LISTEN: Will Greenwood’s podcast – Henry Slade

On this week’s podcast episode, Will Greenwood and Rupert Cox catch up with England and Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade.

Our duo chat to 29-time capped England international about his life in lockdown and the coronavirus worries he has experienced during these strange times.

The 27-year-old also discusses playing professional rugby as a Type 1 diabetic, and also the conversations he has held with the Exeter Chiefs doctor in relation to Covid-19.

Slade also chats playing at inside-centre, outside-centre and at out-half, and which is his favourite position to date.

Greenwood and Slade also face off in a quiz, while the latter talks through his role in Jonny May’s try against Australia in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

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Izack Rodda and two other Queensland Reds ending contracts leaves Rugby Australia unfazed

Rugby Australia do not expect a rush of players to walk away from their contracts after they agreed to release three Queensland Reds team-mates who refused to take pay cuts during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Wallabies lock Izack Rodda, fly-half Isaac Lucas and lock Harry Hockings were stood down by the Reds last Monday for refusing to accept the salary reductions and their agent said on Friday they had sought termination of their contracts.

Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke said they had released the trio on Saturday, but he doubted the decision would set a precedent for other players to demand a release.

  • Reds trio terminate contracts after rejecting pay cuts
  • Rodda stood down for rejecting pay cut

“We haven’t had any indication from any other players that they are looking beyond our shores,” said Clarke. “We understand the challenges the players are going through, it’s no different from the staff.

“But every single business in this country and around the world are facing the same decisions (and) other rugby economies are suffering as much as we are.

“I suspect players thinking this is a ticket to a golden pot will be sorely disappointed.”

Rugby Australia implemented a 60% pay cut for its players last month after tense negotiations with the Rugby Union Players’ Association amid the governing body’s financial struggles that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak.

Almost 190 players accepted the pay cuts, while RA also furloughed about 75% of its staff in March.

Clarke said the RA had ruled out taking legal action against the trio as it was always “the last resort”.

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Rugby set for a coronavirus shake-up with Six Nations changes and new a European league

Rugby union could be set for a major post-pandemic shake-up with the Six Nations moving to April and the launch of a new European League. Talks between the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship nations over an alignment of the northern and southern hemisphere seasons have made long overdue progress while the prospect of big changes at club level has grown after CVC bought a stake in the Pro14.

The £115m deal means the venture capitalists now own minority shareholdings in both the Premiership and the Pro14 which gives them the leverage to merge the leagues into one with wider appeal to broadcasters.

Both developments could be highly significant for the future shape of the game when it is eventually able to restart.

The Six Nations and the southern hemisphere SANZAAR nations issued a joint statement yesterday committing to pushing on with negotiations that would see the Six Nations move from its current winter slot into March and April. The northern hemisphere summer tours could also be switched to the autumn.

“A further consultation process will commence as all parties work towards an aligned global calendar that can deliver a clear and coherent narrative,” read the statement.

“The Nations, together with other key stakeholders, remain open to shape the options that have been developed in an effort to resolve an issue that has held the game back for many years and are committed to putting rugby on a progressive path.”

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CVC’s attempt to buy a £300m stake in the Six Nations is currently on hold because of the crisis but the company have managed to sign off their purchase of a 28 per stake in the Pro14.

In the short term their investment will help to alleviate financial problems caused by the shutdown in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy who become members of Celtic Rugby as part of the deal. South Africa, who also have two provinces in Pro14, will not benefit from the arrangement.

“CVC’s belief in our sport is clear, their commitment is hugely encouraging and this investment is great news for our teams and for Welsh rugby as a whole, although we are under no illusions that COVID has and will continue to have a significant impact on our organisation for some time,” said WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips.

The end game for the notoriously opaque CVC remains unclear even to the Unions and clubs themselves – a five-year plan due to be presented to the Premiership before the pandemic has not yet arrived.

However the addition of the Pro14 to their portfolio would appear to bring an expanded joint league a step closer.

The mothballed Pro14 season will return behind closed doors on the weekend of August 22/23 with derby matches in each country.

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Nathan Earle signs Harlequins contract extension

England squad player Nathan Earle has signed a contract extension with Harlequins.

The former Saracens winger had scored 11 tries in 23 Quins appearances before suffering a long-term knee ligament injury in April last year.

The 25-year-old had been in England’s training squad for the 2019 Six Nations, having scored in an uncapped fixture against the Barbarians the previous year.

“I’m thrilled to be able to extend my time at The Stoop,” Earle told his club’s website.

“I felt like I was playing some of my best rugby before picking up a knee injury at the end of my first season.

“I’m still rehabilitating at the moment, but I’m excited to get back out there and pull on the jersey again.”

Head of rugby Paul Gustard added: “We’re thrilled to have Nathan recommit his future to the club. Prior to his severe knee injury, he was demonstrating to everyone what I personally already knew, that he is a fantastic talent with the potential for explosive, match-winning performances.

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Warrick Gelant: Springbok joins Stormers from Bulls

South Africa World Cup-winning full-back Warrick Gelant has joined the Stormers from their great Super Rugby rivals the Bulls.

Gelant will swap Pretoria for Cape Town and has been brought in to fill the gap left by another Springbok, Dillyn Leyds, who has moved to La Rochelle in France.

The 25-year-old was a free agent after his contract with the Bulls expired.

“Warrick has established himself as one of the most dynamic backline players in South Africa, so we could not be more thrilled to have him on our books going forward,” Stormers coach John Dobson said.

“With Dillyn Leyds leaving, we couldn’t have asked for anyone better to step into the 15 jersey. I am sure his presence will also have a hugely positive influence on the players around him.

“Warrick is a deadly finisher with a wonderful feel for the game and awareness of space, which is just what we need for the talent we already have in the backline to thrive.”

Gelant, who can also play on the wing, was part of the Bok squad that lifted the World Cup in Japan last November, though he did not feature in the match-day squad in the final win over England.

He has scored three tries in nine international appearances since making his debut against Italy in November 2017.

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Six Nations deny plotting ‘4 Nations’ and commit to completing 2020 competition

The Six Nations have denied reports relating to the staging of a ‘4 Nations’ competition in November excluding France and Italy, describing them as “inaccurate media speculation”.

Tournament organisers say they remain fully committed to completing the 2020 Six Nations Championship, with the intention of staging postponed matches later this year.

  • New Zealand teams to resume training
  • Jones: Some players will return in ‘terrible’ condition

The Six Nations clarified their position following newspaper speculation that the four home unions were making contingency plans for a ‘4 Nations’ championship excluding France and Italy.

“Six Nations together with its constituent unions and federations is fully committed to completing the 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship and hopes to stage postponed matches later this year,” a statement said.

“In exploring rescheduling options, the health and safety of players, associated staff and of course supporters is our number one priority and any rescheduled matches will be subject to government guidance and to travel restrictions between countries.

“Six Nations remains in close contact with all relevant authorities to ensure these matches can take place in a safe environment.

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Eddie Jones: England head coach says some players will return in ‘terrible’ condition

Rugby players not committed to maintaining their fitness during the coronavirus lockdown will return in “terrible” condition when the sport resumes, says England head coach Eddie Jones.

Rugby, like many other sports, has come to a standstill due to the pandemic and competitions have been suspended since March. The Six Nations tournament was put on hold with England at the top the standings.

With World Rugby postponing all test matches scheduled for July due to travel curbs and health protocols, a quick return for the contact sport is not on the cards.

  • World Rugby postpones July Tests
  • RFU ‘to consider’ individual training return

“You are going to find out about your players, you are going to find out which of your players really want to get better and which players only want to get better to keep the coach happy,” Jones said in an online coaching class with other coaches.

“Some players will come out of this better, some players will come out of this terrible. How your team comes out of it, you don’t know. But the big thing for the team is not what you do now, it’s what you do when you get back together.”

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Premiership Rugby: Titles should be stripped for future salary breaches, says review

Premiership clubs who breach the salary cap in future should face suspensions and being stripped of titles, according to a damning review of the current rules.

Other recommendations, in what would be a radical overhaul of the salary cap regime, include “stronger investigatory powers” and making Premiership Rugby, club executives, players and agents more accountable.

The review, undertaken by former government minister Lord Myners on behalf on Premiership Rugby, came after reigning champions Saracens breached the salary cap in each of the past three seasons.

  • Premiership Rugby: Grounds being audited for rugby union’s restart

The London club were docked 35 points and fined £5.3m for the breaches and then automatically relegated after failing to prove the club would comply this season.

Yet there was no power for Premiership Rugby to remove the titles the club had won when they were operating outside of the salary cap.

In a 55-page review, published today, Lord Myners wrote: “It is important that my recommendations should be viewed as a package of measures which, if taken together, will go a long way to restoring the integrity of the regulations.

“They should not be viewed as a menu of options from which to pick and choose.”

In addition to the proposed strengthening of sanctions, he said he has “sympathy” with clubs who said they wanted to end the current system of having two marquee players, whose salaries do not fall within the cap.

“There are some existing areas of the regulations that are obviously not widely supported. Quite a few clubs expressed a desire to end the marquee player system on the grounds that it is inflationary, over complex and unnecessary. I have a great deal of sympathy with this position.”

He did not propose seeking an “alternative mechanism” to the salary cap, having found that it will “continue to achieve its objectives” if applied robustly.

Lord Myners was not tasked with commenting on the level of the cap.

A series of additional measures were also considered as part of the review, including disciplinary hearings being heard in public, the publication of player salaries and further restrictions on salaries and image rights payments.

However, Lord Myners said he had been convinced by clubs that “these more draconian measures are not necessary”.

He said he would have “no hesitation” in recommending them “if future violations continue to the detriment of the economics and reputation of PRL and the game more broadly”.

‘Judge and jury’

Myners says Premiership clubs must not in the future “act as judge and jury for fellow competitors”, as was the case both in 2015 and in 2019.

From 2015 Myners cites “a last-minute settlement of the salary cap breach against Saracens”, as well as a second incident involving another club in the same year.

He also references the “rushed changes to the regulations” which saw Saracens issued with a further 70-point deduction and relegated from the Premiership in 2019.

Myners has also called for the appointment of an Independent Cap Governance Monitor, and has demanded greater powers and support for the Salary Cap Manager.

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Premiership Rugby: Grounds being audited for rugby union’s restart

Premiership Rugby is auditing its clubs’ grounds to look for suitable venues to host rugby union’s restart.

Following government guidance, rugby’s governing bodies are continuing to plan for the sport’s safe return.

With nine rounds of the season left, the preference remains to stage whole rounds of games at one venue for safety and logistical reasons.

However, Twickenham and Wasps’ Ricoh Arena – while not ruled out – do not meet all the criteria.

The BBC understands these criteria are:

  • Safety: a venue that is as bio-secure as possible and has enough space for the extra medical facilities required.
  • A pitch that can withstand a series of matches in one weekend.
  • Training facilities in the vicinity.
  • Room for more than two teams to change and prepare.

While Twickenham was initially considered to be the best option to host the games, it is costly to run and is currently being used by the NHS. Meanwhile the Ricoh Arena in Coventry lacks nearby training facilities.

Hosting the matches at a neutral ground outside of the 12 Premiership venues has been considered, but it is understood this is unlikely as the rugby authorities want control of the venue throughout the week for safety reasons.

The power-brokers of the English game meet on Thursday for further discussions, with the RFU warning there is “still significant work to do” and that player and staff welfare will “be at the heart” of decision-making.

The Rugby Players’ Association added that “no players, coaches or support staff will be at significant risk when rugby returns” while Premiership Rugby boss Darren Childs said “our job is now to find a safe way for one of our greatest national sports to thrive”.

A return date in early July remains the target, although the BBC has learned that the weekend of 27 June has also been mooted.

Some Premiership clubs are set to begin a phased return to training next week, with Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care telling the Rugby Union Weekly podcast that the players are “desperate” to get back playing if safe to do so, and that “rugby needs to come back” given the perilous financial predicament many clubs are facing.

The majority of clubs have pushed through a 25% wage cut on their players, which is set to stay in place for the foreseeable future, with full crowds – and therefore full revenues – not expected potentially until 2021.

However, there is concern over how the return to training affects players who are out of contract at their current clubs at the end of June.

Even though the season is yet to be completed, players are still set to move clubs by 1 July, opening up the possibility of players returning to train at a club for a short period while knowing they won’t play for them again.

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Coronavirus: Wales Rugby League CEO keen to face England in ‘NHS Cup’

Wales rugby league chief executive Gareth Kear would like his side to face England in a double-header for what he is calling The NHS Cup if planned autumn fixtures are unable to go ahead.

Wales are due to meet Jamaica in Cardiff on the weekend of October 17 and 18, with further fixtures to follow against Ireland and Spain.

England are set for a three-test Ashes battle against Australia but, if coronavirus restrictions mean the games are called off, Kear would like to stage fixtures which pay tribute to NHS staff.

“Hope is an important factor in life. We will have rugby league this year, if it’s safe to do so,” Kear said.

“All of the players in Wales are ready to go, whilst our men’s and women’s head coaches John Kear and Craig Taylor both fully support this and I’ve already made some initial discussions with the Rugby Football League.

“Let’s play for an NHS Cup and invite key workers in for free. This way, we can recognise the sadness of friends and loved ones lost, respect the sacrifice of so many, and then celebrate a new beginning.

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