Here are your rugby morning headlines for Friday, January 28.
Aaron Wainwright Bids to Mold No. 8 jersey
Wales back rower Aaron Wainwright wants to make the No. 8 jersey held for so long by Taulupe Faletau his own.
Dragons forward Wainwright, 24, is training as part of Wales’ Six Nations squad after Wayne Pivac’s group linked up on Monday, and while competition for a starting spot against Ireland next weekend may be high, he is bidding to impress again.
Faletau, a mainstay of Wales’ back-row for years, is set to return to training over the coming weeks for Bath after an ankle issue and is an outsider to feature at all in the championship.
“Everyone’s fighting for their places. Lots of opportunities, we’ll see who takes them,” he said.
“I’ve got a couple of caps under my belt now. I’m looking to try and make the No. 8 jersey my own and put my hand up and try and keep myself in that slot there.
“I’m just excited to get going and crack on with the campaign.”
As for the training environment, Wales are being put through their paces to get fitness levels where they need to be to defend their 2021 Six Nations title.
“It’s been a hard couple of days,” he added. “Training volume always goes up in the first week of camp, trying to get as much fitness done as possible.”
Wales have lost on five of their last seven visits to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, so what unfolds there for their opener could shape their whole Six Nations campaign.
Adam Beard a ‘true leader’
Toby Booth has saluted the leadership of Adam Beard after the Ospreys’ challenging Heineken Champions Cup assignment against Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Welsh team crashed 49-10 in the pool encounter but were missing 11 internationals, including four Test Lions, and suffered injuries during the match.
But Ospreys head coach Booth was impressed by the way new Wales vice-captain Beard pointed the way forward during the build-up and in the match itself.
“In adversity you see true leadership,” Booth said.
“Adam Beard last week was absolutely exemplary in the way he led the side and what he did.
“He could easily have had one eye on the internationals coming around the corner, but he didn’t. He showed he was an Ospreys man through and through in that moment.
“So we are getting the emergence of good leadership in different players.
“Michael Collins is another one, and Rhys Webb before now.
“We need leadership to help our youngsters along.”
Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate and George North were among those missing for the trip to Manchester.
England hold team meeting in pub
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.”
Conbeer seeking starting spot after standout European performance
Scarlets winger Ryan Conbeer admits he wants to nail down a starting spot in the Scarlets team after a standout performance in last week’s Champions Cup defeat to Bristol.
Minutes have been hard to come by for the former Wales U20s star, given the disrupted season, but after an impressive outing against the Bears, he gets another start against Ulster this weekend.
And, with the likes of Liam Williams and Johnny McNicholl away with Wales camp ahead of the Six Nations, he is intent on taking his chance.
“100 per cent,” he said this week. “With the Six Nations on, there’s a few boys away. I enjoy my rugby and I want to get as much rugby under my belt as possible.
“Since Dwayne’s come in, he really wants to push us younger boys as hard as he can.
Growing up as a youngster, I was told all the good wingers work off the ball – they don’t just stay on the wing.
“That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to bring that in, filling in where I can.
“I’ve learned so much from the senior players. You’re always free to go up to them and seek advice from them.
“But I haven’t played much this season so I just want to play and push for a starting spot.”
Forgotten Lions starter signs contract extension
Ireland prop Jack McGrath is among four players to have signed one-year contract extensions with Ulster.
McGrath, who made three Test appearances on the British and Irish Lions’ 2017 tour of New Zealand, joined the club from provincial rivals Leinster in 2019.
The 32-year-old won the most recently of his 56 caps for Ireland in the 57-15 loss to England ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Long-serving former Ireland wing Craig Gilroy – who has scored 68 career tries for Ulster – has also agreed a further 12 months, in addition to back-rows Marcus Rea and Greg Jones.
Head coach Dan McFarland told the club website: “It is encouraging to have secured the services of a further four of our current playing squad, with all set to play an important role in our plans for next season.
“Jack and Craig bring extensive experience and expertise, while Marcus and Greg have really grown into their roles within the club.
“I look forward to what they can achieve individually and collectively in the time ahead.”
Want the latest Welsh rugby news sent straight to you? Look no further.