Province trio set for overseas moves

Western Province are set to lose three players to overseas clubs, namely utility back Damian Willemse, prop Carlu Sadie and fly-half Josh Stander.

Willemse only returned to competitive action last week off the bench against Griquas after a three-month injury lay-off and has been promoted to the starting lineup for Saturday's encounter with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, which Province must win if they are to keep their Currie Cup hopes alive.

With Willemse unlikely to make the cut for Rassie Erasmus' Springbok World Cup squad due to not having played enough rugby in recent months, Province are currently in talks with European Champions Saracens over a possible short-term loan move.

“He’s a special kid off the field,” Western Province coach John Dobson said.

“He is playing to play in the World Cup – and that’s the right attitude. He knows it’s unlikely but that’s his main priority.

“There is the possibility he might go on loan to Saracens during the World Cup, which I think is a brilliant opportunity because they have the best the kicking game in Europe. He will have a chance to work with Saracens [kicking coach] Dan Vickers and [director of rugby] Mark McCall.

“But his first goal is to win on Saturday, play as well as he can and if he is not announced in the squad on Monday, then he will think about Saracens.”

Meanwhile, Dobson has confirmed that front-rower Carlu Sadie will make the switch to Top 14 side Stade Francais on a short-term loan deal.

Sadie was loaned to the Lions for the Super Rugby season where he became a mainstay in the scrum but does not seem to be as highly regarded at Province, where he has fallen below Wilco Louw and Neethling Fouche in the pecking order.

“Carlu is going on loan to Stade Francais during the World Cup,” Dobson said, adding: “I’m not sure where he will go next year.

“I’ve always said it’s going to be difficult to compete with France. I think we have three big [tighthead props] at the Union and Carlu is still a developing situation.

“However Wilco and Neethling will definitely be here next year."

Dobson also mentioned that Stander will join Japan side Suntory Sungoliath.

Mallinder named Scotland performance director

England have lost another top coach to a rival nations after former performance pathway coach joined the Scottish national team as their performance director.

The highly respected coach has worked throughout the English club game at the highest level and led teams at senior age-grade and England Saxons, alongside roles in the English National Academy.

Mallinder joins Scottish Rugby following Scott Johnson’s departure in April this year.

The former Northampton and Sale Sharks head coach will lead the performance department from the newly-created Super6 competition for part-time professional club teams through to the Scotland men’s national team.

His remit will include developing the player pathway through the age-grade and Fosroc Academy structure to feed into Scotland’s two professional teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, Scotland 7s, Scotland Women and ultimately the Scotland men’s national team.

There will also be oversight on the medical, physio, strength & conditioning, analysis, nutrition and competition preparation provision at the elite end of the Scottish game.

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson said: “I am delighted to have secured Jim in what is a pivotal and vital role within our high-performance structure.

“He has a proven track record of developing players across a range of different career stages and I want him to strengthen and deepen the pathway our players will take into the professional game and develop the skills and behaviours they will need to succeed at their respective highest levels.

“He brings a wealth of rugby knowledge and experience as a Premiership winning coach and Heineken Cup finalist which I believe can enhance our current set-up and enable us to keep making the ambitious strides we want to take in the coming years.”

Mallinder added: “This is an exciting role and one that gives me the chance to work with players at different stages of their development, all with the clear objective to make Scotland’s representative teams more successful and deliver a clear pathway for players to progress through.

“I am really impressed with the set-up in Scotland already and having spoken at length with Mark Dodson it was clear that this was an outstanding opportunity to really set the direction of travel for Scotland’s high-performance ambitions.

“It’s a chance to lead a long-term programme, work with talented people, and I’m looking forward to moving up to Scotland and getting started.”

Schoeman returns for Province clash

Tian Schoeman returns to the Free State Cheetahs starting lineup at fly-half for the Currie Cup clash with Western Province in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Schoeman has recovered from injury and takes the place of Louis Fouche, who drops back down to the bench. William Small-Smith shifts to inside centre, with Darren Adonis lining up on the right wing.

Abram Venter is a surprise inclusion starting at tighthead prop for his Currie Cup debut, with Schalk van der Merwe at loosehead and Joseph Dweba at hooker.

Sintu Manjezi and Walt Steenkamp combine in the second row. Abongile Nonkontwana comes in at blindside flank with Junior Pokomela shifting to the blindside as Gerhard Olivier takes one of the positions on the bench.

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Darren Adonis, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Tian Meyer (captain), 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjesi, 3 Abram Venter, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.

Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Aranos Coetzee, 19 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Dries Swanepoel/Dian Badenhorst, 22 Louis Fouche.

Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17.15 (15.15 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Ruhan Meiring, Mpho Matsaung
TMO: JJ Wagner

Wallabies unveil World Cup squad

The Wallabies have confirmed their 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup in Japan, with Jordan Petaia the only uncapped player in the group.

The 19-year old missed most of the 2019 Super Rugby season following a Lisfranc injury but has since recovered to full fitness.

A squad which boasts 1,406 caps of Test experience, 200 more than the squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, will be captained by Michael Hooper, who is set for his second appearance at rugby’s showpiece, while 18 players are due to make their World Cup debuts.

At the other end of the spectrum, Adam Ashley-Cooper will play in his fourth World Cup, becoming just the second Wallaby ever to do so after George Gregan. Ashley-Cooper has played in 17 matches at the global tournament, just five games behind all-time leaders Jason Leonard and Richie McCaw.

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika said: “Firstly, I would like to thank all of the players who have contributed to the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup campaigns this season.

“We’ve become a really tight group and it was a very difficult process in picking only 31 players, but I know each player selected will travel to Japan with the full support of those team mates who won’t board the flight.

“We have worked really hard at building each week and each game so far this season, and play a brand of Rugby that Australia would be proud of and get every player contributing towards the outcome.

“It’s also important that we select a squad that will handle the tournament play and our draw in particular at the Rugby World Cup, as well as maintain a strong competition for places in the team.

“These next few weeks are about building and adding that little extra edge as a squad and we’ll be working hard to make sure we deliver on the qualities we want people to see when we run out on the field in Japan.

“We have five extra train-on members coming with us to New Caledonia and then we’ll return to take on Samoa, who we have had great clashes with in the past.”

The Wallabies will depart for an intensive 10-day training camp in New Caledonia later this afternoon before returning to Sydney to play Samoa at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday September 7. The Wallabies will play their opening match of Pool D against Fiji at Sapporo Dome, Sapporo on September 21, followed by Wales at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo eight days later.

The second Pool match against Wales will be Australia’s 50th Rugby World Cup match, becoming just the second country to achieve the milestone after New Zealand. The Wallabies will then take on Uruguay and Georgia in Oita and Shizuoka on October 5 and October 11, respectively.

Wallabies’ 31-man World Cup squad

Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga’a, Michael Hooper (c), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese

Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia, Matt Toomua, Nic White

Curry and Underhill return to England side for Ireland clash

England boss Eddie Jones has named both Tom Curry and Sam Underhill in his side to face Ireland in their World Cup warm-up clash at Twickenham on Saturday.

Curry and Underhill have recovered from shoulder and ankle injuries respectively to be named in the side and will feature alongside Billy Vunipola in the back-row.

Meanwhile, Mako Vunipola has been included among the replacements following his recovery from a long-term injury.

Captain Owen Farrell (inside centre), Manu Tuilagi (outside centre) and Ben Youngs (scrum-half) start their first match this series. Jonny May will make his first appearance this season on the left wing with Joe Cokanasiga switching to the right wing.

Jamie George, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler are named in the front-row, while George Kruis starts in the second-row alongside Maro Itoje.

Jones said: “The players have come back in a very good physical and mental state and we have had a good preparation this week. We purposefully made the week short looking ahead to the World Cup where this might happen beyond our control.

“It is the third of four games for us and come the 8th of September, when we get on the plane, we want to be ready to go. This is another step forward for us.

“This weekend we will be looking to gain more game fitness and testing different sorts of game strategies. We have a specific way of how we want to play and the focus is very much on ourselves.”

On England’s last game at Twickenham before heading to Japan, Jones added: “We have been so appreciative of the support we have had at Twickenham this year and this is our last match there before the tournament, so we look forward to playing well in front of our fans.”

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Jonathan Joseph

Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Twickenham
Kick-off: 15:00 local (16:00 SA time)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)

Gregan rates Wales, England and Australia's World Cup chances

Australia great George Gregan believes their Pool D opponents Wales will struggle to score tries against the better teams at the World Cup in Japan.

Warren Gatland’s men are currently number one in the world rankings having won 15 of their past 16 matches, including a 13-6 triumph over England in their previous outing.

Their defence, under the guidance of Shaun Edwards, has been particularly impressive and, as a result, they will be among the favourites for the global tournament.

Gregan insists that there are weaknesses, however, with Gatland’s charges struggling to create opportunities in Cardiff on Saturday.

“They’re pretty comfortable with how they play, Wales,” he told AAP.

“I just have my doubts whether the way they play is going to be conducive to scoring a lot of points in a World Cup, and the conditions in Japan will be very conducive to keeping the ball in hand and playing.”

George North scored the only try in Wales’ victory over an England side that were also blunt in attack, but Gregan believes that Eddie Jones’ outfit have more threat throughout their squad.

“They have the ability to score points, a lot of points, and then they can defend well,” he said. “Eddie being Eddie, they’ll be organised and gearing towards playing their best football at the end of the tournament.”

Australia, alongside Wales and England, will fancy their chances of making a good run in Japan, but the Wallabies have struggled with consistency, despite showing an improvement in 2019.

Michael Cheika’s men thrashed the All Blacks just under two weeks ago, but followed that up with a disappointing display in Auckland. However, Gregan insists that the 1991 and ’99 World Cup winners have the ability to overturn anyone in the latter stages of the 2019 tournament.

He added: “In the Rugby Championship, you mightn’t start well but you can bounce back in a week or two and correct stuff..

“But if you don’t get it right on the day from the quarter-final onwards at the World Cup, you’re out.

“What the Wallabies showed in the last two weeks is that on any given day, they can beat the best team in the world and really outplay them that night.”

Haskell to embark on MMA career

Former England rugby international James Haskell has announced he is pursuing a career in mixed martial arts (MMA).

The 34-year-old will begin competing in American mixed martial arts and kickboxing organisation Bellator’s heavyweight division.

Haskell enjoyed a 17-year career as a professional rugby player and announced his retirement from the game in May after one season with Northampton Saints.

He started his career at Wasps in 2002 and helped them during their Premiership and Heineken Cup winning campaigns in 2007 and 2008. He also represented Top 14 outfit Stade Francais, Ricoh Black Rams in Japan, and New Zealand Super Rugby side the Highlanders.

He played in 77 Tests since making his international debut in 2010, and won the Six Nations on three occasions.

Haskell was also part of the British and Irish Lions squad during their 2017 tour to New Zealand but although he played in several midweek matches, he did not represent the famous touring team in a Test.

Apart from his rugby achievements, Haskell has been following MMA for several years and worked as a television pundit in the sport alongside British MMA star Michael “Venom” Page, whom he has also trained with.

Although a date for his first fight must still be determined, Haskell is set to continue training for the remainder of this year, with his first fight expected to take place during the first half of 2020.

Byrne handed Ireland start against England

Ross Byrne will start at fly-half for Ireland's World Cup warm-up encounter against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Byrne will win his third international cap, having previously featured against Italy and the USA in the 2018 November series. Byrne starts at fly-half outside the returning Conor Murray.

Meanwhile, Rory Best returns to captain the side which includes several players making their season start.

Best is joined in the front-row by Cian Healy, winning his 90th cap, and Tadhg Furlong. Jean Kleyn, who made his debut against Italy at the start of the month, is partnered at lock with Iain Henderson.

The back-row sees Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander get their first outing of the season.

Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose renew their centre partnership from the final round of the Six Nations against Wales. Rob Kearney starts at full-back with Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale on the wings.

Jack Carty, who took over from the injured Joey Carbery in the game against Italy two weeks ago, is named among the replacements with Luke McGrath and Andrew Conway as the other back subs.

Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath are in line for their first start of the season off the bench which also includes Andrew Porter, Devin Toner and Tadhg Beirne who all featured at the Aviva Stadium earlier this month.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Jean Kleyn, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Tadhg Beirne, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Andrew Conway

Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Twickenham
Kick-off: 15:00 (16:00 SA time)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)

All Blacks Sevens squad adds four Super Rugby players

The All Blacks Sevens squad has received a major boost, with four Super Rugby players set to join their 2019/2020 campaign ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Caleb Clarke (Blues, Auckland), Etene Nanai-Seturo (Chiefs, Counties Manukau), Salesi Rayasi (Hurricanes, Auckland) and Scott Gregory (Highlanders, Northland) will shift into the 2019/2020 All Blacks Sevens campaign with their sights focussed on the Tokyo Olympic Games, New Zealand Rugby announced.

With the support of their Super Rugby clubs, the players have been given the green light to move into the Sevens programme, said New Zealand Rugby Head of High Performance Mike Anthony.

“We’re delighted that these players – who have all been in the All Blacks Sevens environment previously – have put up their hand, and want to have a crack at making the Olympic squad,” he told the All Blacks Sevens’ official website.

“We have worked very closely with all the Super Clubs to ensure we could support those players who were genuinely keen to be involved in the Tokyo Olympic Games. We also wanted to ensure that the Super Clubs were not significantly disadvantaged.

“Our first step was to gauge individual player interest, and then All Blacks Sevens management presented to those players before a firm commitment was sought.

“The four players selected have all previously played for the All Blacks Sevens which speaks volumes to the culture that (Coach) Clark Laidlaw and his team have really built within that environment. It’s been a key focus of the management to offer young players world class rugby experience so to have these four put their hand up to return is a great result.”

Clarke, Nanai-Seturo and Rayasi will join the All Blacks Sevens squad after their Mitre 10 Cup commitments at the end of this year while Gregory will assemble with the Highlanders until March 2020.

“One of the biggest considerations in this process has been the team environment. We have a group of contracted players that have won the Commonwealth Games Gold and Rugby World Cup Sevens last year, so we’re very mindful that those coming in need to complement that group,” said Anthony.

Salesi Rayasi was a member of the World Cup winning All Blacks Sevens team in 2018 while Etene Nanai-Seturo won Commonwealth Games Gold with the team last April.

“We think we have the right mix of players that are coming in – size, speed and power, they will be a great addition to the All Blacks Sevens programme,” said Anthony.

The Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, and Highlanders are free to recruit an additional player to their 2020 squads. The Crusaders are the only team to not have representation in the wider Sevens Squad.

Bulls hoping to perform Currie Cup miracle

The Blue Bulls are in need of a minor miracle to make the Currie Cup semi-finals. 
 
The men from Pretoria host an in-form Sharks outfit who have won their last two games to move into fourth place on the table, the final playoff spot.  
 
The Bulls, on the other hand, have just two wins from their five matches in this shortened Currie Cup and have their work cut out for them if they are to sneak into the semi-finals.
 
Firstly, Western Province have to lose to the Free State Cheetahs, then they need a bonus point win against the Sharks, as Bulls coach Pote Human points out... 
 
"We know what we need to do, so our options are very clear cut," Human told the official Bulls website. 
 
"We need to beat the Sharks by 12 points, with a bonus point and make sure they don't get a bonus point. The job at hand cannot be clearer than that. So this is a quarter-final match for us, if you like.
 
"We are pretty determined to still be playing in three weeks' time, come the final of the Currie Cup. Everyone is on the same page with the same mind-set. We have the quality in the squad to do this, we need to go out and prove that."
 
Personnel wise, the Bulls welcome back Springboks Lizo Gqoboka and Marco van Staden who featured in the Boks' win over Argentina last weekend. 

Sharks prepare for huge Bulls clash

The Sharks will run out at Loftus Versveld in Pretoria to face the Blue Bulls on Saturday in a key Currie cup clash.

A victory for the for the visitors will secure their semi-final spot and could even earn them a home game if other results go their way.

While the Bulls are out of the running after a troubling season, they showed earlier this month that they are a force to be reckoned with when the defeated the high-flying Golden Lions in Johannesburg.

As such, Sharks winger Kobus van Wyk is under no illusions as to the challenge that awaits them at Loftus on Saturday afternoon.

"This is going to be a determined Bulls team so we need to go out there and do what we have been doing for the last two weeks," he told the official Sharks website.

"We have the team to do it, we just need to do it. The past three or four weeks have been finals rugby for us, we’ve had to win every game and the team has grown immensely in that time.

"The team is in a good space right now and hopefully everything falls into place with this last game. We're almost there as a team, small margins have cost us a bit in terms of our rhythm, but everyone has bought into what coach Sean [Everitt] has put together as a campaign and in the games we lost, we lost track of the game plan."

The Sharks receive a welcome boost as prop Thomas du Toit and centre Andre Esterhuizen return from the Springbok training camp. Additionally, former Springbok Coenie Oosthuizen will return after sitting out last week due to injury.

World Rugby changes law to prevent repeat of Wales try

World Rugby has made a change to the law governing restarts following George North’s controversial try for Wales in Saturday’s 13-6 win over England in Cardiff.

The Wales winger North scored the only try of the match in the 34th minute of the Rugby World Cup warm-up Test at the Principality Stadium. This, while England had yet to send on a temporary replacement for scrum-half Willi Heinz, who was forced off the field for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA).

That meant England were reduced to 13 men for a brief period as they had already lost winger Anthony Watson to a sin binning.

The game’s governing body said the amended law meant play would only be able to restart when temporary replacement players were on the playing field.

“World Rugby has announced an immediate amendment to Law 3 to stipulate that a match cannot restart until a player leaving the field of play for a blood injury or Head Injury Assessment (HIA) has been temporarily replaced,” it said via a press statement.

“The amendment, approved by the international federation’s Executive Committee, codifies an area that was previously at the discretion of the referee. It has the dual intention of promoting player welfare best practice by enabling a player to be assessed and treated as soon as possible, while also ensuring that teams are not disadvantaged by playing with fewer players than permitted for a short period.

“The amendments apply only to elite matches that have been approved for HIA and the use of temporary substitutions.”

The amended law now reads:

Law 3 – Game – Temporary Replacements

Temporary Replacement – Blood Injury
25. When a player has a blood injury, that player leaves the field of play and may be temporarily replaced. The injured player returns to play as soon as the bleeding has been controlled and/or covered. If the player is not available to return to the field of play within 15 minutes (actual time) of leaving the playing area, the replacement becomes permanent.

26. In international matches, the match-day doctor decides whether an injury is a blood injury necessitating a temporary replacement. In matches which have been approved in advance by World Rugby for use of the HIA process, the game cannot restart until the player with the blood injury has been temporarily replaced.

Temporary Replacement – Head Injury Assessment (HIA)
27. In matches which have been approved in advance by World Rugby for use of the HIA process, a player who requires an HIA:

a) Leaves the field of play; and

b) Is temporarily replaced (even if all the replacements have been used). The game cannot restart until the player who requires an HIA has been temporarily replaced. If the player is not available to return to the field of play after 10 minutes (actual time) of leaving the playing area, the replacement becomes permanent.

Scotland ring changes for France clash

Scotland have welcomed back several first-team regulars back in to the starting lineup for the Test with France at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Scotland’s biggest stadium is poised for its 15th consecutive capacity crowd before which the national team aims to bounce back from their 32-3 defeat at the hands of Les Bleus in Nice last weekend.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said: “Our first outing of the season was a disappointment and not reflective of the hard work our players have put in over the past two months.

“France are a very dangerous side if you give them space and quick ball to play, which is what we allowed to happen on too many occasions last week. Our focus all week has been to remedy this and also create much more from our attacking game.

“It was a stark reminder of how tough things can be at international level if our standards slip. We expect our players to show a much truer picture of themselves this Saturday.”

Scotland’s starting back division is bookended by familiar partnerships and British & Irish Lions, as Stuart Hogg is joined by Saracens and Glasgow Warriors wings Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour for their 19th Test start as a trio.

Continuing the thread of familiarity are Racing 92 fly-half Finn Russell and Clermont Auvergne scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, who captains the side.

The pair will equal the starting partnership appearances of fellow Scottish Lions Gary Armstrong and Craig Chalmers (32) and will then be three starts short of equalling the record-holding half-back partnership of Greig’s uncle Roy Laidlaw and fly-half John Rutherford.

At the opposite end of the international experience spectrum is Scarlets number eight Blade Thomson, who will make his long-awaited Test debut in a back-row featuring Edinburgh’s Hamish Watson and Glasgow Warriors’ Ryan Wilson for the first time this campaign.

Fellow Warrior Scott Cummings is promoted from the bench position from which he debuted last weekend, alongside Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner, and behind a new front-row trio of Gordon Reid (Ayrshire Bulls), Willem Nel (Edinburgh) and hooker George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), who starts his second Scotland Test.

The side is completed by a new starting midfield partnership of Glasgow Warriors’ 41-times capped Pete Horne and Gloucester’s Chris Harris, while Glasgow Warriors hooker Grant Stewart could make his debut if called upon from the bench.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Willem Nel, 2 George Turner, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 John Barclay, 21 George Horne, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Blair Kinghorn

Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 13:10 BST (12:10 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Blue Bulls bolstered by Boks for Sharks encounter

The Blue Bulls have welcomed their Springbok returnees back in to the starting line-up for the Currie Cup clash with the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Prop Lizo Gqoboka and loose forward Marco van Staden were released by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and come straight back in to the first XV.

Besides their inclusions, coach Pote Human has maintained continuity by making no other changes to the starting line-up, but things have shifted around on the bench.

The major surprise is that Marnitz Boshoff has been dropped as the replacement fly-half with uncapped Junior Springbok Vaughen Isaacs taking his place on the bench.

Dayan van der Westhuizen makes way for Gqoboka and is demoted to the bench, while Ruan Steenkamp has passed his fitness test and will also be among the substitutes.

Blue Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl (captain), 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Corne Els, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Vaughen Isaacs, 23 Stedman Gans.

Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19.30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Paul Mente, Phumzile Mbewu
TMO: Johan Greeff

Willemse at 10 for must-win Cheetahs clash

Damian Willemse will start at fly-half for Western Province in their do-or-die Currie Cup clash with the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Province are in fifth position on the Currie Cup standings with 13 points and must win if they are to make the semi-finals.

Willemse made his return to competitive action off the bench in last Friday's defeat to the Griquas after being sidelined for three months with an injury sustained towards the end of the Super Rugby season.

Dillyn Leyds, Wilco Louw and Scarra Ntubeni have all returned from Springbok duty and come in to the starting line-up. Meanwhile, Junior Springbok Rikus Pretorius will make his debut at inside centre for the Cape Town franchise.

With Willemse lining up at number 10, SP Marais shifts to the left wing and Leyds starts at full-back.

Western Province: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 SP Marais, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 JD Schickerling, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Nama Xaba, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Seabelo Senatla.

Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17.15 (15.15 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Ruhan Meiring, Mpho Matsaung
TMO: JJ Wagner

Laker - 'Cheetahs game a quarter-final for us'

Western Province assistant coach Norman Laker has likened the Currie Cup clash with the Free State Cheetahs on Saturday to a veritable quarter-final.

As things stand, Province are in fifth position with 13 points - one point adrift of the semi-final places - while the Cheetahs occupy second position with 17 points.

Therefore, Province must win if they are to keep their semi-final hopes alive. If they do not it will come as a big shock to the system, having won the cup in 2017 before making the final last year.

The Cheetahs have a points differential of 67 (much more than any other side) and this is mainly due to their 68-14 thumping of top-placed Griquas, which Laker believes is evidence of their quality.

“The Cheetahs are a quality outfit and they showed what they can do at home against Griquas,” Laker said. “If you can put 50 on a Griquas side, you must be a quality outfit.”

Laker says it is imperative that Province are able to effect turnovers because the Cheetahs play ball-in-hand attacking rugby and that this will allow the likes of Dillyn Leyds and Sergeal Petersen to flourish as both players thrive in broken play.

“They keep ball in hand, they don’t really kick it away, so we must try and force turnovers so guys like Dillyn and Sergeal can create chaos. So we need to create turnovers from defence,” he said. “We can definitely improve our defence, especially on last week, it wasn’t our best defensive performance of the year.

“There was some miscommunication between players that created that space out wide. This game is basically a quarter-final for us.”

Everitt hails inexperienced halfback pairing

Sharks head coach Sean Everitt has reserved special praise for the maturity with which his inexperienced halfbacks have applied themselves.

Fly-half Boeta Chamberlain made his senior debut in last Saturday's 30-28 victory over the Golden Lions. Scrum-half Sanele Nohamba made his starting debut the weekend before against the Free State Cheetahs.

Nohamba looks to have gone above the under-performing Cameron Wright in the pecking order, while Chamberlain has stepped in due to Curwin Bosch having sustained an injury.

19-year-old Chamberlain, who represented the Springboks at under-20 level, produced an impressive performance in the Lions win and showed that he has plenty of know-how with the boot, even managing to slot a long-range drop goal.

“He’s [Chamberlain] a bit of an unknown factor,” said Everitt. “I was fortunate enough to work with him last year and he kicked drop-goals a number of times in the Under -19 competition and did it in the final against the Bulls.

“I knew that if he was on top of his game he’d do well and I thought he had a great debut, coming in to fill big boots – Curwin Bosch’s – and I thought he did that admirably.

“He’ll only grow and get better. He’s 19, turning 20 this year, played a few games for SA Under 20, so he has the ability and potential and the experience he got against the Lions will certainly help him go forward.”

Nohamba, 20, rose through the ranks of the Sharks academy and offers a goalkicking option, which Everitt praised him for not shying away from.

“Sanele Nohamba is a special rugby player who understands and reads the game really well and manages it like a guy who’s been there for years," said the Sharks boss.

“He has a mature head on his shoulders and was outstanding again while his kicking to poles was a massive plus for us with Curwin not being there. He actually asked for the kicking duties; that’s the confidence he has within himself and it’s always nice to coach a player like that. He also calls the plays and we look forward to what he still has to offer.”

The Sharks face the Blue Bulls in their final regular season fixture at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, knowing that only a win will suffice.

“There are some interesting scenarios ahead,” Everitt said. “After what we’ve been through, I think the guys will be very happy with a semifinal spot, but the cherry on the top would be a home semi and hopefully a home Final.”

Willemse to start at fly-half against Cheetahs?

Western Province could deploy Damian Willemse at fly-half for Saturday's must-win Currie Cup clash with the Free State Cheetahs at Free State Stadium.

Willemse made his return to competitive action at full-back after a two-month hiatus due to a knee injury sustained towards the end of the Super Rugby season in last Friday's 27-23 defeat to the Griquas in Kimberley.

The exciting Springbok utility back was spotted lining up in the fly-half position during training on Monday, but Western Province assistant coach Norman Laker was keeping his cards close to his chest on the matter.

“We are still not sure if he can start‚ and we have to wait for the medical staff’s decision‚” Laker said.

“But we took a lot of confidence and positives from Willemse’s return last week. He was only allowed to play 30 minutes because of the long-term injury he had and he certainly used those minutes well.”

Meanwhile, Laker welcomed the returns of Scarra Ntubeni, Wilco Louw and Dillyn Leyds from Springbok duty.

“Scarra‚ Dillyn and Wilco bring a lot of energy to the team. It’s great to have them back for this weekend‚” Laker said.

France make four changes for Scotland Test

France head coach Jacques Brunel has made four changes to his starting line-up that will face Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

On the back of a resounding 32-3 victory in Nice last weekend, coach Brunel has kept changes to a minimum as they look to build momentum.

The one alteration to the backline sees Thomas Ramos come in for Maxime Medard, who grabbed two tries last time out, in the full-back shirt.

Up front there is a return for captain and hooker Guilhem Guirado while Felix Lambey get the nod at lock alongside Sebastien Vahaamahina.

The final tweak comes in the back-row where Arthur Iturria replaces Francois Cros, with the bench seeing call-ups for prop Cyril Baille, second-row Romain Taofifenua and flanker Yacouba Camara.

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Arthur Iturria, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Felix Lambey, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Romain Ntamack, 23 Maxime Medard

Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 14:10 SA time
Referee: TBC

Horan urges Wallabies to relax Giteau Law

Former Australia centre Tim Horan believes the Wallabies should relax the Giteau Law in Rugby World Cup years in order to enhance their squad.

Currently, players plying their trade overseas are ineligible unless they have 60 or more caps and have given seven years of service in Super Rugby.

Wallabies Nic White, James O’Connor and Matt Toomua have signed contracts with Super Rugby outfits for 2020. However, one player who isn’t yet eligible is second-row Will Skelton, due to him being contracted to Saracens, and Horan is keen for the in-form lock to be picked as he would bolster their forward pack in Japan.

“I would select Will Skelton if we need to,” Horan told rugby.com.au.

“I’m a big believer in the Giteau rule, I get the 60 matches. But I’m a big believer in a World Cup year, you should be able to pick anyone from around the world. Where they are playing, it doesn’t matter, get the best team that gives us the best opportunity to win a World Cup.”

One downside to Horan’s idea is that more players could be lured away from Australian clubs, something the pundit believes is a risk worth taking.

“I would be (prepared to take the risk),” the 49-year-old continued.

“We want to win the World Cup and yes we want our best players back playing Super Rugby, but if a player like a Samu Kerevi is away for the next five years, we would want him back, just for the World Cup year.

“It is only my personal opinion, I don’t think Rugby Australia would be that favourable to it. But I just think you need to select the best players from around the world, your best 31, it doesn’t matter where they play.”