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Joe Cokanasiga ‘close’ to Bath Rugby return after 12-month injury layoff

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Joe Cokanasiga is in contention to return to action for Bath Rugby before the end of the 2019/20 season director of rugby Stuart Hopper confirmed today.

Hooper will be hoping his side’s season is still going come October 24 when the Gallagher Premiership grand final is scheduled to be played, but it looks like Bath fans will not have to wait that long to see their talismanic winger in action. 

The Blue, Black and White are in red hot form having won six of their seven games since rugby returned in August from the five month lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That has seen the club climb the table up to third with two rounds of the regular season remaining.

However winger Cokanasiga has not featured for his club this season, despite it being the longest one in history, after injuring his knee while away with England on international duty last autumn at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

To make matters worse the winger continued to train on the damaged knee throughout the course of the tournament in Japan and played with it heavily strapped while scoring two tries against the USA in his only appearance of the tournament.

England’s Joe Cokanasiga

The result of which was Cokanasiga not only damaged his knee but caused secondary problems to his lower body and back which was overcompensating for the weakened area of his body as the 6ft 3in 18 and half stone back did more than 20km a week of running on his injured limped.

Bath Rugby’s medical team were furious with the RFU for the condition Cokanasiga returned to the club in, meaning he was unable to train and carry out basic athletic functions like squatting.

In January the 22-year-old had his knee operated on and has been recovering ever since.

Now the powerful wide man is on the verge of making his long awaited comeback and reading between the lines it sounds like he could even feature on Tuesday night when Bath host derby rivals Gloucester Rugby at The Rec in front of 1,000 fans for the first time since the resumption of the league.

Cokanasiga last featured for Bath on the final day of the 2018/19 season when he scored a try as the Blue, Black and White snatched a famous late victory at Leicester Tigers to secure the final European Heineken Champions Cup place.

And despite having winger Ruaridh McConnochie in red hot form at the moment, Cokanasiga’s return would certainly give the Bath squad an extra boost as they look to make the Premiership final for the first time since 2015 when they lost 16-28 to Saracens.

Having the nine cap international back on the pitch will effectively feel like the club have made a new world class signing with the Fijian-born winger nominated for the 2019 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award before getting injured.

Discussing Cokanasiga, Hooper kept his cards typically close to his chest but said: “He is nearly available.

“And the update is he is close to being available.

“Obviously with the extended week we have got more training and we have got a couple more days to confirm the team and there will be a conversation with myself and the coaches tonight and tomorrow and we will make a call.

Pushed again for a little more clarity on the timeline of Cokanasiga’s return to the fold, Hopper said: “He will be in contention to play before the end of the season.”

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Premiership Rugby

England Rugby using footballer Cristiano Ronaldo for inspiration

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been held up as the inspiration for England’s new generation as Eddie Jones outlines the possible futures available to his young prospects.

Twenty-one uncapped players have been selected in a provisional squad that has begun preparations for a summer series consisting of a second string fixture against Scotland ‘A’ on June 27 and July Tests against the United States and Canada.

Many will be jettisoned when the 34-strong group is revised with additions from Saracens and Gallagher Premiership semi-finalists Bristol, Exeter, Sale and Harlequins, but in the meantime Jones has told them to seize their opportunity.

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And to illustrate his point he singled out Ronaldo, the Portuguese great who was raised in poverty and has gone on to become one of football’s finest players – and is now the highest goalscorer in European Championship history after netting twice against Hungary on Tuesday.

England forwards coach Matt Proudfoot said: “It’s about having a conversation and a relationship with a player, mapping out the best he can be.

“Eddie used the great example of Ronaldo, where he is and where he came from. He’s a 36-year-old and the world’s best footballer.

“Look at where he’s come from – it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, it’s what you put in every day to be the best you can be.

“Our message to the young players is to grow and to be as good as they can be and use this opportunity.”

One player Jones and Proudfoot will not be working with is Alfie Barbeary, the versatile Wasps forward who was set to make his Test debut this summer only to suffer a fractured cheek and eye socket in training.

Barbeary has been limited to just two appearances this year because of a run of injuries culminating in this latest setback, bringing a halt to the tackle-busting progress made last year.

“Alfie is a phenomenal player, absolutely phenomenal player and I’d just love to get to work with him,” Proudfoot said.

“It’s just indicative of how tough he plays that he picks up these niggles. That’s how opportunity is created for other players, but I feel for Alfie. He just wants to get a run of games.

“When you watch him play, he plays with a freedom and enthusiasm, being such a young man. So I just feel for him.”

England have provided four front rows to the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa and Proudfoot, the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup-winning forward coach, believes they will be hugely influential in the Tests.

“It’s going to be some series. The front row is where the series is going to be won and lost,” he said.

“If you look at the Springboks and how they’ve picked their team, they’ve obviously picked a heavier front row. The physical confrontation up front is going to be immense.

“I hope to be back in South Africa when those games are being played so I’d love to see what that vibe is like and just experience it.”

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Bristol’s rude health 52 weeks into non-stop year

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Pat Lam had celebrated the unstinting work of his backroom staff at Bristol who have ensured the Bears are preparing for this Saturday’s home Gallagher Premiership semi-final with just two of the senior squad – hooker Bryan Byrne and winger Siva Naulago – unavailable for selection.  

It was this week last year when Bristol first began their post lockdown training and their squad has been exhaustingly on the go since then as there were only a few winter weeks in between the end of the delayed 2019/20 campaign and the start of the 2020/21 season. That sounds like a recipe for disaster but Bristol have instead emerged from that onerous workload to reach the playoff stages of the latest Premiership in rude health after topping the table.

Last Saturday’s eleventh-hour cancellation of their round 22 match versus London Irish was effectively the only respite they have had in a year where they were Premiership semi-finalists and Challenge Cup winners last October and they went on to reach the Champions Cup round of 16 in April before going on to clinch the No1 semi-final seed in this Premiership.

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It’s progress that Lam is immensely proud of and his pride was evident in the enthusiastic way he ran through a pile of seasonal stats when speaking at the Bristol media session ahead of this Saturday’s Ashton Gate Premiership semi-final versus Harlequins.   

“I’m excited,” he said. “There has certainly been another lift as we get to the end. You have got to remember that yesterday [Tuesday, June 15] a year ago we started stage one of training with small groups, seven-hour days, guys coming in on groups of six. It’s 52 weeks ago. It’s been a long year and some serious commitment by a lot of people to get to this stage and we have got 94 per cent availability on the basis of some quality work from our head of medical Rory Murray and his team and our head of S&C Kev Geary and his team. It’s been a massive effort.

“We have used 44 players in the 21 Premiership games (this season) and some of the so-called rock stars have played less… (Kyle) Sinckler, (Max) Malins, (Harry) Randall, (Ben) Earl – seven games. (Semi) Radradra, (Siale) Piutau, Siva Naulago – nine games. Callum Sheedy, Charles Piutau, (Luke) Morahan – 12 games, 13 games. Even Steven Luatua and Nathan (Hughes), only 14 of those games. 

“So when I look at who has played the most, it’s a pretty satisfying list. Andy Uren, Jake Woolmore, Piers O’Connor, Will Capon, Yann Thomas, Dan Thomas, It has been a massive effort and we are looking forward to it. Huge credit to Rory and Kev and to the players. To get to this stage, the effort we put in allowed rotation. We have a pretty full-strength squad to select from and that brings its own headaches.

“The main two (unavailable) who would have been in contention are Bryan Byrne, who has had some surgery on his knee, and also Siva Naulago, who is recovering from his knee. He should be ready to go fit and ready for the start of next season, Bryan a little bit longer but otherwise everyone else is available.”

Adding to the sense of unbridled Lam pride was how, for instance, scrum-half Uren is a local from Bristol who goes out of his way to welcome people into the title-challenging Premiership fold. “Really proud of these guys,” continued the coach about the non-rock star names who have helped the club’s stars to excel.

“I look at the top of the list, Andy Uren, he was in the academy when I got here and he has got a great heart. People joke at him that he becomes best mates with Stevie Luatua when he arrived, best mates with Charles Piutau, best mates with Semi Radradra but he actually does that with everybody. He has got a great heart. He is proud of Bristol, he is proud of where he is from. He and Joe Joyce has been a great example of a Bristolian.

“People talked about the loss of Harry Randall (to February injury). Harry had come in my second year and has been excellent too but to me, I see them both equal. They are two half-backs that have given heart and soul, and Andy had to shoulder a lot of those minutes and responsibility and he has done extremely well. 

“Jake Woolmore, second on the list. When I talked to him in Jersey he was hungry for an opportunity. He was at Exeter originally, got let go there and went down to the Championship. He has come on and been superb for us. Piers O’Conor was moving around from Wasps academy to Bedford and then he was at Ealing and we gave him an opportunity. 

“Will Capon, when I arrived here he had just finished school at Bristol Grammar and my son, when we were looking at schools, he was the prefect at the school showing my son and me around. Now he has come through and played 18-odd games. 

“And then Yann Thomas has come all the way back. He was in Rouen, let go by Gloucester, thought his days in Premiership were gone and he has been a mainstay for our pack. The list goes on. 

“Dan Thomas, he came back and has been a superstar for us as well. And then Ioan Lloyd, straight out of school we gave him an opportunity. He played Bath, came on, scored a try on his debut. Those guys have done the programme proud, all the people that have worked with these guys. It has been superb.” 

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10,000 fans left disappointed as Premiership Grand Final capacity is reduced and tickets refunded

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The number of spectators permitted for Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final 2021 has been cut in half following the UK Government’s decision to delay moving out of lockdown for another four weeks leaving fans and tournament organisers devastated.

The Government announced on Monday the current phase of lockdown would be extended beyond the June 21 ‘freedom day’ for a further four weeks to allow a higher number of the population to be vaccinated in the face of a growing number of infections nationally, largely due to the Delta variant of Covid-19.

Originally 20,000 fans were due to attend the showpiece game at Twickeneham on June 26, between two of either Bristol Bears, Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks and Harlequins, but the allowed capacity in the 82,000 seater stadium has now been reduced to 10,000.

Ten thousand fans were in attendance for both the European Challenge Cup and Heineken Champions Cup finals at Twickenham last month.

A first batch of 10,000 tickets for the Premiership final sold out inside 72 hours, however, those tickets will now all be refunded as a result of the government’s change in policy.

Next week just over 6,000 tickets will be released to the two clubs which reach the final to allow some ‘home’ fans to watch the games.

The other tickets will be allowed to frontline works and families of the players involved.

Premiership Rugby approached the government to request the match be a ‘pilot event’ which would have potentially allowed 20,000 people inside the stadium but their request was denied.

Disappointed rugby fans across the country are now being notified of the bad news by email and their refunds are being processed.

The news comes as a blow to rugby union with the tennis at Wimbledon and football’s Euro 2020 given permission to be pilot events this week in the Government’s Events Research Programme allowing significantly larger crowds to attend.

It was confirmed the final weekend of Wimbledon will be played on Centre Court in front of a capacity crowd of 15,000 which will be the first at a sporting event since the UK went into lockdown due to the pandemic.

And crowds of up to 45,000 will be permitted for the football European Championship semi-finals and final at Wembley in July, half the stadium’s capacity.



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