Here are the latest rugby evening headlines on Thursday, February 17.
North to miss Wales v England as Alun Wyn awaits verdict
George North has been handed his comeback date after 10 months out with a knee injury, and Alun Wyn Jones will meet with a specialist next week to determine whether he will be able to play any part for Wales in this season’s Six Nations.
North has been pencilled in for a return in the United Rugby Championship match against Zebre on March 6, the weekend after Wales travel to Twickenham on February 26.
There’s potential for the scorer of 45 Test tries to feature for Wales in the game against Italy on March 19, the final round of the Six Nations, but the Ospreys are taking matters one step at a time and expect the circumstances at the time to be tasks into account.
North won’t feature against England next week and it seems highly unlikely he will play any part of the March 11 game with France in Cardiff.
“The first thing is to get George playing,” head coach Toby Booth said when asked if he expected North to play any part in the Six Nations.
“There’s context to everything. Do people need him to play? How much does he need to play? Is there a necessity to play?
“All we need to do for George is get him back out there and for him to be confident in his body, as we would for any player who’s coming back from that sort of injury.”
North is back on the training paddock but won’t feature against Leinster in Dublin in the United Rugby Championship this Saturday.
“He’s not available for this weekend but he has trained quite a lot,” said Booth.
“It’s a bit of a push and a pull thing. His body’s reacting to training and backing up training days, so there’s a bit of in and out. But he’s trained fully today [Thursday] and he’s trained fully three times this week, which is great.
“He was due to return around the Zebre game, our next game, and nothing’s happened to think that’s not going to be the case. So that’s exciting for us.”
Jones has also made significant progress as he battles to return from the shoulder injury he suffered playing for Wales against New Zealand in October.
The injury initially looked likely to keep him out of the entire Six Nations, with Wayne Pivac confirming as much at the time, but the great lock has made rapid strides along the recovery trail to raise hopes that he might be there or thereabouts for the final knocking of this season’s championship.
“He’s not trained but he’s on track for where he is,” Booth said.
“He has a significant consultation next week which will give us an idea about whether he’s going to make the end of the Six Nations or not.”
Dan Lydiate is set to feature for the Ospreys against Leinster after a year out with injury and so is another long-term casualty, fellow international Brad Davies.
Halaholo becomes Wales v England worry
Wales center Uilisi Halaholo has a laceration to the eyelid to overcome ahead of next weekend’s Six Nations clash with England.
Halaholo sustained the injury in training on Tuesday and will now remain in camp with Wayne Pivac’s squad instead of being released to Cardiff this weekend as planned.
The Welsh Rugby Union said: “Following a laceration to the eyelid sustained in training on Tuesday, Uilisi Halaholo will remain with the Wales squad this week for monitoring rather than being released to Cardiff Rugby.”
Wales are said to be confident that New Zealand-born Halaholo will still be available for the Twickenham clash on Saturday week.
Halaholo was due to have been one of six Wales players released from camp this weekend to get minutes under their belt ahead of the England game.
Cardiff pair Rhys Carre and James Ratti are available for Friday’s United Rugby Championship home game with Zebre, and Ospreys outside-half Gareth Anscombe, Scarlets scrum-half Kieran Hardy and Ulster hooker Bradley Roberts will also rejoin the Wales squad after weekend games.
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Wales Six Nations warm-up announced as tickets on sale
Wales Women will face a USA Select XV in a Six Nations warm-up game on Saturday, March 12, it has been announced.
It will be the first time Ioan Cunningham’s Wales team will have a chance to seriously test themselves since 12 players became full-time professionals in January – now training between two and four days a week at the WRU’s Vale Resort base – along with 11 players who have signed semi-professional/retainer contracts.
The warm-up game will be staged at Parc y Scarlets, and the opposition will be made up of USA internationals plying their trade across the River Severn in England’s top women’s rugby competition, the Allianz Premier 15s – where all of Wales Women internationals play their club rugby, too.
Wales then head into their TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign on Saturday, March 26, away to Ireland. Their sole other away trip in the tournament is against England on Saturday, April 9, at Gloucester’s Kingsholm Stadium.
But the rest of their fixtures are at home at Cardiff Arms Park, and Wales’ home Six Nations match tickets have now gone on sale. Wales Women host Scotland on Saturday, April 2 (4.45pm), France on Friday, April 22 (8pm), and Italy on Saturday, April 30 (noon). Tickets are priced at £10 for adults and £5 for under-16s.
Wales boss Cunningham said: “The TikTok Women’s Six Nations is going to be huge this year. It will be the first Six Nations tournament with crowds in two years. That will make a huge difference to all the teams and we can’t wait to welcome a crowd to Cardiff Arms Park for our three home games.
“As a group, we are building each week, now that we are spending more time together on and off the pitch. We can’t wait to show what we are capable of on the back of the historic announcement.”
As for facing a USA team, Cunningham added: “USA are sixth in the world and have been consistently one of the biggest threats in world rugby in recent times. They will be putting a side together largely from players involved in the Allianz Premier 15s, they play a high standard of rugby and will test us with their athletic ability and power game which is exactly what we need ahead of the Six Nations.”
Cardiff wary of storms before Zebre clash at Arms Park
Cardiff are closely monitoring the severe weather situation as they wait to see whether Friday night’s game against Zebre can go ahead at the Arms Park (7.35pm kick-off).
Two matches which were due to be staged at the venue on Wednesday evening were unable to be played there on safety grounds. That was because of damage to the casing of one of the floodlights, caused by high winds amid Storm Dudley.
Cardiff University’s BUCS Super Rugby match against Leeds Beckett was called off, while the Cardiff v Dragons U18s game was moved to Ystrad Mynach.
The damage has now been repaired and Dai Young’s team were able to train at the Arms Park on Thursday morning.
But there is more bad weather on the way, with Storm Eunice set to batter the country on Friday.
A very rare red weather warning has been issued for parts of Wales, including Cardiff, with winds in excess of 90mph expected.
People have been warned to stay indoors due to “significant danger to life”, with many schools shut and all trains canceled on Friday.
Zebre are due to fly in on Friday morning, but it obviously remains to be seen whether their plans will be affected at all, while the safety of the ground will also be checked out amid risk management.
The Met Office red warning, the most severe, runs from 7am until 12 noon on Friday for parts of south Wales, with a less severe amber warning covering the rest of the country from 3am until 9pm.
Cardiff have issued the following statement: “We are aware of the red weather warning for Wales [on Friday] and are monitoring the situation while liaising with all relevant parties.”
If the URC game against Zebre had to be postponed, it would add further to the lengthy fixture backlog following Covid cancellations.
For context, the last time the Met Office issued a red warning for wind was in March 2018.
Etzebeth ready to battle with Welsh regions
World superstar Eben Etzebeth is heading to the United Rugby Championship where he will lock horns with the Welsh regions.
Etzebeth, arguably the world’s greatest lock, will join the Sharks after being given early release from his Toulon contract.
The 97-times capped Springbok enforcer and World Cup winner joins a Sharks side already boasting Springbok front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Thomas du Toit, while skipper Siya Kolisi is also on board.
It means the Sharks will have a formidable pack when Etzebeth starts playing next season.
His contract in France was not due to expire until next year, but Toulon have granted the early release.
A Toulon statement read: “Eben Etzebeth has expressed his desire to put an early end to the contract binding him to Toulonnais in order to return, for personal reasons, to South Africa. Aware of the difficulties encountered by the player, the club took note of this request and accepted it.”
Etzebeth himself said: “I am sad to have to leave Toulon and my team-mates at the end of the season but personal reasons force me to do so. Toulon and its supporters welcomed me… I will give everything for this team until the end of the season to help Toulon perform, move up the standings and to be contenders in the Challenge Cup.”
Scotland quartet back for Edinburgh after misery in Cardiff
Edinburgh have four Scotland internationals back in their team for the trip to face Munster.
Center Mark Bennett, stand-off Blair Kinghorn, scrum-half Ben Vellacott and back-row Nick Haining all come back in as Mike Blair makes four changes for the United Rugby Championship clash at Thomond Park in Limerick.
Head coach Blair said: “It’s great we’re able to welcome back some of our Scotland guys back into the squad. They bring added strength to a group that did some good things against Leinster last time out.
“While it’s great to have experienced internationalists back involved, this period is also brilliant for our younger players.
“They can show what they can do and see what it takes to win at this level. This is excellent for their development, while at the same time, we are able to put out a team that is capable of winning these games.”
Blair, whose team lost 26-7 in Ireland last weekend, added: “We are expecting a real battle out there. Part of the disappointment of the Leinster game was around our physicality.
“There is no better place to go than Thomond Park to see if we have learned the lessons from the week before. We can’t wait for the challenge.”
Bennett will captain Edinburgh for the first time while Kinghorn replaces Jaco van der Walt, who is listed among the unavailable players.
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