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The Breakdown | Owen Farrell sets tone but an England captain also needs a clear head | Sport

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It seems like another generation, but it is not quite a year since the World Cup in Japan kicked off. Owen Farrell’s red card last Saturday for a dangerous tackle during Saracens’ home defeat to Wasps that left Charlie Atkinson dazed and unable to carry on was the only option for the referee because of the crackdown on high challenges during the tournament.

The World Cup was a round old when the organisers issued a statement expressing disappointment at the leniency shown by match officials to the perpetrators of high tackles. A rash of red cards followed, two for wild challenges on Farrell, and the zero-tolerance approach eventually had its intended effect.

The message from World Rugby was clear as it looked to tackle the issue of concussion. A challenge that led to contact with an opponent’s head merited a red card, no matter if it was accidental rather than intentional, unless there were mitigating circumstances, such as a ball-carrier ducking low at the last moment.

It meant there was consistency and players aware that if they struck an opponent on the head, they would be off. Farrell knew from the moment he made contact with Atkinson his match was over and , very probably, he would be watching the European Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin from an armchair.

Atkinson ducked slightly into the tackle, but that only served to show that by aiming as high as the law allowed, at Atkinson’s shoulders, Farrell gave himself no wriggle room. Never mind as an experienced player he should have known better but the match was an hour old and Wasps were holding the champions.

It was the moment for a clear head, but a theme of Farrell’s career has been the frustration that can build up in a competitive player who is driven by success. England have been at their weakest under Eddie Jones, and for a while before him, when a match is slipping away from them in the final quarter. It happened in Cardiff in the Six Nations this year and in the World Cup final when they trailed by six points with 14 minutes to go.

Farrell’s dismissal against Wasps raised more questions about his suitability as captain, but in the current climate a red card for a high tackle is an occupational hazard. His immediate predecessor as captain, Dylan Hartley, had a far worse disciplinary record and the 2003 World Cup leader, Martin Johnson, was no stranger to the workings of the sport’s judiciary.

Jones has been around too long to be diverted by the opinions of others. He will have been thinking about potential alternatives as captain because that is his job and Farrell will not play every match in the eight nations tournament planned for November and December. It is also

because England need to become more flexible tactically, not carry on regardless when a ruse is rumbled, as happened in the opening half against France last February.

The captain sets the tone and for all Farrell’s combative attitude, his selfless commitment and his high value as a goal-kicker and architect of England’s attack, does his lack of detachment and tendency to run at a high temperature make him more of a soldier than a general?

His place in the England side has been questioned with George Ford blessed with more of the instinct Jones craves in an outside-half, but the physical and mental brutality of Test matches between the leading sides makes Farrell hard to leave out; for all of some of his lapses, and in the 2014 European Cup final between Saracens and Toulon in Cardiff he so lost it when the game went beyond his side that he ranted at a bemused Jonny Wilkinson, his merits amount to far, far more.

His character has been traduced since the red card, familiar territory for an England captain, but in his moments of reflection he may have asked himself why little attention had been paid to an incident the night before that left the Bristol centre Semi Radradra receiving attention to his head.

Melani Nanai’s tackle on Bristol Bears’ Semi Radradra was judged by Wayne Barnes as only worth a penalty as it was ‘over the shoulder’.



Melani Nanai’s tackle on Bristol Bears’ Semi Radradra was judged by Wayne Barnes as only worth a penalty as it was ‘over the shoulder’. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Radradra had broken from his own half at Worcester and one of the tries of the season looked on before he was felled from behind by a stiff-arm tackle. The referee, Wayne Barnes, awarded a penalty for a high challenge against Melani Nanai, who was playing his first match back after serving a three-week ban for a no-arms challenge on the Gloucester wing Jonny May.

Barnes initially said the challenge was “over the shoulder”, a view he sustained after reviewing the incident on the big screen and he took no further action. Why was he shown only one angle when footage from front-on showed contact was made with Radradra’s jaw?

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Nanai was fortunate his tackle was not scrutinised by the television match official and that Radradra had a robust jaw. But there was no excuse for the incident failing to result in a citing as it was the very essence of what World Rugby last year proclaimed not just worthy of a red card but an automatic one.

Nanai was also fortunate that he was not Farrell, because he would have found himself under the harshest scrutiny. Being England captain carries responsibilities, but status does not matter when it comes to the perpetrator of dangerous and reckless challenges. That was the message during the World Cup, but Farrell will miss the next five matches while Nanai remains in the swing of it.

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Rugby Australia unveil blockbuster eToro Test Series against France

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Rugby Australia has today confirmed the 2021 eToro France Series with the first three Tests of the Wallabies’ 2021 match schedule. Rugby Australia continues to work with State and Federal Governments, as well as the Fédération Française de Rugby and World Rugby, to ensure fans can safely enjoy international Rugby this year.

The Test season will kick off with a blockbuster three-Test Series against France in July across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The eToro France Series also marks the return of midweek Test Rugby for the first time since 2012, when the Wallabies and France run out at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday 7 July.

The second eToro Test sees the teams move south to Melbourne at AAMI Park on Tuesday 13 July before a potential decider at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on Saturday 17 July.

‘Les Bleus’ last toured to Australia in 2014, when the Wallabies claimed the series 3-0 and lifted the Trophée des Bicentenaries. France are currently ranked fifth in the world, and were as high as third during their recent run in the Six Nations earlier this year.

One of the great touring sides, France first visited Australian soil in 1961 to ignite a friendly rivalry between the two nations with a host of memorable encounters, including the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final.

The opening eToro France Test in Sydney will be first meeting between the two sides in almost five years, and the first time the Wallabies will wear their new Gold jersey following a vote by Australian Rugby royalty and the general public.

Every Wallabies Test against France will be ad-free, live and on demand with extended coverage on Stan Sport.

Every home Wallabies Test will also be live, free-to-air on the Nine Network.

Rugby Australia CEO, Andy Marinos said: “France are one of the most exciting teams in World Rugby; they play with passion, flair and unpredictability and have proven time and time again they are one of the global forces of our game.

“They have been quietly building their team as evidenced in their Junior World Cup performances over the past three seasons, and we are now starting to see this translate into their senior side as they look ahead to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. The baton is being passed down as we are seeing great names of a previous era being replicated in this next generation through players like Romain Ntamack to mention just one.

“We have also seen the emergence of our own new next generation of Wallaby players throughout the 2020 International season, where I have no doubt, they will continue to build positive momentum into this exciting eToro France Test Series to be held in in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

“The return of midweek Test matches presents a unique opportunity for fans at home and at the venue, with each stadium in a central location for those attending after work.

“One of my fondest memories was at a midweek Test, when the Sydney Football Stadium was packed to the rafters to witness George Gregan’s famous try-saving tackle on All Blacks winger Jeff Wilson.

“As we navigate our way through the ever-changing sporting landscape that we now operate within, we do so with the continued safety of all those involved in these Test matches, along with the communities in which we play, remaining our number one priority.

“We have enjoyed constructive and engaged discussions with RUPA on the international calendar, ensuring that player welfare and high performance outcomes can be optimised. We will continue to work with our players to ensure our collective goal of being successful in all we do is realised.

“Rugby Australia, World Rugby and Member Unions will continue their ongoing dialogue in planning for each Test match event, in line with the advice of the relevant medical authorities, including any possible guidance on domestic and international travel as well as stadium capacities,” Marinos said.

Fédération Française de Rugby President Bernard Laporte said: “After discussions and validation by the competent public authorities, the French Rugby Federation is delighted to be able to confirm this summer tour of a series of three matches that promises to be of a very high standard.

“It is a great opportunity for our French team to confront an emblematic nation of the southern hemisphere that has marked the history of world rugby such as Australia.

“We are convinced that our bleus, who feel a growing popular wave of the French at each match, will be keen to continue to perform on the international stage and demonstrate that France is among the great nations of world rugby!” Laporte said.

Rugby Union Players Association CEO Justin Harrison said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges across our professional sporting landscape, maintaining a collaborative, pragmatic, solutions-based focus that has enabled the principles of player welfare to be at the forefront of what will continue to be a challenging calendar year of events.

“Rugby Australia and RUPA will continue to work constructively to maintain player welfare as a priority, and we now look forward to what promises to be a thrilling Test Series against France,” Harrison said.

Tickets on sale information:

Telstra Plus pre-sale from Wednesday 12 May 9am AEST

General Public from Tuesday 18 May 9am AEST

Hospitality packages are on sale now for the eToro France Series. Private suites, corporate boxes and functions are available for fans who want to enhance their Wallabies Test match experience. Information on hospitality packages is available here.

eToro France Series

Wallabies v France, Wednesday 7 July, 8.00pm AEST at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney

Wallabies v France, Tuesday 13 July, 8.00pm AEST at AAMI Park, Melbourne

Wallabies v France, Saturday 17 July, 8.00pm AEST at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.

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Rugby-England reject Simmonds gets Lions call-up but no room for Sexton

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LONDON :Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, overlooked by England for three years, was the most eye-catching selection in Thursday’s British and Irish Lions squad as Warren Gatland chose the try-scoring Number Eight ahead of Billy Vunipola for the tour of South Africa.

Six Nations Championship - Wales v England

FILE PHOTO: Six Nations Championship – Wales v England – Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, Britain – February 27, 2021 England’s Billy Vunipola in action with Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

LONDON -Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, overlooked by England for three years, was the most eye-catching selection in Thursday’s British and Irish Lions squad as Warren Gatland chose the try-scoring Number Eight ahead of Billy Vunipola for the tour of South Africa.

Following a final, four-hour selection meeting on Wednesday, Gatland extended his squad by one to 37, but there was still no room for Ireland’s injury-hit Johnny Sexton as Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar and Finn Russell will battle for the flyhalf shirt.

Other notable absentees were England’s Manu Tuilagi and Kyle Sinckler as well as Billy Vunipola plus Wales’s 2017 man of the series in New Zealand Jonathan Davies.

Flanker/lock Courtney Lawes, who has not played since February due to a pectoral injury, earned a spot as one of 11 Englishmen in the group.

Among the other relatively surprise selections were Ireland duo Bundee Aki and Andrew Porter plus centre Chris Harris of Scotland, who were rewarded for their best Six Nations display for years by the inclusion of eight players. The Scots have not had a starting Test Lion since prop Tom Smith in 2001.

Alun Wyn Jones, fresh from leading Wales to the Six Nations title, was named captain as he bids to add to his nine Lions Test caps. He is one of 10 Welshmen in the squad.

“In all my time in coaching this is the most challenging squad I’ve ever been involved in picking,” said Gatland, who is Lions head coach for the third time having also been an assistant on the last tour to South Africa in 2009.

“You are looking at form in the Six Nations, players who have performed for you in the past, some who have performed well for their clubs and also at young players you think you can develop on the tour.

“It is trying to get the balance. At the end of the day, selection is just a matter of opinion.”

That contrast in opinions could not have been starker than in the case of Simmonds. Eddie Jones first picked him for England in 2017 but dismissed him as too light after his last appearance in the 2018 Six Nations.

PHYSICAL CHALLENGE

Simmonds is this season’s leading tryscorer in the Premiership with 14 – more than anyone has managed in an entire season for four years.

After helping Exeter to their first Champions Cup title last season he was named European Player of the Year and his pace and mobility will give the Lions a real option as he battles Taulupe Faletau for the Number Eight position.

As well as the forward power the Springboks showed in the 2019 World Cup final win over England – the last time they played a match – Gatland also has painful memories of the 2009 tour when the hosts, also world champions at the time, played their part in some of the most brutal tests of the modern era.

“We played pretty well in the lead-up games and then the physicality they brought to the first test was something we weren’t quite ready for,” he said.

“We made a few changes after halftime and some selection changes for the second test and think we restored some respect into the jersey but we were disappointed as we felt we could have won or drawn that series.”

South Africa claimed the series 2-1 after winning the first two tests.

The physical aspect was also behind the omission of Sexton, the starting flyhalf in five of the last six Lions tests but rarely able to string together a run of injury-free games these days.

This year’s series, with the dates still to be finalised, is set to be played in empty stadiums, or certainly with no overseas fans, a far cry from the amazing noise and atmosphere usually generated by tens of thousands of travelling supporters.

“You can’t imagine a Lions tour without the fans but we have to do that,” said Gatland. “Our job is to put on a performance for everybody we know will be supporting us from afar.”

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips and Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)

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Leading Lions in South Africa will be crowning moment for Alun Wyn Jones

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Alun Wyn Jones’ stellar playing career has already secured him a place among rugby royalty – and the British and Irish Lions captaincy provides a crowning moment.

Jones will lead the Lions in South Africa this summer on what promises to be a tour like no other as sport continues its emergence from the coronavirus pandemic, and there could be no better man for the job.

His international rugby journey began 15 years ago, 7,500 miles away from home in the rugby outpost of Puerto Madryn, South America.

He played blindside flanker for Wales that day against Argentina, but second-row quickly became the position from which Jones went on to establish himself as an all-time Welsh rugby great.

At the age of 35, Jones can reflect on helping Wales to win five Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, and reaching two World Cup semi-finals.

He also holds the world record of 157 Test match appearances – including nine for the Lions across their last three tours – and is closing in on 250 games for the Swansea-based Ospreys.

Jones has captained the Lions before, skippering them to a third Test victory over Australia in Sydney eight years ago when tour leader Sam Warburton was injured, that clinched the series.

But now he has one of world rugby’s most coveted jobs from the outset, and his credentials are unquestioned.

It means he will emulate fellow illustrious Welshmen like Warburton, John Dawes, Phil Bennett and David Watkins after Lions head coach Warren Gatland once again placed his trust in a player who did him proud during the New Zealander’s 12-year stint as Wales boss.

While Jones is often a man of few words, far preferring to let his rugby do the talking, others readily lavish praise on him.

Wales, Ospreys and Lions colleague Justin Tipuric describes him as “an absolute freak” and a “machine,” while Wales head coach Wayne Pivac labels him as an “inspiration” and former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies calls Jones’ career “extraordinary”.

Recent proof of Jones’ durability and exceptional ability came after he suffered a knee injury during Wales’ Autumn Nations Cup finale against Italy in December.

He was sidelined for nine weeks, facing a race against time to be fit for Wales’ opening Six Nations appointment with Ireland in Cardiff, but not only did Jones recover to start that match, he performed like he had never been away in what was his comeback game, making a stamina-sapping 23 tackles.

Of his 157 Tests, 144 were starts, but it is perhaps Jones’ meticulous attitude to training and preparation that defines him.

Wales and Lions assistant coach Neil Jenkins has worked with Jones for longer than most, and speaking earlier this season, he said: “He plays in the front five, and it is one of the hardest positions you could possibly play on a rugby pitch, yet he still seems like he is a young kid.

“He turns up to training, he’s first to everything. Very rarely does he get beaten at anything, if he does at all. That’s the way he is.

“He is just world class. I would like to think he has got a fair bit in him yet, but when the day does come when he is not wearing that Wales jersey, he will be sorely missed. He has been huge for Wales.”

Jones’ recent signing of a new one-year contract with the Welsh Rugby Union and Ospreys suggest there are a fair few chapters still to unfold in his remarkable rugby story.

Having landed the Lions job, there will now be only one thing on Jones’ mind – leading the best of British and Irish to a Test series win against the world champion Springboks.

The plaudits that come with such an appointment will be acknowledged, but no more than that, as Jones prepares for what he loves best – rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work.

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