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I don’t plan to be a two-cap England wonder, says George Furbank



England full-back George Furbank

With the groin strain that curtailed his Six Nations fully healed, England and Northampton full-back George Furbank is desperate to re-establish his Test credentials.

Furbank has used lockdown to take in the enormity of his international baptism while getting his body right.

The result is a fired-up individual who knows he must overcome stiff competition in his own club before adding to the caps he won against France and Scotland.

Furbank, who has not played since enduring the Murrayfield monsoon on February 8, told The Rugby Paper: “It’s been great to be out training with the boys at Saints again, throwing a ball about and doing some serious running.

“It was an overload injury in my groin that flared-up in the Ireland Test week, so these last few months have been really good to give that a reset and do some strength work.

“I did it originally during our first Treviso week in Europe and was managing it, but I feel like I’m on top of it now and hope it stays that way when the loading increases.”

Although nearly five months have elapsed since his Test debut in Paris, Furbank, 23, admits his ascension from club player to full international still feels surreal. However, that has only hardened his determination to press for further honours.

Furbank explained: “It was a dream and even now when we’ve been doing video messages with people during lockdown and they introduce me as ‘England and Saints full-back George Furbank,’ I still find that really weird.

“It will take some time to get used to and it was an unbelievable experience, but I don’t want to be that person who’s had one good season at Saints, gets two caps and then does nothing else.

“I’ve got bigger ambitions and I really want to put my foot down again. I hope that will put me back into England contention, which is what I’ve got my mind set on, and Chris Boyd, our director of rugby, is very good at ensuring people’s feet are kept firmly on the ground.

“Both Chris and (attack coach) Sam Vesty want the guys who’ve been with England to bring what we’ve learned back to Saints so we can be even bigger voices and be more confident as players slipping into leadership roles.”

While Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson provide formidable barriers to his England ambitions, the battle for the No 15 jersey at Saints is no less intense with Harry Mallinder, over his ACL injury, Ahsee Tuala and young gun Tommy Freeman all vying.

“I love that competition, to be honest,” Furbank adds. “I roomed with Elliot for a couple of nights on England duty and he really helped me settle in, while the others are class players as well, so it’s no different to your club where the competition is very high.

Northampton Saints full-back Harry Mallinder
Competition: Harry Mallinder returned forNorthampton Saints after a long injury lay-off shortly before lockdown. David Rogers/Getty Images

“There’s Harry, ‘Ace’ (Tuala) and Tommy but that’s exciting because you know that you’ve got to be at your best to have that No.15 shirt. 

“I don’t want to speak for Harry, but we’re both excited that we’re in this position. He was in good form prior to the break so hopefully we can make selection difficult for Boydy.”

Assuming Furbank picks up the baton again quickly and is in a position to win his third cap this autumn, he will be better prepared for the step up in class. He said: “On the pitch, it’s the whole intensity of international rugby and the tactical side around the kicking game and how important that is which shocks you.

“There’s a much greater emphasis on the tactical side than at club level – and then off the pitch, whereas when you’re playing for Northampton you might just have the local paper talking about you a little bit, suddenly it’s the whole country scrutinising you.

“It’s a bigger platform, a bigger stage and even my dad got interviewed.

“I wasn’t expecting that and I don’t think he was either. When you’re with England the whole thing broadens.”

Furbank added: “I’ll be better prepared now and although I haven’t heard too much from Eddie Jones since the lockdown, we’ve had Zoom calls every few weeks with Simon Amor, England’s attack coach, and the other outside backs to discuss quite a few things.

“We’ve gone through video clips looking for ways we can improve and it’s been great to try and keep pace with everything that’s been going on and learn a bit more about how England want to play when we get back.

“Simon’s had a good impact and has brought a bit of flair from 7s, so that’s enabling me to build on what I’ve learnt at Saints under Sam Vesty.”


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Six Nations Rugby

Red card controversy, fan abuse and the 80 minutes when Liam Williams can end it all a Lions hero



Cyberspace is full of people who are convinced they know everything about Liam Williams — that he is an ultra-motivated individual, that he is someone you’d want to be waiting below to catch you if you had the misfortune to fall from a high building, that he would scrap with an angry Rottweiler if it would benefit his team in the slightest, that he can lose himself in a cloud of red mist faster than most can count to 10.

What is to be said?

History suggests some of those takes on the player known as ‘Sanjay’ might well be true.

But they don’t offer a complete picture.

Read more:Lions standby player claims Gatland’s selection ‘doesn’t make sense’

His former coach Glenn Delaney knows there’s more to Williams — much more.

“He was brilliant to deal with during my time at the Scarlets,” said Delaney, who left the west Wales region towards the end of last season.

“I remember when we were having the conversations about Liam coming back to Wales from Saracens. I drove out to see him and his partner Sophie at their house.

“I really enjoyed his company.

“He’s a great lad, with a lovely family, and I immediately liked him and his personality. He’s the type of guy who’ll add a lot to any environment he’s in. It was good to get to know him.”

On Saturday, Williams runs out as a starter for the Lions after one of the most eventful, and in many ways most challenging, years of his career.

Injuries and Wales calls have meant he played just three games for the Scarlets after his return from England, and in one of those, against Cardiff Blues, he was sent off for leading with his head into a ruck.

He copped a load of social media abuse for that dismissal and it was much the same story after he was yellow-carded — harshly, many felt, including the referee Nigel Owens — while playing for Wales in their tilt at a Six Nations Grand Slam against France in March.

So severe was the flak directed at their full-back, that the Welsh Rugby Union intervened in defence of Williams, tweeting several screenshots of abusive messages sent to the Scarlet online, with the WRU post adding: “The players are proud to represent their country and their jersey. The abuse players are receiving has to stop. This is a tiny example of the abuse just one player received last night.

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“In order to help drive the call for change, the players want to highlight the amount of abuse and bile that circulates on social media platforms. We value our fans’ support in the matter.”

Williams being Williams, he probably would haven’t wanted a fuss made of the episode. But, ultimately, every player deserves fair play online. That night in the spring he didn’t get it off too many people.

What did Delaney make of it all? “We live in a funny world with social media and the way people are treated online.

“As a society we are still learning how to deal with that.

“People have to understand that comments made on social media can be hurtful.

“The difference when you are out and someone says something to you is that it can be shaken off.

“But the stuff online is there forever.

“That’s a different ball game.

“We had an example earlier in the year when other players were coming across some stuff on social media which was harsh.

“I was no different with any of the players.

“If any of them needed an arm around the shoulder I was there as a coach to support them.

“There were so many things over a year and a half that we all needed support with, myself included.

“With Covid and everything that went with it, it was a very strange year.”

Williams finished the Six Nations as a champion with Wales and has a chance to end his campaign on the highest possible note this weekend when he plays in the decisive Test of the series for the Lions against South Africa.

Delaney has no doubt he will prove up to the job.

“He is a world-class player who has certain attributes that put him in that classification,” said the New Zealander.

“Given the way the series has gone in South Africa, the high ball is pretty much fundamental to the game.

“Liam has that unique point of difference, so I can imagine that’s one of the reasons why he’s been picked — namely to go and defuse the bombs.

“That will excite him.

“I can remember back four years ago when I was coaching Canterbury at the time and he was just outstanding on that Lions tour. Liam sparked the great Sean O’Brien try in that series that people are talking about even now.

“He’s a world-class performer.

“Regardless of what he’s been through this season, the history of the campaign, this is now about a game this weekend and he’s well-equipped from a skill perspective and a mental and motivation perspective to deal with it.”

One of the challenges in a pressure-cooker environment like the one the Lions will play in over the weekend will be to maintain discipline, but Williams performed well for Warren Gatland in that respect in the closing times of the New Zealander’s Wales tenure.

Ultimately, he isn’t going to change the way he plays.

He knows no other way than to give a game everything. Full-on, with total commitment.

“He’s fully committed and invested in what he does,” said Delaney.

“At heart, he’s a competitor.

“He competes in every moment on the field.

“You have to have that streak in you to get to the highest point in the game. Liam shares that streak with many players who have played international rugby.

“That’s why they do it.

“His tenacity and competitiveness are factors which have probably led to his being selected for this game.

“A match might come down to a single moment, and someone like Liam has shown in the past he has those moments in him. He’s a whole-hearted player and he competes in every moment. Hopefully, at the weekend he’ll get that one opportunity to deliver.

“He’s someone you’d always want in your side, a great guy to have around.”

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‘He’s still got it!’ Gareth Anscombe turning heads exactly two years after his world caved in



Gareth Anscombe has been out injured for so long that around the time the script went so badly wrong for him, many people were wondering whether Liverpool football club would ever win a league title again.

Working from home? According to lots of folk back then, a mere excuse for getting out of bed late, switching on a laptop and keeping half an eye on a televised replay of some Scottish second division match that took place the night before.

Much has changed, indeed, since August, 2019, when Anscombe damaged knee ligaments playing for Wales in a World Cup warm-up against England at Twickenham.

Next Wednesday will mark the two-year anniversary of that desperate day for the Ospreys fly-half.

But it isn’t all bad news now.

Far from it.

He is back in full training with the Ospreys and expected to start the new season on time.

After so long out, he might have been expected to be rusty, but he’s wasted little time underlining his quality to all in Swansea.

“The word is he’s looking quite the part,” said a source close to the region.

“He’s a class act who has time on the ball.

“His quality has been evident to all and he has massive presence in the way he conducts himself. For a young player like Josh Thomas to have Gareth around and Stephen Myler as well is huge.

“Gareth’s been out a long time, so it’s a case of not overdoing it and working at the right pace.

“But the signs are really promising.”

More than two years after signing for the Ospreys, the 30-year-old has yet to play a game for them.

But he shouldn’t be long putting that right.

If the Liberty Stadium region will be eager to see him on the starting grid for the new campaign, so will Wales.

With his vision, class and authority, Anscombe had been Warren Gatland’s pick at No. 10 for four of the five Six Nations games Wales played in the Grand Slam-winning season of 2019, with the the Kiwi using Anscombe and Dan Biggar in tandem.

It was a strategy that worked to a tee and had he stayed fit there’s every chance Anscombe would have toured South Africa with the Lions this summer.

But that’s gone now.

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Now, the 30-year-old will want to bank some game-time before he even thinks of Wales after so long out, but everything appears to be heading in the right direction with his planned comeback.

All in the Welsh game will surely wish him well as he gears up for his return.

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La Liga gets €2.7B cash injection from private equity firm



Madrid, Aug 4, 2021 (AFP) – Spain’s top football league announced Wednesday it has agreed in principle to sell 10 percent of its business to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for 2.7 billion euros ($3.2 billion), a welcome boost to clubs whose finances have taken a hit due to the pandemic.

The deal, the first of its type by a major European league, values La Liga at 24.2 billion euros and is due to be ratified by the La Liga and CVC boards later on Wednesday, a statement said.

It comes as Spanish clubs, like many across Europe, grapple with a huge drop in revenues as the pandemic forces matches to be played in empty stadiums.

“It is an ambitious investment plan which will give La Liga and its clubs the resources to continue the transformation into a global digital entertainment company, strengthen the competition and transform the experience for fans,” the league statement said.

“The operation will be carried out through the creation of a new company to which La Liga will transfer all its businesses, subsidiaries and joint ventures and in which CVC will hold a minority participation of 10 percent.”

Around 90 percent of the funds which CVC will invest will be channelled directly to La Liga’s clubs, including lower tier ones.

Pandemic losses

That will give Spanish clubs more room to sign new players. La Liga in 2013 introduced so-called financial “fair play” regulations setting a maximum amount of money each club can spend on players and coaching staff each season, conditioned by income which is down due to the pandemic.

A May report by European football governing body UEFA predicted the continent’s top-flight clubs are expected to suffer losses of more than eight billion euros due to the impact of the pandemic due to lower gate receipts, broadcast revenues and fewer sponsorship deals.

According to sports daily Marca, heavily indebted Barcelona could get 270 million euros as a result of the agreement with CVC while Real Madrid would collect 261 million euros.

The deal must also be approved by La Liga’s clubs, which have so far not reacted.

It follows the collapse in May of plans by 12 leading football teams — including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid — to create a European Super League.

The breakaway league fell apart after 48 hours following a huge backlash from fans, governing bodies and politicians.

Appeal to Asia

Spain’s top flight has long trailed England’s Premier League in its international audience but there has been a push to attract more consumers worldwide.

In recent years La Liga has opened offices in Shanghai, Delhi, New York, Johannesburg and Dubai. It now has representatives in over 40 countries.

La Liga has also changed some match times to earlier in the afternoon, so they air at an appealing time in Asia.

Its international audience in the 2018-19 season was 2.7 million viewers, with “El Clasico” matches between arch rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona one of the most watched games in club football.

La Liga said its deal with CVC was an opportunity to “develop a new economic model” which is not limited to “matches and TV rights”.

A private equity consortium including CVC sought to buy a stake in the media division of Italy’s main football league but the deal floundered earlier this year because major clubs including Juventus and Inter Milan opposed it, arguing the price offered was too low.

CVC has prior experience with investments in sports-related businesses.

The firm, which manages about $87 billion of assets, has invested in Formula One and in March announced a £365 million (about $510 million) deal for a 14.3 percent share in Six Nations Rugby.

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