Rugby evening headlines as Faletau challenge welcomed and players get brain MOTs

Here are the latest rugby headlines on Wednesday, April 27.

Wales rival welcomes Faletau challenge

James Ratti says he is relishing the competition he will face from Taulupe Faletau when the Wales and Lions star joins Cardiff next season. The 89-cap Faletau is making the move to the Arms Park from Bath, so will become a rival to Welsh squad colleague Ratti for the No 8 jersey.

“He’s a tremendous player,” said converted lock Ratti. “I took a lot from training with him through the Six Nations camp.

“Healthy competition is what you want, driving each other on. I can use the experiences as well to take a lot from his game. He is very dynamic with ball in hand and has good offloading ability, so it will be good to work with him next year.”

Ratti didn’t feature in any of the Six Nations matches, so remains uncapped, but says: “It was a tremendous experience. The environment was so elite and it was a different challenge, just with the intensity of training. You have got to be at the top of your game when you are there. Everything you do matters, on and off the field. You have got to be switched on all the time. I took a lot of positives from it, while there are obviously work-ons in terms of improving my footwork and my ball-playing skill.”

Next up for the 24-year-old is Cardiff’s United Rugby Championship clash with Munster in Cork on Friday night. Then, come this summer, he will be hoping to be part of Wales’ squad for the tour of South Africa, once more alongside future team-mate Faletau.

Women’s Six Nations prize money ruled out

Six Nations CEO Ben Morel has ruled out the prospect of prize money in the Women’s tournament over fears it would make England stronger.

Despite securing a new sponsor in TikTok this year, Morel insists that any performance-related financial reward would only widen the gap – with England, who are the only fully professional outfit, and France battling out for a Grand Slam this weekend having won each of their matches so far with bonus points.

“If we have the same system – obviously we’re still in more limited revenues on the women’s but if we have the same system – based on the first conversation we were having on the sporting gap, it’s a bit counter-intuitive,” Morel said.

“We want to make sure that the weaker unions don’t get a further disadvantage on that, even if limited. But at the same time, what each union does in terms of compensating and rewarding their players, they’re in a very different situation and [they’re] all going on the journey in their respective way.

“Obviously, we’re all aspiring to totally see significant growth to allow for these things to happen. It’s not a lack of ambition or desire, it’s just the reality and I think the sporting gap is a big one.”

Bristol star banned for rest of season

Bristol center Sam Bedlow will miss the rest of this season after receiving a four-match ban.

Bedlow was sent off for a dangerous tackle during Bristol’s 29-28 Gallagher Premiership victory over Gloucester last week.

The Rugby Football Union said Bedlow’s case was heard by judicial officer Charles Cuthbert, and the player accepted the charge.

He will miss Bristol’s three remaining Premiership games against Leicester, Exeter and Sale.

A pre-season game in August, though, will not count as part of Bedlow’s suspension if it completes a World Rugby coaching intervention programme.

Cuthbert said: “The player had accepted the charge at the earliest opportunity and apologised to the Gloucester player immediately on-field.

“The only matter preventing full mitigation was a previous red card for a tip tackle in February 2021.

“Partial mitigation was allowed, thereby reducing the six-week suspension entry point by two weeks.”

Players to get brain MOTs

Former Scotland rugby players are to be given the opportunity to receive a brain health MOT.

Scottish Rugby is offering the pilot service to ex-players as part of its commitment to their welfare.

It will be held at Murrayfield and delivered by Professor Craig Ritchie from the University of Edinburgh. Invitations to male and female ex-players will begin to go out this week, the union said.

The investigation process has three stages, with the patient being seen by the clinician two to three times over a period of several months.

The clinic concept is intended to be extended to former players in a range of contact sports, and ultimately to the wider public.

Scottish Rugby said it had worked with Brain Health Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and World Rugby to establish the clinic.

Scottish Rugby’s chief medical officer Dr James Robson said: “I am delighted we are now ready to invite former Scotland players to the pilot Brain Health Clinic at BT Murrayfield.

“Our first discussions on opening such a clinic began over two years ago and it is only down to the vision and commitment of our colleagues at Brain Health Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland, the University of Edinburgh World Rugby and NHS Scotland that we are able to now begin providing this unique service, initially to former players and hopefully in the future out to the public at large.

“While a lot is known about physical and mental health, the health of our brain is an area we continue to learn more about and the clinic is a groundbreaking and essential step in taking that understanding further, and supporting those who have played rugby as they enter later life.”The Welsh Rugby Union has put plans to lower the maximum age of mixed rugby players to Under-11s on hold, it has been announced.

WRU reverse plan to lower mixed rugby age for now

All previously announced changes to the female community game – including plans to lower mixed rugby to U11s for the start of the 2022/23 season – which have not yet come into force will be paused pending the results of a WRU review which has been launched to “deal with the considerable growth in this area of ​​the game and to ensure structures and competition frameworks are suitably robust to continue and sustain this expansion”. It means the maximum age of mixed rugby remains under 13 until at least May 2023.

The mixed rugby age change had been announced back in December with a bid to redirect girls to the WRU’s Female Hub system with the hope of keeping them in the female system for longer. Wales has seen an increase from 34 to 37 Female Hubs, with their season running from February to November, and playing opportunities are provided for girls from U7s to U18s across the system, with some provision for senior women too. This year, extra age groups were added – U12s, U14s, U16s and U18s – rather than operating within three-year age groups.

However, the mixed rugby age drop attracted criticism for taking away girls’ personal choice on which pathway to play in given many feel the intensity and competitiveness is stronger in mixed rugby than Female Hubs at the moment.

The WRU say it has seen an increase of more than 40% in its regular female playing base since the pandemic closed the 2019-20 season, with the Hubs’ popularity clear for all to see when more than 1,300 members took part in a rugby festival at the Principality Stadium ahead of Wales’ Women’s Six Nations win against Scotland, with many of the Hub groups heading to Cardiff Arms Park to watch the win.

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