Preview: Sunwolves v Chiefs

The Chiefs will be looking for their third successive win when they visit the Sunwolves at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

After an opening-day defeat to the Crusaders (45-23), the Hamilton outfit have bounced back with victories over the Blues (27-21) and Bulls (41-28).

The Sunwolves have lost their opening four games but can take plenty of positives from their 40-38 defeat to the Lions last time out.

Playing at a high-tempo and preferring a looser, unstructured style, the Sunwolves forced the Lions into making mistakes and were clinical in converting.

But they come up against one of the most potent attacking forces in the competition. The Chiefs (18) have made the most clean breaks per game this season, while the Sunwolves (10) have made the fewest.

The Sunwolves boast the highest scrum success rate in the competition with 97 percent. Coach Jamie Joseph has selected his most physical loose trio with Willie Britz and Michael Leitch either side of Ed Quirk to cope with Sam Cane and company.

It will be an historic occasion as it marks the first time the Chiefs have played in Japan and coach Colin Cooper is looking forward to the experience.

“We’re really excited to be here in Tokyo, Japan," Cooper said.

"It’s the first time the Chiefs have been here to play in this Super Rugby competition so it’s an historic occasion.

"We know how tough the Sunwolves will be to beat at their home ground so we’re focused on preparing really well for a tough match on Saturday afternoon."

This will be the third time the Sunwolves have hosted opposition from New Zealand (W1, L1), with the previous two games seeing a total of 169 points scored.

The last time the teams met: The Chiefs earned a 27-20 win in their only previous Super Rugby meeting with the Sunwolves, after taking a handy 20-3 lead into the half-time break on the day.

Players to watch:

For Sunwolves: Hosea Saumaki boasts an average gain of 11 metres per carry this season, the most of any player to have made at least 20 carries. According to Opta Sports he has also beaten the fifth-most defenders (18).

For Chiefs: Solomon Alaimalo has run 302 metres with ball in hand this season, the sixth highest of any player in the competition while he has made the second most clean breaks (12).

Team news: There is a rotational shift in the Sunwolves back three with Kotaro Matsushima moving from full-back to wing, while Ryuji Noguchi will wear the number 15 jersey.

Yu Tamura is at fly-half with Fumiaki Tanaka at scrum-half, while Michael Little replaces William Tupou at inside centre.

Japan captain Michael Leitch shifts from number eight to blindside, with Ed Quirk and Britz completing the loose trio.

Uwe Helu comes in at lock for Wimpie van der Walt, who is demoted to the bench. Finally, it is a brand new front-row for the Sunwolves, with Jiwon Koo, Yusuke Niwai and Craig Millar being replaced by Hencus van Wyk, Shota Horie and Keita Inagaki. 

Meanwhile, Canadian recruit Tyler Ardron comes into the Chiefs locking department to partner Brodie Retallick. It’s the Canadian’s first start for the team, after an impressive cameo off the bench against the Blues in round three. Taleni Seu also comes into the loose forwards after a rest last weekend.

In the backline, quick-footed Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi starts at scrum-half, after making a fantastic impact as a substitute against the Bulls last week. Speedster Toni Pulu is back from injury for the first time this season at right wing and Marty McKenzie starts at full-back with brother Damian moving to fly-half.

It is a special evening for Waikato youngster Bailyn Sullivan who is in line to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench in the number 23 jersey. Sullivan has been training with the squad throughout the pre-season and is also a member of the University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development squad.

Previous result:

2017: Chiefs won 27-20 in Hamilton

Prediction: The Sunwolves' woes against New Zealand opposition will continue. Chiefs by 15.

The teams:

Sunwolves: 15 Ryuji Noguchi, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Michael Little, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz (c), 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Hencus van Wyk, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Jiwon Koo, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Robbie Robinson, 23 William Tupou

Chiefs: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu’inukaufe, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Sean Wainui, 23 Bailyn Sullivan

Date: Saturday, March 24
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
Kick-off: 13:15 local (04:15 GMT)
Referee: William Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Aki Aso (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)

Santiago Socino signs new deal at Newcastle

Hooker Santiago Socino has signed a two-year contract extension at Newcastle Falcons which will keep him at the club until at least 2020.

The 25-year-old is now English-qualified after completing his residency period, with his new deal coming in a breakthrough season which has seen him make his Aviva Premiership debut.

“It was a no-brainer for me when I spoke to our director of rugby Dean Richards about staying,” said Socino, who has also played for Hull Ionians, Rotherham, Darlington Mowden Park and his home town club in Buenos Aires, Los Matreros.

“It has been a long journey for me, I’ve been working hard to get better throughout all of that time and I feel really good at the minute. That’s why I’ve committed my future here.

“When I first came to Newcastle Falcons I was in the academy and my goal was just to get into the senior squad, so to have started in the Premiership at this stage of my career is great.

“I got the chance and I felt I took it, so now I’m just determined to work hard and be involved more regularly in the first team games, be it Premiership, cups or whatever. We have great competition so it won’t be easy, but I’m in the best place to keep developing and improving.

“I really like the way the Falcons play, it’s an exciting thing to be part of and we’ve shown a steady improvement over the past three years.”

Socino has made 11 first team appearances, scoring on his debut in the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Saracens last season, with seven of his outings coming in this season’s Premiership.

Delighted to have retained his services, director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Santi is a very talented player who suits our style of rugby, and he has worked very hard over the past few seasons in converting to hooker from the back-row.

“His offloading and aggression are just a couple of the many attributes he brings to our play, and it’s great that we have agreed this deal.”


Stormers make four changes for Reds

Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck has made four changes to his starting line-up for Saturday's Super Rugby clash with the Reds in Cape Town.

There are three alteration to the pack and one change to the back-line which started in last weekend's 37-20 win over the Blues.

In the loose trio, Cobus Wiese is back at blindside flank, which means that Pieter-Steph du Toit shifts across to lock with Chris van Zyl dropping down to the replacements bench.

In the front-row JC Janse van Rensburg will start at loosehead prop in a rotational switch with Steven Kitshoff. Tighthead prop Carlu Sadie and loose forwards Kobus van Dyk and Sikhumbuzo Notshe are also back in the matchday squad after being ruled out last week due to illness.

Amongst the backs, Craig Barry starts at full-back in place of Dillyn Leyds who has been ruled out with a calf injury. Justin Phillips and George Whitehead provide halfback cover on the replacements bench.

Fleck said that his team have their sights on making another step-up in their performance levels this weekend.

"It was great to get back to winning ways at Newlands last week, but we are certainly not taking anything for granted," he explained.

"We want to go out there and improve in a number of areas, to maintain the positive trajectory we are on."

Stormers: 15 Craig Barry, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg 
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 George Whitehead

Date: Saturday, March 24
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)

Dom Barrow to join Saints ahead of 2018/19 season

Dom Barrow has signed a deal with Northampton which will see him join the Saints for the start of next season.

Having been at Leicester Tigers since 2015, the Welford Road-based outfit announced today that the second-row has left the club with immediate effect.

Barrow has since signed for La Rochelle on a short-term deal as a medical joker, but will then move to Franklin’s Gardens at the end of the current campaign.

The towering, Sheffield-born lock began his rugby career in Yorkshire Carnegie’s academy, but, after a two-year stint with Newcastle Falcons, he has now made over 50 appearances for Tigers.

Barrow was shortlisted for Young Player and Newcomer of the Year in his debut season at Welford Road, before being nominated for Supporters’ Player of the Year in 2017.

And the former England Under-20s international is delighted to be making the short trip across the East Midlands to link up with Saints.

“I’m really relishing a new challenge at Franklin’s Gardens,” said the 25-year-old.

“Chris Boyd’s appointment was key to my decision and it seems to have generated a lot of positive energy at Saints. It’s obvious that there’s a huge focus on putting things right for next year and challenging for honours – I can’t wait to play my part.

“I know just how electric the atmosphere is at Franklin’s Gardens and how passionate the supporters are having played against Saints on several occasions – I hope I can do those supporters proud wearing Black, Green and Gold.”

A sporting all-rounder in his youth, Barrow was initially part of both Barnsley’s and Manchester United’s football academies, as well as running cross-country to a high level.

But having focused on rugby and captained England’s Under-16 and Under-18 age groups, Barrow made his senior debut for Yorkshire in the 2010/11 European Challenge Cup.

Standing at 6’ 8”, Barrow naturally impressed, joining England’s Under-20s set-up in 2013 and winning the IRB Junior World Championship title with the squad later that year.

That paved the way for a breakthrough move to Newcastle Falcons in the summer of 2013, before he joined Leicester Tigers two years later, making over 50 appearances to date.

And Saints’ interim head coach Alan Dickens believes that Barrow will be another superb addition to Saints’ second-row options for next season.

He said: “Dom offers a lot around the park as well as in the lineout, and we’re delighted to welcome him to Franklin’s Gardens.

“Even though he’s only 25, he’s already proven his huge talent at the highest level on a rugby pitch.

“Dom’s got a lot of rugby in him as well as international aspirations, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he can add to our game next year.”

Nick Kennedy leaves London Irish with immediate effect

London Irish director of rugby Nick Kennedy is leaving the club with immediate effect, the Madejski Stadium outfit announced on Thursday.

Kennedy, 35, had been given the opportunity to remain in his position to work alongside new technical consultant Declan Kidney and head coach Les Kiss. However, after taking time to consider his options Kennedy has requested to leave the club, and the London Irish management has reluctantly accepted his resignation.

Kennedy took up the role of director of rugby in the summer of 2016, having re-joined the club as academy director in 2014 after short spells at Harlequins and Toulon. Kennedy made more than 200 appearances for London Irish’s first team in a decade-long playing career that also included seven England caps and an appearance in the 2009 Premiership final.

“Nick will always be a major figure in the London Irish history books,” said Mick Crossan, London Irish’s president and majority shareholder.

“He was an excellent player and we believed that he had a promising career in front of him as a coach, which we had hoped that he would fulfil under the guidance of Declan Kidney and Les Kiss. So, we’re disappointed that he has decided to move on.

“However, we have accepted his decision and wish him all the best for the future.”

Kennedy said: “London Irish will always have a special place in my heart.

“This was not a decision that I made lightly as there are a great bunch of coaches and players at Hazelwood. I’m proud I helped change the Academy from a two star to a five star RFU rating and to have gone undefeated for a season to win the U18 Premiership Rugby title. I’m proud we won the Championship at the first time of asking, only losing one game all season, and I’m very proud of the players and how they fought to the end of every game.

“I’d also like to thank the fans for their outstanding support over the years, and I hope that they will be enjoying success in the future.”

Preview: Bath v Exeter Chiefs

Taulupe Faletau and Jonathan Joseph return to Bath's starting line-up, as they face Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership at the Rec on Friday.

Faletau and Joseph start at number eight and outside centre respectively, as Bath welcome the reigning Premiership champions to the West Country.

Nathan Charles starts at hooker, with Beno Obano and Henry Thomas either side of the Australian in the front-row. Charlie Ewels continues in the second-row alongside Elliott Stooke, who returns to the starting XV.

Matt Garvey comes back into the fold at blindside flanker, with Tom Ellis and Faletau joining the Bath captain in the back-row.

Kahn Fotuali’i partners Freddie Burns in the half-back combination, whilst Joseph features alongside James Wilson in the midfield.

Aled Brew, Matt Banahan and Tom Homer occupy the back three positions, as Bath look to close the gap on the top four.

Tom Dunn and Rhys Priestland could make their return to action, after being named among the replacements.

Meanwhile, changes from Exeter’s last outing in the Premiership against Saracens at Sandy Park see club captain Jack Yeandle come in at hooker in place of Luke Cowan-Dickie, who picked up an ankle injury in training this week, while Sam Simmonds starts at number eight.

Behind the scrum, Joe Simmonds gets another chance to shine at fly-half ahead of Gareth Steenson, while Ian Whitten gets the nod on the wing over former Bath player Olly Woodburn.

Aussie international Dave Dennis, fresh from an impressive return to action against Newcastle Falcons in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final, is included in a Premiership squad for the first time in September, while there are also inclusions for young hooker Jack Innard and Argentinian international Santiago Cordero.

Form: Bath's last four matches have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Bath have won their last four matches at the Recreation Ground in all competitions. Exeter Chiefs have won their last two Premiership Rugby matches, both at home, to Northampton Saints and Saracens. The Chiefs have lost their last four away games in all competitions since beating Northampton 35-14 at Franklins Gardens in Round 11 of Premiership Rugby. The two sides should have met in the final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup last weekend which unfortunately succumbed to the weather. Exeter’s only defeat in their last four meetings with Bath was a 13-10 loss at Sandy Park in October 2016.

The teams:

Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 James Wilson, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tom Ellis, 6 Matt Garvey (c), 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Beno Obano
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 James Phillips, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Cooper Vuna

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Santiago Cordero

Date: Friday, March 23
Venue: Recreation Ground
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley, Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kitt

TJ Perenara reaches century for Hurricanes

TJ Perenara will join the Hurricanes 100 club on Saturday when he lines up against the Highlanders in their Super Rugby derby in Wellington.

The All Blacks scrum-half is part of a side that contains just one change to the starting side that defeated the Crusaders 29-19 in their last match with Murray Douglas replacing Vaea Fifita who has a minor shoulder injury.

Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has also made two changes to the bench from that match with All Blacks prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen returning after being sidelined with injury.

Toomaga-Allen, who played 30 minutes for the Hurricanes Development side last Saturday, replaces Marcel Renata who made his Hurricanes debut against the Crusaders after coming on late in the match.

In the other change on the bench, Reed Prinsep comes in for Blade Thomson.

Perenara will be the 13th Hurricanes player to reach 100 games for the club as he follows Dane Coles, Andrew Hore, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Rodney So'oialo, Jeremy Thrush, Neemia Tialata, Tana Umaga, Victor Vito and Beauden Barrett who brought up the milestone against the Crusaders.

After making his debut as a replacement against the Stormers at Cape Town in 2012, Perenara has gone on to make 94 starts for the Hurricanes while he has paired 82 times with Barrett in Super Rugby.

He has also captained the Hurricanes 16 times while he has scored more tries than any other scrum-half in Super Rugby history.

Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Murray Douglas, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves 
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Vince Aso

Date: Saturday, March 24
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)

New date for Anglo-Welsh Cup Final

Premiership Rugby has confirmed that the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final will be staged on Good Friday (March 30) with a 2:30pm kick-off at Kingsholm.

The match between Bath and Exeter Chiefs was postponed last Sunday after severe weather conditions hit the Gloucester area.

“Tickets for the original match will be valid for the new date but we will also be offering all fans who can't make it a refund,” said a Premiership Rugby spokesman.

“As we all hope Gloucester Rugby will qualify for a home European Challenge Cup semi-final the Easter Weekend is currently the only viable option for the match as our policies on player welfare ensure that we would only play a match in midweek in exceptional circumstances.

“All parties involved have worked quickly and tirelessly to rearrange what promises to be a thrilling Anglo-Welsh Cup Final, which will now kick-start the Easter weekend for fans in style."

Lions ring the changes for Jaguares

Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has made numerous changes to his starting line-up for Saturday's encounter with the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

De Bruin has made 10 alterations in all, after last weekend's narrow win over the Sunwolves, including three positional switches. 

In the back-line, Rohan Janse van Rensburg returns to inside centre, after doing duty on the right wing against the Sunwolves, while Sylvian Mahuza comes into the run-on side to wear the number 14 jersey.

Meanwhile, Marco Jansen van Vuren comes in at scrum-half as a replacement for Ross Cronje, who is ruled out with a rib injury.

In the forwards, Kwagga Smith moves from the side of the scrum to number, where he takes over from Len Massyn, while Robert Kruger and Cyle Brink are the starting flankers.

This means that the side's captain Franco Mostert returns to his favoured lock position and he packs down alongside Marvin Orie. In the front row, Ruan Dreyer and Jacques Van Rooyen replace Jacobie Adriaanse and Dylan Smith as the starting props while Robbie Coetzee takes over from Malcolm Marx at hooker.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques Van Rooyen 
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Len Massyn, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Shaun Reynolds

Date: Saturday, March 24
Venue: Estadio José Amalfitani Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 16:40 local (19:40 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)

Ian Ritchie named Premiership Rugby chairman

Premiership Rugby has announced the appointment of former Rugby Football Union chief Ian Ritchie as independent, non-executive Chairman.

Ritchie is highly experienced in professional sport, not only through his five-year tenure at the RFU but also previous roles in tennis and as a non-executive director at the Football League and Wembley Stadium. In addition, he has had substantial commercial and media-related experience throughout his career.

He was elected unanimously by the Premiership Rugby Board of Directors for a two-year term which will start next month.

Semore Kurdi, current Chairman and the owner of Newcastle Falcons said: "I'm delighted that Ian has agreed to become Chairman. We are in a period of significant domestic and international growth for the club game, with this weekend’s big Aviva Premiership Rugby matches just one example, as they will be seen in some 200 countries around the world.

"Ian will undoubtedly add to our ability to realise the full potential of the league. I have enjoyed my time in the Chair and I look forward to working with him through this next phase."

Ritchie said: "Premiership Rugby has become one of the foremost competitions in professional sport and I'm pleased to be taking the Chair at this time. Clearly, the partnership with the RFU is central to the success of both club and country and I look forward to helping ensure its success.

"I take over the Chairmanship with Premiership Rugby in great shape and I would like to record my appreciation of Semore’s role over the last two years in the continued success of Aviva Premiership Rugby. I look forward to helping build on this."