Rugby Union news: Former Wales international Gareth Thomas reveals he is HIV positive

15 Sep

Former Wales international Gareth Thomas has revealed he is HIV positive.

Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, is thought to be the first UK sportsman to go public about living with the virus, and has revealed he was driven to suicidal thoughts as a result of his diagnosis.

Gareth Thomas is a former Wales captain

He went public with his illness after being put “through hell” by blackmailers who threatened to expose his secret.

The 45-year-old told the Sunday Mirror: “I’ve been living with this secret for years.

“I’ve felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll.

“I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff.

“To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things.”

The former British and Irish Lions captain, who will be a TV pundit in the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan, said he “broke down” when he got the news of his diagnosis.

Thomas said: “I went for a routine sexual health test at a private clinic in Cardiff.

“I didn’t feel ill and thought everything was going to be fine.

“When (the doctor) said those words… I immediately thought I was going to die.

“I felt like an express train was hitting me at 300mph. Then I was thinking ‘how long have I got left?'”

He added: “I’ve been threatened by people who said they would give away my secret. It’s sick and I’ve been through hell.

“I was being blackmailed and in my mind I thought you only get blackmailed for something really bad, which compounded the feeling of shame.”

Gareth Thomas with talkSPORT’S Andy Jacobs and Paul Hawksbee and the Rugby League World Cup
talkSPORT

The former Cardiff Blues player won 103 caps and scored 41 tries for Wales between 1995 and 2007, and he is 13th on the all-time international test try-scoring list.

Last November, he was attacked in Cardiff city centre in a homophobic hate crime, but asked South Wales Police to deal with the 16-year-old assailant by way of restorative justice.

The sportsman now takes one tablet containing four medications each day, and doctors have said his condition is under control to the point that it is considered “undetectable” and cannot be passed on.

Thomas said that his husband Stephen, who he met after his diagnosis and married three years ago, does not have HIV.

His decision to speak out was backed by the Duke of Cambridge, through his Kensington Palace account, adding “W” meaning it was written by William himself.

 

Ian Green, chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV charity, said Thomas’s diagnosis may help change public attitudes.

“I’m very proud to call Gareth Thomas a friend. Gareth is proof that an HIV diagnosis shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to do – whatever that is.

“I hope that by speaking publicly about this Gareth will transform attitudes towards HIV that are all too often stuck in the 1980s.”

Mr Green said improving treatment “means that people living with HIV like Gareth now live long healthy lives”.

“This is exactly the kind of information Gareth wants to get out there to challenge the stigma that still surrounds this virus.”

Mr Green said that Thomas blazed a trail by being the first rugby player to come out as gay and “has done so much to encourage inclusion and diversity within the sport”.

He added: “Now he is doing that once again with HIV and taking on the challenge of a lifetime in Ironman Wales to show that this virus doesn’t need to be a barrier when you’re diagnosed and accessing treatment.”

England claim routine victory over Italy in final World Cup warm-up match as Joe Marchant scores stunning try

6 Sep

England won their final match before flying off to the Rugby World Cup in Japan with thanks to help from a man who will be left behind.

Centre Joe Marchant was given his chance alongside Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph as Eddie Jones was reluctant to expose Manu Tuilagi to the risk of injury.

Marchant scored a brilliant try on 53 minutes
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And Marchant scored an excellent try to help England round off their World Cup preparations with a 37-0 win over Italy in Newcastle.

England’s first home game away from Twickenham since 2015 was initially a low-key affair, with the 50,157 St James’ Park crowd distinctly unimpressed by their first-half performance but Marchant’s solo try after 53 minutes gave them something to cheer.

It was only 9-0 at half-time but England ran in four second-half tries in total to run out comfortable winners.

England have never lost to Italy in 25 previous Tests and Connor O’Shea’s men, who were without a rested skipper Sergio Parisse, never looked like breaking their duck as they concluded their World Cup build-up in untidy fashion.

England were streets ahead of the Italians without needing to play particularly well
AFP or licensors

For England it was job done, as Jones’ men followed up victories over Wales and Ireland with a competent display against the limited Azzurri to offset their narrow defeat in Cardiff.

Jones fielded 20 members of his 31-strong World Cup party that will fly out to Japan on Sunday and he will be anxious to check on the fitness of lock Joe Launchbury after he limped out of the action six minutes before half-time.

Bath winger Ruaridh McConnochie got an early touch to ease his nerves on his long-awaited debut but most of the action took place on the other flank, where the experienced Jonny May caught the eye with a typically strong performance.

Italy clearly came to spoil and were warned by referee Ben O’Keeffe for persistent time-wasting at the line-out but they created the best early scoring opportunity, with centre Tommaso Benvenuti dropping the ball going for the corner after 11 minutes.

May was a major threat with his powerful running and ability to gather attacking kicks over the Italy defence but England lacked composure when it came to finishing off the promising moves.

It was a disjointed first-half performance and the fans demonstrated their frustration with boos as Liam Farrell lined up his third penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time which gave his side a 9-0 lead.

Undeterred, Farrell opted for goal again when the indisciplined visitors infringed once more at the start of the second half but he was off target for the first time.

The fans cheered when fly-half Carlo Canna opted to twice run the ball from penalties and the Mexican Waves were halted six minutes into the second half when Ben Youngs went over from the base of a ruck for the opening try which followed a strong surge from replacement prop Kyle Sinckler.

Seven minutes later Marchant took Youngs’ short pass to blow a hole in the Azzurri defence and easily rounded full-back Jayden Hayward for a try on his third appearance.

That broke Italy’s spirit as England cut loose in the last 15 minutes to make their obvious superiority tell on the scoreboard.

Impressive prop Ellis Genge got on the end of a rolling maul to touch down while Farrell got full-back Anthony Watson romping through a gap for England’s fourth try and the skipper kicked his seventh goal from eight attempts to wrap up the scoring.

The serious business starts for England later this month
Getty Images - Getty

England claim routine victory over Italy in final World Cup warm-up match as Joe Marchant scores stunning try

6 Sep

England won their final match before flying off to the Rugby World Cup in Japan with thanks to help from a man who will be left behind.

Centre Joe Marchant was given his chance alongside Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph as Eddie Jones was reluctant to expose Manu Tuilagi to the risk of injury.

Marchant scored a brilliant try on 53 minutes
Getty Images - Getty

And Marchant scored an excellent try to help England round off their World Cup preparations with a 37-0 win over Italy in Newcastle.

England’s first home game away from Twickenham since 2015 was initially a low-key affair, with the 50,157 St James’ Park crowd distinctly unimpressed by their first-half performance but Marchant’s solo try after 53 minutes gave them something to cheer.

It was only 9-0 at half-time but England ran in four second-half tries in total to run out comfortable winners.

England have never lost to Italy in 25 previous Tests and Connor O’Shea’s men, who were without a rested skipper Sergio Parisse, never looked like breaking their duck as they concluded their World Cup build-up in untidy fashion.

England were streets ahead of the Italians without needing to play particularly well
AFP or licensors

For England it was job done, as Jones’ men followed up victories over Wales and Ireland with a competent display against the limited Azzurri to offset their narrow defeat in Cardiff.

Jones fielded 20 members of his 31-strong World Cup party that will fly out to Japan on Sunday and he will be anxious to check on the fitness of lock Joe Launchbury after he limped out of the action six minutes before half-time.

Bath winger Ruaridh McConnochie got an early touch to ease his nerves on his long-awaited debut but most of the action took place on the other flank, where the experienced Jonny May caught the eye with a typically strong performance.

Italy clearly came to spoil and were warned by referee Ben O’Keeffe for persistent time-wasting at the line-out but they created the best early scoring opportunity, with centre Tommaso Benvenuti dropping the ball going for the corner after 11 minutes.

May was a major threat with his powerful running and ability to gather attacking kicks over the Italy defence but England lacked composure when it came to finishing off the promising moves.

It was a disjointed first-half performance and the fans demonstrated their frustration with boos as Liam Farrell lined up his third penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time which gave his side a 9-0 lead.

Undeterred, Farrell opted for goal again when the indisciplined visitors infringed once more at the start of the second half but he was off target for the first time.

The fans cheered when fly-half Carlo Canna opted to twice run the ball from penalties and the Mexican Waves were halted six minutes into the second half when Ben Youngs went over from the base of a ruck for the opening try which followed a strong surge from replacement prop Kyle Sinckler.

Seven minutes later Marchant took Youngs’ short pass to blow a hole in the Azzurri defence and easily rounded full-back Jayden Hayward for a try on his third appearance.

That broke Italy’s spirit as England cut loose in the last 15 minutes to make their obvious superiority tell on the scoreboard.

Impressive prop Ellis Genge got on the end of a rolling maul to touch down while Farrell got full-back Anthony Watson romping through a gap for England’s fourth try and the skipper kicked his seventh goal from eight attempts to wrap up the scoring.

The serious business starts for England later this month
Getty Images - Getty

Leicester Tigers players ‘involved in violent pub brawl’ during training camp in Portugal

4 Sep

Leicester Tigers players were reportedly caught up in a pub fight during the club’s pre-season training camp in Portugal.

It is claimed the rugby stars were involved in a violent confrontation at the Irish Pub in Vilamoura on the Algarve shortly after 11.30pm on Monday night.

Tom Youngs was reportedly hit by a glass in the brawl
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The Daily Mail has obtained footage which allegedly shows members of the Tigers squad clashing with security staff, before spilling into an outdoor seating area where the trouble escalated.

Glasses were reportedly thrown back and forth, and captain Tom Youngs was allegedly left with a facial wound after being hit by one.

According to the Mail, local police were later called to the scene and Tigers head coach Geordan Murphy visited the pub to smooth things over.

The players are not expected to face any charges following the incident.

On Tuesday night, a club spokesman said: “The players made us aware of an incident when they were given a night off.

“The club have co-operated fully with the authorities and while we believe this is the end of the matter, we will take further action if appropriate.”

It is understood several Tigers players had been drinking in the bar for hours, and their ‘increasingly boisterous’ conduct antagonised security staff.

Tigers say they will take further action if they deem it appropriate
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The Mail also claims new signing Noel Reid was performing pull-ups on a beam over the players’ table, before a face-off occurred between Youngs, fellow front-rower Greg Bateman, and security staff.

Bateman was allegedly punched at this point, sparking the melee, however there is no evidence of the Leicester squad throwing any punches.

England vs Italy: Joe Marchant starts despite being omitted from World Cup squad

4 Sep

Joe Marchant will start England’s Test against Italy on Friday despite not being called up to the squad for the World Cup later this year.

Marchant has been omitted from the 31-man squad bound for Japan on September 8 but slots into the midfield alongside Piers Francis with captain Owen Farrell starting the final warm-up fixture at fly-half.

Marchant (centre) will make his first England start against Italy
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Two further players not picked for Japan 2019 are present on the bench in lock Charlie Ewels and flanker Matt Kvesic.

Ruaridh McConnochie finally makes his debut on the right wing after two aborted attempts in the double header against Wales due to hip and hamstring injuries.

The Bath sevens specialist forms a rapid back three alongside Anthony Watson, who makes his fourth appearance at full-back, and Leicester flyer Jonny May.

Henry Slade has lost his battle with a knee injury and so misses the last opportunity to get some game time before the World Cup and Ben Youngs is given another run at scrum-half.

Eddie Jones has largely stuck to his tried and tested up-front, including a fourth successive start for star number eight Billy Vunipola.

Mark Wilson, a Newcastle stalwart who will spend next season at Sale, makes his first start of the summer at openside flanker and Tom Curry is given another run at six.

Jones said: “We have gone with a mix and match selection policy to develop our adaptability and the team’s ability to cope with any situation.”

England have enjoyed a promising warm-up series to Japan 2019 with a pleasing win against Wales at Twickenham and crushing win over Italy only slightly off-set by a narrow defeat in Cardiff.

Italy complete the four fixtures in the nation’s first outing at St James’ Park, two days before the squad set-off for a pre-tournament training camp in Miyazaki.

Marchant is one of three players picked for Friday’s match who are not included in the World Cup squad
Getty Images - Getty

Jones said: “We are delighted to be playing against Italy, one of our traditional Six Nations rivals and the game for us is another important step to develop our game fitness and game strategy.

“We have had a solid training week in Treviso with hot conditions so we are looking forward to testing ourselves against Italy on Friday night. Then we hop on the plane and are ready to go to Japan.

“We are excited to be playing in Newcastle. We are playing at an iconic football ground and we know the area is an important one for rugby in the northern part of England. We are looking forward to seeing and playing in front of the fans.”

England team vs Italy: A Watson (Bath Rugby); R McConnochie (Bath Rugby), J Marchant (Harlequins), P Francis (Northampton), J May (Leicester), O Farrell (Saracens, captain), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), J George (Saracens), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Curry (Sale), M Wilson (Newcastle), B Vunipola (Saracens)

England obliterate Ireland at Twickenham as Manu Tuilagi stars during 57-15 rout on the eve of the World Cup

24 Aug

England issued a powerful statement ahead of the World Cup by annihilating Ireland 57-15 at Twickenham in a victory which set records for highest score and greatest winning margin against their Six Nations rivals.

Tries in each half by Joe Cokanasiga and additional touch downs from Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Tom Curry and Luke Cowan-Dickie indicated Eddie Jones’ men will be genuine contenders in Japan this autumn.

Manu Tuilagi was dangerous with and without the ball at Twickenham
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At the heart of a second triumph of the summer’s four warm-up Tests was man of the match Tuilagi, who bristled with power and intent that tormented a vulnerable Irish defence that fell to pieces in the second-half.

It was Joe Schmidt’s team who took first blood through an early Jordan Larmour try, but their hopes of clinching the win that would lift them to the summit of the global rankings at the expense of Wales quickly disintegrated.

The greatest danger England faced was not from impotent Ireland but sunburn as Twickenham roasted in temperatures that peaked at 30 degrees, yet they were well equipped for broiling conditions having spent 10 days in a heat camp in Treviso.

Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola were magnificent up-front, while George Ford is arguing a strong case to reclaim the fly-half duties for the World Cup, but players excelled across the whole starting XV.

Joe Cokanasiga terrorised Ireland all afternoon at Twickenham
AFP or licensors

While England fans will be daring to dream would could unfold in Japan this autumn, their Irish counterparts must be questioning whether a team that laboured to third place in the Six Nations are in full reverse.

And to add misfortune to misery, they also came off worse on the injury count as Cian Healy suffered an ankle injury before Conor Murray was withdrawn at half-time having earlier passed a Head Injury Assessment.

England vs Ireland: Owen Farrell and George Ford start together for first time in 14 months

22 Aug

England stars George Ford and Owen Farrell will pair up from the start for the first time in 14 months when Ireland travel to Twickenham on Saturday.

Ford retains his place at fly-half following the defeat to Wales, with captain Farrell starting at inside centre and lining up alongside Manu Tuilagi in midfield.

Owen Farrell returns for England
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Former age-group international pairing Ford and Farrell last started a Test at 10 and 12 when England lost 23-12 to South Africa in Bloemfontein on June 16, 2018.
Harlequins prop Joe Marler will make his first Test start since coming out of retirement and winning a place in boss Eddie Jones’ 31-man World Cup squad.

Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Mark Wilson have all been passed fit to take on the Irish following injury scares earlier in the week.

“This weekend we will be looking to gain more game fitness and testing different sorts of game strategies,” said Jones.

“We have a specific way of how we want to play and the focus is very much on ourselves.”

England boss Jones lamented his side’s lack of line breaks in last weekend’s 13-6 defeat in Wales and challenged his midfield to pass more on Saturday.

Explaining the decision to pair up Ford and Farrell in midfield again, Jones said: “We’re just trying a different strategic approach to the game.

George Ford retains his place
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“It’s about finding out what sort of tactical approaches we can employ and use in Japan, because we’re going to need a few.

“We want to see a passing game.

“We played a quite tight game against Wales. Last week there were zero line breaks.

“So we feel like this game we probably need to pass a bit more, and with George at 10 and Owen at 12 we think we can do that.”

James Haskell joins Bellator to become heavyweight MMA fighter, swapping England rugby pitch for the cage

22 Aug

Former England rugby international James Haskell will try his hand at a new sport when he becomes a mixed martial artist.

The 34-year-old, who earned 77 caps for his country, has signed a deal to fight with MMA promotion Bellator.

Haskell has always been a big fan of MMA
Bellator MMA

 

He is expected to make his debut in the sport next year after retiring from rugby union in May.

Haskell is not a total stranger to MMA, having previously trained with British fighter Michael ‘Venom’ Page, while he has also done punditry work in the sport.

The Englishman was a keen MMA fan during his rugby career, revealing it helped him to ‘manipulate and move people on the rugby pitch’.

Haskell featured in the last two World Cups and won three Six Nations titles with England, including the Grand Slam in 2016.

Persistent ankle and toe problems hindered his most recent season with Northampton, and he decided to call time on his 17-year rugby career earlier this year.

Haskell made his England debut in 2007
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A Bellator statement read: “Known as one of sports great characters, Haskell is sure to bring his livewire, quick-witted and at times no-nonsense personality to the sport of MMA – along with genuine, knockout power.

“Standing at 6ft 4in and weighing in during his rugby career at 260lbs, Haskell will compete in Bellator’s heavyweight division which features the likes of current champion Ryan Bader, challenger Cheik Kongo, MMA veteran Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko.”

Wales climb to top of world rankings with victory over England in World Cup warm-up

17 Aug

Wales climbed to the top of rugby union’s world rankings for the first time after beating England 13-6 in Cardiff.

The hosts’ rise to the summit, which ended New Zealand’s unbroken 10-year occupation, comes just 34 days before the World Cup kicks off in Japan.

Wales edged England out in a low scoring affair
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It was an impressive warm-up performance for the tournament as they reeled off an 11th successive home win.

Wing George North’s 34th-minute try sent Wales on their way to avenging a 33-19 defeat at Twickenham last weekend, while Dan Biggar converted and kicked a penalty to leave England 10 points adrift at half-time.

But there was an injury scare for Wales when Biggar took two blows to his left shoulder – he eventually went off five minutes from time – only six days after his fellow number 10 Gareth Anscombe suffered a World Cup-ending knee injury.

England were slicker and more cohesive after the break, but Wales restricted them to a couple of George Ford penalties before a late Leigh Halfpenny strike sealed victory.

Centre Piers Francis and prop Dan Cole delivered strong performances for England in their first game since head coach Eddie Jones announced his 31-man World Cup squad.

Wales, though, had enough in the tank to close matters out ahead of a week’s training in Turkey and resuming pre-World Cup action against Ireland in a fortnight’s time.

England suffered a blow ahead of the game when wing Ruaridh McConnochie was ruled out because of a hamstring problem.

The Bath wing was due to make his Test debut, but his club colleague Anthony Watson replaced him.

And Wales were also forced into a late switch after full-back Liam Williams suffered a hamstring issue during the warm-up, meaning that Halfpenny was handed a first Test match appearance since November.

It was a disappointing afternoon for England
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Wales made a high-tempo start, twice testing England full-back Elliot Daly under the high ball and looking to move possession wide at pace, before an eighth-minute fracas among the forwards ended with referee Pascal Gauzere warning and penalising Wales prop Tomas Francis.

It gave England some territorial momentum, with number eight Billy Vunipola and wing Joe Cokanasiga prominent, and there was a sign of Halfpenny’s rustiness after such a lengthy international lay-off when he could not gather a steepling Ford kick.

James and Jonathan Davies, the first brothers to start together in Wales colours for 13 years, were at the heart of their team’s attacking efforts, but a lively opening quarter ended scoreless.

James Davies went off after 24 minutes after it appeared that England lock Maro Itoje’s knee accidentally caught him on the head, with Josh Navidi replacing him.

Tempers boiled during the fiery clash
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Biggar kicked a penalty to open the scoring, and England then had Watson sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on. Wales punished him before he had barely left the pitch.

Josh Adams made a break before possession found its way to Biggar, whose clever kick was caught by an unmarked North on the wing Watson would have been defending, before he touched down and claimed his 38th Wales try.

Biggar converted, with England seeing scrum-half Willi Heinz going off for a head injury assessment and being replaced by Ben Youngs and Wales securing a 10-0 interval advantage.

Heinz returned for the second period before Youngs took over from him permanently, while Aaron Shingler replaced an impressive Aaron Wainwright in Wales’ back row and England prop Joe Marler also appeared for a first time since coming out of international retirement.

Ford kicked two penalties in six minutes to cut Wales’ lead, but England could not breach the Welsh defence and they were left frustrated seven-point losers following Halfpenny’s long-range penalty during the closing stages.

England name team to face Wales in Rugby World Cup warm-up game with Ruaridh McConnochie to make debut

15 Aug

Ruaridh McConnochie is set to make his England debut against Wales on Sunday after overcoming a hip injury.

The Bath wing and sevens specialist was picked in the team to face the Grand Slam champions at Twickenham for the World Cup warm-up match last weekend but was among a trio of late withdrawals due to injury.

Ruaridh McConnochie is set to make his England debut
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Anthony Watson has been left out of the matchday 23 after completing his comeback from a 17-month absence due to an Achilles issue, so Joe Cokanasiga lines up on the opposite wing.

England captain Owen Farrell makes his first appearance of the World Cup warm-up schedule but is confined to a place on the bench, meaning George Ford will lead the team once more.

There are three changes in total to the side that beat Wales 33-19 with Maro Itoje restored to the second row in place of Charlie Ewels, with Joe Launchbury still present.

George Ford will lead England against Wales
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The final adjustment comes in the back row where Courtney Lawes packs down at blindside flanker, forcing Lewis Ludlam to switch to seven.

Eddie Jones has also surprisingly opted to name two hookers on the bench in the form of Jamie George and Jack Singleton rather than choose a supporting back row.

Jones said: “Our selection strategy for our second game is similar to the first, so a bit of a mix-and-match approach.

“We are looking at different combinations and have a particular strategy for this game.”

Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph are reunited as the centre pairing and New Zealand-born Willi Heinz wins his second cap at scrum-half.

Jones said: “The game is very much about ourselves preparing for the World Cup and we are respectful that we have got such strong opposition at their home ground.

“We are looking forward to it. The squad has been progressing well this week and I think there is a realisation now that the hard work really starts, nothing has been achieved.”