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Live updates: Under 20 schools rugby – Isipathana College vs Dharmaraja College

February 26, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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18:10 – At full time. Isipathana College 18. Dharmaraja College 12.  

18:02 – Isipathana College extends lead with another try. Isipathana College 18. Dharmaraja College 12.  

17:52 – Isipathana College storms back with an unconverted try to take the lead. Isipathana College 13. Dharmaraja College 12.  

17:48 – Dharmaraja College hits back with a try to snatch the lead. Dharmaraja College 12. Isipathana College 8.  

17:33 – Isipathana College regain the lead with a try. Isipathana College 8. Dharmaraja College 7.  

17:29 – Second half is underway. 

17:19 – Scores remain the same at half-time

17:10 – Dharmaraja holding onto their slender lead as half time approaches

16:55 – A converted try puts Dharmaraja in the lead. Dharmaraja 7, Isipathana 3

16:50 – Isipathana take the lead with a penalty 

16:45 – No scoring yet after 10 minutes

16:33 – Match underway 

Live updates: Under 20 schools rugby – Zahira College vs Science College; S. Thomas’ College vs Prince of Wales; St. Joseph’s College vs Royal College

February 25, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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18:18 – Full time – Royal College 22, St. Joseph’s College 22

17:53 – At full time. Zahira College 19. Science College 13. Royal 21, St. Joseph’s 5

17:52 – Royal 21, St. Joseph’s College 5

17:30 – Half-time Royal 8, St. Joseph’s 5

17:21 – Zahira College 13. Science College 8

17:19 – At half time. S. Thomas’ College 38. Prince of Wales College 0

16:53 – Royal 0, St. Joseph’s 5

16:43 – Zahira College 7. Science College 3

16:39 – At Longden Place. S. Thomas’ College 0. Prince of Wales College 0

16:37 – At Ratmalana. Zahira College 7 Science College 0

St. Peter’s in wafer-thin win over St. Anthony’s

February 25, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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St. Peter’s College prevailed against St. Anthony’s College Katugastota with a wafer-thin two points (27–25) in another U20 schools rugby encounter played at Bambalapitiya on Friday.

The win saw the Peterites retain the Rector’s Trophy which was on offer.

The Peterites having taken a 24-15 lead at the breather made up their points through three goals and two penalties against the two goals, a try and two penalties scored by the Antonians.

The Peterites scored through Nikil Yapa, Ravin Fernando and Stephan Sivaraj with the penalties and conversions being made by Sivaraj. Kavisha Amarakoon, Pulasthi Dassanayake and Jehan Seelagama scored the tries for the Antonians with Samuel Maduwantha putting over the conversions and penalties.

Ugly scene mars Trinity’s big win

February 25, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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By M. Shamil Amit

An unnecessary incident instigated by a Wesley College player, who kicked a Trinity College player on the verge of touching down for a try in the dying stages of the match, marred an otherwise decent game at Longdon Place on Friday.

DSC_7514

 

The incident which flared up saw some of the Wesley schoolboys invading the field and making a mess, putting their school to shame – something that should be nipped in the bud by the schools authorities to ensure that there would not be a repeat.

At the time of the incident the Trinitians were already winners by miles, with the score at that stage reading 57-24, before the game ended with the Lions roaring to 64 points. Their tally came off seven goals and three tries to Wesley’s total accumulated through two goals and two tries.

The first half of play saw the Trinitians going into action as early as the second minute with an under the post try by Pasan Samarawickrama giving fly half Lashan Wijesuriya an easy conversion.

Seven minutes later Trinity increased their lead with Diluksha Dange going over for a try and Lashan adding the extra points. Wesley scored back to back tries in the 14th and 17th minutes, first by skipper Denister Gunatileke and the other by Avishka Lee, who converted one.

From there on it was a ding dong battle with Trinity scoring in the 21st minute through Lashan Wijesuriya who made the conversion himself and then Wesley scoring four minutes later with an unconverted try by Avantha Lee.

A hat-trick of tries within a space of ten minutes by Trinity, first by Mohamed Ikram, and then Rasheen Bandaranayake and Rishen Madena – with Lashan converting two of them – saw them leading 40-17 at the short whistle.

On resumption Wesley went into the attack and succeeded to penetrate Trinity with Imesh Aponso going over for a try and Avishka adding the extra points.

But that was all the Wesleyites were able to achieve as the Trinitians went on a scoring spree and succeeded in planting four more tries through Navin Rajaratnam, Anuka Boyagoda, Gaurav Seneviratne and Akitha Sakalasooriya, with Rishen and Lashan converting one each, before the unfortunate and unwanted incident occurred, in the very first match of schools rugby season.

Referee – Dinka Peiris

Schmidt desperate for Ireland to ‘stay alive’ against France

February 24, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt hopes to end France’s title challenge and keep his own side’s dreams of Six Nations glory alive when the sides meet at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Schmidt

Both Ireland, bidding for a third Championship in four years, and France have won one and lost one of their opening two matches, with Schmidt accepting defeat on Saturday would effectively end their title challenge.

“We’re desperately keen to stay alive,” said the New Zealander, who guided Ireland to successive Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.

“England have taken a flier (the defending champions have won both their opening games and face whipping boys Italy on Sunday).

“Mathematically there is no other way of looking at it. By Saturday evening there will be two teams hanging in there (the winners of Scotland-Wales being the other) and two who will be scrambling for the minor placings.”

Schmidt, who guided the Irish to a historic series of Test wins over the southern hemisphere ‘big three’ of the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa last year, is looking to standout fly-half Johnny Sexton to provide the spark for an Irish win and avenge a controversial 10-9 loss to France last year.

“I think he’s a great orchestrator of play,” said Schmidt.

“I think he navigates us around the pitch really well and I think he sees things very much earlier and that allows other players to get into good positions.

“He brings other players into the game well because his experience is such that his option-taking is often very good and he varies play well for us.”

However, Schmidt has called on Sexton — one of three changes to the starting XV that thrashed Italy 63-10 a fortnight ago — with the increasingly fragile 31-year-old not having played for five weeks because of a calf injury.

Schmidt, though, says Sexton’s ability to slot straight back in again, as he did two years ago in kicking five penalties in an 18-11 win over the French after being out for three months, led to his recall instead of Paddy Jackson, who did little wrong in the first two games.

“You base it on the past and if they have come back and played well then they are more likely to replicate it in the future,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt conceded that with the weather unpredictable Sexton was best suited to adapt.

“If Doris (the storm that battered Britain and Ireland on Thursday) has done her best and blown through then we’ll be able to play our normal game, if not we will adapt,” he said.

His France counterpart Guy Noves — who Schmidt knows well from his time as assistant coach at Clermont when Noves was in charge of Toulouse — made three changes to the team that narrowly beat Scotland 22-16 last time out.

Noves said he had brought in Rabah Slimani instead of Uini Antonio at prop in order for the French to try to dominate the scrum from the off.

“The set play scrum where Slimani excels is one of Ireland’s strong points,” Noves explained.

“We need a super-strong scrum to start the match off on the right note,” added the France boss, who suggested Ireland had “temporarily fallen asleep” in losing 27-22 to Scotland in thei tournament opener.

Schmidt has been impressed by what he has seen of France, only edged out 19-16 by England in the first round, and hopes they don’t click against his side.

“Guy seems to have the right mix and the right players,” said Schmidt. “He is putting the foundations in place and I hope they don’t come to fruition on Saturday.”

Havelocks down Navy to set up epic final

February 24, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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By Shannon Nicholas

Havelocks SC ran riot to beat a sloppy Navy SC outfit 39-13 in their Dialog Clifford Cup Knock-Out Rugby Tournament second semi-final match played at the Race Course Grounds in Reid Avenue on Thursday.

Havelocks v Navy

The league runners-up dominated proceedings throughout the evening and went on to score three goals, three tries and a penalty while the losers were only able to score a solitary goal and two penalties.

The Havies led 15-3 at half time.

However, Navy SC were able to draw first blood when Thilina Weerasinghe kicked through the posts to put up the first points of the game.

Havelocks SC’s Hirantha Perera who was in charge of the kicking duties in place of the injured Dulaj Perera, found his way through the Navy SC backline and his overhead pass was collected by scrum half Sudam Sooriyarachchi who dived forward to touch down. Hirantha added the extra points with ease and the scores were amended to 7-3.

Ten minutes later, Hirantha was able to increase the lead as his kick through a penalty sailed between the uprights. (Havelocks 10-3).

Vimukthi Rahula was sin-binned minutes later as the winger was caught for an improper tackle but the Sailors were not able to take advantage of playing an ‘extra’ man on the field.

Sudam put on a rampant run when he managed to collect a loose ball after Navy SC faltered at the line-out, and the scrum half was able to go all the way to score the second try for the Havies. Hirantha fumbled with the conversion but the Park Club were settled with a comfortable 15-3 lead.

The Sailors were able to put over a penalty through Weerasinghe as they pushed forward to make the scores 15-6.

The Havies were at their hunting again pressing up-field and pressurizing their opponents with their quick play. They were awarded a penalty but Hirantha’s kick fell short of the posts by inches.

Thanuja Malimbada of Navy SC fumbled in the clearance and Havies’ center Nishon Perera was quick to pounce on the ball and dived forward to plant the third try of the evening. The conversion was wasted however and the scores were amended to 20-6.

Hirantha’s pass was collected by Nishon ten minutes later, and the centre was successful in getting the better of three Navy SC players as he ran towards the goal.

He touched down at the corner while being pulled down to the ground by a Navy SC player and with Hirantha getting his conversion right this time the scores were altered to 27-6.

Havies’ winger Vimukthi Rahula collected the ball off a Rahul de Silva pass and crossed the try-line close to the posts. With the extra points added, the Havies were up 34-6 with less than ten minutes of play remaining.

Navy SC were able to grab a late consolation goal through Skipper Roshan Ranasinghe. Weerasinghe added the extra points with ease to alter the scores to 34-13.

It was not over for the Havies however as outside half Niroshan Fernando got his name on the score sheet when he took advantage of a Navy SC slip-up to score the sixth try for the Park Club.

Referee: Julien Castaignède

Kandy annihilate CR and FC

February 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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By Shamzeer Jaleel

Defending League and Clifford Cup champions Kandy Sports Club defeated CR and FC by 56 points (nine tries, four conversions and one penalty) to 16 points (one try, one conversion and three penalties) in their Clifford Cup Knock-Out Rugby Tournament first semi-final encounter played at the Nittawela Rugby Stadium in Kandy on Wednesday.

Kandy winger Vishwamithra Jayasinghe breaks through

At the breather Kandy SC led 27-9.

Kandy SC’s three quarters were at their peak once again and Dhanushka Ranjan was a major threat for the Red Shirts. He was well supported by Richard Dharmapala, Fazil Marija Gayan Weeraratne and Vishwamithra Jayasinghe.

For CR and FC, their rock solid Number 8, Omalka Gunaratne had a tremendous game and it took nearly two to three players to bring him down. CR and FC centre Tharinda Ratwatte was given a Red Card for a dangerous tackle on Kandy SC Skipper Roshan Weeraratne and the CR played one man less during the latter stages.

But it was CR and FC who scored first through a Nalin Kumara penalty in the third minute of the game. Five minutes later Kandy SC hit back through a Soyuru Anthony try which was converted by full back Tharindu Wijesinghe.

Both Kumara and Wijesinghe put over a penalty each for their respective sides to make it 10-6 in favour of Kandy SC.

Then Kandy SC broke free in scoring back-to-back tries through Damith Dissanayake and Dhanushka Ranjan.
CR and FC reduced the lead through Kumara’s third penalty but there was time for a Vishwamithra Jayasinghe try before half time.

After the turnaround, Kandy SC scored through Richard Dharmapala, Danushka Dyan, Dhanushka Ranjan (2) and Yakoob Ali.

For CR and FC Omalka Gunaratne scored their only try which was converted by Ashan De Costa.

Super Rugby has plenty to tackle in 2017

February 22, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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A new Super Rugby season kicks off this week with bosses pledging to tackle its unwieldy conference structure, exhausting travel schedules and lopsided contests.

Hurricanes

There will be a first fixture in Samoa in June, meaning the 2017 Super Rugby season will now straddle 17 time zones and four continents.

The competition will retain the much-criticised four conference format, while tweaking kick-off times to trial Thursday night matches and increase the number of afternoon games.

“Our biggest challenge is obviously the geographical expanse we’ve got to cover,” said Andy Marinos, the chief executive of Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR, while promising that team schedules would be managed better this year.

“We’ve had some key learnings out of 2016 that we can implement into 2017 around how we manage the players during the week and how we work the travel schedule,” he said.

The far-flung tournament has its critics, notably England’s former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who bluntly observed last season: “Some of the games put me to sleep.”

With six franchises in South Africa and five each in Australia and New Zealand, plus Japan’s Sunwolves, and Argentina’s Jaguares, organisers are wrestling with the conflicting interests of the five competing nations.

Each Super Rugby team plays 15 matches and has two byes in the 17-round regular season. The competition final is on August 5 with a short mid-season break in June and July.

The teething problems of last year’s expansion to 18 teams have forced a rethink with the heads of Australian, New Zealand, South African and Argentinian rugby convening in early March to finalise competition changes for 2018 after an urgent strategic review was announced by Marinos last month.

South Africa, with just three titles in the 21 seasons of Super Rugby, are mostly concerned about their arduous travel schedules.

Oregan Hoskins, who resigned as president of SA Rugby last August, stated South Africa would be better off aligning to European leagues rather than with SANZAAR, which would mean few time differences for their matches.

Alternatives to the confusing four-conference competition could include a return to 15 teams, with Australia dropping one team and South Africa cutting two.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Steve Tew has called for patience as the problems are tackled.

“Long-term if the foundations are laid we may be able to expand the game in a way that’s more sensible from a travel, player workload, cost and time zone point of view, but that’s going to take some time,” Tew said.

NZR’s main problem is the guaranteed home advantage for the four conference winners after New Zealand teams occupied four of the top five places on the overall standings in 2016.

NZR are pushing instead for a straight top-eight play-off system which Tew argues would produce a fairer outcome. But the proposal is being opposed by Australia and South Africa.

“I’m stubborn and we’ll keep plugging away because we think it makes much more sense,” Tew said.

“It makes it a lot easier for the fans. They can almost disregard the complications of the conferences and just look at the log and say ‘is my team in the top eight’.”

Australia are not happy with the reduced number of money-spinning local derbies.

The Waratahs will only play their century-long rivals Queensland once this season and there is a solitary Waratahs-Brumbies match.

Super Rugby will further expand its boundaries when the Auckland Blues playing the Queensland Reds in Samoa in June while the Waikato Chiefs will take their game with the Canterbury Crusaders to Fiji.

With 15 players of Samoan heritage in Blues squad, American Samoa-born Jerome Kaino said they were looking forward to it.

“The possibility of having a fixture in the islands every year is really special for us, but also for Samoa, Fiji, whatever nation it is because they offer so much to our game here in New Zealand and it’s important that we give back,” Kaino said.

The new season kicks off with the Melbourne Rebels playing Auckland at home on Thursday, while the Wellington Hurricanes open their title defence against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.

Injured Irish trio expected to face France

February 21, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland stars Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Conor Murray are expected to prove their fitness for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with France by taking part in a full training session on Tuesday.

Ireland

Sexton has been sidelined for Ireland’s first two Six Nations matches against Scotland and Italy due to a calf injury.

Kearney has struggled with a biceps problem and Murray sat out training on Friday with an adductor issue.

But team manager Paul Dean tipped the British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton to use Tuesday’s training session to show he can face the French in Dublin.

“Everybody looks good to fully train tomorrow,” Dean said on Monday.

“Johnny Sexton will play a part in training today, but will fully train tomorrow. Hopefully when he comes through that, he’ll be fine for the weekend.

“Rob Kearney continues to make progress. He’ll do some contact work today and he’ll fully train tomorrow.

“If you talk to Johnny and Rob they’ll both say that they’re 100 per cent fit and ready to go, so we just need the medics to pass them and they need to prove to us that they are.

“Conor Murray’s workload was managed in Monaghan last week. It was a difficult week for the players last week, but I’m happy to report that the outlook is positive.”

Ireland, who also expect flanker Peter O’Mahony to return after hamstring concerns, narrowly lost their Six Nations opener against Scotland and then thrashed Italy in Rome.

Kandy run riot to humiliate lowly CH

February 17, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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By Shamzeer Jaleel

Defending Clifford Cup champions Kandy Sports Club sent out a strong warning to the other teams in the competition when they outclassed CH & FC by 121 points (19 tries, 13 conversion) to 3 (1 penalty) at the Nittawela Rugby Stadium on Friday.

At the short breather Kandy led 57-00.

504

It was one way traffic from the kick off, with Kandy being too fast and superior with their professional approach towards the game. CH, who were placed last in the league, were full of freshers in their team and found it difficult to contain the Up Country unit. Kandy dominated proceedings combining well with their forwards and three-quarter line to display running rugby to plant 19 unanswered tries in the game. Both their wingers Vishwamithra Jayasinghe and Richard Dharmapala stood out with lightning pace moves touching down four tries each. In forwards play once again it was Yakoob Ali and Buwanka Udangamuwa both being omnipresent.

Kandy drew first blood in the third minute of the game when their Fullback Thilina Wijesinghe broke free to touch down and add the extra points. From this moment onwards tries were free flowing. Vishwamithra Jayasinghe (2), Dhanushka Ranjan (2), Richard Dharmapala (2), Yakoob Ali and Chathuranga scored tries. Thlina converted six of those tries.

In the second half Kandy continued their good work and scored tries through Vishwamithra (2), Roshan Weeraratne, Buwanka Udangamuwa, Dharmapala (2), Lavanga Perera, Sooriyabandara and Jamaldeen.

Conversions were taken by Thlina Wijesinghe and Yakoob Ali. For CH & FC their only penalty was put over by Shamry Burah. CH & FC player Anurudha Ekanayake received a red card for stamping on an opponent.

The match was refereed by Aruna Rankothge.

CR overcome Air Force in late drama

February 17, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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By Shannon Nicholas

CR & FC managed to book their place in the semi-finals of the Dialog Clifford Cup 2017 when they beat Air Force SC 36 points to 33 at the Racecourse Grounds on Friday.

CR vs AF

A solitary penalty made the difference between the two sides as both teams scored four goals and a try. CR & FC were given a scare during the second-half, which saw them trail by 33 points to 22 at one stage, but rallied back to grab victory.

The scores read 17-12 in favour of CR when Referee Priyantha Gunarathne blew for half-time.

Outside-half Gayantha Iddamalgoda put the Airmen ahead with just four minutes into the game through a try, after getting the better of the CR backline, and after Fullback Nuwan Perera bisected the poles with the conversion.

Five minutes later CR responded by pushing themselves up field and were awarded a penalty, which was successfully converted off the trusted boots of Tarinda Ratwatte, to amend the scores to 07-03.

Wing Kavindu Perera put the ‘Reds’ in front 10-07 when he executed a perfect run before touching down. Outside-half Nalin Kumara added the extras.

CR continued to dominate possession with many attempts to inflict damage and were successful when Kavindu managed to touch down five minutes later. The wing himself converted and CR were up 17-07.

Air Force managed to cut the lead to five points soon afterwards, when Lock Supun Madusanka went over the line to plant the Airmen’s second try of the evening. The conversion was wasted and the scores were amended to 17-12.

The scoreboard wasn’t amended for the rest of the first-half and it stood at 17-12 in favour of CR when the half-time whistle was blown.

CR began their attack again as soon as play resumed when Fullback Sashan Mohamed scored CR’s third try of the evening after collecting the ball through an Ashan de Costa pass close to the throw line. Air Force responded minutes later however, when Wing Anjana Vinod touched down and with Iddamalgoda adding the extras, the scores were made 22-19.

CR’s Anuradha Herath was sin-binned for a high-tackle and Air Force, with the advantage of the extra man on field, deployed troops up field in search of points. They were able to stun their opponents when Iddamalgoda came up with two back-to-back tries within a span of five minutes. Iddamalgoda converted the first while Nuwan added the extras in the second, to give Air Force a comfortable 33-22 lead.

With time running out, the CR bench were feeling the mounting pressure. The Air Force defense proved to be below-par as they let Kokila Sammandapperuma fly past them to touchdown. Naleen Kumara added the extras and the scores were set to 33-29 with 13-minutes to go.

Air Force stole the ball back and were seen playing up field gaining possession as the CR players watched the clock tick. With just five minutes to go Naleen Kumara scored the winning try for the Reds when he slipped through the leaky Air Force defense to touch down. He himself added the extras and the scores were amended to 36-33.

It was too late for the Airmen to overturn the score, and all efforts of grabbing some points by them were cancel-ed out by the CR back-line.

With the win, CR qualified for the semi- finals where they would face defending champions Kandy SC on Wednesday.

Scotland captain Laidlaw out of Six Nations

February 15, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Scotland suffered a major blow on Wednesday as the Scottish Rugby Union announced captain Greig Laidlaw will miss the rest of the Six Nations with an ankle injury.

Laidlaw

The Gloucester scrum-half, capped 58 times, had to go off during the first half of Scotland’s 22-16 loss to France in Paris on Sunday and a subsequent scan revealed he had sustained ligament damage.

“Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw has been ruled out of the remainder of the 2017 RBS 6 Nations with an ankle injury,” the SRU said in a statement.

“Laidlaw will see a specialist later in the week to determine the best course of management and estimated time out of the sport.”

Laidlaw, 31, started the tournament in style, kicking two late penalties to give Scotland a thrilling 27-22 victory over Ireland in their opening match.

But he spent just 24 minutes on the field against France and left the Stade de France on crutches before returning to Gloucester on Monday to be assessed by the club’s medics.

The injury robs head coach Vern Cotter of both Laidlaw’s leadership skills and his abilities as a kicker.

Glasgow’s Ali Price came on for Laidlaw in Paris and is expected to retain the number nine jersey when Scotland welcome Wales to Murrayfield in their next game a week on Saturday.

Scarlets flanker John Barclay took over as captain against France, but was then forced off by a head injury.

It leaves Glasgow co-captain Jonny Gray as the most likely candidate to skipper Cotter’s men against the Welsh.

Israel Dagg staying with All Blacks

February 14, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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All Blacks back Israel Dagg said Monday he had signed to stay in New Zealand until the end of 2019, turning down lucrative offers from overseas clubs.

Dagg

Retaining the 28-year-old is a major coup for New Zealand Rugby, which last week also secured fullback Ben Smith’s services until 2020.

Dagg said he had to weigh up accepting a well-paid contract offshore with staying with the All Blacks, who do not allow overseas-based players into the team.

“There’s no doubt that there were some attractive offers to consider,” he said.

“But at the end of the day I love my life here in New Zealand with my family, friends and teammates and I’m not ready to give that up.”

Dagg, who has played 61 Tests, has already experienced life without the All Blacks after being dropped for the 2015 World Cup campaign.

He bounced back determined to prove a point and was one of the All Blacks’ standouts last year.

“To have a player of Israel’s ability and versatility re-sign is a major lift for all levels of New Zealand rugby,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.

Dagg will also stay with his Canterbury Crusaders Super Rugby team.

France edge past battling Scotland in Six Nations

February 13, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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France pulled clear in the final 10 minutes to defeat battling Scotland 22-16 in the Six Nations on Sunday.

France

Scotland outscored France by two tries to one but Camille Lopez kicked 17 points to guide the hosts to victory.

Although wasteful at times, France coach Guy Noves said it was important to win following defeats to England, New Zealand and Australia in their previous three games.

“We’ve just lost three games to big teams. Those matches were close but today what I want to take away is this victory,” said Noves.

For 70 minutes Scotland looked capable of causing a second upset in successive weeks following their 27-22 victory over Ireland at Murrayfield.

But two late Lopez penalties as France turned the screw proved decisive.

“First of all we’re not particularly happy to lose the game,” said Scotland’s New Zealander coach Vern Cotter.

“We’ll have a good look at some of the reasons we didn’t have control from start to finish. There will be an honest review and then we’ll move on from there.”

Scotland weren’t helped by losing four players to injury during the game, including captain and kicker Greig Laidlaw.

Yet still they twice led after tries from Stuart Hogg and Tim Swinson, but a failure to convert either didn’t help.

France put the first points on the board when Josh Strauss was penalised for not rolling away and Lopez kicked a seventh minute penalty.

But a mistake by Scott Spedding gave Scotland a line-out on France’s 22-metre line and the visitors went through 15 phases before Hogg’s dancing feet took him over in the corner on 17 minutes.

Laidlaw’s conversion came back off the woodwork and moments later a second Lopez penalty put France back in front.

Scotland suffered a blow on 25 minutes as Laidlaw hobbled off.

Both sides were showing plenty of ambition but too often poor handling or an ill-advised offload brought a promising move to a shuddering halt.

Scotland had a let off when a relatively simple Lopez penalty came back off the upright.

But France soon rumbled up to the Scotland five-metre line and quick hands sent the ball right where Gael Fikou ducked under two tacklers to dive over in the corner on 31 minutes, Lopez nailing the conversion from wide right.

Just as France looked to be taking control, Scotland came storming back despite the loss of flanker John Barclay to injury as Finn Russell took over kicking duties and landed two penalties to send his team into the break trailing only 13-11.

The second half got off to a bad start for Scotland as Barclay’s replacement John Hardie also went off injured, meaning lock Swinson had to come on and play flanker.

And yet moments later, a brilliant offload from Russell sent Tommy Seymour scampering down the right wing. He gathered his own chip ahead and fed Swinson to go over under the posts.

But remarkably, from right in front of the posts, Russell hit his conversion under the bar.

That let France level up at 16-16 on 47 minutes through another Lopez penalty.

Scotland’s discipline was an issue and they were repeatedly penalised at the scrum.

Scotland saw centre Alex Dunbar go off for a head injury assessment, although he was able to return to the fray, but hooker Fraser Brown was next to take a knock to the head and be forced off.

France turned down two kickable penalties in a row, kicking the first to touch and opting for a scrum second time around but it came to nothing as Remi Lamerat lost control of the ball when trying to ground it one-handed.

It could have proved costly but Huw Jones was penalised for holding on after the tackle and this time Lopez dissected the posts, giving France the lead with eight minutes left.

And with his fifth penalty of the match three minutes from time, Lopez made the game safe.

‘Magnificent’ Hogg helped by better Scotland

February 12, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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When Stuart Hogg’s name appeared on the Scotland teamsheet for Sunday’s Six Nations clash against France, the Glasgow full-back was set to win his 50th cap.

Scotland

What makes that so remarkable is that Hogg is just 24 years old, but such is the stature of this powerful and incisive runner that he is not only a certain starter for Scotland but also widely expected to wear the No.15 shirt for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand this summer.

“I think it’s synonymous of the modern game that a guy of just 23 or 24 years of age can trot up 50 caps,” said Scotland’s assistant coach Jason O’Halloran.

“He’s been such an important player throughout that period and he’s certainly a talisman for us at the moment.”

Hogg scored two tries in Scotland’s surprise 27-22 win over Ireland last week in their Six Nations opener and was his team’s standout performer.

“He’s got quality players around him. I’d like to think that as dominant as Stuart was last week, we’ve got other threats on the field as well,” added O’Halloran.

“That makes him all the harder to look after when you’ve got Huw Jones inside of him, as well as Tommy Seymour and (Sean) Maitland around him as well, and Finn (Russell) on the inside with Alex (Dunbar).

“So we’ve got threats across the back line. He’s a magnificent guy who has a good way about him. He’s always got a smile on his face, he’s willing to play.”

Hogg is an integral part of a Scottish side that has earned plaudits for an attractive, attacking, running game.

And O’Halloran said this is no longer the Scotland of old that would hope for poor conditions and try to battle their way to a tight victory on the back of forward grunt and landing penalties.

“We want to be in control of our own destiny, we want to win or lose the game by the quality of our own performance, not turning up and relying on the opposition playing poorly to sneak a few penalties or maybe some sort of intercept try or turnover with our defence,” said the former All Black international.

“We want to construct tries with the quality of our attacking game and put them under pressure with our defence, and being good both sides of the ball.

“But we don’t want to win because they play badly.”

England come from behind to beat Wales in Six Nations thriller

February 12, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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England coach Eddie Jones accepted his side had used up all their “get-out-of-jail cards” following a gripping 21-16 win away to Wales in the Six Nations.

Elliot

The Grand Slam champions were 16-14 behind with just four minutes left when wing Elliot Daly, following a poor clearance kick by Wales centre Jonathan Davies, surged past Alex Cuthbert for a superb try in the corner.

As had been the case in their tournament-opening win over France the week before, England had come from behind to seal victory with a late try.

“We have used up all of our get-out-of-jail cards and against Italy (on February 26) we don’t want to be in that position again,” Jones said.

“I thought it was a great game of Test rugby,” added Jones after England moved to within two wins of world champions New Zealand’s all-time record of 18 successive Test victories by a leading rugby nation.

“A lot of credit goes to Wales, who were superb. They hit hard and hit often off the ball, which made it a fantastic Test match.”

The Australian, yet to lose a Test as England boss since his appointment following the team’s first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup, added: “We are a gritty team with characters in there that don’t know how to get beaten, and that was evident here.

“At stages I thought we were going to fade out of the game, but we hung in there making tackles.”

Jones, paying tribute to his hard-working locks, said: “Courtney Lawes is like a human ice-pack. He has ice all over him after that many tackles and carries. Joe Launchbury as well.”

Shortly before his blistering score, Daly had raced back to prevent Wales fly-half Dan Biggar scoring a stunning intercept try.

“The boy’s got gas and he’s got that X-factor about him and that’s what we like him,” Jones said. “I don’t necessarily think wing is his best position, but it suits us at the moment.

“You’ve got to be running over 10 metres per second to score that try, and he can do that.

“Elliot might get a run out for Manchester United with that kick out (after the Biggar interception). It was a pretty good tackle. He did really well for us.”

Wales led 13-8 at the break after Liam Williams crossed to cancel out an early try by England scrum-half Ben Youngs.

But the lead never got beyond five points and Wales coach Rob Howley was left to rue a lack of composure in the closing stages.

“The intensity and application of our players for 75 minutes was outstanding,” he said.

“We played with pace and accuracy, as did England,” the former Wales scrum-half added.

“England know how to win, and we lost, but it was a fantastic performance.

“In the final 10 minutes, we had to execute under pressure, and we didn’t. But that is Test match football.”

Wales suffered a setback when George North was ruled out an hour before kick-off after failing to overcome a leg injury sustained in their preceding 33-7 win away to Italy.

Howley, however, said he expected the powerhouse wing to be fit for Wales’s next match, against Scotland on February 25.

“It was pretty evident this (Saturday) morning that the haematoma hadn’t settled, which is pretty important,” Howley explained.

“We gave him every opportunity, and this morning it was fairly obvious that we would be putting him at risk if he started the game, so hopefully we made the right decision.

“He will be fit for Murrayfield selection.”

Italy’s Parisse wary of wounded Ireland in Six Nations clash

February 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Italy captain Sergio Parisse has warned against “surprise plays” and Ireland’s intention to “do damage” when they clash in a potential Six Nations bruiser in Rome on Saturday.

Parisse

A week after succumbing 33-7 to Wales, Italy host Joe Schmidt’s men hoping a more disciplined performance at the Stadio Olimpico keeps them in contention throughout the second half.

But facing the 2015 champions less a week after a 27-22 upset to Scotland dented Ireland’s victory plans for the tournament, says Parisse, is not ideal.

“They’re coming off a defeat they probably haven’t digested yet,” Parisse told media as he ran the rule over Saturday’s opponents on Friday.

Parisse also believes Ireland have the game skills to adapt to Italy’s traditionally defensive game.

“Compared to the other teams in the Six Nations, Ireland are able to adapt their game depending on which team they are playing. They’re also adept at scoring tries off the scrum and the line-out,” he added.

“We have to be wary of surprises because Ireland will have studied and prepared well. Their coach is astute, they have very strong players, and they’ll want to go out and do some damage.”

Despite an historic 20-18 victory over South Africa last November, Italy’s hopes of following suit last week were undone by a disastrous second half.

Having led 7-3 at half-time, the hosts gifted a rash of penalties to Wales who, after prop Andrea Lovotti was sent to the sinbin on the hour, then ran in three late tries to seal the win.

O’Shea made 35 appearances as a full-back for Ireland but as he prepares to face his country for the first time as an opponent, the former Harlequins handler has left no stone unturned.

“After last week’s disappointment, the coach reiterated to us this morning, in no uncertain terms, how important this game is,” added Parisse.

“It’s a crucial game for us but it’s going to be more complicated than last week, because we can’t make errors like we did, especially in the second half.”

It will be Parisse’s 123rd Italy appearance and his 75th as captain, but — despite a liking for ageing rockers the Rolling Stones — it doesn’t mean he’s any closer to retiring from the international game.

Parisse was rumoured to be set to quit international rugby following Jacques Brunel’s spell in charge, before O’Shea’s arrival at the helm.

“I’m a little old but until my body tells me otherwise, I will be available for this squad,” added Parisse, who admitted the music blasting from his earphones pitchside was “the Rolling Stones”.

“One year, two, I can’t say when my body will tell me it’s time to stop. Obviously it’s a pleasure playing for Italy under O’Shea.

“We talk a lot about what we needs to be done for Italy and Italian rugby.”

France bring in Goujon for Six Nations clash with Scotland

February 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Flanker Loann Goujon replaces Damien Chouly in coach Guy Noves’s solitary change to his France team announced on Friday to face Scotland in the Six Nations on Sunday.

Goujon

France made a positive start to their tournament campaign last week but still went down 19-16 to England at Twickenham and Noves has kept faith with almost his entire starting line-up.

It means young Bordeaux-Begles scrum-half Baptise Serin, who only made his France debut in June, retains his place ahead of Maxime Machenaud.

Goujon, 27, will win his 15th cap as he replaces veteran Chouly, 31, who drops to the bench.

It’s Goujon’s first start since he was injured in France’s 52-8 win over Samoa at the beginning of November.

Although losing to last season’s Grand Slam winners a week ago, France posted some impressive statistics during the match, making more yards, more offloads and beating more defenders than England over the 80 minutes.

All that was lacking was points on the board and Noves has retained 21 of his match-day 23, the only other changes seeing forwards Christopher Tolofua and Julien Le Devedec come onto the bench in place of hooker Clement Maynadier and lock Arthur Iturria.

“It’s normal (not to make many changes) if changing everything means that we’re not satisfied with what happened — when you lose a match by three points in England in the last nine minutes,” said Noves.

“For the most part the lads delivered, even though once again we need to develop more character to finish matches in the right way.”

Noves said Goujon would give his side more power.

“We wanted a little more density in the pack, although they’re two very similar players,” said Noves.

“The aim is to be a bit more powerful.”

Noves keeps faith with tighthead Uini Atonio despite the New Zealand-born front-rower being penalised several times against England.

His second half replacement Rabah Slimani made an instant impact and scored France’s only try of the game.

“We wanted to see if Uini has understood what we’ve told him and whether he’ll perform differently. We wanted to offer him an olive branch,” Noves said of the 26-year-old former Samoa youth international.

France’s defensive statistics were also better than England’s with fewer errors and tackles missed.

But for the third time in a matter of three months, they lost a closely-fought encounter against a top side following test defeats to Australia (25-23) and New Zealand (24-19) in November.

“It’s true that against Australia we could have won but didn’t; against New Zealand we had a chace at the end and lost by little; against England we lost at the end: it’s annoying,” said Noves.

They welcome a buoyant Scotland who were in fine form a week ago as they eased past highly-fancied Ireland 27-22 at Murrayfield.

“They had a tough year or two but now their work is starting to bear fruit,” Noves said of the Scots.

“You can see that physically and technically they’re not the same Scotland of a few years ago.”

Two yeas ago, Scotland finished bottom of the table with five defeats from five but they have come on leaps and bounds since then under New Zealander Vern Cotter.

They were a minute away from knocking Australia out of the World Cup quarter-finals in late 2015, finished above France in the Six Nations last year and, having run Australia close again in November, they toppled Ireland last week.

Wales ready to wait on North and Biggar for Six Nations clash

February 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Wales will give George North and Dan Biggar as long as they can to prove their fitness for Saturday’s Six Nations clash against England in Cardiff.

Biggar

Both powerhouse wing North and fly-half Biggar took part in Friday’s training session at the Principality Stadium after coach Rob Howley named the pair in his starting side announced Thursday.

North suffered a leg injury during Wales’s tournament-opening 33-7 win away to Italy on Sunday, while Biggar went off at half-time in Rome after suffering a blow to his ribs.

“They both took part in training today,” Wales assistant coach Robin McBryde told reporters at the Principality on Friday.

“We are the same as we were yesterday. We will give them both as much time as possible, leading up to the game.

“Everything we have asked him (North) to do, he has been able to do.

“Obviously, we have got contingency plans in place. We’ve got (wings) Steff Evans and Alex Cuthbert with the squad as well.

“Everybody has got their heads on psychologically,” insisted the former Wales hooker.

The 24-year-old North, already a veteran of 69 Tests, did some on-field stretching exercises as Cardiff wing Cuthbert and uncapped Scarlets flyer Evans trained as well.

If North is ruled out, the 44-times capped Cuthbert, whose 15 Test tries included a match double in Wales’s 30-3 Six Nations title-winning rout of England four years ago, is in line to take over.

Wales have until an hour before Saturday’s 1650 GMT kick-off to confirm their side.

McBryde was uncomfortable at being pressed on the exact state of North’s fitness and said: “I can’t go into 50/50s or 60/40s or whatever. All I can do is rely on what the medics are telling me.

“They (Biggar and North) have done everything asked of them up until now and it’s obviously a close call because we are leaving it late.”

If Cuthbert plays, it will be his first Six Nations appearance since he featured in Wales’ 25-21 defeat by Grand Slam champions England at Twickenham last year.

Should Biggar be sidelined, Ospreys colleague Sam Davies, who impressed off the bench in the second half at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, would make his first Test start.

The 23-year, all of whose four caps have come as a replacement, showed his big-match temperament when he landed the last-second drop-goal that rescued a win for Wales at home to Japan in November.

McBryde, who played with Davies’ father Nigel, a former centre, for both Llanelli and Wales, said of Sam: “He’s not fazed by anything, there’s a freedom about him, there’s the ability to forget about what’s gone on before and just focus on the present.”

McBryde added: “He’s mature, he’s part of a ‘young leaders group’ we’ve got in the squad and he’s a very confident individual.

“I’ve been very impressed by what he offers off the field as well as on it.”

“He’s fitted in really well — nothing like his father!,” joked McBryde.

England are on a national record 15 successive Test wins following last week’s unconvincing 19-16 defeat of France at Twickenham.

While beating England is no longer the ‘be all and end all’ for Wales, the rivalry is still sharp enough.

“We are neighbours, aren’t we?,” said McBryde. “I have got two English brothers-in-law.

“It is that English-Welsh rivalry, and wanting to get the better of your neighbour, it’s as simple as that.”

England coach Eddie Jones has insisted on the Principality’s retractable roof remaining opening and there was a light-hearted moment on Friday when a phone went off and McBryde answered it by saying: “Eddie? Sorry mate, I am in the middle of a press conference.”

Asked about the roof decision, McBryde added: “He (Jones) has just rung me now to say he has changed his mind, apparently!

“It is going to be dry tomorrow, so it won’t have that much of an effect on the game.”

England up there with All Blacks – Warburton

February 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Wales star Sam Warburton has compared arch-rivals England to world champions New Zealand ahead of their Six Nations clash in Cardiff on Saturday.

England's Owen Farrell celebrates with team mates after the game

Grand Slam champions England will arrive in the Welsh capital aiming for a 16th successive Test match win against all opponents.

The All Blacks hold the world record of 18 straight international wins by a tier-one nation but another Six Nations clean sweep this season would see England go one better.

“England are deservedly tagged as the best team in the northern hemisphere,” Warburton told the BBC.

“It’s a fair judgment to compare them to the All Blacks right now — that’s how good they are. It is going to take a huge game out of us to get a win and it will be one of the biggest games of the championship for sure.”

Even when they are not one of the world’s leading teams, England, for historical reasons, remain the one their European rivals want to beat above all others.

But they have become an even bigger target under Eddie Jones, with the Australian yet to lose a match as England boss after taking over after a 2015 World Cup where defeat by Wales prevented England getting out of the group stage and played a major role in the sacking of Stuart Lancaster.

“If you’re Wales the biggest game you play in the Six Nations is England,” said back-row forward and former skipper Warburton.

“If you’re Scotland, it’s England. If you’re Ireland, it’s England. Or if you’re France or Italy, it’s England,” added Warburton, whose father was born in England.

“We know as players that’s the one game the fans look forward to most and you sense that in the build-up. It’s a huge occasion for everyone in Wales.”

England, who beat Wales twice in 2016, started the defence of their Six Nations title with an unconvincing 19-16 win against France at Twickenham on Saturday.

By contrast, Wales launched their Six Nations with a 33-7 win away to Italy the following day that included 30 unanswered points in the second half in Rome.

Warburton, back in the ranks this season after experienced lock Alun Wyn Jones was appointed captain by interim coach Rob Howley, could miss out on a starting berth against England if No 8 Taulupe Faletau recovers in time from a knee injury.

Ross Moriarty was at No 8 against Italy in a back-row featuring Warburton and Justin Tipuric.

“The back-row competition is so fierce at the minute, I don’t want to put pressure on him, but Toby (Faletau), when he’s playing well, is one of the best players in the world,” said Warburton.

“If he did come back I’m sure there would be a few selection headaches in the back-row because Ross and Justin went extremely well against Italy.”

England and Wales will name their teams on Thursday.

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