Evans and Chris Robshaw have been ruled out of Saturday’s crunch European Champions Cup game against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

Evans lasted just 11 minutes of last weekend’s game against Matt O’Connor’s side before being forced off with a groin problem.

The 34-year-old was replaced by Tim Swiel and his absence for the second part of the double-header represents a significant setback for the English Premiership side as they look to take control of Pool 2.

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Robshaw, meanwhile, will sit out Saturday’s game because of a shoulder injury he sustained during the 24-18 win at the Twickenham Stoop.

The England flanker will see a specialist later this week and while ‘Quins are hopeful of Evans returning to action next week, the extent of Robshaw’s injury has yet to be determined.

Harlequins are currently top of Pool 2 with 12 points from three games and can take a major step towards qualification if they can make it four wins from win in the return leg.

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Congrats to my old friend #TigerHattori for working his last #TokyoDome show last night. Tiger is one of the most genuine and best people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with and My times shared with him and so many great brothers, including #EddieGuerrero, #ChrisBenoit, #DocDean & #BlackCat, will never be forgotten. Kanpai Tiger! @njpw1972
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But what about [insert your fave county here]? Don’t worry, this is just the first in a series of articles that will cover every county in Ireland – even yours – over the next few weeks. 

1. It was another glorious year for the under 21 hurlers

They beat Cork to claim the Munster title.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

2. A third straight All-Ireland success followed

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

3. Anthony Foley took over the top job in Munster

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

4. Axel masterminded wins over Leinster and Saracens so far this season

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

5. Never one to let her brother hog all the plaudits, Rosie Foley swam across the English channel

The 39-cap Irish international spent 15 hours and 53 minutes in the water one fine July day. A month earlier, she swam from Portumna to Killaloe to warm up.

6. Sean Hehir came 20th in the Marathon at the European Championships

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

7. This Séadhna Morey goal forced extra-time for a Banner side with only 14 men

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

8. Cratloe were pretty good at football

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

9. And even better at hurling

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

10. But they just fell short in the Munster final

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

11. Chris Bryan stayed hot on the heels of the rest of the world’s elite distance swimmers

Source: Insidefoto

12. There was this Bromance-tastic image of Shane O’Donnell consoling Podge Collins

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

13. Just the seven Banner men on the u21 Hurling team of the year

Another great year for Seadhna Morey, Jamie Shanahan, Aaron Cunningham, Colm Galvin, Conor Cleary, Tony Kelly and Eoin Enright,

Source: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

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Dylan Hartley elbow downplayed by Mallinder

January 5, 2023 | News | No Comments

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS COACH Jim Mallinder downplayed the incident which could cost Dylan Hartley his place at the Six Nations with England.

The Saints overcame Leicester Tigers 23-19 on Saturday, despite Hartley’s early dismissal for elbowing Matt Smith after being powerfully cleared from a ruck by the Leicester centre.

Hartley’s reaction caused a brief fracas between the two sets of players, and could land Hartley with a ban.

Match referee JP Doyle initially seemed content to brandish a yellow, but following a long discussion with television match official Sean Davey, Hartley was shown a red card and sent on his way.

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Despite being down to 14 men for over an hour, Northampton managed to claim an impressive win and top spot in the Premiership courtesy of Jamie Elliott’s late try and Mallinder believes the England hooker’s early dismissal inspired his side.

“In terms of the red card, it’s disappointing,” Mallinder said. ”Dylan’s got to keep his arms down, but he was being held and I don’t think there was any malice in it.

“I think Smith went down pretty easily to be honest, which was disappointing. It’s a tough game. If you looked at that 80 minutes of rugby, it was hard, physical, some great tackles. Some of them were quite high and people got penalised for those.

“I don’t think there was any malice in that and JP’s first reaction of a yellow card would have been the correct decision.”

Source: NZAUTV News/YouTube

Mallinder added: ”I tell you what Tom Wood said [at half-time]… let’s do it for Dylan Hartley. That was really the theme.

“You don’t want to be down to 14 men but what we have got is playing with 14 men against Leicester and knowing we can come back and win.”

Hartley previously missed the British and Irish Lions’ tour of Australia after abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the 2013 Premiership final, also against Leicester.

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