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Dan Lydiate o leave Newport Gwent Dragons for undisclosed European team

Lydiate latest Wales player to depart for France with flanker set for undisclosed European team

By
Chris Foy

PUBLISHED:

18:28 GMT, 5 December 2012

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UPDATED:

18:30 GMT, 5 December 2012

Dan Lydiate will join the continuing exodus of Wales players to France at the end of this season, but a similar mass migration of leading England stars appears to have been averted, for now.

Newport Gwent Dragons have confirmed that the 24-year-old flanker, who was Six Nations Player of the tournament last season, is leaving to join ‘an undisclosed European team’.

That team is thought to be Parisian club, Racing Metro, who are also recruiting Wales and Lions centre Jamie Roberts, along with Northampton props Brian Mujati and Soane Tonga’uiha.

Channel hopping: Dan Lydiate will join a European club next season

Channel hopping: Dan Lydiate will join a European club next season

However, it appears that the riches on offer across the Channel are not enticing England’s finest to abandon their Test careers with a home World Cup looming in 2015.

While a case could be made for Toulon pair Steffon Armitage and Andrew Sheridan to be recalled by Stuart Lancaster, the national coach is abiding by the RFU’s edict against selected overseas-based players and the hard-line stance appears to be having the desired effect.

Of the 15 players who started for England in last Saturday’s historic victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham, 13 are contracted to their Aviva Premiership clubs until at least the end of next season.

The same applies to other high-profile figures such as Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley, Toby Flood and Courtney Lawes.

With the age-profile of Lancaster’s side being so young, most of those in the Red Rose ranks appear content to stay put and continue to enhance their Test credentials. Just last month, the Youngs brothers – Ben and Tom, agreed new three-year deals with Leicester.

The two players who are coming out of contract at the end of the current campaign are Alex Corbisiero and Geoff Parling. While Corbisiero is understood to be poised for a move away from London Irish, his likely destination is Northampton.

Out of contract: Geoff Parling (second right) is considering his options

Out of contract: Geoff Parling (second right) is considering his options

Leicester lock Parling is considering his options and his Tigers director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, said: ‘For someone like Geoff Parling, who is out of contract, he has come from Newcastle and now he is starting for England. He will get offers bigger than ours, so it will be down to the good will of the player to say he likes playing for you, that he is really happy here trying to win something and that he will take 25 per cent less than he could get somewhere else.’

There is a strong possibility that Parling will choose to stay at Welford Road, but less likelihood of a further Welsh exodus being averted.

Cardiff Blues wing Alex Cuthbert – who was being paid just 15,000 per year at the time he was playing a key role in a Grand Slam triumph last season – is out of contract at the end of this season and once again he will be pursued by wealthy French suitors.

Scarlets hooker Matthew Rees is set to buck the trend by staying in regional rugby, with a summer switch to the Blues under consideration, but there is talk of several Wales players taking French lessons, in readiness for a move to a Gallic club.

Home comforts: Matthew Rees is likely to play his club rugby in Wales

Home comforts: Matthew Rees is likely to play his club rugby in Wales

The likes of Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, Luke Charteris, James Hook and Lee Byrne are already playing in the Top 14 league, but Wales coach Warren Gatland has expressed concerns about the fitness training regimes over there.

‘Against New Zealand, Mike Phillips was blowing after 52 minutes – we had to get him off,’ said the Kiwi. ‘If they go to France, they take a risk that they won’t reach our standards and expectations.

‘They have a different philosophy and attitude in France. They’ve got quality players but their preparation and approach to everything is different. They tend to have one fitness coach who puts the programme up on the board and it is not monitored as heavily as it is in the UK and Ireland. That’s something we have to look at.

'Are they physically in the best shape to compete at the highest level even though they might be playing quite well in France’

Arsene Wenger chants: Idiots should be banned

Clubs must ban these idiots responsible for Wenger chants

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UPDATED:

22:44 GMT, 4 November 2012

Vile chants: Wenger was on the receiving end

Vile chants: Wenger was on the receiving end

We’ve seen a lot of progress dealing with racism in this country but the vile obscenities Arsene Wenger has had to put up with are unacceptable.

Wenger is one of the nicest men on the planet and the accusation that he is a paedophile is, of course, absurd. It’s an embarrassment.

Like most players and managers who are abused, Wenger ignores it and remains professional but it is not easy. I know from being the subject of chants that inside your blood is boiling, you are seething, but you have to get on with it. I used it as motivation to make sure the opposition didn’t score against me, but what can Wenger do

He’s standing on the touchline with no-one to turn to. It has an impact on your family too. They have to sit through it while people are giggling. It is demeaning. There are lots of good people out there but there are idiots too. That kind of abuse makes you question your belief in the human race.

Mr Nice Guy: Wenger is one of the most respected men in football

Mr Nice Guy: Wenger is one of the most respected men in football

What can be done It’s difficult as Sir Alex Ferguson has been commendable in writing to Manchester United fans in the past but it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. Most United fans – and those at West Ham a month ago – must have felt embarrassed listening to those around them.

It is time to ban offenders. Clubs should encourage people to hit back in a calm way by taking seat numbers and contacting the club. The FA should look at ways to combat the problem – even if it means banning fans en masse.

Stuart Broad: Losing Andrew Strauss means we all have to step up

Losing Strauss means all the England players have to step up

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UPDATED:

22:38 GMT, 30 August 2012

A captain of substance

It was a complete shock when Andrew Strauss called me on Tuesday to say he was retiring. I just didn't see that one coming. Yes I knew after Lord's that it had been a turbulent time but I thought he still had the hunger and desire to carry on leading the England side. There were no clues as to the captain's thinking.

There is obviously a lot of sadness because Andrew Strauss has been a special part of this team and he means an awful lot to us. I have played the bulk of my Test cricket with him as captain and had most of my success under him. I will always remember how he backed me ahead of the Oval Test in 2009 when I was under the pump and some were calling for me to be dropped. Hopefully I repaid him in that game against the Australians.

Happy days; Andrew Strauss celebrates Ashes glory

Happy days; Andrew Strauss celebrates Ashes glory

Straussy has always been a calm, level-headed leader who took everything in his stride and I can't really recall him ever losing his temper. But I do remember him calling us together on the field during the Lord's Test of that 2009 Ashes series when we had become ragged and had lost our discipline a bit. He just said 'let's pull ourselves together and up the tempo' which had the desired effect.

He has been a captain who always listened to his bowlers and backed them with the fields they wanted to set, giving you confidence for the task in hand. It was always about the team with Straussy, never about him, and any hint of anyone just thinking about themselves when they pulled on the shirt was completely abolished once he took charge. He urged us all to take responsibility and with that came the strong team ethic that has served us so well.

Maybe the last straw for him was losing to me at golf before the Headingley Test. That must have been a real kick in the teeth for Straussy! I'm sure now he will improve his already pretty impressive golf and enjoy being with his family and spending more time at home. What comes next for him I don' t know but he's the sort of bloke who will want challenges in his life. We all wish him well.

A new era

With that sadness comes excitement because this is very much a new era for us now. Alastair Cook is another calm, solid man who has played an awful lot of Test cricket for someone who is still so young. The experience that he and the other senior men in the dressing room have gained will be vital as we might well head to India with a young batting line-up in October.

Past and present: Strauss (left) and Alastair Cook

Past and present: Strauss (left) and Alastair Cook

There will be extra responsibility now not just for Cooky but for all of us and I'm sure those of us with a fair bit of experience can help him as he settles in to his new role. We are a strong unit and that's important moving forward.

There were three England captains and now there are two but I don't expect anything to change as far as my role is concerned. Nothing has been said as yet about the vice-captaincy so I don't know if I am in the frame for that or not but it's not an issue because Cooky and I work closely anyway with our limited-overs cricket. The senior players cover any extra responsibility that the side needs so the vice-captain is only really required to step in when the captain has to leave the field to be honest.

Hitting the gym

Stuart Broad of England

I wasn't at the Ageas Bowl on Tuesday to receive my letter from Straussy – my post has been playing up so I haven't received mine yet – because I have been rested during this one-day series. Andy Flower and I talked about it and it was felt that I should have a break and concentrate on the Twenty20 cricket we have coming up. It's hard to say if I've felt fatigued as such but we all know how much cricket we have coming up and I fully understand the decision. It's sensible. I have been hitting the gym and mentally getting away from cricket and I' m sure 10 days without bowling will do my body some good. We're very fortunate to have a management that looks after us.

Sri Lankan mission

I'm very excited about captaining England at the World Twenty20 and I think we have a squad that can do well in Sri Lanka as we attempt to defend our title. We are all buzzing about it. People have said we might be weakened by the absence of Kevin Pietersen but you have to remember that Alex Hales came into his place against West Indies earlier this summer and immediately scored 99. Our plans haven't changed because KP will not be there and I'm honoured to be the captain.

The future

It was an honour, too, to be named in the ICC Test team of the year, particularly as there were two other England players there in Alastair Cook and Matt Prior. I know we have had some difficult times this year but that shows you that it has not all been doom and gloom and that we have much to look forward to. We are starting again under a new captain but we are doing so with a firm base. It's not like 2009 when it was almost like starting from scratch. I am really looking forward to the challenges that await this England team and I am very confident that we will rise to those challenges. The future starts now.

Graham Poll: Didier Drogba will need a Nou tactic

Drogba will need a Nou tactic after his antics in Chelsea win

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UPDATED:

23:40 GMT, 19 April 2012

If I was refereeing the second leg of
Barcelona v Chelsea next Tuesday I would have tried to watch the first
game live. If not, I would get a recording and watch it. Not to
pre-judge, but to be fully prepared.

At tournaments the referee is given
tapes to watch of the two teams he has to referee next, just the same as
teams watch forthcoming opponents.

Pole-axed: The Chelsea striker was in constant need of treatment

Pole-axed: The Chelsea striker was in constant need of treatment

At one such briefing, referees were warned to look out for tactics employed by Peter Crouch, who then endured a difficult World Cup when decisions regularly went against him, often unreasonably.

READER COMMENT

Graham Poll is not anti-Chelsea — he is just saying it as it is. I was at the match and I am a season-ticket holder; let’s be honest, Drogba was falling all over the place very easily and it was having the desired effect of allowing our players to have a breather while disrupting Barcelona’s flow of the game. But FIFA and UEFA are to blame by allowing the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese etc clubs to get away with this for years, much to the
frustration of English teams in the
past. And Barcelona (despite being
a great football team) are also masters of the arts in deception, diving and feigning injury. So if you need to play them at their own game then so be it.
— Scott M, London

The referee will see how Didier Drogba affected the pace of play in the first leg, breaking Barcelona's rhythm with a series of 'injuries', the most obvious being the groin problem after an hour.

A referee finds it almost impossible to caution a player for such acts but will take the opportunity to caution him at the next opening – and Drogba was cautioned on Wednesday.

When I refereed an all-Spanish UEFA Cup semi-final, second leg between Sevilla and Osasuna I saw similar antics to Drogba's from players from both sides in the first leg. So I made sure I was very close to play early on and waved for players to get up when they went down too easily.

It wasn't popular but it was effective as
players realised I would not stop the game. I expect next week's
referee to do the same in the Nou Camp.

Familiar sight: Didier Drogba spent plenty of the game stricken on the turf

Familiar sight: Drogba spent plenty of the game stricken on the turf

We don't know who it is yet but don't be surprised to see an Italian when the decision is announced after the weekend.

Experience tells me that is the country from which UEFA will select their officials for this particular game. The referee and his team will be in for a busy night and I'm not sure Drogba and Chelsea will find as much going for them in the second leg.

Clint Hill backs Joey Barton

Hill backs 'brave' Barton after QPR skipper hits out at critical fans

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UPDATED:

08:26 GMT, 11 April 2012

QPR defender Clint Hill has branded Joey Barton 'brave' for criticising the club's supporters.

Barton hit out in his programme notes ahead of the recent victory over Arsenal, claiming the stick he had been receiving following his big-money move from Newcastle had begun to 'seep in'.

However, the words seemed to have a galvanising effect as Rangers secured a shock win over the Gunners and ahead of Wednesday night's encounter with Swansea at Loftus Road, Hill has spoken out in favour of his team-mate.

Criticism: Barton was dropped by Mark Hughes

Criticism: Barton was dropped by Mark Hughes

'Joey was brave to come out and say what he said in his programme notes, but it has had the desired effect,' Hill told www.qpr.co.uk.

'The fans have been a little bit despondent with some of our performances and results, but there is a unity about us right now.

'It was a bit of a rallying cry if you like. It won Wednesday night after it was confirmed Shaun Derry will miss out through suspension.

It had been hoped Derry's harsh dismissal in Sunday's defeat at Manchester United would be overturned.

However, that has been dashed by the Football Association, leaving Derry to serve a one-match ban.

Off: Hill (left) won't be playing alongside Shaun Derry on Wednesday night

Off: Hill (left) won't be playing alongside Shaun Derry on Wednesday night

It is a blow for Rangers manager Mark Hughes, whose side remain outside the bottom three on goal difference as a result of Tuesday night's home defeat for Blackburn against Liverpool.

With a trip to West Brom at the weekend, the Londoners clearly view it as a time of the season when they could make a significant step towards safety.

'These two games are massive for us, the biggest of our season so far,' said Hill.

'Hopefully we can take the form from our last two home games into our next two fixtures.'

Rallying call: Barton called for QPR to stick together

Rallying call: Barton called for QPR to stick together

QPR can take heart from having won the corresponding fixture last

season, although it is the Welsh outfit that has adapted to life in the top flight far better.

'Swansea have been brilliant,' he said.

'They've adapted to the league really well and deserve a lot of credit.

'They are safe now, so hopefully we can take advantage of that.'It's a small pitch, which perhaps suits us more than them.

'We know they will have a lot of possession but hopefully we can take our chances when they come.

Wolves admit big drop in season ticket sales

Basement boys Wolves admit big drop in season ticket sales as relegation looms

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UPDATED:

12:53 GMT, 21 March 2012

Wolves chief executive Jez Moxey admitted the sales of Early Bird season tickets have been disappointing after the club saw a drop of almost 18 per cent in renewals from last year.

Only 12,150 season-ticket holders have chosen to renew at the frozen price, well down on the 14,780 fans who took up the offer last season.

With Wolves bottom of the table and having picked up only one point from their last five games, Moxey can understand why numbers are down.

Sinking fast: Wolves are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table

Sinking fast: Wolves are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table

He told the club's website: 'While we are disappointed with the final figure, it has come as no surprise either. We acknowledge that this has been another very difficult season on the pitch with the team battling for Barclays Premier League survival.

'We have a lot of debate with supporters over the price of tickets, hence our continued commitment to the fantastic Early Bird offer, but the reality is fans want a successful football team to support and the drop in sales reflects the reality on the pitch this season.

'To improve supporter numbers, we must improve the football on the pitch. I would like to thank all the fans who have renewed or bought Early Bird season tickets for the first time.

'To have over 12,000 supporters guaranteeing their support for next season by mid-March remains a healthy figure and that pledge of loyalty to Wolves is very much appreciated.'

Old pal: Terry Connor (left) has been backed by former boss Mick McCarthy

Old pal: Terry Connor (left) has been backed by former boss Mick McCarthy

The decision to replace manager Mick McCarthy with former assistant Terry Connor last month has not yet had the desired effect but Connor has received support from the man he worked alongside at Molineux for five and a half years.

McCarthy told Sky Sports News: 'If Terry had left and they had appointed somebody new, I wouldn't have had such a vested interest in it.

'But he is a really close family friend now, both himself and his wife are great pals. I have had even more of an interest in it, watching it and wishing him well, because I'd like to see him do well.'

Stuart Pearce tells Wilfried Zaha to stick with England

EXCLUSIVE: Stick with England, Pearce pleads with Palace wonderkid Zaha

England stand-in manager Stuart Pearce has pleaded with Crystal Palace wonderkid Wilfried Zaha to ignore approaches from Ivory Coast.

The 10million-rated forward was born in the African nation before moving to London with his parents as a child.

Zaha, 19, took his latest step up the international ladder on Wednesday by making his England Under 21 debut, starting in the 4-0 win over Belgium.

Young Lion: Wilfried Zaha (right) in action for England Under 21s this week

Young Lion: Wilfried Zaha (right) in action for England Under 21s this week

But the Ivory Coast Football Federation have set their sights on stealing the talented youngster from under the FA's noses.

Bright future: Zaha is valued at around 10m

Bright future: Zaha is valued at around 10m

Aware of the situation, Pearce made a special visit to Palace's training ground in Kent to persuade Zaha that his international future lies with England.

Olympic and Under 21 boss Pearce explained to Zaha that he sees him playing an important role in England's senior set-up in the future.

Pearce's decision to pay Zaha a personal visit has, for the time being, had the desired effect, with the Palace youngster understood to have pledged his immediate future to England.

However, Zaha can still theoretically change his mind and play for the Ivory Coast.

Under FIFA regulations, a player is only deemed ineligible to feature for a nation when he has played a competitive fixture for another country at senior level.

Chris Foy: Richard Cockerill is much safer than his French rivals

Cockerill is much safer than his French rivals

Jean-Pierre Elissalde didn't stand a chance, but Richard Cockerill does.

In the increasingly volatile world of club coaching, Leicester is not the worst place to be – nor is England as a whole, for that matter.

Leicester coach Richard Cockerill

Setback: Leicester coach Richard Cockerill

Elissalde was sacked by Bayonne this week, having been in charge at the Basque club for all of a month-and-a-half.

He was appointed in early December after the dismissal of Christian Gajan and his entire coaching staff, as an influx of overseas stars including Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips had not had the desired effect in producing an immediate assault on the Top 14 title.

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Last Friday, Leicester suffered their worst defeat in 15 seasons of Heineken Cup rugby – going down 41-7 against Ulster at Ravenhill.

Asked afterwards what the 'repercussions' might be, Cockerill's reaction suggested that he interpreted it as a question about his own future. It was not, but his tense mood was understandable following Newcastle's removal of head coach Alan Tait the previous day.

Yet Tait was clearly struggling, whereas Cockerill is not. Prior to the heavy loss in Belfast, the Tigers had won 11 out of 12 games.

This was a stark and alarming setback, but not a reason for upheaval.

This week, Cockerill defended his record, pointing to Leicester reaching four finals during his three years in charge.

Yet, his willingness to take guidance from an experienced figure such as Graham Henry is an indication that he understands the need to learn and develop further.

The Tigers hierarchy are not about to sack him.

As a whole, there is less volatility in the English game than in French rugby, where the arrival of so many super-rich owners has coincided with a more cut-throat approach to hiring and firing, more akin to football in this country.

As yet, there has been nothing here to match the bloodlust and bedlam at Blackburn Rovers FC, where angry, banner-waving, bilespewing protests go on and manager Steve Kean has to go out with a personal security guard.

The notion of Cockerill needing a minder to wander the streets of Leicester is quite amusing. Woe betide anyone who shouts abuse in his direction.

In domestic rugby, disgruntled fans don't protest, they just stop turning up – as Newcastle have found, with attendances dipping below 4,000.

That is a concern, but there is not yet extreme menace from the stands or from the boardroom.

If that is what comes with more money, then maybe tightened belts aren't such a bad thing after all.

A Glasgow Chris

Castre's captain Chris Masoe

Glasgow have taken the unusual step of releasing a statement about their own rejection. The Warriors had been in talks with Castres captain and former All Black Chris Masoe (right) over a move to Scotland. But after a visit to Scotstoun Stadium, the 32-year-old decided that it wasn't for him.

Remarkably, his decision appears to have been taken as a positive development worth sharing, as the statement quoted Masoe as saying: 'Although I'm not going to be joining the Warriors, I'd like to make a point of putting on record how impressed I've been with the club.'

The episode shows that Glasgow need to focus on retaining their own talent, as pedigree overseas players are not being enticed.

Owen faces Gavin 'treatment'

There is an increasingly obvious correlation between the profile of a player and the array of odds offered by bookmakers about their on-field exploits and off-field issues. Take Gavin Henson.

This week, prior to his call-up to Wales's squad for the RBS Six Nations, Ladbrokes were offering 400-1 that the 'part-time celebrity' and full-time Blues back would help his country win the championship and get married this year. In the past, odds have been offered on the exact hue of his fake tan. Saracens are evidently keen for Owen Farrell to avoid such unwanted attention ahead of his impending England debut.

Amid increasing scrutiny of the 20-year-old fly-half-cum-centre, his club's director of rugby, Mark McCall, has asked media to say less, ask less and write less about him. The request came with a smile, but the sentiment was clear. Unfortunately, McCall is fighting a losing battle while Farrell's kicking keeps winning matches.

RFU are ready

A gilt-edged chance to enhance rugby participation will come after the home World Cup in 2015 – and this time the RFU are determined to be ready. The authorities were caught cold after England's triumph in 2003 and as Steve Grainger, RFU development director, said: 'If facilities are not adequate or there's not enough coaching, we've lost the moment.'

The last word

Donal Courtney, the former Irish referee who now acts as ERC's match officials performance manager, has been talking about the language barrier.

Clubs and countries for whom English is not the first language regularly feel aggrieved at the way decisions appear to go against them, partly because – in many cases – they are not receiving instructions which they can fully understand. Courtney remarked that younger referees, such as the RFU's Greg Garner and JP Doyle, speak very good French and that is a positive development.

He revealed that there is a programme in place to assist the learning of key technical phrases in French and Italian, but as yet it is not compulsory for British, Irish or SAN ZAR officials to be able to converse in these languages with any fluency.

That is something the IRB should make an urgent priority. In the professional game, the playing field should be as level as possible, so multi-lingual referees should be regarded as a necessity, not a bonus.