Doddie’s demands deliver debate
The incredible efforts of Doddie Weir, Rob Burrows and Stephen Darby to improve research into motor neuron disease continue unabated. Their inspiring and humbling work involved the launch of a petition calling on the UK Government to increase funding. The petition achieved more than 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be debated in Westminster on a date that has not yet been finalised. The response included an acknowledgement of the need for further support, saying: “The Government recognises the immense challenges faced by people with motor neurone disease and is currently working on ways to significantly boost further research into the disease.”
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More game time for Kerr
Scotland hooker Jake Kerr secured more game time in the closing phase of the season when he agreed a short-term deal with Bristol Bears. The 25-year-old, who has one international cap dating back to 2019, initially moved on a trial basis but subsequently extended his stay until the end of the season.
Groom finds new home
Nic Groom didn’t hang around too long before fixing himself up with a new club. Just weeks after leaving Edinburgh, the 31-year-old South African agreed a deal to join London Irish until the end of the season. Groom made 22 appearances for Edinburgh, whom he joined from the Lions in 2019.
French clubs help vaccine delivery
With matches still frequently falling by the wayside because of positive Covid cases, several clubs in the French Top 14 have taken it upon themselves to vaccinate staff, including some players. The move has the support of league officials. Racing 92 installed what was dubbed a ‘vaccinodrome’ at La Defense Arena, its state of the art stadium. The facility was used to vaccinate thousands of people each day, and that allowed the club to give jags to a number of staff, including some players, using leftover vaccine at the end of each day. That prompted Heineken Champions Cup finalists La Rochelle to seek a similar arrangement, while others are also considering their options.
Irish TV looking to match UK Six Nations deal
Six Nations bosses confirmed that BBC and ITV have reached agreement in principle to keep tournament coverage on terrestrial television. The deal relates to the Men’s Six Nations, Women’s Six Nations and Men’s Under-20s. Discussions are underway with Virgin Media Television and RTE to cover all three competitions in the Republic of Ireland.
French clubs draw the line
Pitches acquired an additional marking for the French Top 14 and PROD2 fixtures on 15th May, when clubs painted a rainbow on the playing surface alongside the usual whitewash. The line was drawn across the pitch and divided into multi-coloured segments. The move was designed to show rugby’s support for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
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Fewer chances for foreigners
Opportunities for foreign players in France are diminishing as stricter regulations start to have an impact. Match-day squads must include an average of at least 16 players – rising to 17 the season after next – who are qualified under JIFF regulations which favour those who have come through age-grade structures. That system is credited with much of the recent improvement in the international side, which is filled with players who have graduated from the successful under-20s squad. Another factor is the salary cup which is set at €11.3 million and will fall to €10 million by 2025. Those restrictions mean clubs recruitment is more focused on domestic players, who are now in greater demand than those from overseas.
Two more nations join World Rugby
World Rugby’s membership rose to 128 countries after Burundi and Algeria achieved full member status. The newcomers will play in next month’s repechage for a place at the Rugby Africa Cup, which is a qualifying tournament for the 2023 World Cup. Burundi has 2,750 registered players, while Algeria has over 80 men’s and 40 women’s teams.
Thomas tracks Toulouse from afar
A crowd of 10,000 watched Toulouse edge out La Rochelle to lift the Heineken European Champions Cup at Twickenham. Many were left disappointed at being unable to attend and forced to find alternative ways to follow the action. Thomas Pesquet, a Toulouse supporter since his days as a student in the city, had to watch online from his workplace. Nothing unusual in that, except that Pesquet is an astronaut at the International Space Station and is currently 400 kilometres above the earth. Pesquet tweeted that he and Japanese colleague Aki Hoshide would be watching the game on a low bandwidth stream.
? Today: @ChampionsCup! @Aki_Hoshide and I will be watching live as a special treat (in a very low bandwidth stream). No prizes for guessing who I support ?. Go @StadeToulousain ! ⭐? ? #ChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/NcluWYMzu5
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) May 22, 2021
Family snaps for victorious Ntamacks
Toulouse’s European Champions Cup win allowed the Ntamack family to stage a role-reversal photoshoot. The Top 14 issued a tweet showing a young Romain on his dad’s shoulders after Toulouse won the 2003 final, alongside an updated version with Emile supported by the youngster following the victory over La Rochelle.
2003 ➡️ 2021
Romain Ntamack et son papa Emile ont inversé les rôles pour la photo souvenir après le sacre du @StadeToulousain en Champions Cup ?⭐️?
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) May 24, 2021
Familiar faces top Joseph’s list
Japan coach Jamie Joseph has named a 36-man squad for the trip to Europe to play matches against the British and Irish Lions and Ireland. Of the men on his list, which is headed by inspirational skipper Michael Leitch, 26 have been capped and 19 were involved in the 2019 World Cup when the Cherry Blossoms reached the quarter finals after beating Scotland.
A winning double for Campbell
Former Glasgow Warriors lock Nick Campbell continued the impressive start to his boxing career with a second successive early stoppage. The Scot ended the challenge of Czech opponent Petr Frolich inside four minutes of his debut fight and was even more impressive second time out, with a first round win over experienced Hungarian Jozsef Kormany in Belgrade.
D’Arcy raring to go at the Rec
Glasgow Warriors and Scotland prop D’Arcy Rae will swap Scotstoun for the Rec after agreeing a deal to join Bath. The 26-year-old has eight years’ experience as a pro, including loan spells at Treviso and London Scottish. Rae heads south at the same time as his former Warriors colleague Jamie Bhatti moves in the opposite direction having completed a short-term loan deal at Bath.