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Chris Ashton backed by Saracens coach Paul Gustard

Ashton backed by Saracens coach Gustard after poor Six Nations

By
Rob Wildman

PUBLISHED:

21:49 GMT, 2 April 2013

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UPDATED:

07:14 GMT, 3 April 2013

Chris Ashton, the under-fire England wing, has received the backing of Saracens defence coach Paul Gustard.

The club head into Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at Twickenham believing Ashton is in excellent form despite his poor Six Nations campaign that led to an inquest into his tackling.

Ashton scored his first try in almost two months last Saturday, against Wasps, and Gustard expects more in the Heineken Cup.

Out of sorts: Ashton scored just one try in the Six Nations

Out of sorts: Ashton scored just one try in the Six Nations

Jumping for joy: Chris Ashton celebrates after scoring against Wasps

Jumping for joy: Ashton celebrates after scoring against Wasps last weekend

‘Even if Chris had not scored a try, it does not mean he’s not played well,’ Gustard said. ‘He’s done really, really well for us in the last two weeks and is in a good place after a good show at Wasps.

The problem of being a wing in rugby is that it’s a bit like being a goalkeeper in football. You are the last line in defence; a mistake can cost you.

‘Chris is not a bad defender. Sometimes, he misses a tackle but so what Everyone misses a tackle,’ Gustard added.

On the run: Ashton charges upfield playing for Saracens

On the run: Ashton charges upfield playing for Saracens

He could also be Ashton’s coach on England’s summer tour of Argentina if he does not make the Lions trip to Australia.

Gustard is taking over temporarily because Andy Farrell will help coach the Lions with Warren Gatland.

‘I’m not going to change the way England defend,’ he said. ‘The system has worked well over the last season. It’s a matter of learning and developing as a coach.’

Alex Cuthbert of Wales is out for six weeks after tearing hamstring against England

Wales winger Cuthbert out for six weeks after tearing hamstring against England

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

18:24 GMT, 20 March 2013

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UPDATED:

19:25 GMT, 20 March 2013

Wales winger Alex Cuthbert has been ruled out for up to six weeks with a hamstring tear sustained in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations title-clinching victory over England.

Cuthbert, who scored two tries in the 30-3 rout at the Millennium Stadium, will miss at least four of the Cardiff Blues' remaining five RaboDirect PRO 12 matches.

If the injury takes six weeks to heal, he will also be sidelined for their final game against Ulster on
May 3.

Sidelined: Wales' Alex Cuthbert is to be out for six weeks

Sidelined: Wales' Alex Cuthbert is to be out for six weeks

'Alex suffered a grade two hamstring strain in the first 30 minutes of the match against England. He is expected to be out for between four to six weeks,' read a statement released by the Blues.

Cuthbert is expected to tour with the British & Irish Lions this summer and while the injury will not affect his chances of travelling to Australia, it will leave him short of match fitness ahead of the first game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1.

'Grade two strain': It is Cuthbert's hamstring that is proving the problem

'Grade two strain': It is Cuthbert's hamstring that is proving the problem

Northampton approach Scarlets over move for Wales winger George North

Northampton approach Scarlets over move for Wales winger North

PUBLISHED:

20:22 GMT, 19 March 2013

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UPDATED:

20:23 GMT, 19 March 2013

George North's agent has revealed the Scarlets and Northampton are in talks over a possible move for the Wales winger.

The giant three-quarter has one year left on his contract with the west Wales region, and helped Wales retain their RBS 6 Nations crown with a record 30-3 victory over England in Cardiff.

The 20-year-old has previously been linked with a move to France, where several members of the current Wales squad ply their trade, but his agent, Christian Abt confirmed discussions are being held with the Saints.

Targeted: Wales international George North could join the Premiership

Targeted: Wales international George North could join the Premiership

He told the BBC: 'There has been an approach between the two clubs to discuss a possible transfer.'

'I don't think it will drag on too long,' he added.

'I think these things need to happen quite quickly if it's going to happen so that each party knows where they stand.

'It's counter-productive to sort of drag on and for the player as well to know where he will be, so ideally I'm sure it will resolve itself in the next couple of weeks.'

Six Nations winner: North is among Wales' key players

Six Nations winner: North is among Wales' key players

If a move is completed North, widely expected to feature on the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia, would become the latest Wales player to opt to play club rugby outside the principality.

Mike Phillips (Bayonne), James Hook (Perpignan), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Aled Brew (Biarritz), Lee Byrne (Clermont) and Paul James (Bath) have already moved, while Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate are set to cross the Channel this summer.

The Scarlets said they would not discuss players' contracts publicly when contacted by Press Association Sport, while Northampton also declined to comment on Abt's remarks.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting better for England and Arsenal

England's Ox growing stronger and stronger after rapid rise with Three Lions stardom

European Championships, where he started the opening game against France in Donetsk.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has certainly come a long way in a short time since being signed by Arsene Wenger as a raw talent from Southampton two years ago.

Better and better: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, pictured here with the new Vauxhall Adam, intends to take everything in his stride as England push on towards the World Cup

Better and better: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, pictured here with the new Vauxhall Adam, intends to take everything in his stride as England push on towards the World Cup

The midfielder, though, is determined to keep himself focused on each new challenge as it comes along.

Speaking at an event organised by England sponsor’s Vauxhall, Oxlade-Chamberlain told Press Association Sport: 'I have a bit more experience now, from both club and international level, on and off the pitch.

'The experience of going to the Euros with tournament football stands me in better stead looking towards the World Cup, but I still have a lot of hard work to do to make that squad for Brazil, if we do qualify.'

Oxlade-Chamberlain added: 'My progress into the first-team at Arsenal and the senior England squad was quite quick, probably quicker than I ever thought it was going to be.

Room to grow: The 19-year-old is likely to play in England's qualifying double header with San Marino and Montenegro this weekend

Room to grow: The 19-year-old is likely to play in England's qualifying double header with San Marino and Montenegro this weekend

'I really just try to keep my head down, focused on my targets, and take everything in my stride.

'I have only achieved a tiny percentage of what I want to achieve in a small fraction of my career.

'I know I have got a lot more hard work to do and a long way to go, so I don’t really think about how quick things have gone because I just want to keep improving myself and keep pushing on.'

Unfazed: Oxlade-Chamberlain fighting the elements and Swansea's Angel Rangel in Saturday's 2-0 win at Swansea

Unfazed: Oxlade-Chamberlain fighting the elements and Swansea's Angel Rangel in Saturday's 2-0 win at Swansea

Natural similarities are drawn between the progress of Oxlade-Chamberlain and his Arsenal team-mate Theo Walcott, another product of the Southampton Academy and now regular for Roy Hodgson’s England squad.

'Theo is a brilliant player, so I don’t really mind getting compared to him,' Oxlade-Chamberlain said.

'He really helps me out a lot and has done ever since I stepped into Arsenal and coming away with England.

Young gunner: Oxlade-Chamberlain has been inevitably compared to teammate Theo Walcott

Young gunner: Oxlade-Chamberlain has been inevitably compared to teammate Theo Walcott

'This season he has been really good for Arsenal, scoring a lot of goals, which is what I am trying to add to my game, so I can learn from him in that sense.

'But I don’t really look at it in terms of what he has done and what I am doing, I just focus on what I need to do to achieve the goals I set for myself.'

Vauxhall are official lead sponsors of England. Check out www.vauxhallfootball.co.uk

Warren Gatland meets England squad

An awkward squad meeting! Lions coach Gatland sees England players just a day after saying he is reluctant to pick them

By
Joe Ridge

PUBLISHED:

12:38 GMT, 13 February 2013

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UPDATED:

15:53 GMT, 13 February 2013

Warren Gatland has met with the England squad just a day after his comments regarding selection for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia caused a storm.

The Lions and Wales head coach was with Stuart Lancaster's side at St George's Park for a pre-scheduled meeting on Wednesday just three months ahead of the trip to Australia.

Gatland, who has handed over the reins of the Wales side to his assistant Rob Howley for the ongoing RBS Six Nations Championship while he focuses on his Lions role, told the London Evening Standard on Tuesday that he was reluctant to pick too many Englishmen in his squad.

Causing a storm: Gatland said he is reluctant to pick too many Englishmen

Causing a storm: Gatland said he is reluctant to pick too many Englishmen

The New Zealander was at the National Football Centre in Burton to go through video footage of England's 12-6 win over Ireland on Sunday – a result which has left Lancaster's side top of the Six Nations table after two games.

‘England did well in the autumn,’ the Kiwi told the Standard. ‘And if they do well in the Six Nations, there will be a reasonable contingent of English players.

‘But that brings a certain element of – how do I say it – other pressures. We all know what happened with England at the World Cup and the circus that was created.

On a roll: England have won both of their Six Nations games so far

On a roll: England have won both of their Six Nations games so far

‘It becomes a much greater media focus for the English papers; potentially a negative focus for the Australian papers. And English players are targeted by other countries. They are not always the most popular with other countries because of the history. People like having a pop at them.

‘It’s just being aware of potential issues that may arise. I’ve got to be aware of the possibilities that, if there are a number of English players on the tour, the same sort of things could be instigated, through stings through the media or set-ups trying to create controversy.’

Gatland later insisted that his words were taken out of context.

Backtracking: The Kiwi later insisted his words had been taken out of context

Backtracking: The Kiwi later insisted his words had been taken out of context

‘I would happily pick 15 English players in the first Test at Brisbane if I though they were the best 15 players for the job,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.

‘Hand on heart I would never be able to look myself in the mirror if we didn’t pick a player who deserved to go on Tour because he was English. I just couldn’t do that to any individual. Morally it is just wrong.’

Chris Robshaw has been named England skipper for the Six Nations as Stuart Lancaster keeps his faith in the flanker

Robshaw named England skipper for Six Nations as Lancaster keeps faith in flanker

By
Duncan Bech, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

19:53 GMT, 21 January 2013

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UPDATED:

20:03 GMT, 21 January 2013

England have confirmed Chris Robshaw as their captain for the forthcoming RBS Six Nations in an appointment that will have caused no surprises.

Robshaw has been retained after leading England to a record 38-21 victory over New Zealand at Twickenham on December 1 and will fill the post for a second successive championship.

Northampton forwards Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood are viewed as potential captains, but coach Stuart Lancaster views 26-year-old Harlequins openside Robshaw as the outstanding candidate.

Chris Robshaw will lead England into the Six Nations as one of the favourites

Responsibility: Chris Robshaw will lead England into the Six Nations as one of the favourites

Lancaster, who announced Robshaw's reappointment at tonight's squad meeting, believes the Lions captaincy candidate has developed into superb leader.

'Chris stepped into the role 12 months ago when we were building a new team and he has grown as a captain on and off the field,' Lancaster said.

'He showed those leadership qualities during the QBE Internationals and especially against the All Blacks when the whole squad got behind him.

'We have a number of leaders and I know they will all take this team forwards with Chris as we look to kick on from that result.'

Robshaw will be hoping to continue the success which led to victory over New Zealand

Ice Cold: Robshaw will be hoping to continue the success which led to victory over New Zealand

Robshaw made his Test debut against
Argentina in 2009 and despite his lack of experience, was installed as
skipper upon his next cap against Scotland at the start of last year's
Six Nations.

He has continued in the post since,
missing only the final Test against South Africa last June due to
injury, and has been a key part of Lancaster's rebuilding program
following the disastrous 2011 World Cup.

'Stuart told me this afternoon and I am really pleased to be asked again,' Robshaw said.

'There are other leaders in the squad that Stuart could have turned to so I am really honoured.

'The lads have been great over the
last year and now we our focus is on building on the New Zealand
performance and getting a result against Scotland.'

Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns will
undergo a scan over the coming days to assess the extent of the damage
of the knee injury he sustained during Saturday's 36-16 victory over
Mont de Marsan.

Robshaw celebrates with Ben Youngs and James Haskell

Good times: Robshaw celebrates with Ben Youngs and James Haskell

Robshaw and Stuart Lancaster have formed a formidable partnership leading England

Together: Robshaw and Stuart Lancaster have formed a formidable partnership leading England

Ugo Monye claims he has had 10,000 stolen from his bank account

England Saxons winger Monye claims 10,000 was stolen from bank account

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

17:41 GMT, 9 January 2013

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UPDATED:

17:49 GMT, 9 January 2013

Ugo Monye claims he had 10,000 stolen from his bank account – just hours after being named in the England Saxons squad.

The Harlequins winger took to Twitter to reveal the news, saying: '10k nicked outta my account! Brutal. Cheers Lloyds TSB for being so on the ball… Naaaat.'

He later revealed he spent 75 minutes on the phone fixing the problem.

Theft: Ugo Monye claims to have had 10,000 stolen from his account

Theft: Ugo Monye claims to have had 10,000 stolen from his account

His team-mate Mike Brown responded by admitting he had suffered the same fate.

'Mate that's too weird that mine was done few weeks ago as well! 6k!,' he said.

British Lions centre Jamie Roberts said: 'had that much in your account did you #sorryaboutthat.'

Ospreys grant Ryan Jones testimonial year

Ospreys grant triple Grand Slam winner Jones testimonial year

, skippering the 2008 side.

In November, Jones also established a new record for most games as captain of Wales, surpassing Ieuan Evans' previous mark of 28.

Honoured: Ryan Jones, the Wales and Ospreys forward seen here being tackled by two Scarlets players, has been granted a testimonial year

Honoured: Ryan Jones, the Wales and Ospreys forward seen here being tackled by two Scarlets players, has been granted a testimonial year

At club level Jones has won four RaboDirect Pro12 titles with the Ospreys, as well as the 2008 Anglo-Welsh Cup, making 135 appearances since joining them in 2004.

Jones, who featured in all three Tests of the 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand, will officially launch his testimonial year at the Ospreys v Zebre RaboDirect Pro12 game on Friday.

Jones, who has chosen the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal as the official charity of his testimonial year, said: 'I am honoured and extremely humbled to have been handed a testimonial by the Ospreys.

'It promises to be a wonderful and memorable year for not just me but for my family as well, who have been a big inspiration for me and have shared the highs and lows of my career.'

Triple Grand Slam: Jones has helped Wales to Six Nations clean sweeps in 2005, 2008 and 2012 (pictured)

Triple Grand Slam: Jones has helped Wales to Six Nations clean sweeps in 2005, 2008 and 2012 (pictured)

The first major event of Jones' testimonial year will take place on January 31 with a dinner at Cardiff Arms Park featuring guests from the Ireland and Wales teams ahead of their RBS 6 Nations opener the following weekend.

Ospreys chief operating officer, Andrew Hore added: 'Ryan is a wonderful servant to the Ospreys and his country, and to rugby in general.

'His record speaks for itself, his achievements in the game are testament to the hard work and effort he puts in every day, constantly striving to improve.

'He remains one of our most reliable performers, someone who leads by example on the field, and we are delighted to honour that commitment by granting a testimonial year to Ryan in recognition of his service.'

Paul O"Connell doubtful for Six Nations

Ireland's injury crisis worsens with O'Connell doubtful for Six Nations ahead of back surgery

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UPDATED:

14:53 GMT, 30 December 2012

Former Lions captain Paul O'Connell is a major doubt for Ireland's upcoming Six Nations campaign after his provincial side Munster announced that he would be undergoing surgery on a back injury that has blighted his season.

O'Connell has been dogged by injury in recent years and has only played two games for Munster this season with the back injury also forcing him to sit out Ireland's November internationals.

Green giant: O'Connell captained Ireland throughout last year's Six Nations

Green giant: O'Connell captained Ireland throughout last year's Six Nations

A statement from Munster revealed that the 33-year-old lock would undergo back surgery at the earliest opportunity but did not give a time frame for how long his recovery would take.

Ulster wing Tommy Bowe, the country's third highest try scorer of all time, was ruled out of the Six Nations earlier this month with a knee injury. Ireland open their campaign in Wales on February 2.

Warren Gatland discusses Lions selection

It wouldn't bother me if I picked 15 English players, says Lions head coach Gatland

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 29 December 2012

Warren Gatland will travel to Australia from his New Zealand home this week as his quest to become the first British and Irish Lions head coach in 16 years to win a Test series begins in earnest.

The 49-year-old former All Black hooker and current Wales head coach, a man who helped Waikato to a 38-10 win over the Lions in 1993, plans to share a beer with fellow Kiwi and Wallaby head coach Robbie Deans when the Lions backroom staff conduct a reconnaissance trip Down Under before returning ahead of a Six Nations tournament that will define his squad selection.

There are so many questions to be answered, such as the make-up of the back row. ‘Can you pick it’ Gatland asks. ‘Because right now I haven’t got a clue.’

Fill the shirt: Head coach Warren Gatland is planning a recce Down Under before picking his Lions squad

Fill the shirt: Head coach Warren Gatland is planning a recce Down Under before picking his Lions squad

But in many areas the former Ireland coach, who also led Wasps to domestic and European success and twice guided Wales to Grand Slams, has made up his mind.

Take the composition of the squad. ‘I’d imagine there will be 35 players made up of a 19 to 16 split between forwards and backs, possibly 20 to 15,’ he reveals. ‘We’ll have three hookers, three 9s, three 10s and an extra prop. It means that in nearly all other positions there’ll be two players fighting it out for one spot.’

Gatland is adamant all four home nations will be represented in the squad, but all politics will go out of the window when it comes to the Test starting XV. ‘It wouldn’t bother me if I picked 15 Englishmen if I thought they were best equipped to beat Australia,’ he says. ‘I don’t think the make-up of the team is the main criteria for getting the job done, although I believe all four nations should have representations in the squad for the morale of the tour. That’s why I hope that Scotland enjoy a good Six Nations because I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn to say representation for the Scots is challenging.’

In deciding his best approach, Gatland has sought advice from two of his predecessors; Sir Ian McGeechan, his boss on the 2009 tour to South Africa that ended in narrow defeat, and fellow Kiwi Graham Henry, who was also Wales coach when he led an ultimately unsuccessful tour to Australia in 2001.

Lion's share: England will be represented in the starting XV

Lion's share: England will be represented in the starting XV

Lion's share: England will be represented in the starting XV

‘Graham told me that coaching the Lions gave him some of the most valuable lessons he ever learned, lessons that he put to good use when he won the World Cup last year for New Zealand,’ says Gatland. ‘He also boosted my confidence by saying how I’m miles more experienced than he was at this point. He was appointed Lions coach 18 months after taking over in Wales. I’ve been coaching in the Northern Hemisphere for the vast majority of the last 24 years.

‘New Zealand try to claim me as a Kiwi coach but, while I was a Kiwi player, I’m most definitely a Northern Hemisphere coach, and very proud to be so.’

The memories of four years ago when Gatland, as forwards coach under McGeechan, saw the Lions lose narrowly are still raw. ‘I’m still hurting from that,’ he says. ‘I recall the tiniest of details, like a lineout the ref deemed wasn’t straight to a Bryan Habana try. I’ll swear until my very last day it was straight.

‘And I’ll never know how Schalk Burger wasn’t sent off, or at the very least sent to the bin, for gouging in the second Test.

‘But I’m proud of what we achieved in 2009 when we put the pride back into the Lions jersey, and regained the respect from the rest of world rugby.’

Second coming: Gatland was part of the Lions coaching team in 2009

Second coming: Gatland was part of the Lions coaching team in 2009

This is in reference to the ill-fated tour of New Zealand in 2005 when Sir Clive Woodward split management and playing staff into midweek and Test groups, resulting in a 3-0 series whitewash.

Gatland, in the forefront of the modern game when it comes to coaching Wales, is more of a traditionalist with the Lions.

‘You have to be more old school for a scratch team who meet up the day after many have played in cup finals and who have been kicking lumps out of each other just a few weeks before,’ he says.

‘Every member of the squad will get to start one of the first three games. That way they won’t throw their toys out of the pram like they did in 2005. It will be good for squad morale.

‘Likewise, I’ll make sure we have a few beers. We’ll have to get the balance right – obviously what happened with England at the World Cup didn’t work out too well – but it’s important the boys enjoy each other’s company and bond.’

For now, Gatland has to choose the right players. He intends to see all four countries as much as possible during the Six Nations, starting with England against Scotland at Twickenham on February 2. He also plans to watch training, although he is wary of his ties with Wales.

Class of 2013: Gatland with his coaches (L-R) Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley and Andy Farrell

Class of 2013: Gatland with his coaches (L-R) Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley and Andy Farrell

‘Stuart Lancaster has offered to let me spend a day watching England train, as has Declan Kidney with Ireland,’ he says. ‘It’s important people feel comfortable and know me well enough to realise I’m not going to go running back to Wales with trade secrets. That would insult me and the coaches’ integrity. If anything, my problem is trying not to be too hard on the Welsh to prove I’m totally unbiased.

‘The coach’s input is vital. I know the players and I can see their stats but I’ll need help to choose the right personalities, an ingredient just as important on a Lions tour.’

He wants consistency from all contenders during the Six Nations, something which has been lacking.

‘If I’d picked the squad after the 2012 Six Nations then there would have been a lot of Welsh Grand Slam winners in it,’ he adds. ‘After the autumn this wouldn’t be the case. If I have the England win over New Zealand in mind then a lot of those guys put their hand up.

‘If we get it right on and off the field we will have a hell of a team, and if that’s the case then we’ll beat Australia. It’s my job now to make sure that happens.’