Here are the latest rugby evening headlines for Thursday, January 27.
Six Nations to get new scrum law trial
A new “brake foot” scrum law will be trialled during this year’s Six Nations tournaments to prevent degenerative neck injuries developing.
All hookers will have to have one foot clearly forward when binding in the “crouch, bind, set” instruction from the referee, The Times reports, to act as a brake on scrums and prevent “axial loading”, an unintended consequence of World Rugby’s scrum calls change from 2013 which moved from “crouch, touch, pause, engage” to “crouch, bind, set”.
While “axial loading” was banned ahead of the 2019 World Cup, packs variably still lean forward on the “bind” call – which sends a force through the spine and neck of the hooker – to try and gain an advantage before the referee calls ” set”.
A free-kick will be awarded to punish any packs found to axial load their hooker.
Wales and Worcester hooker Scott Baldwin The Times: “It feels like your neck is about to snap. When I went to see the surgeon, the surgeon said that since the law change [in 2013] he has seen a significant increase in operations on the upper necks of hookers.”
The men’s, women’s and under-20s Six Nations will all trial the law.
Six Nations announce four-year deal with TikTok in boost for women’s game
Six Nations has announced a major four-year deal with TikTok which will see the women’s tournament get a title sponsor for the first time and – hopefully – rugby reach a drastically larger audience.
The tournament will be known as the TikTok Women’s Six Nations from this year to 2025, while the social media platform will also be involved with the men’s and U20s competitions plus the Autumn Nations Series.
TikTok describes itself as “the leading destination for short-form mobile video”.
The deal, the financial value of which has not been disclosed, will see each Union benefit from investment and while Six Nations said new funds were “not limited to the women’s game”, they have stated the TikTok partnership will “help each Union continue to develop this area of the game”, with exposure, engagement, participation and growth among their ambitions.
Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said: “TikTok shares our ambitions for providing fans with the best possible experience and has the perfect platform for fans to access and engage with rugby throughout the year. Complementing this is the collective aim of giving the sport a global shop window to reach new and existing fans and put the likes of the Women’s game in front of more people.”
Rich Waterworth, general manager of TikTok in Europe, added: “We’re especially delighted to be the title sponsor of what is now the TikTok Women’s Six Nations; as a platform that’s built around inclusion, we are passionate about giving an equal footing to men’s and women’s sports.”
The standalone Women’s Six Nations kicks off on March 26, the weekend following the conclusion of the men’s tournament.
TikTok rugby content creators will also be embedded in each Six Nations home Union to show fans what goes on behind the scenes.
England held key Six Nations meeting in a pub after fire forced them from hotel
Joe Marchant has revealed England began the process of rebuilding their midfield from the pub after their Six Nations preparations were hit by an electrical fire.
Eddie Jones’ squad scrambled to find a new venue for a key meeting after a manhole outside their hotel on Brighton seafront burst into flames on Tuesday evening, forcing a change in accommodation.
Having moved to a new hotel, they were dispatched to find a pub and from there Marchant and his center colleagues began looking ahead to the Championship opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.
In the absence of the injured Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi, Jones must field the 29th different midfield combination of his reign and Marchant is in line to fill one of the center slots after excelling against South Africa in the autumn.
“When we had the evacuation we got sent to the pub around the corner,” Marchant said.
“We kind of split off there…all the outside backs were together, all the inside backs and all the forwards.
“Basically we all talked about what we’re looking to do in this campaign and how we can get that in to the first session today (Thursday).
“It was burgers all round. Fish and chips too. We’d been darting around the streets of Brighton and as we got to the pub, there was a power cut in there as well!
“We were just sat in the dark for a while. It’s character building, getting the team together. No ghost stories, but good to be together as a team.”
Marchant has played seven Tests for England since making his debut in 2019 but his breakthrough came when the Springboks visited Twickenham in the autumn.
Tuilagi limped off early with a torn hamstring and Marchant was moved from wing to outside centre, forging a dynamic partnership alongside Henry Slade.
Exeter to abandon Native American theme
Exeter are to rebrand themselves in line with the ‘Celtic Iron Age Dumnonii Tribe’ after deciding to abandon the controversial Native American theme which has provoked fierce criticism.
The new identity, including a change to their logo, will take effect from July and while the ‘Chiefs’ nickname is being retained, the club said it will be now be aligned with a “poignant and significant nod to the past”.
The Celtic Iron Age Dumnonii Tribe encompassed an area covering Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset for centuries before the Roman occupation from 43AD.
A large section of supporters campaigned for change in the belief that the current imagery disrespects indigenous people in North America, prompting a review process which has now been concluded.
Chiefs fans have repeatedly been asked by opposition clubs not to wear the symbolic headdress to their grounds, while the National Congress of American Indians wrote to chairman Tony Rowe last year to say that the current branding “harms native people through the offensive stereotypes it promotes” .
“Exeter has and always will be the most important term in our overall identity,” Rowe said. “The term Chiefs, however, is equally entrenched in our make-up, going back to over a century ago when teams in this region would regularly call their first teams that of the Chiefs. We are Exeter, we are the Chiefs!
“As a rugby club we have been willing to listen, we have consulted far and wide, and now we are ready to invoke change.”
‘Ridiculously talented’ Marcus Smith backed to shine in Six Nations by Dan Biggar
Wales captain Dan Biggar has backed a “ridiculously talented” Marcus Smith to take the Six Nations in his stride.
The Harlequins fly-half, who has won five England caps, looks set to make a Six Nations bow when Eddie Jones’ side launch their campaign against Scotland at Murrayfield next week.
Smith, 22, already has a Gallagher Premiership title and British and Irish Lions tour in his career portfolio, and he is rated as English rugby’s most exciting prospect for years.
Biggar and Smith were Lions colleagues in South Africa last summer after Smith was summoned by head coach Warren Gatland as injury cover for Finn Russell.
“If you look at Marcus’ 12 months, you would say that he has passed everything with flying colours,” Wales fly-half Biggar said.
“He has had a really good 12 months and burst on to the scene. I am sure that he will just take the tournament in his stride, same as he has with the others.
“I really enjoyed my time with Marcus in the summer. I thought he was a really good bloke and willing to learn, willing to get better. He is ridiculously talented, isn’t he?
“Whatever comes Marcus’ way, I am sure he will deal with it as he has done in the last 12 months.”
Six Nations boss rules out relegation amid Italy struggles
Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel continues to rule out relegation from the championship in the belief that Italy’s dismal record does not threaten its credibility.
Italy have failed to win a game in the tournament since dispatching Scotland 22-19 in 2015 and have never finished higher than fourth, an achievement they last managed nine years ago.
Georgia are strongest among the developing nations pressing to join Europe’s top table, while South Africa are perennially linked with a switch of hemispheres away from the Rugby Championship.
Morel is cautious about making any changes to the format and, when asked about promotion and relegation, he replied: “It’s not on the current agenda but we understand there needs to be a pathway for emerging nations into elite rugby.
“The Italian results have probably been, first and foremost, not to the satisfaction of the Italian team themselves and the Italian federation. At the same time they have got young talent and are performing well in the under-20s regularly. There has been some conversion to the senior team.
“Their struggles are well identified and they are a putting a lot of resources behind it. This is the year when they have three away games so we need to be mindful. But they have a young, exciting team and they know what they need to do, so they have our full support. I don’t believe there’s a question of credibility.”
Rather than being admitted into the Six Nations, Morel believes that emerging rugby countries would be better served through meaningful fixtures in the summer and autumn windows that are currently filled by tours and friendlies. Discussions are ongoing about the format for the new global calendar which is to be implemented after the 2023 World Cup, but Morel added that plans need to be finalized by the summer for that to become a reality.
“In order to give a stronger pathway to emerging nations, whoever they may be, I believe there could be some adaptations to the July and November windows on a quicker basis that could give more competitive matches to those unions,” he said.
“Those games would be properly scheduled and take place on a regular basis and would give them the experience they need to get them to that level. We believe we can enhance the sporting narrative and give every game a meaning culminating in some sort of final weekend with north versus south fixtures.”
Six Nations expectations soaring in Scotland amid outside skepticism
Expectation levels in Scotland are as high as they have been for several years ahead of a Six Nations revival.
The positive vibe north of Hadrian’s Wall is not in keeping with the assertion of those bookmakers who have priced up Gregor Townsend’s burgeoning side as fifth favorites in a six-horse race.
Skepticism from outside is perhaps understandable as Scotland have not won the tournament since 1999, when it was still the Five Nations. Nevertheless, there is a genuine sense that something special is brewing in Scottish rugby at present.
“You’ve got to put your game out there and take on these very, very good teams over a seven-week period,” head coach Townsend said.
“Certainly the experiences this team has had should put them in a very good place and full of optimism going into this tournament.”
Scotland have been perennially unable to get more than three wins from their five fixtures. The challenge is to find the level of collective focus required to turn three tournament wins into four or even five and endorse the notion – developing for some time under Townsend – that Scotland are on the brink of breaking new ground.
“We’d obviously love to win more than three games because if you do that, you’re going to finish in the top two,” he added.
“We’ve had experiences, we’ve got the players and we have the belief to do as well as we’ve ever done but we know the teams around us are all playing really well, as they’ve shown in November. It’s going to be as big a challenge as ever, if not even bigger.”
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