Only Leicester Tigers have made a successful defence of their Heineken Cup crown, winning back-to-back finals in 2001 and 2002, and to make it three titles head coach Joe Schmidt’s team are going to have to match that Leicester feat.“Winning the Heineken Cup in 2009 and again in 2011 were both very enjoyable times,” said Cullen.“Perhaps the first time it was more a case of relief, as I had been part of Leinster teams who had for a number of years disappointed on the big day.“The second time, in Cardiff with the Millennium Stadium roof closed, the atmosphere in the stadium on the day was phenomenal. “What also stays with you is the nature of the game, how it looked as if it was going to be pretty embarrassing for us going into half time at 22-6 behind with Northampton looking to run away with the game. To turn it around in the manner we did I think was unbelievable and the party atmosphere in the stadium afterwards was unforgettable. CARDIFF, WALES – MAY 21: Brian O’Driscoll and his Leinster team mates celebrate victory at the end of the Heineken Cup Final match between Leinster and Northampton Saints at the Millennium Stadium on May 21, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) “The scrum was a massive element of the final, we knew they had a lot of power in their front row but they still managed to catch us a bit cold in the first half and score a couple of tries from scrums.“The big turning point came when we got a bit of a push on, got a penalty and that got us back in front. It certainly was a game of scrums and thankfully we had the slightly fresher legs.” LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS The 17th season of European club rugby’s elite tournament kicks-off on Friday and Leinster will open the defence of their Heineken Cup crown by stepping into the unknown against tournament newcomers Montpellier in the first Heineken Cup match to be staged at Stade de la Mosson.Leinster, who have won two of the last three finals, are bidding to join Toulouse by becoming only the second club to win more than two of European club rugby’s most coveted titles as the 24 clubs have Twickenham Stadium and the 2012 final on Saturday, 19 May, in their sights.“It will be a really tough opener in Montpellier,” said Leinster captain Leo Cullen. “They had an unbelievable home record in the Top 14 last year and they were within 10-15 minutes of beating Toulouse in the French final last season and then only lost by less than a score.“They are going to be a very tough proposition and everyone in our Pool has strong home records.“It is almost a given that in the Heineken Cup you have to win your home games so you ask yourself where you are going to pick up an away win. It is tough to see where that can come from though we will have an opportunity straight away against Montpellier.“The key, once again, will be to keep your destiny in your own hands and after playing at some fantastic venues last season – the Aviva and Millennium Stadium – Twickenham is another amazing venue and it would be great to make it that far.”
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne said: “The policy for the IRFU will continue to have as many Irish qualified players playing here in Ireland to maintain both the competiveness of the provinces and to allow the players to be managed for the benefit of the Ireland team. I am delighted that Tommy Bowe has chosen to return to Ulster to play and it speaks volumes for both the system we have here in Ireland and the building momentum in Ulster that a player of his standing in the game has committed himself long term to his home province.”Ulster Director of Rugby David Humphreys commented: “We are delighted to be in a position to finally confirm that Tommy will be playing his rugby with Ulster next season and I’d like to thank the IRFU for their assistance in bringing him home. The speculation around his return over the past number of weeks is testament to the level of regard that the Ulster Rugby public have for him and rightly so. Skillful, physical, and a proven finisher with a knack of being in the right place at the right time, there’s no doubt that Tommy has consistently been one of European rugby’s best players over the past few seasons and he’ll bring a lot of experience and flair to our backline.” He was selected in the Ireland squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, scoring two tries against the USA in New Plymouth and has continued that form by scoring five tries so far in the RBS Six Nations Championship for Ireland.Bowe, a Ravenhill favourite, has enjoyed his spell in Wales, but is looking forward to returning to Belfast and said: “Obviously, I have mixed emotions. I’m sad to be leaving a club and a region that I have been proud to call my home for the last three years and that has improved me immeasurably both as a rugby player and as a person. I am indebted to the staff, coaches, management, team mates and fans of the Ospreys, for welcoming me so warmly and making my time here so special.“That said, I am also delighted to be returning to Ulster, the Province I grew up wanting to play for and where my family live. David Humphreys was a mentor of mine in my early playing days and we have remained friends during my time at the Ospreys. His vision for Ulster is impressive, with Ulster born players at the core of this vision. I hope to repay the IRFU and Ulster’s faith in me by contributing to a team that is already delivering. The vibe at Ulster is undeniably positive. I’ve been training and playing with some of the Ulster boys during the Six Nations and there is a real energy and sense of anticipation as to what lies ahead for this Ulster team”. Tommy Bowe heads back home to UlsterInternational wing Tommy Bowe will return to play in Ireland with Ulster next season until 2015.Following agreement from his current club Ospreys, Bowe has been given early release from his contract with the club to allow him to take up a new contract with the IRFU and to play in Ulster for the next three seasons.Schooled at Royal School Armagh, Bowe began his professional career with Ulster, making a try scoring debut for the province in the 2003/04 season. His elevation to the senior Ulster team followed selection for the Ulster schools team and also playing at full back and wing for the Ireland U21 team in 2004, being part of the squad that reached the final of the IRB under 21 World Cup, but was ruled out of the semi final and final due to injury.Bowe won his first cap for Ireland against the USA in the old Lansdowne Road the following season, scoring a try on his debut in November 2004. He continued to play for Ulster for the following three seasons, amassing 91 appearances and scoring 34 tries. During that time, he was part of the Ulster team that won the 2004/05 Celtic League.At the end of the 2007/08 seasons he moved to the Ospreys club in Wales and continued to represent Ireland, being part of the Ireland team that won the Six Nations Championship in 2009 and was also selected to tour South Africa with the British & Irish Lions, playing in six games including all three test matches.The 2010 season was a particularly good year for the Monaghan man, being named as the RBS Player of the Championship for the 2010 RBS 6 Nations as well as the IRUPA Player of the Year 2010 and the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Ireland’s winger Tommy Bowe scores a try during the rugby union 6 Nations tournament match France versus Ireland, on March 4, 2012 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. The match ended 17-17. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND LANGLOIS (Photo credit should read BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Perpignan’s rugby union Captain James Hook poses for photographers during the European Rugby Cup (ERC) schedule presentation, in Paris on September 23, 2013. Perpignan will play the 2013/2014 HCup European championships. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images) LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS In between representing Scotland age groups, Allan moved to South Africa and spent two seasons with the U19 Western Province side, the highlight being their 22-18 Currie Cup final defeat of the Blue Bulls in 2012, a tense affair in which Allan’s boot proved decisive.Helpful: Welsh fly-half James HookSo we’ve done Italy, England, Scotland and South Africa…and France? “My agent has a good connection with Perpignan so we sent them a video of me playing. They liked what they saw and offered me a one year contract with the possibility of a one year extension.“I’m really enjoying it. It’s great being part of a professional environment and I like how Perpignan play. They give you licence to run and because it’s less structured it really allows you to develop your attacking skills. In training we play a lot of touch and there’s always an emphasis on attack and adventure.”No one’s been more helpful than James Hook in making sure Allan’s at home in the south of the France. “He’s such a nice guy,” says Allan of the Welshman. “We hang out together at times and he’s always there if I need some advice or help. We’ve done some kicking sessions together and they’ve been great.”Allan admits his selection against Racing Metro came as a shock although he’d expected to be called upon at some point as Perpignan rotated their squad to cope with the challenge of three Top 14 fixtures in nine days. “I thought I would get some game time but I was chuffed when they announced the team and I was starting,” he says. “I was pretty nervous before hand, stressing about making mistakes, but I think it went pretty well.” International impact: Perpignan’s Tommy Allan plays 10 against Wales in the Junior World ChampionshipsBy Gavin Mortimer“An old pro” was how Perpignan coach Marc Delpoux summed up the performance of Tommy Allan on his Top 14 debut earlier this month. He wasn’t wrong. USAP went down 19-16 away at Racing Metro but the 20-year-old Scot gave a standout display at fly-half.Not only was it his first appearance in the Top 14, but it was the first time Allan has played at senior level. Hitherto all his rugby has been age group, mostly for the Western Province U19 side. Eh! How have we gone from France to Scotland to South Africa. OK, let’s go back to the beginning – to Italy.The bright lights: Perpignan versus Racing Metro this monthIt was here, in Vicenza, that Tommaso Allan was born in April 1993, to a Scottish father and an Italian mother who in her day appeared as a scrum-half for the Italian women’s team. His dad was a bit of a player, too, but not as good as Tommy’s uncle – John – who won nine caps for Scotland in the early 90s before going on to win another 13 Test caps for his native South Africa following the reintroduction of the ‘Boks to the international fold.In fact Tommy’s dad, though he was born in Scotland, grew up in South Africa before taking up employment in Italy. When Tommy was seven the family returned to the UK, to Henley-on-Thames, and that’s when his rugby education really began. “I’d played mini rugby for a year in Italy but it was with the Henley Hawks that I began to get serious,” explains Allan. “I spent about four years there and then moved to London Scottish.”A natural footballer, able to play across the backline, Allan initially divided his time between full-back and centre, but it was with the Scotland U18 set-up that he began to flourish as a fly-half. “That’s where I’m most comfortable,” he says. “I enjoy fly-half most and with Scotland they’ve given me the most game time there.”Allan, who stands 6ft 1 and weighs 13 ½ stone, moved up through the Scotland ranks until he came under the tutelage of Sean Lineen at U20 level. The young fly-half credits Lineen as a formidable influence on his game and certainly he excelled on his watch, playing throughout the U20 Six Nations last season and then into the summer world championship. It did go well. Allan scored 11 of his side’s points and earned that pithy praise from the grizzled Delpoux, not bad for a 20-year-old up against the British and Irish Lions fly-half. “It was awesome to play against Johnny Sexton,” exclaims Allan. “I didn’t expect everything [his debut] to happen so quickly so it was just crazy to find myself playing against one of the best 10s in the game.”What will be even crazier is if the Scotland selectors don’t keep a very close eye on the young fly-half with the ‘Have Boots, Will Travel’ mentality.
Always been a back-rower? I used to play 12 but I moved to the back row when I was 15. I can play six and seven but No 8 is my favourite position.When did you join Quins? I’ve been involved since Year Eight. I have one more season on this contract.Which England teams have you played for?U16, and U18 last year. I played eight games and captained six of them. This year I’m with the U20s.Did you play other sports? LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Foot on the gas: James’s older brother Ross also plays at Quins RW verdict: Chisholm has stiff back-row competition at Quins, but Robshaw and Easter are ideal mentors.Want to keep up to date with rugby’s Hotshots every month? Why not subscribe to Rugby World? Click here for the latest subscription deals, or find out how to download the digital edition here. Dad had a couple of years with Everton, and I played a lot of football but wasn’t much good! I played rugby from the age of four because I went to Haywards Heath. Rugby was always my favourite.Do you still live with your brother, Ross?Yes, with him and Luke Wallace from Quins.What are your goals?It’d be good to help England U20 remain Six Nations champions. I’ve been on loan at Worthing Raiders, and I’d like to get more experience with them too.
Cardiff Blues and Wales flanker Sam Warburton talks Tour De Flats, conducting a choir and derby day in Europe Sam Warburton is more used to conducting turnovers than choirs but recently he had to take charge of a rendition of the Welsh national anthem at the Millennium Stadium.As well as conducting the Cardiff Blues Choir, the Wales captain also had to help David Flatman and Iain Balshaw master the lyrics of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers). So why did these former England internationals have to learn the Welsh national anthem?It’s all part of BT Sport’s Tour De Flats, with Flatman this year tasked with travelling to the four points of the World Cup – London, Exeter, Cardiff and Newcastle – and completing a challenge at each destination.In Cardiff the challenge was to sing Wales’ anthem and Warburton expalins: “They had a pad in front of them with the Welsh version, which they had no chance of learning, and another version that read phonetically.“Being from Wales I’ve been singing it since I was little, but the Welsh anthem is a million miles away from what they would have been singing before. They knew ‘Gwald, Gwald’ but the other 95% they struggled on! It was pretty amusing!” Music man: Sam Warburton tries his hand at conducting the Cardiff Blues Choir. Photo: Huw Evans Agency Both regions are well out of the running for the play-offs in the Guinness Pro12, so Warburton is looking forward to some knockout rugby. “It’s going to be awesome,” he says. “It’s probably the biggest game both sides have had for a couple of years, a derby and a quarter-final. I’m sure there’ll be a great atmosphere at Rodney Parade.”Watch all the goings-on from Tour De Flats on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight show on Monday evenings. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Flower power: David Flatman and Iain Balshaw attempt to sing the Welsh national anthem. Photo: Huw Evans AgencyAs for having to conduct the choir, Warburton admits that the singers would have been better off not paying attention to his movements. “I don’t know what everyone made of what I was doing,” he laughs. “They had an actual conductor there and he told me to just stick to the beat. As I’ve got a metronome brain from playing the drums I thought I’d be okay at that. I’m sure the choir completely ignored me and looked at the proper conductor behind!”After two months in camp with Wales, focusing on a high-pressure RBS 6 Nations campaign, Warburton enjoyed being part of a more light-hearted afternoon at the Millennium Stadium. “Flats had to wear a daffodil on his head so I gave him a bit of stick; I think it suited him!” He also got a grilling from former prop Flatman – and you can watch the video of that here…This weekend it’s back to the rugby, though. Cardiff Blues make the short journey to Rodney Parade on Saturday to take on Newport Gwent Dragons in a lunchtime kick-off in the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals. TAGS: Cardiff Blues
We’re finally here, Super Saturday looms large for teams have just one more chance to qualify for the Play-Offs and Europe next season. Just one point separates Leicester Tigers, Exeter Chiefs and Saracens as they tussle for a place in the top four while Wasps and Sale Sharks compete for the last European Champions Cup place. In the Pro12, the top 4 have nailed down their places, but not the order and who will get the final Champions Cup place, the Scarlets, Edinburgh or Connacht. We look ahead to this weekend’s key fixtures and predict the outcomes…Aviva PremiershipLondon Welsh v SaracensChampionship bound and winless – this has been an utterly miserable season for London Welsh. Yet one colossal performance from the minnows could prove consolation by derailing Saracens’ course to Twickenham. It won’t happen. If Exeter win at home, then Saracens need to better their result by four points to guarantee a place in the playoffs. And with Owen Farrell back in the starting lineup and Billy Vunipola flattening everything within reach Saracens should clinch fourth place and condemn Welsh to a bagel season.Prediction: Saracens to canter to a bonus point and qualify for the play-offsBattering ram: The in-form Billy Vunipola could wreak havoc against London WelshExeter Chiefs v Sale SharksWith Saracens odds on to demolish Welsh only a miracle can save Exeter from a fifth place finish. The Chiefs have established themselves as everyone’s second team with notable performances throughout the season from Henry Slade, potential England bolter Dave Ewers and leading Premiership try-scorer Thomas ‘tank engine’ Waldrom. However a bonus point win for Sale would secure a place in the European Champions Cup if Wasps lose to London Irish.Prediction: Bonus point win for Exeter but fall just short in making the playoffs.Leicester Tigers v Northampton SaintsRichard Cockerill’s men will once again find themselves in the playoffs, despite a torrid injury-plagued start to the campaign if they can dispatch Northampton at Welford road. The Saints have made 13 changes to the side that beat London Welsh resting key players ahead of their home semi-final. Leicester meanwhile need to better the results of Saracens and Exeter to guarantee third place, now seemingly more likely due to a weakened Saints’ lineup. Northampton will hope the experienced trio of Lee Dickson, Alex Corbisiero and Phil Dowson can stem a Leicester pack that did so much to nullify Wasps last weekend.Prediction: Leicester win by 10 points.Creator-in-chief: Wasps will look to Elliot Daly to spur them onto Champions Cup qualificationLondon Irish v WaspsWasps need to win at the Madjeski stadium to seal their place in the Champions Cup. Yet with key performers Nathan Hughes, attending the birth of his first child, and Joe Simpson out injured victory is far from assured. England’s forgotten man Shane Geraghty will captain London Irish from midfield with his side guaranteed to finish tenth. Elliot Daly and Christian Wade, however, will be hoping for one more mesmeric showing to capture Stuart Lancaster’s imagination and force their way into World Cup contention. With nothing to play for and harrowing defeats in their last two outings Irish should wilt in the face of Wasps’ hunger for European competiton.Prediction: Wasps win by 15 points. Proper rivalry: There will be no love lost in the East Midlands derby LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS All matches kick off at 15:30Guinness Pro12Connacht v OspreysA bonus point win for the Ospreys would guarantee an advantageous home semifinal against either Glasgow Warriors, Munster or Ulster. However with Connacht harboring European ambitions of their own Ospreys will not waltz to victory. Connacht need to match Edinburgh’s result against Leinster if they are to qualify for the Champions Cup yet with just one win in their last six games Ospreys should have enough to overcome Pat Lam’s side. Watch out for the cultured right peg of Dan Biggar at flyhalf as he endeavors to pin back the Irish side in what will be claustrophobic encounter.Prediction: Ospreys by five points to earn a home semi-final but no bonus point.Biggar man: Pivot Dan Biggar will be expected to fire the Ospreys to a home play-offGlasgow v UlsterUlster have made 12 changes to the side that drew with Munster, seemingly content with the prospect of an away semifinal. Retiring captain Al Kellock returns for Glasgow in the second row with Sean Lamont regaining fitness to start out wide. Having not lost at home in the league this season Glasgow remain solid favourites to take this one but may struggle to get the bonus point. Ulster should strive to keep momentum heading into the playoffs and will pray for the prompt return of Pro12 top try-scorer Craig Gilroy from a hamstring injury.Prediction: Glasgow to win by 5 and earn a home semi-final but no bonus point.Munster v Newport Gwent Dragons Munster have arguably the easiest tie of any of the top four sides, at home to the Dragons. The Dragons have failed to beat Munster in the last three meetings, with the last result ending in a 28 point win for the Irish province. Ian Keatley, the Pro12’s top points scorer, is set to win his 100th cap for the side and will surely keep things ticking over from the tee. The Welsh side are however coming off the back of an accomplished 19-5 victory over Edinburgh and will look to the fleeting feet of Hallam Amos on the wing to summon an unlikely upset.Prediction: Munster to win by 15 points but no bonus pointHelping hand: Simon Zebo aids Ian Keatley and he scores more points off the deckTreviso v Scarlets The Scarlets have had the easiest run-in of the three sides fighting for the automatic sixth-placed finish, with Zebre, Cardiff Blues and now Treviso. They need two points to be certain, so a draw – of which they have had three already – or two bonus points to see them through. One man who will be looking to impress will be Gareth Davies, who was suspended for five weeks for a head-butt. Along with Liam Williams, Scott Williams and the breakdown specialist James Davies, the Scarlets should have enough class to consolidate their Champions Cup place against Treviso side who have caused them problems in the pastPrediction: The Scarlets to win by 8 points, qualify but not pick up a bonus point It’s the final day of the domestic season in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12, so what’s there to play for and who’s going to proceed to the Play-Offs? Read on… TAGS: MunsterOspreysUlster
Shoulder to shoulder: England will have to dig deep to exit Pool A LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS By Adam HathawayMake your mind upWe have been here before with Chris Robshaw. Three years ago, the England captain was embroiled in a ‘kick or not to kick’ row and he was at it again on Saturday night against Wales at Twickenham. Against Australia, in 2012, Robshaw turned down three kickable penalties and England lost 20-14 and, a week later, against South Africa he asked Owen Farrell to kick a penalty with two minutes on the clock when going for a try looked a better option. That 16-15 defeat is still haunting England because it ensured they slipped out of the top four in the world rankings, just before the draw for this World Cup was made and they were handed their dog’s dinner of a group.Wrong call: Chris Robshaw’s kick for the corner didn’t come offFive minutes after the Wales game, Robshaw would have bitten your hand off for a draw against Wales which makes you wonder why he did not take the three points on offer late in the match.Clive Woodward, yes him again, used to want his players to Think Correctly Under Pressure, T-CUP as he called it. Robshaw had a brain freeze on Saturday, he can’t afford any more.Don’t be a tinker man.If the England captain had a bit of a wobble in the top two inches at Twickenham, then what about the coach? With 69 minutes gone Stuart Lancaster’s team were seven points up and had won the game more than once. So the boss shoves on George Ford, takes off Sam Burgess and shunts Owen Farrell to centre.Tinkering: Stuart Lancaster’s selection of replacements is open to scrutinyThere are only three things wrong with this. If you are going to put Ford on then he should have had more than 11 minutes of action, or else don’t bother. Farrell was playing better at 10 than he has for England for a long, long time and Burgess had done everything he had been told to do ie. keep Jamie Roberts quiet. The game should have been in the bag and England let it slip. Substitutes are supposed to add to the team but this one scuppered it. Just because someone is on the bench it does not mean you have to get them on.Are England the new chokers of world rugby? TAGS: Highlight Are England the new chokers of world rugby? Every single big, nearly-everything-on-the-line match they have had over the past four years they have fluffed their lines. From the Grand Slam collapse in Cardiff in 2013 to Saturday’sgame at Twickenham they have come off second best. Ireland in Dublin this year, Wales at home in 2012 are amongst the others where Lancaster’s team have been runners-up and if it carries on this weekend against Australia they will be back at their clubs in time for the start of the Premiership.Chokers: England have blown pressure games in recents seasonsIt used to be New Zealand who blew the big games – in the 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups – and in cricket it was the South African side who have a habit of chucking away winning positions. Stuart Lancaster needs to get rid of the tag starting on Saturday or else it will suffocate their World Cup.England’s breakdown is brokenReferees during this World Cup have been told to pay special attention to players getting their hands, on the ground, in front of the ball at the breakdown. I wonder if anyone bothered to tell Dan Cole, who should be particularly frustrated after giving away a penalty for that offence in the first half of Saturday’s game at Twickenham. Elsewhere, England were pretty much second best at the breakdown against Wales and the two-six-and-a-halves against a genuine number seven (or two when Justin Tipuric came off the bench) shows no sign of abating. England might not have a genuine ball-snaffler but giving away cheap points in that area is a quick way to the World Cup exit door.Breakdown problems: England have discipline issues with Dan Cole penalisedAs Stuart Lancaster said: “We’ve talked a lot about discipline, and breakdown penalties, and we gave some dumb ones away which kept them in the game.” It is about time the England team listened when the boss talks or else the party will be going on without them in a couple of weeks.Farrell the icemanThere has been some comment that Owen Farrell was in the England starting line-up because his dad, Andy, happens to be one of the selectors. Stuart Lancaster always maintains he has the final call anyway, but don’t forget that Farrell was benched during the autumn internationals when one of the selectors was…er, his dad, Andy. Chris Robshaw’s decision making, Owen Farrell’s mental strength, Stuart Lancaster’s tinkering and England’s issues at the breakdown are discussed The iceman: Owen Farrell proved he should in the side on meritThe fly-half proved that was garbage, and he should be in the side on merit, at the weekend with his all-round game and he also kicked five penalties, a conversion and a drop goal without missing the sticks once. Farrell is one Ian McGeechan’s beloved ‘Test Match Animals’ who gets the job done, whatever the circumstances. If he is not starting on Saturday then the England selectors really have lost the plot although don’t bet against him starting at number 12.For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here
Rugby World teamed up with leading corporate hospitality providers Keith Prowse, to talk more about the forthcoming Old Mutual Wealth Cup, England v Wales at Twickenham (SEE VIRTUAL TOUR). With a number of high quality experiences on offer, all within the Stadium, read on if you’re looking for some entertainment options on Sunday 29 May:Q: What is the Old Mutual Wealth Cup?A: New to the rugby calendar for 2016, this International on Sunday 29 May between adversaries England and Wales replaces the non-capped England v Barbarians match. Given the proximity of pending tours to Australia for England and New Zealand for Wales, Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland are expected to put out strong teams, with stars like George North, Anthony Watson, Dan Biggar and Mike Brown keen to prove their credentials and allow coaches to test new playing combinations ahead of the summer tours.Q: Outside being the first chance to see Grand Slam champions play, why would I want to be in the crowd?A: There is a rich history between the two sides and the rivalry, passion and competitiveness never disappoints. England and Wales have played each other at rugby union since 1881. There have been 128 matches to date – England having won 59 times and Wales 57, with 12 matches drawn. With tours to Australia and New Zealand, the showdown between England and Wales will be a chance for players to secure their starting berths. Expect fireworks Titanic battle: Billy Vunipola takes on the Welsh defence in the Six Nations encounter Memorable moments are aplenty; Scott Gibbs in 1999 at Wembley, still referred to as the best try in Welsh rugby history (Wales 32: England 31) and in a Rugby World Cup year which saw England triumph (2003), they beat Wales in a closely fought quarter final (England 28: Wales 17). LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Leicester Tigers star, Ben Youngs recently described England v Wales matches as “special”, saying, “I love being a part of those games and when I’m retired if there’s one England fixture that people ask me to go to, England versus Wales is the one I’d watch”.Fun rivalry: England and Wales have history that dates back over 100 yearsQ: When do we expect to hear more about the player selections?A: Following the confirmation of the Aviva Premiership semi-final line-up (Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers, Saracens and Wasps), Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland have announced their training squads that are, especially in Wales’ case, loaded with experience and talent.
The world’s first gay rugby club, the Steelers are the subject of a new film. Founding chairman Robert Hayward reflects on the club’s influence over the past 25 years “I was conscious of that. I don’t think anybody does it to campaign but what we’ve discovered is how helpful we can be both to individuals and to the gay community just by being there.“I do believe that rugby has tackled the issue of diversity far better than football. When we were formed there was a sense that rugby was a bastion of traditional conservative, with a small c, society. Lo and behold, the RFU welcomed us in.“At the time there were all sorts of rows about professionalism and I remember saying to the RFU’s head of communications, ‘I’m sorry to be causing you these troubles’, because on odd occasions there were silly stories, and he said, ‘You’re the only positive publicity we get!’Showing his mettle: Steelers’ Ben Coney Critchley makes a tackle against Caledonian Thebans during the 2019 Union Cup in Dublin (Inpho)“We’re lucky as a sport. We shouldn’t be self-indulgent, we must carry on changing attitudes, and I hope we’re doing it by experience rather than by a form of campaign or crusade.“It’s a shame that the only openly gay rugby player at the moment is Keegan Hirst in rugby league. But I believe rugby union has a position to be proud of.“I don’t know if there are guys out there who are gay but if there are I’d like them to feel confident enough to come out and I think rugby union is in a position where that could be the case.“In many ways we have throughout the last 25 years been an exemplar of the changes in society. When I got an award at the Rugby Writers’ dinner, Craig Maxwell-Keys was sat across the table from me as an England international referee.“When Nigel (Owens) came out, when Gareth came out, it was blockbusting news. But Craig is an international referee who happens to be gay. And that’s both a reflection of society and a reflection of the way the game works, and has worked, very effectively.In the spotlight: Premiership referee Craig Maxwell-Keys decided to come out in 2019 (Getty Images)“I was the main mover of the amendment in legislation that got same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and I said I would wear my tie every time I spoke on the subject until the law changed, which I did.“In both the Commons and the Lords, there’s a box where the civil servants sit and they pass notes to the minister, and the other week one of the civil servants in the box was wearing a Steelers tie. And it gave me enormous pride. It’s little things like that which give one pleasure because of what the tie represents and what the club represents.”Steelers: The World’s First Gay Rugby Club premieres online at the Glasgow Film Festival – tickets are available now. It will be available to watch from Fri 26 Feb to Sun 7 Mar. Kings Cross Steelers – “We have been an exemplar for the changes in society”A new film about Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby club, premieres next month at the Glasgow Film Festival. The documentary follows the East London club’s exploits at the 2018 Bingham Cup in Amsterdam and has been made by TV reporter Eamonn Ashton-Atkinson, who had been due to play in the tournament before concussion ruled him out.The Steelers’ story is one of the most significant the game has seen. Created in 1995, the club has been a trailblazer for gay and inclusive rugby – today there are almost 100 member clubs listed on the International Gay Rugby website.Steelers’ founding chairman is Lord Robert Hayward, a former MP, referee and Bedford Swifts wing. Rugby World spoke to him last year for a feature published in our June 2020 issue. Here’s what he had to say about the club’s impact over the past 25 years…Standard bearers: Kings Cross Steelers led the way on a path that many have since trodden (Steelers)“In the mid-1990s, society became more open and the opportunity was there to come together and play the sport you loved. So we set up the Steelers and as time has moved on, we discovered that what we were also doing was providing a support network for lots of people; people who weren’t out feeling they could play a sport comfortably in a team before they came out to their family or their community.“After we were formed, when we had journalists doing stories we had to ask players whether they were out at work. If I was being interviewed against a backdrop of people training, did they want to avoid being in the backdrop? Did they want to appear in a photograph?“And at least half the players would say no, they don’t want to be in a photograph. Quite a few were unwilling even to be interviewed anonymously.“When we had our 20th anniversary, we didn’t ask people. And that’s a reflection of the change in society. There are people who are still not out, and everybody’s sympathetic to that, it’s their choice. But the contrast between every media interview we did in the early years compared to now is stark.“When we started the club, we were thinking of people who were involved in rugby and wanted to play in a gay community; after the game they could go off together into Soho or whatever. What has been striking is the shift over the years.“For the last five years we have run a ‘Pathway to Rugby’ – 50 guys each year who have either never played rugby or who haven’t played beyond the age of about 13.“And the pathway is over-subscribed. It’s a 13-week course and the final ‘passing out’ game has become quite an institution. Other clubs are staggered by how many people we have turn up. People are coming from all over London to train with us and the RFU loves it because it is bringing overwhelmingly new people into the game.“In the early days, when you played clubs away from home, you would get all sorts of questions, like ‘How do gay guys meet?’ There was a perception about the club and the gay community that we were all soft and like Danny La Rue. ‘Straight’ clubs were quite open about the fact they didn’t want to be the first club to lose to Kings Cross Steelers.“But that perception has changed because more sportsmen and women have come out as being gay, like Gareth Thomas in 2009. And the contrast now is that the Essex Rugby Union is incredibly proud to have us as part of their society.“The Steelers have never been about a crusade per se but it has been difficult to separate that from the rugby. We got quite a lot of publicity for our first few matches and I remember we played a club in Surrey. One of their guys said, ‘You’ve got to be careful. Every club will want to play you just because they want to play rugby, not because it’s going to be a campaign.’ LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS True grit: Kings Cross Steelers, in the blue socks, take on Straffe Ketten in the 2019 Union Cup (Inpho) Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The British & Irish Lions have crossed hemispheres for more than a century, but should they consider also touring closer to home? Read this debate from our June 2021 issue A top player from the home unions may enjoy two or three opportunities to tour with the British & Irish Lions. Elite players down south rarely get more than one shot at facing the fabled side from the North. The locals’ desperation to succeed against rugby’s most famous tourists makes for a potent product.Related content: The day France played the LionsSurely that product would be diluted if the Lions toured France? The home unions play France each year in the Six Nations. Their players face French clubs in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup. A tour to France, in the colours of the Lions, would be overkill.And what would be the cost to other nations? Would France displace a traditional tour to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa – rugby nations less financially secure than their northern hemisphere counterparts?Boks fans watch the Lions in 2009. Would adding France to the schedule jeopardise rugby in SA? (Getty)South Africa, for example, have been counting on a big cash injection from the Lions tour. Without a Lions tour in the future, they would lose millions. This would impact on their future planning and structures. Player retention, already a major issue, would be impossible.The Lions would do well to consider staging fixtures against Fiji, Samoa and Tonga ahead of a series in Australia or New Zealand. That would boost the island nations in so many ways and provide great preparation for the tourists. Saracens’ Maro Itoje carries for the Lions during the Test series against New Zealand four years ago (Inpho) Face-off: Should the Lions tour France? We want to know what YOU think. Email your views to [email protected] debate first appeared in the June 2021 issue of Rugby World. Face-off: Should the Lions tour France?BENJAMIN KAYSERYES, says the former France hooker turned media punditThe British & Irish Lions is an institution. And we adore it. We tour for the adventure, for the thrill, for the quality of rugby, yes – but also for the amazing fan experience and being confronted by the best. If you want to package an amazing destination, regional pride, a lot of cultural diversity and, at the moment, quality rugby, that’s France.France would create something exciting while still fitting the Lions’ tradition – challenging yourself against the best in a country that will give you a lot of stuff to do during the week.When we were discussing alternative Lions plans in Australia or at home this year, which isn’t going to happen now, they were expecting the Lions to play a France team during the week and I thought, ‘That is exactly what world rugby needs at the moment!’ It’s exciting, new, fresh… Every single fan in the world would turn their TV on for that. The Lions in France would create such an event. I think it could be absolutely extraordinary.The Lions played a one-off match against France in October 1989, winning 29-27 in Paris (AFP/Getty)France bring something different to the table. The Six Nations needs that specialness because Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England are not as different – they are still Anglo-Saxons. So imagine if then you can combine all those Six Nations countries into this institution with a Lions tour to France.We love to hate each other and we hate to love each other. If you want to create entertainment, quality rugby and history, I think it must happen. France deserves it now. I hope it will happen one day, even if it’s just one Test.JON CARDINELLINO, says the South Africa-based freelance rugby writerA British & Irish Lions tour to France would not be as meaningful as the existing sojourns to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It’s the rarity of the tours – once every 12 years – that make them so special. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS