Tag Archives: ospreys

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Ospreys sign Tito Tebaldi

Ospreys snap up Italian scrum-half Tebaldi on two-year deal to replace outgoing Fotuali'l

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

12:24 GMT, 2 March 2013

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UPDATED:

12:24 GMT, 2 March 2013

The Ospreys have announced the signing of Italy international Tito Tebaldi on a two-year deal.

The scrum-half, who has won 16 caps, will move to the Liberty Stadium from Ospreys' fellow RaboDirect PRO12 team Zebre.

And he is set to fill the void left by Samoa scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'l, who is set to join Aviva Premiership club Northampton next term.

Inbound: Tito Tebaldi has joined Ospreys

Inbound: Tito Tebaldi has joined Ospreys

Tebaldi, 25, said: 'I am excited about this fantastic opportunity with the Ospreys.

'Their record in the PRO12 speaks for itself, and the chance to be a part of such a successful club is something I couldn't turn down.

'I am looking forward to a new challenge in a competitive environment that will help me to improve as a player and a person, while hopefully contributing to the continued success of the Ospreys.'

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London Welsh coach Lyn Jones backs Welsh rugby to rise again

Welsh rugby will rise again! Former Lion Jones lifted by Cuthbert's loyalty

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 25 December 2012

When two blood-and-thunder Welsh derbies take place today in front of big festive crowds in Cardiff and Swansea, it will present a vibrant image to the rugby world. In reality, though, the game in the Principality is on a knife-edge.

There will barely be an empty seat at the Arms Park and the Liberty Stadium as the Blues and Dragons square up first, followed by the Ospreys and Scarlets.

They come on the back of a rare outbreak of positive news, with the Ospreys’ glorious Heineken Cup win over Toulouse preceding an announcement from the Blues that Alex Cuthbert had agreed a new three-year contract.

Trend setter: Alex Cuthbert went against the grain when he committed to Cardiff Blues rather than follow the money in France, where there is no salary cap

Trend setter: Alex Cuthbert went against the grain when he committed to Cardiff Blues rather than follow the money in France, where there is no salary cap

The Grand Slam-winning wing’s
decision to go against the grain by staying at home may be just the
boost that the regions were crying out for.

With Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate
having already agreed to join the exodus to France, Cuthbert’s decision
to turn his back on the riches on offer in the Top 14 was seized upon
as cause for optimism in bleak times.

And Blues chairman Peter Thomas was
upbeat about the chances of three more marquee players signing new
contracts next year — Wales captain Sam Warburton, fullback Leigh
Halfpenny and lock Bradley Davies.

But the bigger picture provides cause
for alarm. While the Scarlets lie second in the RaboDirect Pro12
league, there is every chance that the Heineken Cup quarter-finals will
again go ahead without a Welsh team.

WRU chief executive Roger Lewis
strongly hinted that the four regions may not all survive in their
current form, with at least one in danger of being re-cast as a
development team, with central funding heavily reduced as a result.

Hopeful: Cardiff want to get the likes of Sam Warburton to follow Cuthbert

Hopeful: Cardiff want to get the likes of Sam Warburton to follow Cuthbert

One prominent Welsh rugby figure told
Sportsmail that drastic action was needed and that the future formula
should include two ‘primary’ regions and one development region, with
one removed altogether. There is a growing realisation that something
has to give.

Bigger picture: Lyn Jones is concerned by the lack of depth at most levels in the region

Bigger picture: Lyn Jones is concerned by the lack of depth at most levels in the region

London Welsh head coach, Lyn Jones,
said: ‘Three regions is enough. At this stage, they haven’t said which
region will be downgraded or axed, so we’ll just have to wait and see
what happens.’

In a time of economic struggle and a
3.5million salary cap, Jones believes that finances are a major factor
in the difficulties experienced by the regions, exacerbated by the
growing input of the WRU.

‘The game in Wales needs new
investors to give it a boost, but people won’t get involved if they feel
that their hands are tied. Increased funding from the governing body
has frightened people away.’

However, Jones has no worries about the production of players.

‘Compared to England, far more
players are being produced per capita in Wales. They have to keep
producing young players in order to survive and they have to keep
looking after their treasures.’

Wasps’ former Scarlets, Wales and
Lions fly-half Stephen Jones feels that Cuthbert’s decision to stay with
the Blues may serve as a watershed moment for the regions as a whole,
when it comes to the retention of their stars.

Ready for the fight: Ospreys went into Christmas in good spirits after their hugely impressive win over Toulouse at Liberty Stadium on December 15

Ready for the fight: Ospreys went into Christmas in good spirits after their hugely impressive win over Toulouse at Liberty Stadium on December 15

‘He is the first one to break the
trend and that suggests that the Blues sold a vision to him,’ he said.
‘Let’s hope that now one of the big names has decided to stay in Wales,
more will follow his lead.’

With the prospect of one region being
demoted to development status, the Dragons are surely most vulnerable,
lying 11th of 12 in the Pro12 league and competing in the Amlin
Challenge Cup this season.

Stephen Jones added: ‘It’s tough for
the Dragons, losing someone like Luke Charteris, who was a leader for
them, was a real blow and Dan (Lydiate) now.’

But he believes the other regions
have the ability to keep filling voids left by high-profile departures,
adding: ‘The key is the production line.

'If the regions can keep enough strong
role models in their squads to give guidance and direction to the
youngsters, then you have a healthy system.’

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Treviso 13 Leicester 14: Tigers" Heineken Cup hopes back on track after last gasp penalty try

Treviso 13 Leicester 14: Tigers' Heineken Cup hopes back on track after last gasp penalty try

PUBLISHED:

16:49 GMT, 15 December 2012

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UPDATED:

21:35 GMT, 15 December 2012

Richard Cockerill was left seething after a controversial penalty try almost derailed his team's Heineken Cup hopes.

But it was a second penalty try two minutes from time – this time for Leicester – that got the Tigers out of jail and took them top of Pool Two.

Victory salute: Leicester Tigers players salute their fans after winning in Italy

Touching down: Thompstone of Leicester tucked away a try after 14 minutes

That was only after Irish referee
Alain Rolland frustrated Leicester with his award of a first-half
penalty try, even though Treviso's pack were still 20 yards from the
line.

Leicester coach Cockerill said: 'I
have never seen anything like it in the 30 years that I have been
involved with rugby. If that had been awarded for us I would have sat in
my chair in embarrassment.'

Trailing 13-7 with the final whistle
looming and Treviso eyeing a famous win, Cockerill's men ground out the
winning score as their power in the scrum finally told.

George Ford held his nerve to convert and send Leicester ahead of Toulouse in the standings.

Cockerill said: 'We're obviously
very relieved. Treviso made us work exceptionally hard but you have to
congratulate our players for sticking in there.'

Ben Youngs set up Adam Johnstone on 14 minutes but Alberto Di Bernardo kicked Treviso ahead before the drama.

Richard Cockerill, Leicester Tigers Head Coach

Back on track: Richard Cockerill's men have lived to fight another day

Pool Two now looks like a three-way
fight, with Ospreys beating Toulouse in the other fixture. The Tigers'
final day fixture against the French side is likely to decide their
destiny.

For Treviso,
progression from the group has never really been a realistic goal, but
there was much pride to play for having perfumed so well in the reverse
fixture, only to come away with nothing.

Once again they deserved so much better after an heroic effort.

Alberto Di Bernardo kicked everything that came his way for Franco Smith's men.

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Toulouse 30 Ospreys 14

Toulouse 30 Ospreys 14: French side destroy Welsh opposition to lead Pool Two

PUBLISHED:

17:58 GMT, 8 December 2012

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UPDATED:

17:58 GMT, 8 December 2012

Toulouse put the Ospreys to the sword with a rampant second-half performance to take control of Pool Two in the Heineken Cup.

The four-time winners led just 12-7 at the interval thanks to quick-fire tries from Florian Fritz and Yannick Nyanga.

The Ospreys hit back with a try from Kahn Fotuali'i but the second half was a one-team affair as Vincent Clerc, Census Johnson, Yoann Huget all crossed over.

Touching down: Toulouse's winger Vincent Clerc scores a try

Touching down: Toulouse's winger Vincent Clerc scores a try

The visitors again responded with a try, this time from Ryan Bevington, but it was too little too late.

The victory sees the French giants stretch their lead at the top of the group to eight points with Leicester set to face Benetton Treviso tomorrow.

Luke McAlister fired an early penalty wide but Toulouse quickly established a lead thanks to Fritz.

The French hosts looked to launch an attack from the top of a lineout which broke down, but Fritz pounced on the loose ball and sliced through the Ospreys' defence.

McAlister slotted the conversion and seven minutes later they doubled their advantage.

Again, Toulouse were fortunate to capitalise on disarray at the lineout. Gary Botha overthrew and James King flapped the ball towards the Ospreys but it fell straight to Nyanga, who raced home.

But the Welsh region fought back, with ever-present Kahn Fotuali'i and Ashley Beck leading the charge.

And it was the in-form duo that manufactured the Ospreys' opening score. Beck put his side on the front foot with a strong charge that earned a penalty, Fotuali'i caught Toulouse off guard with a quick tap to race clear.

The Welsh region continued to pile on the pressure but Toulouse weathered the storm to go into the break leading 12-7.

Cheers: Yoann Huguet (centre) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try

Cheers: Yoann Huguet (centre) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try

But the French side came out firing following the break and their giant pack steamrolled the Ospreys.

They could have hit back within minutes of the restart as Toulouse flooded forward while chasing a McAlister chip but Fotuali'i intervened.

Toulouse continued to dominate and could have been awarded a penalty try following a succession of scrums, but the Ospreys survived and Justin Tipuric snatched a vital turnover.

But Toulouse were relentless and they came close once again after Medard collected McAlister's cross kick.

They were eventually rewarded for their hard work as Picamoles broke from the back of scrum.

The giant number eight charged towards the Ospreys before releasing Burgess with an offload. Clerc received the ball out wide with plenty of work to do, but he rounded Eli Walker to squeeze in the corner.

McAlister failed to add the conversion but Toulouse did not let up with Picamoles continuing to run riot.

Just the ticket: Florian Fritz scores a try for the French side

Just the ticket: Florian Fritz scores a try for the French side

After receiving the ball from Albacete he drew in three defenders before sending Johnson over in the same corner.

Doussain faired no better than McAlister from the touchline but the try had sealed the bonus point and established a commanding 22-7 lead.

And there was still time for a fifth try with Doussain and Medard combining for Huget to dance through the Ospreys defence.

To their credit the Welsh region refused to throw in the towel and they hit back with a score of their own as Bevington and Tipuric combined with a football style one-two for the prop to crash over.

Matthew Morgan converted but the try was merely a consolation and Toulouse rubbed salt into their wounds with a Doussain penalty at the death.

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Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis condemns French clubs after Dan Lydiate leaves

They're like vultures! Wales rugby chief slams French clubs for taking top stars

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UPDATED:

17:01 GMT, 6 December 2012

The chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union has described the French clubs who are snapping up their best players as ‘vultures picking off Welsh players like pieces of meat’.

The Wales rugby team are in freefall after seven successive Test defeats and the regional game is faring little better, with diminishing gates and spiralling debts.

The comments from Roger Lewis come after flanker Dan Lydiate, the player of the tournament during Wales' Six Nations Grand Slam campaign earlier this year, announced he was to come the latest star to quit Wales for the money on offer over the Channel in France’s Top 14 domestic league.

Exodus: Welsh Rugby Union chief Roger Lewis has slammed the French teams plucking the nation's best players, including Dan Lydiate

Exodus: Welsh Rugby Union chief Roger Lewis has slammed the French teams plucking the nation's best players, including Dan Lydiate

A number of big-spending clubs are chasing his signature, with Racing Metro favourite to land the prolific tackler nicknamed ‘Chopper’.

The exodus has already seen Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, James Hook, Lee /12/06/article-2244107-164D50BF000005DC-468_634x351.jpg” width=”634″ height=”351″ alt=”You too: Jamie Roberts (centre) is set to leave too ” class=”blkBorder” />

You too: Jamie Roberts (centre) is set to leave too

‘I am particularly concerned about the role played by agents in this player-drain from Wales.’

Wales and Ospreys tighthead Adam Jones has compounded the issue by refusing to rule out a move to France, too.

He said: ‘I don’t know, it is something I will have to think about.

‘I have another year left on my contract after this and obviously if you go on the Lions tour and do well then you put yourself in the shop window.

‘There are so many things you have to think about, especially when you have a young family, but I know James Hook has gone out to Perpignan and loved it.

‘I would never say never, though at the moment I am happy with the Ospreys.

‘I think we have gone about things in the right way in the last couple of years.

‘It hinders us (Wales) if players can’t get released and can’t come to the training camps. But personally I don’t think it’s a bad thing for individual players.'

Already gone: Mike Phillips has left Wales

Already gone: Mike Phillips has left Wales

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Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar step up for Wales on fright night

Tipuric and Biggar step up for Wales on fright night

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UPDATED:

22:02 GMT, 15 November 2012

If Wales had put the world’s top 10
teams into a hat and picked out their next opponents, they could hardly
have selected a more dangerous fixture than Samoa on a Friday.

In many ways, it is a nightmare
scenario. Any team desperate for a win — a position in which Wales
surprisingly find themselves after four consecutive defeats — would do
anything to avoid a side they are expected to thump, yet a side so
capable of producing an upset.

Ryan's mighty: Jones will be captain

Ryan's mighty: Jones will be captain

Wales have history with Samoa. The ferocious Pacific Islanders have beaten them twice in World Cups, and even gave them a fright at last year’s tournament in New Zealand, before the side pulled together at half-time and set themselves on that glorious path to the semi-final.

And they have history with Friday nights, too. Their two most recent weeknight adventures at the Millennium Stadium have brought a forgettable draw with Fiji and a fierce defeat by England. Head coach Rob Howley has made five changes to the team who started the loss to Argentina with Scott Williams, Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle, Gethin Jenkins and captain Sam Warburton on the bench.

Howley insists this is squad rotation, but dropping your captain when you are looking for your first win in six games — excluding a Barbarians exhibition — is not a traditional coaching policy.

Standing in for Warburton is over-qualified deputy Ryan Jones. He will captain Wales for a 29th time, breaking the record he held jointly with Ieuan Evans. If he enjoys a 16th victory as skipper, he will leap ahead of Howley with the most wins as a Wales captain.

On that decision Howley said: ‘Sam Warburton is a special player. He is still captain. Ryan has been an integral member of the squad. He is like the father figure of the whole squad and his form for the Ospreys and Wales over the last 18 months has been exceptional.

Big call: Wales coach Rob Howley

Big call: Wales coach Rob Howley

‘One thing we probably lacked against
Argentina, having Alun Wyn Jones and Jamie Roberts injured, was
leadership, and that is about the number of leaders you have in a team.
Wales is not about the one captain, it’s about more leaders, whether
it’s the back three, second row or props. It is important you create
leadership within a group.’

The two players in the spotlight are flanker Justin Tipuric and
fly-half Dan Biggar. This is a first start for Biggar since 2010 but the
coaches feel ready to trust him in the playmaker slot. It is a big
chance to shine, with Rhys Priestland wavering and Dan Carter coming to
Cardiff in a week.

Tipuric has been pushing for the No 7 shirt for a year now, modestly
waiting in Warburton’s shadow.

He is a machine in training, scarcely
breaking breath, and has arguably been the outstanding openside in the
RaboDirect Pro 12 this season. He is a natural scavenger and his bright
blue scrum hat is a blur when he hits breakdown after breakdown.

Samoa have been quietly acclimatising in North Wales, beating Canada a
week ago in a double- header at Colwyn Bay. Their line-up includes
familiar faces, led by Worcester wing David Lemi, who will have a
fascinating and full-on battle with rivals George North and Alex
Cuthbert. Scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i will run out against some of his
Ospreys team-mates, with Northampton centre George Pisi taking on Jamie
Roberts.

Samoa assistant coach Darryl Suasua is realistic. ‘Argentina playing so well did not do us any favours,’ he said.

‘Wales will be smarting over that and making sure they get things right.
They made a heck of a lot of errors but we don’t believe they will play
like that again.’

Last year’s World Cup match against Samoa was a turning point for Wales. It needs to be the turning point again.

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Ryan Jones leaves Wales training camp

Injury worry for Wales as Jones leaves Poland training camp for scans on shoulder

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UPDATED:

11:33 GMT, 31 October 2012

Ryan Jones returned home from the Wales national squad training camp in Spala on Wednesday in order to undergo scans on an irritable shoulder.

The Ospreys back row was part of the 35-man squad preparing for the Dove Men Series against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia – to be played out on consecutive weekends at the Millennium Stadium beginning on Saturday 10 November – at the infamous Olympic training village in Poland, but has been managing a shoulder problem which pre-dates his arrival.

The decision to send Jones home at this time is based on a preference for the facilities available in Wales to accommodate the necessary investigations and give the player the most optimal management plan for his injury.

Shouldering the burden: Jones is heading back to Wales for a scan

Shouldering the burden: Jones is heading back to Wales for a scan

Jones remains a full member of the
squad and further details of his problem and any repercussions for
selection, if at all, will become apparent once the proper
investigations have been undertaken.

Meanwhile, Matthew Rees has backed
one of Wales' young props to make an impression this autumn as the RBS 6
Nations champions prepare for life without Adam Jones.

Jones, who is among world rugby's
most destructive scrummagers, will miss forthcoming appointments with
Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia due to a knee injury.

While interim Wales head coach Rob
Howley could consider switching Bath loosehead Paul James across the
scrum as Jones' replacement, it is probable that either Aaron Jarvis,
Scott Andrews or Samson Lee will start against the Pumas on November 10.

Uncapped Lee, although not yet officially added to Wales' autumn squad, is currently part of preparations at a week-long training camp in Spala, Poland.

And his fellow international rookie Jarvis has impressed with a series of consistent displays for the Ospreys that underpinned his Wales call-up.

'We have props who can play both sides of the scrum, with Paul James and Gethin Jenkins both able to move over, and it will be up to the coaches when it comes to selection,' hooker and former Wales captain Rees said.

Emerging talent: Rees is worried about the absence of prop Jones

Emerging talent: Rees is worried about the absence of prop Jones

'But I can certainly see one of these youngsters coming through and getting to the next level over the next three or four weeks.

'Adam is a loss, but we have got
three pretty good players there waiting in the wings at the moment, and
the challenge for them now is to kick on and impress the coaches and
take their chance when it comes.

'The only thing they may lack is
experience at international level, but there is no better place for them
to get that than in this November series when you look at the fixture
list.'

Wales continued their build-up to the Argentina fixture in snowy Spala today, with Howley and his fellow coaches potentially facing a number of selection issues before naming the starting line-up tomorrow week.

Rees, despite his leadership skills and vast experience, is by no means certain of securing a starting berth, given Ospreys hooker Richard

Hibbard's strong form and also the threat of his Scarlets colleague Ken Owens.

'It's great to have competition for places,' Rees added.

'I've got Ken at the Scarlets, and we both push each other hard, and with Richard playing well for the Ospreys we are all fighting for that jersey.'

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Adam Jones looks forward to Leicester, Wales… and maybe the Lions

Tigers test for Lionheart Adam: Jones looks ahead to Leicester, Wales… and maybe a trip to Australia

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UPDATED:

23:12 GMT, 19 October 2012

Adam Jones chuckles when asked about his yellow card for trading blows with a Treviso forward last week.

‘I’m not a fighter, I don’t know what happened there,’ he said. The man affectionately known as ‘Bomb’ is normally explosive in an entirely legitimate sense.

The 31-year-old prop has become renowned as a formidable scrummager and on his day is arguably the leading tighthead in the world.

Hair we go: Ospreys tighthead Adam Jones has 85 Wales caps

Hair we go: Ospreys tighthead Adam Jones has 85 Wales caps

All his set-piece clout will be
required by the Ospreys on Sunday as they square up to familiar foes,
Leicester, at Welford Road in the Heineken Cup. The Tigers have a
staggering array of front-row muscle at their disposal and their answer
to Jones is the man who is likely to emerge as his leading Lions rival
next summer, Dan Cole.

While not quite a head-to-head
contest, it promises to be an intriguing match-up nonetheless, and the
Welsh veteran of three Grand Slam triumphs is well aware of the threat
posed by the younger Englishman.

‘Dan Cole is a very good prop,’ he
said. ‘I first played against him in 2010. He did pretty well in the
scrums, then they took him off and Paul (James) had a good go at
Castrogiovanni after that. To be as dominant as he is in the scrum, at
his age, is impressive. He’s a lot wiser than most props in their
mid-20s. I guess he is a Lions rival. Potentially, both of us could get
picked for the tour.’

There is a lot of ‘previous’ between
the Ospreys and Leicester – plenty of tight tussles and a dash of
controversy too, when the Welsh region found themselves in hot water for
briefly fielding 16 men against the Tigers. Jones always relishes this
fixture, such is the onus on the confrontation up front.

‘Leicester always have a strong
pack,’ he said. ‘They have this whole mentality about forward play that
is instilled in them. They are brought up on it. And they’ve got so many
international-class props. It is a bit worrying that they can bring
someone like Castro on for the last 20 minutes.

‘The first time we played Leicester
was the first time I really encountered any of the 'dark arts' – pulling
players back off the ball and stuff like that. I remember Harry Ellis
went through and they were pulling our defenders out of position. We
thought, “Right, this is what you have to do to compete”.

'Another time, we played them at the
Gnoll and they brought Lewis Moody and Josh Kronfeld on for the last
three minutes. The depth they had was ridiculous.’

Making a big impression: Adam Jones in action for the Lions in South Africa in 2009

Making a big impression: Adam Jones in action for the Lions in South Africa in 2009

Jones has been with the Ospreys from
the advent of regional rugby in 2003. He likes the direction the
Swansea-based side have taken – away from the ‘Galactico’ era and
towards a greater emphasis on youth. He understands the financial
factors behind the exodus of Welsh players to France and may even
consider a cross-Channel move himself when his current contract expires
at the end of next season. Yet, when offers were on the table a year
ago, the timing wasn’t right to up-root his young family, so he stayed.

The Grand Slam triumphs adorn a Test
career which currently amounts to 85 caps. Jones has been a cornerstone
of the Wales pack for several years, but his real breakthrough came with
the Lions in 2009. Then, famously, he replaced Phil Vickery during the
first Test in Durban and managed to turn the tables on Tendai ‘The
Beast’ Mtawarira, the Springbok loosehead who had been wreaking havoc on
the tourists’ scrum.

He will never forget that South
Africa tour and it has left him craving a place on the 2013 crusade to
Australia. ‘If any player says they aren’t thinking about the Lions
tour, they are lying,’ he said. ‘I’m definitely thinking about it.

‘What fascinated me was how much
interest there was in the Lions. I was picked to start against Natal
Sharks and when I did interviews, there were probably three journalists
there. When I was picked for the second Test, I couldn’t believe how
many people were there. In the space of about three weeks it was as if
the whole world had turned up! You don’t realise how big the Lions is
until you are involved in it.

Adam Jones

Enlarge

Getting ready: Jones' Ospreys team face up to Leicester this weekend

Lionheart: Jones on the 2009 tour of South Africa (left) and in training this week (right)

‘It was a real highlight of my career
and I did quite well out in South Africa. In Durban, the scrum hadn’t
been going too well and I was told to warm up, ready to come on. I’d
never been so nervous about playing – my heart was beating like crazy –
but as we’d been struggling, I thought if we just have a couple of
steady scrums, that would settle me down a bit.’

He steadied the ship and so much
more, but Jones felt sympathy for Vickery, who had to endure the
indignity of being hauled off early. After all, the Welshman had spent a
large swathe of his early Test career being used in the highly unusual
role of impact starter – taken off after half-an-hour. He looks back on
it as a grim personal ordeal.

‘I got on well with Vicks and I
remember when I was being brought after 30 minutes with Wales, so I
wouldn’t wish that on anyone,’ he said.

‘I struggled with it at the time. I
didn’t know how to deal with it. I just went into my shell and bottled
up all my emotions. These days we can use sports psychologists but back
then it wasn’t really an option. I wish I’d asked Steve (Hansen,
the-then Wales coach) at the time why he was doing it. That might have
helped me deal with it. I just wanted to know why it was happening.’

Since then, so much top-level
experience and so much dedication to improved fitness mean Jones has
fulfilled so much personal ambition. What remains to be fulfilled is
being part of European success with the Ospreys, to match their league
achievements. Three times they have reached the quarter-finals of the
Heineken Cup, but that is as far as they have gone.

This season, they are in a pool with
Leicester, Treviso and Toulouse. It is a mighty challenge, but with such
a mighty tighthead in their ranks, there is cause for hope.

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Gavin Henson"s final chance to rescue rugby career comes in Saracens clash

Salvage mission: Henson's final chance to rescue rugby career comes in Saracens clash

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UPDATED:

21:15 GMT, 5 October 2012

Gavin Henson's 'last chance' as a professional rugby player will begin in earnest in Oxford on Sunday, when he is pitched straight in at the deep end as London Welsh's playmaker against Saracens.

A week earlier than expected, the 30-year-old, double Grand Slam-winning Wales centre will don the Exiles No 10 shirt and make his first appearance for the club in the Aviva Premiership, having recovered from a fractured cheekbone.

That injury, sustained in a pre-season game against the Scarlets, delayed what is – by his own admission – a final opportunity to salvage his career, which once promised so much.

Kick-start: Gavin Henson will don the No 10 jersey for London Welsh against Saracens

Kick-start: Gavin Henson will don the No 10 jersey for London Welsh against Saracens

When Henson lines up for the league's newcomers against the 2011 champions at the Kassam Stadium, he faces so much more than resolute opponents armed with a formidably stifling defence.

The game represents another moment of truth for him, against a club he played for in an abortive return from his prolonged sabbatical.

Since he wore the Saracens colours, he has tried and failed to resurrect his fortunes at Toulon in France, then back home in Wales, with Cardiff Blues.

On each occasion, fitness issues, fluctuating form and alcohol-related dramas have derailed his ambitions.

But he was presented with a shot at salvation by Lyn Jones – the man who oversaw his rise to prominence at the Ospreys and is now in charge of London Welsh's crusade to stay in the Premiership.

Having chosen to bring Henson straight into the Exiles XV in place of Gordon Ross, Jones said on Friday: 'I'm very happy for him and very comfortable in starting him in this game.

'Gavin really wanted to be involved and we decided that the sort of player he is, it is probably best if we get him into the game straightaway.'

Now that his high-profile summer signing is available again, Jones is confident he can deliver the goods for Welsh, adding: 'We've all witnessed Gavin's potential.

Early doors: Henson returns from injury a week ahead of schedule

Early doors: Henson returns from injury a week ahead of schedule

'I would like to think that by November, he can be operating to the best of his ability. There's a long way to go, but we will give him as much chance to perform as possible. He will make mistakes, but among the mistakes there will be good bits, too.

'Gavin has been training really well and we've been giving him more responsibility within the squad, which he has enjoyed.'

In a club statement, Henson said: 'I am looking forward to making my first start for London Welsh in the Aviva Premiership. The boys have done really well in the first five games and I can't wait to start playing my part.'

Prior to the start of the season, Henson conceded that the Richmond-based Exiles had re-opened a door that he feared had been closed, leading to fears that his career was over.

Last chance saloon: Henson believed Cardiff Blues would be his last club

Last chance saloon: Henson believed Cardiff Blues would be his last club

'I am very lucky to have a chance here,' he said. 'This is my last chance. I thought Cardiff would be my last club, and it was going to be, but I couldn't end my career like that.

'This move has kept me in the game. I was more or less finished rugby-wise. I thought that was it but I felt I had unfinished business.'

Leinster confirmed that their Kiwi coach, Joe Schmidt, signed a one-year contract extension, which will keep him in Dublin until the end of next season.

Retaining the services of the 46-year-old, who has presided over back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs, is a major coup for the Irish province.

AVIVA PREMIERSHIP WEEKEND GUIDE

Exeter v Harlequins (Saturday: Sandy Park 3pm):
Exeter shake-up sees debut for ex-Wallaby lock Dean Mumm.

Flanker Ben White, hooker Simon Alcott and fly-half Gareth Steenson also play. Quins name Danny Care and Joe Marler on bench. PREDICTION: Away win.

Gloucester v Bath (Saturday: Kingsholm 2.15pm, LIVE on ESPN):
England No 8 Ben Morgan returns for Gloucester, who have All Blacks arrival Jimmy Cowan on the bench.

Bath move Stephen Donald to fly-half after Olly Barkley's departure to Racing Metro.
PREDICTION: Home win.

London Irish v Northampton (Saturday: Madejski Stadium 3pm): Struggling Irish have lost captain Declan Danaher, who has a jaw injury.

Marcel Garvey moves to back row. Northampton captain Dylan Hartley also misses out due to a facial injury.
PREDICTION: Away win.

London Wasps v Worcester (Sunday: Adams Park 3pm):
Wasps look to ex-Wales fly-half Stephen Jones to lead a back line featuring wing Tom Varndell and fit-again Hugo Southwell.

Worcester give ex-Northampton centre Jon Clarke a first start.
PREDICTION: Home win

London Welsh v Saracens (Sunday: Kassam Stadium 2.15pm, LIVE on ESPN):
Injury-hit Exiles make six changes, including call-ups for hooker Dan George and centre James Lewis.

Saracens' rotation policy brings starts for Charlie Hodgson and John Smit.
PREDICTION: Away win

See the full Aviva Premiership table here

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Swansea keeper Michel Vorm uses rugby equipment to warm up for Stoke

Swansea keeper Vorm goes into rugby training to prepare for Stoke test

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UPDATED:

21:48 GMT, 28 September 2012

Michel Vorm reckons he can handle Stoke’s aerial approach – after a crash course using rugby union tackle bags.

Swansea’s goalkeeper has warmed up for his first visit to the Britannia Stadium by borrowing equipment from the Ospreys, City’s Liberty Stadium neighbours.

Vorm said: 'It is good preparation for matches like this. I have to make sure I’m strong and can come and fight those guys'

Rugby training: Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm has worked with Ospreys

Rugby training: Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm has worked with Ospreys

And the Swansea keeper could be swapping training tips with the rugby team for a while longer after he penned a new four-year contract at the south Wales club.

The Swans announced the news confirming that the 28-year-old Holland international had committed his long-term future to them.

Vorm joined Swansea from Utrecht last summer on the eve of their debut season in the Barclays Premier League, and enjoyed a stellar campaign, sweeping the board at the club's player of the year awards.

Speculation had linked him with a move away from the Liberty Stadium as a result, especially in light of the man who signed him, Brendan Rodgers, leaving for Liverpool, but that talk has now been quashed.

'I'm delighted. I'm enjoying my time here very much and it is one of the reasons why I've signed an extension,' Vorm told his club's official website.

'I can also only see things at Swansea getting better and better. I can see a lot of positive things happening here and I believe the club has a bright future ahead of it.

'The club has signed a lot of its quality players for longer periods, which is a good thing.'