Tag Archives: premiership

Welsh fly-half Ceri Sweeney will join Exeter at the end of the season

Sweeney to swap Cardiff for Exeter in bid to make his mark on Premiership

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

10:36 GMT, 10 March 2013

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UPDATED:

10:36 GMT, 10 March 2013

Former Wales fly-half Ceri Sweeney will join Exeter at the end of the season, his current club Cardiff Blues have announced.

Sweeney has made over 100 appearances since joining the Blues from Newport Gwent Dragons in the summer of 2008, guiding them to the EDF Energy Cup in 2009 and the Amlin Challenge Cup the following year.

'I've really enjoyed my time with the Blues, they are a fantastic club and the supporters have been outstanding,' he said.

Talent: Ceri Sweeney played in the 2003 World Cup for Wales

Talent: Ceri Sweeney played in the 2003 World Cup for Wales

'For me, it's my home region and with the young players they have coming through the ranks, the future of the club certainly looks very bright.'

The 33-year-old will bring a wealth of experience with him to Sandy Park.

He made his debut for Wales in the 2003 Six Nations against England and also featured in two World Cups, winning a total of 35 caps for his club – the last of them in 2007.

Key man: Sweeney won 35 caps for his country in his international career

Key man: Sweeney won 35 caps for his country in his international career

Sweeney is now excited to make his mark in the Aviva Premiership.

'Exeter are a fantastic club and as soon as I heard they were interested in me, I was keen to talk to them and have a look around the place,' he added.

'Like a lot of people, I've watched how they have risen over the last few years and how they've made a real name for themselves, not just in the Premiership, but in Europe as well.

Longevity: Only the career of Stephen Jones prevented him from more caps

Longevity: Only the career of Stephen Jones prevented him from more caps

'It's an exciting move for me and my young family and it's a fresh challenge.

'I know it will be the first time I've played club rugby outside of Wales, but the thought of testing myself in the Premiership is something I'm really keen to do.'

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.'

Saracens 17 Northampton 16: Stephen Myler misses penalty with last kick

Saracens 17 Northampton 16: Myler miss is a kick in the teeth for Jim's beaten Saints

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UPDATED:

19:40 GMT, 30 December 2012

Stephen Myler and Northampton were left shattered in Milton Keynes as the fly-half’s last-minute, long-range penalty to win a pulsating game hit the crossbar and bounced out, giving Saracens a dramatic reprieve.

The Saints No 10 was presented with a shot for glory from his own half, with just seconds remaining, in controversial circumstances. Saracens prop Rhys Gill was penalised by referee JP Doyle for kicking the ball away from a ruck, when replays suggested that the ball was out and he was entitled to do so.

Then, some back-chat from one of the home players prompted the official to march forward 10 metres, leaving Northampton with a penalty on the limit of kicking range.

Close call: Myler hit the crossbar with the final kick of the game

Close call: Myler hit the crossbar with the final kick of the game

Putting the boot in: Farrell

Putting the boot in: Farrell

Myler, who had already registered 11 points with the boot, took aim at the posts, some 57 metres away. He let fly and the ball soared towards the target, only to glance off the centre of the bar, allowing Brad Barritt to clear into the stands to clinch the narrow win which sees his side go into the new year second in the Aviva Premiership, one point behind champions and leaders Harlequins.

Back by the halfway line, Myler was left on his haunches, with his head in his hands. Jim Mallinder, Northampton’s director of rugby, turned and strode down the tunnel, frustrated by the agonising manner of this latest defeat against a top-four team and incensed by Doyle’s refereeing.

Afterwards, he said: ‘Should have won, could have won. If Stephen Myler had kicked that goal at the end, we’d all be in there now celebrating a great away victory.

‘To be honest, I didn’t think he could get it. I was definitely wondering if they had made the right decision but you have to leave it to the players. Stephen knows best if he has a realistic chance of kicking it or not. It was left up to him and I think he probably did make the right decision to go for it.’

In a tense final quarter, a few of Doyle’s decisions came in for close scrutiny, particularly a penalty awarded to Saracens at a ruck in the closing minutes. Ben Foden, the Saints and England full back, exploded with rage when the whistle sounded and vented his fury on the nearby touch judge. Mallinder, in slightly calmer fashion, echoed his sense of indignation.

‘The majority of the decisions early on were probably just, but the referee has got to be consistent,’ he said. ‘If he is going to penalise Dylan Hartley for going off his feet, quite rightly, then he has to do Barritt at the end of the game for the same offence. In the final 10 or 15 minutes, there was some decision-making by us which we’ll need to look at, and we’ll look at a couple of the referee’s decisions as well, because they can be the difference between winning and losing close games like that. He got a number of those decisions wrong today.’

For the first quarter of this game, it merely appeared a question of how many points Saracens would win by against their bitter rivals, whose supporters dominated the large festive crowd. The nomadic Hertfordshire club immediately appeared at home in a stadium where their opponents have staged matches in the past, and were ahead in the seventh minute.

Try time: Phil Dowson crossed for Northampton

Try time: Phil Dowson crossed for Northampton

From an attacking line-out on the left, George Kruis took a clean catch and the Saracens pack drove forward with great conviction, on and on over the line until John Smit touched down. Charlie Hodgson missed the conversion, but he was on target with an 11th-minute penalty and his side continued to dominate proceedings on the back of clear superiority in the scrum.

Yet, that set-piece advantage gradually faded as the Saints forwards rallied and in the 24th minute the visitors hit back.

From a scrum near halfway, Ken Pisi broke clear on the right, Courtney Lawes stormed on and when quick ball was delivered to Phil Dowson, the flanker burst through three tackles to score a try which Myler converted to make it 11-7.

Saracens retaliated with gusto to this renewed challenge and after David Strettle so nearly went clean through the middle in the Northampton 22, Will Fraser and Ernst Joubert drove strongly at the line but the ball went loose, Samu Manoa pounced on it and eventually a clearance kick by Lee Dickson alleviated the sustained pressure.

Cast adrift: Northampton are eight points behind Saracens

Cast adrift: Northampton are eight points behind Saracens

Moments later, the scrum-half’s dart forward brought a penalty to the Saints which Myler struck to narrow the deficit to one point at the break. After half-time, the visitors’ No 10 maintained his assured goal-kicking to establish a 16-11 lead for his team, while Hodgson missed three successive shots at the other end. Owen Farrell, who had replaced Joel Tomkins at outside centre, took over kicking duties and calmly dispatched two successive penalties to push Saracens in front again and they clung on with a little help from the crossbar which denied Myler.

Mark McCall, Sarries’ director of rugby, was relieved by the outcome of that last-gasp kick, saying: ‘I felt the same as everyone else felt. It was out of our hands. We knew it was a very difficult kick. It was an unbelievable strike in fairness. He had his kicking boots on today, so we are grateful to have come away with a narrow victory.’

In a measured reaction to Doyle’s officiating, McCall added: ‘There are always going to be things that you are not happy about. There was some frustration in our side from time to time and I am surprised they (Northampton) feel as strongly as they do about it.’

This defeat for the Saints leaves them sixth in the Premiership table but Mallinder remained bullish about their prospects of mounting a convincing title challenge. ‘We know we’re a good side and today proved that,’ he said.

‘There’s not a lot between the top teams and although we’re now mid-table, we’re not out of the running, by any means. There are a few people who have written us off already but there’s a long way to go. We won’t give up, we’ll be back.’

Danny Cipriani recalled by Sale Sharks

Reprieve for Cipriani as Sale recall fly-half for clash with Worcester

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UPDATED:

14:13 GMT, 28 December 2012

Sale Sharks have recalled Danny Cipriani, presenting the former England fly-half with a surprise chance to restore his reputation at the club.

He was dropped from the side which lost to his former club Wasps Adams Park last Sunday, and felt the brunt of co-owner Brian Kennedy’s stinging attack, who challenged his commitment.

Despite this, and in the wake of a relatively improved performance during the 25-18 defeat, Cipriani will start tonight against Worcester, in place of Nick Macleod who has a back injury.

Back in the fold: Cipriani has been recalled by Sale

Back in the fold: Cipriani has been recalled by Sale

Kennedy blasted the 25-year old, saying: ‘If you’re not prepared to put your body on the line for this club, who pay your wages and give you the chance to play at the highest level each week, then you won’t be in the squad, will you’

The club’s director of rugby, John Mitchell, also had some cold advice for the player, who has been accused of laziness.

'Danny knows the situation and what’s going on and he knows that there needs to be an improvement in performance,’ Mitchell said.

'He has to improve his defence. Last week against Toulon he defended for 35 minutes and then chose not to do so.'

The onus is now in Cipriani who, blessed with world-beating talent, has failed to prove he can show focus and dedication for Sale.

They currently sit five points adrift at the foot of the Premiership table and have only recorded one win, against London Irish, in their 11 league games.

Dynamo entertains Bradford City fans as they queue for Capital One Cup semi-final tickets

Dynamo adds to the magic of Capital One Cup, as Bradford fans line up for tickets

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UPDATED:

16:53 GMT, 27 December 2012

Dynamo might have expected his ability to walk on water to come in handy today as he entertained queuing Bradford City fans.

Bantams fans turned out to get their ticket for Bradford’s upcoming Capital One Cup semi-final against Aston Villa on January 8, and were joined by Dynamo the Magician.

Luckily, the rain held off and the illusionist didn’t need to put his gravity-defying stunt to the test.

Dynamo joined Bradford fans as they queued for tickets to the Capital One Cup semi-final

Mysterious: The illusionist's stunts have included walking across the Thames and predicting the manner in which Spain would win Euro 2012

Capital One made sure that the hopeful ticket buyers were catered for in the queue, handing out bacon sandwiches and cups of tea while Dynamo, himself a loyal Bradford fan, wowed them with his mind-boggling magic tricks.

‘I’m definitely feeling the magic of Bradford City’s Capital One Cup run and it was great to come down and entertain the fans,’ said Dynamo.

‘They’ve have been out in force today to get their hands on tickets and it’s great that Capital One recognises this commitment.’

Capital One provide Bradford fans with bacon sandwiches as they queue for Capital One Cup semi-final tickets

Hungry: The fans were treated to free bacon butties and cups of tea as they queued, thanks to Capital One

Dynamo entertained fans as they queued for tickets for the the Capital One semi-final clash between Bradford and Aston Villa

Hopeful: Dynamo said he's 'feeling the magic' around Bradford's Capital One Cup run of success

Hundreds of fans made their way Valley Parade from the early hours of the morning to try and buy tickets for the historic match.

It’s Bradford’s first appearance in the semi-final stage of the League Cup, and they’ve had to overcome Premiership sides Arsenal and Wigan on their way.

If they make it past Aston Villa they will face the winner of the clash between Chelsea and Swansea in the final.

Michael Woodburn, Chief Marketing Officer at Capital One, said: ‘Fans do a lot to support their club and we wanted to reward those loyal fans who have stood for hours in freezing conditions to queue for their tickets.

'What better way to stay warm than a visit from a surprise guest and a bacon sarnie and a cuppa’

London Welsh sign up Tonga"uiha and Bateman on long-term deals

Ambitious London Welsh sign up Tonga'uiha and Bateman on long-term deals

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UPDATED:

14:51 GMT, 27 December 2012

London Welsh duo Hudson Tonga'uiha and Greg Bateman have signed new deals with the Aviva Premiership club.

Centre Tonga'uiha, who has 24 caps for Tonga and made nine Premiership appearances for the Exiles in their debut season in the top flight, joined prop Bateman in extending his contract with the Oxford-based side.

Welsh head coach Lyn Jones told the club's official website: 'I'm absolutely delighted that Hudson and Greg have committed themselves to London Welsh.

Hudson Tonga'Uiha of London Welsh in action against Leicester Tigers

Greg Bateman in action against the Exeter Chiefs

Long-term aspirations: London Welsh want to secure their Premiership future

'Hudson has really stepped up to the mark this year and has thrived in the Aviva Premiership. Greg has grasped his opportunity with both hands and is evolving into a decent Premiership player with the potential to go further.

'These two re-signings signify the ambitions and long term objectives of London Welsh RFC.'

Bateman said: 'I've improved a lot in my time here and I'm looking forward to what I can achieve in the future.

'Lyn's worked a lot with me on areas of my game where I can improve and I take that very seriously. I want to push to be involved in the first XV more and more.'

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Sharks relegation fears worsen

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Suffering Sharks rise above Danny debacle to claim bonus point

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UPDATED:

22:27 GMT, 23 December 2012

Sale arrived at Adams Park in a state of near disarray on Sunday but they left with renewed hope in their relegation fight, as Johnny Leota’s last-minute try and Rob Miller’s conversion secured a vital bonus point.

This was Wasps’ eighth consecutive home win in all competitions and they were propelled to victory by marauding 20-year-old No 8 Billy Vunipola.

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

His storming break from a scrum in the
52nd minute set up a try for Rhys Thomas to put the result beyond doubt
and suggest he could soon force his way into the senior England squad to
join his brother, Saracens prop Mako.

While Dai Young’s side climbed to
seventh in the Aviva Premiership table, the scoreline was far more
significant for the bottom club, who closed the gap behind London Irish
to five points.

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

After the 62-0 massacre at the hands
of Toulon last Sunday, there was character and resilience from the
Sharks on Sunday, personified by returning hooker Marc Jones. It all
came to fruition in the closing seconds when, from a scrum on the right,
Cillian Willis darted forward and Leota barged through to touch down.
Miller, who had missed two routine shots at goal, struck the conversion
with conviction.

Such a scenario seemed highly
unlikely before the game. After the record loss in France, Danny
Cipriani had been dropped, with interim director of rugby John Mitchell
pulling no punches in deriding the fly-half’s defensive work. Then,
after Sale’s head of social media had ignited a storm by condemning
protesting fans as ‘f***wits’ on Facebook, chairman Brian Kennedy
delivered his own damning verdict on Cipriani.

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

‘Danny didn’t want to tackle last
week,’ he said. ‘If you can’t defend, there’s no place for you in
Premiership rugby. Danny had a dreadful game in defence last week. If
you’re not prepared to put your body on the line for this club, who pay
your wages and give you the chance to play at the highest level each
week, then you won’t be in the squad.’

Cipriani was stunned by the public
broadside from his employer, but Mitchell didn’t spare him after this
match either. Referring to his decision to leave him out, the Kiwi said:
‘I’m certainly not Santa Claus — I don’t care where he played before.
All I’ve asked him to do is defend. Our defence was good last week until
he chose to be an individual. You have to serve your team-mates before
yourself. If he improves his defence, he’ll be back involved again.’

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Despite the potentially disruptive
nature of this sideshow, Sale improved their performance from the
previous week and Mitchell added: ‘You cannot discount the importance of
that bonus point today. If we can win our next game, at home to
Worcester, it would put us right back where we need to be.
‘Everyone has to take responsibility for where we are and things have to
change. We’ve got to make it happen on the 28th, then it can become a
defining game.’

While Sale’s kickers struggled,
Stephen Jones landed 14 points – four penalties and a conversion – with a
flawless display. Elliot Daly weighed in with a three-point shot from
the left flank on halfway, just before the break. That gave Wasps the
lead again, after Sam Tuitupou’s rampaging run in midfield had caused
sufficient mayhem for Richie Vernon to score the visitors’ first try on
the right.

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

In the second half, it was Vunipola’s
dramatic intervention which gave the hosts the decisive edge and while
Young was critical of the team effort, he was effusive in his praise of
the Anglo-Tongan back-row prospect, saying: ‘Billy was outstanding in
attack and defence. He’s been in the same vein of form for most of this
season, it’s hard to believe he is only 20.

‘If he was called upon by England, he
wouldn’t let anyone down and I don’t think it will be too long before
he is putting on an England jersey.’

Alex Cuthbert signs new contract at Cardiff Blues

Wales wing Cuthbert rejects French overtures to sign new three-year deal at Cardiff Blues

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UPDATED:

09:26 GMT, 20 December 2012

Wing wizard: Cuthbert has put pen to paper

Wing wizard: Cuthbert has put pen to paper

Wales wing Alex Cuthbert has resisted the temptation of joining several of his international team-mates in France by signing a new three-year contract with Cardiff Blues.

Cuthbert, a star performer in the Test match arena this year, has bucked the trend of top Wales players moving to France, with Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate both set to join the exodus next season.

Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, James Hook and Luke Charteris already play in the French Top 14, while prop Paul James is in his first season at Aviva Premiership club Bath.

'I had a lot of decisions to make, but I am glad I've got it sorted and this is the place I want to be to take my rugby career forward,' Cuthbert, 22, said.

'I did have some good offers from other clubs, but I wanted to stay with the Blues.

Dragon: Cuthbert has scored five tries in 13 Tests for Wales

Dragon: Cuthbert has scored five tries in 13 Tests for Wales

'I've certainly seen the progress on the pitch, although we may not be getting the results right now. We are just losing by narrow margins, and you can tell it's coming.

'Hopefully, we will get some quality players in next season and those close losses will turn into wins for us.'

Cuthbert scored tries against Scotland, Italy and France during last season's RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam-winning campaign, and he transferred that form into the recent autumn Tests, claiming a try against New Zealand.

Room for improvement: Cuthbert is only 22

Room for improvement: Cuthbert is only 22

Blues rugby director Phil Davies said: 'Alex is 22. He has a fantastic future ahead of him, not just at the Blues but in the game in general. He is a vital part of our squad.

'Alex is a great try-scorer, but he is still young and developing all the time.

'His work-rate is phenomenal and his defence and reading of the game is improving considerably. Hopefully, he will get better and better over the next three years.'

Lennon: I will not be bullied by Manchester United or Liverpool to sell Victor Wanyama or Gary Hooper

Lennon: I will not be bullied by Man United or Liverpool to sell Wanyama or Hooper

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UPDATED:

01:08 GMT, 14 December 2012

Neil Lennon expects to have the final
say on any bids for his players next month and insists Celtic will not
be bullied by wealthy English predators.

The Parkhead boss is well aware that
his side's achievements in the Champions League have attracted the
interest of some leading Premiership clubs. Liverpool and Southampton
have been linked with moves for Gary Hooper, while Victor Wanyama
continues to feature high on Manchester United's wanted list.

Impressive: Victor Wanyama

Impressive: Victor Wanyama

Lennon, though, remains adamant it would take an 'astronomical' offer for Celtic to part with one of their prize assets during the January transfer window while they chase success in four competitions.

And the manager believes it should be down to him – rather than the board – to make the decisive call about whether any cash put forward is acceptable.

'As I have said before, everyone has their price and I think I will have a say in the decision if a huge bid comes in for any of the players,' said Lennon.

'But I don't want them to go. I want them to see this season out anyway and make a real fist of the competitions. There are not many teams still going on four fronts – including the Champions League – with half the season gone.

'Will I have the final say I'd like to think so, yeah.

'At the time when Aiden McGeady was going (to Spartak Moscow for 9.5million in 2010), I felt it was good business.

Warning: Celtic manager Neil Lennon

Warning: Celtic manager Neil Lennon

'It was a good offer and something where we could use the money on the team. We are now in a totally different scenario. We don't need to sell.

'It could be the case that I don't want to stand in the way of a player going to one of the bigger clubs. But I hope I don't have to face that scenario.'

Lennon is confident Celtic are close to agreeing a new contract with Hooper, whose current deal expires in the summer of 2014, while talks also remain on-going with Wanyama's agent.

If there is no conclusion to those discussions in the coming weeks, it could persuade English suitors to test Celtic's resolve with take-it-or-leave-it bids just as the January window is about to close.

Lennon, though, is adamant that tactic would not work as it would leave little time for the club to invest the money recouped.

'If it's the last day of the window, then it's too late,' added Lennon.

'I wouldn't have time (to replace the players) and you've all month to put a bid in. It does happen, but it will not happen here – not to any of our major players anyway.' Lennon would be comfortable to see out the season with his current squad but is in the market for left-sided reinforcements next month.

He also confirmed Celtic are keen on pursuing a deal for US international striker Juan Agudelo, who impressed during a recent training period with the champions.

The 19-year-old, who became his country's youngest-ever goalscorer aged 17, is currently with MLS side Chivas USA.

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’