Highly-rated All Black tighthead prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen has confirmed a move from the Hurricanes to Wasps.
Toomaga-Allen, who picked up a New Zealand cap against Japan in 2013 and was also named in the 2017 Rugby Championship squad, will make the switch to the Ricoh Arena later in the year.
The 28-year-old burst onto the scene with the Canes in 2012 and has gone on to make 101 appearances for the franchise, helping them win the title in 2016 as they defeated the Lions 20-3 in the final.
He was also part of the Wellington-based side’s charge to the 2015 final while they have also made the semi-finals in the last two campaigns.
Toomaga-Allen will link up with former teammate Brad Shields at Wasps, with both having made their Hurricances debuts back in 2012, and both also reaching the 100-appearance milestone for the club in 2018.
On the New Zealand domestic stage, Toomaga-Allen has represented Wellington 34 times in the ITM/Mitre 10 Cup, helping them to the final of the competition back in 2013 and was also named as their Top Player in 2012.
Wasps director of rugby Dai Young said: “To bring someone of Jeff’s calibre to the club is fantastic news.
“Jeff is a solid scrummager while also being strong in defence, and like most New Zealanders, he is gifted with ball in hand so he’s a terrific all-round player.
“We’re looking forward to him joining us next season as he’ll provide a real wealth of experience to the front-row.”
Toomaga-Allen added: “I’m really excited to be joining Wasps later this year. It’s a fantastic club with a lot of history.
“I want to help the club compete at the very top of the Premiership and European competitions, and hopefully I can be part of something special in winning trophies.”
Meanwhile, Wasps confirmed that prop Will Stuart will leave the Midlanders in June.
Stuart, who was nurtured by the academy, has gone on to make 24 first-team appearances.
Young said: “We’re really disappointed that Will has decided to move on.
“We did all we could to try and keep him at Wasps but at the end of the day, sometimes players decide that they want to take on new challenges and there’s not a lot you can do once they’ve made up their minds. We wish Will all the best for the future.”
Stuart said: “I’d like to thank everyone at Wasps, from Dai to all the players, coaches and staff, for helping me to this stage of my career.
“I’ll continue to wear the shirt with pride till the end of the season and want to finish on a high note at Wasps.”
A knee injury has forced England co-captain Dylan Hartley out of their opening Six Nations clash with Ireland.
Hartley was left out of the squad to face Joe Schmidt's men, leaving Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jamie George and the uncapped Jack Singleton to battle it out for a starting berth.
Head coach Eddie Jones said: "Unfortunately, Dylan won’t be available for the Ireland game so we won’t take him to Portugal but we are hopeful he will be back later in the championship. Owen (Farrell) will be captain by himself and he will certainly have great support from a number of senior players.”
Meanwhile, full-back Mike Brown and prop Dan Cole have returned to the group having not featured for their country recently.
Cole missed both the tour to South Africa and the end-of-year series, while Brown was dropped for the November campaign, suggesting that they weren't in Eddie Jones' thoughts going forward, but they have forced their way back in.
There is also a recall for Jack Clifford (Harlequins), while Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby) is included for the first time and is one of four uncapped players selected alongside Ben Earl (Saracens), Dan Robson (Wasps) and Singleton (Worcester Warriors).
Elsewhere, props Mako Vunipola (Saracens) and Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), second-row Joe Launchbury (Wasps) and number eight Billy Vunipola (Saracens) all return from injury having not played for England since the South Africa tour last season.
The 22-year-old Gloucester winger has made 39 career appearances for his club and was part of England’s U20 team that won the World Rugby Under 20 Championship in 2016.
Singleton, who also won the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2016, has previously toured with England to South Africa and Argentina, with Earl and Robson joining the squad in the three-Test series against the Springboks in June.
Jones said: “We are very happy with the squad and have a number of players who have come back from long-term injury. We are looking forward to getting across to Portugal and having a good ten-day preparation for the Ireland game.”
“The first thing when we get together as a squad is to get our cohesion back. The players have been playing for their clubs with different styles and different playing philosophies, so it’s about getting them thinking about playing the England way. The second thing is to get our togetherness stronger to work as hard as we can to make sure we are well connected on and off the field so Portugal is an important camp for us.”
On England’s first opponents in the tournament, he said: “Ireland is the best side in the world. They are a very well coached and drilled side and have particular things they do well in the game. To beat Ireland, we need to compete brutally in all the contest areas of the game.”
England squad for Ireland Test
Forwards: Jack Clifford, Dan Cole, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Nathan Hughes, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Ben Moon, Brad Shields, Kyle Sinckler, Jack Singleton, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams, Mark Wilson
Backs: Chris Ashton, Mike Brown, Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, Ollie Devoto, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Dan Robson, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Ollie Thorley, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs
Talented New Zealand centre Malakai Fekitoa will join Wasps from French giants Toulon when his contract expires in June.
After two seasons in France, the World Cup winner will make the switch to Ricoh Arena where he will link up with former international and club teammate Lima Sopoaga.
Fekitoa, who can play at 12 or 13, has bagged eight international tries in 24 appearances for the All Blacks, including two tries at the 2015 Rugby World Cup as he was part of the side which won back-to-back titles for the first time ever.
Alongside Sopoaga, the 26-year-old already has a wealth of experience on his shoulders after four seasons with the Highlanders, where he helped them to a first ever Super Rugby title in 2015 before a semi-final appearance in 2016.
During his time in Dunedin, Fekitoa racked up 20 tries in 65 Super Rugby appearances while he also represented Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Since his switch to France in 2017, the Tongan-born back has played 25 times, crossing the chalk on eight occasions.
Wasps director of rugby Dai Young said: "Malakai is a world-class player with bags of talent.
"He’s a proven player at the top level and to bring someone of his calibre to Wasps is a massive coup for the club.
"We’re very much looking forward to welcoming him to the Ricoh in the summer where he will no doubt bring vital experience and know-how which will be of great benefit to some of our younger players."
Fekitoa said: "I am very excited to make the move to the Ricoh Arena next season.
"Wasps are a team that play an exciting brand of rugby and are very ambitious. Hopefully I can help them push forward and achieve silverware in the next few years."
Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards has admitted he gave serious consideration to throwing his hat in the ring for the position of head coach at the Dragons.
The 52-year-old was reported to be favourite for the role but the Welsh region announced on Monday that Ceri Jones would be their caretaker boss.
Edwards said that he initially wanted to take interim charge but admitted family matters were too important in what is a busy year for the coach, with the World Cup on the horizon.
"I spoke to the Dragons and I fancied going because I knew there were good lads there," he said. "I thought with simplifying a few things they could definitely improve, particularly the defence.
"That's obviously my specialist area but I've been an attack coach, I was backs coach for Wasps under Warren (Gatland) when we won three championships and the Heineken Cup.
"But the thing was that with it being a World Cup year I'm away from my family a lot and I've got two small children, one four and one eight months, and I just felt it was a little bit too much for my partner to look after the two kids for the next nine months."
Edwards has also been working with fellow Welsh region the Ospreys in a consultancy capacity and said that he wanted to honour that deal.
"The Ospreys have been good to me and I like finishing a job," the Wales coach added. "I think I did a decent job at Cardiff last year and I wanted to do a similar thing with the Ospreys.
"Every time I've gone in somewhere I've wanted to try and get those teams back into the Heineken Cup.
"We probably overachieved a bit last year with the Blues, winning the Challenge Cup, but my goal was getting them back into the Heineken Cup. It's my goal with the Ospreys and we've not done that yet."
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has selected seven uncapped players in his 39-man squad for the upcoming Six Nations tournament.
Injuries to Fraser Brown and George Turner have opened the door for a trio of uncapped hookers, with David Cherry (Edinburgh), Jake Kerr (Leicester Tigers) and Grant Stewart (Glasgow Warriors) rewarded for breakthrough seasons at their club sides.
They are joined by back-row Gary Graham (Newcastle Falcons) and tighthead prop D'Arcy Rae (Glasgow Warriors), with centres Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) and Chris Dean (Edinburgh) the only uncapped backs.
Of the group, former Scotland U20 caps Cherry, Kerr and Dean are the only players to have no previous involvement with the senior national side, with the others selected in extended or training squads in recent seasons.
Johnson missed out on the recent November Tests through injury and Graham was an unused addition mid campaign, while Rae and Stewart have also come close to caps in previous camps as unused squad members on the 2017 and 2018 June tours respectively.
Newcastle back-row John Hardie makes his return to a Scotland squad for the first time since the 2018 Six Nations, while the selection of squad regulars Jonny Gray and Tommy Seymour puts them - selection permitting - on track to reach a half-century of Scotland caps during the championship, currently just three and four caps from the milestone.
Scotland finished last year's championship in third place with three wins for the second time since five nations became six, with Townsend keen to see continued improvements from his side.
He said: "There's certainly been a lot of improvement from this group of players in recent seasons and I believe there's much more to come. They've a genuine desire to get better and reach their potential in what is a huge year for our sport.
"In the past 18 months we've played 18 Test matches and have introduced 18 new players to Test-level rugby. Once again, our squad features players aiming to take that step, which is a testimony to their performances this season and the growing strength in depth of Scottish rugby.
"We are very proud of what a number of our players have achieved since the Autumn Tests, particularly with Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors both aiming to make the last eight of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time and both sitting in strong positions in their respective Guinness PRO14 conferences.
"We've also seen some excellent performances from players representing clubs in France and England, which is a credit to their commitment and work ethic.
"It is a privilege for our players to be involved in the Guinness Six Nations, which is such a prestigious tournament and will be highly competitive once again.
"We look forward to taking on the challenge of Italy and working hard as a squad over the next two weeks to deliver a winning performance."
Scotland will open the campaign against Italy at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 2 February, in the first of three home Tests in this year's competition, all of which are expected to be played before capacity crowds at the nation's largest stadium.
Scotland squad for the 2019 Six Nations
Forwards: Alex Allan, Adam Ashe, Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, David Cherry, Allan Dell, Grant Gilchrist, Gary Graham, Jonny Gray, John Hardie, Jake Kerr, Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, D'Arcy Rae, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner, Grant Stewart, Josh Strauss, Tim Swinson, Ben Toolis, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson
Backs: Chris Dean, Darcy Graham, Nick Grigg, Sam Johnson, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Pete Horne, Huw Jones, Lee Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour
Wasps have confirmed that South African backline star Willie le Roux will be leaving the club at the end of the 2018/19 season, along with Bristol signing Nathan Hughes.
South Africa international Le Roux has played over 50 matches at the Premiership club and director of rugby Dai Young is sad to see him go.
"It's always disappointing to lose players of such quality but this is professional sport and there isn't much you can do about it. There are a number of factors that play a part in players' decisions to move on and unfortunately these guys have opted to move onto pastures new for 2019/20," he said.
"Willie joined Wasps at a time when he wasn't a part of the Springboks side and since making the move here, he has rediscovered his form and shown that he is a world-class player which in turn has seen him restored to the national side, going on to make over 50 appearances. We'd like to place our thanks on record to Willie for his great service to the club over the past two-and-a-half seasons."
On the impending departure of Hughes, Young added: "Nathan arrived from New Zealand's domestic scene and has risen to the top during his time at Wasps, going on to become an England international. It's a credit to the club that we've been able to help him realise his potential and although it's a blow to lose such a quality player, we wish him all the best."
Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau is in danger of missing the Six Nations after his club side Bath confirmed he suffered a fracture to his forearm.
The 28-year-old back-row, who impressed for Bath in their 18-16 Champions Cup victory over Wasps on Saturday, has now suffered a cruel blow.
Faletau was making his rugby return following another fracture which occurred in October, with Bath unsure how long he will be out of the game.
Wales will begin their Six Nations campaign away to France on Friday, February 1, with the 2019 tournament running until Saturday, March 16.
They're also set to be without another British and Irish Lions forward as flank Dan Lydiate will miss the start of the Championship due to injury.
Wallaby star Kurtley Beale has apologised after a video emerged showing him in the same room as a man snorting a white substance.
30-year-old Beale was with NRL player Corey Norman back in 2016 as they filmed the man before the video then showed Waratahs back Beale laughing.
Norman was suspended for eight weeks and received a fine at the time, but Rugby Australia were only made aware as the footage emerged on Monday.
"Rugby Australia only became aware of the vision after it had surfaced on social media on Monday afternoon and understands that it was recorded in 2016," Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle revealed in a statement, with Beale not expected to be punished.
"After becoming aware that the vision was being shared on social media, Kurtley contacted me last night to apologise for the negative attention the video had attracted and expressed regret at putting himself in a compromising position at that time.
"Kurtley has today met with Rugby Australia's Integrity Unit to provide his version of events and the high standards that are expected of him as a professional Rugby player have been firmly reiterated.
"Kurtley acknowledges that his presence in the video and the humour he expressed at the incident at the time does not reflect the image that is expected of a professional rugby player."
Following a number of thrilling wins in Round Five of the Champions Cup, we highlight the best individual performances from the matches.
Exeter Chiefs, Munster, Leinster, Edinburgh and Ulster dominate our line-up this Monday following their impressive victories over the weekend.
So without further ado, here's our selection.
Champions Cup: Team of Round Five
15 Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs): It was an electric performance from the Chiefs full-back as he enjoyed 55 minutes of rugby on Sunday. He opened his team's try account with a wonderful individual score and sees off impressive Saracens veteran Alex Goode. Nowell made 138 metres from his 11 carries and looked incredibly dangerous on his return from injury, which is great news for both Exeter and England.
14 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh): Munster wing Andrew Conway deserves a mention from the get go as his consistent performances are surely leading to Joe Schmidt picking him in his Six Nations squad. However, Graham was a big reason why Edinburgh saw off Toulon at Stade Mayol. He made 92 metres and three clean breaks in the win as Edinburgh continue their excellent season, sitting pretty at the pool summit.
13 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs): Like team-mate Nowell, Slade was one of the stars of Exeter's superb showing against Castres. Slade's strong fend, power in close quarters, side-step, kicking game and pace were all on show at Sandy Park as he sees off three excellent performers from the round, Nick Tompkins, Kieron Fonotia and Virimi Vakatawa. Slade's assist for Tom O'Flaherty's try was something special.
12 Ollie Devoto (Exeter Chiefs): The Exeter flavour continues here as Devoto stood out alongside Slade, with his offload for Joe Simmonds' try out of the top drawer. The underrated back could prove an unsung hero for the Chiefs in the second part of this campaign as they look to challenge on both domestic and European fronts. Munster centre Rory Scannell impressed but we settled on Devoto as our 12.
11 Jacob Stockdale (Ulster): Two wonderful tries from the Ireland international as his first saw him slip the tackle for an easy run-in before his second was another level up. Again busting out of a Racing tackle, he then showed pace before chipping over the top and regathering to send Kingspan Stadium delirious. Ulster and Ireland will hope moments like these continue...you wouldn't bet against it.
10 Joey Carbery (Munster): One of the performances of the round came in the opening game at Kingsholm. Carbery oozed quality against Gloucester and finished with 26 points thanks to two tries, five conversions and two penalties. Ireland's future long-term fly-half.
9 Conor Murray (Munster): Playing alongside Murray will obviously benefit Carbery and Murray was a calming presence on Friday. Quality players seem to have more time in possession and Murray looked like he was strolling against the Cherry and Whites. A mention for Montpellier veteran Ruan Pienaar for the direction he gave them in a big win over Newcastle but we opt for the Ireland international star.
8 Bill Mata (Edinburgh): The big Fijian has become somewhat of a cult figure at the Scottish capital side and it's no surprise after delivering performances like the one he produced in their win at Toulon on Saturday. Was superb on attack, gaining 72 metres from 17 runs which included one clean break and two offloads, one of which will live long in the memory of Edinburgh supporters as it helped James Johnstone to score a well-taken try. Mata also did well on defence with seven tackles and comes in ahead of Munster hardman CJ Stander.
7 Hamish Watson (Edinburgh): The Scotland tearaway gave good support to Mata in the Edinburgh back-row and produced a busy performance at Stade Felix-Mayol. Watson made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and won a turnover for his efforts but also impressed on attack and finished with 24 metres gained from 10 runs.
6 Rhys Ruddock (Leinster): Was immense in a bruising forward battle against Toulouse at the RDS Arena. Leinster's forwards took the challenge to their French counterparts on attack and defence, and Ruddock was superb in both departments. Finished the game with 45 metres gained from an incredible 20 carries and made 15 tackles. Taulupe Faletau also caught the eye on his return to action for Bath.
5 Tadhg Beirne (Munster): Yet another outstanding display from the Ireland international which helped pave the way to his side's win over Gloucester. Beirne did well in the line-outs and put in an excellent defensive shift. Eventually finished with 15 tackles and is preferred to Jonny Hill, who also impressed for Exeter Chiefs.
4 Scott Fardy (Leinster): The Wallaby got through plenty of work at the coalface of his side's forward effort in their win over Les Rouge et Noir. As usual, Fardy did his bit in the line-outs and also did well with ball in hand, but made his biggest impact on defence where he completed 14 tackles. Nico Janse van Rensburg of Montpellier also impressed.
3 Stephen Archer (Munster): Was one of the the Irish province's standout performers during an impressive victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm. Munster's forward pack were in a rampant mood, particularly in the scrums, and Archer was the cornerstone of their set-piece where he came out on top in his direct duel with Josh Hohneck.
2 Sean Cronin (Leinster): Although the entire Leinster pack deserve a mention for a brilliant collective showing against Toulouse, Cronin was particularly outstanding. He carried superbly especially at close quarters and scored a smart try before being replaced on the hour-mark. Eventually gained 23 metres from 10 carries and beats out Edinburgh skipper Stuart McInally.
1 Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs): The England international came to the fore with a fine all-round performance at Sandy Park. Apart from a solid showing in the scrums, Hepburn also caught the eye as a ball carrier and he finished with 28 metres gained from nine carries. Mako Vunipola of Saracens and Munster's Dave Kilcoyne were next best.
Dragons have announced that Ceri Jones has been handed the reins as the Welsh region's head coach until the end of the current campaign.
Former Wales prop Jones picked up the reins as Dragons faced Clermont in Round Four of this year's Challenge Cup and was in charge as the Men of Gwent earned a first Welsh derby win in four seasons with victory at Rodney Parade against the Ospreys over the festive period.
The Dragons have nine fixtures left to play this campaign starting with next Friday's return Challenge Cup fixture against the undefeated Top 14 outfit Clermont and concluding at Principality Stadium against the Scarlets for Judgement Day VII at the end of April.
"Ceri Jones has done a great job leading the team with the support of our coaching group since he stepped up to the role," chairman David Buttress told the Dragons' official website.
"Ceri has the full support of everyone at the region and it's clear the players are reacting positively to his leadership with performances full of heart, character and determination.
"We said before Christmas that we want to make a permanent appointment as soon as possible, but also that it has to be the right person for the region.
"Whilst the search for the permanent head coach is underway, our upturn in performances since Ceri took over has given us the opportunity to take our time.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what we can achieve over the final months of the campaign."
Wallabies back-row Sean McMahon has parted ways with Sunwolves on medical grounds, after failing to make a single appearance for the Japanese team.
It was revealed last year that McMahon had signed a one-year deal with the Sunwolves for 2019, which all but ruled out the 26-Test international from playing for Australia at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
McMahon later confirmed the deal was dependent on a medical.
The 24-year-old picked up a lisfranc injury in his foot playing for Suntory in the Top League competition in Japan, and though he returned late in the season and played in a losing Grand Final side, McMahon's injury continued to be an issue.
According to a report on Rugby Australia's official website, McMahon elected to have surgery to repair the chronic injury and the Sunwolves contract has been cancelled on medical grounds.
In an interesting twist, McMahon's absence could assist another young Australian back-row at the Sunwolves become a bolter selection at the World Cup - for Japan.
The Tony Brown-coached Sunwolves, who now play in the Australian conference, have increased their numbers of non-Japanese players for the 2019 season to help Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph in their home World Cup.
Japanese Test players are not due to play for the first five rounds of Super Rugby so in the current Sunwolves squad of 48 players - which is due to be around 60 once the Japanese stars return - there are 10 Kiwis, including former All Black Rene Ranger.
There are also five South Africans, a Georgian, a Scot and a handful of Aussies too.
One of those players is former Aussie schoolboys back-row Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, who moved to Japan in 2016 to play for the NTT Shining Arcs, and has since played 22 games for the Sunwolves as well since debuting for the side in 2017.
The 103kg number eight, who went to high school in Sydney and was in the 2013 Australian Schoolboys squad, played for Southern Districts in Sydney club rugby but was not picked up by any of the Super Rugby franchises as a youngster.
Warren-Vosayaco has proved to be a solid player for NTT and the Sunwolves and the official Rugby Australia website reports that the Melbourne Rebels were close to bringing him back to Australia for the 2019 season.
But with a Rebels deal in the works, Joseph alerted Warren-Vosayaco he was on his radar for the Brave Blossoms squad at the World Cup and the back-row stayed put. Warren-Vosayaco will become eligible for Japan via three-year residency midway through the year.
Without McMahon on the Sunwolves' books and potentially keeping him off the pitch, Warren-Vosayaco will get more game time to press his claims.
Whether he'll crack the Brave Blossoms squad remains to be seen given Japan already have some high-quality back-rowers, including former Queensland Red Hendrik Tui and inspirational skipper Michael Leitch.
Japan also have the immensely talented Amanaki Mafi, but there is still uncertainty about his immediate playing future.
Mafi was charged with assaulting former Melbourne Rebels team-mate and Wallaby back-row Lopeti Timani in July last year in Dunedin, and was not re-signed by the Rebels.
He was suspended by his Top League club NTT until the matter was dealt with in court, and didn't play for Japan in their November internationals either. Mafi's name has not been mentioned by the Sunwolves' coaches, despite the likelihood of him eventually joining the franchise.
But after an initial hearing in September in Dunedin District Court, and attempts for a mediated resolution between Mafi and Timani, the case has still not been resolved.
Leinster scored four tries as they secured a 29-13 Champions Cup victory over Toulouse at the RDS Arena on Saturday.
As the scoreline suggests, the champions were full value for their win and outscored their opponents by four tries to one with Jack Conan, Dave Kearney, Sean Cronin and Adam Byrne crossing the whitewash. Ross Byrne slotted two conversions and a penalty and Noel Reid also added a conversion.
Toulouse's points came via a try and a conversion from Cheslin Kolbe and two penalties from Thomas Ramos.
The result means Leinster move above their French rivals to the top of Pool One with 20 points after five matches.
With this being a showdown between the tournament's two most successful sides, and with Toulouse leading Leinster by two points in the pool before the match, there was plenty at stake.
There was also lots of hype in the build-up to this encounter and that was certainly justified as both sides went at each other hammer and tongs for the entire match.
But Leinster won most of the collisions in an attritional affair while Toulouse committed too many unforced errors and conceded several turnovers which proved costly in the end.
Although Leinster's victory was largely down to an excellent all-round effort, Ross Byrne deserves plenty of credit for his role in this triumph as he shone as his side's chief playmaker. Byrne's game management was impressive and he provided the highlight of the match early in the second half when he delivered a pinpoint crossfield kick which Kearney gathered spectacularly before diving over for a deserved try.
Toulouse battled to build momentum and game breakers like Ramos, Kolbe, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack had little impact on this match as they were stopped in their tracks by a solid defensive effort from the Leinstermen.
In Saturday's other early game, Montpellier made a statement of intent as they thrashed Newcastle Falcons 45-8 in their Pool Five clash at the GGL Stadium.
Henry Immelman led the way with a brace of tries for Montpellier and their other tries were scored by Timoci Nagusa, Yvan Reilhac, Paul Willemse, Nico Janse van Rensburg and Romain Ruffenach.
Zach Kibirige scored Newcastle's only try and Toby Flood succeeded with a penalty.
England and Bath flanker Sam Underhill will not play a part in the upcoming Six Nations tournament after being ruled out for three months following ankle surgery.
The openside suffered the issue during the West Countrymen’s victory over Leicester Tigers last month, hobbling off just after half-time.
Underhill impressed for the Red Rose in November and was particularly outstanding against New Zealand as they succumbed by one point to the defending world champions.
The 22-year-old will not return until mid-April, meaning that the back-row will miss the whole of the competition which runs from February 1 to March 16.
He would have expected to play a big role in the upcoming tournament but it now leaves Sale Sharks' Tom Curry as the man in command of the number seven shirt.
Sunday's Champions Cup action kicks off with Exeter Chiefs hosting Castres, the first of three exciting clashes.
Exeter Chiefs v Castres
Fresh from beating Bristol in the Premiership last week, Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter makes a number of changes to his starting XV.
Up front, there is a new-look front-row of Alec Hepburn, Jack Yeandle and Tomas Francis, while behind Don Armand is recalled to the back-row having been given the week off against the Bears.
In the back division, Nic White and Joe Simmonds - both impressive off the bench a week ago - get the nod at half-back, Ollie Devoto starts in the centre, while Jack Nowell returns to the fray for the first time since the Castres away game, having recovered from a hamstring injury sustained on international duty with England during the November internationals.
Meanwhile, Castres will be captained by Robert Ebersohn, who lines up at centre alongside Thomas Combezou.
Geoffrey Palis, David Smith and Taylor Paris form the back three while it's Ludovic Radosavljevic and Benjamin Urdapilleta as the half-backs.
The front-row sees Antoine Tichit and Daniel Kotze either side of Jody Jenneker while Thibault Lassalle and Loic Jacquet are at lock and Camille Gerondeau, Baptiste Delaporte and Maama Vaipulu complete the side in the back-row.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Jack Nowell, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Don Armand, 6 Sam Skinner, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Sean Lonsdale, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Ian Whitten
Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 David Smith, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Robert Ebersohn (c), 11 Taylor Paris, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Baptiste Delaporte, 6 Camille Gerondeau, 5 Loic Jacquet, 4 Thibault Lassalle, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Antoine Tichit
Replacements: 16 Kevin Firmin, 17 Tudor Stroe, 18 Marc Clerc, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Alex Tulou, 21 Anthony Jelonch, 22 Florian Vialelle, 23 Rory Kockott
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Lyon v Saracens
England international second-row Maro Itoje returns from injury to start for Saracens against Lyon in the Champions Cup on Sunday.
The lock missed five matches, including Sarries’ European double header with Cardiff Blues, due to a knee injury picked up on Test duty in November.
International and club team-mate Jamie George is reinstated at hooker after being rested last weekend and Jackson Wray is the third and final change in the pack, coming into the back-row at six.
Just one alteration in the backs sees Sean Maitland replace David Strettle on the wing.
Lyon, who have zero points for their efforts thus far in the pool stage, pick a strong side at home as Jean-Marc Doussain and Jonathan Wisniewski line up at half-back.
Noa Nakaitaci and Alexis Palisson start on the wing while Deon Fourie is at number eight and Hendrik Roodt and Francois van der Merwe form an all-South African lock partnership.
Lyon: 15 Toby Arnold, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Pierre-Louis Barassi, 12 Thibaut Regard, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Dylan Cretin, 6 Julien Puricelli (c), 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Virgile Lacombe, 1 Alexandre Menini
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Albertus Buckle, 18 Kévin Yaméogo, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Rudi Wulf, 22 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 23 Charl McLeod
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Alex Lozowski, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 David Strettle
Venue: Matmut Stadium de Gerland
Kick off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville (Ireland), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors v Cardiff Blues
Rob Harley will become the first player in Glasgow Warriors history to reach a double century of appearances on Saturday against Cardiff Blues.
Co-captain Ryan Wilson will also reach a personal milestone against Cardiff Blues playing his 150th game for the club.
Wilson and Harley both joined the Warriors at the same time and Harley made his debut coming on for Wilson against Leinster.
Scott Cummings, Callum Gibbins and Matt Fagerson join the pair as the back five of the scrum.
Oli Kebble and D’Arcy Rae return to the starting XV as two of 11 changes to last weekend’s defeat to Benetton. Grant Stewart once again starts at hooker.
Brandon Thomson starts at fly-half outside of Ali Price and Nick Grigg comes in to partner Sam Johnson in midfield.
It’s a brand new back-three with Stuart Hogg, DTH van der Merwe and Tommy Seymour all returning.
Meanwhile, Tom James will make his Cardiff Blues comeback in Sunday's Champions Cup clash.
The 12-times capped Wales international took an extended break from the game due to depression last year and has not appeared for the first team in a competitive fixture since the end of 2017.
James is now one of 12 changes for the trip to Glasgow with Matthew Rees also making his long-awaited return to action and captaining the side.
Brad Thyer and Dillon Lewis both come into the starting line-up, and pack down either side of Rees, while George Earle and Rory Thornton form a new-look second-row.
Shane Lewis-Hughes is handed his senior, competitive debut in the back-row alongside Josh Navidi and Seb Davies.
Behind the scrum, Lloyd Williams partners Steve Shingler and Willis Halaholo and Harri Millard form a dynamic midfield. In the back three, James is joined by Owen Lane and Dan Fish.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Brandon Thomson, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (cc), 6 Ryan Wilson (cc), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Rob Harley, 3 D’Arcy Rae, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Kevin Bryce, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 George Horne, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Lee Jones
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Harri Millard, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Seb Davies, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 George Earle, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 1 Brad Thyer
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Aled Summerhill
Kick off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: John Meredith (England), Phil Watters (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)
This weekend's six-game Challenge Cup schedule comes to a close with an all-important clash between Clermont and Northampton.
RC Enisei vs Bristol
RC Enisei: 15 Timur Maslov, 14 Mikhail Babaev, 13 Sergey Trishin, 12 Dmitrii Gerasimov, 11 Denis Simplikevich, 10 Ramil Gaisin, 9 Alexey Shcherban, 8 Maxim Gargalic, 7 Andrey Temnov, 6 Mikheil Gachechiladze, 5 Evgeny Elgin, 4 Uldis Saulite (c), 3 Innokentiy Zykov, 2 Shamil Magomedov, 1 Sergey Sekisov
Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Andrei Polivalov, 18 Evgenii Pronenko, 19 Dmitrii Krotov, 20 Roman Biakov, 21 Efim Riabischuk, 22 Aleksei Mikhaltsov, 23 Vitalii Orlov
Bristol: 15 Mat Protheroe, 14 Tom Pincus, 13 Piers O'Conor, 12 Sam Bedlow, 11 Luke Daniels, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Jordan Crane (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Nick Haining, 5 Joe Joyce, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Jake Armstrong, 2 Nick Fenton-Wells, 1 Jake Woolmore
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Ollie Dawe, 18 Lewis Thiede, 19 John Hawkins, 20 Sam Graham, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Tiff Eden, 23 Charlie Powell
Venue: Yug Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 local (12:00 GMT)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Tornike Gvirjishvili (Georgia), Irakli Tchanukvadze (Georgia)
Benetton vs Agen
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Marco Lazzaroni, 6 Seb Negri, 5 Dean Budd (c), 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Alberto de Marchi, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Tommaso Iannone
Agen: 15 Loris Tolot, 14 Benito Masilevu, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Sam Vaka, 11 Fouad Yaha, 10 Leo Berdeu, 9 Hugo Verdu, 8 Loic Hocquet, 7 Yoan Tanga, 6 Facundo Bosch, 5 Thomas Murday (c), 4 Andres Zafra Tarazona, 3 Alex Burin, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Giorgi Tetrashvili
Replacements: 16 Marc Barthomeuf, 17 Maxime Radaelli, 18 Xerom Civil, 19 Mickael De Marco, 20 Romain Briatte, 21 Lucas Rubio, 22 Thomas Vincent, 23 Nicolas Metge
Venue: Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Kick-off: 14:00 GMT
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Finlay Brown (Scotland), Hollie Davidson (Scotland)
Ospreys vs Worcester
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 George North, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Luke Price, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Sam Cross, 7 Justin Tipuric (c), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 James King, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Alex Jeffries, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Rowan Jenkins, 18 Gheorghe Gajion, 19 Will Griffiths, 20 Rob McCusker, 21 Thomas Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Owen Watkin
Worcester: 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Tom Howe, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 Ryan Mills (c), 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Matt Cox, 7 Marco Mama, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Pierce Phillips, 4 Darren Barry, 3 Simon Kerrod, 2 Joe Taufete'e, 1 Ethan Waller
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Jack Cosgrove, 18 Joe Morris, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Carl Kirwan, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Will Butler, 23 Nick David
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant referees: Laurent Cardona (France), Luc Ramos (France)
Connacht vs Sale Sharks
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 James Mitchell, 8 Jarrad Butler (c), 7 James Connolly, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Darragh Leader
Sale Sharks: 15 Chris Ashton, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 James O'Connor, 11 Aaron Reed, 10 Kieran Wilkinson, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (c), 5 James Phillips, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Andrei Ostrikov, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Luke James, 23 Cameron Redpath
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France)
Assistant referees: Adrien Descottes (France), Flavien Hourquet (France)
Harlequins vs Grenoble
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Cadan Murley, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care (c), 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Semi Kunatani, 6 Renaldo Bothma, 5 Ben Glynn, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Will Collier, 2 Max Crumpton, 1 Lewis Boyce
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Josh Ibuanokpe, 19 Mat Luamanu, 20 Luke Wallace, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 James Lang, 23 Aaron Morris
Grenoble: 15 Gervais Cordin, 14 Lucas Dupont, 13 Etienne Dussartre, 12 Taleta Tupuola, 11 Teiva Jacquelain, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Theo Nanette, 8 Clement Ancely, 7 Steeve Blanc-Mappaz, 6 Antonin Berruyer (c), 5 Killian Geraci, 4 Mickael Capelli, 3 Beka Gigashvili, 2 Mike Tadjer, 1 Mihai Lazar
Replacements: 16 Alexandre Savonnet, 17 Alexandre Dardet, 18 Ali Oz, 19 Edgar Tuinukuafe, 20 Thibaut Martel, 21 Corentin Glenat, 22 Pablo Uberti, 23 Bastien Guillemin
Venue: Twickenham Stoop
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Dave Sutherland (Scotland)
Clermont vs Northampton
Clermont: 15 Peter Betham, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 George Moala, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Remi Grosso, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra (c), 8 Peceli Yato, 7 Judicaël Cancoriet, 6 Arthur Iturria, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Etienne Falgoux
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Rémi Lamerat
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Tom Collins, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Heinrich Brussow, 6 Courtney Lawes (c), 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 David Ribbans, 3 Ehren Painter, 2 James Fish, 1 Francois van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 James Grayson, 23 Andrew Kellaway
Venue: Stade Marcel-Michelin
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
Leinster's showdown with Toulouse is the standout fixture of Saturday's six Champions Cup pool matches.
Montpellier v Newcastle Falcons
Montpellier head coach Vern Cotter has rung the changes to his starting line-up for this clash with Newcastle Falcons.
Cotter has made 10 tweaks in all after last weekend's surprise home loss to Lyon. In the backline, Yvan Reilhac comes in at inside centre where he replaces Jan Serfontein while Henry Immelman is preferred to Nemani Nadolo on the left wing. Ruan Pienaar takes over from Benoit Paillaugue at scrum-half.
There are changes aplenty in the forwards with Nico Janse van Rensburg the only survivor from that defeat to Lyon. Janse van Rensburg packs down in the second-row alongside Konstantine Mikautadze, who comes in for Paul Willemse.
At number eight, Louis Picamoles replaces Jacques du Plessis and the France international will also captain the side. Kevin Kornath and Kelian Galletier are the two flankers and they take over from Yacouba Camara and Fulgence Ouedraogo.
In the front-row, Jannie du Plessis and Grégory Fichten replace Antoine Guillamon and Mikheil Nariashvili as the starting props and Vincent Giudicelli starts at hooker in place of Romain Ruffenach.
Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards has made six changes to his side for this crucial encounter.
Fly-half Toby Flood returns to captain the team after missing last weekend’s game against Harlequins due to a head knock, and will be partnered in the half-backs by Tonga captain Sonatane Takulua.
Adam Brocklebank comes in at loosehead prop as Trevor Davison shifts over to the tighthead side in place of the injured Logovi’i Mulipola.
Glen Young comes in at lock in front of a back-row which sees the return of John Hardie from a head knock and the addition of Ryan Burrows.
Montpellier: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Yvan Reilhac, 11 Henry Immelman, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Louis Picamoles (c), 7 Kevin Kornath, 6 Kelian Galletier, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze, 4 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Vincent Giudicelli, 1 Grégory Fichten
Replacements: 16 Romain Ruffenach, 17 Usha Tcheisvhili, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 20 Benoit Paillaugue, 21 Jan Serfontein, 22 Vincent Martin, 23 Paul Willemse
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Tom Arscott, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Ryan Burrows, 7 John Hardie, 6 Gary Graham, 5 Glen Young, 4 Will Witty, 3 Trevor Davison, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Adam Brocklebank
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Sami Mavinga, 18 Jack Payne, 19 Calum Green, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Michael Young, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Zach Kibirige
Venue: GGL Stadium
Kick off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Vincenzo Schipani (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)
Leinster v Toulouse
Leinster will be without fly-half and World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton for their crucial Champions Cup clash with Toulouse.
Ross Byrne therefore comes in at pivot and he is partnered by Luke McGrath at half-back.
Rob Kearney is also injured so Jordan Larmour starts in the number 15 jersey with Adam Byrne on the right wing and Dave Kearney on the left.
Rory O’Loughlin and Garry Ringrose are again the centre partnership having played together in the Munster game over Christmas.
The front-row sees Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and Tadhg Furlong scrum down with Scott Fardy and James Ryan behind in the engine room.
The back-row features captain Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan at eight.
On the bench Conor O’Brien is in line to make his European debut having impressed over the last few months in the PRO14.
For Toulouse, Thomas Ramos starts at fly-half against the Irish province, with Maxime Medard at full-back for the pool leaders.
Yoann Huget and the ever-dangerous Cheslin Kolbe are therefore on the wings, while Romain Ntamack and Sofiane Guitoune make up the centre partnership.
Ramos is joined by Antoine Dupont at half-back, with Sebastien Bezy and Zack Holmes providing the cover off the bench.
In the pack, they have rotated their props from their previous game against Agen as Clement Castets and Charlie Faumuina come in for Cyril Baille and Dorian Aldegheri.
The only other change amongst the forwards sees Francois Cros return to the XV instead of Alban Placines, who is on the bench.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Rory O’Loughlin, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 5 James Ryan, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Conor O’Brien
Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Sofiane Guitoune, 12 Romain Ntamack, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Thomas Ramos, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Joe Tekori, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Julien Marchand (c), 1 Clément Castets
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Piula Faasalele, 20 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 21 Alban Placines, 22 Sébastien Bézy, 23 Zack Holmes
Venue: RDS Arena
Kick off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Tom Foley (England), Jonathan Healy (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Ulster v Racing 92
Robert Baloucoune will make his Champions Cup debut on Saturday after being named in the starting team for the critical game against Racing 92.
Baloucoune is joined in the back three by Louis Ludik and Jacob Stockdale, who will earn his 50th Ulster cap. Stockdale is the competition’s joint-top try-scorer (four) and is the only player to have scored in every round so far.
Stuart McCloskey and Will Addison are re-united in midfield, with John Cooney and Billy Burns named at scrum-half and fly-half respectively. Burns currently leads the way for assists in the Champions Cup (four).
Rory Best returns to captain the side from hooker and will pack down beside Marty Moore and academy prop Eric O’Sullivan.
Alan O’Connor, one of just two players retained from the team that lost to Leinster last weekend, partners Kieran Treadwell in the second-row.
Sean Reidy, the other player who was involved at the RDS, will line out alongside Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee in the back-row.
Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Ross Kane, Ian Nagle and Nick Timoney are the forward replacements, while Dave Shanahan, Michael Lowry and Darren Cave are the backline reinforcements.
For Racing, Teddy Thomas’ injury has forced a reshuffle with Brice Dulin coming in at full-back and Simon Zebo moving onto the wing.
They are, however, boosted by the return of Maxime Machenaud who returns to the starting line-up. The France international missed the final last year and has been absent over the first half of the season but is back just in time for the final two Champions Cup group games.
Up front, Ben Tameifuna is the only alteration from the match against Toulon as the prop replaces the injured Cedate Gomes Sa at tighthead.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Michael Lowry, 23 Darren Cave
Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Simon Zebo, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (c), 1 Guram Gogichashvili
Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Vasil Kakovin, 18 Georges Henri Colombe, 19 Boris Palu, 20 Fabien Sanconnie, 21 Teddy Iribaren, 22 Olivier Klemenczak, 23 Ben Volavola
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson (England), Hamish Smales (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)
Bath v Wasps
Taulupe Faletau returns to action for Bath as they take on Wasps at the Rec on Saturday in Round 5 of the Champions Cup.
Luke Charteris leads the side out from the second-row, forming a lock partnership with Elliott Stooke. Jacques van Rooyen and Max Lahiff line up either side of Jack Walker in the front-row.
Faletau comes into the side at blindside flanker, teaming up with Josh Bayliss, who makes his European debut from openside. Zach Mercer starts at number eight to complete the back-row.
Max Green forms an exciting half-back pairing with Rhys Priestland. Max Wright starts inside Max Clark in the midfield, while Aled Brew and Tom Homer come in on the left and right wing respectively. Darren Atkins completes the backline as he starts at full-back.
Meanwhile, Wasps backs Ross Neal and Rob Miller return to the starting line-up ahead of Saturday’s clash.
Wing Neal has recovered from a hip knock to replace Elliot Daly, who is forced to have a rest week after his participation in England’s November internationals, while Miller steps in for Willie le Roux (neck) at full-back to make his first appearance for the first-team since November’s win over Bristol.
Number eight Nathan Hughes is also restored to the starting XV for the first time since early December while lock Charlie Matthews comes into the replacements.
Bath: 15 Darren Atkins, 14 Tom Homer, 13 Max Clark, 12 Max Wright, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Max Green, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Josh Bayliss, 6 Taulupe Faletau, 5 Luke Charteris (c), 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Sam Nixon, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Alex Davies, 23 Jackson Willison
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Ross Neal, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Zurabi Zhvania
Replacements: 16 Antonio Harris, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Billy Searle, 23 Gaby Lovobalavu
Venue: Recreation Ground
Kick off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
Toulon v Edinburgh
Toulon head coach Patrice Collazo has made five alterations to his starting line-up for this clash at Stade Félix-Mayol.
Despite suffering an away defeat to Racing 92 in the Top 14 last weekend, Collazo has retained most of his players who started in that encounter.
In the backline, Mathieu Smaili comes in at full-back in place of JP Pietersen, who shifts to the right wing where he replaces Daniel Ikpefan while Julian Savea also returns to the run-on side on the left wing in place of Simon Moretti.
Mathieu Bastareaud captains the side from outside centre and he forms a midfield combination with Francois Trinh-Duc while Anthony Belleau and Rhys Webb are the half-backs.
In the forwards, Mamuka Gorgodze drops to the replacements bench with Stephane Onambele Mbarga taking his place on the blindside flank while Romain Taofifenua comes in for Brian Alainu'uese at lock.
The final change sees Guilhem Guirado replacing Bastien Soury at hooker.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has welcomed back seven Scotland internationals into his starting line-up for this encounter.
Scotland stars Blair Kinghorn, Henry Pyrgos, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist and Hamish Watson all return to action after being rested in last weekend’s PRO14 win against Southern Kings.
Back-row duo Jamie Ritchie and Viliame Mata, along with wingers Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe are the only players to retain their positions in the starting XV.
Full-back Kinghorn returns to action and partners wingers Van der Merwe and Graham in a back-three that has combined to cross the whitewash six times in the last five matches.
Centres Chris Dean – a try-scorer in October’s bonus-point win over Toulon at Murrayfield - and James Johnstone are once again named in midfield, whilst South African fly-half Jaco van der Walt and experienced scrum-half Pyrgos return at scrum-half.
A revamped front-row sees captain McInally pack down alongside Nel and Pierre Schoeman at the coalface, whilst club centurion lock duo Gilchrist and Toolis once again line-up in the second-row.
The inclusion of 23-times capped openside flanker, Watson, is the only alteration to an otherwise unchanged back-row as Scotland teammate, Ritchie, and Fijian number eight Mata complete the forward pack.
Toulon: 15 Mathieu Smaili, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Francois Trinh-Duc, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Raphael Lakafia, 7 Facundo Isa, 6 Stephane Onambele Mbarga, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Juandré Kruger, 3 Emerick Setiano, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jean Baptiste Gros
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Jean Monribot, 20 Louis Carbonel, 21 Antoine Zeghdar, 22 Yoann Cottin, 23 Mamuka Gorgodze
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Viliame Mata 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Juan Pablo Socino
Venue: Stade Félix-Mayol
Kick off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe (England), Simon McConnell (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
Scarlets v Leicester Tigers
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has called on his players to express themselves as they look to keep their winning start to 2019 going on Saturday.
Gareth Davies is back in at scrum-half, after a rest, for the Welsh region and he forms a half-back partnership with Dan Jones.
Johnny McNicholl stays at full-back, with Paul Asquith and a recalled Steff Evans completing the back-three. With Jonathan Davies rested after playing 11 of the last 12 games, Kieron Fonotia comes into the midfield alongside Hadleigh Parkes.
After appearing for the first time at the back of the scrum last weekend, captain Ken Owens sticks at number eight, as the whole pack remains unchanged from last weekend's PRO14 victory against Dragons.
Meanwhile, Matt Toomua will captain Leicester Tigers from fly-half in this fixture.
Tigers head coach Geordan Murphy shuffles his backline with Australia international Toomua leading the team out and Gareth Owen set to face his former club.
Loosehead prop Greg Bateman and centre Kyle Eastmond both come into the starting team after appearing from the bench in the bonus-point win over Gloucester on league duty last weekend in their first games back after a period on the sidelines.
Tonga international Valentino Mapapalangi is named in the number eight shirt in his first senior appearance since early November and there is also a place for England U20 prop Joe Heyes at tighthead prop.
There could be a club debut for former England U20 cap Sam Aspland-Robinson who is named in the matchday squad for the first time since his summer move from Harlequins.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Paul Asquith, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ken Owens (c), 7 Dan Davies, 6 Ed Kennedy, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Josh Helps, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Tom Price, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Steff Hughes, 23 Ioan Nicholas
Leicester Tigers: 15 George Worth, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Gareth Owen, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Matt Toomua (c), 9 Ben White, 8 Valentino Mapapalangi, 7 Will Evans, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Joe Heyes, 2 Jake Kerr, 1 Greg Bateman
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 David Feao, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Brendon O’Connor, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Sam Aspland-Robinson
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick off: 18:30 GMT
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas (France), Vincent Blasco Baqué (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
The Waratahs have bolstered their second-row stocks with the acquisition of promising South African lock Le Roux Roets on a one-year contract for the upcoming Super Rugby season.
In his short representative career, Roets has already rubbed shoulders with All Blacks legend Dan Carter and Springboks utility back Johan Goosen when he was recruited by French club Racing 92 for the 2016/2017 academy season.
The 23-year-old has played age grade rugby in South Africa and in the Currie Cup competition for the Lions, Bulls and Pumas.
Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson said Roets brings size and skill to the forwards.
"We first noticed his talent in the Currie Cup and we have been searching for a big, aggressive and physical player who can get us going forward and excels in the set piece,” Gibson told the Waratahs' official website.
"At 135kg, Le Roux fits the profile that we have been wanting to add to our squad. His recruitment will add real competition and depth amongst our current lock options in Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Ryan McCauley and Jed Holloway."
Roets said he was buoyed by the opportunity to play for the 2018 Super Rugby semi-finalists.
"My goal was to be selected for a Super Rugby team and to have the chance to play for the New South Wales Waratahs is amazing," he said.
"This is a team that has won a championship title and in watching them play in 2018, I cannot wait to be part of them doing even better this year."
The major governing bodies of English rugby have set out the focus areas for their continued action to mitigate the risk of player injuries in the professional game.
The Professional Game Action Plan on Player Injuries, endorsed by the Professional Game Board (PGB), was launched last March (2018). Data from the 2017/18 Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project (PRISP) report will shape the revised action plan priorities for 2018/19.
Reducing injury risk in all sports including rugby union requires a detailed understanding of the factors that underpin injury occurrence, a clear and agreed vision of what level of risk is acceptable and a sustained, co-ordinated and innovative approach from national and international game administrators, coaches, referees, players and medical staff.
The PRISP study is an annual study which has been collated and published since 2002 and provides the professional game in England with the most comprehensive data to assess trends in injury risk. Similar data is starting to be collected in other professional competitions but it will take at least another 12 months before a truly global picture of injury risk can be established.
Since its launch last year, the PRISP Action Plan has involved:
- Meeting with World Rugby to discuss law reviews and instigated a reduced tackle height trial in the Championship Cup.
- Following a review of tackle law application in the Premiership, creating a group to continue to analyse and monitor sanctions given by referees.
- Collaborating with World Rugby to explore the feasibility of a post-game high-tackle warning in the 2018/19 season as we explore how we decrease the number of high-tackles that go unsanctioned in the Premiership.
- Holding workshops to discuss training injury risk and concussion risk in the tackle and made a commitment to undertake an annual meeting programme that brings together players, coaches and other club representatives to share the latest evidence in research and injury risk and to discuss practical solutions for key player welfare issues.
- Setting up a new game-event analysis resource to provide important data to further our understanding of how the game develops over time and to add value to a number of ongoing research projects.
- Receiving PGB approval for the introduction of artificial turf pitch maintenance requirements into the minimum standards audit for the 2019/20 season.
The priority areas for the English professional game in the 2018/19 season, based on the latest PRISP results, are:
1. Law design: Collaborate with World Rugby – who have the principal responsibility for the laws of the game – and international unions, competitions and player associations to think innovatively about how the laws of the game can best prioritise player safety outside of the current law review process. This work will focus on working with all stakeholders to review the impact of the Championship Cup tackle height trial, consideration of other law safety initiatives and how to more effectively integrate game event analysis and injury metrics into future law design discussions.
2. Law application: Collaborate with World Rugby to ensure that law application on the height of the tackle is consistent and understood by all stakeholders. Clearer definitions and operational parameters that are understood by all players, coaches, referees, citing officers and spectators are needed for accidental, reckless and deliberate actions which are consistently aligned to the awarding of penalties, yellow and red cards. If there is a desire to change player behaviour to reduce the risk of concussion, we believe that the threshold for receiving a card for a high-tackle is currently too high.
3. Training injury risk: Support clubs and coaches to achieve the optimal balance between performance and injury risk via a series of practical seminars that focus on the planning and management of training and recovery. In addition, we will be;
- Collecting more information on targeted high-risk injuries (matches and training) in order to better understand the risk factors for their occurrence.
- Collecting more information on the details of training activities with a specific focus on timing in the week and the amount and nature of contact included in sessions.
- Exploring the feasibility of improving player management via a more standardised and integrated approach to the collection of player data. In particular a standardised athlete management system and allied GPS system across the Premiership and England.
4. Artificial grass pitches (AGP): Collaborate with World Rugby on their ongoing review of the appropriate performance standard and post-installation testing and maintenance requirements for AGPs in professional rugby union. In addition, we will undertake new research to better understand the grip release characteristics of different types and styles of rugby boots. We believe that understanding the unique interaction between a player’s boot and an AGP will enable us to provide evidence-based guidance to players regarding the most appropriate boots to wear on AGPs and mitigate injury risk.
"The annual PRISP data is critical to helping us understand trends in professional rugby. Mitigating injury risk in a contact sport is a complex area and requires everyone involved in rugby globally to work together if we are to truly address this," acting RFU Chief Executive Nigel Melville told England Rugby.
"Since launching our action plan last March, we have seen greater collaboration with World Rugby and have instigated a tackle height trial in the Championship Cup which is currently ongoing. It’s still early days – the action plan was launched towards the end of the 2017/18 season, but we believe the plan covers the key issues and we will use the 2017/18 PRISP injury data to shape the plan as it evolves and is embedded into the English professional game.”
Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, added: “Player welfare has to and will remain central to Premiership Rugby as an organisation, and working with the RFU and RPA we have undertaken considerable work on the Action Plan agreed last year and agreed further steps which need to be taken this year.
"There is no "quick fix" solution to addressing some of these issues and work must continue with all stakeholders across the world game. The solution is likely to require input from players, coaches, medics and law makers and the work World Rugby are undertaking in this area is very much welcomed."
Key findings from the 2017/18 season include:
- The overall incidence (how often) of match injury in the Premiership was lower than the previous season. It is still slightly higher than the average for the surveillance period. However, it remains within the limits of expected season-to-season variation.
- The average severity of match injuries (the time taken to return to play) for the 2017-18 season was 37 days. This is the second consecutive season that this figure has risen above the expected upper limit of season-to-season variation. This is largely driven by an increase in injuries in the three highest severity groupings (8-28 days, 28-84 days and >84 days absence) and a reduction in the 2-7 day injuries.
- Due to the rise in severity of match injuries, the burden of match injury (a combination of both incidence and severity) increased to the highest seen since 2002 and above the upper limit of expected season-to-season variation.
- The most commonly reported match injury was concussion, contributing 20% of all match injuries. Encouragingly, there was a small reduction in concussions compared with 2016-17 - one fewer concussion every eight games.
- The mean severity of medically diagnosed match concussions in 2017-18 was 19 days. This rise in mean severity, first seen last year, is largely due to a relatively small number of concussions (six) where the time to return was more than 84 days compared with previous seasons.
- For the third consecutive year concussion is both the most common and highest burden match injury, followed by hamstring muscle injuries.
- Compliance with the mandatory return to play protocols for concussion was again excellent, with no players returning to play in less than six days.
52% of all match injuries are associated with the tackle, with 28% of all injuries associated with tackling and 24% associated with being tackled.
2017-18 is the first season that the incidence of all injuries was greater for the tackler than the ball carrier.
Concussion accounted for 18% of all injuries to the ball carrier and 37% of all injuries to the tackler, highlighting the tackle as the key game event to consider when developing concussion and all injury reduction strategies.
The incidence of training injuries remained stable during the 2017-18 season. However, the average severity rose to its highest recorded level at 37 days and above the expected limits of variation. As a result of the increase in severity of training injury the burden of training injury in 2017-18 again rose substantially and above the upper limit of expected variation. In total, 38% of all injuries were sustained during training.
- There was a significant increase in the incidence of injuries sustained in rugby skills contact training and non-weights conditioning sessions.
- Concussion was the most common injury in full contact training sessions with concussion and hamstring injuries being the most common injuries in semi-contact sessions.
AGPs in professional rugby
- There was no significant difference in the incidence, severity or burden of match injuries between artificial turf and grass for the 2017/18 season.
- When the data collected over the past five seasons is combined, the incidence of match injuries on natural grass and artificial turf are not different. However, the severity of match injuries on artificial turf is greater than that on natural grass, with an injury sustained on artificial turf lasting, on average, nine days more than one sustained on natural grass (natural grass, 30 days; artificial turf, 39 days). Consequently, the burden of injuries on artificial turf pitches is higher than those on natural grass.
- When considering injury risk by body location, both severity and burden were greater for lower limb match injuries sustained on artificial turf with this being most marked for hamstring and foot and toe injuries.
- When combining three seasons of training injury data to compare injuries on artificial turf versus natural grass, a similar trend to match injuries is apparent with similar incidence on both turf types while severity and burden and significantly higher on artificial turf.
"There is strong evidence that while the likelihood of injury in the professional game appears to be stable, the increase in injury severity that we are seeing means that the overall burden of injury is increasing," said Simon Kemp, RFU Medical Services Director.
"The PRISP data suggests that more significant changes to the game might be needed to reverse these trends.
"Concussion remains a priority for us all and we are now looking at concussion prevention with the trial of a reduced tackle height in the 2018/19 Championship Cup. It is critical that all stakeholders – medics, coaches, officials and players – work together on possible solutions."
First commissioned in 2002, the PRISP report not only presents its findings from last season it compares them with the previous 14 seasons in professional rugby to provide the baseline data needed to assess trends in injuries.
There is an entirely separate report from the Community Rugby Injury Surveillance Project (CRISP) – which presents findings from the grassroots adult game. One-week time-loss injury rates in men’s senior community rugby are approximately two thirds lower than those reported in the professional game.
Worcester Warriors director of rugby Alan Solomons admitted he hadn't witnessed a finish like the one that saw his side beat Bath 21-19 at the death.
Down 19-3 at half-time, the Warriors managed to recover to edge a Bath side that finished a remarkable fixture with 11 players on the field.
The game incredibly ran until the 99th minute due to yellow cards being issued to Bath, who also had Ross Batty sent-off in the 64th minute.
"I have been coaching for a long time, so I have seen it go both ways, but it was pretty tight at the end, I must admit," Solomons told the Premiership Rugby's website after the home win, which gives them a significant boost in their fight to avoid relegation from the top flight.
"It went on and on and on, but the boys held their nerve and we eventually got the try and conversion. All's well that ends well.
"I've seen games go right to the death quite often, but not in that particular manner. There were umpteen scrums, and then eventually we got the ball, moved it wide and scored the try."
Meanwhile, Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder revealed it was a result that was hard to take and he was at a loss to explain the defeat.
"I have never been involved with a game before that finished like that. It's a new one," he said.
"It will be fascinating to go back and have a look at it all and try to work out what the hell happened.
"We will always look at it as being 19-3 in front and in a commanding position, and then being down to 11 men at the end."
Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd is reportedly eyeing a high-profile move for a centre, with All Black Ryan Crotty one name mooted.
Crusaders centre Crotty, 30, will be out of contract at the end of 2019 and like many Test stars will be in demand from clubs around Europe.
According to the Daily Mail, the Saints are also interested in Hurricanes centre Matt Proctor, who Boyd used to coach, while South Africa centre Jesse Kriel and Bath and England back Jonathan Joseph are also mentioned as the Saints look to strengthen their midfield options.
It has been no secret that there could be a player exodus in New Zealand following the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year as the financial clout of European teams is set to play a huge role in offering All Blacks the chance to end their playing career with a sizeable contract.