Wales assisant coach Rob Howley has been sent home from the Rugby World Cup in Japan six days until their opening match against Georgia begins.
The former Wales captain, who has been part of Warren Gatland’s coaching team since 2008, has left the squad’s Kitakyushu base due to an alleged breach of betting rules.
The developments will send shock-waves reverberating throughout the rugby world.
The 48-year-old enjoyed a glittering playing career, winning 59 caps for Wales and captaining his country on 22 occasions, while also helping Wasps to be crowned European champions in 2004.
He also played for the British and Irish Lions in 1997 and 2001, and was part of the Lions coaching staff on their last three tours.
He had been due to leave his Wales coaching role after the World Cup, along with Gatland and fellow assistants Shaun Edwards and Robin McBryde.
Howley was recently linked with succeeding Conor O’Shea as Italy head coach following the tournament.
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In a statement, the WRU said: “The WRU can confirm that Rob Howley has returned to Wales to assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union.
“The decision was taken to act immediately in light of recent information passed to the WRU.
“No further details can be provided at this stage as this would prejudice the investigation. If required, an independent panel will be appointed to hear the case.
“Rob has co-operated fully with our initial discussions and we would ask that the media appreciate this is a difficult and personal matter for Rob and that his privacy is respected before an outcome is reached.
“Warren Gatland has consulted with senior players, and Stephen Jones will be arriving in Japan imminently to link up with the squad as attack coach.”
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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.
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.
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“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
In order to eradicate the mental scars of the spring, Jones has organised a series of high-intensity training camps to develop the player’s fitness and togetherness as they prepare to go deep into the tournament in Japan.
In order to highlight the rigorous demands placed on the shoulders of the professionals, two plucky talkSPORT journalists were invited to Pennyhill Park to experience a day in the life of an England player.
Despite the blistering June heat and our severe lack of fitness, we both eagerly agreed to take part.
Under the watchful eye of Mark Wilson, Jonny May and Joe Launchbury, we were tasked with completing a series of daunting physical challenges, before enjoying a spot of lunch and watching an analysis session, courtesy of an England analyst.
Scroll down to see how well we got on.
Before engaging in the drills, we were first required to sign a waiver in case the physical exertions proved too taxing. Whilst this didn’t exactly put me at ease, we put pen to paper.
Upon receiving our instructions and getting changed, we headed out to a small artificial pitch to go through a series of stretches and drills focusing on ball skills and hand-eye co-ordination.
Suffice to say, we weren’t quite up to scratch and making a late surge for the plane to Japan in September became increasingly unlikely.
After that, we partnered up and performed an intense core exercise which focused on maintaining our balance whilst trying to knock our partner our their haunches. In spite of the burns sustained on the turf, it proved to be an enjoyable start to the day. How quickly it would turn.
As we headed down from the artificial pitch to take on the next set of challenges, the trio of England internationals tentatively asked about our levels of fitness.
In my younger years, I once considered myself to be of a decent standard of fitness. As captain of my school football team, I was regularly playing 90 minutes matches and, although that was six years ago, I still consider myself in decent shape.
So when I cockily replied ‘Yeah I’m not in bad nick, lads’, I should have known better.
Here’s a breakdown of what we got up to.
A drill to be completed with a partner, both participants lay down on their stomachs with one about five metres in front of the other and the other on the try line.
As soon as you hear the whistle from the coach, both subjects get to their feet as quickly as possible and the person trailing must try and catch the man in front of him.
The finishing point is on the 22-metre line, and the trailing partner has to try to catch the other one.
Using a series of cones, we set out a course designed to simulate the intense directional changes you would experience in a normal game of rugby.
Driving from the line, subjects were either required to then sidestep left or right depending on which end they started from, before twisting and turning at various different angles and speeds to reach the finish line.
Although the distance wasn’t particularly challenging, the fact the drills were timed and we knew what score we had to beat made us push one another even harder
Perhaps the drill which made me regret my cheeky comment from earlier the most, we practised a serious of carries with a partner to simulate the sort of leg drives which have become synonymous with some of the greatest England forwards in recent years.
Again, the competitive element was in place to ensure we pushed ourselves as we attempted three types of carries with a partner between two points, with the first pairing back being declared the winner.
Although it pains me to admit, this was the first time I have blatantly cheated in sport. Instead of completing all three lifts, we skipped one in order to try and close the widening gap between ourselves and the opposite team. Still ended up losing.
A drill designed to push us to the brink of our V02 max, we again lined up face down on the try line, only this time we were each given a ball.
The idea was we had to pick and go and drive to the end of our 22, before dropping down and repeating it back again.
It’s safe to say this finished us all off as, upon completion, we collapsed into sweaty heaps on the line whilst the England players tried their best to stifle their laughter.
After hauling ourselves off the pitch, we took to the showers and headed off for lunch.
The average rugby player will have a certain calorie intake in mind per day based on position. For instance, a forward will look to consume more as they look to build size (eating junk food is not an option unfortunately)
Non-refined carbohydrates, lean proteins, vegetables and fats should be the basis of every meal. Needless to say, I did feel a tinge of guilt as I wolfed down my BBQ chicken wrap, but the session beforehand had been sufficiently taxing.
After this, we headed back down to the performance centre to gain an insight into just how much analysis goes into every England performance.
Eddie Jones is renowned for being a meticulous tactician, with the Australian (a former PE teacher) openly revealing how much he loves to orchestrate training drills.
But in order to win the World Cup, Jones is willing to go to great lengths to ensure the William Web Ellis trophy returns from Japan this autumn.
During every training session, players are fitted with monitors to record heart rate and distance covered. If a player fails to hit a certain target, it is likely they will perform the aforementioned endurance drill to keep them on task.
ENGLAND'S WORLD CUP FIXTURES...
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Jones and his performance analysts also make use of cameras during sessions to gain as many vantage points as possible to spot and correct even the most minute error. Drones can often be seen flying above scrum practice as well to ensure the positioning of every pack member is correct to the last centimetre.
As part of our experience, we also got to see how this analysis is used in real-life game situations – in two of England’s best performances no less.
In both the New Zealand and Ireland games, the pressure placed on the opposition with and without the ball was relentless. And in doing so, it created enough confusion and chaos to leave space in crucial areas.
There is perhaps no single player who has benefited more from Eddie Jones’ appointment as England boss than Jonny May.
The Leicester Tigers winger made his debut in Argentina back in 2013, but has since developed into one of the most lethal finishers in world rugby.
Since Jones took over in November 2015, May has scored 18 tries and sits joint-sixth in the list of all-time England try scorers.
And the 29-year-old believes the success can be traced back to the work Jones and his squad undertake.
He said: “When you’re lucky enough to come here every day and every part of every day you’re learning and getting better because, in my opinion, this is the best place you could possibly hope for in terms of improving your game and getting better.
“The staff we have, the facilities we have and the players around you mean you can eat, live, breathe, and sleep the game. Everything is geared towards helping you improve.”
And how do these highly-tuned and pertinacious international rugby players relax? A spot of Love Island, naturally.
“We’re all watching it,” May added. “We actually all got together and watched it on Wednesday in the team room together.
“Pretty sad, but I’m looking forward to my Love Island tonight at 9pm.”
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Joe Marler has come out of retirement to be named in England’s Rugby World Cup training squad, while fly-half Danny Cipriani has also been included in the 35-man roster.
Harlequins prop Marler hasn’t played for England since June 2018, having retired due to personal reasons, but has now reversed that decision.
Gloucester’s Willi Heinz has won the battle for inclusion at scrum-half, with Saracens’ Ben Spencer also included, but Wasps’ Dan Robson has missed out.
England’s most-capped full-back Mike Brown has been omitted, while Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler is back in the squad after a hamstring scare.
“I saw Joe during the Barbarians’ week and he indicated that he had a desire to come back,” said head coach Eddie Jones, of Marler.
“We have since had a couple of chats and we have given him the opportunity to do that. Now it is up to him to show us what he has got.
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“We can’t wait to have the full squad in place and to have players competing for those (final World Cup) 31 places.
“It is a process of building the team up, building the cohesion, the tactical understanding of the team and our adaptability. We will need to get those things right to win the World Cup, and that is our aim.”
England must submit their final 31-man World Cup squad on September 2, before kicking off their tournament against Tonga in Sapporo on September 22.
Head coach Jones took the already-assembled training squad on a surprise lifeguard course in Newquay this week.
England now have their full contingent assembled however, and will ramp up their preparations.Jones’ men face Wales twice, Ireland and Italy in four warm-up matches in August and September, before jetting out to Japan.
Gloucester fly-half Cipriani won the Premiership player of the year and players’ player of the year awards in a sterling first campaign with the Cherry and Whites.
Now the 31-year-old has the chance to push for a final World Cup place.
Dylan Hartley’s continued absence due to knee injuries leaves the former captain unlikely to make the autumn competition, while Saracens playmaker Alex Lozowski has also been overlooked.
“World Cup selection is a four-year process; we have looked at the squad carefully, tried to build up a squad that has enough experience, attitude and energy to be winners and I think we have that,” said Jones.
“In the process, we have left out some players who can feel unlucky.
“For those guys who have missed out, the door is never closed but they have just got to be ready, as you never know when the opportunity comes.”
England official World Cup training squad
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs), Brad Shields (Wasps), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Jack Singleton (Saracens), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs), Mark Wilson (Sale Sharks)
Backs: Danny Cipriani (Gloucester Rugby), Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby), Elliot Daly (Saracens), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Piers Francis (Northampton Saints), Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath Rugby), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Spencer (Saracens), Ben Te’o (unattached), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Gloucester fly-half Cipriani was named Premiership and Rugby Players’ Association player of the year last season following his move to Kingsholm.
But England coach Eddie Jones has included the 31-year-old in just two squads since he took charge in 2016, and the playmaker has only won two caps – both against South Africa last June.
Jonny May was one of the stars of that tour, with his try in the Third Test after Cipriani’s sensational cross-field kick a real highlight-reel moment.
The Leicester Tigers winger spoke to talkSPORT ahead of the squad announcement and heaped praise on the former Wasps back for his incredible season.
“He’s a great player and obviously we are not sure on who is coming in yet, or even what the squad is,” he said.
“But he has had a brilliant season at Gloucester and the quality of players we’ve got at ten, anyone who comes in is going to do a brilliant job.”
One member of the current England squad who knows Cipriani particularly well is Joe Launchbury, with the duo lining up alongside one another for Wasps.
In the game at Gloucester towards the end of the Premiership season, Cipriani was it his magisterial best against Wasps for the Cherry and Whites.
And Launchbury is well aware of the attacking prowess the fly-half would be able to offer in a crucial World Cup game.
He said: “Obviously I’ve watched bits of Gloucester play, but not watched it as much as I watched it the year before.
“Danny has got some big strengths, he’s got a lot to offer in that side of the game, so I’m pleased the way he has gone down to Gloucester and made them play well.
“Unfortunately, like you really, it is only an opinion and not something we can control, so I think we are very lucky within this squad.
“I think you saw some of the guys who missed out; you see the strength of the squad who have been here this week and the strength of the guys who aren’t here yet through commitments in the Premiership final.
“I think you see the strength we’ve got and we’re in a pretty fortunate place at the moment to have that strength and depth for sure.”
Danny Cipriani has worked his way back into World Cup contention after being named in Eddie Jones’ preliminary England training squad.
However, Harlequins duo Kyle Sinckler and Marcus Smith have been sent back home.
The Gloucester fly-half enjoyed a fantastic season and was named as the Premiership Player of the Year as he led the Cherry and Whites to the semi-finals.
England men’s head coach Jones has announced a squad of 31 players to attend England’s second training camp at The Lensbury Hotel (30 June-4 July).
Cipriani is joined in the squad by Piers Francis (Northampton Saints), Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints) and Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby).
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs) will join George Kruis (Saracens) and Mako Vunipola (Saracens) in camp to continue their rehabilitation.
Jones said: “It has been a really positive week, we have worked on our fundamentals of the game, a little bit of physical conditioning and I am really pleased with the attitude of the players. They have all come back from their leave in excellent condition and the best I have seen in the time I have been with England.
“Next week we will add some players and be looking to improve our physical conditioning, ability to understand how we want to play the game and start to increase the pressure at training. We have a couple of players going back to their clubs as we feel it is in their best interests in terms of the World Cup to do that, and we will consider their participation in the squad further down the track.”
England’s official Rugby World Cup training squad will be announced by Jones at Japan House on Thursday 4 July.
England will play Wales (11 August) and Ireland (24 August) at Twickenham Stadium and Italy (6 September) in Newcastle as part of the Quilter Internationals as well as an away fixture against Wales (17 August) in Cardiff.
England will travel to Treviso, Italy for a heat camp from 22 July until 2 August before returning to Italy on 28 August until 5 September. The squad will also be based in Bristol for a week in July (14-18) and in August (12-16) ahead of England’s away match against Wales. For the two matches against Wales and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, the squad will train at Pennyhill Park.
England training squad
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks)
Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)
Tom Dunn (Bath Rugby)
Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby)
Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers)
Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints)
Val Rapava Ruskin (Gloucester Rugby)
Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors)
Brad Shields (Wasps)
Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby)
Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Danny Cipriani (Gloucester Rugby)
Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby)
Elliot Daly (Wasps)
George Ford (Leicester Tigers)
Piers Francis (Northampton Saints)
Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby)
Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
Jonny May (Leicester Tigers)
Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath Rugby)
Dan Robson (Wasps)
Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors)
Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
*In for medical treatment
George Kruis (Saracens)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
The Red Rose’s mental fragility was exposed once again as they surrendered a 31-point lead to tie at Twickenham, as the Scots retained the Calcutta Cup after a thrilling second half.
The result, in their last competitive match before the World Cup kicks off in September, casts major doubt on England’s world title bid in Japan.
Despite their struggles, though, Marler – who retired from international rugby in 2018 – insists England are still a match for any team in the world.
Speaking on Tuesday’s Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, the Harlequins prop said: “It was just carnage on Saturday, it was a nightmare watching that second 40.
“They needed to take the sting out of Scotland, they needed a bit more experience and leadership, but they’re missing a number of senior players that haven’t been involved for various reasons.
“Dylan Hartley has been out injured, Chris Robshaw was injured for the first part and didn’t quite make it back and Mike Brown wasn’t selected for this tournament – you’re looking at 200 odd caps there and I think the side really missed that experience on Saturday.
“They finished second, so it was a more successful tournament than the fifth place last year.
“They’ve made some strides forward and hopefully they’ve got some lessons they can learn over the next few months going into the World Cup.
This one isn’t coming home…….. but the other one might…….
“But let’s not forget how good they were for that Ireland game. They’ve got the potential to absolutely challenge everyone in the world. When they’ve got their first strong XV and they’ve got their game plan right, they’re on the money.
“It would have been nice to win the Six Nations, but it’s all about the World Cup this year.”
Listen back to Joe Marler on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast IN FULL above
Uri Geller has offered his services to England head coach Eddie Jones ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan – saying his mind powers will make them world champions.
The spoon-bending star has also called on talkSPORT listeners to send ‘a tsunami of positive energy’ to the team after their incredible 38-38 draw with Scotland in their Six Nations finale.
Jones’ men were cruising with a 31-point advantage in the first half on Saturday but suffered an all-too familiar collapse after the break, as the Scots rallied back in a rollercoaster of a match at Twickenham.
The result saw England finish runners-up to Grand Slam winners Wales. It was also England’s last competitive match before the World Cup begins in September.
Jones said he would look to bring in a sports psychologist to help combat his team’s mental frailties.
And illusionist Geller believes he is the man to ‘re-energise’ England ahead of their trip to Japan in the autumn.
Speaking on Tuesday’s Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, Geller – who famously ‘helped’ England beat Scotland at Euro 96 as he hovered over Wembley Stadium in a helicopter – said:
“Throughout my career I have helped a lot of football players, tennis players and formula one drivers with mind power, and I see in the world of rugby England are not doing well.
“I’m a huge believer in mind power, in motivation and inspiration, and I think this is what the team is lacking.
“The invitation is open. Eddie if you’re listening now, I’ll get on a plane. All I need is 15 minutes with the players, I will definitely instil powerful energies in them and they will start winning. There’s no doubt in my mind I can do it. I know my mind power.
“It’s up to him. I’m almost sure he is not going to invite me, so what I’m asking all your listeners, Alan, is to bring a surge, a tsunami of positive energy to the players.
“Energy does exist, this is not mumbo jumbo!
“The Rugby World Cup is in Japan? Well let me tell you, I can’t walk in the streets of Japan because I’m extremely famous in Japan. If I can be with the team there, they are going to win.
“Eddie Jones, if you hear me now, get me to meet the players.
“What’s the big deal? You’re asking for a psychologist to come in? Well, if you didn’t know, my mother comes from Sigmund Freud’s family, and he was the most famous name in psychology. So get me there, let me psych them up and they will start winning.”
Listen to Uri Geller on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast IN FULL above!
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