#360Rugby: Cipriani deserves chance, Pumas London excursion

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Analysis of global rugby action over the last seven days.

Should Danny Cipriani be given a chance with England? Are the current Chiefs side on of Super Rugby’s greatest? Will Wales beat New Zealand in the summer? All these questions and more are answered in this week’s #360Rugby.

What are your thoughts? Tweet us using #360Rugby to join the debate.

CIPRIANI DESERVES ENGLAND CHANCE IN SUMMER

The pick of the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals has to be Sale v Montpellier, with both teams flying in their respective domestic competitions.

Central to the English side’s resurgence in 2016 has been England’s forgotten man Danny Cipriani. The mercurial fly-half has been at his creative best and his consistent displays cannot be ignored by Eddie Jones any more.

Director of Rugby Steve Diamond’s negative reaction towards his playmaker’s decision to re-sign for Wasps next season speaks volumes for the esteem in which he is held at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Rumours have been circling this week that Jones is considering giving Owen Farrell and George Ford a break from rugby this summer, which has only strengthened the calls for Cipriani’s inclusion.

Giving Henry Slade is certainly Jones’s priority in June but with Cipriani’s experience of high-intensity Super Rugby it would seem that the stars may finally be aligning for the 28-year-old.

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP IN LONDON DEMONSTRATES GLOBALISATION

Argentina will play their home Rugby Championship match against Australia on 8 October at Twickenham in what will be a repeat of the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-final.

The game will be the first game in the tournament’s history to be held outside of the four core territories, and is largely a marketing exercise that benefits both teams as well as the game of rugby.

It is a noble act from the UAR, but perhaps brave too given that Australia have a significantly increased chance of winning the game in Europe.

Not only are there a vast amount of Wallaby fans in London who will be champing at the bit to get their hands on a ticket, but Buenos Aires is arguably one of the hardest places to win as an opposition side in international rugby.

A new bumper deal between Sky Sports and SANZAAR would indicate a very healthy interest in the southern hemisphere’s premier tournament and both parties will be hopeful of a sold-out Twickenham.

SLICK CHIEFS SUPER RUGBY’S NEW BENCHMARK

With five wins from six starts the Chiefs are now easy favourites to win the 2016 Super Rugby title.

Last weekend Dave Rennie’s team stepped it up another notch and produced one of the great attacking performances in the tournament’s history to squash a supposedly in-form Brumbies side.

Fullback Damian McKenzie was the star of the show as the men from Waikato handed the 2013 finalists their worst-ever home defeat to enhance their status as Super Rugby’s road warriors.

Perhaps the most telling statistic of the Chiefs’ dominant form though is that four out of their five wins have come on the road. With a host of home matches to come, it is starting

Warren Gatland was rumoured to be keen on trying some untested players against his old club during Wales’ summer tour, but may (should) now be reconsidering his position.

EXILES’ STELLAR SEASON SHOWS THEY HAVE GONE FULL CIRCLE

As Dubai Exiles took a huge stride towards collecting their first UAE Premiership crown in a decade with victory against Abu Dhabi Harlequins last week, chairman Mike Wolff was left to reflect on just how far the club has come.

Five years ago Wolff was forced to walk into the Quins changing room and forfeit a game as not enough Exiles first team players had shown up to take to the field for their match.

Now, in the club’s 50th year, they stand on the verge of collecting a West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership double.

“It’s been such a journey but to see it all come together is special,” said Wolff, chairman for the last five years. “It was our lowest ebb, for me personally it wasn’t good enough and not acceptable. Now it feels like we’ve come such a long way from that.”

There is one more round left and although victory opened a four-point gap between top and second, both teams know there could yet be more drama next week, with Quins hosting Dubai Hurricanes and Exiles welcoming Al Ain Amblers.

EXTRA TIME

Ever since Neil Jenkins revolutionized goal-kicking technique with a twitchy, awkward shuffle, players of the modern era have taken to employing their own idiosyncratic routines in the pursuit of putting the ball between the uprights. However the smiling assassin Damian MacKenzie has a new style that puts Jonny Wilkinson and Co. to shame (with decent results too). The clue is in the title, but this is just plain bizarre!

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Emirates-based youngsters lose 15-5 in tournament showpiece to Tunisian opponents

Matt Jones 29/03/2016
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Abu Dhabi French made quite the impression when they returned “home” to take part in the Saint Devote Rugby Tournament in Monaco.

The sixth edition of the Under-12 tournament was held at the city’s Stade Louis II in February in association with the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation.

It was organised by the Monegasque Rugby Federation (FMR) and brought together teams from across the globe, including Abu Dhabi French representing the UAE.

They were joined by nine other teams from South Africa, Spain, France, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Tunisia and Monaco.

Following the morning round of games, Abu Dhabi French stormed into the knockout rounds as they finished top of their group.

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In the semi-finals they came through a closely fought semi-final against opponents from Cape Town to reach the final, where they met Jemmel from Tunisia.

Unfortunately for the skilful French, the Tunisians proved to be stronger and faster and they losr the final 15- 5.

The UAE-based youngsters were, however, buoyed by the presence of the Monaco royal family for the closing ceremony and the presentation of trophies.

Despite the fact that the tournament took place during continuous rain and freezing winds, a common love for rugby ensured that all players and supporters enjoyed their three day visit.

The goal of the tournament was to allow young players to come together in a special rugby environment while also introducing children with special needs to the basics of the game.

As part of a school and social exchange between Capetown and Monaco, the South African players also had the honour of being invited as special guests.

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Despite weeks of negotiations, Friday's epic clash will go ahead

Matt Jones 29/03/2016
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Collision course: Exiles and Quins are at odds over Friday's fixture

Dubai Exiles meet Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the biggest game of the UAE Premiership season this Friday, but off-the-field issues are dominating the build-up to the title-decider.

Quins wanted to switch the date of the crunch clash as a host of players, coaches and officials travelled to South Africa to attend the wedding of former first team player and current vets captain and club vice chairman David Stolzenberg on Monday.

Many remain away and the two clubs have failed to come to an agreement over the rescheduling of the fixture despite weeks of negotiating.

Exiles say they have tried to accommodate Quins’ wishes but that alternative dates suggested would have left them severely depleted.

Consequently, the game will go ahead on Friday at The Sevens as originally planned.

Rinus Bothma is missing for Exiles this week

Rinus Bothma is missing for Exiles this week

“It’s such a shame that what should be a major match and the climax of the season has come to this, especially as we beat them twice this season and narrowly lost the West Asia Championship (WAC) by a point,” said Quins chairman Andy Cole, one of the club’s party attending the wedding in South Africa.

“It’s not good for the league, the sponsors, or UAE Rugby really, but it’s in the rules and that’s that.

“We knew back in January there was going to be an issue and the club captain wrote to the Exiles and followed up on several occasions but Exiles would not change.

“We offered alternative midweek dates in Dubai but nothing. It escalated to the committee in February and I wrote to their chairman explaining the issue and that a date had been unblocked in March to see if we could rearrange but again after speaking to his coach the answer was no.

Quins' centre William Umu was key in Quins' win in the WAC against Exiles a few weeks ago

Quins’ centre William Umu was key in Quins’ win in the WAC against Exiles a few weeks ago

“Our main concern is front row. With Mike Ballard and Trevor Scott-Briggs’ past spinal injuries we do not want a repeat so that was a concern.”

The dates suggested by Quins included a WAC mid-season break Friday on March 11 or April 15, a week after the scheduled end of the club season.

That clashed with an Exiles end-of-season function while several players are due to be away.

“I know for a fact we were trying to be as accommodating as we could. Hopefully they will see that,” said Exiles director of rugby, Jacques Benade.

“On April 15 we’ve got players away. They wanted to play a midweek game then we had a weekend free but we’d already played six or seven weeks in a row.

“We just didn’t think it was right to play, you could get injuries, and we’d already given the boys the week off. We didn’t train at all that week.

“Do we want to weaken our team so they can then put out their strongest team? There’s a balance that needs to be met. First of all you need to look at your own club and what’s going to be important for us. But we also did our best to accommodate them and it just hasn’t worked.”

The war off the field is intensified by the fact the clubs have been battling each other on the field throughout the season. Exiles have lost just two games from 16 in 2015-16, both of those defeats coming against Mike McFarlane’s men.

Despite inflicting a 32-24 defeat on Exiles a month ago, their first in the West Asia Championship, Exiles claimed the title ahead of Quins on the final day.

Even though the game will go ahead as originally planned, Benade will still be without two influential players, including flanker Matt Mills and second-row Rinus Bothma, both of whom have been key components of Exiles’ impressive pack this season.

Rugby Match, Exiles vs Quins, in 3, March at Zayed Sports City

Rugby Match, Exiles vs Quins, in 3, March at Zayed Sports City

“Mike’s not the only one losing players, we’ve got players away too. It’s holiday time so all your teachers are away, so we’re in the same situation as them,” added Benade.

“They have players away at a wedding. We’ll be without two or three players, so it’s not easy.

“The fixture list is out from September so they’ve probably known about the wedding for a while and there were weekends in January and February where we had weekends off that the game should have been pushed to.

Tight at the top:

  • Quins and Exiles are tied on 33 points at the top of the UAE Premiership with two games remaining
  • It's tight on points difference too with Quins nine points better off
  • The two teams have met twice this season, with Quins winning both encounters, which have been Exiles only two defeats

“Both teams may be a bit weakened, but that makes the contest even better.

“We have been accommodating, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve tried to change it. We know how important a wedding is for someone and everyone wants this game to be a massive game.

“We want our team to be as strong as we can and they want their team to be as strong as they can and that’s what it’s all about. Two competitive teams will be playing on Friday.”

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