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Player of the Decade Trémouliere on joining France 2023 Players’ Committee | Rugby World Cup 2023

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Six Nations Rugby

Leicester Tigers title winner Louis Deacon leaves Coventry for international role

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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’

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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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How Warren Gatland could change his Lions team for series-deciding third Test against South Africa

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Calling for huge changes is all well and good, but guys like Finn Russell haven’t played for weeks. Without the midweek games to keep the dirt trackers fresh, many will be rusty. Some players, like Courtney Lawes who was rested against the Stormers, just want to play every single week. If you went with 10 changes, that’s a lot of players who have not seen much action over the last month.

Looking back on Saturday, you also cannot underestimate when a team are 1-0 down in a Test series the amount of intensity they are going to produce. You could see it in Siya Kolisi when he ran out of the tunnel, when he was singing the anthem. It was a different Springboks group, totally fired up. Do you throw the whole Lions team out because you were up against a superhuman performance in the second half? Or are you more measured?

Front row

If Wyn Jones is fit, then he has to come in at loosehead. You hope he is after missing the first two Tests through injury. Jones combines the best of Rory Sutherland and Mako Vunipola, in that he can scrummage but also play in the loose.

There’s a temptation to bring in Jamie George at hooker after the lineout struggled when the South Africans went to three locks with Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert – but any hooker would have struggled against those three as Ken Owens did off the bench. 

I would leave Luke Cowan-Dickie where he is as the starter. That combination between hooker and Tadhg Furlong at tighthead continues to grow. If Kyle Sinckler is banned after his citing, then a very good tighthead in Zander Fagerson can come onto the bench, joined by Vunipola. I would keep Ken Owens too, but I could see Gatland turning to George.

Second row

Part of the reason I am going 5-3 on the bench is because Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones have proven they are 80-minute Test match animals. They will find something with 10 minutes to go if needed. 

It’s tempting to move Itoje into the back row and bring in Iain Henderson and Adam Beard, the latter for his maul defence, Henderson because he’s such a heavyweight. But you keep that second row unit of Itoje and Jones intact.

Henderson had a fantastic 2021, hasn’t quite nailed it on this tour, but he is the biggest lump the Lions have. I was surprised he wasn’t considered for the 23 for the first Test. Gatland knows Beard well, and the Wales lock has performed, so I could see him coming onto the bench.

Back row

Lawes was quieter in the second Test, but so good in the first, and I would back him to return to that form. 

Tom Curry is growing into this Test series after those early penalties in the first Test. At No 8 I would go back to Taulupe Faletau.

Jack Conan has done great in a safe capacity – I just feel you have to tweak and change the balance to be able to play and offload a little bit more, bringing someone in like Faletau who has the South Africans chasing a shadow every now and then as opposed to getting set and then smashing it up.

Half-backs

As for the backline, it just has not functioned so far, so I have decided to go with established units, starting with a No 8, scrum-half and fly-half from Wales. 

Gareth Davies at scrum-half might not be quite as good as Ali Price with his distribution or Conor Murray with his box-kicking, but I always go back to Davies’ try against England at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He just scores tries in big games. 

That combination of Faletau, Davies and Dan Biggar could benefit the Lions being from one nation. I would keep Price on the bench, because he’s shown he can both box kick well and also play wide.

Centres

If you are sticking with units, you have to bring Bundee Aki in to partner Robbie Henshaw. The 13 shirt just has not been able to get into the game. Damian de Allande and Lukhanyo Am have bossed that midfield. They might not have played together for ages but they have muscle memory and trust each other implicitly.

Aki and Henshaw were outstanding against England in the Six Nations. Aki has to man mark De Allende, and then Henshaw can pick up defensive signals from Aki, when to blitz or shift wide. 

If you went 6-2 on the bench, then Henshaw would have to cover full-back, which Ireland have done before and it didn’t really work. You could end up with some odd backline combinations too given how physical the South Africans are and the risk of having a back knocked out of the game early on.

Back three

There’s an argument to change all of them. Just too many aerial and positional errors. Josh Adams comes in on the left, because it just fell apart for Duhan van der Merwe last Saturday. Adams is rock solid under the high ball and a top try scorer at the last Rugby World Cup. That opens up Liam Williams to come in at full-back for more security under the high ball. Watson would be lucky to keep his place.

My only rogue selection would come on the bench, where I would have Louis Rees-Zammit, someone who could be sprinting in an Olympic final. He is raw, young, and still learning. But he has something no one else has with a 10-second time over 100 metres.

All in all, you are looking at changing over a third of the side – Jones, Faletau, Davies, Aki, Adams and Williams – with Gatland hoping these selections can execute his strategy better, win the aerial contest, and clinch the Test series.

My Lions team for the third Test

Starting XV: L Williams; A Watson, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Adams; D Biggar, G Davies; W Jones, L Cowan-Dickie, T Furlong, M Itoje, A Jones (c), C Lawes, T Curry, T Faletau

Replacements: K Owens, M Vunipola, K Sinckler/Z Fagerson, A Beard, T Beirne, A Price, O Farrell, L Rees-Zammit

What changes would you make for the third Test? Let us know in the comments section below.

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