Eddie Jones reveals England Squad to Tour Argentina during Summer

By Thomas Branston

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England boss Eddie Jones has announced a modified squad that will tour Argentina over two tests this summer during June and the Australian names 15 uncapped players in the 31-man squad.

Dylan Hartley will lead the side, despite missing out on what could be his final chance of making the British and Irish Lions squad on their tour to New Zealand this summer. However his inclusion in Jones’ plans will rule out the hooker’s chances of being available on a reserves list for the Lions.

The side includes controversial rugby league convert Denny Solomana, who, was born in New Zealand and has represented Samoa in rugby league. However, Solomana qualifies through residency rules and has had a storming first season in the Aviva Premiership with strugglers Sale Sharks. The 23-year-old has scored 9 tries in 11 appearances this season.

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Cross-code convert Denny Solomana included in two-test Tour to Argentina.

Jones includes an uncapped contingent of 15 who will look to impress, with 16 first team regulars missing due to the Lions tour of New Zealand. Will Collier, Ben Curry, Tom Curry, Nick Isiekwe, Harry Mallinder, Sam Underhill, Harry Williams, Joe Cokanasiga, Nathan Earle, Piers Francis, Sam James, Joe Marchant, Jack Maunder and Denny Solomana are those that will look to implement a regular place in Jones’ squad leading up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Will Collier – 25 yo – Tighthead Prop – 15 appearances for Harlequins this season.

Ben Curry – 18 yo – Blindside Flanker – 15 appearances for Sale Sarks this season.

Tom Curry – 18 yo – Openside Flanker – 13 appearances for Sale Sharks this season.

Nick Isiekwe – 19yo – Lock – 1 appearance for Saracens this season.

Harry Mallinder – 20 yo – Fly Half – 19 appearances for Northampton Saints this season.

Sam Underhill – 20 yo – Openside Flanker – 10 appearances for Ospreys this season.

Harry Williams – 25 yo – Loosehead Prop – 16 appearances for Exeter Chiefs this season

Joe Cokanasiga – 19 yo – Right Wing – 11 appearances for London Irish this season

Nathan Earle – 21 yo  – Left Wing – 0 appearances for parent club Saracens this season on loan to Canterbury (New Zealand – 10 appearances).

Piers Francis – 26 yo – Fly Half – 19 appearances for Auckland Blues this season.

Sam James – 22 y0 – Inside Centre – 24 appearances for Sale Sharks this season.

Joe Marchant – 20 yo – Outside Centre – 18 appearances for Harlequins this season.

Jack Maunder – 20 yo – Scrum Half – 8 appearances for Exeter Chiefs this season.

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Wasps Lock Joe Lauchbury misses out on Warren Gatland’s Lions squad.

Alongside the 15 uncapped players Jones has also called on the experience in the side with Lions casualties, Joe Launchbury, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown, who were all left out of Warren Gatland’s squad.

Flanker Sam Underhill and fly-half Piers Francis who will join Bath and Northampton respectively will tour this summer before they have joined their new clubs.

There was no place for the Aviva Premiership’s top try-scorer Christian Wade nor Bath wing Semesa Rokoduguni with the pairs exclusion being particularly bizarre, however the mixture of youth Jones has chosen is inviting.

The squad will play two Tests on the tour, beginning at Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario, San Juan on Saturday 10 June  and Estadio Brigadier General Estanislao Lopez, Sante Fe, a week later on 17 June.


England Squad

Forwards | Will Collier (Harlequins, uncapped), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 4 caps), Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 3 caps), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 1 cap), Dylan Hartley (c)(Northampton Saints, 84 caps), James Haskell (Wasps, 75 caps), Paul Hill (Northampton Saints, 5 caps), Nathan Hughes (Wasps, 8 caps), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, uncapped), Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 42 caps), Matt Mullan (Wasps, 15 caps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, 55 caps), Sam Underhill (Ospreys/Bath Rugby, uncapped), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints, 50 caps)

Backs |  Mike Brown – (vc )(Harlequins, 60 caps), Danny Care – (vc) (Harlequins, 71 caps), Joe Cokanasiga (London Irish, uncapped), Nathan Earle (Saracens, uncapped), George Ford – (vc) (Bath Rugby, 35 caps), Piers Francis (Auckland Blues/Northampton Saints, uncapped), Sam James (Sale Sharks, uncapped), Alex Lozowski (Saracens, uncapped), Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints, uncapped), Joe Marchant (Harlequins, uncapped), Jack Maunder (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 25 caps), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 4 caps), Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks, uncapped)


PREVIEW | Northampton Saints vs Saracens

By Thomas Branston


Stadium MK (Kick-off 3pm)

Referee: Matthew Carley

Assistant Refs: Wayne Falla, Gareth Copsey

TMO: Graham Hughes


Northampton Saints have narrowly missed out in their last two Aviva Premiership matches very late on against two of their playoff rivals, Leicester and Wasps. Saints have played six previous matches at Stadium MK winning two and losing once in the Premiership.

Saracens only defeat in their last six matches was 10-32 defeat at home to Leicester in the semi-final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 11 March. Sarries have lost three of their last five away games in the Premiership, with defeats to Bath, Worcester and Gloucester.

Saracens have previously played three games in Milton Keynes winning two ‘home’ games when they moved there from Vicarage Road, against Bristol in 2008 and Northampton in 2012, but losing 20-25 there in a Saints “home” game in 2015.

Saracens have the upper hand on the books in this tie with the visitors only losing once  in their last five matches against Northampton in all tournaments was 15-20 at Allianz Park in Premiership in March 2016.

Saracens won a feisty encounter last time out at Allianz Park winning 27-12, in a first-half battle the half-time score was even with both Myler and Lozowski trading three penalties each. Myler added another penalty early on, however a poor half of discipline from Saints allowed Jamie George to cross over and Saracens were later awarded a penalty try from pulling down a maul.

Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley Targets Top Six Finish

By Thomas Branston

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England captain Dylan Hartley is targeting a place in the Aviva Premiership top six as the season reaches its final stage.

The 31-year-old believes his side have the quality to achieve their goal, despite Saints suffering a last-gasp defeat at Wasps last weekend and missing out late on against east midlands rivals Leicester Tigers the week before.

However, Saints remain level on points with sixth-placed Harlequins and are just five points behind fourth-placed Leicester Tigers with three games left to play.

Hartley is determined to help his side qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup competition.

He said: “The good thing is we have got a huge carrot dangling in front of us, we have got three games left in the season and, at the moment, a top-six finish is a priority for us.

“We have got all to play for and it’s a good place to be. If we were further down the table, we could just clock off but this is a good place to be, it keeps it competitive and it keeps us working for something.

“It might not be a top-two finish like we would have liked at the start of the year, but we have got something to drive for and that’s top six at the moment.”

Wasps beat Northampton Saints in Aviva Premiership thriller at Ricoh Arena

By Thomas Branston

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Wasps drive over the whitewash after a quickly taken penalty as the clock goes dead.

Wasps retain hopes of a home semi-final as they scored late on in a thriller to beat Northampton Saints 32-30 in the Aviva Premiership on Sunday.

Matt Mullan scored the decisive try at the death after Nathan Hughes’ initial battering run from a quickly-taken penalty.

Tries from Ben Foden, Alex Waller and George North gave Northampton a 18-13 half-time lead with Wasps trailing by five points, the hosts did score with Elliot Daly crossing over and Jimmy Gopperth adding eight points from his boot.

Christian Wade and Joe Simpson added crucial scores which was accompanied by Ahsee Tuala and Teimana Harrison scoring to give Saints a five point lead but Mullan got the decisive try with the clock going dead and Gopperth secured victory from his conversion.

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Nic Groom clings on to tackle fellow South African Willie Le Roux.

Both sides went into the match with hopes on the line, for the hosts it was threats of losing a home playoff semi-final and for Northampton it was a last ditch attempt of securing a top four finish.

Saints began the game playing efficient rugby putting Wasps under mass amounts of pressure and were rewarded with a penalty but Stephen Myler drifted his effort wide.

Northampton continued to build and forced Wasps to make numerous mistakes and had the chance to take the lead again with Myler converting this time.

Wasps struggled to contain Saints in the early exchanges and with the hosts making mistake upon mistake, it was Northampton who capitalised with Foden racing clear from a Gopperth pass which was intercepted and Myler missed his kick from the touchline.

But the hosts responded quickly as Daly, who was being watched by Eddie Jones, found a gap and raced through to score and Gopperth added his conversion to cut the visitors lead.

However, Saints responded perfectly with Waller going over in the corner to reassemble the Saints’ lead and Myler again missed his conversion.

Gopperth managed to keep Wasps in the game as he slotted his kick through the posts with ease to reduce the score to three.

And the hosts continued to grow into the game with Wade’s thunderous pace and initiative helping the hosts win another penalty soon after and Gopperth converted an identical kick to his last one to tie the score.

Jim Mallinder’s men quickly rallied together to shock the hosts with a third score as North received the ball out wide to touch down in the corner and Myler missed his third conversion of the game.

Northampton took a 18-13 lead into the break and could have been further ahead but Wasps managed to keep them within touching distance.

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Dai Young’s team talk proved influential as Wasps looked a different side in the early exchanges of the second period.

Wade scoring in the first three minutes to level the scoring, the wing wizard beautifully kicked a chip over the defensive line and collected to score and Gopperth converted to give Wasps the lead for the first time.

Wasps looked back to their best with Kurtley Beale and Le Roux causing havoc, but it was Simpson who stretched over after some good defensive work from Northampton and Gopperth missed his kick.

Saints responded well and added to the try-fest with Tuala going over from a five-metre scrum to earn Northampton the bonus-point and Myler missed his conversion to level the score.

Impressively Northampton quickly scored another with a turnover from a Wasps scrum in their own half.

Saints broke away down the field offloading at will and Api Ratuniyarawa got his pass off to Harrison who made no mistake in crashing his way through to score untouched and Myler converted.

Much to his blushes of dropping the ball over the line from Wasps’ Champions Cup defeat to Leinster last weekend, Le Roux believed he had scored shortly after Saitns had retaken the lead.

But the TMO had deemed that Joe Launchbury had obstructed Luther Burrell from making his way towards the tackle.

A let off for Saints, but Wasps didn’t take their foot off the pedal, they continued to bombard the Northampton 22.

It took until the 80th minute for Wasps to really assert their authority in the Saints 22, and after winning a second penalty in quick succession Jamie Gibson was shown a yellow.

The clock was dead and with a penalty, Hughes had to tap it and go and the number 8 crashed his way up to a metre of crossing the line.

The ball was recycled by the forwards quickly with Mullan crashing over to score with Referee Maxwell-Keys declaring the try much to a crackling roar of the Ricoh crowd.

Gopperth stepped up just 12 metres out to convert the winning points as Wasps secured the win in emphatic fashion.

Coventry City crowned Checkatrade Trophy Champions in Wembley triumph

By Thomas Branston

IMG_9662.jpgCoventry City scored twice to beat favourites Oxford United in the Checkatrade Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Goals from Gael Bigirimana and George Thomas proved enough as the Sky Blues secured their second win at Wembley following the 1987 FA Cup success over Tottenham Hotspur 30 years ago.

United midfielder Liam Sercombe scored a consolation goal in the 75th minute to make a tense ending but Coventry held out to prevail.

The win comes as a welcomed distraction for the side that currently sit rock bottom of League One and 13 points adrift of safety with only six games remaining.

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Academy graduate Gael Bigirimana scored the opening goal at Wembley.

Coventry’s win at Wembley will undoubtedly only soften their fans’ fall with the inevitable blow of relegation to English football’s fourth tier for the first time since 1959 on the horizon.

Mark Robins’ side remain highly likely to go down, as they are 13 points adrift of safety with just six games left to play this season, playing four sides from the top half of the table.

Followed by a very noisy 43,000 fans, the Sky Blues struck first blood on 11 minutes when Bigirimana slotted the ball into the back of the net after Stuart Beavon’s attempted volley was blocked.

Oxford’s superiority and hard running counted for nothing as Coventry led 1-0 at half-time, despite threatening the U’s struggled to create meaningful chances, and referee Chris Sarginson ruled out a Kane Hemmings penalty shout after he went down following a nudge from Ryan Haynes.

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George Thomas scores a belter to double his sides lead.

Coventry wide man Thomas struck 10 minutes into the second-half, he controlled Kyel Reid’s left-wing cross with one touch before driving his powerful shot with pinpoint accuracy just inside the far post to send the Sky Blues fans into delirium.

Sercombe scored his effort for the U’s with 15 minutes remaining and with Burge producing a number of superb saves to keep Coventry ahead his one-handed stop from Josh Ruffels effort late on led to a last-ditch goalmouth scramble but the Sky Blues survived.

The final whistle blew and the Sky Blue half of Wembley burst into celebrations as Coventry City were crowned the 2017 Checkatrade Trophy Champions.

REPORT | Bristol Ladies Rugby 32-20 Worcester Valkyries

By Thomas Branston

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Worcester Valkyries put in a commendable performance but were beaten 32-20 by Bristol Ladies Rugby in the Women’s Senior Cup Plate final at Wootton Bassett RFC.

Bristol dominated possession in the early exchanges and made Worcester pay with Becki Belcher opening the scoring before Jaz Bixley quickly levelled.

Bristol added three more tries before the interval to stretch their lead courtesy of another from Belcher and scores for Phoebe Murray and Brooke Bradley.

Valkyries scored three second-half tries with Helena Bunce, Rhi Donnahey and Ceri Large crossing but a Chantelle Miell brace was enough to earn Bristol the Plate.

Bristol broke down the Valkyries in the opening stages with Belcher strolling in from distance to score in the corner.

Worcester reacted well with Bianca Blackburn’s accurate pass allowing Bixley time and space to dive over for a spectacular finish in the far corner.

However Bristol made the visitors pay as Belcher again crossed the whitewash in similar fashion to her first.

Murray then received the ball out wide before producing a delicate chip over the defensive line which she managed to collect to dive over in the corner.

Bristol notched their fourth try before half-time and after dominating at the scrum, Bradley spotted a gap in the defence to score under the posts.

Bristol led 20-5 at the interval and got a fifth try early in the second period as winger Miell stepped through to score and Sarah Graham added the extras.

Worcester were playing some nice rugby and would have felt hard done by to be 27-5 behind, but they didn’t roll over.

After enjoying a large spell of possession and territory in the Bristol half, Valkyries capitalised as flanker Bunce found her way over for her first try for the Club, following a well-constructed lineout.

Miell did get her second try for Bristol from close range but it was Valkyries who dominated late in the game.

Lisa Campbell led by example, as the powerful number eight broke through which led to Donnahey scoring in the corner.

Large then added a fourth try after receiving the ball on the Bristol ten-metre line and racing downfield but it wasn’t enough to get back into the contest, as Bristol won the Plate.

With the 2016/17 season now over, Valkyries will look ahead to next season’s exciting and inaugural Super Rugby campaign.

Timeline
06m | Belcher try 5-0
08m | Bixley try 5-5
16m | Belcher try 10-5
20m | Murray try 15-5
40m | Bradley try 20-5
44m | Miell try 25-5
45m | Graham con 27-5
53m | Bunce try 27-10
55m | Miell try 32-10
63m | Donnahey try 32-15
75m | Large try 32-20

Valkyries | 1 Harriet Dunn (Binks 71), 2 Lark Davies, 3 Lizzie Binks (Phillips 40), 4 Stacey Hiscox (Smith 67), 5 Courtney Gill, 6 Helena Bunce (Donnahey 61), 7 Rosie Haigh, 8 Lisa Campbell, (c) 9 Bianca Blackburn, 10 Megan Goddard, 11 Jaz Bixley (Clarke 46), 12 Rhi Parker, 13 Ceri Large, 14 Alexia Mavroudis (Taft 75), 15 Samantha Bree (S Parker 70)

Replacements | 16 Katie Phillips 17 Steph Smith, 18 Rhi Donnahey, 19 Brooke Clarke, 20 Sam Parker, 21 Ally Taft

Gill set for Valkyries’ big occasion

By Thomas Branston

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Worcester Valkyries lock Courtney Gill has labelled Saturday’s Senior Cup Plate Final as a ‘big occasion’ against rivals Bristol Ladies Rugby at Wootton Bassett RFC (kick-off 3pm).

Gill, who captained Valkyries in their final Women’s Premiership game of the season last weekend, believes the squad are capable of finishing the season on a high.

But she knows they have to be at the top of their game if they are to get the result against the side that finished top of the league table.

She said: “It’s a cup final and we want to end our season with a trophy. It’s a big occasion and one that we are all looking forward to.

“We want to finish the season on a positive note and we will train hard this week to give us the best possible chance of winning the Plate Final.”

The 21-year-old insists Valkyries need to believe in their own abilities in order to overcome Bristol, who have defeated them twice in the league this season.

She explained: “We need to go into the game with confidence and believe in ourselves.

“We have been caught out too many times when we are flat and if we play good rugby for 80 minutes then we are really hard to beat.

“Bristol have beaten us twice this season so now it’s time for us to show them what we are capable of.”

Valkyries fell short of victory despite putting in a brave performance against Aylesford Bulls Ladies at Surrey Sport Park on Sunday as they completed their league campaign.

And Gill believes the never-say-die attitude they showed is key ahead of the weekend’s final.

She added: “There are plenty of positives that we can take from last weekend. It’s a disappointing result but the main thing is we didn’t give up.

“There were things in the game that we can improve on but we showed our heart, kept pushing throughout and finished on a high.”