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Six Nations Rugby

Brian O’Driscoll names his Lions XV to beat South Africa and explains why his own partnership with Jonathan Davies flopped



Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll has named three Wales stars in the Lions XV he feels Warren Gatland needs to pick against South Africa.

The former Lions captain chose Jonathan Davies, Tomos Williams and Alun Wyn Jones in the line-up he believes can beat the world champion Springboks.

His side is dominated by Eddie Jones’ England stars, with no fewer than eight of them making the cut for O’Driscoll.

Only two of his fellow Irishmen are selected, with two Scots also getting in.

One of those Irish stars is James Ryan, who according to O’Driscoll should partner Wales captain Alun Wyn in the second row.

To accommodate that, O’Driscoll chooses England colossus Maro Itoje in the back row at blindside flanker. He is chosen next to former Ospreys star Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola.

Of the back-row selection, O’Driscoll told the Off The Ball podcast: “If Billy Vunipola can stay fit he’ll be No.8. Taulupe Faletau has been riddled with injury as well but Gats loves Faletau, so there’s every chance if he can get back to fitness, he’ll be in the mix somehow.

“And when you think of that try he scored against New Zealand in 2017, that was the difference in the second Test. It’s those moments coaches remember, the players who can deliver on the big occasions.

“Gats maybe has gone back to Welsh players in the past two Lions tours, because he knows they are tried and tested and they’ve delivered for him winning Grand Slams and Six Nations titles.

“The back-row is a really tough one and at seven do you pick Justin Tipuric, Sam Underhill or Hamish Watson on another day?

“I don’t think there’s a huge amount between the three of them. Probably Underhill, maybe Tipuric, ahead of Watson, but I’d be happy with any of the three of them.

“I questioned whether Alun Wyn Jones would still be capable of delivering in a year’s time.

“But I just know the warrior that is in him and the animal that he is.

“I know the appetite he has for work, so I fancy he’ll still be able to piece himself together for one last hurrah.”

O’Driscoll says there is nothing to choose between Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams at full-back, although he just plumps for the Scot.

“You’re not losing a lot either way in that,” he says.

O’Driscoll also argues Jonathan Davies will hold off the 13 challenge from Garry Ringrose as “the man in possession” of the Lions jersey.

“I think that’s working in his favour even though he hasn’t shown any form because he hasn’t played since the World Cup. Jonathan has been a big success on the last two tours, particularly the last one,” says O’Driscoll.

In selecting Davies, the Ireland great also addressed his own Lions partnership with the Wales ace against Australia in 2013 and admitted it simply didn’t work.

The two were thrust together after Jamie Roberts was struggling with a hamstring injury and England’s Manu Tuilagi was nursing a stinger.

It meant O’Driscoll found himself lining up with Davies for the opening two Tests with the Wallabies.

“We were out-and-out 13s and as much as I talked about moving into 12 for certain players, I’m far more comfortable in the 13 jersey, when I’m out there from an attack point of view with space, but also from the defensive point of view,” said O’Driscoll.

“Simply from the injuries to Manu Tuilagi and Jamie Roberts, we were forced into being the centre pairing for the first Test and that would definitely not have been a first choice selection had four or three centres been fit.

Australia hooker Stephen Moore takes on Brian O’Driscoll (L) and Jonathan Davies during the Lions first Test in 2013 (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“As much as individually we were good players, as a partnership I just don’t think it worked in the two Test matches. We didn’t read off one another well, in attack and defence.”

O’Driscoll, of course, found himself dropped in favour of Davies for the Test decider back in 2013 – a Warren Gatland decision that provoked a storm.

However, while O’Driscoll is open about why his tie-up with Davies flopped, he is gushing about Jamie Roberts and the partnership they had against South Africa in 2009.

O’Driscoll’s Lions career spanned 12 years and eight Tests and he said: “I really did gel with Jamie Roberts, given we were two players who’d never played together before that.

“I felt as though we had a very good understanding of one another from early on.

“Jamie was a young player then, and not wishing to sound conceited, you are trying to help and guide younger players, as much as I was helped by the older players in my early years on the 2001 tour.

“I think he was about 22 or 23 back then. He was very much the student, trying to soak up as much information in understanding his role.

“The beauty of that is he knew what his strengths were. He carried ball and had the necessary aggressiveness against South African defences as well.

“It married up our partnership really well where he was comfortable with me going in and playing at 12 and him running dummy lines or taking on that crash ball.

“I think he probably developed and honed his passing game in later years. But he was known as someone who ran a viciously hard line, picked some great angles and scored some terrific tries, as a result of the cleverness of those lines.

“He was happy to play that role within that Test team. I really enjoyed playing with him because we were able to understand and play-off one another.”

Of the XV he has picked to take on the Springboks next year, O’Driscoll said: “I think the best Lions team I played in is a toss-up between 2001 and ’09 and I think this team matches any of them.

“You look at the calibre, you want X-factor and guys who can win games on their own I look at 15 and 14 immediately in Hogg and Watson.

“This team has the capability of taking on the Springboks.”

Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions XV: Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Jonny May (England); Owen Farrell (England), Tomos Williams (Wales); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Jamie George (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), James Ryan (Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Maro Itoje (England), Sam Underhill (England), Billy Vunipola (England).

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Six Nations Rugby

Jack Willis reveals recovery milestone and big motivator for return



Wasps and England flanker Jack Willis has revealed a major milestone is on the horizon of his rehabilitation from a major knee injury.

The 2019/20 Premiership player of the year had not long scored his second Test try on the occasion of his third cap when disaster struck against Italy during February’s Six Nations encounter.

For the second time in his career, the 24-year-old faced a lengthy injury lay-off as a ruck clear out inflicted major damage to his left knee.

Some 18 weeks on from his operation, Willis has recently shared encouraging images on his Instagram account marking milestones in his recovery – something he discussed further during an appearance on the ‘From Paper to Podium’ podcast.

He said: “I am going quite well so far. I did my knee back in February, I tore my MCL, PCL, both meniscus, and I am at a pretty good stage now, four-and-a-half months deep. Hopefully I’ll be looking to run in the next coming weeks.
“That’s the plan, take it day by day, and nice and steady and keep on progressing.”

READ MORE: John Mitchell: England defence coach to join Wasps

An ACL rupture to his right knee back in May 2018 denied him the chance to earn a first England cap on that summer’s tour to South Africa. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, having inspired Wasps to the Premiership final the previous month, Willis finally made his Test debut against Georgia – an occasion he also marked with his maiden England try.

A second cap followed from the bench in the Autumn Nations Cup victory over Wales in Llanelli before making his Six Nations debut in the Italy clash.

England’s Jack Willis is taken off after a serious injury

Adding to his three caps and doing so with family present is a big motivation for the Wasps ace.

“Something I’ve always dreamed of is playing for England but having my family there and go to them after that game,” he said. “Tp have a hug and a kiss with them and enjoy the moment. I’ve not had that, I’ve only played three games but all of them have been during Covid. It’s a big motivation for me to get back out there and put that shirt on one day and have my family there.

“It does take a while for you to get back into that mindset, you go through this lull period. I had my operation 10 days after I did my injury, in that period, it’s a really tough time to manage your mental wellbeing. You don’t really start your recovery until you’ve had your operation. That’s your day one, you’ve had your surgery and you go again.”

Unfortunately for Wasps, Willis is in good company as he rehabilitates from a major knee injury as captain Joe Launchbury suffered an ACL rupture against Bath in April. The following month, Paolo Odogwu sustained a tear of his ACL against Northampton Saints.

Tom West (knee), Ryan Mills (foot) and Theo Vukasinovic (Achilles) also carried injuries over into the summer months.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

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Six Nations Rugby

Leicester Tigers title winner Louis Deacon leaves Coventry for international role



Former Leicester Tigers lock Louis Deacon will leave his coaching role at Coventry to take up a new position within the Rugby Football Union.

Deacon played 274 for Tigers and won six Premiership titles and two Heineken Cups across a 14-year playing career that also saw him earn 29 England caps.

He was forced to hang up his boots in February 2015 and embarked upon a coaching career that saw him work with Birmingham Moseley and England U20 before joining Coventry as forwards coach four seasons ago.

Having helped guide Cov to the National League One title in 2017/18 and re-establish the Butts Park Arena club as a Championship force, the 40-year-old now returns to the RFU where he will operate as the new forwards coach of the women’s national team.

Director of Rugby Rowland Winter paid tribute to Deacon, who leaves his position at Coventry with immediate effect.

“Deacs’ hard work in developing young players to improve and progress their game, as well as leading the coaching of our set piece and contact skills, has been an important part of the club’s success and improvement over the last four years,” Winter said.

“We are sorry to see him leave, but at the same time we are pleased for him as it is a prestigious opportunity with a national team.

“I have no doubt that Deacs will thrive in his new challenge, and it also highlights another example of how Coventry as a club and the Championship as a league are developing players, coaches and support staff to be ready for both the Premiership and international-level rugby.

“The timing is not ideal, obviously, with the new season just around the corner, but we will look to fill this important part of our coaching team with the right individual as soon as we can.”

Deacon, the older brother of Brett – who is a coach at their former club Leicester Tigers, praised Coventry for the role they played in his coaching career.

“It’s a shame that I’ve got to leave Coventry, but it’s an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down,” he said.

“When I first came to Coventry I’d only been coaching for a year with Moseley and England Under-20s. Then Rowland and I got in touch with each other and I’m thankful for the opportunity he gave me with the club.

“Having strong forward play is really important in the Championship and it is a great competition to learn your trade in from both a playing and coaching perspective, and I’ve learned a massive amount, especially in how to get the best out of players.

“I’d like to thank Jon [Sharp, Coventry chairman] and Rowland for giving me the opportunity to be a part of Coventry, and the fans have been the best in the Championship by far, and I’ll miss the match days at Butts Park for sure.

“Over the four years the players have been great lads to coach. That was what attracted me to Coventry in the first place, the ambition and the quality of players, and I hope that they continue to be successful and strive for the top.”

England Women head coach Simon Middleton said: “Louis has had a fantastic club and international career and is a consummate professional.

“He’s incredibly experienced in the aspects of the role that we need to focus on, including set piece but he also has a diversity in his coaching. His playing background and coaching background make him the perfect fit and we’re looking forward to working with him.

“I also want to thank Mark Luffman for his fantastic support and professionalism over the period he’s been with us as forwards coach. Mark has been integral to us winning the Six Nations, regaining and maintaining our position as number one in the world and remaining unbeaten over the period he’s been working with us.

“On behalf of all players and staff, I’d like thank him for all of his support and wish him all the best going forward.”

Coventry’s first pre-season game comes later this month when fellow Championship side Nottingham visit the Butts Park Arena, followed by a clash with Wasps on September 4.

Fellow Premiership side Gloucester also come to Coventry on September 11 before the 2021/22 Championship season kicks off with a home match against Doncaster Knights on September 18.

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Jonathan Davies demands World Rugby make immediate rule changes after ‘dreadful Lions spectacle’



Dual code great Jonathan Davies has called on World Rugby to make urgent changes to prevent the kind of “dreadful spectacle” witnessed in the second Test between South Africa and the Lions.

He fears it was the sort of viewing experience which will turn people away from the game, with box kicking and the aerial battle dominating.

Davies feels action needs to be taken to address the problem, with the re-introduction of rucking one suggestion he is putting forward.

He says something has to be done to make the game more entertaining and avoid the kind of dour encounter we saw at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

Read more:Warren Gatland accused of ‘calamitous selection error’

“As a spectacle, it was just dreadful,” he said.

“There simply wasn’t a viewing experience.

“The worry is it’s just going to turn people off from watching the game.

“The general supporter who follows the Six Nations and the Lions, will they sit down and watch that kicking, kicking, kicking?

“I don’t know if they will.

“And will kids want to take up the game if you are not going to see the ball on the wing or at outside centre?

“There was a stat I saw about the two 13s on Saturday. They made two passes between them!

“World Rugby need to look at making some changes, as the box kick and air battle is dominating the game.”

Davies feels the second Test, which the Springboks won 27-9, is sadly indicative of the way the sport is going.

“The first thing is, I totally understand why they kick so much,” he said.

“It’s all about not losing games at that level.

“It’s about playing in the right areas, gaining territory and forcing errors.

“The problem is teams are not committing many players to the rucks and those they do commit to them are there to slow the ball down.

“Then, all of a sudden, you have a defensive wall and you can’t break it down.

“If you have got 13 players spread across the field, it’s going to be difficult, isn’t it?

“If you have got slow ball, you are going to kick because defences are so good.

“So it’s now turned into an aerial battle. That is what the game is all about now.

“Teams slow the ball down and you can’t attack because defences are so on top, with their numbers and their line speed.

“You get yourself out of the position by kicking, so you don’t give penalties away. That’s the way it is.

“With the ball carriers now, they don’t look to beat anyone, they don’t look for space. It’s safer for them to take the tackle and wait for the support to come in.

“So World Rugby has got to look at this and make quick changes.

“They need to have a look at a few rules to try and make the game more entertaining.

“In rugby league, if there is need for change, they do it straight away, they don’t take two years to do it.

“If they think the game will be improved, they will do it very quickly.”

One change that is on the way to Union is the introduction of the 50:22 kicking law, which has already been trialled in Australia and will come in world-wide from next season.

Under this rule, if a team kicks the ball from anywhere in their own half and it bounces inside the opposition 22 before going into touch, they will get the throw at the resultant lineout.

Giving his verdict on that innovation, Davies said: “It all depends how you react to that and when you drop your players back.

“The back three will work together and work out the kicking structure.

“It might work or it might not work. It might lead to less kicking, but it might see teams kick even more.”

The former fly-half believes the priority should be looking at ways of speeding up the game and encouraging attacking play.

“It’s the tackle area that’s crucial, how you manage that,” he said.

“Do you bring the offside line back a little bit?

“Maybe you look at rucking.

“The health and safety people will become involved then, saying it’s too brutal.

“But those people don’t understand that rucking is a lot safer than going into a jackal.

“You don’t get broken necks or really damaged backs from rucking.

“I see Jeremy Guscott has suggested reducing the number of tactical substitutions.

“Again health and safety will come in and say you have got to have more subs.

“Well not really, we didn’t have it.

“So there are a lot of things that they can look at.”

Davies feels there is also a responsibility on coaches in terms of their mindset.

“If you look at the Premiership semi-final and final, they tried to run it,” he said.

“It was the same in the Australia-France series. They were good games.

“So a lot of it does come down to the coaches as well and the way you want to play the game.

“You can do it. It’s not impossible.”

Turning to the tactical approach adopted by Lions coach Warren Gatland, Davies pointed to his selections at fly-half.

“You pick Dan Biggar and then you pick Owen Farrell on the bench,” he said.

“I would have thought you would have picked someone different as a sub to break the game up.

“But with slow ball are Finn Russell or Marcus Smith going to make any difference?

“So what you do is pick another kicker and he kicks.”

Davies also has concerns about the amount of time spent over TMO reviews and how that further impacts on the viewing experience.

On Saturday, it contributed to the stop-start first half lasting some 64 minutes.

“For the refs, the TMO is their insurance policy now,” he said.

“It’s their way of avoiding making a mistake.

“But they are talking at such length when they look at incidents. It all goes on too long.

“They need to make the dialogue shorter. Have a quick look and make the decision.”

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