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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

Six Nations 2013: Gordon D"Arcy injured and out of Championship

Problems mount for Ireland as veteran centre D'Arcy is ruled out of remainder of Six Nations

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

15:58 GMT, 15 February 2013

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UPDATED:

16:15 GMT, 15 February 2013

Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy will miss the rest of this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship due to a foot injury.

The Leinster player is likely to be sidelined for six weeks, the Irish Rugby Football Union announced.

Ireland have already lost wing Simon Zebo (foot) for the rest of the tournament, while fly-half Jonathan Sexton (hamstring) and lock Mike McCarthy (knee ligament strain) will also miss the game against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 24.

Crocked: D'Arcy will miss the rest of Ireland's Six Nations campaign

Crocked: D'Arcy will miss the rest of Ireland's Six Nations campaign

D'Arcy experienced discomfort in his right foot following the 12-6 defeat against England in Dublin last Sunday.

'This failed to settle down before the Ireland training session on Thursday, and following a scan yesterday afternoon it was confirmed that D'Arcy has a stress injury to a bone in his foot,' the IRFU said in a statement.

'The injury will require immobilisation in a boot for at least four weeks, with a projected return to play of six weeks, pending further tests and specialist review.

'The Ireland training squad for the Scotland Test match week will be announced on Sunday evening following the completion of games in the RaboDirect Pro12.'

D'Arcy's injury means that Ireland coach Declan Kidney will need to make at least five changes for the trip to Edinburgh.

Big loss: D'Arcy has won 73 caps for Ireland since 1999

Big loss: D'Arcy has won 73 caps for Ireland since 1999

On top of the injuries to D'Arcy, Zebo, Sexton and McCarthy, prop Cian Healy is suspended after he was cited for stamping on England prop Dan Cole at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland currently lie fourth in the Six Nations table with one win from two games.

After the Scotland fixture, they host France on March 9 and then tackle Italy in Rome seven days later.

Healy will not be involved in Leinster's RaboDirect PRO12 game against Treviso in Dublin tomorrow.

Healy received a three-week ban on
Wednesday after being cited for stamping on England prop Dan Cole during
last weekend's RBS 6 Nations clash.

Missing: Exciting young wing Zebo was injured in Ireland's win over Wales

Missing: Exciting young wing Zebo was injured in Ireland's win over Wales

Mindful that under normal circumstances Healy would have been rested this weekend, an independent disciplinary hearing decided that the punishment for his stamp should be deferred by one week so that he would miss Ireland's Six Nations matches against Scotland on February 24 and France on March 9.

Banned: Healy stamped on Dan Cole

Banned: Healy stamped on Dan Cole

Six Nations Rugby Limited today issued a statement clarifying the position surrounding Healy.

'During the hearing of the citing complaint against Mr Healy, the chairman of the independent disciplinary committee, Roger Morris, of Wales, made it clear to Mr Healy and those representing him at the hearing that Mr Healy was suspended from the date on which he had been informed of the citing complaint against him (11 February 2013) until midnight on the night of Sunday, 10 March 2013,' a statement read.

'The disciplinary committee has not yet
produced its written decision, but Mr Morris has today written to Six
Nations Rugby Limited and those representing Mr Healy at the hearing to
confirm the position.

'Mr Morris says, in relevant part: “I do
not think anyone present at the hearing on Wednesday was in any doubt
that Mr Healy is not free to play again until after midnight on 10
March”.

'Accordingly, Mr Healy is currently
suspended and will remain suspended – subject to appeals – until 11
March 2013. He is therefore not eligible to play for Leinster in this
weekend's RaboDirect PRO12 match against Benetton Treviso.

'In addition, following clause 2.5.99 of the Six Nations disciplinary and anti-doping rules (which is consistent with IRB Regulations 17.19.10 and 17.19.11), and in keeping with other decisions, the disciplinary committee excluded this weekend from its calculations of the three-week suspension as a result of evidence given at the hearing to the effect that Mr Healy would not have been selected to play for Leinster in this weekends match against Benetton Treviso.'

Harlequins 53 Zebre 5: Heineken Cup Pool Three rout

Harlequins 53 Zebre 5: Robshaw keeps his promise as Italians are brushed aside

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UPDATED:

21:07 GMT, 15 December 2012

Captain Chris Robshaw promised that Harlequins would make a name for themselves in Europe after they won the Premiership and Saturday's thumping victory means they can enjoy Christmas on the brink of ensuring a home Heineken Cup quarter-final.

No team will fancy a trip to the Stoop to take on a Quins side brimming with confidence, although few will be as poor as Italian minnows Zebre, formed only last May after the Aironi team hit financial problems and had their licence revoked by the Italian Rugby Federation.

Zebra cross: Danny Care of Quins celebrates as he runs in a try

Zebra cross: Danny Care of Quins celebrates as he runs in a try

Two more victories in Pool Three would give director of rugby Conor O'Shea's Quins top seeding in the knockout stages.

'We want to be successful here and we all vowed to kick on after winning the Premiership last May,' said O'Shea.

'If you see how we've done so far
this season, we've won 13 out of 16 games, we're top of the Premiership,
we're top of our Heineken Cup pool unbeaten, we've won both LV Cup
games so far and we're in the A League final, so we are definitely doing
OK. But we don't just want to win this pool, we want a home
quarterfinal.'

Bearing in mind Quins have won all
four Pool Three games so far, already lead second-placed Biarritz by ten
points and have Connacht at home in four weeks before a final trip to
Biarritz, they are superbly placed.

On the run: Ugo Monye evades a tackle from Zebra's Giovanbattista Venditti (left)

On the run: Ugo Monye evades a tackle from Zebra's Giovanbattista Venditti (left)

To put Zebre's quality into
perspective, they came to south-west London on the back of ten straight
defeats in their first ten games in the RaboDirect Pro12 League.

They have gained only four losing
bonus points and three successive defeats in this Heineken Cup pool –
including last weekend's 57-15 home setback to Quins – indicate their
dire lack of class.

Saturday was no better, with Quins
running in seven tries – two in the first half from Tom Casson and a
penalty try, and five after the break from Ben Botica, Tom Guest, Sam
Smith, Danny Care and Karl Dickson.

Nick Evans scored 18 points with eight successful kicks out of nine attempts. Zebre managed one response in the first half.

Turning heads: Chris Robshaw is wrapped up by the the Zebre defence

Turning heads: Chris Robshaw is wrapped up by the the Zebre defence

To put Zebre's quality into
perspective, they came to south-west London on the back of ten straight
defeats in their first ten games in the RaboDirect Pro12 League.

They have gained only four losing
bonus points and three successive defeats in this Heineken Cup pool –
including last weekend's 57-15 home setback to Quins – indicate their
dire lack of class.

Saturday was no better, with Quins
running in seven tries – two in the first half from Tom Casson and a
penalty try, and five after the break from Ben Botica, Tom Guest, Sam
Smith, Danny Care and Karl Dickson.

Nick Evans scored 18 points with eight successful kicks out of nine attempts. Zebre managed one response in the first half.

That prompted O'Shea to question why
the visitors – who simply add weight to the Anglo-French TV row with the
ERC at the moment over involving more English and French teams and
fewer from the smaller nations in the tournament – are even in the
Heineken Cup.

Six appeal: Sam Smith runs in to score his side's sixth try

Six appeal: Sam Smith runs in to score his side's sixth try

That is before there is even a
discussion over the absurdity of Zebre, one of just two Italian clubs in
the competition, receiving three times as much money as Quins, who are
one of six English clubs taking part.

'We shared the same hotel as Zebre in
August in the south of France for pre-season and their players were
meeting up for the first time,' said O'Shea.

'It was difficult in this game
because we were so superior that it became a mental challenge. You're
damned if you do and damned if you don't. And it makes no sense for
Zebre to get three times as much money as we do for playing in this
competition.

Pass master: Tom Casson offloads the ball

Pass master: Tom Casson offloads the ball

'We won the Amlin Cup three times,
the last time, in 2011, serving as a launchpad for our recent successes,
so that competition should be good enough for a team like Zebre.

'They should have no divine right to
play in the Heineken Cup. It does Italian rugby no good – either for
their fans or commercially – to see Zebre stuffed like this.'

Few at the Stoop will disagree with
that sentiment although, as the happy home fans ventured into the night,
the talk was centred upon Harlequins adding European glory to domestic
silverware.

Northampton 6 Ulster 25: Saints and Dylan Hartley face early exit

Northampton 6 Ulster 25: Future bleak for Saints and Hartley as early exit looms again

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UPDATED:

23:36 GMT, 7 December 2012

Northampton's hopes of avoiding a
second successive Heineken Cup pool-stage exit were all but extinguished as they were smashed aside by unstoppable Ulster.

Six days after England managed to end
the All Blacks’ 20-match unbeaten run, one of the Aviva Premiership’s
leading sides emphatically failed to end another double-digit streak.

Catch me if you can: Ulster wing Andrew Trimble scored a try in a brilliant performance at Franklins Gardens

Catch me if you can: Ulster wing Andrew Trimble scored a try in a brilliant performance at Franklins Gardens

Their Irish opponents came to Franklin’s Gardens on the back of a dozen consecutive victories this season, and having already beaten Glasgow away from home, this bonus-point triumph in a traditionally inhospitable arena leaves Ulster firmly on track to top Pool Four.

The runaway leaders of the RaboDirect Pro12 league gave a vivid display of the power and cohesion which has swept all before them. Up front, they had the likes of Iain Henderson and Chris Henry providing the strong-arm graft, while Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson pulled the strings cleverly and Jared Payne ran amok from full back.

For Northampton, this was a damaging indignity, inflicted on their first-choice line-up. Visiting teams don’t tend to come to these parts and dominate so emphatically. In theory, Jim Mallinder’s chastened side go to Belfast for the reverse fixture next Saturday with the their qualification prospects still alive.

In reality, they are surely sunk, as it was at Ravenhill where their local rivals Leicester suffered a record defeat last season.

Just to add to the bleak outlook, Saints captain Dylan Hartley appeared to use his forearm in an altercation with Ulster hooker Rory Best which is bound to attract scrutiny from the citing officer. Northampton could do without losing him to a ban so soon after his return from injury.

Hartley dismissed suggestions of anything untoward, saying: ‘I don’t think it was an incident.’

Try time: Jared Payne of Ulster races clear to score in the heavy defeat of Northampton

Try time: Jared Payne of Ulster races clear to score in the heavy defeat of Northampton

But the Saints skipper was brutally
honest in assessing his team’s performance, adding: ‘They are unbeaten
but we made them look very good. It’s all about intensity — we can’t
just go out there and expect things to happen. We need to sort our form
out for next week but we are capable of going there and winning.’

In the 10th minute, the visitors gave
an illustration of their form and confidence. When Ben Foden sliced a
clearance kick, Ulster’s pack rumbled forward from the lineout. Their
dynamic maul was stopped just short of the home line but the reprieve
was fleeting. The ball was shipped left, Paddy Jackson sent a delicate
chip to the corner and Andrew Trimble nipped in to touch down.

Jackson missed the conversion and the kicking difficulties continued on
both sides, with Ryan Lamb landing only two of his five first-half
shots.

His Irish counterpart slotted one penalty of his own and six minutes
before the break, Ulster struck again. Pouncing on loose ball from a
Northampton lineout, they battered the ramparts and forced a breach.
After Henderson and Trimble were kept at bay on the left, good hands
took the ball to the far flank where Tommy Bowe stormed over.

Ulster turned around 13-6 ahead and within four minutes they were out of
sight. Lamb’s high kick was taken by Payne, who ran back strongly.
Darren Cave burst clear down the right and after Henry drove on,
Trimble’s superb flat pass released Payne again. The Kiwi’s dummy
wrong-footed Foden and he ran clear to touch down. Jackson’s conversion
went over to make it 20-6.

Following sustained Northampton pressure at the other end, Payne sent
Dan Tuohy over in the right corner to clinch the visitors’ bonus point
and complete a miserable night for the Saints.

Putting the boot in: Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty for Ulster as they put the English side to the sword

Putting the boot in: Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty for Ulster as they put the English side to the sword

Salt in the wounds: Dan Tuohy of Ulster dives over for a last minute try on Friday night

Salt in the wounds: Dan Tuohy of Ulster dives over for a last minute try on Friday night

Ospreys 38 Treviso 17: Winning Heineken Cup start for Welsh outift

Ospreys 38 Treviso 17: Winning start for Welsh outfit in their Heineken Cup campaign

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UPDATED:

22:13 GMT, 12 October 2012

Ospreys opened their Heineken Cup campaign with a bonus-point win over Treviso at the Liberty Stadium but only after snuffing out a spirited second-half comeback by the Italians.

The Welsh region were indebted to tries from Eli Walker, Hanno Dirksen, with two, and Ashley Beck, while 18 points came from the boot of outside-half Dan Biggar.

Treviso scored two tries through Manoa Vosawai and Luke McLean, while Kris Burton supplied seven points with the boot.

Ospreys' Pool Two victory was some revenge for their 12-6 defeat at the hands of the Italian side in the opening game of the RaboDirect PRO12.

Beck in business: Ashley Beck crosses for a try at the Liberty Stadium

Beck in business: Ashley Beck crosses for a try at the Liberty Stadium

Treviso suffered a setback when Alessandro Zanni, their 66-cap Italy openside, pulled out just before kick-off with a back injury. There had earlier been better news for Ospreys with Justin Tipuric reporting fit despite suffering a hip injury.

Ospreys made a positive start with Biggar kicking three penalties in the opening 15 minutes. He put over his first attempt in the fourth minute after the home side had attacked from the opening two line-outs. The lead was extended to 6-0 four minutes later when Biggar was successful with a long-range effort after Treviso had transgressed at a scrum as their front eight struggled.

Treviso did get a foothold in the Ospreys 22 but it was immediately snuffed out by some aggressive counter-rucking by the Welsh region, and at the other end the Italians' indiscipline accounted for another penalty which Biggar kicked to extend the lead to 9-0.

On the run: Andrew Bishop breaks through the Treviso defence

On the run: Andrew Bishop breaks through the Treviso defence

Treviso got on the scoreboard with a penalty for Burton on 18 minutes but almost immediately Walker sent the home fans wild with a fine try after weaving his past four would-be tacklers. Biggar converted to give the Ospreys a 16-3 lead.

After a dust-up between the packs referee Neil Paterson sent Wales prop Adam Jones and Treviso captain Antonio Pavenello to the sin-bin. And Treviso found themselves down to 13 men for two minutes when Vosawai also got yellow-carded after a line-out infringement.

But Ospreys coach Steve Tandy will not have been happy with his side's lapses of concentration at the end of the half which forced them to defend for their lives to preserve their 13-point interval lead.

After regrouping at half-time the Ospreys hit Treviso with a second try four minutes after the break with Dirksen going over in the right corner taking a pass out of the back door from Richard Fussell. Biggar converted as the Ospreys lead was extended to 20.

But Ospreys were then left stunned by two Treviso tries in the space of as many minutes. First Vosawai was on the end of a drive from a line-out before McLean sprinted in unopposed. Burton converted both to cut the home lead to six points.

Biggar stopped the rot on 64 minutes when he put the Ospreys back two scores ahead with his fourth penalty goal. After hammering at the door for 10 minutes Ospreys scored a third try when Dirksen went over for his second after collecting a chip from scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i.

And four seconds from the end of time Beck went over for the all-important bonus-point try to end a tricky match on a high note for the region.

France named as host for 2014 Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cup finals

It's a Les Bleus coup with France hosting 2014 Heineken and Amlin Challenge cup finals

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UPDATED:

13:21 GMT, 24 September 2012

France have been announced as the host for the 2014 Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cup finals.

The venues and precise dates for both games have yet to be confirmed, but they will be played on the weekend of May 23-25.

The prize: Current holders Leinster with the trophy

The prize: Current holders Leinster with the trophy

Next season marks the end of the current accord governing the two tournaments with stakeholders in negotiation over changes to the structure of European competition.

If the English clubs and teams from the RaboDirect Pro12 fail to reconcile their difference, the 2013-14 campaign could be the last Heineken Cup of its type.

Nevin Spence dies: Ulster centre tragedy trying to save father in slurry pit accident

Ulster star Spence dies while trying to save father in horrific slurry pit accident

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UPDATED:

09:14 GMT, 16 September 2012

Ulster centre Nevin Spence was killed alongside his brother and their father in a farming tragedy on Saturday which also injured their sister in Northern Ireland.

The 22-year-old rose to prominence playing for Ulster Rugby and was a rising star in Ireland's international rugby scene but died after falling into a slurry tank.

Emergency crews went to the family farm in Drumlough Road outside Hillsborough, Co Down, shortly after 6pm on Saturday following reports that four people had fallen into the slurry pit.

Shock: Professional rugby player Nevin Spence died along with his father and brother after falling into a slurry pit on the family farm

Shock: Professional rugby player Nevin Spence died along with his father and brother after falling into a slurry pit on the family farm

Terrible episode: Nevin died alongside his father Noel and brother Graham in the shocking accident on the farm

Terrible episode: Nevin died alongside his father Noel and brother Graham in the shocking accident on the farm

Following a lengthy rescue operation it was confirmed that three men had died and a woman was taken to hospital for treatment for the inhalation of fumes.

Nevin Spence was a member of the Ulster Rugby squad that reached the European Heineken cup final last season, and he was predicted to have a glittering international career ahead of him.

Rugby players and fans paid tribute to the young player on social media as news emerged of his involvement in the tragedy.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said on Twitter: 'Deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy in Hillsborough this evening. My thoughts and prayers are with family at this time of devastation.'

Promising: Nevin Spence had a bright future ahead of him as a professional rugby player

Promising: Nevin Spence had a bright future ahead of him as a professional rugby player

Tributes appeared on Twitter feeds representing both the British and Irish Lions and the RaboDirect Pro12, the league in which Ulster play.

The Lions post read: 'All our thoughts are with the family and friends of Ulster centre Nevin Spence, his father and brother. Reportedly died in accident.'

The post on the Pro12 account read: 'Shocked. We just read about Nevin Spence. RIP. There are no words.'
Spence's erstwhile Ulster team-mate, fly-half Ian Humphreys, wrote: 'Devastated to hear the news about Nevin Spence and his brother and dad. Prayers with all his family… RIP Nev, you'll never be forgotten…'

Former Ireland and Munster hooker Jerry Flannery added: 'Terrible news on Nevin Spence, his Brother and their Dad. Offering up prayers for their family and friends, unbelievably sad.'

Former Wales winger Shane Williams was also among those to pay their respects on the social media site, writing: 'My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Nevin Spence. A tragic loss. A class act on the field also. RIP.'

Lives have been lost in the past in accidents at other farm slurry tanks, but the scale of the latest tragedy caused widespread shock.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said it responded to a 999 call at about 6.15pm following reports that at least three people had fallen into a slurry tank.

It said it immediately sent three rapid response paramedics, four accident and emergency vehicles and an ambulance service doctor to the scene.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service also attended and rescued four people from the slurry pit.

A spokesman for the ambulance service said: 'Three were unconscious and NIAS paramedics commenced resuscitation efforts immediately assisted by other ambulance personnel.

Tragedy: Large numbers of emergency service vehicles attended the farm

Tragedy: Large numbers of emergency service vehicles attended the farm

'One of the four showed initial signs of responding to the efforts of the crews and was transported immediately to the nearby Lagan Valley Hospital, where unfortunately he died a short time later.

'Despite the best efforts of all involved the other two men died at the scene.

'A female was treated at the scene and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where she is recovering from the effects of fume inhalation.'

The ambulance service said it extended its sympathies to those involved.

The Ulster Farmers' Union said the tragedy had shocked the entire farming community.

Rory McIlroy paid tribute to rugby player Nevin Spence

Mark Allen paid tribute to rugby player Nevin Spence

Stunned: Golfer Rory McIlroy (left) and snooker player Mark Allen (right) led tributes to Nevin Spence

UFU president Harry Sinclair said: 'On behalf of all our members, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family involved.

'This news has shocked the farming community. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the three men who have so tragically lost their lives.

'We understand that a fourth member of the family has been hospitalised and we pray that they will make a full recovery.'

Tributes also came from notable Northern Irish sportsmen Rory McIlroy and Mark Allen.

McIlroy, golf's world number one, wrote on his Twitter account: “Just heard the tragic news of Nevin Spence and his family. Makes you cherish every day you have on this Earth.'

Snooker star Allen added: 'What a loss for the family and for ulster and Irish rugby!! In shock here!!'

NEVIN SPENCE FACTFILE

1990: Born April 26 in Annahilt, Northern Ireland.

2009: June 5 – Scores a try on his Ireland Under-20 debut against Argentina.

2010: April 13 – Makes his professional debut for Ulster as a last-minute substitute against the Ospreys in what was then the Magners League.

December 18 – Scores his first try for the province to secure a Heineken Cup win over Bath.

2011: January 28 – Appears for the Irish Wolfhounds against Scotland A, his first of three appearances for the Ireland second-string side.

May 6 – Scores two tries in a 20-13 win over Newport Gwent Dragons to finish with five for the season.

May 29 – Features as a late replacement for the Ireland senior squad against the Barbarians at Kingsholm, having previously trained with the RBS 6 Nations squad.

September 15 – Killed along with his father and brother in an accident in a slurry tank on their family farm in Hillsborough, County Down.

English and French clubs ready to quit Heineken Cup

English and French clubs threaten to quit Heineken Cup and launch rival competition

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UPDATED:

09:01 GMT, 23 August 2012

Top clubs in England and France have served notice of their intention to quit the Heineken Cup and organise a rival competition as they believe the current format is weighted too heavily in favour of the Celtic nations.

Leinster and Munster have won five of the last seven Heineken Cups between them, with Leinster winning three of the last four, and their rivals in England and France believe that is partly a result of a qualification system that allows them to rest their players during the RaboDirect Pro12 season.

Dominant force: Leinster have won the Heineken Cup in three of the last four years

Dominant force: Leinster have won the Heineken Cup in three of the last four years

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty told the Guardian: 'Most of the Ireland squad will not be released for the Pro12 until rounds three or four, something they could not do if they depended on their finishing position in the league for European qualification.

'The clubs in England and France have served two years' notice that we intend to pull out of Europe because there needs to be a level playing field.

'So far, the response from the other countries has been slow, even though we are not sabre-rattling. We have not been locked in talks and there is no meeting about the issue until the end of next month.

'Our view is that the qualification process needs to be changed so that it is entirely merit-based – the top teams in all three leagues as well as the winners of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup should make up 20 sides taking part.'

Ready to quit: Premiership Rugby Chief Executive Mark McCafferty says English clubs are ready to set up a new competition

Ready to quit: Premiership Rugby Chief Executive Mark McCafferty says English clubs are ready to set up a new competition

The English and French sides believe no more than six Pro12 teams should qualify, although that would put at risk the involvement of Scottish and Italian sides who currently qualify automatically.

'I think those countries have effectively made that decision by forming the Pro12,' McCafferty added.

'It is like me saying that the Premiership has to provide a qualifier from the south-west. It cannot be good for the competition that you do not have the best sides qualifying.

'Aironi were disbanded at the end of the last season and the newly-formed Zebres go straight into the Heineken Cup.'

McCafferty said he was not prepared to do anything to damage the Aviva Premiership in order to change the qualification system for the Heineken Cup, as the Premiership accounts for 80% of revenues compared to 20% from Europe.

'ERC should know that we are serious and while the issue has to be resolved, everyone has to realise we cannot carry on as we are,' he said.

'If it is not, we would go to an Anglo-French competition and if others wanted to join us, fair enough.'

ERC has planned talks for September on the issue.

'We have held meetings with all our shareholders and asked them to draw up proposals which will be considered at next month's meeting,' said a spokesman.

'Notice was served by the French and English clubs and the French Rugby Federation at the beginning of June and it was agreed at a board meeting a few days afterwards that we would have a workshop in September after holding briefings with everyone.

'We do not want to enter a war of words with Premiership Rugby, but we have been working away in the background and we are in the second phase of the consultation process.'

Shane Williams retirement U-turn

Williams in retirement U-turn as Wales legend signs six-month deal to play in Japan

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UPDATED:

19:15 GMT, 13 June 2012

Shane Williams has accepted a 600,000 offer to end his glittering career in Japan’s second division.

The 35-year-old will delay his retirement plans to take up a six-month deal with Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Dynoboars.

U-turn: Williams is heading off to Japan

U-turn: Williams is heading off to Japan

Williams said: 'The offer came totally out of the blue but was too good to turn down.

'It’s a step into the unknown but one hell of a challenge.'

The former World Player of the Year was due to hang up his boots and take up an ambassadorial role with Ospreys.

But his late salvo to win the
RaboDirect Pro12 Final against Leinster last month proves the 87-cap
wing has not lost his eye for the try line.

Williams said: 'It has been an
incredible season and I really thought playing for the Barbarians
[against Wales] last month was my last game. But life is full of
surprises.'

Edinburgh can reach Heineken Cup final: Nick De Luca

De Luca determined to see off Ulster and lead Edinburgh to Heineken Cup final

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UPDATED:

15:32 GMT, 25 April 2012

Nick De Luca is determined Edinburgh's incredible European adventure continues beyond Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final with Ulster in Dublin.

Edinburgh have overcome the odds to reach the last four of Europe's premier club competition in a campaign which began with single-point victories over London Irish and Racing Metro, the latter in an 11-try 48-47 thriller at Murrayfield.

A last-gasp win in Paris over Racing helped Michael Bradley's men advance to the quarter-finals, where four-time champions Toulouse were ousted 19-14.

Party time: Edinburgh celebrate their famous win over Toulouse in the last eight

Party time: Edinburgh celebrate their famous win over Toulouse in the last eight

Once again Edinburgh are underdogs to advance to the May 19 final at Twickenham, after losing 42-20 and 38-16 in the two RaboDirect PRO12 clashes with Ulster this season, but De Luca is confident of an upset.

The 28-year-old Scotland centre said: 'Toulouse was the biggest game in Edinburgh's history. Now this is the next one and we want there to be one more for this season.

'We'll be doing everything in our power to make that happen.

'It's a huge challenge. Beating Toulouse was a big thing for us, but Ulster have put 80 points past us this year and this is in our eyes a bigger challenge.

'We under-performed in both those games, not executing the basics well.

'We're looking forward to stepping up and showing our worth.

'We know exactly what they're going to throw at us. We've also got a few new tricks up our sleeves that we're hoping to surprise them with.

'We're looking forward to going over there, with the right attitude, to put down our game plan and executing it well.'

On the way: Mike Blair scores Edinburgh's first try against Toulouse

On the way: Mike Blair scores Edinburgh's first try against Toulouse

While Edinburgh's RaboDirect PRO12 campaign has faded into near-insignificance, there are memories aplenty from the Heineken Cup thus far.

There is the try-scoring heroics from Tim Visser, Lee Jones, Ross Rennie and David Denton, Phil Godman's drop goal in Paris and captain Greig Laidlaw's nerveless kicking displays – but one moment stands out for De Luca.

It was when Jones' try sealed a bonus-point victory over London Irish and a home quarter-final ahead of Cardiff Blues.

Speaking at the launch of sales for Edinburgh's 2012/13 season ticket, De Luca said: 'One of my favourite memories was the London Irish game here. I missed that game and it was one of the only games I've sat and watched.

'I just really enjoyed it. The final whistle went and I ran to watch the TV and the Cardiff game.

'It was great to see the crowd and the boys enjoying themselves so much.

'We're not taken seriously in Europe and we haven't been. Now hopefully people will stand up and recognise that on our day we're as good as anyone.

'Hopefully we can prove that this weekend. In the Rabo we've been poor and this is Rabo opposition, so we're looking to go out and shown them we can perform.'

Thumbs up: Edinburgh's head coach Michael Bradley celebrates

Thumbs up: Edinburgh's head coach Michael Bradley celebrates

The recollections of the last trip to the Aviva Stadium are painful for De Luca and his international team-mates after Scotland's 32-14 loss to Ireland on March 10.

De Luca withdrew from the game after failing a fitness test on a hamstring injury in the warm-up, while Jones was knocked unconscious in the contest.

Denton, who is poised to line-up at blindside flanker on Saturday, was one of the few positives of Scotland's Wooden Spoon campaign in the RBS 6 Nations.

Denton and back-row colleagues Netani Talei and Ross Rennie have key roles to play this weekend, according to De Luca, who also hopes half-backs Mike Blair and Laidlaw can continue their fine form in Europe this term.

De Luca said: 'The back row is a huge battle. Ulster's back-row is world class, but so is ours.

'The nine, 10 battle is going to have a big sway, as always, who is controlling the game.

'Hopefully our boys will come out on top.'